The young woman had lied, cheated, manipulated and stolen when her addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine became so "crippling" she couldn't keep a job and her family took the advice of her sponsor and kicked her out.
Christina had hit rock bottom. She couldn't stop using on her own. The drug always won.
"My choices were Mater Dei or a life on the streets," Christina, 32, said Sunday at the charity's event, In Celebration of Women... a Journey from Darkness to Light.
"The realization that this is what it had come to... that I would have to eventually sell my body for drugs and be dead in no time was the moment that my life was saved. It was then that I saw just how out of control things had gotten, and I had to admit defeat. I surrendered."
Mater Dei (Latin for 'Mother of God'), recently renamed Carmelina's Home, is a central Etobicoke-based residential therapeutic program that supports women in the treatment and recovery of addictions or emotional issues. It is named after a late nun who counselled for 24 years from her Riverdale Hospital bed.
While Carmelina's Home is run by the (Catholic) Passionate Sisters of St. Paul of the Cross, it is not a religious program. Women of all denominations are welcome. Clients are 16 to 60.
Its symbol is a butterfly, representing transformation and new life.
Christina arrived 18 months ago at the front door of Carmelina's Home's mortgaged brick backsplit nestled on a quiet, leafy residential street. Unlike provincial government-funded programs that run 21 or 31 days, Carmelina's Home offers a two-year program, divided into four, six-month phases.
The unique, lengthy, abstinence-based program offers seven clients at once much-needed time for self-reflection and the excavation and healing of unresolved emotional issues necessary to control and conquer her addiction, said Martin Riley, president of Carmelina's Home's board of directors.
There, women learn effective life coping skills, and strengthen social and interpersonal skills.
For many, it's a last resort, said Riley. Other programs haven't worked. Some clients have taken 21-day programs five or six times. Their families have rejected them. The addiction returns because they don't change their environment upon release.
"Everybody has lived it differently, but at its core addiction is rooted in emotional issues that are hidden and never really exposed," Riley said. "Addiction is used to cover up that emotional hurt. The challenge of working through that is why the program is so long. It's a lifetime of issues you can't expect to get through in 30 to 60 days."
Participation is voluntary. The program is strict and disciplined. The women rise at 6:30 a.m. There's a schedule, including assigned chores. Daily therapy sessions and group therapy participation. Bed at 9:30 p.m.
Women sleep three to a bedroom. They eat together. They quilt, sew, use exercise equipment, garden.
The women confront one another on their behaviours, and gain insight into their own healing as a result.
"All that we do in the program is for us to gain insight into the truth of who we are," Christina said Sunday. "It has been the most crucial part of my growth and healing. We call it 'the mirror effect'. It is what we see in each other that shows us who we really are. What is truly in our hearts... We confront each other on our negative, harmful behaviours."
They pay $450 a month room and board. Some qualify for social assistance.
Carmelina's Home receives no government funding. It operates strictly on community funding and donations.
"People think about charities for children or donating to tsunami relief," Riley said of the challenge in finding donors. "People want to help with addiction. But people don't understand how real it is. It could be your mother or your sister."
The Rotary Club of Etobicoke recently donated funds to replace the home's roof.
Presently, officials are seeking a small corporation to become its sponsor. New board members and volunteers are also welcome.
An annual spring walk-a-thon will be held this Sunday in Centennial Park. It typically raises as much as $20,000. An annual gala in November raises as much as $50,000 per year.
While fund-raising is a challenge, the home's accepting, empathetic and loving environment is key to its success, say officials and clients.
"When I came here, I felt safe. I called it my 'cocoon,'" said Amelia, a mother of two daughters in their 30s, who became a client in November 2005 and stayed for 10 months.
Married at just 16, she'd had two children in short order. Her husband was often away on business. With little support, cycles of depression waxed and waned in her for years.
Amelia arrived at Carmelina's Home after reaching her breaking point with her physically and emotionally abusive husband.
Her husband enrolled in the men's program, the Caritas Project, run by Father Gianni Carparelli.
Today, the healed couple has reunited.
"I now have confidence and self-assurance. I'm totally healed. I'm no longer afraid," said Amelia, who now sits on Carmelina's Home's board of directors.
Riley joined, then led, the board of directors after first consulting on a funding proposal five years ago.
He heard one client's testimonial at that year's gala and felt moved to help.
"It's just so amazing to see someone get their life back, the life they were destined to have," Riley said. "For some, it has been hell. They acknowledge it all. It's so amazing to see that recovery and healing take place."