Twenty years ago, Crystal was drifting in New York City, an addict, struggling to get clean and make a better life for herself, entrusting her children to her mother and her sister.
“I missed growing up, you know?” she says. “I was living in two worlds -- one when I was sober, the other when I was high, like I was always trying to find a different world to be in.”
Her family was poor, and she and her sisters shared the raising of their children -- almost all girls. After some bad relationships and a tough time trying to be a mother, Crystal found herself in jail.
“I was addicted but I wanted to live life, and to be a mother to my kids,” Crystal says. “I didn’t have any help. Neighbors and family would tell me after they saw me messed up that I needed help, but no one gave me a hand to stop me from sliding into it.”
Crystal finally joined Narcotics Anonymous and started the long uphill climb to stability. Being at NA gave Crystal the support she needed to get clean and stay clean. Crystal never missed a single NA meeting, but she was still homeless, and her criminal record and unemployment made finding a home next to impossible. For her, the only thing that was really missing was a home.
“I was tired of the streets, tired of being kicked out,” she says. “My kids needed a real home, and I couldn't give them one.”
Then, one day, someone at NA gave her a phone number -- the Admissions Office at Palladia -- and her life changed.
“I had prayed for so long that I didn’t know that day I would hit the ‘life lottery,’” she says. “Just the interview -- just being there and feeling that someone was accepting me -- that’s the greatest thing. It grounded me. It was the beginning of the beginning.”
Crystal moved into Palladia's Flora Vista supportive housing and she finally found the stable home she had searched for her entire life. For her, stability is about exposure once you’re clean.
“You can sober up all you want to, but then you go to a meeting in a building next to a run-down empty lot where they’re getting high, and you can see it right there from the street, you’re still exposed to it,” she says. “I don’t have to be in a new, toxic environment with people judging me, shaming me. That is all like a dream -- those 20 years of homelessness and addiction -- that was the dream and now this is the Real World.”
Crystal’s first grandson was born not long after she moved into Flora Vista. Today, her kids and grandkids think of Flora Vista as her home, where they go to visit Grandma. She is so proud of the space and loves to have the whole family over for a barbecue in the summer, down in the garden.
“What is hope? This is. All this,” she says. “Hope is being able to feel like I can do what I want to do. It's being able to be there for my kids and my grandkids."
Now she wants to help others like her find the same hope. “I’ve been there, done that,” she’d tell them. “It's hard, and so many people don't make it back up. If they had this opportunity I had, they would have made it. I want people to know that they can get that help. I want people to have hope.”
Since her own mother passed away recently, Crystal has become the matriarch of her extended family. She is the rock at the center of their lives, and the wisdom she gained through hardship has made her appreciate that all the more. Crystal gets to be the mother she always wanted to be, to pass on the hope, and to see her grandchildren grow up happy and healthy.