~ 40th Day ~
Bethel House...Rainbow Park...Brock...The East Cliffs.
Jeepers, another packed day of amazing people and places throughout this beautiful gift of another day back in "Egypt." I would say this post will be kept to minimal wordage, but most likely, pushing the "see more" icon will drop more paragraphs than you have time for on your lunch break. Here goes trying to highlight nuggets of this awesome day.
The protein in my peanut butter and oatmeal was eaten slowly this morning as Karen and I continued to talk about yesterday's experiences of re-visiting places that held memories of both joy and pain. We both still needed to process many emotions that had surfaced and it was good that neither of us was alone. Sometimes, just having someone near (even if you are silent together) is comforting and needed. Not that either of us were having any meltdowns, but several time we found ourselves lightly running our fingers on each other's backs as we passed each other by, asking "are you doing alright?" and many deep sighs were let out in between the massive amount of writing we both were pouring our hearts onto page that morning. People who love to write like the atmosphere that is created when putting words on a page… and it’s important to give space to the writer. Still, the two of us were more than welcoming of each other’s company in our secluded, silent space. Karen is a treasured friend.
I remembered it was Friday today, and recalled this being a day off of work for my old tracker, Alana whose path I'd already merged with the other day, but wanted to soak up some more time with this one of many role models of mine. For those of you who are mothers, you know full well that a day off of work at your job doesn't mean you will have a free day to do as you please... it simply means you catch up on motherly duties and housework. Such was the case today for this woman who wears many hats. When I sent her a text inquiring of how many things she had already checked off her long list of things to do today, she said there would be some carved out time to meet up again. Whoop whoop!
I needed to finish writing the day post I was piecing together and told her we’d meet up at her stellar abode at 1:00. I shoveled the last couple bites of my oatmeal and chugged another cup of coffee as more paragraphs poured out. A last minute text was sent to Alana asking her if there was any chance we could go visit Bethel House, where I spent 4 months in that rehab program. She responded in a few minutes and told me that the newer director, John, could meet us at 1:30. Sweetness!!! I was both super stoked to re-visit this place as well as more than a "little" nervous to meet with John. He wasn't the director when I was there 7 years ago (the amazing Patsy, whom I could tell you so much about our unique bond) but he was still on the staff team... and we did not have a bond together. This man, who is actually an amazing guy, flat out vexed my spirit while I was there. The reason behind this wasn't ‘cause he was mean or nasty, but because I did not have a very good view of men in general. Because he was the only male staff member at Bethel, whenever he came into the room, his male presence sent salty shivers up and down my then crooked spine. But that was then and this was now… John was not the person I portrayed him to be nor was I the same skeptic of men in general, and for that matter, I was more looking forward to than fearing see him again.
I parked Tumbler on Alana’s street and she was already outside with open arms that I willingly walked into and reciprocated the hug. She gave me a tour of her and her husband’s place, which is decorated mainly with plants and pictures that their young sons had artistically created and colored. We then jumped in her car and headed for Bethel House. When we pulled into the parking lot in front of the house, I could have sat in the car for quite awhile and allowed the current of memories to trickle over me, but John was expecting Alana and I at 1:30, and we wanted to be prompt. She hadn’t told John specifically why we wanted to talk to him, and even though Alana had said I was once in the program, he didn’t remember me… till he saw me. His expression didn’t change all the way up through the house, into the courtyard and as we ascended the stairs to his office. He had greeted me at the main door, but no other words were spoken as I followed him. Alana was talking with several girls along the way and when we started up the stairs, she was no longer behind us. John stopped before he entered the office and asked, “Where is Alana… I need her to be here with us.” This was for 2 reasons: 1 being he is a male staff and needs to be mindful of one-on-one interactions with females, and 2 because he looked kinda nervous himself at our paths merging after so many years and our tumultuous past. Just then, Alana appeared and we all went into the office that I recalled with both pleasant and not so pleasant recollections.
