Sunday, March 4, 2012
Marti MacGibbon's comeback story, continued...
Photo of Marti provided by Marti.
Click on the below article link to obtain background information to this blog post:
Marti MacGibbon’s story is one of triumph and hope.
She described how she found health again, “After the physical, psychological and sexual violations that I suffered at the hands of traffickers, I could not find a safe place within my own mind. Nightmares plagued my sleep for years. But eventually, I recovered and triumphed over my adversity. Shame and fear kept me imprisoned in my addiction and trauma, but forgiveness, self-esteem, gratitude, and the courage that comes with optimism carried me to freedom and healing.”
I have always been wondered what tragedy leads a human being to a homeless life and considering Marti’s journey, I asked her for her thoughts about the homeless in general.
She replied, “Thank you for asking this question. In addition to what I’ve been through personally, I’ve worked as a program counselor at a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans, which provides access to addiction treatment and a jobs program. I’m always surprised by the negative stereotypes perpetuated about homeless people. Surprised, and a little disappointed. I hope that when people see someone on the street, they will refrain from judging. Every one of us is carrying a burden. Empathy is essential.
Homeless people are not homeless because they refuse to work. The issue is far more complicated than that. A medical emergency or serious illness can render anyone homeless. The loss of a job can create a situation where a person falls through the cracks and ends up on the street. The recent foreclosures and mortgage crisis, the recession – these have swelled the ranks of homeless working people. Often a mental illness or an addiction issue, or both, may be the driving factor, or a big part of, someone’s downward spiral into homelessness. When a substance dependence issue or a mental illness comes into play, it’s harder to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. But I have seen many success stories, firsthand, as a counselor.
At the time I was homeless, there were no shelters in place. The authorities were only beginning to recognize and attempt to ameliorate the suffering of those lacking shelter. The experience of being homeless left a deep impact on my life – I have lived through a nightmare and emerged victorious. In the San Francisco Bay area, it very seldom snows, but the nights in winter can be cold – thirties on average, but in the twenties and sometimes below twenty degrees, and it rains a lot.
During my time outdoors as I preferred to think of it, I worked as a day laborer -- menial jobs, cutting firewood or doing brush removal for a hippie landscaper. Once I dug ditches. I was so traumatized that I needed to shut down my mind and emotions to survive. I hitchhiked or walked everywhere. At the end of the day, I’d have twenty bucks, or at most twenty-five. With that, I’d buy something to eat, some coffee. Then I’d have to locate somewhere to wait out the night.
If I couldn’t find shelter under a bridge, or in an abandoned building, I’d walk around all night to keep warm. I learned how to stride like a man, and I’d wear a watch cap pulled down over my eyes, my hair tucked up inside. I’d shove my hands into the pockets of my peacoat and hope to be mistaken for a guy, so I wouldn’t get stalked, raped and/or beaten. I was attacked a couple of times, but I didn’t dare to report it to the police. I sold and traded drugs in order to survive and support my habit, and so I felt convinced I was outside the law and could not expect help from the authorities.
Fortunately for me, I spent most of my time in a resort area north of San Francisco, and there were campgrounds where I could sneak in late at night and use the shower room. And I kept my clothes clean by washing them at the Laundromat on a regular basis. I did my very best not to appear to be homeless. I always stood up straight, walked as though I had a purpose, somewhere to go. I smiled as often as possible.
Occasionally, I have nightmares where I’m homeless again. It was a terrifying, overwhelmingly daunting experience that I will never forget. I lived under constant, extreme stress, with no privacy, safety or security. When I was homeless, I was constantly in motion – there was no real refuge, no sanctuary from the elements or the violence of other human beings. And I felt like the police were after me, too, because being poor, particularly homeless, is in itself a crime…also, I was a drug addict, so I was always on hyper-alert. My post-traumatic stress disorder escalated all of these feelings, and when I got into therapy years later, I came to understand how the PTSD, addiction, domestic violence, and homelessness created a kind of perfect storm that ripped through my life.
The time that I spent working with homeless veterans is one of the best chapters in my life. I am so grateful that I had a chance to make a contribution, to be a part of the solution, so to speak. I am very passionate about this issue.”
Marti talked about what gave her the will to do more than just survive.
In her words, “Resilience, a sense of humor, optimism, and strong self-esteem has carried me a long way. These are all qualities that can be built up -- you don’t have to be born with them. Gratitude, as well as forgiveness of self and others has opened the door to real happiness in my life.
During my first days in Tokyo, when I first realized how perilous my situation was, I made a decision: to refuse to entertain thoughts of despair or panic. I told myself that no matter what happened to me externally, I was the ruler of my own inner life, and no one could take that away. I began to harness the power of positive visualization. Here is an excerpt from my book, which describes that defining moment.
“Then suddenly my thoughts became lucid. Anger and fear are counter-productive, I realized. I knew I was on my own and I would have to play to win. I determined to never consciously think about the danger again, not to allow myself to think scary thoughts. I saw an image of myself sidling along a narrow ledge, hundreds of stories up. If I wanted to survive, I couldn’t look down or I’d lurch, arms pin wheeling, and plunge into the abyss. I’d only look straight ahead and sidle around until I found a window to safety. I would imagine myself on solid ground and rest easy. Whistle if I had to. Keep things casual. That’s what I’d do.
