One of the first things you see when you cross the train tracks to get over to the street where I now live is a sign that reads, “The South Side, the Bright Side of the Tracks”. I hadn’t noticed it the first time I came to the place I’m now calling home. Instead, I noticed old, beat-up cars, rundown houses, and some trash scattered across the street. The day I moved in my dad was in his truck behind me and I was imagining what he must’ve been thinking as we pulled into the my new neighborhood. The house is cute and spacious. The block it’s on is really much nicer than what my brain had chosen to see when I was first driving through the South Side. I’ve made it into my home.
A few months ago, one of my first Tuesday night Hannah House dinners was one I look back on often. It wasn’t anything really special, but there was one moment when we were going around the table sharing our Happy/Crappy for the week; I can’t remember what was even said, but just for a few seconds, we were all laughing together, even throwing our heads back in enjoyment. It was beautiful bliss.
I’ve since had the privilege to plan a baby shower, two house activities, birthday parties, and a handful of other things. I remember one particular busy Friday especially well. I had hoped to go help out with Friday morning breakfast, but because of my poor planning and groggy morning self, I was late and only got to watch them walking to school. I waited for the guys to get back so I could help them clean up, so I sat on the steps outside the back door. I’d never really seen the alley where 316 is in the daylight, so there was lots to take in. As I was sitting there on the steps thinking and waiting, I heard a man across the alley start to yell at someone in his house. Their backdoor was open so I could easily see in. He was yelling some really horrible things at a young woman inside. It was starting to make me sick to my stomach hearing him say those things. I was seconds away from calling the police but felt that doing that wouldn’t be the wisest in that moment. I waited until the guys came back and I asked if they knew anything about that house and their situation. I was told that the police and CPS have made visits to the home and are aware of the situation already. I told them what I heard. We didn’t do anything at that moment and it’s still uncomfortable to think about.
A little later, around 10 am, I pulled into the rear parking at the Hannah House and noticed a young woman sitting on the parking curb a few spots away. I’d never seen her in the neighborhood before. She was clearing distressed and crying. I had to grab something from inside and I said to myself, “if she is still here when I leave I’ll try to talk to her.” About five minutes later when I came out again she was there. I ran back inside, grabbed some tissue and a few Reese’s peanut butter cups. When I came back out I asked if she was doing ok. She answered that she was alright. I introduced myself and said that she looked like she could use these, as I handed her the chocolates and tissue. Her name was Austin. I asked her if I could sit down with her for a moment, she replied that was fine. We sat together for a little in silence, but it was ok. When Austin did start to talk she told me that she and her boyfriend were having problems and she started crying again. I thought about asking if I could pray for her, but in the moment I think that would’ve been overwhelming for her, so I prayed silently for her. I wanted to know more about their situation, but I didn’t push it. Whatever she wanted to tell me, I was ready to listen. We sat again in silence. After a few minutes she said, “Thank you. I need to go find a cigarette.” She shook my hand, stood, and left. She was still crying a little when she stood up. I sat for another moment and wondered if I should’ve prayed out loud for her; I’m still wondering now. I haven’t seen her around since.
Austin and the young woman from earlier that day broke my heart. These are just two of some of the harder things that come from living life in community with people. It’s hard, it’s rewarding, beautiful, agonizing, genuine, but human. I don’t know how to help sometimes or what this means, but I know I will help where I can.
The Road to Restoration and Recovery is Rocky
Fast forward to just a couple weeks ago, one of the residents came to the office to ask if I had eaten lunch yet; she loves to cook and offers up her food to anyone around. She is one of the most outgoing and friendly people I’ve met. She is so genuine and kind. She had cooked a big lunch, steak, and she invited me to come up to her house. I had just eaten but I went up anyway to spend some time together. We made small talk and laughed about some silly things her young daughter had said. She’s about 3 months pregnant now with a baby boy. As we were having our coffee and talking, she suddenly felt really sick and had to excuse herself to go be sick in the restroom. She has a small apartment above our offices and the restroom is pretty close to the dining table, so it wasn’t hard to hear her lose the steak she’d just made. I wondered if this was just a new normal during this season. Spending time with women in recovery, hearing their life stories, and then hanging out in their living room as they lose their lunch in the next room. Puzzling, but delightful and maybe a little gross. This is what life is and it’s so uniquely human; I love days like these. However, our days are not all as sweet as these.
Since the beginning of my internship at the Hannah House, three ladies have relapsed. It’s not easy to see these women slip up or slip back into that addiction. This is the harsh reality of life in recovery. There really isn’t a bright side to any part of that. They are struggling and it is hard. It is a hard life in recovery for most of these women and their kids. I wouldn’t want to be crass, but I am so thankful to be able to walk together during this crazy yet, critical times with all these women. What amazing experiences and lessons to be learned and shared.
-Alyssa, CLDI Intern