Hello. My name is Patricia and this is the first time I’ve told my story. I was born in “fabulous” Las Vegas on the first day of summer, in 1973. Growing up in that hot desert valley was a stark contrast to the wet alfalfa farm in Utah that my grandmother moved to Vegas from. My grandfather left her to be a single mom in 1950, and working in the booming hotels of Sin City seemed to be exactly what she needed to make a life for herself and her children.
I remember watching endless episodes of Lawrence Welk with Grandma while she babysat me. I spent a lot of time with her. I remember many times anxiously watching her fall asleep in her chair with a long ash ready to fall off the end of her burning cigarette. She worked hard her whole life but unfortunately her best friend turned out to be in a bottle. I remember a day I came in parched from playing outside and I drank her glass of vodka by mistake. I believe she struggled deeply with her own shame and disappointment regarding the dissolution of her one and only marriage, and understandably my mom grew up a bit dysfunctional too.
My mother became pregnant with me at 16 and married as soon as she could, but not to my biological father. I didn’t get the chance to meet him until much later, and only briefly. Mom’s first husband, my stepdad, was abusive to us both, himself raised in an abusive family.
As a little girl I practiced chronic remorse, thinking if I showed any happiness then I was never sorry for whatever I’d done to begin with. I remember being left alone at home and once almost drowned in a pool, no one was watching me swim. I saved myself. My mom tells me how I ran away from home at 3, and again at 4. I fondly reminisce spending hours in front of the TV set, studying those unabashed freedom lovers called the Little Rascals. I so badly wanted to join them in their clubhouse and peddle car shenanigans.
Mom married again, then once more, and by the time she was getting divorced for the third time, I was 16, often left by myself and became quickly lost in my own alcohol addiction. In high school I drank to such excess that I would black out, having no recollection of what I did. I was out of control.
The first chance I got to get married I quickly took it. Only knowing the boy a few months did not matter. I suspect I really had no deep reverence for marriage after I’d seen how it played out in my mom’s life. I’m now divorced twice.
About four years ago, my life took a sudden severe nose dive after I discovered self-medicating with drugs also could help me cope during an intense period of depression and PTSD symptoms from an abusive relationship I’d been in. I didn’t think anyone would notice my drug use, especially since it was just temporary. I just needed some happy to get me over the hump.
Within a couple of years I lost my family, my pets, my car, my apartment of 13 years, and everything in it. I lost what dignity I may have thought I had left; there was no hiding my disease anymore. The sad irony is I desperately wanted help but thought if I told on myself then I’d “lose everything”. The stigma drug addiction held scared me tremendously. I thought I would be branded with a big letter “A”, that it would surely let people know they needed to stay away from me, let them know I was not trustworthy, that I was out of control, and unworthy. Feelings that I had all along anyway.
I went quickly from having a warm home with the light of three beautiful sons, to a very dark, lost, lonely, and scary place living in tents on the side of the highway with other addicts I ran into. I remember turning on a flashlight to see rats traversing the tree branches at night. I remember the snapping sounds of the twigs they gathered to build huts for themselves to hide in. They even have tiny toys inside. The highways are covered with these twig mounds but you can’t see them driving by.
In addition to this were the liars and thieves I suddenly saw myself with, sick people…and it was monkey-see-monkey do. I went from having no criminal history, to getting caught as I attempted to shoplift camping gear for myself and birthday presents for my young son that would have never made it to him anyway. As karma would have it, I was robbed about every other day. I attracted abusive people to my life and received my first black eye ever, living in the not-so-great outdoors. Even though I’d clearly made some outstandingly ignorant choices to get to that point, I always considered myself to be a kind and empathetic person in general. I was truly saddened to witness how the downtrodden took advantage of the downtrodden.
I remember the night I accepted I was living the life of a homeless drug addict forever. Having any hope at all was too painful. I’d traded my dignity for drugs. I didn’t mean to make a deal with the devil.
After living this way for about 5 months an old friend found me and begged to take me to treatment. I was dirty and broken and shocked anyone cared about me still. I thought of my family and knew that what I was doing to myself was hurting them deeply. And I was exhausted.
I saw nowhere to go but 6 feet in the dirt, so I made the decision to go to treatment, and through the grace of God experienced recovery from addiction.
In the last 11 months I’ve learned that from a young age, I tied my self-esteem to how others perceived me. I hated myself and didn’t realize it. These thoughts made me defensive and waiting for the other shoe to drop in any given situation. Whatever I achieved didn’t seem to be enough, I needed to prove myself more worthy. If I did succeed I felt guilt about enjoying it, so I didn’t. Even the thought of committing to something I thought I would enjoy was difficult, I didn’t deserve it anyway.
I know now these are lies I told myself. I was deathly afraid of being honest before, very fearful of exposure. I had to lose everything and be painfully exposed; I had to experience painful introspection to finally see. I came to view addiction as a disease of a broken spirit; and in recovery can become a thrilling spiritual journey. Rather than feeling chronic guilt over my past choices, I can choose to see the beauty in hardships, the opportunities that they create for spiritual growth. I’ve learned hardship can be a pathway to peace. I just have to remain honest and ask for help.
