Dual Diagnosis

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William, 1963-

“When I settle down at Bonita House, I’m going to write a book about my life. Dual Diagnosis, I’ll call it. It is time the community learned about it.”

I had a rough childhood. I was seeing a psychiatrist since I was about eight years old. Anxiety, inability to focus, and getting in with the antisocial crowd. My addiction started young, my first addiction was food. Then alcohol, which made me feel better, temporarily. And I liked it.

Married for eight years, and held a job for 15 years, selling electronics. Through it, I was using cocaine and alcohol, mainly on the weekends, then it got worse. I went through a couple of rehabs, and was in and out of psych wards. I was put on different medications, but self-medicating always helped me more. Throughout my life, there were periods when I was too far gone in my addiction and my mental illness.

In rehab, I met a girl whose drug of choice was heroin. From then, I became severely addicted to it. I’d find myself going to very bad areas: lower east side Manhattan, Bushwick, Brooklyn, South Bronx. I came out here to the Bay Area a year and a half ago, hoping to find a little room to spend the rest of my life with dignity. That did not happen. Instead, like a story in a book, I got hooked on meth. I had never smoked it in my life, but being homeless, seeing kids smoking everywhere, I looked at it as being social. I used to be much heavier; I lost 50 pounds, eating only once a day. Close to death, withering away to nothing

For the past six weeks, I have been clean, sleeping on a friend’s coach, and selling Street Sheet*. I am trying to do something with myself. I am on a waiting list for housing at Bonita House, a good program for people with dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction. It is a long process, but I am being patient. I also go to Berkeley Mental Health to get my medicine: Risperdal (antipsychotic), Effexor (antidepressant), and meds for severe insomnia. I get anxiety attacks, depression, and sometimes voices. But even with the right meds, the housing problem is still there. You get on the right medicine, but it is hard to keep up with it on the street. If you’re inside, it’s a lot easier to take care of yourself.

I have been clean before, five years, in fact. I was in a program, and became a senior drug counselor at the Phoenix House in NY, a therapeutic community for substance abuse rehabilitation. It was a rewarding job, helping people like myself. But there was another piece, I was clean, but still dealing with my mental illness, and it keeps bringing me back to the drugs, eventually.

I have had a lot of heartache in my life. People OD’d, friends dying in my arms; there is nothing but death in drug addiction. But sometimes you get to take responsibility and do something. There is hope no matter how old you are, and there is help if you want it. I 53 years old, there’s still time for me. When I settle down at Bonita House, I’m going to write a book about my life. Dual Diagnosis, I’ll call it. It is time the community learned about it.

* A newspaper published by The Coalition on Homelessness, and sold around the bay area.


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Street Sheet

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William, 1963-

“Today, it is going to buy my medicine for my diabetes, my insulin. Without the Street I would not survive.”

An inspiration? Every day, I see people, friends, getting inside and working their way off the street. By recycling or selling paper, he points at the Street Sheet* magazine he sells. It gives me hope. As many as the horror stories you hear, I’ve seen people make it. For some people there is no hope, they don’t want a home. They have to come to terms with themselves and want it. I want it, I want to be inside. We are not all criminals; you know?

KC is the person who gives us the paper, and we sell it. A lot of homeless take it as drug money, but it also feeds us. Today, it is going to buy my medicine for my diabetes, my insulin. Without the Street I would not survive. I would turn to crime.

* A newspaper published by The Coalition on Homelessness, and sold around the bay area.



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Important Women in My Life

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William, 1963-

“I remember vividly the day I proposed to her. We took a limousine, I got her flowers and champagne; we went to Manhattan, some comedy clubs, and then I took out a ¾ karat engagement ring and asked her to marry me on my knees.”

My mother, without a doubt, was the most important person in my life. She was like me, would do everything for anybody. She loved kids, like me. A kind person, giving and loving. I was glad to have her, I loved her. She died at 48, young, from complication of diabetes. I was married eight years at the time, going through a divorce because of my lifestyle. So, I lost my mother and my wife at the same time, and spiraling downhill.

The other important woman in my life was my wife of eight years. I had many kind moments with her. I loved her, she loved me, we had a lot of good times together, and a lot of bad. I remember vividly the day I proposed to her. We took a limousine, I got her flowers and champagne; we went to Manhattan, some comedy clubs, and then I took out a ¾ karat engagement ring and asked her to marry me on my knees. Probably the best time of my life.

For the past year and a half, I have Christy in my life, on and off. She is a bad drug addict, and I had to walk out on her a couple of times. Now that I am clean, it is not good for me to hang out with her because she doesn’t want to stop. We lived together on the street, moving from place to place: business doorways with an overhang, outside the methadone clinic, next to Burger King. Anywhere that looked safe. Well, safe as can be. It is hard living on the street for anybody, but much harder for a female. It is going to be hard on her when I go inside, referring to the Bonita House program, where he is waitlisted. I am really worried about that, but I can’t help anybody unless I get myself straight. My dream is that she helps herself, and together we have a little place for ourselves to live in dignity; a home we call our own. I don’t ask for much.



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Ideal Job

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William, 1963-

“Ideal Job: help kids, be around them.”

My ideal job would be to help kids, be around them. Not as a teacher, but a counselor, or a recreation person. Play kickball; I like having fun with kids. Or something in my field, work with the mentally ill as an advocate. I’ve been to the ringer, on the East and West coasts. Many mentally ill don’t even know what services are available to them.


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Three Strangers

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William, 1963-

“She said, ‘I feel energy and I feel angels surrounding you.’”

In the course of one day, I met two strangers, two ladies, who told me essentially the same thing. One lady grabbed my hand, I was upset that day, she told me that I had mental illness, just by grabbing my hand, and she told me I have more than one guardian angel looking out for me. On the same day, I came down here to get a cup of coffee, and on that bench there, he points out, I spoke to another lady. She said, ‘I feel energy and I feel angels surrounding you.’ That was the second person in a day.

They gave me hope, and when I look back at my life, being stubbed and everything else in my past, fights, living on the street in Oakland. . . somebody must be protecting me to make it to 53! There are many kids, younger than me, who unfortunately don’t make it. It’s different times now, you form a fist and they shoot you. Something positive, hopefully, will come out of my life.



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