What I Know To Be True Four Years After Homelessness

crown-vintage-graphicsfairy009abg

I’ve been known as the One Woman Army for years. A hyperbolic nickname that has lasted almost as long as the trials attributed to it. But I’m being vulnerably honest when I say it’s not a seemingly self-important title, brand identity or #humblebrag of any sorts, but rather one of equitable symbolism. It was earned.

Like the name so states, there was a battle fought and a battle won and despite my evolution since, it has been that battle that has defined my strength four years later.

Today is my fourth re-birthday. December 3rd 2010 was the day I moved out of the homeless shelter I had been rebounding in and out of for the two long and difficult years prior, finally evolving from nameless government-owned property to a young woman finding her way.

Just a week after one of my closest shelter-mates had taken her own life and three weeks before Christmas, it was a compulsory, frightening and ambitious new start, but a re-birth nonetheless.

But now I’m here. Four years later, I’m writing this post and my national entertainment column simultaneously as I sip on a pipping hot Earl Grey in my new flat in Europe like some Eat Pray Love sequel or something. (I don’t write that in any other tone but staggering gratefulness.) Good things have never been my norm. I’m still not used to them and remain somewhat anxious when they do happen. Yes, it’s been four years since I left the trauma and stigmas attached to homelessness behind me, but those traumas and stigmas were infectiously real and 1460 days is still a short amount of time to heal in retrospect to the weight of it all. 1460 days did not erase my past. And four more years won’t either. But now, I have a future.

Everyone has a date they call their own – a birthday, anniversary or holiday to celebrate. But not everyone gets two. We aren’t all promised a second chance at the life we want, despite what everything and everyone states we will never have. I’m one of the lucky ones.

So in honor of my fourth re-birthday, here are four steps I took that elevated me from re-birth to One Woman Army:

contrast

1. Accept that yours is not a life of conceptual norms – The word ‘deserve’ is a common concept in popular culture. From mainstream songs to Oscar-winning movies, we are constantly being told what we deserve. But in fact, for the most part, the word “deserve” is rooted in privilege. What do we deserve individually and what do we deserve in comparison to one another? When I used to say that I didn’t deserve my situations and cried in puddles of self-pity, I was taking the responsibility off of my own shoulders to better myself and directing it at everyone but me. Of course, I didn’t deserve homelessness. No one deserves pain. I had been born into a situation beyond my control, one of unfair and unjust circumstances, but what was I doing to get myself out the whirlpool? I was pissed at the world for not helping me, my family breakdown for putting me there and everyone else who had what I thought I deserved. But it was counter-productive. What I needed to do was realize the onus was on me, despite not “deserving” my situation. Things changed when I did.

What is home? “Home is where your heart is,” “Home sweet home.” “Home home on the fucking range.” But home is a concept. Stability is a concept. Fair is a concept. These were things that I searched for until I realized that they were not easy to come by, despite what popular culture made me think. I was not to be spoon-fed the good things in life, but that didn’t mean they weren’t mine – weren’t anyone’s – to someday have, despite circumstance. They were things that I was going to have to work for. Too often we compare ourselves to everyone around us. We compare ourselves to the songs and movies that tell us what we deserve and we get blinded by the shininess of the concepts, rather than figuring out what they mean in relation to ourselves.

2. Listen to the corny inspirational shit – “Never give up.” “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” “Stay positive.” All that inspirational bullshit you read or hear when you’re in any type of hell-hole can come off like a complete waste of time. How can you believe in Hallmark, Tumblr meme-worthy quotes when your life is in shambles? A quote you can find under a 16-year-old’s Instagram selfie is the last thing you want to hear when you’re in need of genuine help. But the moment I started to actually believe the advice I was given was the moment I had enough motivation to make it all a reality. Those cliches are there because they’re true and sometimes, they’re exactly what we need. Years after the pit of homelessness has sifted into my past, I’ve been asked to do radio shows and interviewed for articles about my journey and I struggle not to rattle off cliches when asked about what advice I have for people in similar situations. But the single most paramount thing that has made me a success story when statistics say that I shouldn’t be where I am, is my attitude. I am only here, because I believed I could be. I never gave up. It wasn’t the end. I stayed positive. And that’s not corny, that’s just as real as it gets.

3. Work harder than everyone else –  The thing about rock bottom is, there’s no where to go but up. And the experience alone of feeling the depth of that jagged, obliterating bottom is that it should be enough to ensure that you never, ever go back. After I exited the shelter, life nearly changed in an instant, because I was in a position to do whatever needed to be done to ensure that I never fell that low in life again. Once you’ve had nothing, it’s easy to sacrifice the small things you do have to reach long-term goals, because you know what it’s like not to have any goals to begin with. Things like sleep, food, entertainment. For the first two years after I exited shelter life, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t sleep for two years. I worked a full-time job, maintained a full-time university schedule and an internship to ensure that I would never go back. It was tunnel vision. I would never of had that focus if I hadn’t hit rock bottom previously. Because that type of drive isn’t normal. It is driven by something more. It’s instinct.

4. Never forget it – Let your past humble you. Despite where I am today, I’m not ashamed of where I’ve come from. It’s not a secret that I try to avoid or a scandal I try to deny, because I am who I am because of it. The struggle has given me the gift of strength, resiliency and focus to reach this spot where I am now. The moment I forget is the moment I risk losing all the lessons the struggle taught me, which means it was all for nothing. It’s given me purpose. It’s given me drive. And for that, I am grateful.

Four years. 1460 days. And counting.

R.I.P Michaela 

Canadian Homeless Youth Statistics via Covenant House:

  • It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year and as many as 2,000 on a given night.
  • It is estimated that the mortality rate of homeless youth is up to 40 times the mortality rate of housed youth with primary causes of death identified as suicide and drug overdose.
  • Abuse and neglect are the two major reasons why youth leave home. Studies show 70 percent of homeless youth have suffered some form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
  • 60% of street youth are staying in one of Toronto’s youth shelters.

Read my editor’s letter in the first edition of Street Voice magazine and support the publication giving a voice to homeless youth all over Canada.

Twitter: @StreetVoicesTO

You must be logged in to post a comment Login