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  • 2016 Education Meeting: Tonier Cain

Where there is breath, there is hope

After the AAWGT Education meeting on February 10, everyone knew Tonier Cain. For almost an hour, Tonier brilliantly shared with a group of over 100 women the lows and highs of her life, balancing the details of her tragic past with humor. And she was funny!  After 19 years of living on the streets as a crack cocaine addict, alcoholic, prostitute, living without hope, Tonier now travels the country and the world as a vocal, effective advocate of Trauma Informed Care. She credits the trauma therapy that she received in the last of many of her prison stays for saving her and giving her the strength to build a life that she never dreamt possible. She’s been clean and sober for 11 years, owns her own home, and is a loving mother to a young daughter who attends Key School.

Tonier grew up in housing projects in Annapolis and was given the nickname of “Neen” by her family. She spoke to the group about the root cause of her trauma:  an alcoholic mother who starved her children of food, safety, and love. At a very early age she was forced into the role of mother to her 5 siblings taking on responsibilities that no child should have. She was a frequent victim of rape by her mother’s boyfriends and started drinking at the age of nine to ease her emotional and physical pain. As years passed, her life became more hopeless. She became a crack addict who was arrested 83 times with 66 convictions for crimes that included theft and prostitution. As an addict, Tonier bore four children who were immediately taken away from her and adopted by families. For a while, she lived under the College Creek Bridge where she hit an all-time low. When Tonier described her former life, she was frank and raw which caused many who attended this event to shake their heads and gasp.

Tonier now knows that her purpose in life is to promote Trauma Informed Care. She says that a person cannot move beyond destructive behavior unless the trauma is addressed; something she says is typically not done by human service professionals. She used the analogy of a “lazy gardener” who tends a garden of beautiful flowers. The lazy gardener just cuts back the weeds, which will grow right back, instead of digging down and pulling them out by the roots to keep the garden healthy and beautiful.

When asked what she would ask for if she had a magic wand, she said that she’d like us all to see the good in all people.

Tonier is the author of a book, Healing Neen: One Woman’s Path to Salvation from Trauma and Addiction (ISBN# 9780757317965) and the subject of a documentary film of the same name. Her website is www.toniercain.com

Submitted by Pam Polgreen

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