Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Starting to Exhale, Welcome to My Home. Hearing myself think

The view from my window looking to the South/Southwest
The view from my window looking North/Northwest
This is most of my room and you see the assembled workstation. I write to you from that location. There are newer buildings and units with more amenities but for me, I think I could not ask for a better situation to study and work as well as have access to other areas of downtown. This phase will be interesting.
These are individual pieces of the workstation. I purhased it the day after I moved in and wasted no time in putting it together so I be productive. I work and study right there. I do pushups, situps, and yoga on the carpet.
My first purchase on Skid Row. I said goodbye to them. They protected me and proved to me that I can build again from nothing.
Ah yes. I can sit down for a few minutes and talked to you before I go to work today.

First I had some grocery shopping to do. A visit to the post office was after that. Finally I took a photo of those shower/pool shoes. It was a long time coming. Perhaps it should have been done a long time ago. However, things happen when they happen.

I am ready to let go I suppose. After a couple of clicks, I tossed the sandles in the trash, threw the trash out and finally settled in on the bed. More of the past was gone. I am welcoming the new and a bright future.
I purchased those sandles after a month of living on Skid Row, in the shelter to which I was ordered by the court. I had no extra clothing and whenever I needed to wash what I had, I did it by hand in the sink. I had no money and asked no one for anything. Every time I wrung out a pair of socks by hand I told myself that I was going to survive this. I thought of the camping trips that I took with my father as a kid where we hiked in the Sierra Nevada and survived off of nature. No tents for us. We slept on the ground and what we ate depended on how much fish was caught in the day. Yes, those trips taught me how to survive.

My first concern was my feet. In jail, everyone had to be careful to avoid acquiriing a staph bacteria infection. It is easy to get in places where people bathe and step in water or in places where moisture is present. Shower rooms, bath houses, swim pools are environments where staph infections are common and thrive.

After collecting cans for a month, I was able to purchased a pair of sandles, and in the process, proved to myself that I could make it happen and build from nothing. It was at about that time that I started washing my clothes in the washer and drying them outside. More progress, That is how it all began for me on Skid Row. Little by little. And now I am throwing those sandles away. The strength gained from the process of struggling and utilizing my resources and exercising patience hA helped me build character in ways that I never knew existed. Actually the character was there. The foundation was set by my parents but aspects of it had been dormant too long and needed to be tested.

I have been wanting to sit and talk with you guys but I could not find it in myself to write. It is the first time I have been able to just sit still, feel and absorb as my system has been bombarted by noise every since I entered the mail dormitory at Los Angeles County Jail and there has been on going change and evolvement. On my first night in jail there was a riot and it was loud in that room of 100 beds from that day on. Fighting and yelling were normal events during the course of every day. At times the noise was a respite from the tamborines banging inside of my head and heart, during those quiet moments, when I did not have a book to read, or paper on which to write, when my thoughts would go to areas where deep emotional pain and confusion danced around like happy rats and roaches in a pile of garbage.

The noise was just as loud in the shelter because people had music devices from which loud rap music would bounce off the walls twenty four hours a day. I found a hiding place, sitting in the guard shack during the day, every day, baking in the sun, writing non-stop, researching my emotions and thoughts as best I could. But I was in nomad's land, in ways I never knew existed. The brief moments of peace would would be interrupted by the inevitable drug deal in front of my eyes, or a drug user ducking behind a car to hit a pipe or stick a needle in his veins to ease that jones that for heroin that had been a monkey on his back. Never a dull moment.

Next stop was San Julian street, the heart and soul of Skid Row where a raging battle for its soul wages on as I speak to you. There, I advanced from Skid Row Kindergarten and started learning what the place really was about. I had been on Skid Row for 8 months and knew I knew was ignorant of its ways. Now, on San Julian
I could hear the confusion inside of my head and feel the pain deep in my heart. There was no way way to mask it or hide from it. The roach infested room was small and depressing but it had one thing going for it. It was my OWN room.

I was scared to move into it. It was horrible. I remember one of the counselors at the shelter asking me what was wrong. Why was I stalling to make the move? I looked at him and with tears flowing I said I was scared. Then I yelled it as loud as I could as if finally coming to grips with the fact that my future was uncertain and terrifying. Most people are worried about going back to drugs when they leave those shelters. That is the common thread of conversation when people move out of places like that. That was the least of my concerns. I was not ever going to do that. I was concerned that my status as a felon would prevent me from securing employment or I would not be allowed to renew my real estate license. Perhaps my general relief benefits would run out and I would become homeless. Absolutely terrified of it. The administrators at the shelter told me later, that if anything went wrong, I could return to the shelter. I was thankful, but I was just as terrified of returning to the shelter as I was at being homeless. Many people recycle themselves to those shelters after they relapse. It is their safety valve. They know they can do drugs and the light will be on for them when they need it. I wanted no part of participating in that cycle. I was moving to a street where drugs where openly sold and used. Many people crumbled with that temptation in their face every day. However I was taking a step to move out of Skid Row and I had no intention of going backwards. It just drove me crazy that I had stopped doing drugs at least 18 months before moving to San Julian St. Yet, I was surrounded by more drugs and people that actively did drugs than ever before. It just did not make sense to me.

