Culture shock placed my body in perpetual disbelief when I entered the House of Hope. I was now living with people I probably would not have spoke to in passing. Thank God for humility because I was no different from these ladies despite my drug of choice and the color of my skin.
“You’re my buddy!” This giant black woman announced and then she grabbed me and hugged me hard. She had done 10 months for fraud in the Twin Towers of Los Angeles. A wild look lit up her eyes. In fact, most people there had wild looks as I silently watched the group interact. The wild look in their eyes simply was early sobriety. And I had it too.
I was so sick. I compare my disease to thinking you have a cold when you actually have pneumonia. The more sober you become the more you realize how sick you are. And I was given the opportunity to get the help I needed with free housing, food and solid recovery.
“What is your story?”A woman asked and handed me a menthol cigarette.
I don’t belong here, I thought.
“I am an alcoholic.” I replied. I was actually the only alcoholic there. Most of the girls shot up heroin, smoked crack and experienced rock bottoms that I could not even imagine. We had prisoners, prostitutes and women who lost their children to the system all living together. I felt like I did not belong but that was far-fetched dream I call magical thinking.
The facts were I lost my car, my house, my friends, my money, my cats (all eight) and most importantly, I lost my ability to see right from wrong while I remained a bankrupt tax evader. How was I different from them? Addiction is color blind. It is socio-economically blind; it can creep into the nicest homes and destitute any family.
And I was there. With one bag and no where to go for three months. That night they had to look for a blanket and a pillow for me. The place was getting by on a shoe string and all the ladies signed onto welfare, general welfare and food stamps to help keep the place going. We shopped at the food bank and we became very blessed for the food we had.
My first night gave me a glimpse of what the next three months would hold. And while I was trying to go to sleep in a shared bedroom for six, I could hear some girls making out nearby. I felt like I was in a movie.”What if someone approached me? I don’t even know how to defend myself!” However, I later learned these women were beautiful people. The drug controlled their choices, my choices and our outcomes. I kept wondering how the morning would be in my brand new world where anything was possible as I drifted off to sleep.
In the morning I learned about chores. The chore rules were strict. Every chore was inspected and if you did not do it right, everyone would have to wait while you went back and tried again.
After chores we were shuffled into a van. I had no idea where we were going. I would soon learn that this was would happen often. But the women were laughing and happy. And even though I knew nothing about their backgrounds, I began to feel a sense of ease.
Little did I know we were being driven to a children’s parade down San Pedro’s version of Main Street. This was before Hippa but the staff responsibly painted clown faces on each of us and suited us in clown garb. It was like 90 degrees and we smoked menthol cigarettes as we waited for hours for our turn in the parade. Turned out… we were the finale. Our makeup had melted off our faces but we tried our best to funny and dazzle the crowd. The children seemed happy and so did I.
But, I was so sick as were many others but we did it. Service. Service was the key. In this self-absorbed world service will set you free. And I live by that now. And walking down the San Pedro Main Street smiling and waving at the children and their families was actually fun. I had completely forgotten what it was like to have fun without alcohol or drugs. And the act of service brought me joy! That was quite a surprise!
I still had three more months to live in this strange place. I had nowhere to go. It was the first time I had no other choice. And that is always the key with this disease because if I had just one more person to help me, or even the slightest ability to try something else, I would not have lived very long. Nor would any of these other women.
So the adventure began and I learned, lived and loved in an entirely different world.