Getting "It" Back! -
Calvin Blackwell

Calvin Blackwell

Calvin Blackwell
Age 46
The Boulevard
Chicago, IL

“My dad promised me a bike and every time I see him, I still ask for that bike”, he says.

Calvin started using alcohol around 18. He stopped going to school in 10th grade. His mom was hooked on heroin, crack and pills and was raising four kids on her own. He had three sisters and was the only boy. His dad was in Mississippi and in the 80’s; Calvin would go down every summer to spend time with him. His parents never married. The last time he visited as a kid, his father promised him a bike, but he never got it. To this day, every time he sees him, he still asks for that bike.

Although vodka became his liquor of choice it did not start out that way. He started with beer and whiskey, especially whiskey because, as he says, “I would always see the commercials and it looked good with the ice cubes and the nice looking cups and I would try to assimilate that by using the same cups and thought it would make me look cool.”

Calvin and his family moved from Mississippi to Chicago when he was six years old. When he was 10 they moved to Florida to live with his grandmother. Then they moved back to Chicago, because his mom couldn’t handle the heat and was trying to get them out of the projects. They moved into an uncle’s building of his best friend in the west side on Polk Street. Although his mom was still heavily using drugs, “she did her best to keep us away from all that by staying active in the church”, he says.

“My mom sent me to the Timberly Christian Center Camp in Wisconsin when I was 15 and I liked it so much that I wanted to work there. So I asked my youth pastor and when I was 17, I worked on the staff. In the winter I worked in the kitchen and the executive chef saw something in me and sent me to Gateway Technical College for culinary school. At camp, I met my wife and after three years of dating we got married”, he says.

He and his wife bought their first home, a doublewide motor home in Walker, Michigan. They lived there for four years and that is where he started drinking a lot more ‘socially’. Then, after his wife’s mother got sick in Indiana, they moved into her basement to help. After her mother got better, through his wife’s mother’s church, they met a realtor who worked with them for a little over a year to help buy their first house in Indiana. That’s when things really took off financially for them.

“We were able to refinance threw interest and everything, and before we knew it, we owned nine properties all together. We lived in one home and had eight rental properties. And the money was flowing. Then here comes 2007”, he says, “that’s when that mortgage rate crap started happening, I have shakes every time I think about it. We started losing our homes, we tried to refinance and refinance, but it got to the point where we couldn’t refinance all these houses and I was it doing all by myself, I didn’t have no (sic) lawyer, it was just me because it was something I was petulant about it.

I was working 50 to 55 hours as a manager at a restaurant and on his days off he was doing maintenance on other homes. I also belonged to a motorcycle club. In a bike club you meet guys that know how to fix stuff. So, I got guys to help out by offering beer for them at the homes I was working on. There are a lot of guys who will do anything for beer, especially in a bike club”, he says.

Side note: Calvin was able to buy his own ‘bike’ although not a kids bike, an actual motorcycle; that he still has to this day as both a symbol and personal reminder that he can get what he wants if he works for it.

Still married and with one child, he and his wife were trying to keep their marriage, family and finances together, so they finally hired a lawyer and filed for bankruptcy. They saved as much as they could by not paying the mortgages on all of their homes. They remained in the nicest and biggest of all the homes they owned -- Calvin wanted to hold on to that one so badly. But, the money started drying up and that is when his drinking became too much of a problem for him to handle on his own.

“I went to work, walked into the back room and crying, told my boss -- I can’t do it no more (sic). I walked out and went directly to a dire and down program at a local hospital and checked myself in. I was admitted as an inpatient for four weeks.”

After not hearing from him and wondering where he was, his boss called his wife and found out that he had checked himself into rehab. His boss held his job for him and even helped him file paper work to go on short-term disability.

After completing his inpatient stay, he went to a two-month outpatient program at that same place. And, for the first of those two months, he was clean. But, by the beginning of the second month, he happened to stop by a gas station right by the hospital. That gas station also sold liquor and “the first thing I bought was a pop and I looked at the liquor and then I bought me (sic) some shooters and mixed it with that pop. I can handle this, it’s not bad -- I’m felling good and I won’t let it get out of control this time. That’s what I thought. Then I went back and bought a 40-ounce pop and mixed it with some Mad Dog™.

I kept on drinking. But, as long as I was going to my outpatient treatment visits, and the doctor kept signing my paper, I was able to stay on disability. So I made sure I didn’t smell like alcohol while I was there because I didn’t want to lose my check – it was 70 to 80% of my salary!” he says.