When I first landed on Skid Row, I I would view the downtown Skyline at night and it appeared to me to be a massive prison wall fencing me in and separating me from a life of normality. Every thing on the other side of it was normal and I was horrified that my standards of a normal existence was going to take a permanent structural shift.

Then something magical happened. I closed the door to my room on San Julian St and was alone. It was the first time I was alone in over 18 months. I could take off my clothes and lay nude on my bed. I did not have to hear a person snoring or farting next to me while they were sleeping. Most of all, I did not have to wonder who would be in the bed next to me when I awoke. Would it be the same person? Would he be crazy and prone to sudden violence? Would he even wake up in the morning? Deaths are very normal in those shelters and one man said good night to me one night, walked to his bed, sat down, and laid back. He eventually closed his eyes and never woke up. When I awoke at five in the morning, the counselors were evacuating the dormitory in preparation for the coroner to arrive.

So I went to sleep. It was the best sleep I had in almost two years. It was a deep sleep. Furthermore I could sleep as long as I wanted to sleep. For 18 months I was awakened by county sheriffs in jail or the counselors at the shelter when they suddenly turned on the lights and jolted you awake at 5:30 AM. That morning, I slept and slept. I woke up and realized that I had a little bit of freedom. I de-instutionalized myself just a little bit. But I got up put on my clothes, went to Chrysalis and opened a blog account at blogomonster. Two weeks later I opened one up at Blogger.

I did not have the luxury of too much freedom. I was still in serious institutional jurisdiction; three weeks of County classes--what they call employee training. I had just finished two weeks of classes at the shelter. I had to attend a week of classes at Chrysalis before I moved to San Julian Street in order to use their computers. Let us not forget the court appearances and the residential compliance requirements of my new residence. They took up time on my calendar. If you miss court that was problem. If you missed a Chrysalis class, there would be no computer privileges. And if you did not comply with the residential rules you could be evicted for lack of compliance. Some of those rules you learned about as you went along.If I missed a County class, they would cut off my benefits and I would be homeless. In short, I had no time of my own to think. I could only respond to the demands that were a part of the transition.

I walked all over downtown each day to blog, going from one computer bank to another until my time expired. But I had to blog. I did not miss a day. It kept me focused and the librarie were the only places where I could find some peace and quiet because there was no quiet in the building where I lived.

Music vibrated through the walls as my neighbor felt everyone should listen to music at one in the morning. A woman, who lived across the hall, would yell and scream into her cell phone at different lovers constantly. She had been waiting for a year twenty months for her social security allotment to be approved. That is considered a promotion from general relief(welfare) on Skid Row. Once that allotment is approved, one is considered upper middle class. It is like finding gold. When a person gets approved, the whole neighborhood knows. She was there before I got there and she was still waiting for it after I moved out. However, I found out that after I moved out she relapsed terribly, was kicked out of the building and now is living in the streets. Everyone says I would not recognize her.

Then I moved in here. I did not say good bye to anyone from that building. I was not scared of this move. I aggressively pursued it. My confidence was back. I did not tell anyone I was moving out. I just moved and before you know it. I was here. I wanted to share everything with you.

I wasted no time in purchasing a work station from Office Depot. I had new household goods. I discarded some more of the institutional tatoos that were implanted on me and for the first time in two years, I had total silence. I not only have external silence but through the passage of time I have more inner peace-emotional uncertainty in many cases has been resolved. Doubts and anxieties have subsided.

Most people on Skid Row do not like silence because they must deal with themselves. I cherish it and had worked for years to finally seize it. I thought for sure that I had arrived when I stopped consuming drugs while triathlon training. I was ready to grow and lead a productive life. Yet life threw me curve. So what!!!!

I survived it!!!!! I am sitting here talking to you and telling you the process of my emotional survival and you my friends were so instrumental in that. Where once the skyline was so distant and forboding, I am closer to it, I am four floors up and can see the details of it, feel a part of it and my activities extend beyond it. My world is expanding.

I have met some virtual friends on the internet and they message me throughout the day providing me with support and encouragement. A couple of old friends are back in my life and they call me or message me and we chat. All of these things have been developing but they have come together in such a nice way.

Private bath rooms. My own keys. My own mail box. I do not go to a building and have meals handed to me in a paper bag. I no longer need someone to sign their name on a meeting record sheet witnessing my attendance to an AA,CA meeting. Those sheets were just as much a part of me as my eyes and mouth for the last 18 months. They are a staple of Skid Row.

I see grass outside of my windows as well as the leaves of trees swaying within arms reach. Greenery everywhere for me to see. When I walk out of the front door of the building, my business is in the opposite direction of the critical mass of despair that is, for the most part, the signature of Skid Row. I no longer have to hear "Cavi, Cavi. Weed. Weed". I no longer hear "Red White and Blue", the mating call for Welfare fraud. I am not in that environment.

