Last week, the World Book Night USA got us thinking about clients who have been inspired by the written word. Our thoughts quickly went to Felicia, a recent graduate of the Recovery Mentor Program and the Community Volunteer Corps and an aspiring writer. Felicia has been a featured writer with the Write Around Portland program and she’s recently accepted a scholarship to participate in the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. Here is Felicia’s story and one of her poems.
For as far back as I can remember I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in. Like something was wrong with me. Like I wasn’t smart enough, tough enough, pretty enough, or anything enough.
My parents divorced when I was six. We didn’t have a lot of money. I was hungry a lot and I wore dirty clothes to school. The other kids made fun of me.
It didn’t help that we moved around a lot—seven times before I started ninth grade. I was always the new kid in class. It was so hard trying to make new friends over and over again.
I was bullied in middle school. I started skipping classes to avoid those kids. It seemed like I always felt lonely, angry, or sad. In sixth grade, I smoked my first cigarette. Then I started drinking beer and smoking pot. By the time I’d graduated from high school, I’d tried every drug out there. Half the time, I didn’t even know what people were giving me. But I knew this: when I used alcohol and drugs, I didn’t feel lonely, angry, or sad anymore.
I knew pretty quickly that I was in serious trouble. But I hid my problem well. When I finally asked a school counselor for help, she was surprised to learn how depressed I was, how much school I’d been missing, and how often I’d been getting high. That conversation motivated me to get my act together—for a little while. I was clean and sober at my graduation ceremony. But before long, I was using again.
I spent the next three years in and out of detox facilities and addiction treatment programs. I started to steal—even from my mom. I stole her money, her jewelry, and her peace of mind. My mom changed the locks on her doors. The most important woman in my life didn’t trust me anymore. She was so worried about me. But she couldn’t help me. No one could.
I started to sell drugs. I was getting high all the time. I didn’t know how to stop—it was like I didn’t have a choice. I ended up living in a car. That was the worst.
The front seat of a car is no place to sleep. I was always cold and my body always ached. I was dirty and I smelled bad. I felt so empty and alone. I didn’t want to live anymore. I remember thinking as I watched people go by in the parking lot, “I wish I could just go grocery shopping like a normal person.”
Everything changed in November 2011. I was arrested for drug possession and spent a night in jail. Then I went to a temporary women’s shelter. It was there that I learned about Central City Concern. Their Recovery Mentor Program sounded like exactly what I needed: they would show me how to live and mentor me through life.
Once I got into the Recovery Mentor Program, I got a key to my own room in CCC’s Estate Building, where I got to live with other people who were also in recovery. My room was bare, but I was grateful for it. It was so nice to have a bed to sleep in. Other people in the building would come knocking on my door, and ask me how I was doing or if I needed anything. That really helped me come out of my shell. Eventually I started joining the other residents who’d cook and eat together in the communal kitchen. I finally started feeling like I belonged, like I had real friends.
I went to outpatient counseling at the CCC Recovery Center and acupuncture at Old Town Clinic; I joined CCC’s Community Volunteer Corps; and I took computer, resume-writing, and job search classes at CCC’s Employment Access Center.
It was not easy going to work when I was newly sober. I felt pretty shaky. But because I was surrounded with people who were striving for the same things I was—to become fully self-sufficient with no government assistance—I felt supported, like I could succeed.
Eventually I was hired by CCC’s Clean and Safe program. I’ve since moved up to become a community building assistant at Central City Concern. I get to help people now. I get to give back.
I like to give back in other ways, too. I joined the Recovery Mentor Program’s alumni group. Alumni can participate in weekly support group meetings with people who are currently in the program. It’s there that I’ve met young women like myself who need help just like I did. I want to show them that it’s possible to live a clean and sober life. I want all of them to succeed.
I’ve been sober for more than 2-1/2 years. In January, I moved into my own place.
I’ve been slowly earning back my mom’s trust. Sometimes we run errands together or just meet for coffee. We’ve taken some trips to the Oregon coast. We even drove down to Santa Cruz, California, together last summer.
I want to go back to school although not really sure what I will pursue there yet. I love to write and not long ago, I finished a writing program at Write Around Portland. I was even their featured writer of the month this winter and that was a great feeling. Here’s the poem that was posted:
As I exhale, I am letting go
Letting go of everything outside of me
Letting go of life
It’s just me
Feeling my body relax
I’m so weightless, it’s like I don’t exist.
Where am I? I can only hear my breath.
With my eyes closed, I am out of this world
Until I wiggle my toe.
Today, I have choices and a future thanks to Central City Concern.