The first thing I saw was the “hot seat” which was where we sat when we were in trouble for something. I sat here many times during my brief stay here and let out a laugh. Alana asked if I wanted to sit in it for old time sake, and I shook my head. “Come on, I know you want to sit in it and hold the ‘speaking staff’.” We would hold this and raise it in the air when we wanted to speak… which I didn’t often do cause my muzzle was buckled on way too tight back then. I hopped up from the couch I had sat myself in more comfortably than the years before and the first picture is from that moment I sat in the hot seat not because I was in trouble, but because I was free from the shackles that once bound me... and I had found my voice.
When I returned to the couch, John asked me the question of the year: “So are you here to check back in?” Again, I laughed and was joined with Alana’s distinct and adorable laugh. “Nope, not here to come back into the program, just to visit and say thank you for the investment you made in my journey, John.” I shared opening with him how I wasn’t a big fan of him before. I apologized and asked for his forgiveness. He acknowledged my apology, but he told me that I was forgiven a long time ago. My time with this new director of an amazing program didn’t last long, but I shared briefly what had transpired, how my life had been transformed in the last 7 years and about the “West Coast Rock Tour” God had called me on. Before I walked back down the stairs that led to the front door of the place I was glad to be visiting, I pulled out a “Hope” rock and gave it to John. It was a special time of reconciliation between us and I was grateful for creating a new, positive memory with this man I once loathed, but now saw with clear eyes.
Halfway through my time at the house, I began to cut myself with a large safety pin. The director keenly noticed that I was wearing long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts every day (rain or shine) and when she pulled up my sleeve after a week of cutting, I took my first of 2 vacations to the psych ward. There were some labels put on me through diagnosises from doctors and psychiatrists that, though seemingly stuck on me for the symptoms I was presently experiencing, I did not agree with and therefore didn’t let stay stuck on me. We can often live out the labels that are attached to us… and allow them the dictate our behavior. I wasn’t willing to believe these prescribed diagnosises, though I did experience some struggle in trying to keep other’s from coercing me that I was what knew I wasn’t. Thank God (and I mean I praise God!) that the transition from a substance abuse program to a duel-diagnosis program didn’t go as planned as well as when I was encouraged to sign up for disability (mentally challenged… rather crazy) that this process didn’t go through. I refused to be labeled as crazy. Tomorrow’s post will shed more light on this distinction of who I was, this mental battle that was waging war, and who I am today because I didn’t allow those labels to stick. Whew, deep breath.
My time at Bethel was an obvious struggle. For those of you wondering why I was exited after 4 months (the program was 9 months), it wasn’t for sneaking in some substances and relapsing, but rather it was for stealing. One off the staff members discovered over $1200 of merchandise from stores on State Street hidden in my closet (and that was only what they found) because I wanted to give all the staff and residents cool presents for Christmas that was coming up. Talk about people pleasing to a fault… or should I say fall out with the staff who had no choice but to kick me out. This was when I visited the psych ward for my second time cause Patsy recognized my lack of wanting (or caring) to make it through the night. An overdose or cutting (too deep) incident was foreseeable. I did go back to using after I was released from the ward, but that is a whole other chapter.
