B’s Story – We sat there on the couch for a while; I was holding onto my little sister whose two and one half years younger than me. She’s crying. She’s afraid because my mom’s boyfriend just trashed all of mom’s perfume bottles, throwing them in the fireplace. He took off angry, didn’t matter to me, I was glad to have him go. I got up after a while to make us something to eat, catsup sandwiches. I loved catsup sandwiches so I climbed up onto the counter to get what I needed. My sister followed me and stood by; she was always watching me. I think it’s because she wanted to make sure everything was going to be okay. We stayed in that apartment by ourselves for a couple of days from what I can remember. I wasn’t worried, it’d happened before plenty of times. I never knew what was going on with my mom then and like I said it didn’t matter, I could take care of us and did. I’m five years old.
My dad thought of himself a gangster around Alameda and Oakland when I was growing up in the seventies. He was an alcoholic, drug addict who’d spent time locked up on and off for all kinds of things. I’d seen him beaten, stabbed, shot, and bloodied. He’d brag about what a bad-ass he was even though he wasn’t super imposing being tall but very thin. He would never let me forget that he was bad and treated me as if I was as tuff as any boy; soon enough I was. He felt he was teaching me what I needed to know to survive and I guess, in some weird way it worked. I remember his life’s lessons and, at the time, they seemed normal to hear. He would tell me don’t take on a pimp if I decide to become a prostitute or don’t come looking for sympathy if someone’s coming after you, I gotta fight my own battles. He taught me to box, that drinking was cool and, most importantly, not to rely on anyone else but me. That last one is the one that really stuck for the longest time and despite outward appearances I loved him because I understood that deep down he was trying to take care of me and my sister the only way he knew how. I remember vividly a story he told me when I was a teen. He said he knew what I was made of because I’d survived a drug overdose when I was about 1 ½ years old. He explained that I’d gotten into the pocket of his pants that he’d thrown onto the side of my crib; I had found some kind of drug and ingested it. My parents found me unconscious the next morning and had to take me to the hospital. The point that he was trying to make though is that I survived because I was like him, a bad-ass. I stopped crying when I was about 5 once I realized my mom was gone; after that I was just angry. The thing that I remembered over and over is that no one was going to take care of us, watch out for my sister and me, except me. Since my sister was the sensitive one; I transformed myself at a very young age into the protector. I remember waking up in the middle of the night when we were very little, pulling her close to me hoping to make her feel less scared. I was probably scared too but I took on the persona of the protector. I felt it was my responsibility to watch over her and once we started school if anybody tried to mess with her I got angry, they backed off. I guess you could say I felt I was the boy my father never had. Funny thing is that although I’d always felt I was supposed to be her defender; I could barely take care of myself. I knew though no one else was going to step in and that it was all up to me. That’s what I remember and this memory has been the hardest thing to forget and let go of to this day.
My father’s mother was the one constant in our lives. She was a much older woman by the time my sister and I were born, already in her 60’s. I remember gray hair covering her beautiful pale face. Her face was round like her body with a kindness that we could always see; she always had a smile as if she was always so happy to see us. She wasn’t especially tall, probably a little shorter than my adult height but appeared even shorter from a slight stooped position caused by her constant back pain. In fact she wore a corset to help alleviate some of that pain; it was one of those old fashioned kind with the boning in it which my aunt, her daughter, would come over every day to lace for her. She was the one that took care of us on and off from our births whenever my mom did what my sister and I called disappeared. Grandma would take us off to her house where we would play happily until that time came when we would reluctantly have to go home. When grandma wasn’t getting around too well she’d send my uncle, her son, over to get us. We always knew that grandma was not very far away and no matter what, we would be okay just as soon as we got to her house.
The time we were left alone for all those days, when I was five, we were taken to her permanently. Our mom, it turns out, wasn’t coming back for a long time, although for my sister and me, at the time we thought it was just like any other disappearance thinking she’d return at any minute. Grandma took us without question and despite some of the family’s protests, she felt we were family too and she loved us. For a while we’d follow her around the house fearful she was going to leave us like the other’s had, she’d reassure us every day she wasn’t going anywhere, telling us constantly that she wanted us and always would. That was something we weren’t used to, a grown-up being around all the time. It made us nervous, anxious. I guess by this time I was already realizing what not being cared for felt like. I don’t really have a memory of my mom caring about us too much. I mean she was around on and off until I was five, but for me I felt she never really cared to show us affection. I learned later from the family that my mom, who was a beauty with her darker complexion and full dark hair, both from her Spanish background, was only 16 years old when I was born. I was told she wanted a baby all to herself, someone just for her to love and care for, something she wouldn’t have to share. She soon realized that babies got a lot of attention from other people and took constant devotion from the mother. The responsibility proved to be too much for her and she gave up caring for us at least emotionally, she tried for a while to care for us providing shelter and a meager amount of food. My sister especially proved difficult for her since she was sickly so much of her infancy. That’s when it clicked for me that it was my responsibility to be there for my sister. This is also the time when it set in my mind that my mom gave up on me with no explanation as to why.
