Chrystal Metcalf will wake up Christmas morning in a rehab housing program, with a 5-year-old daughter by her side.
This, she says, is a sign that her long troubled life is turning around.
Metcalf is sober now, with a full-time job as a restaurant cashier and a lot of ambition and big dreams, which is a combination of things long missing from her routine.
Money remains tight, however, so Metcalf enrolled her daughter to get Christmas toys from the Salvation Army. The agency’s Christmas program expects to supply toys to more than 11,000 children from low income families. The cost is covered in part by Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
The program was created for parents dealing with temporary setbacks during the holidays, whether it’s a lost job, lost home or lost health.
Metcalf, 32, is different from most clients, however. Instead of a life unraveling, hers is coming together for the first time in 20 years.
As a result, she’s both confident and overly critical of herself, with a lot of blunt honesty about her faults.
This includes a revelation that she has five children, ages 5 to 11, but only the youngest, Karen, remains in her custody. The others were put up for adoption as a result of her addictions, including a boy adopted by her aunt. He’s the only one of the four adopted children she still gets to see regularly.
“My dream now is not only to be a success in life but to have a relationship with all my children,” said Metcalf, noting she feels a lot of guilt for letting the four go.
“It’s difficult to explain the pain. The one thing I can say is that I was never so addicted that I didn’t realize it was best for them to be somewhere else. I loved them enough not to fight to keep them. I didn’t want to drag them through what I was going through. I loved them enough to say ‘goodbye.’ ”
Metcalf traces her 20 years of addiction to a single incident when she was 11 years old: Her father was murdered, she says. “I went into shock when my mother told me, and I dealt with it through addiction. I still haven’t gotten over his death,” she says. (Cancer took her mother five years ago, she says.)
Frustration led to her recent about face. She says she got tired of a lifestyle that seemed forever filled with shame and judgment. She also saw more people in her circle were dying from their addictions. Her treatment has lasted seven months so far, and she is now part of the post-treatment housing phase, with a two-year lease on an apartment.
In some respects, she says this could be the first real Christmas she has celebrated since she was 11.
Her daughter, Karen, has a short Christmas list, filled with dolls and anything to do with princesses. Karen also wants a cat, but mom says the family isn’t quite ready to take that step.
Metcalf has a Christmas list, too, including getting her driver’s license back for the first time in 15 years. She takes the bus to work.
At the top of her list is a wish that she could rebuild relationships with the four children she let go.
The first move in that direction was when she came to Charlotte from her hometown of Morganton to get treatment. However, the bigger step was more subtle, happening without her even realizing it.
At some point in the past year, Metcalf started to believe in herself again.
The Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $374,000 to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. For questions about your donation, call 704-358-5520. For questions about helping families, call Salvation Army Donor Relations: 704-714-4725.
Total raised so far: $127,840