to the World of the Living
By Ann K. Williams
October 21 -- Three years ago, Lynn Johnson had what
seemed to be a picture perfect life.
She’d been married to the same man for 22 years, owned
her own house and a business, and got to be a stay-at-home mom
to three children. There was nothing, at least on the face of
it, to indicate that she was headed for homelessness.
All that changed when she came home to find her 20-year-old daughter
“People do not intend
to become homeless,” wrote Lisa Fisher, director of
the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition (WSHC), in the
organization’s 2008 yearbook, “but through a
series of unforeseen circumstances someone’s mother,
bother, daughter, grandfather or friend can end up on our
streets with no place to turn.”
Certainly, Johnson didn’t expect to become homeless
as her life started to unravel.
“I spiraled into the deepest, darkest place,”
said Johnson, who was one of 22 courageous people honored
last week at the Celebrating Success awards breakfast sponsored
by WSHC Friday.
“Grief left me incapable of parenting and separated
me from my husband,” she said. “I used drugs
and alcohol to numb the pain, but the sadness did not go
courtesy of Charles Haskell
In fact, before Julia’s death, Johnson had been struggling
to help her daughter, who was afflicted with bulimia, addiction
and a mental illness that compelled her to self-mutilate.
“I tried to save her,” Johnson said. “I knew
she was sick, but I didn’t know she was going to die.”
As her depression worsened, Johnson lost her grip on the things
that had defined her and given her life meaning.
“Every friend I had, every family member I had, I alienated.
I felt abandoned. It was just me and my addiction,” she
said, as she described that downward spiral that led to life on
Eventually, she ran out of money to stay in hotels and had to
leave her children with a friend.
It was only after that, that her life turned around.
She was taken to Brotman Psychiatric Ward where she spent a few
days in detox. From Brotman, she was referred to New Directions,
a residential treatment center on the Veterans Administration
Before she even made it to the front door, she was welcomed by
a couple of women staying there.
“I was very scared, but completely willing to be directed,”
Johnson said. “I had to trust.”
The first thing she remembered about entering the New Directions
house was smelling the food cooking.
“It was a home like my home,” she said.
Once into the program, she got busy rebuilding her life.
Johnson’s first order of business was to get treatment
for her depression. She gives Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health
Center high marks for the help they gave her.
“New Directions treats the individual wholly and completely,”
explained Rachel Feldstein, Associate Director at New Directions.
“It’s not enough to treat addiction. That’s
just the symptom.”
Feldstein rapidly ticked off a list of some of the ways her program
helps: jobs, housing, mental health, legal issues, taxes, money
management, yoga, parenting classes and post-traumatic stress
While Johnson was healing at New Directions, her husband was
also getting help.
During their worst days together, he’d hit Johnson and
threatened her with a gun.
It’s taken a lot of work and introspection to come out
of that nightmare with insight and acceptance, said Johnson.
“He had his own grief and pain,” she said. “The
pain was too much for us to handle together.”
Today, their children are living with him.
“My husband is learning how to be a parent,” she
said. “It’s nice to see my children just on the weekends.”
She said she’s learned to let go of the “should have,
could have, would haves.”
New Directions has “given me the opportunity to take a
look at my life, gain a lot of courage, become a strong woman,”
“At 44, I needed to learn how to change. It was the hardest
thing I ever did in my life.”
“It’s all Lynn. Lynn did all the work,” Feldstein
interjected. “It doesn’t just come by not drinking
Today, Johnson works as the receptionist at New Directions. She’s
proud of her job.
“I’ve learned to be unselfish,” said Johnson.
“I learned how to be of service to others lovingly.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the people that
were here, the people that are still on the streets.
“I don’t mourn my life now.”