One year ago today I was homeless.
I know this exactly because tomorrow is my birthday, I will be 32.
I am visiting family in Calgary where we are celebrating a late Thanksgiving, and a little birthday love. While we’re doing so, I am reminding myself to never, ever forget what happened.
We laugh at celebrities lambasted in the news for drunken antics and we forget to take addiction seriously. I too, am guilty of this.
Now, more than ever, I think we need to look with compassion and open eyes upon the addicted—to increase our understanding, our comprehension of the addicted and to teach our children while they are young and close to home.
How do we do this?
As I write this, I am just over eight months sober. But I am living a life that is broken-open wide—passionate, full, fascinating, rewarding.
I physically shudder reliving some of the things I experienced in full-blown addiction, but I think it is my duty, my purpose, my way of “being of benefit” to share, on occasion, pieces of my story.
Addiction no longer dictates my life—my life is now vast and beautiful in its facets. At first, during my addiction, I still functioned—I ran three marathons, I worked various, decent jobs, I had boyfriends and homes.
*Clarification: semi-functioned—I was detoxing while running one marathon and half-drunk during another, I drank while working, I didn’t have relationships—I held hostages.
Addiction progresses. It is not something that can be willfully held at bay. Losses are inevitable and as they pile up they mean less. Rather—you become hollow so as to not hear the exquisitely painful sound of each thing whooshing out of your life.
These are lines that I used to recite to myself on sleepless nights about loss.
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” ~Elizabeth Bishop
I comforted myself with the sick idea that others were worse off, had lost more.
“Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster.” ~Elizabeth Bishop
I practiced losing.
Drunks get used to losing belongings, they are often forgotten and abandoned in bizarre locations the drunker you are.
I trampled over friends.
I rubbish-binned jobs.
I flung away the relationships that meant the most to me—my son, my close family, a marriage, a boyfriend.
I felt I was spinning around and around in a vortex until everything I loved had flown away from me: result—homeless, alone.
Then I felt I really had an excuse to drink—a shelter was an intolerable place to sleep unless I was passing out. Also, the shakes in the morning had to be quelled.
Running out of money doesn’t stop an addict—you find ways. Perhaps one of the greatest losses is your morals and self-respect. There are many people who end up in far darker places, doing soul-sucking things, to feed their addiction.
I was luckier than that, but no different than them. I have no reservations about that fact: in the throws of addiction, I would have gone there too.
When I finally got sober, I found a home in Sidney, British Columbia, where I did outpatient treatment and counseling and worked on myself.
My story is, as single human being’s story is—deep and full of intricacies and developments and nuances.
What I want to share is this, though—n early sobriety I wrote a poem about recovering. It was rough and shakily written, but it awakened in me my old passions and I hoped shared some of the dark and horrible crevices we scramble into in addiction.
I entered it in a contest for the Peninsula of Vancouver Island and I won a prize. I was asked to read my poem in front of a small gathering of people (around fifty) at the local library, horror of horrors. A few weeks before that, I had planned my journey to hike the Juan de Fuca trail to begin the day of the reading.
And so I found myself at the library to receive my award and read my poem, attired in a dress and heels and lugging along my huge pack for the trail, complete with provisions and camp stove and tent.
Painfully shy and fearful to speak to another human being without a drink in me, stood tall and proud (albeit shaking) and spoke from my heart.
At the end of the presentations, one of the judges came up to me. A beautiful woman and a published author in her own right, she reached out and touched my arm. “I believe it has been forty years for me this year,” she said. “Your poem reminded me of it all like it was yesterday.”
It wasn’t until I walked away and picked up my pack that her words cleared through my foggy brain. She understood—and I had connected with her.
That moment shot through me like an electric shock—the incredible power of connection shivering down my spine. Instead of losing, faster and farther, as Bishop says, I was regaining the art of living.
I will celebrate with my family today and remember how I got here. As my glorious life unfurls its highs and lows, I vow to continue remembering and sharing, as I go.
I am no different from the lost, the homeless, the aged addicts sitting on a curb with empty eyes.
I am them, they could be me. I’m just lucky.
It’s easier to steal when you’re drunk.
Plan it out—before the haze has fully taken hold of you, and after
the first few drinks of the morning, so the guilt does not have edges.
You have no money (not even a dime – how did you get to this point?)
and the horror of withdrawal is not a dwelling you are ready to
Slip the bottle into your purse. Large, for this purpose.
And for the fact it holds your worldly possessions.
Casually walk away. A scramble to a washroom,
(Starbucks, the staff are nice there) and fingers tremble as you
Undo the cap and tip the vodka up.
Burn to your throat, it claws down to your belly and
But this poem is not about theft. Nor drinking, for all that.
It is about now.
What you are left with when you leave the flight behind,
throw open the doors (gasping with terror and shame) to the world you had
Striven to outrun.
Your palms are empty, that gaping purse bereft of tools to carry
you through this Life.
A choice had to be made. You were faced with darkness and, bewilderingly
(What were you thinking? You were not ready.) You choose Light.
Dues must be paid.
Guilt takes a shape.
Everything hurts the eyes.
Shame, like a cat hunting comfort, trails in the back door while you bolt the front.
Pay for the past and still look forward. You didn’t expect this.
There are these splendors, perhaps small:
your child answers a phone, cities away, smiles in his words.
A friend reaches a hand and stills your shaking knee.
Wipes your tear.
You run, miles, sweat, muscles strained (a passion so neglected) and
your body sings.
These treasures every day and more! A book, a flower, a glass of ice cold water.
Blessings. They seem to pile up around you, everywhere you look.
Who are you? The drunk, the thief, the coward. These may be parts of you.
You speak of these dark places all you can.
There are others who share these—you want them to know:
There is beauty afterwards. There is love, and light, and freedom.
Beyond the Darkness is a place, Holy in its simplicity.
Choose this place, and call it Home.
Craig Ferguson shares his story on addiction with humor, depth and compassion here.
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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock