The child custody agreement is framed and hanging on Sherry Paltiel's living room wall.
"June 20, 2012," Paltiel says. "That was the best day of my life."
The legal document means Paltiel won't be alone on Christmas morning. For the first time in many years, she'll wake up and be able to share the joy of Christmas with daughters, Stephanie, 15, and Brandy, 14.
"It will be fun just being with them," she says. "I've told the kids it will be hard, but at least we'll all be together. "
Paltiel, who is on disability, doesn't want anything for herself. But she hopes she'll be able to put a few gifts under the tree for her girls.
Life has not been easy for the 43-year-old single mother, who also has three adult children.
Paltiel struggled in school with a learning disability, she struggled in relationships and she struggled with drug addiction. She met her husband at 17 and dropped out of Camosun College.
"From then on, I was pregnant all along," she says.
After her marriage broke up in 2001, Paltiel says she began a relationship with an abusive man who was using drugs. They lived in a trailer in Sooke with Paltiel's five children. It didn't take long before Paltiel was also using drugs.
"I lost my kids because he beat me bad," she says. "A neighbour made an anonymous phonecall.
They took my kids that day."
As Paltiel looks forward to Christmas morning, she remembers a colder, rougher morning when she decided to get her life back on track and fight for the right to care for her kids again.
In 2006, Paltiel was a cocaine addict sleeping in Beacon Hill Park and Centennial Square.
"At 6 a.m., the cops came by and they'd kick you to make you move along. I was dirty and gross on the street and having to go beg for change for a coffee so you can get in and wash your face at McDonald's. ... I just woke up one morning and said, 'I can't do this anymore. I've got to do this for my kids. I'm not going to be abused. I'm not going to do drugs. This is not for me.' "
She phoned her mother, who took her in. Paltiel battled her drug addiction on her own, staying in bed for seven days, cleaning herself up.
"It was the hardest thing I had to do. I know there is hope for people if you really want to do it."
That was the start. Paltiel took parenting classes, drug and alcohol treatment and counselling for women who have been abused.
She also attended mental-health classes. And on June 20, 2012, Stephanie and Brandy were returned to her.
They're working at being a family again. Paltiel sleeps on the couch in the small Esquimalt house they share. The girls each have their own room because Paltiel thinks that is important.
Sometimes, Paltiel earns a little pocket change cleaning her friend's house.
But the girls could really use some new clothes.
"Christmas will be hard financially," Paltiel says. "But I'll be happy I have my kids." email@example.com
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