“I was like a magnet to abusive men and to men that had very huge addictions,” Jewel told me. “They had really good drugs. That’s how I looked at it. The drugs were great. I didn’t want to leave that.”
I met Jewel, 62, at N Street Village, a District nonprofit that helps women overcome addiction and homelessness. She first became a client a decade ago, entering its recovery program after years of drug abuse and physical abuse.
She had already done eight stints in rehab programs in our area. Many were good, but all were followed by a return to old habits. Jewel vowed that N Street Village would stick.
“Many times I wanted to leave,” she said. “It was very challenging.”
The program has changed a bit over the years, but the foundation is the same: Women live together, attend 12-step group meetings, work with therapists, go to other N Street Village programs and share their stories with one another.
Privileges — having access to your cellphone, having a visitor, taking a trip to the store — are earned.
“You start off as a Level 0 and work your way up,” Jewel said. “You have to be presented before the whole board, plus the counselors — a table full of people — to present your case.”
Recovery is a process. Most people stumble. Your peers help lift you up. After a year, Jewel left better equipped to face the future.
Over the past 10 years, Jewel has lived with family members. In October, she moved into permanent supportive housing in N Street Village’s flagship location at 14th and N streets NW. She shares a suite with three other women, paying 30 percent of her income in rent. She continues to attend group meetings and leads her own, called Block Party, every other Friday.
After she had settled into her room, Jewel decided she needed a job.
“I hadn’t worked in over 20 years,” she said. Matthew LaBorde of N Street Village’s MARJ and MAK Vocational Center helped her with her résumé and interviewing skills.
Jewel now works part time at the call center of a health-care company. She’s hoping to go full-time after six months.
“N Street Village really helped save my life,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for the tough love — and the embracing — from women who have been there before me, who didn’t judge me but accepted me, who showed me my flaws, brought me out on them and also built me back up.”
Jewel told me that during the depths of her addiction, things seemed very dark. She meant that in a nearly literal sense: There was hardly any light in her life, just a succession of painful, gray days.
“But God seemed to always give me a little bit of light,” she said. “Once I got here — even before I got here — I started to tell myself about what my journey was going to be about. Rainbows mean promise. I kept seeing this rainbow way down there.”
A rainbow is sunlight refracted and reflected into many colors. Jewel’s was very far away.
“But I just knew every day I would get closer to my rainbow,” she said. “And I feel like I’m already there at the rainbow. Some of the goals I have left are over the rainbow. I’m climbing over that rainbow. I can hold on to it now.”
Time to help
For the past eight weeks, I’ve been sharing stories about people who have overcome great challenges. They didn’t do it on their own. They did it with the help of groups such as N Street Village, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand fundraising drive.
This is my last column about N Street Village, a charity that for more than 40 years has helped women experiencing homelessness in Washington. The 2019 Helping Hand campaign ends Friday.
Please support the work of N Street Village by visiting posthelpinghand.com and clicking “Donate.” To donate by mail, make a check payable to “N Street Village” and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington DC 20005.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.