When Carey Oakes embraced her first guitar, she couldn’t have imagined how dynamic the soundtrack to her life would become.
“I’m plucking away at it like it’s a stand-up bass,” Carey smiles about the picture of her as a little girl holding a big guitar.
“It’s much too large for me.”
By the time it would have been the right size, Carey had experienced too many wrong things.
When she was 12, instead of finding comfort in playing guitar, a friend suggested she find solace in doing heroin.
“She said, ‘This will make all of the scary things go away and if it doesn’t it will make it so you don’t care about it anymore,” Carey recalls. “It worked for a lot of years.”
By the time Carey realized it wasn’t working, she’d endured more than a decade of addiction and homelessness.
“This used to be my home for many years,” Carey says, gesturing to a shopping cart full of garbage bags.
“It was piled high.”
After Carey experienced her lowest low, she says her friends forced her to detox.
“They also handed me a guitar,” she says. “That’s how I learned my first three chords.”
Carey says she survived by busking and dumpster diving. After living in a tent along a busy street, she was offered a room in a temporary housing.
“I turned that into an opportunity,” she says. “Rather than a slum.”
The stability allowed Carey to focus on writing songs and finding work, including a job as an extra on the filmed-in-Victoria series Maid. The Netflix drama struck a real-life chord.
“The scene got to me a little bit emotionally.”
Carey says the raw reaction prompted a real offer for more screen time.
“I said, ‘Let’s go make some TV,’” Carey smiles. “They were so impressed by that they offered me a full actor’s contract.”
Although she earned a close-up and an apprentice membership with the actors union (which will make her eligible for more professional work), Carey says the best part of appearing on the series was the feedback from her family.
“It was nice to have my family see me do something (and be proud),” Carey says, fighting back tears.
“It’s been a while.”
Carey says she followed-up her “Maid” appearance with her first speaking role in a short film.
It’s part of a personal transformation that now includes supporting other members of her community to find creative work and rewrite a more hopeful soundtrack for their lives, too.
“Why not just continue (and) lift them up?” she says, smiling. “Then at least you have a ladder to climb up, right?”