Before I moved from the Marshall House to this building, I walked around and saw many people that I had met during my tenure on Skid Row. Most of them are living on the streets. It is sad to see but I had shed so many tears watching people relapse and go backwards in many ways that I had no more to shed. I accepted that as a part of the Skid Row experience. I just paused for a second to absorb it and in my mind I would say goodbye. And I never see any of them. Rarely do I see someone from the Transition House or The Marshall House. The ones I plan on seeing have given me their contact information. But I never go back and visit those places. They are my past. I grew from it but I am no longer engulfed by it and the atmosphere of desperation, stagnation, hopelessness that goes with the endless cycle of chaos that most experience in one form or another in this neighborhood.

When I go to work, I no longer see the swarms of people in front of the missions as I no longer pass them. I hate the pain that I saw for so long.
I just don't see as much of it.

I was unhappy that I had to go to the court ordered classes after spending 8 months at the Transistion House. I was suppose to be in a program. I did everything they told me but the judge wanted something else. So after 4 months in jail, and 8 months in a shelter, the judge said I still had to take a year of classes--52 for anger management. Needless to say, I was angry about it. I spoke to Jose Egurbide every morning about it. Well, that is not exactly true. I yelled at him on the phone about it. I was livid. He would let me rant and rave. I thought I would never get through it. But interesting enough the classes were on the other side of the skyline. So I look at it philosophically. I will have completed 35 tomorrow night. 17 to go. Piece of cake. I remember when I could not figure out how I would pay for them. I have paid for all of them except the last 100 dollars. That will be paid within a couple of weeks. I have the money but I will pay it at my convenience. I am ahead in payments by two months.

So now I am not angry. I am not terrified. I look at this whole experience philosophically. In fact, I am amazed at it. It is rapidly settling in the horizon behind me and I see a new sun rising for me. It is beautiful. I have much to do but I am at the point where I enjoy putting together the pieces for success, internally and externally. Sure I have frustrating moments or worries of doubt but I know I will survive. I remember those camping trips. I remember those nights wringing out my clothes. I remember getting through everything and I somehow have found my way. I will continue to do just that.

So as you can see my friends, I have had a lot to absorb and I just could not sit down and talk to you. I thought about each and every one of you and how much you have meant to me and my growth. Eric Richardson gave me a tremendous gift when he told me to blog about my recovery and experience on Skid Row. He told me that people talk about recovery but no one really talks about it. Well, I certainly did not know anything about it but I do now. And frankly I dont think most people know about it. Otherwise we would have more references upon which to locate answers to questions about the process. My process was delayed a couple of years because of fate. Or in the big picture was this suppose to be a part of it. A tough challenge to test my strength of conviction. It has opened up been instrumental in creating routes of discovery while I am on this road for truth
and understanding.

Going through this tunnel of experience and answering the challenges that were presented to me, seemed so overwhelming and insurmountable. Progress was inch by inch. Step by step. But slowly, over time distance was put between me and the past and progress toward my goals were being made. Layers of skin were being shed and eventually a certain synergistic momentum was taking a life of its own.

Suddently with all of the progress-- physical, mental,emotional, financial,tangible and intangible there has been an equilibrium of growth and development. This is necessary to avoid states of anomie, imbalances or disequilibriums of vital prerequisites for stable existence and also set the stage to further along the path of actualization of goals.

I look out of this window and suddenly I can see certain things in the Skyline that I could not see when I first arrived. I was too far from them. I could not see the details. Just like the view, I can see things in my life in technicolor that I could not see in the past or would not accept. I will share these things with you over the coming weeks. I also have been able to form some theories of my own about Skid Row and the dynamics of all of the stakeholders. It has taken time. The theories are my own but hopefully will generate thought and discussion.

However the truth starts with me and I will bare it all as I have come to know it. And taking time out to experience aspects of normality again have helped me appreciate many things. So in effect, it was a working vacation of sorts. But I am back and this last term of independent study on Skid Row should be quite interesting and productive.

All of this has come together during the Olympics. It was four years ago, a few months before the Olympic Games in Athens when I started training for the triathlon. My father had just died and I told him I would complete a triathlon. In doing the training I found out so much about myself and found myself again and stopped consumption of drugs. And the detour of life tested me. But I really loved those Olympic Games that year and felt close to my dad as we always enjoyed them together, especially when I was a AAU swimmer. The Olympic Games are about people overcoming obstacles in life. Many of those obstacles are with oneself, no matter what the circumstances. It is a test to maintain perspective and purpose even in trying times. I guess the past two years drove that point home with me. I look foward to sharing with you my evolved perspective in the coming few weeks. My classes will be over at the end of the year and I will be free to start fresh some place and no doubt I will leave my home town and do just that.

I am glad that I have had this time to talk with you again. I will be talking to you every day again. There is much to talk about. So until tomorrow. Good night world. I love you.


carolinarnj said...

The more I read of your comments, the more amazed I am at your determination and your accomplishments. I do have the utmost respect for you now I can honestly say that.

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