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Stories from the Field
Stories from the Field

The Light at the End of the Tunnel


Million Little has been proud to watch what we’ve seen of James’ journey and transformation thus far. His light shines brightly, showing others that they too can commit to the processes of recovery and growth. All the while, he has used creativity as an outlet, helping him stay focused and centered while facing hard times. 

James’ struggle with chronic homelessness and addiction highlights his fighting spirit, just one of many strengths. He has the determination to continuously advocate for himself whether he finds success or dejection. His tenacity is an inspiration to us all, no matter what our personal struggle is.  

James became homeless as a child, the reaction of his conservative family when he came out the closet. He describes his experience saying, “Being homeless is a bitch. Being homeless is scary. Especially when you’re 10, 11 years old. I used to sleep on park benches and do my schoolwork under streetlights. I’ve had DPSS called on me and I had to run because I didn’t want to go back to my family.” 

By this point, he had already been experimenting with drug use after his father introduced him to it at age 10. His family’s disownment only plunged him further into his addiction. To read more about how he overcame a 14 year battle with drugs, you can click HERE

James says, “I hit rock bottom more than I can count, more than all the toes and ears and body parts I have combined.”
This culminated in his final overdose before getting clean on April 3, 2019. He continues,
“They tried committing me to a psych ward for being suicidal, but in reality I wasn’t suicidal. I was doing a fucked up thing in my life and that day I vowed to never ever ever get high again. Since then it’s been a roadway to hell, blood and sweat put into my sobriety. But the main reason I come to [Hillsides] is to find serenity, to find people that are sober. And the reason I come to Million Little is I get to draw and show my inspiration.”

Each week in our program, James’ unbridled creativity inspires us and our other program participants. He has the amazing ability to engage with what he calls his “artful” side, saying “I’m just full of art. My brain is a big old glob of paint.” He sees beauty in everyday objects, eagerly mixing materials together to create abstract works of art representing memories, dreams, feelings, and his own perspective on the world. 

In his first session with Million Little, James created this abstract melted crayon artwork. He had recently reached one month of sobriety and had a lot of thoughts swirling through his head that he put down on the canvas. 

“I make a lot of abstract art because it shows what addiction does to your brain. It becomes a mix of colors and a mix of blobs This painting looks like the CAT scan of my brain they did after I overdosed on fentanyl. I think my brain took what the CAT scan looked like and threw it up.”
After looking at for a bit more, James started to develop a new interpretation. He continued,
“I see a face in it. I see hearts. I see clouds. I see a broken mind [...] Do you see the white? It’s kinda like the parts of my brain that aren’t damaged. It’s hopeful.”

Not every youth in our program is as fearless when it comes to artistic experimentation. New participants sometimes are anxious about picking up a piece of paper, scared they might not like what they create. James is always supportive of these youth, encouraging them to use art for self-expression rather than self-criticism.

He told us, “Look at me. I don’t know how to paint. I don’t know how to draw. But each and every one of us has a brain and in that brain there is a creative cell. Trust me. The paint brush won’t bite.” When new participants follow James’ advice, they come to agree that the paint brush is not something to be afraid of. Beautiful artwork has been made because James was there to ease someone into the world of creativity.

This supportive side of James extends far beyond our programs. Having dealt with many personal issues, he carries empathy even for those who he hasn’t met. For anyone who is struggling with  homelessness, homophobia, mental illness, or addiction, James would like to share the following message:

“I might not know you, but it gets better and please don’t hurt yourself. Please don’t start drugs or do anything to harm that beautiful self of yours. It may seem like it’s the end, but trust me there’s a whole sprout of flowers ahead.”

Update from James:

“I’m now at 9 months of sobriety since January 3rd, 2020. I started my job [supporting local youth in recovery] in October 2019. I get to work with people just like me and I am grateful I can use my experiences to [help them] and show them that they are loved. I tell them, don’t do drugs, don’t hurt yourself, don’t have sex for money. You are loved. Even if nobody else loves you, I love you.”

The past year has brought a lot of transitions for James. Not only is he now employed full time, he also secured housing. He acknowledges that he still has a long road ahead of him to maintain his recovery but remains optimistic.

“I can do it because I have support through Million Little and my case manager and therapist. Million Little has helped me so much. I remember going [to their program] for the first time when I had just celebrated one month of sobriety. They’ve helped me, and now I’m helping other people.”