Sunday, June 10, 2007

It never completely goes away

I just got back from a quick trip to Portland. I rode the light rail from the airport to the friend's house where I was staying. As I sat there, looking out the window, I realized that I was calculating whether the places I passed would be suitable as a place to live if I was on the streets. Were they concealed enough to allow me to camp there without being noticed?

Along the rail tracks is a commercial district with overgrown greenery, perfect type of camping spot that I used to look for.

It's been over 14 years since I lived outdoors and I still check out my surroundings to see if there is a place to sleep where I would be safe if I didn't have a home to return to.

I was walking back to the MAX in the rain and was stopped by a couple who were pretty wet and asking for help to get a ticket to get to a friend's house and out of the weather. I had a five and gave it to them - the story doesn't matter - I had it and was willing to give it, so I did. They were very grateful. I told them that I had been homeless for 8 years and hoped that they were someday able to make the change for themselves that I had made for myself.

There's always hope, even if I still scan for a safe place to sleep.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

An explanation and apology of sorts to an old friend

I've put a lot of thought into just what was going on when you and I broke up. It was a huge turning point for me and I needed to understand why I self destructed so thoroughly.

You and I were at a perfect moment in time. Great jobs, good house, good relationship... What about that set up threatened me so much that I had to destroy it.

I believe that I destroyed my life in order to burn away my ability to bury the hidden stuff. I existed on the surface of who I am, without ever having to look at the core.

When I started using, I realized that I had found what I had been looking for all my life. This made it possible for me to not care about feeling alone inside my skin. that feeling that I had all my life about not belonging, not being a part of anything, not being accepted and wanting so desperately to be - this took that feeling of wanting to be, away. I didn't care anymore. The world could shut me out and I was fine.

I lost the house and my job in less than 9 months and spent the next 8 years living in People's Park or down at the Marina. Sleeping on the sidewalk, sometimes in the crawl spaces under frat houses, sometime on church steps - any where the cops won't run you off and the rain won't get you. I didn't care.

My world was very narrow - getting and using, finding a safe dry place to sleep (when I slept at all) and what church was serving food that day -not necessarily in that order.

Remember L. T.? I would have to say that she saved my life. L. attempted to rescue me a couple of times. I had cut M out of the majority of my life and was living in the park where L found me one day. She had been looking for me for a few years. She took me home and dragged my sorry ass to an AA meeting and then some NA meetings. She offered me a place to stay and a loving heart. I wasn't ready to hear it at the time and came and went a couple of times with her.

She sent me down her to my mom's for the birth of my first grandchild with an engagement ring on my finger - wanting me to come home to her. She showed me that someone was capable of loving me regardless of what I had done or who I had become. That was the most important first step. And my exposure to NA served me well, when I finally decided that I might want to live another way I knew where to go for help.

After one false start, I finally moved to Phoenix and threw myself into changing my life. Once the self hatred is laid on the table and pulled apart for examination - healing and growth can begin. Part of the self hatred was due to my destruction of my relationship with you. I can see now that I have done that all my life up to then - either I get involved with someone completely unsuitable (K, R, M) or I sabotage the relationship if it's working (you, B, etc)

In NA, and with the love of my sisters, I have examined the character defects and lies that drive my self destruction and have come to realize and actually internalize that I am loved and capable of loving without having to ruin it.

This turned into a novel - whew. What I am trying to say in all of this is that I am sorry I hurt you and I also believe that everything happens the way it does for a reason. I would not be the woman I am today if any of those things had happened differently.

I am loved by a wonderful woman who treats me like the goddess that I am. I have my son back in my life after 20 years of estrangement. I have the most amazing job where I am considered the expert in my field. (you gotta know I like that!) and I am surrounded daily by family and friends who amaze me with their capacity to love and be loved.

We have 10 - 20 people over for Sunday night dinner every week and our house is the place that everybody congregates to. I have more than I ever dreamed possible and life is very very good. And I am content - a bone deep contentment - no restlessness, no small voice inside trying to ruin it, no wondering what is next.

Friday, September 22, 2006

One of the boyfriends

I've been a lesbian since 1980, but during the dark period of my homelessness I had a couple of significant relationships with men. The whole issue of whether that makes me bisexual is a discussion that I'm not going to have. Suffice it to say that I always considered myself a lesbian.

One of the men that played a huge part in this period of time was Red. He was receiving SSI for Mental Illness and he worked hard for that check. He was on a lot of meds - big serious meds - Haladol, Lithium etc... He was also brilliant. Self studying Micro biology - auditing UC Berkeley classes in it.

He loved me, I knew that. He made me feel cherished and protected and taken care of - in a time when I didn't feel that anyone should or could ever care about me. Certainly a time when I didn't feel capable of caring enough about anyone else.

