Annette was 5 when her mother died and she moved in with her grandparents in southern Virginia. She was 7 when her grandmother died and she moved into foster care.
“You have those that just take you for the money,” Annette said, describing the carousel of foster parents she experienced over the next decade. “But then you have those that take you to do their housework. And you have those that take you just to sexually abuse you. And I’ve lived through it all.”
She lived through the father and son who “used to take turns on me each night.” She lived through the minister’s widow who showed a social worker the beautiful canopy bed that she said would be Annette’s and then, when the social worker left, opened a closet door, pointed to a blanket and pillow on the floor, and said, “That’s where you sleep.”
Annette came to feel that the bad things in her life were her own fault. The beer and moonshine she began drinking as a teenager seemed to push those thoughts aside. She turned to marijuana next and then, after she aged out of foster care and moved to Washington, to smoking crack and snorting heroin.
She married and had a child. Annette always had a job — to pay for her habit and to buy life insurance so her daughter wouldn’t have to scrape together the money to bury her. “Then, later on, it dawned on me,” Annette said. “What a fool. She might not have to do that, but when she has to come in and clear away your remains, she’s going to find the crack pipe, the dope bags, all of that. You don’t want that to be her last memory.”
Two years ago, a then-59-year-old Annette (she asked that I not use her full name) arrived at So Others Might Eat on O Street NW, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand fundraising drive.
SOME was founded in 1970 to serve meals to poor and homeless people in Washington. Since then, its mission has grown considerably and now includes an extensive drug treatment program.
“Because I’d been doing drugs for so long, I needed extensive” treatment, Annette said. “I knew that myself.”
For three weeks Annette stayed in the SOME “safe house” on O Street, a restful pause before the real work began: three months at SOME’s Maya Angelou House in the mountains of West Virginia. (Men stay nearby in Exodus House.)
“My counselor said, ‘After 30 days, we’ll see the real you,’ ” Annette said. “I was telling him, ‘This is pretty much me.’ ”
But it wasn’t. It had been so long since Annette had been clean, she couldn’t remember the feeling.
“We did a whole lot of writing,” she said of her treatment. She wrote daily in a journal about her life. She compiled a chart cataloguing how much time and money she’d devoted to her addiction. The money didn’t bother her so much. What really sunk in was seeing the connection between the events in her life and the drugs she took to deal with them.
“It taught me whenever there was a major situation — or I had to face something that so-called normal people just faced and got through by talking with someone — I would use more,” Annette said.
In West Virginia she was taught to anticipate events that might increase her desire to use again. She took part in role-playing exercises to practice how she would respond to different triggers.
“You just work on yourself to build yourself back up — because you think you’re worthless,” Annette said. “You don’t know why you were put here. All you can think about is that you’ve made a mess of your life. And I had a child that stayed with me during my whole drug use. My child is 39 years old, and she didn’t get to see me clean until she was 37.”
Today, no one is prouder of Annette than her daughter.
Annette now lives in the District in transitional housing for women in recovery and commutes to a food-service job in the suburbs. Every week she returns to SOME to speak to addicts ready for a change. They remind her of herself.
“I came into SOME on July 10, 2015, and I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug since,” Annette said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s something that I just love to pass on.”
By making a donation to So Others Might Eat, you can help others have that feeling.
To give online, visit posthelpinghand.com and click on “Donate.” To donate by mail, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.