by Brenna Lakeson
Many of our guests have endured different types of trauma. From the questions we ask them during our intake process, we learn a lot about each of our guests’ stories and what brought them into their current situation. Many have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, especially as children. Many have experienced violence on the street – robbery, physical assault, and theft. Others have experienced incarceration, often repeatedly. These difficult experiences, when compounded, can influence addiction behaviors and existing mental illness. All of these things combine create a situation that can make it nearly impossible for someone to rise above their circumstances without outside assistance.
Recently, I met with a guest named Ms. C. Ms. C has been a regular guest over the past few months. She struggles with mental illness, often conversing with people who aren’t there or experiencing drastic mood swings and anger. Some days, she seems to be doing better than others, but it was clear that she would need intentional case management to overcome her situation. On this particular day, Ms. C was interested in getting into a substance abuse treatment program. The program that we refer to for women requires an extensive referral process and a lengthy form. As I worked through the questions with Ms. C, I learned more about her life.
She told me about the history of mental illness and addiction in her family and the abuse she had experienced growing up. She told me about her early use of alcohol and drugs. She told me about the death of her husband and her son. She told me about abuse she had experienced on the street, both physical and sexual. After we had completed the form, it was clear to me that Ms. C had experienced a huge amount of trauma in her life but had never had the luxury of being able to process it. She didn’t have a therapist or a doctor to help her and there was no way, in her current state, for her to gain employment to earn the money to afford the care she needs.
This catch-22 is the case for many of our guests – they need mental healthcare, addiction resources, and counseling, but do not have the stability to afford this type of care. So, they continue to compound the trauma they experience, living in a constant state of emergency and anxiety on the street. There are programs in place to help individuals like Ms. C, but without the awareness to ask for help from the right people, getting to these programs can also be next to impossible.
The good news is, though, that there is healing taking place for people like Ms. C. She was able to get into the substance abuse treatment program after working with us and currently has a bed there. In the program, she’ll have access to mental healthcare, counseling, and the structure she so badly needs. I am grateful that I got to hear a piece of Ms. C’s story and hold space with her in her grief. I am also grateful that she is getting the help she needs. I have hope that she will be able to rise about her trauma and find new meaning now that she has a place to process all that she’s experienced. In the process of filling out the forms for the treatment program, she mentioned that she loves gardening and would like to have an apartment to clean. She also mentioned that she likes to do crafts and write poems. I believe Ms. C will be able to do all these things and more as she begins the healing process.