You know, I think the thing that all of us have in common is fear — a thousand unruly forms of it. Wherever we are, there is fear to be faced.
Becoming unhoused turned me feral. That is a fact I live with every single day on the long road back to self sufficiency.
You’re so not gonna believe this (wry grin) but part of the trouble with trying to re-mainstream back into “normal society” is the shame of having become unhoused in the first place. I can only speak for myself in this, but that whole “what-if-they-find-out-I-have-been-unhoused?” comes into my thoughts these days. Because I see the way the expression on peoples faces change when they know. We go from vital, wonderful conversations filled with possibility to stutters and stammers and murmered apologies.
It’s not anyone’s fault. That’s just the way it goes. I see the expressions change. I see the fear step up to the plate. Is she gonna rob me? Is she gonna ask for money? (No, I am not. I can find ways to make my own.) Is she gonna tell me a story that I can’t bear the emotional brunt of? (Quite possibly.)
Here’s the thing, one thing that makes this transition difficult for me is the very thing that helped me survive out there: the hyper-vigilence and constantly roving stare. The rough edges to conversation. The brusqueness came from there, and kept me alive.
So the opposite would be true, I guess, in regular society where polite counts but is very hard to navigate. Words — and backing your words up with action — is the only way I have to determine your legitimacy, and how authentic you are as a human being. The transition also comes up in the daily details, as in job applications where there are obvious spaces of unfilled time, or in housing applications where there are no addresses to put in. Or in a noticeable awkwardness in mundane activities such as conversations about baseball.
It comes up in not wanting to be touched in hugs and handshakes unless I know you. Sound ridiculous, yep, and frankly I think it is. But it is there permeating every single thing I do.
I suppose I could wear a sign that says, “feral: doesn’t play well with others,” or make excuses, but I won’t. I will find a way to be at home in any setting again, however that is probably not gonna happen today or tomorrow. I’m just gonna take this one step at a time for right now. Bear with me — people and their passions and their perfect sin judgments scare the shit right out of me, and some days it’s all I can do to breathe past that fear, one breath at a time. If the best I can do is say have a nice day and breathe, then that is the best I’ve got that day.
Clearly, I need to find a way to take the shame and survivor guilt out of coming to and up off the concrete. By all means, write in if you have a suggestion. It comes up in conversations where it shouldn’t, so clearly we need to take the shame and self-imposed exile out of the equation. I know I can do this. I just don’t know how right this second, so perhaps if we all put our heads together, then I can try. And if it’s successful, then I can give it to the next one coming up and off the concrete. Who knows?
Julie, I don’t have any great advice. But I can tell you that there are many people in the world who are not judging or trying to second guess. We see ourselves, and the unpredictable nature of life, when we greet people who are living on the street. Any one of us could be homeless or unhoused. When we admit that, and face the fear, we free ourselves from prejudice. I wish you the best of luck in your transition.
Perhaps it would be helpful to stop thinking of society being divided into the “normal” and something else. Shame comes into play when you think some fact or circumstance of your person (or your history) might be regarded by others as something to be ashamed of, or when you view it that way yourself. You view it as something not normal, or something that normal people couldn’t possibly accept. I think that is selling people short, because people aren’t “normal” or otherwise. They’re just people; some you will like, some you won’t; some will like you; some won’t. They — We — have all had experiences, feelings, thoughts, habits, realizations that we find troubling or have a hard time accepting, that we feel ashamed of because we think most other people (“normal” people) haven’t had them. Show me someone who has never felt shame and I will show you someone who is truly abnormal!
Simultaneously, you have to hold in your head two seemingly contradictory ideas: 1) you are a special, unique person with your own gifts and challenges; 2) so is everybody else. We can only measure our fear of being judged by our own propensity to judge others.
Those are things that I, at least, struggle with daily.