School growing up in a small town where everyone knew everything about everybody was a major embarrassment. Everyone knew my family, especially my dad. Maybe part of that was the fact that I looked so much like him. I inherited much of his looks including the light complexion contrasting with dark brown thick hair, both of us tall, and both with Hazel colored eyes. I couldn’t go to school without some kid coming up to me and asking me about the latest crime my dad got caught attempting. I began to dread having to face another day of the stares, feeling the shame, so by the eighth grade I started skipping. I felt like an outcast, an oddball. I felt like I was the only kid living with a grandmother, the only one without parents around. As I said no one ever talked about why my life was the way it was and these thoughts festered until I was just angry. I became determined not to allow anyone see me vulnerable. As loving as my grandmother was, she refused to discuss what was going on and focused only on making sure we were fed, clothed and sheltered. By the time I was 12 years old I was smoking in front of her, drinking alcohol and using a bunch of different street drugs including Barbiturates, LSD and Reds. I was even suspended from fourth grade for smoking cigarettes without consequence. My first drink of alcohol was when I was nine and one half years old, vodka, it was my dad’s. I was never disciplined for any of my bad behaviors; I’m sure my grandmother felt too overwhelmed and only wished to act as if nothing was going on. I remember coming home completely wasted, standing in front of her trying to look her in the eyes and she’d simply, quietly, tell me to go to bed. Soon enough I would go to a local park where some of my older cousins hung out instead of going to school. They’d give me alcohol and get me high, I was miserable and this was my way out of feeling everything awful I was thinking.
By the time I hit thirteen I was out of control. I did pretty much what I wanted; nobody would mess with me. I was in full swing the bad-ass my father had wanted and I challenged anyone who felt different. I loved my grandmother, adored my sister and still protected her as much as I could from the local bullies. As my grandmother aged my sister would have to spend time in foster care. Me, I spent all of my time looking for a way out of this crappy life I faced day after day. I even tried to kill myself by cutting my wrists at one point. I only ended up spending time in the Oakland Adult Psychiatric Ward. That and the one time in juvenile hall did nothing to stem the path of self-destruction I was on. I felt nobody really cared enough to step-in, I realized nobody would. I was the child my dad had said I needed to be; his life’s lessons had taken hold. I rarely went to school, spending most of my time over the next several years getting loaded and running away. Once when I was about 14 years old I even tried to run as far away as Texas with a boyfriend and two friends, all minors. My dad caught on to what we were up to and was able to get me back. Over the phone he’d threatened my boyfriend who decided it was safest just to bring me home; once there things went back to right where I’d left them. I did try going back to school in the tenth grade. I pretended I could be part of something like everyone else but ultimately I got thrown out altogether and ended up assigned to a continuation school. That too never worked out for me and eventually I just gave up, never getting past the tenth grade. Throughout my teenaged years I felt awful, filled with guilt for disappointing my grandmother, filled with rage for being left on my own, and shame, always the shame for who I was. I cared about how my behavior was affecting my grandmother and felt the responsibility of disappointing her daily. I didn’t want the pain that came over me from thinking I’d let her down or hurt her so I became unavailable emotionally. I never wanted her to feel like she’d failed me, deep down I knew different, I knew it was me.
