In this issue of Connection, “Resources” will present a book review of Healing Neen by Tonier Cain.
Tonier Deneen Cain was used to being called a different name during her childhood, “Neen.” In her debut memoir, Cain divulges a heartbreaking story of childhood neglect and a life of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that led to alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, and multiple incarcerations. Healing Neen is a story of horrifying trauma and the courage it takes to rise out of the depths of addiction.
From a very young age, Cain grew up hearing her father—a man who didn’t share in any aspect of childcare—physically and verbally abuse her mother, Barbara. Barbara’s own drinking, lack of responsibility, and ineptitude at motherhood resulted in an environment of hunger, abandonment, and fear for Cain and her siblings. The only homes the young Cain ever knew was that of her grandmother, Mil, and her mother’s cousin Ann—both homes she lived at for brief periods of time. While living with her mother at nine years old, Cain came to realize that she had to fend for herself and find ways of feeding and caring for her younger sister and her brothers.
Barbara’s relentless drinking, drugging, and partying eventually drew many “nameless” men into Cain’s home. Time and time again, Cain was sexually assaulted and raped by these men while her mother was asleep on the couch in another room. Despite all the times Barbara had forgone her maternal responsibilities and caused pain and suffering to her children, Cain recalls that “I still loved her, and more than anything in the world, I wanted her to love me too.”
Healing Neen depicts Cain’s life as it happened—from a tumultuous and painful childhood to an adolescence and young adulthood marked by alcoholism, a failed marriage, multiple pregnancies, more abuse, and the beginnings of cocaine addiction, prostitution, and crime. Her first arrest occurred when she stole checks from Ann, a guardian she loved and cared about. Her first stint in recovery and aftercare resulted in a rape by one of the drug counselors, which threw her back into the spiral of drinking, drug abuse, and jail time. She turned to living on the streets and prostitution for the convenience and the support it gave her drug habit, which escalated to smoking crack and shooting and snorting cocaine. “All I could do was continue taking the drugs that dulled the pain,” Cain writes.
Cain’s story not only depicts drug abuse, addiction, and homelessness in brutally honest and vivid detail, it chronicles what came next—the journey towards a better life. Healing Neen will open readers’ eyes to how empathy and trauma-informed therapy can save, transform, and recreate lives. “One of the first things I learned in therapy,” writes Cain, “was that I am a good person. I learned the problem was not with me; it was with the people who took advantage of me. I learned to finally love myself, because I did have worth. From my earliest remembrances, I’d been Neen, short for Deneen. Now I became Tonier. Like the scripture says, I put away old things. I became a new creature.” Through the help of the therapists and team at TAMAR’s Children—a program helping women heal from trauma—Cain moved from being an addict and a jailbird to a being a sober, respected, and trusted professional helping others who walked the same path she did many years before. Healing Neen is a testament to her recovery and the recovery that is possible with courage, determination, and help along the way.
“I want you to live the life you’re supposed to live. You no longer have to just exist! No, you’re supposed to be at peace, to feel safe, to feel loved and to have all your heart’s desires. We’ve been through so much in our lives. It’s time to live!” – Tonier Cain
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