Ericka Alston: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Ericka Alston’s TEDx Talk: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told at TEDxHampdenWomen conference. This event took place on May 29, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.


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Ericka Alston:

So I received a Facebook inbox message, because it is my primary means of communication. The message from a woman I had met in networking and I’d met before; no real relationship but connected nonetheless.

And the message said something bizarre, like “you should apply and submit to be a speaker at TEDx. Women need to hear your story”. She went on to say that you’re so inspiring; more people need to hear your story. And I thought, “my story? Me?

She didn’t know my real story and she didn’t know what drove the inspiration. See, through Facebook, I am connected to some 7000 people that I share my thoughts with. But they don’t know from where those thoughts come from — from here because some crazy lady inboxed me and asked me to come.

My story is about a woman — a woman that I met some 19 years ago, on May 26, 1996. And it’s a love story — not a love at first sight story, because I’m not some mushy, yeah not one of those chicks well. I wasn’t until I met Edward. Say hi to Edward.

But it’s a story about a woman that I met on May 26, 1996 and she weighed 86 pounds. You could count her ribs and her cheeks were sucked in and there were dark circles around her eyes. And she looked real bad; she smelled real bad, and she felt real bad. She felt real bad. She is me! But not that me, like not this me, like the me I used to be, like the me I was on May 26, 1996, like the homeless, hopeless, broken me.

See, I am an addict, addicted to crack cocaine. I was passed on the streets. Like you’ve seen me. You’ve talked about me and you roll your windows up and you put your purse out of the passenger seat on the floor when you see me.

So I want to talk to you today about dispelling the myth, that once an addict always an addict and they can do better if they want to do better. It’s easy to get off drugs. They only get high because they want to get high.

So on May 26, 1996, like I threw a suicide attempt — I no longer wanted to be her. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore, I didn’t want to look like that anymore. I didn’t want to smell like that anymore. Like on May 26, 1996, I was like finished, like living the life of getting and using and finding ways and means to get more, like and then I never found anything. Like being a crack at it your full-time drug is getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. Like I wake up and I come to in the mornings, and my only responsibility is to get one more.

And in my getting and using and finding ways and means to get more and more. I was often the last person outside when the street lights went off. And you were in your homes and your lights were coming on. And you were getting ready for work and you were waking your kids up for school. You were giving them breakfast and putting clean clothes on them. And I was outside, like, by myself pretending to be you.

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Like, what would it be like to be like mommy? What would it be like to be like this professional woman with a job and a career and people to come home to? Like I’m standing outside pretending to be you. Like I just don’t want to be me anymore. Like I just want to close the gaping hole in my gut. Like I don’t want to be outside but I don’t have anywhere else to go. Like I’m homeless, hopeless, and broken. So I am – she, not me, because surely I’m not her, because if I were her like you wouldn’t invite me to your networking events. I wouldn’t be on your boards. I wouldn’t volunteer at your kids’ schools. You wouldn’t ask me to mentor your students if I told you my real story Facebook lady.

And when I wanted to close the gaping hole and I didn’t know how to stop using drugs because no one ever told me that you could stop using drugs, remember you roll your windows up and lock your doors. No one told me that I could go somewhere and learn to live a new way of life. Remember you cross the streets because I stink.

So while I’m pretending to be you and waking your kids up for school, I’m forced to remember the mommy I tried to be. Like I’ve got children, the women that you pass outside used to be mommies. I’ve been a mother since I was fifteen years old, but getting and using and finding ways and means to get more, I lost the ability to be nurturing. I’ve got to find one more, by any means necessary.

So in the beginning, I would tell my children I’m going to get you something to eat, and I’ll be right back. And in the beginning, I came right back. And the right back turned into hours and hours turned into days. So imagine one moment being the mother who tells her kids I’ll be right back and you never come back. Hmm, or you come back and your children are gone. But because you suffer from a disease that has no known cure, it’s fatal, because you’re suffering from the disease you have no ability to even knock on a neighbor’s door and say, “Have you seen my babies?” I wanted her to die.

So she took a 5600 milligram Motrin. You never told me I could stop, you rolled your windows up and you locked your doors. You crossed the street when I was walking next to you. You clutched her purse when I asked you for money to get something to eat, you said, “No, she’s just going to buy drugs” and you didn’t help feed me.

So this conversation — my talk today is about dispelling the myth that once an addict, always an addict, that we don’t recover, that we can’t do better, we won’t get better, we won’t go anywhere. We are stuck in this endless vicious cycle of active addiction. So I go to Penn-North. There, they’re 12-step meetings there. I never heard of a meeting; no one ever told me to come go to a meeting, a meeting. Meetings were for business people. I wasn’t a business person. I was the person stuff outside, pretending to be you.

So at Penn-North — 600 people a day come into Penn-North for 12-step meetings. Did you know that you were passing 600 of us every single day? And I didn’t steal your money.

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So many of you told me how pretty I was today. Thank you. I used to look like JJ from Good Times, not Thelma but I suffer from this thing that, like every time I saw my reflection in the car window in my homelessness and my hopelessness and my brokenness, I was beautiful. Crack is something. I was supermodel fantastic with that afro, not this afro, that afro.

So I go to Penn-North nineteen years ago and in the interim I’ve become a publicist and I’m this professional person. I said I’m on your boards. And Penn-North opens a community resource center. So while I’m at my foo-foo job at the radio station, you’ve heard me, you’ve seen me. You didn’t know my story.

So I got this foo-foo job at the radio station, I make a whole lot of money. I’ve got a great life. I hang out with people that look like you — you people and your boring lives. And I laugh at jokes that aren’t funny and I hang out with people that I really don’t like because that’s the kind of stuff that you have to do to be in that circle.

So when I want to be around real people, I go to the hood. So I go to Penn-North every day because they – like, there’s a cook there and he makes homemade soup and it’s $2 and it’s cold outside and every day I leave my foo-foo job and I leave from hanging out with you people, boring people. I am going to laugh at your corny jokes because I go to Penn North and I get $2 soup. You can go to Boat & Hill and get your fancy $12 sandwich.

You didn’t know who you were talking to yesterday; did you? So I got this $2 soup and I’m going in and out of Penn-North every day and they’re – they’re young addicts, they’re there 18 to 25 years old and they are magnetically attracted to me. They could — these girls keep coming to me and they keep talking to me, because I don’t look like addiction. I work at a foo-foo radio station. I’ve got this fancy job but I’m just like them.

And they talk to me and they tell me all their problems. I’m like, ah, I never had any interest in being in human services ever. Like you make no money helping people. I am hashtag team six-figures. Be a teacher, be a social worker, me? I’m working for the radio station, eating $2 soup every day at Penn-North and these girls keep talking to me. And it’s one o’clock in the morning and I get a text message and it says, “I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough. Nobody loves me”. And I pick up the phone and I call the number back and they don’t answer.

She texts me back and she says, “I don’t want to talk. I just want to vent”. Well vent and she proceeded to vent and I called the number back and she doesn’t answer. She said, “I said I don’t want to talk”.

So three o’clock in the morning my phone rings from that strange number and I answer the phone. And I say, “Who is this?”

She says, “It’s me. You’ve met me at Penn-North. I talked to you”.

I said, “How old are you?”

She says, “I’m 23.”

I said, “What’s your drug of choice?”

She said, “Molly?”

“What the hell is Molly?”