There was a time, a brief time, when I felt like I belonged to someone, like someone genuinely loved me, wanted me around. I was 15 years old and living with my dad’s brother, an uncle and his wife, who were both in their late twenties. They had two daughters that I would babysit for every once in a while and they offered to let me stay with them to help them out but also to get me away from all the trouble I was involved in. My aunt, a beautiful woman so full of joy, would hang out with me. We stayed up late at night watching movies after everyone went to bed. We talked openly about everything and I felt I could trust her completely. Eventually our relationship became something more than just friendship; we developed feelings for each other and soon began to act them out in physical ways. At first it was only kissing, touching. Soon, though whenever we could sneak some time together, we would. I already knew that I was attracted to females; at times I’d say I was bi-sexual, but truly inside I knew different. She never forced me, never talked me into anything. I wanted to be with her, I loved being with her, it felt natural; it felt right in so many ways. Finally I felt like someone loved me the way no one ever had. I’d go to her work and wait for her, we would talk endlessly and, when we could, we would make love endlessly. This lasted for several months until my uncle saw us kissing, he didn’t confront me openly; he just made sure I left immediately the following day. And that was it, the end of the most passionate and loving relationship I’d had in my life, no discussion, nothing to say, just over. For a time I was crushed, devastated. I still loved her, wanted her and saw her at family events; even tried to talk to her but it was over and I had to move on and I did. Back to the life I’d known, I got comfortable again being with my friends, drinking, taking drugs and spending time with nobody in particular. Later, when I was about 25 years old, my aunt apologized to me for having acted inappropriate. I’d moved on emotionally by then but I never felt shame or guilt; I assured her I didn’t blame her and remember that as being one of the few times in my life, growing up, that was loving and good.
By the time I was in my late teens I’d tried just about every single drug that was out there including Heroin a couple of time. The group I was hanging out with would start taking drugs early in the morning and continue throughout the day. This was the only time when I didn’t feel the overwhelming devastation of my thinking. I thought I was so different, so unconnected to anything, I only wanted to be numb and ultimately felt better away from my family. I hung out doing what I wanted to do, having sex by the time I was 13 years old with boys and girls. I knew by this time that I was attracted to girls, most of the time though, it just didn’t matter who I was with. Before my 18th birthday I met a young man who was in the navy, stationed at the Alameda base. It wasn’t hard to find a navy man, someone who had a good income, disciplined and respected. As I’ve said we lived in a very small community with a huge navy base down at one end of town. There were men in uniform everywhere. He seemed different than many that I’d met up until then, he was kind, loved me and wanted to marry me nearly right away. The thing that really sealed the deal for me was that my grandmother approved of him in every way. She trusted him so much that she gave me the opportunity to be with him pretty much unchecked. To her and me the trust came from the fact that he was the opposite of everything, everyone I’d been around my entire life. So after a short romance I married him, we lived in an apartment close to the naval base. Life, I decided was going to change. I was going to be happily married and move away from the crazy life I’d been living. He had a nice smile and beautiful brown eyes which drew me in and caused me to trust him. What I remember most about the first time I got together with him was his kiss though; his kisses were soft and full of gentleness. I knew immediately that he would take care of me and he did try more than a few times. I didn’t make it easy though, I never would.
Marriage only changed the place that I partied and for a time we partied a lot. When I drank all the anger came out physically, emotionally, and verbally. My husband took it for the most part but also left when he’d had enough, moving up to Alaska to be near his family. After several phones calls, in 1975 at 18 years old, I decided to move up there too. I wanted a normal life and I felt getting away from the town I’d grown up in and being with a man who loved me was what would change the destructive course I was on. In Alaska I felt I could be happy. I loved the beauty of the area, even the long dark winters; it suited me and the way I viewed the world. We both worked and eventually I would have a little girl who I immediately adored. For a time we struggled to feel like we belonged, like things were going to be perfect but my binge drinking kept getting in the way. Inside I still felt like the little girl who always struggled to be happy. My reality was as dark as the winters in Anchorage, filled with thoughts of shame and anger at my weaknesses. The many times I resolved to quit my drinking and focus on my family soon began to compete with the times I would find myself seeking comfort in an alcoholic oblivion. Now I could add thoughts of shame about how I was treating my husband, he was always so kind and I was putting him through a lot. What I did was what I knew how to do; I’d pretend everything was great, that nothing really bothered me, that I didn’t need anyone to help me get through what I was feeling. I’d face each day getting things done that needed to be done; I could be very focused and determined at hiding my devastating thoughts.
By the time I was pregnant with our second daughter the jobs dried up in Alaska and my husband took a position with the navy in San Diego. In 1981 we decided that I would go back to my family in Alameda because he was going to be shipping out and I wanted to be around people who I knew when the baby was born. We were told he would be taking off immediately; he didn’t go for another 6 months. I was living close to my grandmother and sister though; people I trusted would help me with my little ones while my husband worked for most of the week on an island off the California coast. Life settled in, I was very pregnant taking care of my two year old; my husband would visit whenever he could. Most times he would stay and hang around with me but sometimes, when I was feeling especially tired he would take our daughter out for the day. It was on one of these days that I found out he was seeing another woman. It was all very innocent; I was going through a bag of new clothes he’d bought for our daughter when I found a store receipt with a woman’s signature on it. I didn’t freak out about the knowledge that he was having an affair, what bothered me, what I told myself, was that he lied to me while bringing our daughter around another woman. That was, for me, too much to handle. I told him I was through with our marriage, he begged me to stay with him, that he would quit seeing the other woman, I didn’t promise him anything and as my husband’s ship pulled out of the San Diego naval base our second daughter was born, I never called to tell him.