He and I had a couple of places that we camped. One was in north Berkeley on a vacant lot filled with trees. We had a shelter built with a real bed - shelves for my books. It stayed dry mostly in the rain. It was a home of sorts for the two of us.

When I was with Red, I rarely used. Mostly we went down to the park for breakfast, I hung out playing with whatever children were there or reading a book. I looked for clean clothes at the free box and we ate dinner at the Berkeley Emergency Food project. We then went back to our hillside and slept.

Once in a while, I would take off for a few days to do what I did. Red didn't care for it, but was always glad to see me when I got back. We seldom argued about it, and I didn't feel that he held it against me.

He could play the guitar like no one else I have ever met. Just sit down and play anything you asked him to. If he didn't know the song, he could figure it out just from listening to someone sing it. Even me, and I can't sing for anything. I do love to sing, though. He could play and sing in such a way that I felt like I was singing along and not just being annoying.

He taught me some dust bowl and labor organizing songs and we would sit on the sidewalk in this one area with great acoustics and just sing. Ocasionally people would give us money - but we weren't busking - just trying out songs with each other.

When an offer came from a friend of mine to live in her house and she would help me change my life - Red pushed me to do it, said that I needed to make a change in my life - I was not meant to live on the streets and that he was happy that it could happen.

That situation didn't last very long, but when I came back to the streets, there was a difference and I started doing something different.

There are lots of other things I remember about Red, but those are for another day.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A couple of friends

D and C had an apartment down on Alcatraz. A great big apartment and they always had a bunch of people staying with them. C was raising her grandson - he was just a baby at the time I met them. I came over to their place with someone that was crashing there and just fell in love with the baby. C was a great friend to me and her husband D really treated me like a sister or something like that.

C worked in a halfway house - she was recovering from an addiction and D was still using. I'd hang out there for days on end, cause they let me have all the time with the baby that I wanted/needed.

They treated me like family. When I showed up, they welcomed me in - when I took off, they did not take offense.

It was at their apartment that I got the big scar on my hand - but that's a story for another day.

I found out recently that D has died of Hep C and that C just had her second mastectomy. The baby is grown - he must be 15 or 16 now.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Other homeless women

I read the most amazing blog from beginning to end the other day. It's an account of a homeless woman in England living in her car

I was interested in a lot of her comments about other homeless and the lengths she went to in avoiding being regarded as they were.

It stirred up a lot of emotions for me, but I am not sure I know how to put them into words here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pumpkin pie for breakfast

Thanksgiving is a day like all the rest... Usually the meal being served at the Berkeley Emergency Food Project has turkey, mashed potatoes etc..... But pumpkin pie was hard to come by when I was living on the street.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving in the Before Times was Friday morning breakfast of pumpkin pie. Leftover pumpkin pie was planned for and never went to waste.

So there I was, People's Park the Friday after Thanksgiving, grieving the lack of pie. I walked down on the avenue to get a cup of coffee and P was just waking up from her place in front of Cody's books. I told her of my craving and what does she pull out from her stuff, but almost 3/4 of a pumpkin pie that someone had given her the night before.

I went and got coffee for both of us and we had pie for breakfast after all.

Life was good that day.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tribal affliliations

I remember coming to Arizona and feeling like I didn't fit in. My family is here, but it had been so long since I had felt connected to them.

Connectedness is really the issue.

Leaving the loose homeless tribe in California behind was hard. I knew them. Knew what to expect from them. Knew where to go if I needed taking care of and knew how to take care of those who needed it.

When I got here, I realised that building a new tribe was going to be the most important part of being able to survive here. Going to NA was a part of that. I learned that showing up is one of the most important parts. Talking to people is another. For people to become part of your tribe, they have to understand who you are. And for me, I have to think I know who you are for you to be part of mine.

Family was harder than I thought it would be. They are a bunch of loving, loud, pushy, overwhelming people that are honest and truthful. The sheer numbers of them can be too much at one time. At first I could only stay at family gatherings for a half hour or so and then I had to leave. But I pushed myself to go, because participating is the only way to be a part of. I wanted to be part of them so much.

NA was a little easier - meetings are about an hour and not nearly as chaotic. Get there early and offer to help and people will talk to you. Forming an NA tribe is tricky. I needed people who had what I wanted and also needed to feel like I had shared history with them. Going to a lot of meetings solidified my ability to choose who to emulate. I was told (and believed) that if I wanted what they had, doing what they were doing was a good start.

I miss the tribe I left behind in California. There are times when I feel like I deserted them. I left to get better and left them behind. It feels selfish. My life is so good now.