“Aaaahhhh. I’m home!”

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

That’s what I thought when I walked through the doors of Central City Concern’s Estate Building for the first time. After decades of chaos, pain pills, and couch surfing, I had finally found a safe place to lay my head. 

It took me far longer to find that place than I care to admit. 

My story isn’t an easy one to tell. But I tell it with the hope that others may be helped by it. I’ll spare you a lot of the messy details. 

I grew up in New Jersey, surrounded by brothers and dogs—or “dawgs” as they say out there. We moved around a lot. My dad—and guardian angel—died when I was 10. Not long after, Mom sort of went off the rails. Our home became party central. Drugs, sex, and strangers ruled. Bad things happened around me and bad things happened to me. 

At 17, I left home. I hadn’t a clue how to get a job, find an apartment, or pay my bills. I lived on the streets of New York City for about a year before turning to Mr. Not-Quite-Right for help. At 19, I was pregnant with my precious daughter, Jessica. Then the pains in my gut began. The diagnosis: Crohn’s disease, which would most likely lead to multiple surgeries over my lifetime. Mr. Not-Quite-Right didn’t stick around after that. 

Pain pills became the answer to all of my problems—the Crohn’s, the loneliness, the bewilderment, the fear.… The feeling that everyone but me had been handed an instruction book for life … I didn’t know how to take care of myself and I didn’t know how to take care of my little girl. I turned to my mother for help. 

My not-so-great mother was a really terrific grandmother to Jessica. She created the safe home for Jessica that she hadn’t been able to for me. 

And thank goodness she did! At this point in my life, I had become so racked with pain from Crohn’s and ashamed of my own failures as a mother, that I added cocaine and methamphetamines to the mix. I would do anything not to feel. I was again couch surfing and living on the streets. 

This nonsense went on for a while. I turned to my mother for help again. By this time, she and Jessica were living in Bend. I joined them, sobered up, did some dog- and house-sitting here and there to earn money, enrolled at Central Oregon Community College, and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Things were pretty good for about five years. I really enjoyed my counseling work and the opportunity it gave me to help others like me. Then my Crohn’s flared up bad. There was more surgery, there was more pain, and there were more pain pills. I was taking too many and I was turning to the streets to get more. Alone on a rural highway in an opioid daze one night, I crashed my car. 

That near-fatal wreck led to a life-saving trip to Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox. Over and over, the Hooper counselors told me I was going to be okay. I thought, “If I can get out of this, I’m coming back here to help others.”   

Once the drugs were out of my system, I went to Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program. I was given a little apartment in the Estate Building. The minute I walked in, I felt safe. And that’s when my life began to change. 

I had a roof over my head. I had food to eat. I was surrounded by people who wanted me to succeed. I received intensive addiction treatment counseling at Central City Concern’s Recovery Center. At Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic, I learned ways to manage my Crohn’s that didn’t involve pills.  

I joined Central City Concern’s Community Volunteer Corps. I hired on with the Clean and Safe crew so I could start to rebuild my resume. It was a little humbling, but there’s something really gratifying about starting at the bottom. 

Eventually, I moved into Central City Concern’s Sally McCracken Building, where I was again surrounded by a community of people who wanted the same things I did: sobriety, stability, and safety. I felt so welcome there. My room in the Sally McCracken became a little sanctuary. I was able to live on my own and be self-sufficient for the first time in my life. 

Over the next several months, I met frequently with staff at Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center. They helped me find meaningful work while I waited to earn recertification as a drug- and alcohol counselor. Once I did, I kept my promise: I went back to Hooper Detox to work as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Every day, I get to give back in the place that saved my life. 

During this time, my daughter, Jessica, started her own family. The self-examination and character-building work I have done with the help of Central City Concern has allowed me to become a good mother to her and a grandmother to her children. 

Central City Concern gave me a little place to call home when I needed it most. Then they gave me everything I needed to build a new life. It was like I finally got that book with the instructions for life that everyone else was born with. Now I’m employed full time and looking for a place of my own, so that someone else can have the little place at the Sally McCracken that was so important early on to my sobriety and my sanity. 

Central City Concern told me to trust them each step of the way, and I did.  

They never let me down.