At 23 years old I decided to try and change my life again for the sake of my children and became what I call “a church going mom.” I was living with my sister and her partner and trying to make ends meet and be the person I thought I was supposed to be. When my youngest daughter was six months old my husband came back and tried to be part of our lives even though he was still stationed close to San Diego and I lived in the Bay Area. We decided not to file for a divorce figuring that somehow things would work themselves out and he provided a security of health insurance and money for both me and the children. I was raised with a strong sense of responsibility through my grandmother for family, she instilled in us that blood is thicker than water and nothing happens to your blood. I wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to my children like I’d experienced no matter what. With faith in hand and two little babies, my husband and I decided to make our marriage work; I packed up the girls and moved to San Diego. My husband was stationed on an island off of California by Los Angeles and only home three days of the week. I looked for work and cared for the girls while he worked on base and, come to find out, still seeing the other woman. The same woman he’d swore he broken things off with. What I felt by this time was the marriage was just broken, not repairable and I was there just killing time. To have something to do I worked as a bartender and eventually started drinking heavily again. I shared my house with a man I was married to but didn’t want to be with, my girls were watched by a babysitter and I spent my hours just trying to forget how to feel.
I felt like this was what my life was going to be like; my expectations were to get through the day, to love my girls and to drink as often as I could. It was in this state of mind that I met the person who would, finally, show me what true love really means. I was working one night when this beautiful woman entered and walked straight up to the bar. Immediately I knew that I wanted her. I was completely overcome by feelings that I’d never experienced before and was determined that we would be together. To me she was exquisite with wavy brown hair and an amazing smile that lit me up from within every time she looked my way. There wasn’t a time when she wouldn’t fluster me as she watched me while I worked. This happened so much that it became an ongoing joke; when she was near I couldn’t even hold onto a mug of beer without dropping it and breaking the glass.
Once I’d made the decision to be with this woman, it happened and in a very short time we were completely committed to each other. I was 24 years old and she 26. Immediately I realized I could not spend another minute with any other person so I told my husband I was leaving and taking my girls with me. My husband tried to stop me even though he was spending half his time with another woman. To this day I think most of his protests came from his desire to keep his perfect family intact; at this point I just did not care. I left knowing I belonged to another; I was happy and excitedly looking forward to being alive for the first time ever! My life was finally going to become everything that I’d hoped for and I was loved by someone who I trusted completely would never hurt me. We decided together that I should stay home just while my two girls and her one little girl were young while my partner worked. At last I knew I could make my life work out exactly as I thought it should. I felt that we were the perfect family.
We settled in to domestic life happy, even refraining from drinking for a long time after experiencing some pretty bad fights in the early years. I continued to smoke some weed on the weekends though and didn’t lie to the girls about it. I felt they needed to know the truth and trusted that they would make informed decisions about what they wanted to do when they were grown. After many years and feeling confident that we were fine, my partner and I began to drink again occasionally. This was part of our desire to completely relax on the weekends after a hard work week. My grandmother and father died about five years apart while we lived in San Diego; I attended each of their funerals and was sad when they passed but was able to accept their deaths and return home to resume my ideal life.
For most of these years I was content, happy to just be. This was the absolute truth until one day I realized, although the feelings had been with me for a while, that I was lying to everyone including myself. I rationalized the depression I was feeling came from the effects of everything I’d experienced as a girl; all the feelings of shame and anger that I’d thought I’d forgotten. I believed that those years of extreme hardship and emotional upheaval were beginning to take their toll on me. These thoughts began from deep within me with an overwhelming feeling of dread and an unshakable melancholy. I still wanted my life, felt I still loved this family but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it all wasn’t enough to keep me safe. I tried to ignore the sadness that penetrated throughout my being by devoting myself to long hours at work and coming home nightly to my loving family, exhausted but emotionally unavailable. I couldn’t, no matter how determined I was, fight the feeling that something was terribly wrong and of course I believed it was all because of me.
