Editor’s Note: When I wrote about the Biscuit Outlaw and shared that post, a regular reader of this blog made a very articulate comment on Facebook about homelessness and how many of us are just a few paychecks away from it. Because Andrea had been so forthcoming on the Facebook post about her struggles with unemployment, addiction and depression, I asked if she would be willing to answer a few questions and share her journey with the blog readers. She graciously agreed. I think Andrea’s story is just one of hundreds of examples of how fragile our everyday reality is. If Andrea’s story speaks to you, please let her know.)
KAREN: You are one of the thousands of Americans who lost their jobs in the economic collapse. Tell us about losing that job.
ANDREA: I was the Closing Coordinator for a Real Estate Broker who dealt mainly with foreclosed homes. When I first went to work for him in 2005 we closed about 10 -11 homes a month. By early 2010 we were closing 28-35 per month.
There were many factors involved in my being laid off . One was a drastic drop in home sales. My boss had been a pioneer in the foreclosure business & had the corner on the mkt in NEGA for quite sometime. Now there were many more agents selling foreclosed homes & the real estate mkt was crashing as well. There were so many foreclosures that lenders were forced to do what they should have been doing all along. They had to tighten their standards for loan approvals. (so many foreclosures happened due to very bad lending standards, high interest & balloon notes) Due to this, buyers basically had to have A+ credit to be qualified.
Anyway to make a very long story short, I was the highest paid. Due to the fact that closings had dropped to about 10, in a good month, & in addition to the tasks they were already performing, other employees could handle the smaller amount work my job now entailed, I was the one he chose to be lay off. This happened on Jan 15th, 2011 with no warning. Deep inside I knew my boss would have to cut expenses at some point. I thought he would take away the bonus I was being paid for each closing & just keep me there on salary. I also thought he might put me on hourly wages & have me work part time. His company would have gone under had he not done something! I understood. It had to be done. I also knew God had this!
KAREN: When you lost that job, how long did you think it would take before you found another job?
ANDREA: I was doubtful that I would be employed again soon. I was 60 years old, the state of GA had one of the highest employment rates in this country & I had made very good money at my former job. I turned out to be right.
KAREN: How long did it actually take?
ANDREA: My unemployment ran out after nearly 2 years. Due to not finding a job during that period I had to start drawing my SS/retirement. I had to take half of what I would have recd if I had been able to wait till I turned age 67. I just became employed this month. I have been working odd jobs such as house sitting, elder care & pet sitting. At one point I also sold homemade baked goods.
KAREN: How did that wait affect you? Change you?
ANDREA: I went through a very bad period of depression. I was a single Mother & had been the bread winner all my life. At the time I was laid off, my daughter & GRANDdaughter were living with me. The very day I got laid off my wonderful daughter started depositing her pay check in what became “our” checking actt. Her meager pay check along with my Unemployment Benefits (I recd the max allowed due to my pay rate at my former job) was what we lived on. We also qualified for food stamp (SNAP). I was humiliated to get the stamps & to depend on my daughter, who had always been able to depend on me. It was, to say the least, a very humbling experience.
KAREN: What was the scariest part of being unemployed?
ANDREA: My age. I thought I would never be able to find a job due to being so close to 62, which is the age a person can start drawing SS. I also knew that even though I had worked pretty much since the age of 17, I would not get full SS. I would be forced to go ahead & start drawing it well before the age of 67. I knew my daughter would eventually be able to live on her own as well. I did not want to stand in her way. I told her she could not consider me in her decisions about the future. Scary as it was to think of living on $800 a month SS + $200 in food stamps, I knew God would take care of me when the day for that inevitable separation came. I had a Peace I cannot explain to anyone. I just knew that I knew. Believers know what I mean.
KAREN: What/Who helped you the most during this time?
ANDREA: My Faith & my daughter!!!!
KAREN: How has the experience of losing your job, losing your home, all that economic security changed you?
ANDREA: I am better for it. I was so stressed at my job! It was killing who I am. I was such a hard hearted person on my job. I had to be. I used to talk with my daughter. I told her I felt I had 2 people inside of me. The tenderhearted one, I love & the hard A__ real estate closer who, on a daily basis, had to fight battles with major banks, lenders & law firms to make unreasonable deadlines & difficult closings happen.
Financially I learned most of what I thought were needs were really only wants & desires. More than ever, some things I used to take for granted are much more meaningful to me now. I treasure having “extra” money on the rare times I do for gifts for my Grandchild & Daughter, vacations, pedicures (oh, how I miss having them), going to the movies & eating out.
I also know many others are just like I was… one pay check away from financial chaos. I had nothing saved for the future. I still have nothing saved for the future. Once again, I know I am in God’s hands. He won’t desert me, His child. I have to make an effort to help myself, but He will show my efforts favor because of my Faith. Money isn’t going to fall like manna from Heaven but He will provide a job or something to help me pay a bill every time it comes due. He has always done so & will continue to do so. Being a single Mom, this wasn’t my first financial rodeo. I just hang on, do what I can & have Faith He will do the rest.
