Last week I wrote Part One of my View of Skid Row, One Year Anniversary of Scribeskidow. After doing so, I had to figure out what I was going to write in Part Two. I knew it was going to be difficult as it is probably one of the touchiest subjects on Skid Row. It is the subject of Cocaine and Cocaine Recovery. There are many viewpoints about this subject. My own viewpoints have shifted over time as I received more information and personal knowledge about the topic.
I remember clicking the publishing button when I finished writing ‘My View of Skid Row’. My post flew into the internet for anyone to see. Perhaps it would add a morsel of insight to someone who had any need to know about the plethora of topics that Skid Row touches. But what was I going to write concerning cocaine? I walked out of my building and the first thing I saw was a counselor who worked at the Transition House when I was there. She had not seen me in a while and wanted to catch up on my activities. I decided to keep my promise to see her so I made my way over there. I figured that on my way I could see things and review the past year to gain some type of perspective.
I saw several men when I hit the corner of 5th and Wall Street. They were with me when I landed at the Transition House. They did not recognize me. It used to surprise me that people with whom I lived in a facility would not remember me a few months later—would not even notice me while they were walking down the street wearing the Skid Row version of the Vietnam 1000 yard stare on their faces. Some have been in and out of jail or shelters so much that it would be impossible to remember anyone. Some people give information out on a need to know basis. The brain in Skid Row or in jail remembers information on a need to know basis, usually it is based on the need to survive. Once there is no need to know the name of someone because that person is not integral to the need of survival it is deleted quickly. Indeed, so many people go in and out of those facilities that it would be in possible to remember names. The relationships are temporary. The need to remember is temporary.
The Los Angeles Mission was full. The courtyard was filled with people. Everybody was busy. What they were busy doing was another question. I seemed to identify an aura, something distinctive about the atmosphere that I had not noticed previously. I took note of it and filed it away in my memory bank .It was just in time because a loud noise assaulted my eardrums. “Cavi, Cavi. Weed. Weed “pierced my consciousness and violated my sanctity. Oh yes, it had been a while since I had to navigate my way daily through that barrage of never ending assaults by those who sell cocaine and marijuana.
I continued to walk and began to see more familiar faces as I made my way to the Transition House. A man was ever vigilant sitting on the ground against the wall of a corner store. Another man, across the street, was still sorting things in his cart. It was as if he had been doing the same thing, non-stop, since the last time I passed the same spot.
Finally I arrived at the Transition House. The lady who I wanted to see was not there so I spoke to Larry, a man who, like others, kept me sane while I was there. I briefed him on my activities and asked him for direction. I always ask people for direction on Skid Row. I noticed that some faces were missing so, finally, I asked. “Where is Michael”?
“Walter, Michael is in jail. In fact, he is on his way to prison. They caught him selling drugs on San Julian St. He will do four years in prison.” Michael was another that kept me sane
“Where is Shannon?”
“Shannon relapsed. She did not come back one night. They say she is on Gladys turning tricks.” Shannon kept telling me not to lose faith. It hurt to hear that she was back in the streets.
After hearing about Shannon, immediately, I thought about Connie. Connie was in the Strive program, a small program that has struggled to keep its clients from returning to drugs and street life. I had seen her the day before at the Recovery Month Celebration Day at the Central Division police station. The last time I saw her, before seeing her at the celebration was a few months ago. She had graduated from the program. She was on her way to Florida to see her new grandchild, and then back to Las Vegas. I thought she was in Las Vegas but she told me that she had been in Los Angeles for several weeks. She had returned to her original treatment program. She told me to call her. I called her the very next night as I could see that she needed encouragement. She encouraged me every day when I used the computer lab to publish my blog. I called the program. She had checked out. No one has heard from her.
Stories like those that I have shared are everyday life in Skid Row. Every day somebody relapses. Often those that relapse die on Skid Row. I find it poignant that I share with you these stories. Last month was Recovery Month. I walked into my bank and saw a man on the CNN Channel. He was advertising his book. His name was Chris Prentiss. He owns and operates a substance abuse facility in Malibu. I read about him in the LA Weekly newspaper. It presented a series of articles on recovery programs and his was spotlighted. To some he is a revolutionary. To others he is a snake oil salesman, selling promises to desperate families members that he can cure their loved ones. The family members are vulnerable. It does not take much for a seasoned salesman to figure out what to say.
Some say that you need to spend $50,000 a month to get cured. In Malibu they have private rooms, spas and private therapists. On Skid Row, if you are lucky, you may get a room with only one other person. More than likely you have to share it with three other people. And you must earn the right to get that room. You must pay your dues. Initially one must stay in a dormitory.
Does the price of recovery guarantee better results? I forget the doctor’s name but he works out of Beverly Hills. Channel 2 interviewed him after a couple of actresses were arrested for cocaine possession. He found that eighty percent of patients of these expensive treatment centers relapse, usually, within twenty four hours of leaving the facility. He believed that the doctors facilities had no idea what they were doing.