After nearly 12 years, and having two of our three girls grown my partner was offered a good job in Arizona. We decided to take this opportunity, packing up everything and taking the youngest girl with us, hoping that the change would lift my depression. I knew I could get another job managing some type of retail business and did right away, my partner settled in to her new position and my daughter began school; resuming a normal life with the expectation that all of this would snap me out of the sadness I was suffering from including, I hoped to myself, those constant voices in my head urging me to end my life. I still felt that I was part of a perfect family, loved by the woman I adored and cherished by my children but somehow knew, dreaded, that this life was not enough to lift my spirits and give me that feeling of hope I so desperately needed.
I could no longer ignore the truth that those devastatingly negative thoughts that had plagued me as a girl had stayed with me as an adult. Not even a perfect and loving relationship or family could stem the consistent feeling of unhappiness. As I said I immersed myself in my job as I have always known how to stay focused on a task and felt comfort in the day to day routines that employment gave me. My home, on the other hand, presented challenges that can happen within any relationship. For me, tight lipped about the dreadful voices and unable to seek help because the thoughts of being dependent on psychological medications was not an option for me, I became even more lost in my head to the slow but steady breakdown of my peace of mind. I didn’t say anything because, as I said, I would not show signs of weakness as I felt my mother and sister had. I was, as usual, determined that things would change. I only had to put my mind to it thinking soon I would feel okay. I held onto hope that something would lift the impenetrable cloud of dread that permeated my mind.
By the time I was 38 years old I felt like a fraud, like I was just existing and the constant hope that I could make the thoughts of ending my life stop seemed harder and harder to hold onto. I felt like I was vanishing, like I didn’t belong to anything, adrift in a mind that felt exhausted and ready to give up. I began to isolate, locking myself away from everyone for hours at a time, refusing to talk about what was wrong. I don’t think I really understood what was going on with me; I knew I didn’t want to “be” anymore. I could still get up and go to work, do what was expected of me but no more than that. I’d lost it, everything that I cared about, to this depression. It just started taking over my entire life, choking off my ability to feel good. I knew what “it” was though because of my family’s history of mental illness and that knowledge made the knowing even worse. I was still determined not to be vulnerable to my own thoughts, I would not use my depression as an excuse for not doing well as my biological family had, I was different, stronger, a bad-ass.
My partner wanted me to go to therapy but I didn’t want to go in that direction. Years of thinking my way through the suicidal thoughts kept me fearful of giving into its reality. I felt I knew these feelings were because of the way I was raised, what happened to me as a child but I didn’t want to “re-live those experiences.” My girlfriend put up with my aloof behavior for a long time, but finally she gave in and gave up. She suggested that I get my own place and we could date. I didn’t get it, I couldn’t see it from her perspective and I still wanted to stay together but live without affection. One night I came home finding a stranger, a woman there having dinner with my partner. I trusted what was told to me, that they were only friends. Over time it became apparent, no matter the protests to the contrary, that they were in a relationship. I had believed her completely, without hesitation and, again, I was lied to. I thought it was my own doing, the guilt and shame proved to be too much so I moved out. I still hoped we would be together, tried to get back to being just the two of us. She admitted to me that she’d had a one night stand with this other woman and I couldn’t get past it. She tried to make me understand how she was feeling about us and about the infidelity but emotionally I’d already moved on to another woman; to another life.
Although I pretended to be okay with the breakup of this 14 year relationship, inside the loss of this person who I still truly feel was my soul mate only compounded my feelings of anger, of giving up. Nothing mattered as much as it had. My new relationship never really took hold even though it took me most of the time we were together to break it off from her. At first I tried to be emotionally involved, I moved from Arizona to San Jose, back and forth, thinking that what I was feeling was genuine love. In reality we spent a total of three out of 10 years together. I knew she was using me, and that the relationship was all physical with no real substance to it. At about 41 years old I was finally able to be done with the pretense of caring about her or anyone. For me no one could replace the only true love I’d already had and lost. I stayed in San Jose single, devastated and using anything I could get my hands on to numb the constant pain and desire to die that permeated my every thought day and night.
I felt a big loss in my life; disconnected from anyone or anything. I was plagued by the memories of my former life when was happy and felt safe. I felt that I would never be able to recapture those feelings of love, that peace of mind I’d once known. From the moment I turned away from her, my life went right back to chaos with nothing to look forward to. I wouldn’t deal with any of the emotions that stayed with me; determined as always to pretend that things were fine. I worked and tried anything to stop the thoughts. I hadn’t spoken to my sister and mother for nearly 11 years because they didn’t like who I had chosen to be with, the one I’d left in Arizona. I think they were jealous. I thought that they refused to be happy for me although I’d been doing well; they just couldn’t see how good she was for me. Of course that was all behind me at this point.
