The Clubhouse:

Someplace I Like To Be

by Jennifer Duncan

As I was preparing for this speech I consulted a lot with individuals about what I should say. Some told me to tell my history and then my experience with the clubhouse. Others told me to say whatever I wanted. A few individuals even told me to explain what goes on at Baybridge, my clubhouse, in a twelve hour period, but I thought that would bore everyone including me. So, I decided to listen to a very close and special friend of mine and speak from the heart of how I became what you see before you.

First off let me tell you who you see before you. My name is Jennifer Duncan, known to my dear friends as J.D. I'm employed in a TE, where I work 35 to 40 hours a week at Papa Gino's in Centerville. I'm a full-time single mother of an eight month old. I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and incest survivor. I'm a baby-sitter for one shift manager at Papa Gino's. He and I work opposite shifts to have free day care for our children because neither of us can afford day care otherwise. I'm on the Faculty for Clubhouse Development of the International Center for Clubhouse Development. I'm a vice president of the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition, as well as a leader in my own clubhouse. You might ask how there are enough hours in the day to do everything? I often ask myself the same question. The answer is when you love something strong enough, and have real passion for it, you find the time.

Now the next step would be to tell you who I was before I became a member of Baybridge in July of 1994. I started off in the children's Department of Mental Health(DMH) system between the ages of five and ten. I was bounced in and out of foster homes, around the world I lived, occasionally living at home with my parents. When I did live with my parents, there were also six adults, six kids, three dogs, four birds, and a ton of fish to live with us in a four bedroom house. Not the best conditions, but I dealt with it the best I could.

Growing up in the DMH system wasn't easy. I had a chip on my shoulder and everyone knew it and if they didn't I made sure they did! My juvenile record would probably sit a mile high. When I moved to the adult sector of the department I visited the Cape Cod Adolescent Crisis Shelter for a second time. I had previously visited there when I was sixteen. This time the department promised I would only be there for two days, until they found a placement for me. Fifty-four days later I moved into what they called a host family. I on the other hand called it an adult foster home. The only difference I saw, was now I had to do chores and cook and before I didn't.

Let's take a minute and talk about my hospitalization record before going to Baybridge. It's not my favorite subject, but it is one that is necessary for this speech. Also, it's necessary seeing how it is relevant to my mental illness. My first hospitalization was in a children's unit. After several trips to many different hospitals I finally moved on to the adult units, where I didn't have to sneak cigarettes and could drink caffeine coffee. After enough hospitalizations if I wasn't placed where I wanted to be or like the hospital or the treatment I was getting I would simply call up my insurance company and tell them to stop payment so the hospital would have to transfer me or receive no money. I became known as a manipulator. Well, enough about that.

OOPS, one more thing about hospitals then I'm through. My last hospitalization was in October of 1994.

Where was I, oh yeah, back to the host family. After a year and a half including some time in jails I moved out. That "independence" lasted all of three months before I was drinking and drugging again. Needless to say it was determined by my workers that I needed more supervision and was moved back into another adult foster home.

During this time I was attending a Day Program and following the program. I was doing everything the system asked of me, but it just didn't seem to be working. I became homeless because I ran away from the "adult" host family. I was moved to the island of Nantucket, which lasted all of three months. From there it was homeless city again till I wound up in the ICU at Cape Cod Hospital. Oh-Oh. I mentioned the "H" word again. I was discharged to the Cape Cod Psych Adult Unit. They were the ones who connected me with Baybridge.

Now, what was the connection between Baybridge and me that worked and made me who I am today? I'm not exactly certain myself, but I will attempt to put it into words. First, why don't we take a minute and introduce yourself to the person on both sides of you. Good, wasn't that fun? You just experienced, on a small scale, what my first day in a clubhouse was all about-- getting to know people.

When I came to the clubhouse, I was living on my own, with no friends on the Cape, and struggling to stay away from drugs and alcohol. You might ask about my mental illness at this point, but I couldn't concentrate much on that because of my substance abuse. I had always been treated for either my addictions or my illness, but never as a person with both.

