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Halloween… A time to trick or treat with the kiddos, dress up, and go home to pick through the best candy. Reese’s peanut butter cups or almond joys, right? Not for many. Especially those who don’t have a home to return to. No joy. No candy. No Hope.
With Halloween coming up this week on Saturday, it’s hard not to be reminded of the “Wizard of Oz.” Neighborhoods filled with little girls and their baskets wearing gingham dresses, in Dorothy costumes. And, lots of scary lions and scarecrows running around with candy-filled bags. But this is all make-believe and fantasy. Halloween comes one day a year, but sadly, this was my reality each day. So let me share my journey with you, one which incredibly aligns with this old classic. Except, mine wasn’t all a dream.
Just as the tornado turbulently whisked Dorothy away from her home, Auntie Em & Uncle Henry, I was taken from my family and loved ones. Life’s circumstances led me down a path of self-destruction and down a not-so “yellow brick road” into the streets. I became homeless. Hopeless. Living under a bridge and under such shame, sadness, and despair. I went from sleeping in my bed with plush linens to sleeping on cement foundations with bugs swooping down and buzzing around me like the bats in the storyline. All I could dream of was being a mom again. I wanted to be alive and live. Feel again, love again, and be loved. Especially by my 4 boys.
Life hiding behind Halloween disguises
My life has not been a fairytale, but in a funny way, it’s had many parallels with the classic, “Wizard of Oz.” Not only in theme, but I seem to carry a piece of each character within me. I can identify with them, and thankfully for us all, it is a happy ending!
During my 10 year journey, there were times I felt like the cowardly lion and was afraid of my own shadow. Though I pretended to be so tough and strong, I was scared and alone. Most days I wished I had the courage to call my kids, but I couldn’t muster it up. I was fearful of what I would hear and didn’t think I had the courage to handle what they might say. Looking back, the only thing that truly frightened me was who I had become. My courage was always there, but I just didn’t know it.
At other times I felt like the tin man, and as if I needed a brand new heart. I was completely numb and couldn’t even feel anymore. My heart was shattered into a million small pieces. It was broken. I was broken. I didn’t even know how to love myself anymore. But, there was nothing that could ever compare to the raw heartache of losing my beautiful boys. Just like a scene from the movie, losing them was like a house had fallen on me. Again, like the tin man, I was completely hollow. I was nothing without them. They kept me solid and kept my heart alive, pumping, and full of love. During that time of my life, my heart was completely broken.
Good vs. Evil
Along the way, I was faced with some evil and unkind people. They were like the wicked witches of the east, and west – combined! Except, it wasn’t Halloween and they weren’t dressed up! It was like I was living in the “haunted forest” and there were “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Some were cruel and very insensitive. I was betrayed and ignored. Others even laughed at me. I realized I was becoming invisible, even to myself. I couldn’t see ME. Where did I go? Who was I? Where was I? When could I go back? I sure wasn’t in “Kansas anymore!” There were nights I cried until I no longer had any tears left. During times like these, and there were many, I sure could have used the tin man’s oil can 🙂
On the other hand, there were also very kind and caring people that crossed my path. Especially, those that helped me find sobriety, healing, and faith. They were kind of like my real-life version of Glinda, the good witch. And, were instrumental in helping me find my way back home. I also received great support from my wonderful friends and devoted family.
There’s No place like HOME
Just as Dorothy was, I felt like I had been “lulled to sleep by a field of poisonous poppies.” In my version, it looked a bit different than in the story. It was an accident that led me to the “poppies” and that is when I became powerless to the poison from the opiates and began suffering from mental illness. The “poppies” started out as appealing but soon turned out to be detrimental. And, just as she did, I soon fell deep into a deep coma. The world had gone on without me and I was dazed and confused. 10 years felt like 10 days and, at other times, 10 lifetimes. Life wasn’t the fairy tale I had once dreamed of, it had become a living nightmare. I couldn’t believe where my life had ended up.
Thinking back, it’s eerie. Almost like the original “Wizard of Oz” published in 1900, over a century ago, was a foreshadowing of the Opiate epidemic that was to come. Killing so many people, destroying so many lives, and crushing so many hopes and dreams. It’s like the author knew it. In the original story, he explained that “The smell of the flowers is killing us all.” How did he know back then, what would happen over 100 years later? That we would be facing this terrible opiate epidemic, that would kill so many and derail millions of lives in our present world?!?!
These numbers are no fairytale
Here are a few non-fictional figures in the opioid crisis we face in the US:
- More than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose.
- Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid.
- Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased almost six times since 1999.
- Overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, alone!
H is for Halloween… H is for Homeless… H is for the Hell I lived in
I wish I could say it was as easy as clicking my ruby-red slippers together, but it wasn’t. It was a long and arduous road. And, even though the start of my journey was full of uncertainty, and the road felt endless and impossible, it wasn’t all bad. I depended on the goodness of the community and its resources. They were like my real-life “munchkins” who did everything to help me, just as they did for Dorothy on many occasions. They were crucial in helping me turn my life around and begin heading back towards “Emerald City” so I could find my home again.
The change in me came about when I received a letter filled with hope and love. That day, I found the courage (which I always had) to start my long journey back to where I am today. I had an awakening. That power and strength were always there, but hiding deep within me. There was also a greater power that I needed to find again. It was my faith. But, it found me first.
Love. It was love that also helped me find my way back. Above all, I learned to love myself, unconditionally. Love gave me the ability to know how to love again. Never forget that love connects us all, in one way or the other. We all need it, and there is no separation in eyes of love, we are all equal.
It’s been a magical and mysterious journey full of ups and downs, and of hope and strength. I became me again! Most importantly, I was able to be a mom and finally be with my children. And, I began to feel happy, joyous, and free, like all the “lollipop kids!” Just as their songs and dance, filled Dorothy with happiness, I was reunited with my boys, and it was then I felt true freedom, joy, and eternal gratitude. I was finally home, where I belonged all along. I can genuinely say… “there is no place like home!”
From Homeless to Halloween 2020
Unlike the “Wizard of Oz,” my story has a real-life “knight in shining armor.” He is my amazing and loving husband! He completed my fairytale. I am also a loving mom and a proud grandmother! I became a businesswoman and philanthropist. And, just as Dorothy rescued the “Scarecrow” from the farmer’s field, I have made it my life’s mission and goal to help others find their way back home. Just as I did. Though many times I also doubted my intelligence and ability, in the end, we both prevailed. We had always been powerful and successful, it was just a matter of believing it, and achieving it.
I continue to find such irony in this… During my entire journey of almost a decade, I never even needed to click my ruby red slippers together to find the magic, because that magic was always in me. Just as it was in Dorothy’s magic slippers, but she failed to see it. We both did.
I wake up each morning with sincere gratitude, determination, and appreciation for life. And, the gift of using my story to help others change their lives and also find their way back to a happy ending. But, if I’ve had a major take away from Dorothy, it’s that “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” I have it all right here. Always did. Always will.
In closing, I leave you with a few inspiring words from a very famous song, “somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly… Birds fly over the rainbow, Why, oh why can’t I?” And, I did. We all can. Find your wings. Make your rainbow. And, soar… soar high and proud! Today and always.
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