KAREN: What is the biggest misconception people have/make about the unemployed? About you?
ANDREA: That the unemployed are lazy. That I didn’t want a job. That I wouldn’t take much less money than I was making at my last job as long as it was more than my unemployment check. Granted, when I was drawing unemployment I didn’t even apply for jobs that would pay less than I was receiving from the gov’t. I couldn’t afford to. We were already living on the very least we could live on.
KAREN: Depression and addiction is something you’ve struggled with in the past. Can you tell us about that?
ANDREA: I have struggled with depression for years. I was molested at a very young age by a stranger, than again at 16 by my Sister’s ex husband (a clergy man). I had been living with my Sister’s family for about 5 years & considered them my parents, so he was my Father at the time. (long story, there)
After the incident at 16, I ran away. I began experimenting with drugs. I was self medicating. I didn’t know that till my first stint in rehab. I’m a very sensitive, caring person. I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I just wanted to be high & happy. I made my first attempt at suicide at 18. I moved to NY & modeled a bit. On one of my trips home to GA I met & began an affair with a now famous southern rocker. He introduced me to “real” drugs.
I moved to LA for a bit. I got caught up in the sex, drugs rock& roll, hippie scene for years living on my looks & party girl ways, running with the music scene big dogs. Fast forward to when I became a single Mom in my mid 30s. I have moved back to Georgia. The drugs are now too expensive. I discover booze. I become a raging, card toting, alcoholic. I was an after 5 pm & weekend drunk. I kept a very clean home, (immaculate actually) a very good child (emotionally neglected) & held down well paying, prestigious jobs. Soon my drinking was off the chain & suicide attempts were frequent. (Cries for help mostly but one or two serious attempts were made.) So I opened my own business. I didn’t have to answer to anyone any more.
All this time, I still had a very deep Faith in God. I know that’s why I am alive.. He never gave up on me. (just like the song… your love never fails, you never give up on me) I was in & out of rehab & mental facilities, being treated for depression & addiction, on & off for years. I would remain sober for a few weeks/months & relapse. I remember falling into bed drunk as a nine eyed billy goat, crying & praying for help. I put my daughter through so much embarrassment & pure HELL.
To this day I find it hard to believe she also never gave up on me & has forgiven so much. When my daughter graduated HS I moved to the NGA Mtns. I lived & drank there for 2 years in a beautiful log cabin with the most amazing views! After 2 years of seclusion there, I moved back to Athens. My daughter gave birth to my GRANDchild & I started that great paying, personality changing, job that would have killed me had God not seen to it that I was laid off. He knew I loved the money. I would never quit. So… being unemployed ate at me. I felt like a failure. As a single Mom, providing for my family had defined me. I was lost. In steps legitimate back pain & a country Dr willing to prescribe narcotics so long as I pay the $85 per visit he charges. Then I add my drug of choice, Asti Spumante (at least 2 bottles a day). I know, I was unemployed. How could I afford it? I can’t even fathom this myself but somehow I juggled & I did.
Addicts find a way. On the night of May 9th, 2011 I decided I had had enough. I had no job, I couldn’t quit drinking, I was a complete failure. I had been in intensive care enough times, I knew what would work. I got rip roarin’ drunk, got a bottle of Tylenol PM, a container of anti freeze & drove deep into the woods behind our house. Luckily (Grace of God) I wanted a good sound track to my demise. I started channel surfing for just the right music. I so wish I could remember the song that started playing which caused me to sit back & close my eyes for a bit. Thank God, I passed out. When I came to I was just sober enough to realize that if I didn’t get help that day, that minute that I would keep drinking & I would succeed at taking my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of breaking my GRANDdaughter’s heart.
I had never felt that much compassion before. I had always thought my drinking & suicidal behavior hurt only me. I had a revelation that us selfish addicts rarely have. I was hurting the ones I loved the most. I couldn’t bear that. That was the spark that motivated me to get help just one more time. I had no insurance so I had to get the help that’s offered to the needy. It was a gritty, no holds barred recovery facility. Not the Hiltons I was used to. I was an addict given one last chance. This was it! Get it this time, or die. Grace of God, I got it. I got it good! It was the hardest 3 months of my life. It was the best 3 months of my life. My rebirth.
KAREN: What/who has helped you through the addiction and the depression?
ANDREA: God, great counselors & my daughter. I don’t go to meetings. I had done that on & off for years. It didn’t work for me. I don’t like rooms, especially rooms filled with folks. I have the same issues with church attendance. (I am working on that one) I find my inspiration to stay sober in my love for God, His love for me, my family, how very good life is sober, memories of how bad it got & how long it took me to get here. I never thought life was good before. Now, even with all it’s peaks & valleys I love my life. By the world’s standards, it’s a very simple life. I do not advocate what I do for anyone else. This works for me. Meetings work & are the ONLY thing that works for some. Thank God they’re there for those addicts.