The 4 months I was at Bethel, I wasn’t using drugs, but I was still running furiously away from my past and current roots that were stifling my heart’s desire to be free. I often say that if any of the 8 rehabs I’ve been to in my life, the one that I SHOULD have found freedom and deliverance was at Bethel House. This program was (and still is) top notch. The staff are healthy and walking in freedom themselves, so the counseling and ministering is very effective. This is an all-around healthy and safe place to face and feel… but I simply wasn’t ready to do that. It’s not the program, the classes, the staff, the atmosphere or any other surface level thing thing that makes a person come clean and get clean. Me being at Bethel proved this. While the rehab I did find freedom at (my 8th and last program) was a good one, it wasn’t a predominantly healthy place or atmosphere. But this is where I allowed God and His Living Spirit (our Counselor) do the needed heart surgery. We can say “Oh, I wish so and so would just get involved in this or check into that or try this or get plugged into that… and then they would stop or change or find freedom.” But the truth of the matter is that places, people, programs are mere tools to God uses in the process. They are not the answers or the keys. Where I found deliverance and freedom was where many did not. And where I didn’t find it, many did. It’s not the physical place, the healthiness of the program, the professional level of the staff or the amount of money it takes to purchase these tools… it’s all about the level of willingness and readiness of the person. It’s the place where one surrenders, it’s the openness and honesty while in that program, and when a person relies on the Counselor rather than the staff counselors. The 2 documentary videos that many of you have watched on my blog are tools I use to share my story, though I wish more focus what put on the spiritual place my heart was taken to, rather than the physical place of Faith Mission. I have a deep love for that rescue mission, but it’s not what I want to be highlighted in my journey to find freedom. The credit and honor goes to God’s Spirit working on me after I re-dedicated my life to the Lord. Now, I’m not knocking anything or anyone ‘cause truly I am a fan of programs and counselors of all types, but they can’t become our sole reason for why and how we found freedom. I’ve had the best of the best (Patsy, the director at Bethel, was phenomenal) and I’ve had the opposite, but it wasn’t until I looked to my Savior, Rescuer and Counselor that those roots were not only faced and felt, but they were exposed and pulled up to be replaced with the rich soil that only the Gardner of my heart could fill those holes with. With that, I’ll hop off this rabbit trail and bounce back onto the path of the day’s events.
Alana and I left Bethel with a smile. It was nice being able to come and then go. We grabbed some food at a local place and though we ordered our meals to go, we found ourselves sitting at a table, taking the grub out of the bag and eating it as we talked about a wide range of topics. Alana is so easy to talk with and her company is delightful. Though again, our time together was short and mostly spent at Bethel, I was grateful that she took time in her day off to spend some of it with me.
The park looked the same with the famous rainbow structure and the baseball diamond, but so much was different. Many of the trees that we used to hand around and find shade from the hot sun had been dug up (these were no small trees either and they were pulled out to discourage people from congregating under). The bleacher areas where we used to sit were fenced in as well as the men and woman’s bathroom that was used not only for the facilities but also snorting and smoking all sorts of substances as well as doing things to get money for the next high. The city had done well in making it difficult for anyone to hang out and stay comfortably numb. While walking around the park, I only saw 3 people and only one was homeless. The other 2 were walking their dogs, and this was not a park I remembered to be a place where one would come to frolic with their pet. It was a sore spot for the eyes of the community and being that Santa Barbara is a tourist town, this park surely was brought up by many people in town meetings. They had done their job well. Rainbow park was cleaned up well… but this just meant that the people who used to hang out or live here had now been relocated to somewhere else. The renovation hadn’t rehabbed the people, it simply told them they weren’t welcome here any longer. If only cities and communities would use some of the money used to help the appearance of the surface level of the parks, streets and buildings and use some of that money to help rebuild the internal structure of people. Another deep sigh.
I left Rainbow park with a sadness in my heart. I was miffed that Rainbow was different and fenced up. Not that I wanted this park to have remained a place where drugs, alcohol and tricks were done, but what issues had really been addressed by cleaning up the park? Yes, it was no longer a hangout for those living on the streets and the landscape was lush and green, but the lack of people walking through and sitting in this park that was now allowing the grass to finally grow didn’t mean that the number of homeless people had decreased. What was done was what I refer to as a “cosmetic job” meaning that the cover-up project had done nothing to address the root of the problem. The heaviness was also from not seeing any of my old friends, though honestly, I hoped not to see any of them in the same place and in the same situations. This is one of those times when “you do but you don’t.” I worried and wondered for I didn’t know where they were… if they were the same, better, worse or even still alive. I found out the Bird had died when I asked around later that day. He was a beautiful person… my brother for a season. I only re-visited Rainbow Park this one time while in SB. It was a quick closure time and I had seen the park but no people in it. It lacked the aliveness that it once had… even if the life of the park was from those living unhealthy lifestyles. There was no reason to go back again, for it’s hard to minister to chain link fences. I did leave a rock in a random place at Rainbow. God knows just who will find it and will need it at that specific time.
