It’s a new year and I have been off the streets living a “normal” life for almost three years now, so I thought it was time to thank some of the people who helped me make it this far. Catholic Services of Acadiana and New Life Center were the first on my “thank you” list. If I was going to die rich I would leave y’all all my money but that isn’t going to happen so the only thing I can do is to make sure you know how you helped me and what it has meant to me. So here goes....
Y’all know I have been a junkie since I was 17, and I was homeless for way more than 30 years. My life was a chaotic mess for so long that’s the only way I knew how to live. Us addicts, we fail so much we lose all self-confidence. We screw up everything over and over. We live in constant fear that everything is going to fall apart. Being in my own place still scares me. I keep thinking, “Am I gonna screw this up?”
Normal people don’t understand. They think all we need is a job, or a new outfit and a hairdo, they don’t understand that it’s a total shift in culture. Send us to the hood and shoot at us and we’re cool, we get that, that’s normal for us but send us to the post office for stamps or to the grocery store for potatoes and paranoia sets in and I would just panic and run.
Normal for us is getting stabbed, shot, beat up and raped, going to jail, or to a mental hospital or to substance abuse treatment – that’s our way of life. That’s just how it is and it’s not easy to change all that. The transition from homeless to living somewhere decent is frightening and we mess up.
Having your own place comes with a whole lot of stipulations. Other people have this list of things we have to do to be acceptable but other people’s expectations don’t work for us. We try to jump our awed messed up selves through other people’s perfect little hoops but it never works for long.
What CSA did was different. Instead of giving me a long list of things I needed to change about myself BEFORE I could get off the streets, y’all said, “We accept who you are, warts and all.” I will admit, I thought you were crazy when you said that I didn’t have to change every little thing about myself to get housing. The idea of harm reduction blew my mind. Crazy thing is, it has worked. I discovered daiquiris and I like them much better and they’re legal.
The other thing I need to thank you for is sticking with me through all my mess. I was in New Life Center many times, screwed up over and over but y’all never hesitated when I called to come back. Y’all were always there for me and never lectured me once. Never made me feel ashamed. That helped me understand that failing is forgivable and every one of us does it – we all fail. I feel accountable to you guys. Addicts burn bridges with their families and friends until they feel accountable to no one. I have real relationships with many of you at CSA and do not want to disappoint you even though I know if I do screw up, big-time, you will be there for me.
Now my life is a little closer to normal. When you start getting rid of the traumatized part of yourself you start to hang out with people who aren’t associated with drugs. I have regular people over for dinner, I can sit on the porch, I can take a shower without having to keep pushing the button to keep the water going like you do in jail. I can cook whatever I want and eat as much as I want. I even have a cat now. How normal is that?