This week’s book “Feel Me Fall” was primarily about survival. Also the things that people will do when they are pushed to their basic need to survive in whatever circumstance they are placed within. I am posting a disclaimer here, this post is going to be rather “real” and I am going to be very honest within it about my own survival. Normally I do not post about trigger warnings because I personally do not believe much in them due to the things I have been through in my life, but this time I feel that a simple disclaimer is definitely appropriate. If you have been through any type of horrible situation you may want to stop reading this now. I am not sharing this information for pity, sympathy, or anything of that nature. I feel that truly trying to survive was at the heart of this book this week and I felt connected to it because of my own experience with trying to survive. In many ways I identified with the main character of Emily because of what I am about to tell you. I also feel that when we share our truths others can understand and see aspects of themselves or the world that they may not have previously been exposed to. This opening of the world is vitally important to understanding people that may have had different life experiences than what you, the reader, may have had. When you start understanding others and their life experiences you come away changed and more understanding.
My story started in 2001, this was the year that I got on a bus. I left my family behind because on a daily basis I was hearing that I was a bad person and going to hell for being what I felt at the time was a gay male (I later understood I was transgender, but you can read that in its own little blog post). My family really didn’t know that she kept saying that I should leave and that she didn’t love me. I never really talked to them about that. It didn’t feel necessary and still in many regards doesn’t. It was my pain to bear, not theirs. Some of my family had already bore enough from her, my grandmother. I will always love her as the person that raised me, but I can comfortably say she was an abusive person without feeling guilty. When you hear that you are a bad person on a regular basis you start to believe that narrative. You think you are. I started to understand though that this wasn’t true. That I wasn’t some bad person for simply wanting to exist, live and love, so I got on that bus. My sister drove me one day to Richmond, Indiana. I got on a greyhound bus. That greyhound bus started me on the path of being homeless for six years of my life. I spent most of this time in San Francisco, CA.
As you can imagine when you are homeless for that amount of time and to still be alive today you have had to practice some pretty heavy survival skills. I honestly believe a piece of your soul changes. It adapts to the situation that you find yourself in. Here I changed to be more compassionate, if you can believe that. I saw people struggling and learned to love them through their pain. This is why I have went into social work at this part of my journey. I still, however, had to learn to survive. I had to learn what were the safe places to sleep at night that would protect me from people, the elements, animals, and so many other things (i.e. cops). You learn to find crawl spaces that you otherwise would never have considered for shelter. You learn that while this place looks good it is too exposed to this or that.
Food is another thing, like Emily, you have to learn about quickly. You have to figure out if there are soup kitchens in the area you are in. You have to start listening to other homeless people that discuss where they are going that day to see if they know something you don’t know about. Your listening skills change to be a bit of an eavesdropper, but also making it appear that you are not for safety reasons. You pay attention to if someone throws something in a trash can because if it is still hot it may be the only hot meal you get that day. You also pay attention to the rumors that are circulating in town that some people are throwing away food that they have poisoned to try to get rid of the homeless population. This means that you may not have as much food resources that you had the previous week. There were times I didn’t eat for several days running. When I found out that a church was doing any type of food, regardless of which side of San Francisco it was on, I would trudge myself to that spot. I would hope that they were giving seconds, but I would appreciate getting firsts after a couple days of no food.
I made genuine friends, if you can believe that. The reason they were genuine was because it was all about survival and they knew that they could get help themselves if they made sure you got a hot meal. You may be the only reason the next day they get a hot meal because you would find them and tell them where the churches were set-up for that day. These people would have your backs. They would sometimes watch your stuff or even your physical body while you slept, so that you could actually sleep without fear. When I ended up in the shelter system finally some of those people I still appreciate to this day. They were the first people that I remember actually caring about if I was alive or dead. I have a few of them still on my facebook to this day and I still love them very much even though we do not interact regularly (for example, Izzy!). I know that because of them I am alive today and not buried somewhere without a tombstone.
When you are trying to survive, regardless of the situation, you do things you normally would not do. You end up turning to things you normally would not turn to. During this time was when I participated in what is called survival sex. This is otherwise known as prostitution, but a nicer term since it is truly about the person trying to survive. I had no other skills. I had never worked in my life, so I turned to the one thing I thought could help me to at least have some food or clothes on my back. It worked for awhile, but my morals did ultimately get the better of me. I just couldn’t be this person that traded such an important part of myself to someone else for money. I, however, did do it for awhile. It isn’t something I would have ever considered if my life had been different. You do what you have to do to survive. During this time I also saw people shooting up, people using every drug under the sun to escape from their reality. These were people, human beings, discarded into the streets by family, friends, drug addictions, and pretty much everything you could think of. I was one of them for six years of my life.
I identify with the survival elements of “Feel Me Fall” because I survived atrocities myself. I know that these things made me stronger. I know that going through these things made me into a person that looks at other people and fundamentally sees good, even in their darkness. As I said at the beginning of this, I am not saying this for sympathy, pity, or anything of that nature. This is simply my truth. Where I have been in my life. I recognize I am a survivor. I have survived many things in this life and I continue to survive. To you, the reader, if you don’t believe you can survive anything that you are dealing with I want you to think back to this blog posting. If I can survive 6 years on the streets being homeless you can survive the most horrible things, regardless of what they are. You may feel alone, but know that you always have a sister here. You always have someone that understands the pain of knowing you have to push through and survive the things you are having to survive. It may hurt, but you will come through it onto the other side. You will get through this darkness and step into the light. It may take time, but you too will survive. You will also be a survivor!