I was reading textbooks on drug recovery and the general consensus was that 95 percent of people relapse within two years. In that particular book, they interviewed former cigarette smokers who abuse cocaine and the majority of former cigarette smokers stated that it was more difficult to stop smoking cigarettes than it was to stop doing cocaine.
On Skid Row, the recidivism rate is very high for drug users. The very first thing that was stated in the first Cocaine Anonymous meeting that I sat in on was that 95 percent of the people in that room would not make it. Indeed, the relapse rate in Skid Row is high. I asked a Case Manager what was the relapse rate of people who were in that program? He told me that 95 percent relapse within two years of leaving the facility.
I was at the facility recently and talked to people that were there when I was there. I was told that all but three individuals who were there when I first moved in have relapsed. They are either in the streets, having lost their housing, or are in jail or prison. What makes that figure frightening is that SRO Housing Corporation takes great pains in providing the best possible environment for success. They test people regularly and if they discover a person tests dirty for drug use, the person is asked to leave. The company does not want one person to start an epidemic of drug use among the other clients.
Some people feel as though the system is designed for people to relapse. They believe the programs are flawed and the choice of treatment methods is too few.
I believe one thing to be very true about those that attend treatment programs on Skid Row. Most of the people who are in treatment programs are court ordered. They have been ordered to attend these programs. They are there to fulfill court requirements. One cannot assume that they are all in these programs for the same reasons. Not everyone has the desire to be clean and sober. They have the desire to stay out of jail. Indeed, many who are in these programs, who are court ordered, have stated that they would have preferred to just do their time in prison. They believe that it is inevitable they will relapse and thus be sent back to prison anyway. Why delay the inevitable is their point of view.
It can be argued that the high relapse rate in Skid Row is due to the fact that the motivation is external. Also, there is a school of thought in Skid Row to basically make it acceptable to relapse. Some lecturers tell people that they are helpless against the drug so that relapse is inevitable. I believe they say that because they relapsed and they feel as though the same must be true for everyone else. But everyone is different. Once that becomes the mantra, that everyone will relapse, then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. When a person is sick and things are going great, it is not uncommon for the sick person to have the propensity to search for something wrong. A sick person, who is only accustomed to being sick, goes out of his way to find something wrong because the invisible prison is a known quantity. Freedom from it is an unknown quantity. Therefore, the person is more comfortable with the prison he/she already knows than the bliss of the unknown. Change, even positive change, can be very traumatic and people are afraid to go it alone. In most cases, sobriety means that most people must leave behind everyone they have ever known. Many were socialized into a life of drugs, alcohol, crime and institutionalization. Freedom means walking away from everything in life they have experienced. It is not easy.
Some say the case workers don’t care. It is true some case workers do not care. They go to work to get a pay check. Were they always that way or were they let down so many times by the those in whom they had such an emotional investment that they no longer can afford to put additional emotional investment into their clients.
Then I think of several men who went through programs on Skid Row. One of them is Orlando Ward, the Director of Recovery Services and Public Affairs for the Midnight Mission. Two others are Wesley and Aaron, who went to the Harbor Lite program. The last one is Andrew Conner, the Resources Coordinator for People Against The Homeless (PATH). I read an article about Orlando Ward. He was very open in how he just had hit rock bottom and surrendered. He had gone to several programs before he entered the Midnight Mission. The final time he wanted it so badly he did it the right way. He no longer rationalized thoughts or past behavior. He took full responsibility for failed relationships and a failed marriage. He put aside his ego and worked at different jobs. He paid back taxes. He built building blocks towards his long term recovery.
“Walter, I did not feel that I was worth too much of anything, “said Aaron. “I had no education. He did not complete high school. Did not think I was going to amount to anything but someone told me I was going to smoke crack forever. I was determined at that very moment, when he said that , that I was not going to smoke that poison forever. “ He had no formal education. None at all and yet he was able to navigate himself to the absolute core of truth and acceptance of himself. He has been in recovery for twelve years.
“Walter, I lived on the streets for five years. You know me but you would not have known me in those years. I was an animal and lived like one. I spent money on cocaine instead of food and after smoking my cocaine, I dug in trash cans for food. I must have been deranged, “ said Wesley. That was a profundity of his statement and the courage that he displayed by sharing his most private beliefs with me was absolutely awesome.
“I crawled into the detox program on Crocker St. Walter. I owe everything that I am to the programs on Skid Row,” said Andrew. All of those men feel that way. I have not talked to Orlando Ward but I am sure he feels the same way. His life work is on Skid Row. Everywhere a Midnight Mission truck is seen it is usually at an event to encourage people to stay on the path of recovery.
