When I walked into the children’s rec room at the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women & Families, a beaming, polite, charming woman extended her hand to greet me. She was dressed in a beautiful dress, and she carried herself with an air of decorum – almost as if she was coming to a job interview.
Her name was Jeane.
“I feel like I’ve finally arrived. I’m eager to get my place. I have a job. As a matter of fact, I have two,” she proudly shared. Immediately I was drawn to her, and wanted to know more about this woman’s life.
Jeane was one of 16 children. Her parents were stern. “There was too many of us not to be!” she laughed. She credited her parents with instilling values – and especially the notion that there is nothing wrong with failing, but there is with staying there.
Ten years ago, Jeane came to the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter in full-blown addiction. Despite all appearances of hitting rock bottom, she hadn’t yet. “I hadn’t learned enough – wasn’t ready. I didn’t know there was a life without drugs where I could be happy.”
She gave the credit of her recovery to God.
“There was someone on my shoulder telling me, ‘You’re not like this. You’re better than this.’ I didn’t enjoy it anymore.” I had to go to long-term treatment facilities for years to get an understanding of my addiction. She realized, “if change didn’t come about I was going to die or lose my mind.”
She came to YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for the second time a few months ago. “I knew this was where I needed to be. I knew that I would be safe. I could focus on what I needed to do to get back on my feet. Even if I have a bad day, I always know it’s just going to last for a minute. I tell myself: don’t give up don’t give in and definitely don’t go backward.”
Jeane works with United Talent at the Appalachian Power Park and at the Charleston Civic Center. In her jobs, she interacts with a lot of people, which she likes. “It’s nice to be a part of society…nice to not feel like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” she laughed.
She hopes to create a career in home health care – a dream that almost died because she wasn’t well enough to do it.
I asked her how she would like people to better understand the addiction. She replied, “It is never the person. It is the drug. It is the alcohol. If we wasn’t sick from the addiction, we wouldn’t do the things we do. It’s hard for people to see past that.”
She doesn’t believe in giving people struggling with addiction a free pass, but opportunities for redemption. “We really do hurt people, hurt ourselves. We do unspeakable things. When someone has seen their wrong, and wants to make amends, they should give us a chance. All people are not bad people.”
“I failed so many times. I’ve been in recovery off and on my whole life. It’s the knocks that have been a part of my change. I like simple. I like stress free. I like a peace of mind. I just realized over time that this is what I have to do to get that. You just get tired. Tired of not having things. Of going nowhere. I know that wasn’t my life.”
When she completed her time in rehab, she began looking for permanent housing but struggled to find a home of her own. While Jeane had opportunities to live with family, she decided she wanted to achieve self-sufficiency on her own. “It’s not that I couldn’t go live with them. I was ashamed. I shouldn’t have to live with my children, they should have to live with me. I didn’t want them to see the weak side of me. My parents were strong individuals. They’re great children. I have seven grandkids and one on the way. I want to be around to love them the way they deserve."
She was so grateful of all the people who work at and who have supported YWCA Sojourner’s. “I appreciate this place so much you don’t know. I’m happy there are people still in the world who really care about the sick and suffering. The more support we have in the community, the better. It’s always nice to improve and invest in life,” she shared.
"When you come through these doors, it’s not where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. It’s ‘Hi, you’re welcome. What can we do to help you?’ It’s really a good feeling. It’s like a weight off your shoulders. It’s a place you can truly get help. There are people here who can guide you, show you how to get it done.”
She wistfully shared that her son passed away and left her two grandkids. “I don’t wish it on nobody. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe that could happen. It helped me really get to this point. I have a lot of regrets.”
She brightly talked about the future and her recently-approved housing application. “Ain’t nothing like having a home to make your own. To do what you want. I can’t wait. Everything’s new. I’m not mad about having to start over. It’s going to become what I want. I’m going to decorate. Make a home full of love and peace.
“This is me. I’m no longer ashamed of my past, my present. I’m looking forward to my future.”