Post Date: March 13, 2012
Title: I Have A Voice Too
Author: Matthew Melao
Blogging since: March 2012
My life is coming together, because I’m coming together. Even though I’m job hunting and living with three roommates —
one never showers, another is a Jehovah’s Witness, and the third a conspiracy theorist — in a small, three-bedroom condo, I’m doing pretty well.
Let’s start off with what I don’t have, or what I’m not having to deal with. I’m not in jail or prison. I’m not sleeping on a sidewalk or under a bridge, nor am I in a shelter. (The estimate for homeless in this country is approximately 750,000, and I’ve come to know and love many of them.) I have no incurable disease that I am aware of. No gout, gonorrhea, AIDS, scurvy, leprosy, or elephantiasis. I have no serious mental illness. I’m not broke yet, nor am I in debt. I don’t have a teenage son or daughter, mutants from another planet.
I do have a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. I’m in decent health. I have caring, supportive family and friends. For once in my life, I’m feeling comfortable in my skin; for once I don’t feel so broken. I can look at myself in the mirror. The wall I had built many years ago to protect myself is coming down, one brick at a time.
I never felt really good about myself. Subconsciously, I was continuously comparing myself with others. I assumed everyone else was smarter, better looking, luckier, more trustworthy, just better. I was walking around with a guilt complex and a deep sense of shame, as if I’d murdered a litter of puppies or run over grandma walking her stroller across the street. What I find amazing now is how little I understood any of this, and how much I was a stranger to myself. My demons were always there, lurking in the shadows, and I did everything I could to shove them down just so I could look you in the eye and answer, “I’m good. Doing well, thank you.”
But demons have a way of surfacing and making themselves known. Some people develop addictions or end up homeless. Me, I found myself behind bars. I really fucked up. I’d gotten involved in an internet pharmacy and had the DEA and FBI knocking on my door at 6:30 on a chilly April morning. They were the winds of change ahead of a devastating hurricane, harbingers of destruction and rebirth.
Two and a half years later, I walked out of prison. The shame that was there before I went in? It had doubled in size and was now impossible to suppress, because now I was a felon who’d been in prison, because I was on probation, because I had to periodically pee in a cup, because the expectations I had subconsciously carried with me over the years had been dashed.
But it was all wrong! I was mistaken and had been for years!
Shortly after my release, I found myself working as an instructor at a homeless shelter. I found it ironic that I was there, because I was employed to teach them, to help them, to empower them, and what I needed myself was to be empowered. In prison, I had prayed to be released to a place like this. Now, here I was at a shelter, finding people who were no different than me. So many of them also felt like castaways, worthless, less than, broken, fucked up, and when I looked at them I saw the parts of me that I had disowned and shoved down. They were me, and I was them! It was startling, nourishing, and eye-opening. They began to teach me that I did have something to offer and that maybe I wasn’t as shattered as I thought.
If I’d been to prison, so what? It was only a big deal because I made it that way. These “homeless” people, stigmatized and looked down upon by society, were the first step in my recovery. Unbeknownst to them, they had much to offer me; unbeknownst to me, they were my kin. They were teaching me real humility and that the more you give the more you get. I will continue to be in debt to them for years to come.