After deciding to stay in the San Jose area, I lived with my mother and sister for a while and then just with my sister in a 5th wheel parked in someone’s driveway. I was working fulltime in a retail store, working my way into management again. As usual I was able to do well at my job; the commitment was all on the service, no substance, no long term emotional commitment to anyone. By 1998 I’d moved into my own place up in Monte Sereno. My sister had had to move into a transitional housing unit, placed there by her mental health case management team at Momentum. She’d been struggling with mental illness for a long time just like my mom and at times her illness would get the best of her. The times that I would spend with my mother and sister, those times when they would mention my need for psychiatric help, it just pissed me off that I had similar symptoms to that of my mother, or even my sister. Those two were as thick as thieves in the way they looked and in the way they thought about thing. Although I resisted their consistent prodding for me to get help I knew it could help me feel better. Over and over I would convince myself that I was not going to give in to what deep down I knew to be true. I wouldn’t give into a mother who had abandoned me; someone who used her mental health as an excuse for not being there for me, for behaving badly and there was no way that I was anything like her. If I acknowledge even to myself that I needed help it would prove she was right and I was wrong all along. I did know how to make myself feel better right away though; now it’s was all about smoking Methamphetamine.
A female friend had introduced me to this and I felt I needed it daily to cope with the constant ache of depression that saturated into every aspect of my life. I still smoked Marijuana occasionally but quickly took to smoking the Methamphetamines heavily. This was not an intimate relationship; we were business partners cleaning houses. We did this for about two years and the drug use was what ultimately broke us up. This friend was my dealer but I didn’t want to get caught up in the dealer’s lifestyle. I was arrested for possession of Methamphetamines once when I was about 19 years old. That was the only real conviction my entire life for drugs and it was enough for me to realize that I didn’t want to go back to jail. I had one other conviction of domestic violence for hitting a cop who was responding to a call about a fight between me and a girlfriend in 1999. A short lived relationship that I caught a month in jail for, three years’ probation and had to complete a 52 week domestic violence class. My life continued to feel as if it was completely out of my control and I continued to use to numb everything; I couldn’t connect with anyone on an emotional level. I existed, that was all I was doing.
I finally got tired of being used by my friends, manipulated and needed another change in my life. I felt if I moved far enough away that I would be able to change the awful way I’d been feeling for such a long time. I got a job cleaning at a resort in Colorado, but continued to use drugs by having my Meth mailed to me in a tissue box by my friend in San Jose who was the dealer. My mom died while I was there and I didn’t go spend time with her although she wanted me to towards the end. I never allowed myself to get close to my mom, although she’d try to make some effort off and on over the years while we lived in San Jose. I decided instead to visit my daughter and her children in Arizona. While I spent time with my family my sister and all my mom’s friends she’d made in AA said their final good-byes. I did go to her funeral as was expected of me, her oldest daughter. I have no regrets for making this choice, she’d never been there for me and I would not pretend that I cared about her passing.
Around 2008, back in San Jose I started, again, cleaning houses with my closest friend. With no concern for my future I got angry with her about working harder than her and not getting enough back. After this I lost everything, my income, my best friend, my housing. I was looking for reasons for the way I was feeling, trying to fix what I felt was all wrong, still not dealing with a depression that would not release its grip on me. Within the next year I had no idea how to make a living and I was finally getting tired of doing Meth. My daughter who lived in Pittsburgh in the East Bay reached out to me, inviting me to live with them. I wasn’t right in my mind but went thinking it was the best idea. I moved in right when the depression and symptoms of withdrawal from years of constant Methamphetamine usage hit me hard. I was in bed for 3 months crying, not spending any time with my family. I wanted to die, I was just done. My daughter didn’t know what to do for me and really there wasn’t anything that she could have done different than what she’d tried. I had never told her about all the drug abuse so I couldn’t say anything to her about coming off a 10 year run of Meth; I was one of those that kept my drug abuse under the radar.
