New life gives new hope at Harbor Light

“I wasn’t born an alcoholic. I had to work real hard to become one!”

Tessa talks honestly and without blame about the steps her life has taken since her mother died when she was 14. Quietly, she reminisces about 15 years of living with an abusive husband and heavy drinking on the Pomo reservation. The drinking was never far from her growing up years. Although she knows the jury is still out on whether there is a gene that leads to alcoholism, she is quick to point out that she’s personally responsible for the troubles that brought her to Harbor Light.

After her mother’s death, she and her siblings lived with an alcoholic aunt. Two older brothers were already popping pills when she and her younger sister started sniffing paint fumes and glue, as well as gas from jugs, soaked in rags and straight from the gas tanks of cars. “We put our mouths right on the car.”

Eventually, as she was taking care of her own children, methamphetamines and domestic violence became the ruling influences in her life. “My house was always clean, the bills were paid, but sometimes there was no food on the table. I’d be down the street. I wasn’t aware of people around me. It was all about me.”

“Then my baby was born with fluid in her lungs and a small amount of “meth” in her system. When she was a week old, she had pneumonia and was in the hospital for 11 days. I couldn’t deal with my own stuff. Instead of watching my kids, drugs and alcohol came first. Finally my family called Children’s Protective Service.”

An older sister takes care of the children now. And Tessa is thriving at Harbor Light which she sees as a grown-up, action-oriented program where they understand your issues. “I was never able to express my feelings after my Mom died. But here I did a 360 degree turnaround. It’s a safe place for conflict feedback, a place where you can take the band-aid off and heal. I finally found I can let someone hurt me without hurting back. It’s OK to be wrong, to admit hurt feelings, to cry.”

In the past, she blamed her addictions on the trauma of her mother’s death and the abuse inflicted by her husband. Now she’s taking responsibility for her own choices, her own goals. She’s never worked outside the home before, but is starting out with housecleaning, a job she knows well. Computer classes are next. The kids are doing well. Her daughter is on the honor roll.

“You have to do the footwork,” she says. “It doesn’t fall out of the sky for you. But I know how to love myself now. I look in the mirror and I can say I love myself.”

Work like a man, Drink like a man

Anthony’s stepfather told him to “work like a man, smoke like a man, drink like a man and get a girlfriend. That’s what a man does.” This was his primary role model.

So he quit high school at 13, fathered his first child at 15, joined the Army at 17, drank his entire paycheck throughout his tour of duty and by the time he was 20, had fathered four sons. He had little understanding of what parenthood meant. “My father wasn’t there for me,” he remembers ruefully. “Why should I be there for them?”

It took 18 years of hard drug dealing and using, plus a 10-year “joint suspended sentence for possession with intent to sell” before he changed his mind. When he found himself in jail at the same time as his second oldest son, he knew his life had to change. A judge gave him one more chance and finally it worked.

“Until I came to Harbor Light, I really didn’t get it,” he says of self-esteem and nurturing. “I would buy stuff for the kids to keep them quiet. But I wasn’t there for them emotionally. Now I see my two younger sons every weekend and my Mom is so proud. She had given up.”

Anthony is assistant manager of Harbor Light’s detox center and wants to do further study to become a counselor. His recovery and sense of responsibility grow stronger every day. His appearance is of a man who takes care of business, a man who can be a role model quite different from that his father described. He is a man sensitive to the pain he sees around him and pain he, himself, has caused in the past.

As drunks come into detox, he washes their clothes and helps clean them up. Does he see himself in them? “All the time,” he says, “and it hurts! When I think of all the people whose lives I’ve ruined selling drugs…Now, I give back instead of taking. I can help others.

“This place wants me to figure out how to make my own decisions in the real world. There are people here who care about me. My spirituality was shot during my addiction. Now I am doing everything I can to relate to my heritage. Now I can let go–and let God.”

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