Cannonball Stories

Life-changing stories of hope, healing and wholeness

LaTanya

Chaos ruled my life for many years. I craved calmness and structure, but I didn’t know how to make that happen on my own. It wasn’t until I recognized that my life had become unmanageable, and I turned it over to God, that I felt a calmness and peace that has stayed with me since.

I am a person who thrives on structure and routine. During the first part of my life, I experienced that, and I was happy and content. My babysitter/godmother raised me as her only child up until her death, when I was eight years old. I loved that time with my godmother. She had rules for me, and I followed them completely. I had a set bedtime; I did my homework every night; I did my chores. I went to church with her regularly. I had a place then, and I knew who I was.

But when my godmother suddenly died and I was sent back to live with my biological mother and my abusive, alcoholic father, along with my sister and her son, my sense of self disappeared. Suddenly, I had no structure at all, and I was lost in the chaos. My mom would come home after work and my dad would beat her. I watched it all, feeling helpless, and longing for the stability I had had with my godmother. I had no rules, and no one was around to be a role model for me.

By about 13, I started using marijuana and alcohol to make myself feel better. I didn’t know where I fit in, so I became a chameleon. Everyone was my friend and I changed myself, so I could be a part of every group. I never learned what I liked, what interested me or what my talents were because I just conformed to the group I was with.

Luckily, I was able to graduate from high school and get a job. I was a good worker, most of the time, but I used my paycheck for drugs and little else, except rent. Eventually I started shoplifting to sustain my habit.

The drugs had a grip on me for 35 years, but somehow, by the grace of God, I was never arrested because of it. Instead, I was arrested eight times for shoplifting, and I spent two stints in jail. I was miserable, but how could I change my life? I didn’t know anything else. One day, I went to Walmart to do some shoplifting and I was so reckless that I didn’t even look for cameras. I just stuffed merchandise into my bag as I was thinking, “I can’t go on like this. There must be a better way to live. Please God help me.”

I walked out the front door of the store with my purse full of merchandise, stood there and waited, with nowhere to go. Immediately, God sent a security guard out to grab me and I said, “It’s about time!” I felt a strange calmness, as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was defeated and depleted, and I knew I had to change my life. The Walmart manager was a very nice woman who didn’t want to press charges, but I kept telling her, “It’s fine. I deserve it.”

 When I went to court, the judge wanted to give me only two years’ probation and put me back on the streets, but I pleaded with him:  “I am stealing because I have a drug habit. I need help!” Luckily, the judge listened to me, and I was assigned to a treatment center for thirty days. After that, I found the structure, love, and family I had been looking for when I was admitted to Sister House, a transitional housing facility in Chicago.

As soon as I walked in the door and talked to Ms. Rochelle, the director, I knew Sister House was the place for me. The rules were tough, and many women came and went, some lasting only a few days, but this is where I thrived – in an environment with discipline and routine. I made the best friends of my life there, and now, not a day goes by without some kind of interaction between Ms. Rochelle and me.

While I was at Sister House, I was introduced to the “Highs and Lows Ladies”, who led a weekly spiritual group for all the residents. I didn’t know, until much later, that they were volunteers from the Ignatian Spirituality Project. All I knew is that we all looked forward to their weekly visits and we opened every gathering by describing our “highs” and our “lows” of the week. These women genuinely cared about us; they never judged us; they let us gripe, they let us be ourselves and they shared many intimate details about their own lives. I didn’t know there were women like them left in the world! They also introduced me to a loving God, whom I hadn’t known before.

When I went on my first ISP retreat, I went with an open mind, even though I thought I was going to something very religious. Instead, we talked a lot about ourselves, not about religion. I loved that, but I didn’t understand it, until the ISP women explained to me that the retreats were spiritual and not religious. Upon hearing that, I was struck with awe. I have always felt God’s presence, but I didn’t have the language to recognize that I, too, have always been spiritual, but not religious.  After hearing the explanation from the ISP volunteers about the retreats, I knew that I had found a home, where I could be myself and fit right in – something that I had been looking for throughout my entire life.

I became a witness for ISP, telling my story to new participants, and eventually, I joined the team as a full volunteer. I always say “yes” when new opportunities with ISP arise, because I know from experience, that every time I participate in an ISP event, I grow closer to God, without all the rituals of church. I find that it’s similar to the way I feel about AA. I am comfortable with the spiritual aspect of the program, and I love the service work.

Today, my life is structured and calm, and I am thriving. I am employed by Cara, a non-profit organization which helps people in poverty build the skills and confidence they need to get and keep good jobs. I am no longer a chameleon, living in chaos. I know who I am, what I like, what my strengths are and who I am. I often think back to that afternoon in Walmart with gratitude. God answered my prayer for a new way of living, and even though the road has been long, every step has been worth it.

You can read more about our alumni participants who have experienced life-changing hope, healing, and wholeness, in our book, Stories of Hope.