“I give up.” This is what I said when I realized I had spent an entire year looking for a job with no success. It was also a year after my kids’ father had overdosed on heroin. This is the moment that led to my life spiraling into drug use, homelessness and lost years of my kids’ lives. These three words have power. Once you say them, you accept defeat. Once you say them, you stop trying.
After that, I stopped spending my time looking for work and started spending my time with the wrong people. I began to use drugs after five years of sobriety. After only a month, the kids’ grandparents took them. A month after that, I was not only using multiple drugs, but I was also committing crime. The day the cops brought me home, after I was caught with stolen property, was the day my apartment manager had enough.
Being homeless in Clovis was next to impossible. There were very few places to get free food and almost nowhere to sleep. I would have frozen a few times if I didn’t have my dog George to keep me warm. Then, one day, when I was getting food and clothes at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, I was approached by the police gang task force. They harassed me, even though I was on church property; I wasn’t doing anything illegal and have never been involved with any gang. After that, I stayed out of Clovis.
“Get down, get down,” my friend Steven yelled. We had been living together in tent city for a few months in one of the biggest structures on the block. Our makeshift shelter had an outside shower, a cooking area and a work area. It was surrounded by a fence that went up little by little as we were able to find wood. In the middle was a ten foot tent. Our door was a giant wooden wheel with a hole in the middle, so we were able to secure it with a lock and chain. “Get up and get out,” Steven screamed urgently. What sounded like fighting and gunshots was fire and exploding propane tanks. We watched as uncaring firefighters slowly worked to distinguish the flames. “Tell them we have a big propane tank in our tent,” I yelled to my friend Theresa who was standing near the fire truck. There was nothing we could say that would make them care enough to move faster. To them and most of the city, we were worthless. We both teared up as we watched her tent melt around her limited belongings. This was the third fire that our shelter was able to survive.
The fires were only one thing to fear while being homeless in tent city. There was a fear instilled in me by my boyfriend about a sex offender and child killer who lived only a few tents from us. There was fear of officers that categorize all homeless people as criminals. Then there was the fear of never getting out of it and never getting my children back.
I try not to forget where I came from. When I have food in the cupboard, I remember how it felt to be starving to the point of tears. When I’m warm under my blanket, I remember the unbearable and inescapable cold. The worst feeling of all was missing my kids, a heartbreak so deep that I could physically feel the pain in my chest. That’s when I needed the drugs. I needed to numb the pain. I needed to forget.
Other drugs have consequences, but meth is evil. Meth will take all of you: body, mind and soul. You think you have good intentions; you might even think you’re doing the right thing. You might think you are moving in the right direction, but you’re just running in circles. Meth becomes your main focus no matter how hard you try to focus on getting yourself out of the mess it gets you into. It creates an illusion that it’s making things better while it drags you deeper into its clutches. I accumulated seventeen failures to appear in court. I kept putting myself on calendars and calling programs as I tried to get help. Then I would get sucked back in. My heart would hurt for my kids. When I couldn’t get help, I would use meth to numb the pain.
Finally, I was able to snap out of it long enough to get to the probation office. I told my probation officer that I needed help, and she got me into rehab that day. I was so happy to be there. I soaked up all the knowledge I could about addiction and recovery. I realized what had lead to this devastating relapse and gained tools to prevent it from happening again. Above all, I found myself and a true understanding of God.
Even though I went back to the streets after rehab, I held on to my faith. Steven asked homeless advocate Nancy Waidtlow, “Do you know anyone who would let us pitch a tent in their backyard?” We knew it was a long shot, so imagine our surprise when she told Steven, “Yes.” It turns out that while tent city was being bulldozed, the ladies who used to bring us bagels and toilet paper were working on an alternative homeless solution. Dakota EcoGarden was my saving grace. What looked like a big house with tents and a garden in the backyard, was so much more than a place to get on your feet. Dakota EcoGarden introduced me to a whole different lifestyle that I still continue to live today. A life full of meetings and protests, with a passion for community involvement and social justice. This wonderful place not only gave me a stable living environment while I went to school, it’s also the place where I discovered what I wanted to do with my life.
I now have an apartment with my kids, a car and a paid internship at a rehab facility. I will have a certificate for substance abuse counseling this spring and one for social work in the fall. I’m also a board member of the Eco Village Project of Fresno and we are trying to help others like me. What I forgot when I used drugs is now what I need to remember; that heartache and those hard times are the motivation I use to continue on the right path. I appreciate all that I have now, every simple necessity that most take for granted, every step up the ladder to a better life and most of all, every second I have with my children.
“God’s time is perfect,” this is what I have said for the last few years after getting sober. These words have given me patience through the slow process of getting on my feet. These words have proven to be true. These four words have more power than you can imagine. Once you say them, you accept His ways. Later, you see that if things happened on your time, it wouldn’t have worked out so perfectly.