Anonymous Letter from a Homeless and Hopeless Man: Part I
You’ll see me standing on this corner near the mall a few days a week. I don’t wear my sunglasses, knowing that it’s harder for people to look a man in the eye and not feel some sense of compassion. At the same time, I wish I could hide my face. Growing up, my mom and my sister used to go to this mall together several times a week. While I keep my eyes open for a window rolling down for some cash, in the back of my mind I fear that my family will spot me.
To stand here with a sign requires me to lose any ounce of self-confidence I still had in me. I graduated from a respected university with a degree in business. I had so much going for me. Yet even in college, I was barely scraping by. But at that point, my family had no idea about the life I was living. They didn’t realize that the disease of addiction affects even upper-class, all-American, white picket fence families.
I’m still holding on to anger from Christmas Day. My mom picked me up downtown for Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house. Before driving to their place, she let me shower and put on fresh clothes from home. I’m scarfing down the turkey, mashed potatoes and rolls, but I’m not even savoring the moment. In fact, I’m wishing it away. Grandma is asking my brother and sister how their new jobs are going, dad is talking about the vacation him and mom are planning for next summer. I have nothing valuable to say.
And when I do speak, I’m treated differently from the rest. They always say they have unconditional love for me, but to me they’re just a broken record. Telling me over and over again to get a job, quit the drugs and get my life together. As if I’m choosing to live this miserable life. Each time I hear it, I’m reminded how much I hate myself. Not only do I hate waking up every morning, I hate thinking of what I’ve done to my family. I’m a constant disappointment to them.
Christmas and New Year’s Day have passed, and I’m relieved all the feelings that come with the holidays have too. I gave up on New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. I’d always thought, “This is going to be my year. I’ll get a full-time job, save enough money for an apartment and life will finally be heading in the right direction.” But turns out every year ends the same way it starts — homeless, addicted and completely broke.
It’s hard enough to get hired when any company runs a background check. And even the times I have held a job, for weeks and even months, I always eventually lose it. I end up in jail. Or, after going weeks clean, thinking I’ve finally gotten a hold of my addiction, I spend the few 20-dollar bills I have on drugs. A few days later, I’m fired for never showing up.
I don’t blame people for looking at me the way that they do from their heated cars stuffed full of new clothes, boots and electronics. I’m disgusting. I haven’t showered since Christmas day. My beard is scruffy, my hair is way too long. But once they look in my eyes, they’ll see I could be their brother or their son.
I didn’t choose to be this way. Playing soccer in high school or walking onto campus for the very first day of college, I never thought I’d end up this way — only dogs are supposed to beg.
The shame I feel holding this sign and asking strangers to roll down their windows. The embarrassment I feel when someone makes eye contact with me and immediately glances away uncomfortably.
No one deserves to live this way. And no one chooses it either. But it could happen to you, your children or your siblings. Unfortunately, your white picket fence won’t protect you from it.
Follow along next week, as Part II will be on needing recovery.
Healing Transitions is a non-profit organization designed to empower people who are homeless, underserved and suffer from substance use disorders transition to a fulfilling life. To learn more, visit www.healing-transitions.org.