Truth is I couldn’t even see what I was going through; I wasn’t enjoying anything about living. I moved out of my daughter’s home after about three months moving in with my sister back in San Jose who was in a housing unit offered by her mental health team. Together we started to do Meth again, although I knew the whole time it wasn’t what I wanted. My sister knew that I was suffering from mental illness and kept encouraging me to seek help. Scared and feeling out of control I felt I couldn’t go and tell anybody about my thoughts but also knew I had to so I made a promise with God that I would follow whatever direction was laid out for me. I knew with no doubt left in me that I needed the help; I was at my wits end with no more strength to go on.
Since making this firm commitment to save myself I have been led into places where all I can do is thrive. Finally I gave into my sister’s compassion and was honest with her. I told her that I was having suicidal thoughts and had a plan to kill myself. With my daughter’s help, the two of them took me to Valley Medical Center Emergency Psychiatric Services (EPS). All I could think about was I wanted to die. Going to the psychiatric ward I knew that I would have to be on medication, something I’d fought hard against nearly my entire life, but I was finally ready to be helped whatever that support looked like. I knew I would have to bare my soul, something I’d never done before, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, a grueling two hours to where I felt raw and exposed. I’d always believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness; a sign that I couldn’t take care of myself and I always had after all I was the strong one. Reflecting on this time something did occur to me about this major life changing decision which honestly shows how I was still harboring anger towards my mother, I didn’t seek help for my mental illness until my mother was dead and gone.
In February 2010 I was able to finally tell someone who I felt would help me that this was the last chance for me. They took me seriously, they listened to me. I was in the psychiatric hospital and then Barbara Aaron’s Pavilion, an extension of EPS, for about 10 days and then had to move to Emergency Housing Consortium, an emergency day to day shelter referred to as Little Orchard for about 5 months. This became for me the place that would give me the time to get used to accepting the help that was being provided, including taking the psychiatric medications. It was the place where I was given an opportunity to grow a new skin, I had just bared my soul and shed all the old me, old behaviors and I think Little Orchard was my transition into this new world I’d placed myself in. From there in July, 2010 with a referral from my mental health team I moved into Julian Street Inn (JSI), InnVision. After a very short time, feeling safe and secure for the first time in as long as I can remember, I was given the opportunity to move into Julian Street Inn’s on-site two year Safe Haven program. With no income, struggling daily just to get up in the morning I committed to finally taking care of myself in a way that I’d never done before. I would take the time, my time, to work on getting healthy from the inside out instead of looking to the outside world for answers. With a full time staff, a case manager on-site and a roof over my head I’ve connected with a mental health team, started really identifying what psychiatric medications work for my symptoms and began the process of addressing some long time physical ailments that have plagued me.
By the time I got to JSI I was primed for the structure that was presented to me. My whole life was so unstructured, so chaotic that I felt comfortable in a structured program. This particular shelter also gave me an opportunity to get used to going to appointments and looking at my overall health in a more substantial manner. The program forced me to look at all my issues and how to take care of them and myself. I was so afraid of so much, I just wanted to be an invisible person and the shelter forced me to do things out of my comfort zone. Maybe not forced, but reinforced my willingness to do things that went along with my commitment to getting me better. I truly felt there would be a positive ending to the path I was on. Deep inside me I knew that the program had my best interests at heart. I also came across others like myself who were dealing with very similar issues and learned that I wasn’t alone after so many years of isolating, keeping the thought that I was the only one like this. This place gave us all an opportunity to open up, to share.
What’s different now is that coming to this mental health shelter has changed not my life, but showed me how to change myself. I’ve learned some paths, some ways to go, ways that I didn’t want to explore. I didn’t think anyone really cared about me before; being here has opened me up to finding out who I am and to be comfortable with the person I’m discovering. I was in a meditation class a couple of weeks ago, we were just sitting there and I experienced something like a body rush, like an orgasmic experience! I suddenly felt such love, such acceptance for myself. I’ve never felt that before, never in my entire life.
At first I was reluctant to do everything that was asked of me, I’m not going to jump off the bridge all at one time! Eventually I got it and understood that what was being laid out there for me was just what I needed to find the peace of mind I’d been looking for my whole life. When I was a kid there was nothing day to day that I could depend on, my life changed moment to moment, so I developed the persona that needed control as much as possible at all times. Now I feel that there is no other “shoe to drop” that can cause me harm and that we are all being led in the right direction. I’d made myself crazy trying to maintain control over my entire life and in the end I didn’t know where to go with it. By the time I got to the shelter I had to learn to trust that the staff had my best interest in mind even when I wasn’t comfortable with what was being asked of me.
The idea of not being alive sat with me for as long as I can remember because I was very unhappy with myself. There is nothing, no other person on this planet that I would kill myself for. The feeling was all from being unhappy within. I was trying to get away from those continuous feelings of anger about not having a lot of direction in my life. I made up why my life was the way it was and of course I always made up all the bad stuff. I interpreted my world as I grew all from within my imagination. I realize now though I had no other person to give me the answers to why my life was so screwed up. I knew there was good stuff out there but I lived in so much chaos and head games I couldn’t enjoy the other stuff. I can say without a doubt that I was raised within an environment of complete dysfunction. I hated nearly everything about my family’s lifestyle, not my family but the life that I was raised in. I hated it so much that I refused to do anything that resembled what they did; I wanted to break free of that. I was never exposed to positive examples of a man/woman relationship and how they dealt with stuff. I’ve come to realize, through the daily workshops and one on one therapy, that it wasn’t me that was lacking and not worth explaining things to. It was my grandmother and how she lived. She was the one that couldn’t confront things. This is a realization that’s just recently come to me, and is a behavior I became very good at mimicking. It just resonates for me now that I’m really okay and that the only thing that was wrong was the way I was thinking about my life. There were times when I could have just laid down in the middle of the road and died but I was a fighter using my anger and that emotion had a lot of energy behind it. I was mad with the world, at life, at everybody. Now that I’ve found out who I really am, I’ve found that I am valued in this world and that I can finally have happiness just through me.
Taking care of my physical self was an obstacle in itself; again old thinking that had to be changed in order to address some seriously painful ailments I’d forced myself to live with. I didn’t have a lot of experience taking care of myself as far as health concerns go. I was never very sick growing up, didn’t see a lot of doctor’s as an adult. As I said I also had a problem with years and years of even facing my mental health issues. I knew that I had them, symptoms, but I’d watched my mother and sister face them for years and I didn’t want to be like them, I didn’t want to be mentally ill. Even though I knew intellectually I was suffering from my thoughts. To me my family used their diagnosis of mental illness to get away with certain unfavorable behaviors that bothered me. I never gave my mother a chance to explain anything to me, so I never really understood why she did the things she did with me as a child or why she behaved the way she did as an adult. I assumed it was because of the way she was raised but after five years old and being abandoned by her, I cut her off emotionally and never bothered to find out why. I mean some of the things that I was holding onto were at a five year old level, where it started for me.
One of the biggest lessons for me was to learn that being vulnerable is okay once in a while; that it’s a sign of strength when you allow yourself to accept the help of others. The belief that I couldn’t show weakness almost killed me. I realized that it was either ask for and accept help or kill myself, that’s where I was by the time I ended up baring my soul. What has kept me going is simply that I gave up on my old behaviors and held to the single promise that I would trust the path that was being laid out for me, kept my promise to God. I’ve never asked for literally a dime from another person, now I’m more willing to admit that I’m not as stubborn as I used to be and willing to see that the gifts I’ve been given come from a place of love. I’m more willing to look outside the box and to hear something a little different than what I’d been thinking. I’m more open because what I’d been doing my whole life wasn’t working. I’ve had challenges, not all of them bad, and I got through them. Now I’m learning how to be comfortable just as I am without challenging the reasons behind it all; there are still lessons to be learned for me but now I’m mentally prepared for them.
What I see now is joy, happiness to be alive, a future with my grandchildren, my own little place. I’m going to live in a place of peace that I’ve never lived before. I had a comfortable life with my one long term relationship but that’s when the depression hit, nearly 18 years ago. It makes sense to me now why I did what I did, I was so afraid of who I was and where I’d come from, ashamed, alone, without hope. I was so convinced in my head that that was who I was, my identification. I didn’t learn good coping skills, now I have the right tools. I’m finally feeling wonderful, I’m learning who the real person is and I’m finally letting it out. I thought I had something undesirable inside of me, and truthfully I haven’t found anything undesirable. I believe I’m a good person, someone that people feel they can come to and trust with their thoughts. I realize now just how strong I am and that I know how to get what I want good or bad. Difference is now I want all that good stuff that I always felt I didn’t deserve. I feel strongly I will end up living just as I’ve always dreamed I would but was too afraid to hope for. I can finally say that I have hope and that feels good all the way through.
At the time of this interview, March 2011 (revised 7/20/12), I am 53 years old, Caucasian, short gray hair, 5’ 7” and light eyes. I was born in Oakland, California in 1957. I am the oldest of 6 children from 5 fathers.