My life the first couple of months at the clubhouse was rocky. I was always yelling and screaming, getting into fights, and constantly being asked to leave the clubhouse for the day. This clubhouse didn't look like it would get me anywhere either.

I first started working in the Cafe Unit at Baybridge. There I helped prepare the meals, served, cleaned-up, helped do the food ordering, and helped with the budget. I enjoyed doing this because my whole work history consisted of restaurant experience. In fact at one point I co-owned a family restaurant with my father. Although I enjoyed the work in the Cafe Unit I wanted more challenging work, but I just didn't seem to fit in. One day I ventured into the Communications Unit. That is where all the Clerical functions of the house get done. They asked me if I would sit down and write an article about my first impressions on Baybridge. I said "sure." Writing was something I loved to do, you might even say it's a hobby of mine. They asked me if I knew how to use a computer. Little did they know they were opening a can of worms. I had been enrolled in computer classes since third grade to try to keep me out of trouble.

Something magical happened that day! I finally found someplace I liked to be and someplace I wanted to be. Now my only problem was that "these" people, meaning members, kept telling me what to do. I was sick of it, after all they weren't staff. I finally asked one of the Communications staff what was up with that?. She told me, "That is how a clubhouse operates, staff and members run it together." That was my first obstacle I had to pass.

At this point people started to want to know me. I immediately put on my defense mechanisms and said no way. I still was in and out of sobriety at this time and I didn't want anybody to know I wasn't "normal." One day a staff member pulled me aside and told me to knock it off. To quote what she said, "You can't bullshit a bull shitter!" That was a slap upside my head. After that conversation there where no fights at the clubhouse resulting in me being asked to leave for the day. Also, I started to try to figure out what made this thing called Baybridge, tick. I committed to coming into the clubhouse on a daily basis. I work on our Daily Voice as well as the monthly, "A View from the Bay," and our Creative Arts Magazine. When my symptoms from the mental illness kicked in, my advocate and I worked out that I would take a time out and write creatively for a while. I even started a children's book that I'm finishing and going to try to get published. That is how I started to fit into clubhouse. I talked with my director, Rick Eddy, and found out there were articles I could read. I even found out how clubhouses got started. He even told me about the three week trainings at Fountain House and the International Faculty. That was my goal.

I got sober and started working a TE at the YMCA of Cape Cod, cleaning the ladies' locker room, but they said I didn't qualify. I was upset, but got over it. I started building relationships inside the clubhouse, and even started getting involved in the business and training meetings. Then it happened. I relapsed in my addictions. I quit my TE due to my symptoms, and buried myself in a bottle.

After a few weeks I wanted to go to a rehab. Heather Lowe, my advocate, sat down and talked to me. She then called in Dominic who, at that time, ran our Substance Abuse Education Meetings. He made some calls and got me a bed up at a hospital in Woburn. Having no transportation, after work he drove me there himself. He lives in Rhode Island and he drove me all the way there. I thought something was strange, but it wasn't. He told me that was clubhouse, we take care of family. Wow, that bowled me over. Family, I never thought of it that way. Dominic even bought me cigarettes because I didn't have any money.

When I returned I thought everyone would stare and make comments. They didn't. In fact they even sent me a card while I was in rehab, signed by everyone. I was stable when I got out of rehab. I started helping Heather learn computer and teaching her they really don't bite. I was able to talk to her about things we had in common. I still had to test everything she said though because the trust wasn't there.

Heather worked the Saturday program at that time and my 21st birthday was approaching. At that time I wanted to have a party but I was sharing an apartment above the clubhouse with another member, who took me in when I was going to be homeless again. The apartment was a studio, so if would be small. I went to Heather. We then went to Rick about using the clubhouse. I told him it would really help me stay sober, and seeing how I was going to invite the clubhouse, and seeing how it was a Saturday night, he said yes.

