Photo of a lone figure sitting in a dark park.
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During the late summer and early fall of 2000, I was struggling with self-destructive behaviors. It seemed like everything I tried turned to crap. In retrospect, I was just trying to do too much on my own and getting nowhere. I was not as open as I should’ve been to availing myself of professional help and guidance available to me. So I still thought I could think my way into or out of anything. Boy was I wrong.   

It’s only looking back now that I am able to see how this common mistake crippled me, like it does so many, in our attempts to put our lives back on track — or for some, on track for the first time.   

I had been out of touch with family and friends for years as I wandered from place to place, just wanting to be anonymous to the world because of the damaged and strained relationships I left in my wake. I had broken hearts; not in the romantic sense but just dashing people’s high hopes for me after they had poured themselves into me time and again. I felt worthless. I was ravaged by all of the guilt and shame that I carried surrounding my unbelievable fall from family and community hero to less-than-zero.  

In an attempt to reclaim my past “life,” I came up with yet another brilliant idea: to use what I called “the Hansel and Gretel approach.” Maybe I could find my way “home” and out of my self-created forest by retracing my steps.   

But how? By going in reverse order to the cities I once lived. The places where I had experienced so much success so young and had made many personal and professional friends. After leaving Michigan because I couldn’t or wouldn’t surrender to my personal issues and inner demons, I was evicted once again. But the sister of an old Ohio friend of mine, living near me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, rode to the rescue in her big SUV to pick me and my things up at the curb. She stored everything in her garage, then drove me to the bus station and sent me on my way to Dayton, Ohio — where I’d had my greatest successes. Surely if I could recapture the magic anywhere, it would be there.  

Things didn’t work out as planned and soon even my old friends tired of me. They became frustrated and washed their hands of me while still praying for my return to sanity. Today they are still active in my life.   

I had failed again because I was totally unaware that geographical cures almost never work. It is said that if you crate up an idiot and ship him or her to Italy, what you now have is an idiot who speaks Italian. Now I knew the enemy was ME and my thinking!  

After a few weeks in a motel room provided by my friends who wanted to help, I found myself homeless in Dayton. After staying at what passes for a shelter a while, I entered an ARC (Adult Rehabilitation Center) run by a religious organization and started doing well.  

It gave me a sense of family to be surrounded by people just like me as we found support in our mutual struggles. But as I had started to bond with myself and the “program,” my counselor — who I believed could walk on water — relapsed and disappeared. I was shattered.   

I found myself unconsciously in the stages of grief. It wasn’t long before my inappropriate outburst in response to a mistake made by a house manager got me transferred to an ARC 40 miles away in Cincinnati, another city where I had worked.  

I was able to quickly adjust to the Cincinnati ARC because I had already met a lot of the guys during regional retreats and softball games. I connected with the recovery community instantly and started to dream of a new life there.   

But I made the biggest misstep a person in early recovery from mental illness or substance abuse can make: I met someone at a meeting and fell in “lust.”  

Very quickly I lost focus. I could think of nothing but “us” and became disenchanted and ungrateful with the ARC program. After two months, I moved in with her and her two children in the infamous inner-city neighborhood of “Over-the-Rhine.” At that time, it was comparable to the worst areas of cities like New York City or Los Angeles. It was there that I really reached another kind of bottom.   

After an argument over not taking her warnings to stay inside, I started to explore my surroundings little-by-little. Soon, I fell prey to what seemed like welcoming new friends. I had forgot what she said about “the setup.” She was recovering herself and after my second trip to detox, we parted ways.   

I then moved down the scale from recovery houses, mental health transitional houses, forced hospitalizations, seedy apartments, evictions, shelters and finally jail. The beating I was taking on the streets of Cincinnati had taught me that I was not as bulletproof as I had thought. Coming from D.C., there is this arrogance some of us have that we’re real “bad asses.” But some nights alone, when I’d pray I’d end with, “And God please get me out of OTR!”  

I began to realize I would need help. It was that “Aha!” moment you hear about people having or, as alcoholics like to say, a moment of clarity.  

Like most, I didn’t accept how much time it would take. For me, it turns out it was to be a long time. I had just lost another place when I reached out to my mentor at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless for help. Through a Goodwill program where he now worked, my mentor assigned me to my “Super Caseworker,” Cheryl. She started to guide me through the maze I had turned my life into, and I started to get traction on some of the issues blocking my progress back to self-sufficiency.  

To be continued. You can read how this chain of random acts continues immediately on StreetSenseMedia.org/RandomActs. Or, see it in print on Nov. 28.