Impact StoriesLife-changing stories of hope, healing and wholeness
I showed up at the St. Martin De Porres House of Hope recovery home on the South Side of Chicago lifeless, penniless and hopeless. I continued to stay there because I had nowhere else to go. I had severed every family tie. I had almost lost the will to live. Through the midst of all of that I went to sleep at 15 and woke up at the age of 38, addicted to heroin for 23 years. I started using as a child and when I woke up in active addiction I was 38 years old. I stayed in the darkness for 23 years. The funny part is, I ran away from home because I was scared and I stayed in the streets because I was too terrified to go back home.
While I was at St. Martin’s, I didn’t talk to anyone and I didn’t want anyone to talk to me. “Can’t you see I’m in pain? Can’t you see I don’t like it here? Can’t you see I don’t like you? Can’t you see I don’t like myself?” I was stoic and rude.
In 2006, I was aggravated. I didn’t appreciate being picked to be on a spiritual retreat. It came at a time when I was my most broken, fractured self. I was just beginning to realize that I was the one who got me here. I was pissed. Sister Therese from St. Martin’s said it was time for a spiritual retreat and I resisted. Some of the ISP volunteers and Sr. Therese tricked me by telling me that I would love it. I thought they were trying to pull one over on me. She asked me to go because she saw how broken I was. All she did was show me love. The more love she showed me the more I didn’t want it. I forgot how to feel. I forgot social graces.
As we travelled to the retreat, I remember being in the car and being really quiet and I remember the scenery, it brought me to some semblance of calm. My mind was going a thousand miles a minute and the uncertainty about where I was going made me scared. But as we were driving the beauty of the scenery calmed me and when we arrived the grounds were beautiful. It was amazing.
The retreat icebreaker for me was the partner introduction. Laura Howard, one of the retreat facilitators, shared authentically about herself and I found that charismatic. To her, it wasn’t about race, social background, or anything like that. It was about sharing our hopes, dreams, aspirations and emotional vulnerabilities. I felt like I was important. She also shared her own questions and vulnerabilities. I never thought we could have things in common. I thought, “maybe there is something to this.” And that was the icebreaker for me, because she came from such an authentic place. It was not because it resembled what I had gone through. It wasn’t gritty or grimy but it was real and it resonated with me.
I began to feel safe. It was an overwhelming feeling of peace. I didn’t know anybody there so I wasn’t afraid of anybody. The welcoming spirit of the retreat house and the genuine concern and care of the team members made me feel safe. You could feel their warm energy. Not to mention the food was incredible. It was like food for the spirit, food for the mind and food for the body. You were fed all the way around and you felt it. You felt food.
It was like, “wait a minute—they care about us? They know we stole, we were raped, we were molested and they still cared?! Where is the camera? Is this real? God is in ALL of this?” They gave me a place to share. I had never shared my story before. I shared things I thought I was going to go to the grave with. I wasn’t going to share my deep, dark secrets. Before the retreat I didn’t trust nothing or nobody. Because I was just hurt every time I did. Before this retreat, I did NOT like feeling vulnerable. But on the retreat I got in touch with places in my consciousness that had been uninhabited for a LONG time. I felt human on this retreat. Before I started making the ISP retreat, I had no idea how intricate my spirituality was. I was ashamed about everything and I had no idea how to be anything besides ashamed.
After the retreat, Sr. Therese said I looked different. Everything I learned on the retreat and with the retreat team was like a huge chest of spiritual tools that I took back to the shelter and to my life and to the women and to their children and the staff. Everyone wins if just one person comes back different and they are exposed to that one person.
After the retreat I started taking ownership and started addressing my feelings. I understood that I had to feel the feelings; I didn’t have to react to them. I started behaving constructively over a period of time. It happened over a five-month period and after that St. Martin’s offered me a job. I also took care of my 88-year-old grandmother, after 14 months clean. I would NEVER have done that without the support of the community I found on that first retreat. From there I began to get involved with the ISP Women’s retreat team, sharing my witness on the retreats. I was honored and shocked. I was never shunned or judged. They wanted me to share. Now as the team’s witness coordinator, I have the chance to help other women who are experiencing homelessness and recovery to share their own stories on ISP retreats.
You can read more about our alumni participants who have experienced life-changing hope, healing, and wholeness, in our book, Stories of Hope.