Finding My Way Home - Page 2

By Nic Sheff 11/28/12

I recently volunteered at a homeless shelter, and it brought me right back to all those times I was on the other side of the soup ladle.

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From kindergarten on, three times a year, my class would take the bus down to Glide Memorial Church to work in the soup kitchen and homeless shelter. I was scared of many of them—the ones who demanded more juice when I was only supposed to give them one cup full, the trannies, the ones with scabs and sores and whatever else.

But I never, in all that time, could have possibly imagined that I would end up one day being one of those faceless, nameless homeless people asking for money on the street corner, offered food out of charity, and eventually even waiting in line to get a seat in that same soup kitchen at Glide Memorial Church.

It was hard to swallow that I could be like the man my five year-old self would have given a Happy Meal to. And yet.... 

Addiction and mental illness made me just like all those people I’d seen and pitied and feared my whole life.

The only reason I’ve made it these 10 years and can now be in a position where I’m serving the food at a soup kitchen, rather than being a beneficiary of its charity, is luck—really, a whole lot of luck. 

Luck that I didn’t die.

Luck that my family was willing to help support me.

Luck that I got on the right medication.

Luck and luck and more luck.

When I was out there, on the street, what I wanted from people more than anything else was just to be treated like a human being. 

But standing behind the table at the soup kitchen, spooning black-eyed peas into a Styrofoam cup, I struggled to figure out what it was I could give these people.

The answer I came to may be stupid. I’m sure it seems obvious as all hell. But when I was out there, on the street, what I wanted from people more than anything else was just to be treated like a human being. When people couldn’t or wouldn’t give me money, I never blamed them for that. But to be treated like the scum of the fucking earth, when I already felt like the scum of the fucking earth, was what hurt me most of all.

So as the men and women shuffled past, taking soup, asking questions, I just tried to talk to them, to look them in the eye and help them to feel like an equal to me—which, after all, they are.

But I wasn’t the only one treating the people we were serving with compassion and kindness. I wasn’t the only one talking to them, looking in the eye. 

We all were.

All the volunteers. All the organizers of the program. Everyone treated everyone else as complete equals.

They helped the whole event to feel more like a fun gathering—a party even—than the hopeless, depressing feelings of the soup kitchens in dark basements in San Francisco.

The lesson I’d learned was already being implemented by everyone else.

So it was a good night.

And I was very grateful.

And I think most everyone else was, too.

Nic Sheff is a columnist for The Fix and the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction, the New York Times-bestselling Tweak, and We All Fall Down. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two hound dogs, and a cat and has previously written about how not to preach recovery and his father David Sheff's book Beautiful Boy, among many other topics.
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Nic Sheff is the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction: the New York Times bestselling Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines and We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction. Nic lives in Los Angeles, California where he writes for film and television. Find Nic on Twitter.