The East Beach of SB was a short walk away. Oh how I remember talking this walk so many times while at Casa and when I needed a break from working the streets at the Wall. Again, so many stories could be shared about my adventures on this stretch of the ocean. But only one will be voiced at this time. The area that I was now lugging my heavy backpack towards was just past the stretch of volleyball courts. But before I made it to “The Cliffs”, I ran into an old buddy of mine from the Salvation Army. Brock was a sight for sore eyes and he was still the handsome man who looked like his mother had given birth to him on a surfboard. This gentle, tender-hearted man was sitting in his “office” as he calls it (which is a designated bench under a cement awning that overlooks the ocean). We had a long talk about where he had been in the last 6 years. He shared about reunited with his grown son and when he described how they ran into each other’s arms to hug one another after 15 years, Brock started crying. Tears flowed from both our eyes as I listened to this strong, grown man describe how this experience had forever changed his life… and his son’s life. Brock has always been a free-spirit. He chooses to live in an out of shelters, picking up side jobs doing construction and renovation, because his heart longs to sit near the Oceanside. He doesn’t do drugs or have mental illness…. He simply loves to live free in his “office.” He is a loner of sorts and I encouraged him to remember that though he prefers to be by himself, that he is never truly alone. God sits with him every day on that bench. I gave him a “Peace that passes all understanding” rock.
Walking on and towards “The Cliffs” I saw many signs of people living on and near the beach. Tomorrows post will tell of my times in the ivy and on a boat where I was left alone for a few days. The story I will briefly describe at the East Beach is one that still leaves me wondering if it really was me. Sometimes, when telling my testimony and sharing certain stories, it doesn’t feel like it is me I’m describing… but it is and this story is true.
When I rounded the bend of the ocean to see the cliff area, I was shocked at how different it looked. This has been a common reaction to how much has changed since I last lived in this city. What once were large, high cliffs of rock boulders was now a mere cliff of mostly dirt. Whether the dirt underneath had eroded and the rocks had fallen or been removed (for reasons like Rainbow Park, to discouraged people from dwelling there), this stretch of beach was no longer a hideout or handout for the “beach bums.” I did see a homeless man walking slowly towards me and when he neared me and asked if I had any food (not money), I pulled out 2 granola bars, a pack of trail mix and a bottle of water. “Wow, do you always have this stuff in your backpack or is this just my lucky day cause you’re feeling generous?” I told him that I once lived on the streets here in SB and that there were 3 days when I lived in the rock boulders that used to be here. He remembered how the cliffs used to look like and he said he lived down the beach a ways. “Not many live out here now, but I can’t seem to get the courage to leave.” I told him that the rocks may have washed away, but that God, the Solid Rock and shelter in every season of our life, could never be washed or eroded away. He looked at me with silence, but his eyes said so much. For some reason, I felt like he was remember a person in his life who had already told him this message of truth. His only response was “Hmmm... thanks.” And with that he gave me a hug and walked away. I didn’t see him again in the next 2 hours I was on this stretch of beach.
I saw a couple rocks embedded in the sand that oddly, I remembered from before. Funny, how my memory is so cloudy with certain faces and experiences, but I recognized some familiar rocks. I walked a little ways till I found a group of larger rocks that hadn’t been washed away or removed and my own rocks and Sharpies were pulled out. This was a time of reflection, processing and allowing some of the pent up emotions to be felt in a safe place where only me and the Counselor were present. This was a similar situation of the time when I had wandered out to the Cliffs, but my state of mind was completely different.
