This week I had to get a P.O. Box and it reminded of something that happened years ago that had a drastic effect on my getting out of homelessness. Most will probably think it is just small thing and might not mean much. But for me it was a life-changer.
I had been kicked out of a homeless shelter and was back on the streets homeless. I had a little bit of clean time and did not want to go back to drinking and using. I went to my favorite AA meeting to get some strength to make it through another day. An "old-timer" named Charley had grown fond of me. Actually, Charley had become everyone's adopted father. He had like 25 years sober and was full of wisdom. He always knew what to say at the right time and was a great guy for us to look up to.
After I shared my new situation Charley came up and handed me a $20 bill. This was HUGE. I mean, 20 bucks to a dope fiend like me is a world of trouble. I knew I had to spend it quickly before the temptation kicked in, but I didn't know on what. (For the first few years of sobriety, I purposely never carried more than $5 on me.)
Whatever I bought I wanted to make it a wise purchase. Twenty dollars is not going to get me an apartment or even a hotel room so that was out. I thought about buying a good meal, or maybe bus tokens. Then I saw a sign for a three-month P.O. Box rental for $15. I ran into the store and leased me a "space". Finally, I actually owned something again. It was a little small. But it was mine. All mine. And get this -- IT CAME WITH A KEY.
Having that "space" and a key in my pocket literally got me through some very dark times. That one key meant the world to me. I would sit in the park and daydream about my space, saying to myself "I'm on my way back." Years later while working at the Dream Center, I had a key to open every door on the ten building campus. When people saw my massive key ring, they would laugh; yet, all those keys did not give the same feeling that one key did. That mailbox with key may have been small, but that mailbox and key had a huge impact on me.
OH WHAT A FEELING
After sleeping on the hard ground, I'll never forget the first night sleeping on a bed in a homeless shelter. The bed was the bottom bunk with a much worn mattress. But it felt like heaven. Years later when I moved into my first apartment, I bought a $500 bed and that new bed never even came close to felling as good.
After living and working at the Dream Center for a few years, I had cleaned up my past enough to get a driver's license. I remember the Dream Center had this beat-up car someone donated. It was not anything you'd want to be seen driving in. The truth is it wasn't easy to drive, either. I remember the first time, after years of not driving, getting behind the wheel of that donated car and taking the ramp onto the 101 freeway. The feeling of freedom was overwhelming. Today I am seriously grateful for that GMC, which lent me a wonderful ride. Yet, it still does not give the feeling of that first time driving a car after homelessness.
What small things are you grateful for?
Photo: Drew Woods