I Was a Survivor and Now I’m living

Laurie Williams sharing her story with a class at UCSC

I have been a trainee at the Homeless Garden Project’s Natural Bridges Farm for nearly
a year, and what a wondrous year it has been. The wisdom, knowledge, compassion and support, the camaraderie and bonding, as well as understanding and patience that have been showered upon me is without measure, appreciated, and surprisingly now welcomed.

It was not always so. For many years I survived the unstable homeless life of an addict; couch surfing, living in motels, staying up for days on end running myself ragged, and until just recently I’ve been camping, adding to my list of illegal activities. I am pleased and grateful to say that all of that is behind me now. I am now living in a 1-bedroom apartment with my partner, David, (who is also a trainee at HGP). We are enjoying the
responsibilities of paying rent, bills, and dealing with other domestic issues. It may not sound like a big deal but when you haven’t done these “normal” things they seem very important especially knowing I’m only one step away from homelessness. I’m determined to make that one step away two steps then three steps and so on… I won’t go backward. I have worked too hard, been blessed too much, and am just plain too old and tired to allow my good fortune to slip away.

Simply surviving had become a coping mechanism for me at the very young age of 12. I was heartbroken and devastated by an abuse that continued throughout my teenage years.

Although I was alive and breathing I was merely existing, not living. I think of all the special little moments I missed afraid to explore life in a mode of numbness induced by drugs. That ain’t living folks!

Being hired as a trainee at HGP has greatly enhanced my life. My self-esteem and self-confidence are boosted and I am reminded of who I am, who I want to become, and what I want to accomplish. Many positive people, experiences, and possibilities have crossed my path, opening the door for many new possibilities. Even though I’ve made countless poor choices, and wasted a lot of precious time, there was always an inner part of me that survived the turmoil and wanted more out life than I was receiving. I’m getting that now.

I’ve seen many lives blessed by the magic of the farm. It is a special place for growth, healing and strengthening. I’m more than grateful for the year I’ve been there. At first it was a rocky transition from homeless street life. Even before I found housing, adjusting to having a job was a major change in my life. I needed to become accountable, dependable, responsible and a team player. I also gained knowledge and the desire to learn more about all phases of sustainable organic farming, including harvesting, production and sales.

There has been real value in learning and expanding my horizons through the training and hands-on physical work. What I value most are the people I’ve met and worked with. It’s rare for me to allow people to get close, to relate to them on any real or deep meaningful level. On the street I kept others at a distance and only used them as a means to an end. Now, I truly care for my fellow trainees and the staff at Natural Bridges Farm. I connect with each person on some level, and I’ve built bonds I won’t ever forget.

It is safe at the farm. Every Tuesday morning we, the staff and trainees, gather in our ‘Circle’ meeting where personal and work related issues can be discussed. This time together is often very intimate and emotional and it is one more tie that brings us together in harmony. I can express compassion, concern(s) and other real emotions if I choose to. I receive the same in return which astounds me. I’m still getting used to the genuine giving, caring and encouragement.

Although I’ve been blessed with many positive changes, no longer being homeless is the most significant change so far. Healing is important as well. Healing the body and spirit can take shape in many ways. At the present time I’m dealing with health issues that need addressing, it is very stressful. What better place than the beautiful and peaceful farm to cope, nurture, and ease my mind so I can heal. Daily stretches to start our day, healthy,
organic veggies that we’ve planted and harvested, deliciously prepared daily lunches, healthy environment and people, the space to get back in tune with nature and myself; what a beautiful way to live.

As I continue to heal and grow, I think about my future and life after HGP. Furthering my education is part of my plan, and working with those who come from a similar background, and assisting them in their transition is very appealing to me. In whatever capacity this may manifest itself, I want and need to give back to keep the flow of healing and change happening in our community. I hope that whatever I can contribute will enhance my life just as HGP has enhanced mine.

Written by,
Laurie M. Williams, HGP Trainee