It was many years ago that I was homeless and in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago. I had grown up in poverty and addiction and, at the time, was lacking the life skills to apply myself to anything more than temp work, drug dealing or theft to make money.
From birth, the odds were already stacked against me -- my father was a drug addict, my mother drank the whole pregnancy with me and I was born high and lethargic due to the amount of valium she had taken before she gave birth to me. Within months she had given me up to an uncle and aunt (they became my step parents).
Whether it was my stepfather telling me I was worthless and would never amount to anything, or an older cousin touching me in a manner deemed inappropriate, abuse, in many forms, was significant in my life. I remember a time when I was nine and my mother sent me to the store. I ended up spending 25 cents of the change on candy and when I confessed this to her, I received a beating across the back of my neck while I was eating. When I stopped eating due to fear of choking, she got even angrier and threatened me with further retaliation if I did not eat. Then she hit me again between bites. I was very fearful of her. Later that night she got drunk and beat me across the back of my legs with her cane. It was not too many days after this that I ended up in foster care for a short spell.
As a child, I slowly became angrier and angrier. At seven, I was already starting to drink alcohol; and smoke marijuana. This was life growing up, a life that I quickly got accustomed to. It’s funny, in a very sad way, how at such a young age, some of my family members were so accepting of my drug abuse and disruptive behavior. Some members even condoned it. Sexual, mental, emotional and physical abuse was the norm in my surroundings and I learned that some things were not to be spoken. The effects of this lifestyle were taking a toll on people I loved and I could see it in their eyes. It was almost like they didn’t even like what they were doing but they lacked the skills to do anything else. I eventually became addicted to crack cocaine yet still used other drugs and drank recreationally.
On the surface, as an adult, I kept coping by doing the things that fit the life I knew. But, I began to ask questions to myself, as I knew deep down that this lifestyle could not be normal. Why couldn’t I be normal? Why were others becoming successful while I was still battling my personal demons? Why was I so angry? What caused my abusers to become abusive and to pass these traits on to me? How could I break the cycle?
My questions lead me to realize, I had to change, but it still took about five to seven years after my decision to change my life to finally achieve sobriety. During those years I was doing lots of things right. I took life skills training, anger management, and I latched onto positive people. And still I kept relapsing over and over. But I kept trying.
During this time I was in and out of the homeless shelters and hotels. I even managed to get a place to live a few times. But, no matter what I did, I always ended up homeless again as I was often careless and irresponsible. In fact, in my early twenties my then partner became pregnant and I lived with the fear that my lifestyle would have an effect on my soon to be born daughter.
I did a lot of other things during this period to try to make sense of my life. I attempted a few confrontations with family members who had abused me, including my mother. Although I was not able to get the response I wanted, I gained understanding that aided me in my healing. I found out that my mother had been sexually abused by my grandfather. She had started drinking at a young age to cope and that this cycle of abuse had probably gone on for generations. It was even possible that two of my older siblings might have been the by-products of such abuse. Another story that could very well write a book itself.
And then, I decided it was time to face my past. I phoned the father of my ex girlfriend and told him I was coming back to Calgary, clean and sober. He asked me to walk away and I told him I had worked too hard and that I couldn’t abandon my responsibilities as a father. They took me to court to deny me access and I came back to Calgary to fight. I had no money or a place to stay and most importantly I had no lawyer.
I ended up at the old Drop In Centre one day, a place I had stayed at many times when too high or intoxicated to go anywhere else. I was sitting at a table when Debbie Newman confronted me and stated that I looked clean-cut and might be suitable for a job cleaning a house for a lady. I went over to the lady’s house, received my instructions and she left for the day while I cleaned. I remember a rolled up wad of $100 dollar bills she left on her dresser. I was tempted to take it, it would probably cover rent and groceries for a month. I fought the urge and continued on with my job.
The lady came back later. She noticed the money wasn’t gone and she asked me about my story and inquired about why I was homeless. I explained to her about becoming clean and fighting for access to my daughter in court. It turned out she was a family court lawyer. I got my first big break. She ended up taking on my case and I won access to my daughter.
Since then I have relapsed and ended up in treatment. I got married to another woman and have had two other daughters. I went to college, received my Human Services Diploma and with my new education I applied for a job at the DI. “I want to give back to the people who helped me in my time of need,” I told them on my application. Imagine my joy when Debbie Newman, the same woman who had lead me to my first big break, interviewed and hired me. It was almost eight years to the month since she’d first stopped by my table and declared I look clean cut enough to take on the job. I’ve been employed at the DI ever since.
Since those days of living on the dark side of the street, my life has turned one hundred and eighty degrees. Today, I get to enjoy helping others. I have accomplished all the goals I’ve set for myself thus far and have the skills and willingness to set more goals for myself. Life is a journey of continuing to achieve personal success.
I have thanks and appreciation for Debbie Newman and the DI for helping me to start on my new journey. It is with a grateful heart that I continue this journey of bettering myself and helping those who deserve the same help that I received.
Written by: Staff Phil G.