After treatment I got a car and made my way to Housing Matters on Coral Street where a program director named Berenice threw me a rope: she sent me to a shelter and then directed me to the Homeless Garden Project. Now allow me to fast-forward you to a day in the Garden where I have been five months, the same length of time that I was homeless on the streets as a hopeless drug addict:
~It’s Tuesday morning. I arrive to Shaffer Rd and locate an empty space to park on the right. I pull my mask up over my nose and jog to Circle. I find a seat quietly, and we are gently directed to meditate on our breath and the delicate sounds of nature. I feel less anxious and more grounded, as each of us begins bravely voicing our truths.
Later, like a child I curiously watch monarch butterflies fly about. I’ve spent most of my life in desperation, not pausing much to enjoy the beauty of nature. I spot a monarch now frantically jumping up off the ground. I decide to pick it up. I notice it’s injured, missing half a wing. I have no idea how its wing became torn, but I stand amazed that I’m actually holding a monarch butterfly in my hand. I ask my peer for help and we place it away from the dirt and into the milkweeds, where the rest of its family is cloistered. We wish it farewell. I have many questions about the life of this poor monarch. They remind me that suffering is a part of life, and that we are not meant to suffer alone. Sometimes we need to be carried to safety. I’m hungry to find more beauty, more correlations between nature and me.
I head off towards the rows and rows of strawberries waiting for their treatment and today is only meant for pruning and weeding.
I squat down and carefully inspect a strawberry plant. It looks wild and in need of some attention. I note the full range of vibrant leaves and of dying leaves no longer serving it. I begin pulling off the green & brown two-toned stems & leaves, they snap off without much effort. Their unusual color and youthfulness makes them stand up & out as if to say “Hey- over here! Pick me!” Underneath however, reveals a world hidden from view, an organic established community of spider webs and tiny fruit flies atop hard, crusty stems.
I attempt to snap off one of these lower stems and nearly pull the entire thing out of the dirt. This stem says, “Not so fast, I’ve been here awhile and I’m pretty set in my ways. Deal with it”. So I do. Regrouping a little, I take my left hand and hold the entire thing, pinning it down gently. I then put my right hand on the old stem, and with extra effort twist and yank it off. I think to myself, “What a stubborn old stem! Because of your resistance we almost lost it all—“. Reason tells me if I’d only paid the plant the attention it needed sooner, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Changing its path wouldn’t be so strenuous. Start sooner next time. Pay attention. Show it the love it deserves. It’s not going to prune itself. I feel my body soften and I lean back. My mind is flooded in light as I suddenly see I’ve reached a new level of awareness by way of a strawberry plant and a butterfly. Familiar esoteric phrases come to mind: The macro in the micro…As above so below…On earth as it is in heaven…
Wow, I think— the garden mirrors me. Hmm.
A light is on in my head and I smile as I ponder excitedly:
…Someone who cared about me saw my own broken wing, and guided me to a place where space is gently held, to recover safely.
…A lifetime of established, hard, crusty self-centered fear and addiction needed some tough assistance, in a treatment center.
… And the traumatized little girl in me needed to be coached and cradled in a community garden. The new farming enthusiast in me can think of no better place to heal.
My time spent at the Homeless Garden Project has been transformative. Not only has it given me an income to pay for a bed indoors at a sober-living house, it’s given me knowledge about how things grow from the ground, and how things die and change in a plant, and in life. It’s blessed me with the tremendous power of owning my vulnerabilities in a safe space. Along with a 12-Step program, I’m learning how to spot early on the behaviors that no longer serve me: one by one I snap them off. This place, this garden, for me can be joyfully described in two words: metamorphic, and metaphoric.
The Homeless Garden Project has provided me healing and a new freedom to explore. It’s brought to light many things for me. The lightbulb moments I’ve experienced and natural inclination for digging have encouraged even further exploration, into the realm of human psychology. I’ve recently learned more about traumas and about how Parental Alienation fosters self-hatred in children. They are at great risk of growing into dysfunctional adults self-centered in fear, worry, stuck in survival mode, and prone to addiction.
I revealed earlier how my father was absent, or alienated from my life, and the information regarding Parental Alienation is an extremely helpful puzzle piece for me. I remembered like me, my mother’s father was alienated from her. Then, taking an honest look saw deeper that at different stages a son of mine was alienated from their own father, as well as alienated from me. The self-hatred fostered from parental alienation is clearly passed down through generations. Knowledge of this has created a sudden feeling of freedom and victory in me. I can now help to make a change to this pattern.
Since coming to the Garden I’ve found that I really enjoy all the hard and nurturing aspects of this work. I’m myself here. I’ve always wondered what to do with my life, and in so many ways I can see it right here, in farming, and in recovery of course, of all types. I can see myself helping others in a program similar to this one, perhaps including partnerships with rehabilitation centers. Teaching children how to garden would bring so much joy too. I think the teaching possibilities available through a garden might be endless. I have alot to explore.
In this year when alcoholism and drug addiction has been at an all-time high, I’ve managed to become triumphant over mine. I allow myself to be vulnerable, and feel good instead of guilty. I’m passionate now about helping to spark awareness and fostering courageous habits in others, and I’ll be honoring the chance I’ve been given whenever I do.
And for THIS chance to share MY story today, I humbly say thank you.