If you’ve read my bio, you’re probably aware that my Emma and I spent a large portion of 2010 homeless, living in a shelter in Northern Iowa. The reasons behind how we ended up in that shelter are not really important and truthfully are pretty boring, but for the sake of putting it out there, I can nail it down to one word. Divorce. You might think that I regret those months spent in that shelter, but really? I don’t. In fact? My thoughts on it are quite the opposite. I’m grateful for those months.
Let’s go back a few years. In 2010, I was a completely different person. I was drinking every day/all day, I was argumentative, unhappy, bitter and resentful. I’ve said it before here on the blog, but I’m perfectly comfortable saying it again…if you had known me then, you’d hardly recognize me now. Not only was I all of the above, but I was also extremely irresponsible. I was 27 years old and I was working on job #- higher than 20 in the time since I started working when I was 16. I love my parents, but the one thing they truly didn’t teach me was how to be a responsible adult. I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties borrowing money from people I knew and yes, I’m sure that even now, I still owe some of them (um…if I do still owe you from back then, I’d love to get that taken care of so just let me know.) I had never once in my 25 years supported myself or my child. There had always been someone else to do it for me. If I was totally honest, I’d admit that I didn’t know HOW to care for myself.
Sometimes I truly am surprised that I made it to 25…I really was that stupid and wild.
Anyhow, so 2010 comes and things happen and bam! I suddenly find myself and my Emma homeless, staring at a room in a strange shelter, 800 miles from anything I knew. Most people think of the cliche shelter set up when they think of them. One single room, lined with beds where you sleep with your shoes under your pillow to prevent them from being stolen. I’m grateful that we didn’t have to deal with that, but I won’t say it was easy. Yes, we had our own room with a locking door, but there was no privacy. At any point in time the staff was able to just walk in, our food was kept in community fridges and yes, on more than one occasion I had food stolen. Food that was for my Emma that went into some adults belly. I say adult b/c Emma really was the only child for the vast majority of our stay. A few other kids came and went but she was the one constant child.
Personal items were rare for me even though there was a walk in pantry full of them. The staff just didn’t share them very often even though that’s what they were there for. Donations that were meant to be shared with the residents that for some reason, the woman who ran the shelter didn’t see a need to share with. I remember going 3 months without having a razor to shave my legs. Let’s just say that once I was able to get some? I destroyed them in one shave…lol. I still deal with the damage that was done to my teeth in those months when a toothbrush and toothpaste was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Emma slept in a trundle bottom with a twin size mattress slipped down inside of it. Some nights she would climb into bed with me, but that wasn’t technically allowed so most nights she didn’t. I can still remember that first few nights and hearing her cry because she was in a new place and scared.
It didn’t matter whether I was actually on the streets, in the cliche shelter or in a residential shelter. People around town knew and as soon as you wrote the address on a job application…you got “the look.” Those months are what taught me everything I know about people and the crazy assumptions they will make. I can’t tell you how many times I was basically told that I “must be a druggie or alcoholic” since I was living there. Never mind that I had actually sobered up or that drugs hadn’t been a factor in my life for years. I was homeless. Therefore to them, there must have been more to the story than a simple divorce. In fact, the majority of the other women in the shelter were NOT on drugs or drinking. Sure there were a couple that came and went, but the gamut of reasons why we were there was wide. Divorce, mental illness, loss of job, abuse and more. The worst part (at least for me) though was that I didn’t have my family to rely on, I literally knew no one in the city I was in besides my then soon to be ex husband and I had a 5 year old child depending on me. So I did what any sane (or is it insane?) person would do. I sat down and cried.
“You’re better than this.”
Those 5 words said to me when I was a teenager who could have probably cared less, suddenly gave me hope where I had none. They were what I needed to hear in that moment, even though I had ignored them when they were first spoken. They’re not complicated. They’re not judgmental. They were simply the opinion of one person, spoken at a time when I wasn’t ready to hear them; a seed planted in my mind that took hold and grew just when I needed it most.
To make what is a very long story short, those words literally changed everything. I stood…for the first time in my life..on my own two feet. I became the mother that my daughter so desperately needed. I learned what I didn’t know how to do and I kept on learning. I finally understood not only what I am, but who I am as well.
I am a mother no matter what comes…
I am a drug addict (although clean)…
I am an alcoholic (sober)…
I am strong..and I am fierce…
I am a survivor…
I am blessed…
I am a child of a very forgiving God…
I am better than my failures.
and yes…I am grateful for those 10 months spent in that shelter. Without them? I’m not sure I would have ever become who I am today…and I’m pretty okay with who I am today.
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