A few years ago, Richard got sober. He was sober for three years, and life during that time, he said, was “really good.” But when he relapsed, he struggled to find his footing again. He was homeless for months. Then, something changed. “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he said.
Getting out of the cycle of homelessness was difficult. He had an undiagnosed mental illness and whenever he felt depressed, he would drink. That would then lead to drugs — and it would continue like that. It was a vicious cycle, he said. He was working and trying really hard to get off the streets, he said. But every check he got from his job either went to drugs and alcohol or to staying in a motel.
“For me, the last 10 years of struggling with drug addiction, it was all self punishment,” he said. “I’m in a motel room crawling on the floor jamming needles in my arm because I’m depressed, angry.”
It took Richard a long time, but he finally admitted he couldn’t do it alone.
“All I had to do was say ‘Help me,’” Richard said. “How simple it was to go ‘I need help.’”
He went to the Recovery Cafe in Seattle — which helps people who have struggled with homelessness, addiction and mental health — and then went to treatment. He was able to get into a sober home as he continues to work to get his life back together.
In the house Richard is now living, each person has their own roles and works to live a clean and sober life, he said. He’s also the house representative at his place so he’s one of the first contacts for people looking to live there.
Richard said it’s still strange to think he has a place to call his own.
“It still baffles me to say after this, I’m going to go home and cook dinner for my housemates,” Richard said.
Now, he takes medications for his mental health and journals to help channel his thoughts. His thoughts still get negative, he said. But he works to remind himself he is no longer homeless and is in a better place than he was.
“I don’t want to drink or use today,” he said, “but I still have emotions I have to deal with.”
Since he was able to get sober and get into stable and supportive housing, Richard also got a job at a restaurant.
The beacon and the donations he received from samaritans in Seattle helped show him everyday citygoers cared about him and his progress. His homelessness gave him a lot of humility, he said, so even if he only got a small donation, he said it was always exciting for him.
“The beacon was really a healthy way of flying your sign and telling your story,” he said, noting he didn’t like to panhandle when he was homeless and the beacon was a way to ask for a hand up, instead of a hand out.
Richard used the money he received on his beacon for a few different things, including to buy new clothes to start his job and for groceries and hygiene.
“It always felt good” to get a donation on the beacon, he said. “It truly always came when I needed it. It always came at a time when I needed something.”
Now, Richard is working toward a series of other goals. He has started channeling some of his energy into doing artwork.
Richard described how he creates his art, using his hands to motion how he incorporates different materials such as honey to create unique textures and feels. Because he worked as a chef, he said he likes experimenting with different textures. He talked about a painting he did of water, trying to portray the unique feeling of peacefulness he has when under water, when the world feels quiet. Another one of his pieces has incorporated a boxing glove in an attempt to portray the message to stop fighting.
His more longterm goal is to start taking classes at a Seattle college in neuroscience to study how drug and alcohol addiction affects peoples’ brains. He wants to then incorporate what he’s learned and his skills in cooking to create a menu for people who are bipolar or have other mental illnesses.
Richard said he wants to keep helping people, especially those who may in the same position he was in. He is working to become a recovery coach or peer counselor to people who are working to get sober and recover from their own experiences. He wants to pass along the lessons he’s learned.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without surrendering,” he said.