Those three statements of truth are statements from men who lived in the streets. Men, in general, will tell you what they think. Maybe. Men, in general will not tell you what they feel. Many men may not know what they feel because their feelings are encased in concrete type barriers from themselves like gold nuggets buried deep in the ground. However, if they were to discover those feelings, they would discover riches far beyond their wildest dreams. Let us be clear about this. Men in the streets will not tell you certain truths about themselves. The rules of survival in the streets preclude any healthy truth to someone else. It would be viewed as a weakness. One would become a target for prey by someone who mistakenly held the misguided male doctrine that truth was a weakness instead of a certain sign of strength. These men from the streets displayed tremendous growth and strength sharing with me such intimate self-truths. They also planted seeds in me that took time in germinating but would eventually grow sprouts of truth and acceptance that are getting stronger every day.
That is what I noticed. All of these men are honesty, not only with themselves, but with others. The seeds that were planted in me kept growing into a lake of honesty where I can swim everyday and discover new truths and understand the past. I do not have to have a mask. I can accept how I was because I was ill.
I kept looking at Skid Row. People are categorized as a drug user or mentally ill, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Then one day it hit me like a Mack truck going 100 miles per hour. I was looking at people walking down the street and for some reason I thought of an economics statement that savings=investment. If you do one you are simultaneously building the other. Well, I stood there and said to myself, “Smoking Cocaine=mental illness”. If I am doing the former I am increasing developing the latter. There was no way to escape the truth.
That is the beauty of being in an environment where you can find people who are in different stages of recovery. You can ask questions and listen. I have asked many questions and as I told you just those few statements that those men made to me struck a chord and I have been learning how to play that chord freely and effortlessly since then. What I mean is I have learned to become honest with myself.
Things that I could not accept, I now can accept. Those men led who shared certain truths with me led by example. They gave me a glimpse of what recovery is and can be. Only recently have I begun to understand recovery. It has been over two years since I have done any drugs. As time has progressed, I can see that I am beginning to see and understand things as well as accept the things that eluded my grasp in the past. Much of that success I owe to asking people questions and they took the time to share with me. Many times I could not understand what they were saying. Other times I could understand but not appreciate what they were saying. Over time I learned how to understand and appreciate.
I am now able to say to myself that I was mentally ill while I was doing cocaine. Seeing so clearly how smoking cocaine=mental illness in Skid Row, I have been able to understand how I was developing mental illness in a variety of ways by smoking cocaine. Once you accept and understand that, it is easy to push the ball of understanding downhill and connect the dots for additional insight.
$50,000 dollar per month programs has an abysmal a success rate in treating drug addiction as a free program. Nobody has the answer. One thing is clear. Those that are successful in recovery are extremely motivated. One must be extremely motivated to succeed. Along with motivation, one must be willing to manifest that motivation into long term results. One must be ready, willing and able to commit himself to the task at hand. It is not easy. The one thing I can say about Skid Row is that you are in an environment where there exists a high concentration of individuals who are in different stages of recovery. Each and every one of them is willing to spend whatever time it takes to listen to the questions of anyone who is serious about changing their life. I have never been turned away by the men and women of Skid Row. Do not count on the Case Workers. Count on yourself. In recovery one must discard the skin of institutionalization. One must expect that the programs to do everything for them. The programs are not the housing authority. They cannot give you a place to live permanently. They are not the welfare office. They cannot give you a check.
ASK NOT WHAT A RECOVERY PROGRAM CAN DO FOR YOU. ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR OWN RECOVERY. It is not the program that makes the recovery. It is the environment of Skid Row that provides the emotional support for one to learn and understand everything must learn in order to succeed. There are hundreds of coaches that can tell you if you are moving too fast. They will be honest with you. They are around and they are not hard to find. So I tell everybody that Skid Row has done a lot for me in understanding recovery and the people of Skid Row have helped me survive the process of recovery so I can begin to taste the fruits of my labor. The environment is excellent if even if the respective programs fall short of expectations. However, a person’s personal recovery is more than a program. A program is only a part of it. It is the people that one meets along the way that make the difference. Funny how people make the difference is most things.
So that is how I view recovery in Skid Row after my first year here. I am thankful for the environment. As I said from the beginning, I called this the University of Skid Row. In any university one can find someone to help them study. Someone can find someone with whom they can waste time and goof off. In Skid Row, you can find someone to do drugs or you can find someone to help you understand and build a life without drugs. You cannot find a better place than this in many ways. Yes it is a warehouse in some respects. People will vacillate here until they go to jail, prison or die. No doubt about it. But for the person who has done drugs. The choice is yours. Make the right one. Do not hold a program accountable for your recovery. It is not the program's life. It is your life. Hold yourself accountable. If that is done and you put one foot in front of the other, one would be surprised how successful you can be.
These programs do a lot for people. Those who are successful are very focused. Nothing is more important than the maintenance of their sobriety and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing. Personality conflicts with counselors do not take place when a person is ready to change their life. Nothing must interfere with that. Find what you need. It may be a person within a program that can give you the answer. The answers are there for you to find. Ultimatley the answers must be understood within one's heart and soul. Ultimately the answers are found within oneself. No program can do that for you. They can help you do that for yourself.