Imagine going from being homeless with a drug addiction to earning a graduate degree and being successful in the eyes of society. It sounds like a fairy tale, right?
For Brenda Combs, life has been full of obstacles. She was homeless and a drug addict for around 10 years. During this time period, she was assaulted, raped, shot in a drive-by shooting, stabbed, burned with cigarettes and abused in multiple ways.
“Eventually it all came to a head when someone stole the shoes off of my feet while I was sleeping in an alley, and that was the last day that I was homeless,” Combs said. “I had to walk a mile with no shoes on in 115-degree heat, and that was it for me. Being a homeless woman and having no shoes, I was going to be victimized, because you can’t run for help with no shoes on.”
This experience later led her to found the organization “Finding My Shoes,” which supplies shoes for homeless people.
After turning herself in, she got help through different programs. She said that a particular program was not what helped her overcome her addiction.
“The difference was me,” Combs said. “I’d finally made the decision that I’m going to take suggestions and I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do, whether I like it or not. And that’s what I did.”
Dealing with judgment and her unlikely story
She is now completely recovered, but realizes that her story is not common and breaks a stereotype.
“The statistics for people overcoming addiction are not good,” Combs said. “I remember being in the program, and I remember the director saying ‘Look around you. Out of 100 people, only six of you will make it.’ Those are horrible odds.”
She added that even just overcoming addiction is a feat, but then being an important, functional part of society is almost unbelievable. Also, for those who are recovered, former drug addicts, a lot of times there is prejudice against them despite their accomplishments.
“What other people think of me is really none of my business,” Combs said. “I can’t control what other people think about me, and I’m not going to … waste my time trying to convince someone to like me or not like me.