So I brought it to social planning. Instead of just celebrating my birthday I got an idea. I brought up the idea of a once a month birthday bash for all people who will celebrate their birthday in that particular month. Everybody loved it and still we have birthday bashes once a month.

I had another relapse of my mental illness and my addiction shortly after that. This time I went AWOL from the hospital after three weeks. I stayed homeless for a while till another member of the clubhouse offered to share a place with me. That's family, folks.

From there, my relationship with Heather grew. We stayed in contact. She, along with Dominic and Rick, gave me their home numbers. This was unheard of. The other programs I belonged to in the past never allowed this, I was shocked. I became more active in the clubhouse. I was there when the doors opened till when then closed, seven days a week. I started going to AA meetings again, with people from the clubhouse. I started trusting and opening up myself to staff and members of the clubhouse. I went and had lunch with them. I went to hear one of our staff members, who played in a blues band. I became the reporter for what was going on with the band and where they were playing. I started going to the Regional and Statewide coalition meetings.

Then it was time for my three month chip in AA. I wanted so much to get it, but didn't like getting up in front of crowds so I told people I wasn't going to go up and get my chip that night. That day for lunch, Heather and Dominic took me out to eat at Hearth'N'Kettle up the street. I never will forget that day. After we ate they handed me my three month chip. Although I never would admit it at the time, I got choked up over it and that night at home when I took it out of my pocket, I cried.

The next big event in my clubhouse life was the three week training at Fountain House. I wrote my letter to the committee at Baybridge and I was chosen to go. It was one month and three weeks away before I left. A short time before I left I found out I was pregnant. The first thing I did was called Heather. What was I to do? How was I going to tell the father? We hadn't planned on it.

Well I went to the three week training, came back, got nominated for the Faculty, and later was accepted. I notified my mom that she was to become a grandmother in October.

The clubhouse helped me through the rough roads ahead. The clubhouse even rallied around me when I threw the father out of the apartment. He had started getting abusive and I was going to live with it for the baby's sake. Then came the tough days of my illness with no medications. The one thing that nobody did was judge me for being pregnant or wanting to keep the baby. That was different.

The clubhouse saw me all the way through the pregnancy. The only downside was I had to stop my TE at the YMCA, which I had gotten back earlier and had worked it for 8 months! At that TE though everyone supported me. They encouraged me to keep going when I felt like leaving. Most of all, I was helped by the placement manager, Heather. On the days I would call down and say I wasn't going in, she came upstairs and said let's go in together, but I'll do the work and we can talk. Somehow I always seemed to do most of the work, though.

I stopped going to the clubhouse one week before I had my son John Lawrence Duncan II, now an honorary member of Baybridge. Everyone came to see me at the hospital. The only difficulty was nursing with all the people around. I eventually got the hang of it though. About after a month away from the clubhouse, I started to deteriorate. I called the clubhouse four to six times a day. I couldn't handle being

away from the clubhouse. So, Rick and the clubhouse decided on a whole to let me bring the baby into the clubhouse with me. Now, I have another TE.

So, that's the long version of some of the ways the clubhouse has helped me become who I am today. To sum it up, it is the work of the clubhouse that forms the relationships to complete a puzzle.

I would now like to take a moment and embarrass someone that is very dear to me. In fact, she is the Godmother to my son. (Not to forget that Rick is the Godfather) She is also my advocate and one of the closest friends I have. Heather has invited me to her home when I had no home to go to for the holidays. When I was scared about being alone taking care of my son, who was three months old, she invited me to her house for the weekend, while my parents were away. She has been there for me late at night when I needed someone to talk to. And has also been my backbone through many of hard times, especially when I don't think I can handle it anymore. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And lastly, thank you to my clubhouse. If it wasn't for all your support, strength, and encouragement, I might not be here today. Thank you one and all!!

Jennifer Duncan is a member of Baybridge in Hyannis, Massachusetts. This speech was originally presented at the Massachusetts Coalition Conference in Worcester, Massachusetts.