The light’s best in the kitchen, so Angela’s cello is set up there, the sheet music propped on a painter’s easel next to the fridge, ready for her to bow through a few measures every day. Over the holidays, she and her brother gave an impromptu concert for their mom, Angela’s first in many years.

Music was the through line of her childhood, and it feels good to return to it after many years away.

What else feels good?

Feeling. Feeling everything that life throws her way.

But that’s new. “For most of my life I tried to avoid it,” Angela says. “That’s why I didn’t like sobriety. Stub your toe, feel the pain. Do something stupid, feel the pain. That was the last thing I wanted.”

Feelings of embarrassment and disgrace stalked her. She wasn’t the academic success her brother was. She cringed thinking of her parents’ disappointment. “I ground that relationship with my parents to nothing,” she says. Her romantic partnerships ended badly, in ways that made her feel devalued. Drugs were the cure for shame and discontent, but also the cause, and her days were a circle of discomfort and escape, panic and escape, anxiety and escape.

“I used to dream that there would be a hippie colony of women who would rescue me, beam me away to a sunny hill—just adopt me and solve all my problems.”

No magical hippies arrived, but when she lost her daughter to the child welfare system, a colony of other helpers began arriving, one by one.

The first was a woman who told her about treatment. “I just met her randomly the day after it happened, when I was a mess. Her name was ‘Angela,’ too, and she told me about a program. The next day, I was enrolled in residential treatment. In two weeks, I was visiting with my daughter. That woman was an angel in my life. I couldn’t have survived if I’d lost Christine.”

Post-treatment, and reunited with Cristine, Angela moved to COTS’ transitional housing and landed eventually in a permanent home–in an affordable apartment complex where COTS provides supportive services designed to help tenants retain their housing for themselves and their children.

“I wouldn’t be here in this apartment without Jim, my case manager in transitional housing. I wasn’t feeling confident, and he was determined for me. I needed that push then to even apply. I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

The next helper was at the new apartment complex. Copper was the first of several COTS-provided advocates Angela’s worked with over the years.

“She taught me to be gentle with myself,” Angela says. Copper shared research on how difficult childhood experiences often correlate with risky behaviors in adulthood. “She helped me make sense of my past. Things started clicking.” Copper also helped Angela develop coping skills. Angela’s apartment is full of reminders of those skills—a poster here, a set of stones there, a painting there, written reminders on the fridge.

After Copper left, Angela relapsed. “I was keeping it together at work. I thought I could have it all. I thought I could do it under the radar. Until I couldn’t,” she says. That brought her to her next helper, Copper’s replacement, COTS advocate Tisha.

“Tisha knew something was wrong, and she kept asking me to come in and talk with her. Finally, I did.” Angela realized she needed help if she wanted to provide stability for Christine. Tisha helped her arrange to go back to the treatment program she’d completed years before.

Another helper—Angela’s mom—stepped up then. “’We need to talk about your life. And you’re not going to like it,’ my mom told me,” Angela says with a laugh. Her mom took in Christine, enabling Angela to spend three months in treatment. Her mom also helped with rent, ensuring that Angela and Christine would be able to keep their apartment.

“I filed my taxes and paid her back with the return as soon as I got home,” Angela says. “She gave me a huge gift, but I vowed it was for the last time.”

Her biggest helper was herself. “Ultimately, I had to want it for myself. And I did. I had had enough. I remembered back to this judge. She demanded that I ‘live in transparency’—no lies. And that was what I finally wanted. That was how I wanted to raise Christine.”

Two years later, Angela is still sober and, thanks to the suggestion of another helper, Tisha’s replacement Melissa, she left behind a low-skills job for something she loves. “Melissa suggested I do an informational interview at a treatment center.”

That interview resulted in a career. Melissa helps people navigate the enrollment process at the center and has a small and growing counseling case load herself.

The job is full of surprises—or, rather, Angela finds herself on the job to be full of surprises. “I remember what it’s like, what it felt like to need help and not know how to get it. I don’t want to leave someone with the idea that no one cares. Somebody better care. Somebody better be listening. “

“I used to be really reactive. I hated to feel judged,” Angela says. But now, even during the most difficult conversations with stressed-out people, she keeps her cool and her kindness. “Sometimes, I listen to myself, and I’m like, ‘Who am I right now? Who’s talking?’” Angela says.

“I do the work every day that I know is meant for me,” she says. “I never thought much about my potential. Now, I’m interested!”

Angela now has a group of women friends who, like her, are in recovery. “They’re not the shiny-halo hippies I wished for way back when. They’ve been through it. They’re like soldiers to me.”

But she still treasures her relationship with Melissa. “I can walk down to the office and say, ‘I need to check in,’” she says. Conversation can be about a new goal or an after-school opportunity or an issue with neighbors. It can also be about feelings. They crop up again and again and they still feel new. It’s still good to have someone’s witness and support to go through them, Angela says.

Recovering from homelessness “takes a community,” she believes. “You have to leave room for people to get the support they need. Not everyone has it built-in.”