I was running out of crystal, but the amount I’d ingested and the lack of sleep (and food) had really taken it’s toll on my body, but mostly mind. One of the times I found the courage to come up and out from behind the cluster of boulders, my eyes were looking for people on the beach who I thought were looking for me. But what I saw was not people, rather I was seeing these huge turtles that looked prehistoric. They looked to be the size of large dining room tables. There were hundreds of them swimming in the ocean, dozens were crawling out of the water and up on the beach, and still more were already beached and walking around on the sandy shore. They had large spikes on their heads and backs that were 2-4 feet long. Funny thing was, I wasn’t freaked out by these dinasour-like turtles…. I was awed by them. There were people walking on the beach both directions and I suddenly lost my fear of them being undercover cops and ran out from the rocks towards the beach. I started shouting, “Are you all seeing this! I’ve never seen such creatures! Why aren’t you all taking pictures of these turtles!?!? How can you just walk right by them as if they aren’t even there?” The reason for this was that these turtle WEREN”T really there. My mind was hallucinating and as I walked back to my hideout, still shaking my head in disbelief at these people’s lack of interest and awe at what I was seeing, it didn’t even dawn on me that they were probably going to go home and tell their family and friends about the “crazy lady they saw run out from the cliff to tell them about some dinosaur turtles.” I can still see these creatures in my mind when I think about these 3 days I spent out on the cliff and out of my mind.
There is a second part to this story that is equally unbelievable, but true none the less. My adventure back to Casa and what happened when I finally got there will be held for another time. My friend Daniel remembers it much clearer than I do. I did check myself into the detox program after some persuasion and this is where I became close with Carmen who I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I took a short leave of absence from the drug world, but went right back in with full force and worse after completing the program. I wasn’t ready to stop running and numbing, but I did learn many things about myself while there even though I didn’t open up or talk about what was going on beyond the surface level.
My time at the Cliffs was one of reflection and processing. I left a rock on one of the embedded rocks I recognized, hoping the person who found it would recognize the message of the Rock. I scribed many rocks while looking out at the vast ocean and did a lot of praying out loud. Possibly, to those walking by, I still may have appeared to be “crazy” while talking out loud to seemingly no one and writing on rocks by myself, but my identity was solid and secure. I no longer questioned my sanity. I am a child of God, a daughter of the King, a woman of freedom, a warrior. God created me on purpose and for purposes. No one could take that away and honestly, I don’t care what other’s think I am. Some of you reading this may even question my sanity, my sincerity, and my sold out heart to Jesus. And not to sound mean or calloused, but I’m okay with what other’s may say negatively about me. Though I don’t want people to judge me, mock me or even hate me, I can’t control their reactions, but I can control my responses to them. All that to say, I love those who like me and I love those who don’t. Guess which ones I pray a little more fervently for?
To close this day post I must share the stellarness that happened before I made my way back to Tumbler, made another visit to Pershing Park and then went back to my sweet friend Karen apartment. I was walking with the Cliffs just behind me and towards the volleyball courts when I remembered how I used to find heart shaped rocks all over Santa Barbara, but particularly on the beach. Many stories I could share, but let me just say that these were no “well, that kind of looks like a heart” rocks… they were near perfect. And I wasn’t just finding these hearts once a week, it was almost daily and sometime I would be shown multiple hearts in one day. Daniel can tell you about one day where he was walking the beach with me (I was not in a good place this day) and he witnessed me finding a heart-shaped rock every 3-5 steps… no exaggeration. So as I was walking now, I was thinking about all those reminders of God’s unconditionally love during a time when if His love were conditionally, then it certainly would have been withheld from the broken and lost person I was, caught in a tangled web of sin. I looked up and talking out loud, said, “God, I know your love for me isn’t conditional. Thank you for your unfailing love. Because of you, I’m not that same girl then walking this beach now. It would be cool for you to wash up a heart-shaped rock on the beach, but though I know there is still so much more about You that has yet to be grasped, I feel your love today. Keep working on me, though… I’m still a mess in need of a daily Savior!” I felt like a little kid walking with their daddy, and despite the heavy backpack and the way it sunk my feet deep into the sand, there was a slight bounce in my step after voicing out loud God’s awesomeness and radical love. And then I looked down… and saw the heart-shaped rock.