Why I Fit In So Well in Homeless Camps

a repost from Tents, Tarps, and Tears (with newly added links)

Many know my story; I’ve never kept it much of a secret. It is what it is and Rascal Flatts said it best when they sang God blessed the broken road that led me straight to [this].

Life for me in the 70’s was a Norman Rockwell painting. Lemonade stands, catching fireflies, trips to Disneyworld. From skating on neighborhood sidewalks with my friends to reading the latest Beverly Cleary book, my life was the picture of innocence.

The 80’s brought some things to my life that remain to this day. Valley girl catchphrases, socks that match your polo shirt, and scrunchies. I often look like the BEFORE picture in a fashion editorial spread. I figure sooner or later it’ll be the new retro fad anyway.

But the 80’s also brought about some things that took me years to overcome.

I was only thirteen when I started high school, and still very innocent. I had a menagerie of stuffed animals on my bed and still played with them every night. I had the typical plan of most suburban kids: graduate from high school with honors and spend four years at a university somewhere, followed by marriage and kids. It wasn’t a plan; it was a given.

Freshman year started off great. I made lots of new friends. I loved my classes and we built the freshman homecoming float at my house. I brought home several brochures from the guidance counselor’s office about colleges and I was looking at Florida State University’s theater program. I don’t know what I’d have done with a degree in drama but it seemed like a great career path!

I was one of only two incoming freshman on an academic team so much of my time was spent with upperclassmen. Mostly male. Not only were these guys smart, they were extremely popular around campus.

I decided to take advantage of my relationship with them and find out how I, too, could live the life spread out on the pages of my Teen and YM magazines.

Turns out, I was the one who got taken advantage of.

I started hanging out at parties with them. There was a lot of alcohol, and occasionally pot. I may have been clueless to the workings of a teen boy’s mind but I knew how to Just Say No to drugs.  I’d get a drink just to fit in then pretend to sip on it until I could slip off unnoticed and pour it out.

I was completely sober, and incredibly naïve, when they told me to be popular I needed to have sex with them. They could tell I was unsure so they hit me with the clincher. “All the cheerleaders do it.”

I thought cheerleaders hung the moon. I’d wanted to be one as long as I could remember and even though I was as coordinated as a potato sack, I’d dreamed that one day I would miraculously wake up and be able to do the best herkie south of the Mason-Dixon line.

I fell for it.

And I gave in.

After the fifth guy had his way with me, one of my idoled cheerleaders pulled me aside. “You really should be more discreet. Everyone’s calling you a whore.”

Wait, what?!!

At that exact moment, on the second floor of some house party, I realized what had happened. I’d been lied to, taken advantage of, and my reputation was ruined.

All because I wanted to be popular.

I didn’t know how to handle it. I was devastated. I couldn’t tell my parents; I’d just had a Smurfette party two months before.

I confided in a trusted “uncle”. They weren’t actually related but the grandmother had lived across from us since I was born and I spent nearly every afternoon at her house. All of the grandchildren were like cousins to me; their parents like aunts and uncles. This was my favorite set; they were down from Oregon.

I spent the night after playing with the kids, and was asleep in the living room when “Uncle Joe” woke me up.

“Hey,” I whispered. “What’s wrong?”

“Remember what we talked about,” he asked. Of course, the end of my life. How could I forget?

That was all he said before he raped me.

Too stunned to speak, I lay there unmoving until the next morning. On my way out the door to the safety of my own home, he pulled me aside.

“This is your fault,” he hissed. “You wanted it. That’s why you told me all that. If you tell your parents, I’m going to have to tell them everything you’ve been doing.”

This man, who I loved and trusted my whole life, was a monster. (In years to come it would be revealed that three of the four brothers were sexual predators. One is serving time for molesting several boys. One repeatedly raped a nephew, resulting in the boy’s suicide. As far as I know, “Uncle Joe” is still walking free.)

Something inside me died at that point and I started a pattern that lasted for decades. I numbed myself.

First with alcohol. It was easy to get and after a few drinks, I didn’t care what happened. I already had the reputation of a slut, so how much worse could it get?

I turned down the marijuana still. Alcohol, okay. Drugs, bad. Despite all, I was still a little girl.

One night I didn’t say no.

My world forever changed.

I loved the feeling of being high. It allowed me to still not care, yet I could maintain control in a way I couldn’t when I was drunk.

Pot quickly gave way to other drugs. Cocaine, ecstacy, pcp…Girls like me learned that to get the drugs, you dated the dealers.

In my book, there’s no difference between that and prostitution.

I became a bully. I threatened people so that no-one could see how scared I was inside. I also would pick a few girls who I saw being bullied and I’d become their protector. I’m not sure why anyone was scared of a 98-lb girl whose bark was bigger than her bite, but after slashing someone’s tires because they parked in my “spot” at school, no-one took chances.

When getting high is your solitary focus, nothing else matters. My grades dropped; I stopped hanging out with my friends from church. Life as I knew it had ended. My chances of a college scholarship, my hopes of finding a husband who’d want “damaged goods.”

My parents tried everything. Rehab, counseling, tough love. Some of it worked. At least for a little while.

I even told my mom about that awful night three years after it happened.  It was one of our best mother-daughter talks ever.

But the problem was that I had developed a pattern. When life gets tough, numb the pain with drugs.

It was a pattern that I continued even after I’d had children. By then my drugs were legal, but the idea was the same. I’m overwhelmed with motherhood, take a Xanax to escape.

Addiction is no less of a stronghold when the drugs are in your medicine cabinet.

Not only did I struggle with addiction, suicide was a near companion. When the drugs just couldn’t get me high enough to escape the turmoil I was feeling inside, I’d contemplate suicide.

There were many for-attention-only suicide attempts. The ones where you want to escape for a little while or manipulate someone.

And then there were two truly-wanting-to-end-it attempts.

Only by the grace of God was I not successful.

Even after I surrendered my life to the Lord, these two strongholds remained. When things went wrong, I wanted a pill. I would work through it, but the question haunted me. When is that not my first thought?

When things went really wrong, the suicidal thoughts would come back.

It was as if nothing changed.

I finally realized that there were hidden parts of my heart that I refused to bring into the light. They were painful and they’d been there so long, I wasn’t sure I knew how to let them go. Or that I wanted to.

So many people on the streets have these painful boxes locked up so tight inside of them. They are scared to let them go because it is easier to deal with the evil you know than to face the unknown.

I spent ten years afraid to be completely free.

But the peace, and the joy, that come with breaking those chains are what allow us to walk in the promised land here on earth.

I know the pain. I know the hidden doors. I know the patterns and I know the fear.

I tell everyone on the streets that there’s no difference between us.

Except that I’ve allowed the Lord to set me free.

download (5) I’ve always enjoyed sharing my testimony, feeling like I’ve really accomplished something in my life after all of the wrong turns I made. But here lately, I’ve been more in awe of those who DIDN’T mess up and then turn back to God. People who faced the same obstacles, the same peer pressure, and yet never strayed. Those are the ones with real testimonies. These two girls Kristen and Kellie Fuselier grew up in my hometown. I took voice lessons from their mom as a child and my own children took gymnastics lessons from their dad. We had similar upbringings in the same church and the same town, but they did so while faithfully serving God.

The last time I went home for a visit my mom showed me a CD and told me they were singing professionally. I was impressed. The anointing behind their beautiful voices can only come from a deep, personal relationship with Christ.

The lyric video, We Receive, is a perfect song to go with my testimony. The healing is there but you have to receive it.

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