Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"We believe in second chances. Come back."

 William had spent his entire life working around his drug addiction. Since the age of 14, when he began using alcohol and marijuana – he hustled and worked odd jobs to feed his habit. Later, he worked on assembly lines and in driving jobs as he progressed to using crack and heroin. When his drug use got out of hand and he stopped showing up to work, he would dry out for a few days and find a new job. This pattern repeated itself with his personal relationships, too. He could spend a few days on a friend’s couch when his drug or alcohol use put strain on his domestic life. His charisma and creativity meant he could always talk himself back into the job or into the house. But by 2004, this pattern became harder and harder to maintain, and his life began to unravel.

He got sober. He found some stability in a healthy relationship, and a good job at the M&M Mars company in the suburbs, where he rose to line captain. He had a good run at a clean life for three years. But when the relationship ended in 2007, he lost his footing. He relapsed, and things quickly fell apart for William. He lost his job, moved in with his cousin, and started using day and night.

Then, William was involved in a car wreck in which he nearly lost his life. He did lose his van, and his driver’s license – a key link to his livelihood. He was deeply shaken. In 2008, he checked into a shelter on the north side – Lincoln Park Community Shelter – hearing that it was a good place to go if you were out of work. But, he says, he wasn’t ready. The notion of a curfew, and many rules and expectations, was too much. He stayed only a week.

William instead went to a drug rehabilitation program for the next seven months, where he established a firm foundation of sobriety and reacquainted himself with the routine and structure he needed to be accountable to himself and others again. He relapsed a couple of times, but each time came back to the program more determined to succeed and recommitted to change his life.

In 2010, he returned to Lincoln Park Community Shelter. “I’d never been in a shelter with structure before. I’d only been in flophouses, on the ‘tramp trail.’ Structure was a foreign concept to me.” He was amazed that he was asked to set goals, attend classes, help with cleaning jobs around the facility. He started out strong, had resolve to make it work. But three weeks in, he came in to a few dollars, and found himself back in his old neighborhood. “All bets are off after that first drink.”

He woke up the next morning on a porch in Englewood, knowing he had missed curfew at LPCS, without a dime in his pocket, and felt ashamed at having relapsed yet again. He thought he had burned yet another bridge at what he now knew was his best chance out of his cycle of addiction for good.

But then two things happened to change the trajectory of the story. First, a woman he had known all his life walked by and asked out of the blue “William, do you want to use my phone?” He took the opportunity to call Murray, his LPCS case manager. William was honest about what had happened. Murray said, “William, we believe in second chances. Come back.”

Then, a man who happened to owe William money pulled up, and gave him $5, which gave him the fare he needed to get on the CTA to get back to the north side. “I didn’t resist, and I didn’t look back,” William says.

When William returned to LPCS, he and Murray worked out a plan. We referred William to Healthcare Alternative Systems for intensive outpatient treatment, which he completed. He also attended daily AA meetings, got a sponsor, and diligently worked the 12 steps. He dove into computer classes and employment readiness classes at Inspiration Corporation, and eventually got his license back. He now has a driving job through Harborquest. Two years ago, William moved into his own apartment in the Old Town neighborhood.

When William was homeless, he never smiled (partially because he had no teeth). Now, he can’t stop smiling! “Housing means…self-respect, dignity, maturity. I can thoroughly rest, eat what I choose, keep up my hygiene, be safe, have clean clothes, and it takes away a lot of stress.”

His proximity to LPCS means that he can stay connected to the support network he formed here, as a member of the Graduate Council and as a mentor to others exiting homelessness.  “I’m so grateful for the help I received at LPCS, that now I’m giving back. Things didn’t change for me until I let my guard down and asked for help.”

-- By Erin Ryan, Executive Director

1 comment:

Katie said...

Fantastic! A true story of resiliency, humility, and courage. I vividly remember William's smile, which you mention in the article. He is always kind and patient to others. I wish William the best, and thank you for now serving others!!!