With this metaphor, I grasped an emotional attitude, a posture, a place from which to make my stand. Hope flooded my mind. Somehow, I would escape this situation I’d gotten myself into. I’m going back to the U.S., and that’s my reality. I refuse to accept the things that I see in my outer environment. No matter what happens, I will perceive that all events are going my way…I focused on going home, visualized it, believed it emotionally, programmed myself to accept no other outcome. I would be home for Christmas.”
My visualization worked, got me out of Japan. When I arrived in the U.S., the panic returned, but during my time homeless, I rediscovered the power of positive visualization, and harnessed it again. I also began to act as if, to behave as though I already had what I needed. That is, I’d stand up straight, smile, and move with purpose, as though I had a place to live. I refused to allow my thoughts to drift into despair or self-pity or panic.
Eventually, all of this did pay off, but it took much longer than necessary, because I was in active addiction. I used my drug of choice in a misguided effort to deaden the pain of my trauma and loss. As a hard-core drug addict, I used nearly every day for nine years. I’d attempted to quit on my own strength several times without success. My denial intensified so that I blamed my problems on external circumstances. As the disease of addiction progresses, so does the denial.
Finally I reached the point where I knew I could not survive another day of my miserable life. I got down on my knees and prayed, ‘God, whoever you are, wherever you are, please help me. I’m so unhappy. I want to be happy.’
Then my mind quieted, and about fifteen seconds later, a thought occurred to me: Maybe it’s the dope… And that was the beginning of my breakthrough. I admitted to myself that I needed to break the chains of addiction, and that I could not do this alone. I sought help, and found like-minded people through support groups.
I learned how to live a new lifestyle in recovery, and have employed tools such as visualization, affirmations, positive self-talk and mindfulness meditation toward continuous healing and personal development. I understand that I cannot heal or develop in isolation, so I have a strong support network, including my spouse, mentors, friends, family members, colleagues, and advisors. It’s been fun, and real, and lasting. I now have over sixteen years clean, and free from cravings or urges to use.”
Marti works to help others, “My passion is using humor and meaningful stories to help others triumph over challenges, stress, and adversity – I’m an inspirational humorous speaker whose articles have been published in over fifty magazines and trade publications. I know that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. And I know how to get somebody back on track and show him or her how to get back up when they get knocked down. Life is good, it’s beautiful, and there are so many reasons to be grateful.
I’m passionate about making a contribution, no matter how small, to ending homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, and human trafficking. It’s my hope that no one else will ever go through all the things that I did.
I occasionally speak to raise awareness about domestic violence, and I’ve done standup comedy at domestic violence shelters in Los Angeles and at homeless shelters in L.A. and San Francisco. I still work, on a volunteer basis, with homeless veterans in San Francisco.
I also speak to raise awareness about human trafficking. I’ve worked with several grassroots organizations, like Free the Slaves, Not for Sale, and The SAGE Project (Stand Against Global Exploitation). I have appeared as a guest speaker at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and I’ve told my story at colleges, churches, and I told it to 3,000 people at an MMA cage-fighting event. It’s difficult and painful to recount the story, but it’s worth it if it raises awareness about the issue and inspires someone to get involved in stopping it.
Addiction put me in harm’s way – it made me vulnerable to all the other things. That’s why I am so enthusiastic about helping addicts and their loved ones. As I mentioned earlier, I hold four professional certifications in addiction treatment, one of them is the ACRPS, Advanced Certified Relapse Prevention Specialist.
Last summer, I worked with two other comedians in a standup comedy benefit in Indianapolis. We raised money for three small non-profits, facilities that provide housing and access to addiction treatment to women and men in need. This year we’re doing Laff-aholics again, and hope to raise more money for this cause. I hope that the show will become a successful annual event.
And I wrote my memoir, Never Give in to Fear, because I want people to know that even the seemingly hopeless cases can and do recover, and that no matter how far you fall, you can get back up and keep on climbing. I prefer to look back on my past and find humor where I can, courage, grace and inspiration where I can. My past has taught me that even in the worst places I can find human kindness, and that love and forgiveness prevail.
She offered advice for anyone supporting an addict and for the addict him or herself.
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease. It is not a series of bad choices, or a moral weakness. It affects and involves the body, brain and emotions, and social condition (relationship to self and others) of the sufferer. So your relationship with the addict is part of the problem and the solution. The important thing to remember is that there is a solution.
This is a serious disease, so you need to get professional advice and assistance. Professionals can teach you what behaviors are enabling and which ones are supporting the addict.
You don’t have to do this alone. There are resources, places where you can find help, guidance and support. Here are some places to start:
National Institute on Drug Abuse and
If you have a desire to drink or use a substance despite negative or catastrophic consequences, you are addicted. Addiction is a disease that can be treated. It’s bio/psycho/social, that is, it affects and involves your body, brain and emotions, and your relationships with yourself and others.
This disease creates pain, and you take the substance in order to relieve pain and problems. But the disease works in such a way that when you take your drug of choice, it actually begins to cause more pain and problems. You fall into a cycle of pain, drama, and personal trauma. You can’t beat this alone, and you don’t have to do this alone. Here are some places to start getting help:
My website: MartiMacgibbon.com
If you have questions or comments for Marti you can leave them on this blog post or you can email Marti: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also check out her blog, MartiMacgibbon.
Here are other support links: