At a time when Robin Thompson said she should have been at home being an attentive mother, she was hanging out with the itinerant father of her three children on neighborhood exploits.
They wandered the streets of their neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, bouncing from one corner to the other, one friend to the next, stopping at stoops to get drunk.
“We didn’t really have the money to go to bars,” Ms. Thompson said.
What she did not understand then, but now sees clearly, was that pernicious forces were in control — an undiagnosed mental illness and an unwavering addiction. Ms. Thompson, 54, has begun to address them only in the past few years.
She was raised by her aunt, and grew up not really knowing her parents. Memories of elementary school are colored by depression and confusion. She said she could not understand her classmates, their words indecipherable, and she was unable to articulate her own thoughts.
She did not attend high school.
She started to abuse alcohol when she was an adult and met the father of her children. They were together for many years before splitting up. Ms. Thompson said she was thankful that her children had all avoided her pitfalls and become productive members of society. Today, they offer her differing amounts of patience and forgiveness, she said.
Ms. Thompson said she did not blame her depression — first diagnosed 10 years ago — for all of her actions, but described the illness as suffocating.
“It’s almost like someone has their hands around your neck,” Ms. Thompson said. “You really can’t breathe. You can’t do anything.”
In 2013, stricken with arthritis, Ms. Thompson quit her job as a janitor. And she cut back on alcohol — for the wrong reasons.
“I had slowed the drinking down for pain pills,” she said. “The pain pills became better.”
Later that year, Ms. Thompson was referred to Brooklyn Community Services’ MetroClub Personalized Recovery Oriented Services, which provides therapy, workshops and job training to people with mental illnesses. Brooklyn Community Services is one of eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
It provided her a solid foundation, something she said she had never had.
“They give me a sense of purpose,” said Ms. Thompson, brightening at the mention of the program. “I can get up in the morning. I can wash my face. I can get dressed. I have a reason to go outside.”
She made new friends after she changed her outlook, becoming more hopeful and open to learning. Meetings with staff counselors led to serious contemplation about her addiction, strengthening her resolve to conquer it. She has been sober for a year.
“Out of all the 54 years of my life, this is the best state of mind I’ve ever been in,” Ms. Thompson said.
In addition to the drug counseling, therapy and medication management offered by MetroClub, Ms. Thompson meets once a week with a reading and writing tutor, Sanford Balick, a volunteer with MetroClub.
“Talk about a strong desire to do something,” Mr. Balick said of Ms. Thompson’s thirst to learn. He said she had overcome a lot of self-consciousness about her literacy, and Mr. Balick has encouraged Ms. Thompson to begin writing about her life.
Twice a week, she attends a preparatory class for earning a high school equivalency diploma. MetroClub staff used $150 from the Neediest Cases fund to buy Ms. Thompson a small tablet to help with those classes. Her monthly income is $658 in Social Security insurance, most of which covers rent on the Brownsville apartment she shares with her youngest daughter, Annette, 29, who helps pay for food and utilities.
Classes are going well, Ms. Thompson said, and though she hopes that earning a diploma will allow her to return to work with a better job, she acknowledges the challenge ahead.
“I’m feeling more and more confident,” she said, “but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
To ensure she stays sober, Ms. Thompson adheres to a strict routine.
“You’re never cured,” she said. “It’s always there, it’s always in the back of your mind. But you just go, ‘You’re not going to win today. I’ve got something to do.’”
The route Ms. Thompson travels every day takes her near the same neighborhood where she got into so much trouble years ago. She said she did not have enough money to move, to separate herself from her old haunts.
So from home, she goes straight to MetroClub, or to class, and straight home again. Once inside, she can play with her two dogs, watch television — she avoids the news; it makes her anxious — and listen to music.
It is a way of life she must follow as long as it takes, she said, until she is on solid ground.
By John Otis - The NY Times/Dec. 28, 2016
Photo: Bryan Thomas, nytimes
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.