KAREN: What do you understand about yourself that you didn’t understand prior to all of these struggles?
ANDREA: Simple, I could never love myself or others till I accepted God’s unconditional love for me. Still have to work on that at times. Satan loves to make me feel I am unloved because I am so flawed. Well, if I wasn’t flawed there would be no need for God, would there?
KAREN: If you could write a handbook to tell people how to help those who are struggling through unemployment, depression, and/or addiction, what would you say?
ANDREA: There’s not enough time or room here Karen! You know how long it takes to write a book & there’s a book already written … it’s called the Bible.
When it comes to addiction, NEVER GIVE UP!!!! I went to treatment so many times I can’t even remember how many times. Each time a seed or maybe more than one seed was planted. When the get high quit working (& it always does, in every addict’s life if they are fortunate to live that long) I knew what I had to do to get my last chance.
I had to get into a serious program & get serious myself. I had to really want this enough to work for it this time. I had to relive the pain of the molestation & many other things I’ve yet to share with anyone else but God & my trusted counselors. I had to rip that scab off the scars of my life that I had tried to heal with oblivion for so many years. It’s not easy but it is so worth it. Be honest.
Quit the guilt trip. Make amends where you can. If amends can’t be made, let the life you live now be the amends for everything you’ve done/destroyed. Realize some folks won’t forgive you. That’s OK, forgive yourself. If God can forgive & even die for you, who are you not to give yourself that same gift. Forgive the ones who hurt you. Nearly every woman I have met in recovery has been abused (Physically &/or emotionally) and/or molested. You don’t have to trust or forget, just forgive.
Harboring resentments of any kind will often lead to relapse. Uncovering old hurts once sober can as well. Have someone you trust to talk to. I find a counselor who has no ties to me or my family works well for me. I am blessed to have one I trust. That too took time & effort as well. Don’t be afraid to tell a counselor it’s not working. Then keep trying till you find another one. Getting & staying sober is a process. It takes time. Don’t be impatient with others or your self. If you do relapse. Get over it. Get sober again. Keep trying. NEVER give up.
It took over 30 years for me to get it. Each day I learn something new about myself. I never knew who I was. Still don’t in a way. I quit developing emotionally in my teens. What a weird thing it is to be a Grandmother with the emotional capacity of a teenager. Thank God I’m a work in progress, enjoying the journey.
About being unemployed. Keep plugging away at the job hunting. Be willing to try something new. I know how scary that may be. Every job I’ve ever had required training. A new field may just take a bit more training & take a bit longer to learn! Scale down on everything. Have a yard sale. Get rid of stuff you don’t need & make extra money at the same time. Donate what you can to others. It doesn’t have to be money.
Since you’re not working, more than likely you will have extra time on your hands. Give that time to others in need. You will get much more out of it than you can ever give. I guarantee! Shop at thrift stores. I bet you find you will be shopping there even after you get another job. Once you see the nice things you can get at these stores you will never want to shop retail again. Don’t feel guilty or less than because you are getting assistance or drawing unemployment. There are many folks in the very same boat as you. Be grateful to live in a country (flawed as it my be) that offers such assistance. Check out every resource for food, clothing, shelter, etc as soon as possible. Sometimes there are long waiting lists. Get yourself & your family on those lists asap. The gov’t offers a free cell phone to those who qualify financially. I’ll include the link at the end of this paragraph. Keep a sense of humor.
One time I was on the way to DFACS to help a lady staying at the shelter I was working at get assistance for her & her children. As we pulled into the parking area of the bldg the Ray Charles song “I’m Busted” came on the radio. (My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I’m busted) We had both been near tears all morning. We just looked at each other & laughed about God’s timing of that song & His sense of humor!
Here’s the link for a cell phone:
KAREN: Where was the place you most often found God in all of this?
ANDREA: If you are talking about a physical place, I find him sitting on my porch just listening to the birds singing & enjoying the solitude of the natural surroundings I am fortunate to have at my little home. I find Him in Praise! Like most of us, I, too, get attacked by what George Harrison called “the soft shoe shufflers”, those thoughts of doubt, failure & doubt that Satan loves to attack me with when I need to rest. I find in those times I just give up praying for anything & just start saying thanks to God & praising Him.
I have to be honest here, sometimes I fake it till I make it. I start with just being thankful for something as mundane (unless, like me you have lived where there was only an out house) as running water & a flushing toilet. It takes more than one day sometimes. There are times when it takes many days to get to that truly thankful stage. Don’t give up. It comes back. God loves our praise. In those dark times just remember He is still there. It’s me that moved, not Him!