VOICES FROM THE STREETS: Changes In Life

I sit at my desk looking around my office and I have to feel gratitude. It’s 2015 and just 21 years ago I was strung out on heroin and didn’t know where I was going to lay my head at night. In the last issue of Spare Change News was an article about me as a vendor. Reading it brought back so many memories, some good, some not so good.

When I went into detox in March 1994, I had no hope. I had been selling the paper for one year and I saw people who were vendors moving ahead with their lives and I wanted that for myself. Truth hit me like a battering ram and I knew if I continued to shoot heroin, nothing in my life was going to improve.

I felt hopeless on the way to detox, but while I was there, something within me changed. People talk about grace coming into their lives and I guess that’s what happened because I can’t explain it otherwise.

My counselor at Spaulding Hospital told me that I was going to have to work at staying abstinent, just like I worked at getting high. I was going to attend support groups, get a therapist and stick with it, and listen to what people said when they gave me advice on how to stop using and stay stopped.

Anyone can stop. The key to success is staying stopped. A miracle took place and I was able to stay abstinent for almost four years. Then I got into a relationship that was unhealthy for me and I started to slide downhill.

Gradually, I stopped attending my support groups on a regular basis. My therapy slipped by the wayside and lost its priority. I started smoking cigarettes again, and when that happened, I knew that one day in the near future, I was going to slip away.

It happened. I thought I could take just one shot and go right back to meetings but it didn’t happen that way. Suddenly I was in the midst of the chaos and I knew that I didn’t belong there anymore but I couldn’t stop using. I fell into the rut and furnished it with ratty, dirty furniture.

I went to seven detoxes in the year and two months that I was using and I realized, with the help of another counselor, that I couldn’t go back to the unhealthy relationship I was in without picking up dope again. I knew I had to learn how to live again, and after detox, I put myself into a recovery program.

Addiction is one hell of an illness because the root of it is in the way I was thinking. My mind had become my worst enemy and I needed to be surrounded by positive people who wanted to learn how to live again.

I stayed in this recovery house for nine months and while I was there I started to casually date a woman I had met at a meeting in Harvard Square. I was gunshot and gun shy and it took me a long time to trust again.

I realized that I had outgrown the program I lived in so I applied to a stricter program, a place called Moore’s Way in Gloucester. Luckily I was accepted and moved in. In the previous program, all that was required was a support group three times a week.

The problem with that was, when I was using, I shot dope seven days a week and Moore’s Way required that I go to a meeting every day. Another benefit of Moore’s Way was that, during the day, they had a counselor on duty and on call during the night.

Some people wondered why, after nine months of staying abstinent, I moved to a stricter program. The fact was I had over three decades of hard drug use behind me and I had no idea what real life was like. In spite of myself, I began to learn.

The woman I was dating once a week began to help me change my life. All of a sudden, I realized that I was in love with a healthy woman for the first time in my life. I was still attending support groups every day and our dating picked up speed.

Suddenly, on April 7, 2001, a major blow hit us. The woman who you now know as Mary Esther, my wife, started to have tremors. It was dinnertime and we had just got back from church. I asked her if she could relax and take deep breaths and she said she couldn’t catch her breath.

Even though I didn’t have my driver’s license because of past wreckage, I loaded her in the car and drove her quickly to Mt. Auburn Hospital. It turned out that Mary Esther had sepsis and while she was on the table in the emergency room, all her vitals crashed.

We didn’t know it at the time but she had a cyst on her kidney and it started to leak poison into her blood and then, when we were at the hospital, the cyst burst and flooded her body with poison. If we weren’t at the hospital, Mary Esther would have died.

That night, I was pacing back and forth in the hospital while waiting for word on Mary Esther’s condition. She had to have a machine to breathe for her and for two days we didn’t know if she was going to make it.

Obviously, all worked out in the end and the woman I am now happily married to made a full recovery. During the first night in the hospital, all of a sudden at 4 in the morning, my sponsor from my support groups had walked in. His father had been rushed there a little earlier.

We sat and talked and I knew that, no matter what, I didn’t have to pick up drugs to get through this. I attended a support group at the hospital on Sunday morning and went back to visit Mary Esther, who was slowly healing.

Do I believe in miracles now? You bet I do. It is many years later and we are happily married and I’m on the board of trustees of Spare Change News. It’s been a long road from being a homeless vendor to an addict in recovery.

Guess what? I still go to support groups and still have a therapist. I know I’m not cured; I’m just in remission and still need to take care of myself. Today, I have so much to live for and I’m totally grateful.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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