After completing his outpatient treatment he went back to work. But, before he went back to work he stopped drinking for a few days so “he could go in and not smell like alcohol”, he says. Although his co- workers never said anything before, they started to tell him he used to smell like alcohol every time he went to work, or like Axe™ body spray mixed with alcohol because that’s how he tried to cover it up. He was feeling good, he says “because everyone was giving me high-fives and saying how proud they were of me for getting sober.”

But, he was fooling them and himself, because on his way home, he stopped off at a liquor store and bought some alcohol.

Although his wife stayed with him through his rehab stay, she noticed that once he went back to work, he was relapsing and his drinking was getting out of control again and she started getting “madder and madder and madder”, he says. He eventually lost his job, and because he didn’t have the money that he used to have; he started buying the cheapest half gallon bottles of vodka he could. He was drinking so much by then he says, “I was often passing out on the couch.”

That’s when his wife left him, took their daughter who was 13 at the time and went to her sister-in-laws house and called him on his cell phone. All he remembers after that call was that the police and an ambulance came and put him on a stretcher and he was admitted to a three day detox program by a judge’s order.

When he got out, he came home and everything was gone. “Pictures of my daughter, the bed, all the nice stuff, except for a 70 inch TV – she couldn’t take that”, he says. That’s when he new they were done and over with. He soon found out that she eventually moved into her brother’s house with their daughter.

There he was, living in a big house, all by himself, with empty rooms – especially his daughters. It hurt to walk by her room and realize what he had lost. His drinking got worse. What little money he did have, he spent on drinking. He would drive by all the other homes that were no longer his, and remembering what he had and realizing

what he had lost; he sunk further into depression and could barely eat -- just drink.

He eventually called his mom and left a voice-mail crying, but doesn’t remember that he called or what he said on that message. The very next day, he was on his way to buy liquor and his mom showed up. He asked her what she was doing there and she told him he called her the night before.

His mom and some family members packed what little he had left and moved him back into her house in Chicago. He stayed there for three months and eventually moved into an apartment in one of his sister and brother-in-law’s buildings where he was supposed to pay a small amount of rent in exchange for doing maintenance on the building.

At that point, “I was up to almost two gallons of vodka a day. I knew at that time I was trying to kill myself”, he says.

Although his family members promised to stop by and check on him, no one came by to visit. “I got so lonely and depressed, I stopped eating -- except pickles, I felt that I needed salt. I felt bad because I couldn’t pay rent so I just kept drinking and eating just pickles. Eventually I lost sight in one eye, lost the use of my entire left side, my left leg and stomach were so swollen, and I was starting to have kidney and liver failure, he says.”

Finally, a family member checked in on him and told his mother what was going. They forced him to check into a hospital. His mother, who eventually got clean after several treatment programs years before, knew what he was going through. He credits his mother who forced him to deal with both his addiction and his health issues. Although he resisted at first, he finally gave in. The doctor told him that if he hadn’t checked in that day, he would have died. He had so many physical problems that his body was shutting down.

“After a total of three and half months of being in several hospitals for treatment and all types of therapy -- speech, physical, and occupational; I was released. I ended up in The Boulevard -- a homeless shelter, and I was still in a wheelchair. Ironically, the elevators went out and the only way for me to get down to eat, go to the doctor, or even just go outside, I had to use the stairs. It was going up and down those stairs several times a day that helped me rehab my way out of that wheelchair. I still use a walker for security, but I want to eventually get back on my own two feet.

I have now been eight months sober. I have been coming to Above and Beyond for three months. At Above and Beyond, I learned that for now, I can’t be alone -- I need support. I am learning how to cope with life because; life is going to be there – you’re going to have issues -- you can’t drink because of your issues. And, they have good people here. At Above and Beyond, they work with me -- and what I need. They teach me more about and how to manage my addiction and depression and what I need to get better and more importantly, stay better.

At Above and Beyond, they are constantly checking in with you, they notice immediately if something is wrong and reach out to find out what is going on. Like when I am missing my daughter. I do have a relationship with my daughter and get to see her. I am so proud of her, she graduated high school early and is attending college, but I still feel like I missed a lot, things like her graduation and stuff. But, Above and Beyond is helping me come to terms with that.

My next goal is to complete my program at Above and Beyond. But, even when I’m done, I will probably come back because I want to, and they let you. They want you to. At Above and Beyond, they teach you how to speak directly, honestly, and stop pretending. When I get back on my feet I know I am going to owe a whole lotta (sic) people money and earn back their trust, but that’s nothing compared to staying sober.

I am now starting to write my story; so that my daughter will understand where I came from and that I came from nothing and made something. I want to tell my story to my family, my friends, but especially my father’s family who is mostly in Mississippi. They haven’t been around and I want to show them that even though I didn’t graduate high school; I had nine houses, I made something of myself and even though I lost it all, I will get it back and more”, he says.