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Why do you do that to yourself?

I have been asked this question on more than one occasion, and all I could do during that time was to shamefully look down at my dirty hands with broken nails and reply, “I don’t know.” Millions of Americans experience homelessness each year and are at an increased risk of dying prematurely. For twenty-three years from the age of 14 until 37, I was homeless. As I look back, I can identify multiple reasons why I ended up in that situation.

I understand that it may be uncomfortable to see a person not having access to their basic hygiene needs, such as soap and water, or acquiring nutrition by eating out of dumpsters, or not having a place of regular sleeping accommodations. Truthfully, it is painful on all levels: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual for everyone. The pain that I felt being in that situation was so intense that my dignity had to die for me to survive. During that time, I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

When I was 9 years old, I woke up one morning and found my mother lying on the living room floor with a gunshot wound to the head. Alcohol and domestic violence were common in our household, and I am sure that these were involved. Later, these two elements created a perfect roadmap to my demise. She did survive that day but the tempest inside of me was born. Comfort was my booze until the drugs showed me solace. I finally found a way to escape from my emotions. But to get away from the physical pain, I ran away from home at the age of fourteen. I didn’t know that the problem was within me, so inadvertently, the problem never left. This lasted for the next twenty-three years. Environments changed but the behaviors didn’t. I found myself incarcerated throughout most of the ’90s, and when I wasn’t incarcerated, I was that individual whom you saw in the streets asking for handouts or rummaging through your dumpster.

It seems like a lifetime ago since those days were my reality. I have been abstinent from substances now for over 22 years. I can honestly say that I have a new lease on life, and for me to keep what I have, it is imperative that I am of maximum service to others. The way that I take care of myself is to provide hope to our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Part of a prayer from Saint Francis of Assisi states, “it is in the giving that we receive”. I find this to be crucial to my self-care and I have been blessed with being employed as a nurse. Compassion is one of the many fruits that I have received as a gift and with this comes the quietness of the heart, as well as a peace that surpasses all understanding.

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