By: Tina Cook
As a recovering addict, I have had many bottoms. Just when I thought there was no further down to go, I would drop another notch. What I have learned through experience is that bottoms are not really locations, they are a state-of-mind. If they were merely places, situations, or consequences, I might not have stayed homeless for 2 separate multiple-year periods in my life. I certainly wasn’t raised that way and I always, to an extent, knew how to escape. But, there are many who do not know what it is like to live anywhere else; they can’t click their heels together with closed eyes and recite, “There’s no place like home.” Because if the bottom is a location, they are home and life has assured them that there is no way of escape.
Though I did not always grasp the gravity of it, I was born blessed. I was not a trust-fund baby or born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I can easily look back and see that I got way too many yeses and very few noes as a child. Though I am sorry for the pain my life of addiction caused others, I am so thankful that today, I fully embrace how fortunate I was for my raising; even the tragic things are not so tragic in comparison to the lives of so many.
The second period in my life that rendered me homeless really changed my mind and heart about, well…everything. I would like to explain that being homeless does not necessarily mean I slept or lived outside. I don’t recall more than a handful of times ever sleeping outside or somehow not finding a roof to sleep under. When I could scrap up the money to rent a room AND still get high, I stayed in roach infested, run-down motels. In the better days gone by, I would figure a way to rent them by the week and stay there selling drugs and other things illegal until it got hot (police), and I would move on to the next sleazy motel in the drug circuit. At some point, I would always end up incarcerated. My mama and other family members have always told me that they slept best when they knew I was in jail. They were comforted to know that I was not dead, in danger, or high out of my mind; they would pray that just maybe I might decide to do something different when I was released to get my life back on track. Though in the later years, they became resolute in their unwillingness to help me or even talk to me; they were blessedly assured that I knew exactly how to escape. I knew another way of life because I had lived it; so, that certainty was rooted way down deep inside.
I don’t believe that is the case with people who come from street-life upbringings, generational poverty, etc. It always amazed me that so many ladies I was in jail with had so many visits from family and friends. They would have money for commissary and phone calls. They got mail, pictures, magazines/books, and any other privileges that we were allowed. Their families would pay for legal fees and show up in court. If there was any way to bond them out, they did that, too. It was a world foreign to me because my family never, ever bonded me out of jail. They certainly did not make my life seem like a party while I was there. Though they did write and visit a little in the early years of my addiction, they did not EVER do so during my relapse after 10 years in recovery; in fact, they disowned me. This alone tells me the difference in state-of-mind involved. It was acceptable to go to jail/prison by these people; in my world, it was very unacceptable.
I have discovered since I’ve been sober the past few years many insightful things surrounding my experience while living in the street world. I had wondered many times why I remained an outcast, and was hurt over and over by people I was good to and tried to look out for. I now believe with all my heart it’s because no matter what I did or how I behaved, I did not belong there and it showed. I was an outcast! I always had something they didn’t have…a choice. I remember asking my drug-dealer one time when I was going through a particularly low period, “Do you ever think about getting out and doing something better with your life?” I saw so much potential in this man, so much personality, style, and a great business mind. It seemed logical to me that he would want more. But, his answer was a simple, “No,” with a look like he didn’t know what I meant. It has now become clear to me that for him, what he was doing was his better life.
Many things, such as this, along with experiences in my own life, have helped me realize that the bottom is not a place you hit. It is a place that hits you in one way or another. For some, it’s the first time they lose control, miss work, sleep with a stranger, or get arrested. For others, it takes more than that, like losing a family, a job/career, sleeping with someone for money, or going to jail over and over, etc. And, then for others, it is somewhere you are born and need tremendous help to get out of. Regardless of what it is, there is a way of escape, because the Bible tells us so in many, many ways.
I like to think that God allowed me to go through every single thing I went through so I could be transformed. Do I think He predestined me to travel that road of pain and agony causing others pain as well? No, but He has turned my ashes into roses…my pain into purpose. (Isaiah 61:3) I have lived among those held captive; those who were born into a hopeless state-of-mind. I grew to love them because I saw them; many of them took me in and cared for me during some dark days in my life. Now, I want to be a hand of hope reaching into the bottom where they are trapped… showing them that I may not live on the streets anymore, but I have not forgotten…that the same hope and choice I have always had, is there for them as well. Treatment is available to anyone that wants it in today’s society; salvation always has been. I want to help as many as I can to click their heels together and find a new way of life and an eternal home. I want to be a beacon of light to those who live on the streets, so I can help them escape right alongside me!
By: Tina Cook
Director, Athens-Limestone County Family Resource Center