It is no surprise that homelessness is debilitating. Being without a home is both mentally and physically exhausting. And then there is the isolation.
Michael’s isolation became a wall that he built brick by brick from childhood. As a child he watched as his father abused his mother. He struggled to understand why his father would attack his mom and beat her. The constant fear and uncertainty wore on him. His depression would come in waves and he would find various things to numb it.
“Whenever depression would come, it was really a dark, black place. I didn’t really want to be with anybody or around anybody,” Michael remembers.
Humans were created to be in community. There is true beauty in healthy community. The Bible speaks often of “one another” and “each other”. Fifty-nine times the New Testament instructs us how to live and relate to each other.
But trauma and social isolation are barriers to meaningful social relationships. For Michael, his depression and alcohol addiction caused him to pull back from life and give up. He found himself living in his car. His health, already precarious, deteriorated.
“When I was homeless and living in my car, I wasn’t taking my medications. I wasn’t doing anything that was for the good of my wellbeing. I wasn’t doing those things. What was happening was my health was deteriorating, and it was deteriorating rapidly.”
Slowly, Michael was killing himself. A heart attack and then another one. Michael’s solitude deepened his depression.
Then he died.
“My heart stopped, my liver failed, my kidneys failed all at once. They went through the process of shocking me and bringing me back. Even though they were successful at doing that, they were telling me that it still doesn’t look good; you very well could die again.”
After four months in the hospital, Michael decided to get help.
Four months sober, Michael knew he needed to find a community of believers.
“I need to restore my relationship with God. I need to get right with God. I’ve committed a lot of sin while I was out there on the streets, and I just needed to get right with God.”
He found Portland Rescue Mission and called to get into the program. He was told to come.
“I was greeted by a big smile. I felt at home,” Michael remembers.
The transition into The Harbor was life-changing for Michael.
“I was very happy. I was filled with joy because I didn’t have to concern myself with going out trying to scavenge food. I didn’t have to concern myself with where am I going to take a shower, where am I going to bathe. Having fresh, clean water.”
But community still scared Michael.
“It’s not an easy process. I basically just had to just step out there on faith, start communicating with people, starting conversations with people.”
Michael started to break down the wall he had built for years and instead began to build relationships. He started playing chess with another program participant. He went camping and hiking, built bonfires and worshipped with other men at The Harbor.
I can never get sober and stay sober in isolation. I could never do that by withdrawing from people.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that freedom from addiction is about relationships. In other words, I can never get sober and stay sober in isolation. I could never do that by withdrawing from people. Well, what The Harbor has taught me is that I have to draw nearer to people in order to grow and to be strengthened. It’s the relationships. Other than Jesus, the relationships have been the other biggest force in my recovery, being connected with other people.”
Today, Michael is healthy both physically and relationally.
“I can do relationships well and the challenges and issues that come with relationships without collapsing or falling apart.”
No longer defined by his childhood trauma, Michael knows the value of community.
“Healthy relationships build you, your self-esteem, your worth. I’ve been so blessed by the people here at The Harbor, the residents, the staff, the volunteers. Many, many times I’m encouraged by people, and they don’t want anything in return. They just want to share the love of Christ, and that’s what’s so unique about The Harbor staff, they love you, period.”
We’re told, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15, ESV). We’re to share the happy and the hard of life.
Being in community means we chose to stay, chose to love, chose to give even when it is hard. We become stronger when we learn to stay because the strands of rope depend on each other. Together we create change.
Join us in community.