I Was Homeless, On Drugs, And Desperate — Until This Place Saved My Life

Years later, all the things I learned at a halfway house are still stuck in my head.

Woman in front of halfway house, embraced by two women Curtis Adams, Alena Shekhovtsova, Peopleimages.com - YuriArcurs | Canva

In the worst time of my life, I was homeless, on drugs, and desperate. My husband at the time had pushed and hit me one too many times. I was convinced one of us was going to overdose or be killed in our toxic relationship, and that last day I determined it wasn’t going to be me.

I’d left the apartment five times before finally staying away for good. I knew the rush of driving away and a feeling of hope that my life would get better, only to crash and burn when I tried to manage life on my own.


It frustrated me that so many "normal people" managed their own lives: They paid their rent and electricity every month and never ran completely out of money or lived hand to mouth. I felt like I was destined to fail. My husband mocked me for not being able to manage my life, but he "took me in," and the abuse continued. 

The last time I left him, I had nowhere to go. I’d spent so much time wondering how to get away that I didn’t have any plans for where I would land. I drove around for a while until I got to Club Oasis, a place for AA meetings with a large fellowship. I’d been there a few times when I decided to stop the drugs and drinking, but I always got pulled back in by the drugs and my husband. I simply didn’t want it bad enough, and the idea of trying to quit very much scared me because of withdrawal.


Most of my friends had abandoned me, not willing to watch my life go down the toilet. I lied to them and manipulated them to get what I wanted. None of those people would have taken me in, and I don’t blame them. I knew that if I were ever to be close to them again, I had to prove to them (and myself) that I could do this alone. I knew it was the only way. I couldn’t be all talk, no action anymore. They would have to see the changes to know that I was serious.

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At Club Oasis, I saw a friend named Tatiana sitting on the patio. In fact, she had been my sponsor at one time. I lied to her constantly while sneaking off to drink and take more drugs. I just wasn’t ready then and wasted her time. I hoped she’d be willing to put that aside as I approached her.

I spilled my guts, telling Tatiana everything that had happened over the last few months. From the domestic abuse all the way to the substance abuse, I told her the absolute truth in a way I never had before.


At that time, everything I owned fit inside the trunk of my car. I didn’t have a fork or a plate or a dishwasher to wash them. My three trash bags consisted of clothes and makeup. My biggest fear had come true: I was actually homeless.

"You should call Robin and Paula," she advised.

I’d heard of the two ladies before. They ran a halfway house that was supposed to be the strictest around. The ladies were known to yell at all the girls for one reason or another. I didn’t even look them straight in the eye whenever we met at AA. They scared me more than I really showed it.

Tatiana wrote their number down, and I went back to my car to call them. First, I prayed as hard as I could. They were my last hope in the world.


Paula answered the phone, and I explained my situation to her. I told her I’d be getting paid by my transcription company the following week and would have rent and not be late again. I honestly don’t know what touched her heart that day, but she invited me to come right over and move in for as long as I needed. I didn’t have a cent to my name. I didn’t care what anyone said about the ladies. They simply treated me with kindness.

When I got to their house, Robin and Paula were waiting for me.

They wanted to know if I was okay and if I had eaten dinner. When I said I was fine, they let me know they had five halfway houses in total, but they had one picked out for me ahead of time. Robin said the ladies there would be mostly in their forties. I breathed a sigh of relief. The house wasn’t full of teenagers like I thought. There were women my age who wanted a better life and were fighting hard to get better. It was exactly what I needed.

When Robin showed me where my room would be, I was surprised to find that I wouldn’t be alone, and Robin explained that everybody had a roommate. Mine was named Karla. She had spiky-blonde hair and a smile welcoming enough to put me at ease.


A few days after I moved in, I walked into our room and noticed Karla had decorated the bedroom with positive affirmation posters and bright colors on the walls. She had new bedding for both of our beds, not just hers. She was so kind and friendly, wanting us to have a more peaceful environment to sleep in.

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Robin and Paula definitely had a lot of rules, but none of them were over the top. We had to make our beds every morning when we woke up, and then we would all check the chore chart on the wall and start doing the chores we were assigned. Not only did I love having a clean house, but doing those chores helped more than they could have imagined. It was a task that I could finish, which had not been true for a long time. It just became a habit to get those things done and not an obligation.

It was my first step in rejoining the world.


All the ladies had to go to AA meetings five times a week. After a few weeks passed, it became somewhat of a habit, too, but this time I really listened to the speakers and believed their stories of life getting better. Although I was painfully shy, I started to participate in the meetings like everybody else. It was the first nugget of self-confidence I’d had in ages. I started to meet more people, young and old, and many of their stories were a lot like mine. I used them as an example that recovery was possible.

The first day I got paid, I stopped at Robin and Paula’s house to pay them the cash we agreed on.

"So, you want to stay here or leave?" Paula asked me.

"Well," I answered. "If I’m doing this well in just nine days, imagine how much better I can get in ninety days."


In total, I ended up staying in Robin and Paula’s house for the next nine months.

I still didn’t own much beyond a knife and fork, but what I owned was more precious than gold. Best of all, no men were allowed to come to the house. My ex used to bombard me every time I left with phone calls and emails, all of them his plan to get me back under his thumb. He didn’t want me to be confident and survive. If he thought he could undermine me, I’d be too afraid to leave.

Having no contact with him was vital if I was going to heal. I stopped answering his emails and blocked his number. I was quite aware that this was my last chance to feel happy and safe, and I wasn’t willing to trade that for anyone.

Time and healing saved my life.


I even became friendly with a guy at AA. However, I was smart enough to know that a new boyfriend was the last thing I needed. Not only was I suffering from major PTSD, I finally started to be able to take care of myself again. That was the only thing I was committed to working on, and my new couple status faded back into being alone again.

My roommate, Karla, became my best friend in the house. We hung out constantly and went shopping and to lunch. Karla got a TV, and at night she loved watching the ID channel. It was mostly true crime shows, but she looked forward to it every night. We joked about the reenactments and got scared at the same time.

My favorite part of the day was in the morning when all the ladies sat on the patio. We would read a few AA passages and then talk to each other about what we had read. We joked that we were Little Pilgrims marching on to conquer our fears and live a better life.

Randy and Paula were big on helping us improve ourselves, not just making sure we didn’t abuse substances.


I wasn’t about to mess everything up after nine months of peace and quiet. I learned how to clean a house again and keep it that way. I had a job where I showed up every day, not letting my emotions get the best of me. Believe it or not, I was much better at handling my money. Between meetings, chores, and work, my life was pretty full. It was much better than laying in bed sick for hours because some drug dealer didn’t show up.

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These days, I’m happy to say that all the things I learned and incorporated into my daily life are still stuck in my head. With Robin and Paula, I didn’t focus on the things I couldn’t yet do, and they were there to help along the way. Even after ten years, I still remember them fondly. They gave me my life and my children back, even letting the boys spend the night with me on a few occasions.

I’m so grateful for the family I have today, even after moving to another state and starting over again. Robin and Paula were a big part of who I am today. I knew who I was and what I wanted back then, but I have learned to take a breath every so often and appreciate where I am right now.


They probably don’t realize what an impact they made on my life, but I’ll let them know if I ever get the chance.

There are people who say they feel bad that I had to live in a halfway house, but I actually felt okay about it. I would recommend it for people just like me, if not with Robin and Paula, then with other kinds of people who are supportive. Most of us can’t stop drinking or using without major help. Believe me, I was terrified to go at first. My fear of it was huge, but it remains one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Whenever Karla and I talk on Facebook these days, we still call each other "Little Pilgrims." The name is a memory of who we were at our worst and is reflective of how far we have come. I earned that name and am proud of it. I hope other "Little Pilgrims" out there find the help they need, even if it seems too difficult. Nothing could be more important in the world.

Drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly common.


Alcohol and drug addiction is something to take seriously, although often overlooked. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 20.3 million people above the age of 12 have suffered from a substance use disorder in the past year. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 2 million people of the same age bracket have suffered from opioid use disorders and 14.8 million from alcohol use disorders.

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help.

The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889.

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Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.