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How Being Homeless Taught Me to Build the Life of My Dreams

  • 26 min read

Winter 2009.

I came back from the gas station store, where I was quickly going to grab one for the road.

But when I came outside the car was gone.  I stood there for a second in disbelief.

Everything I owned was in that car.  All my clothes. My jacket.  My ID. My MasterCard.  All my money.  My guitar. My laptop. My Phone. My hard drive with the nearly finished album I was working on (which would be a recurring theme later on).

All I had left was a cigarette, 1.5 bucks and the shirt I was wearing.

My ugliest shirt.

Me on the left in 2009.

I was on my way to meet some friends in Hollywood to play a showcase for a label.  But I had no means of contacting them. And truth be told, I also had no clue where Hollywood was, since my phone was stolen.

It was the strangest feeling.  My whole life had just disappeared.  I was supposed to freak out like I had never freaked out before.  But instead I shrugged my shoulders, lit that last cigarette, exhaled very deeply and started walking in a random direction.

Somewhere, someone, had just hit the reset button for my life.  I literally had nowhere to go.  But I also had nothing to lose and everywhere to go.  So strangely, I felt fine.


The First Night

Realizing Beverly Hills was probably not the easiest place to find a couch to crash on, I decided I was going to sleep on the beach. Enough time to worry about what I was going to do with my life the next morning.

I didn’t know where the beach was, but I figured if I just walked straight on until I couldn’t continue, I’d end up at a beach at some point.  After all, I had all the time in the world.

Once it started to get really dark outside I realized what a stupid plan that was.  I noticed some guy sitting in his car and tapped on his window.

“’scuse me sir.  Do you happen to know in what direction “the beach” is?”

He looked a little bit confused that I didn’t even care to specify which beach and asked me what the deal was. So I told him my story and hopped into his car.

He told me I was still about a day away from the beach, apparently I had been walking in the opposite direction.  He reckoned I must be hungry, so, being a “Jewish alchemist”, he took me to a kosher subway.

Kosher subways. Yes, they exist. I was as surprised as you.

He told me he was okay with giving me a ride to the beach. But he had to stop at a home party first to deliver some drugs and catch up with some friends.  Apparently “alchemist” meant “drug lab” in modern times.

I was welcome to come and he told me they were good people who would help me wherever they can.

He introduced me to everyone at the party and we had an amazing time.  The people were real friendly and hooked me up with a sleeping bag, a whole crate of red bull and lots of water.

The guy who I got into the car with told me I could have all the DMT he had on him for free, plus one jar of Ayahuasca brew and a scribbled note with his address on it in case I needed more.

That I way I had something to start making money with.  Having already smoked a lot of the stuff earlier that night I already knew it was the kind of drug that provided opportunity for spiritual growth, not the kind that ruins people’s lives.  So I had no moral objections against selling it.

That night I laid myself to sleep on Santa Monica’s muscle beach, took a final look at the stars and told myself “tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life”.


My Homeless Adventure

I woke up about 7 hours later to the sound of 2 rich business men in suits planning out their day on the bench I was sleeping beneath.  They noticed me waking up, gave me the rest of their joint, blessed me and told me good things were coming in my life soon.

I stretched myself out and as I went for a quick morning workout I got into a conversation with the only other woman who was already getting energized this early.

After hearing about my situation, she drove me to a place called OPCC, where I could go every morning to take a shower and get a snack bag with some food.

I ended up next in line to a guy with tattoos all over his body and a skateboard in his hand, called Adrian.  My kind of guy, I thought.  So we started talking and realized that not only did we have a similar taste in music and life philosophy, he had the exact same thing happen to him a few days earlier

We hit it off immediately and decided that, if we were both going to be homeless and stranded in some place far away from home, why not hustle our way out of that situation together?

And so our homeless adventure began.

We realized quickly that my plan of selling DMT to make money wasn’t a very smart one.  Not only was there a very low demand, which made it hard to sell, it put me at a pretty big risk of being locked up abroad. Especially since y strategy of asking random “druggy” people if they wanted to buy some wasn’t the most secure ?  So we decided I would need to save some money to buy a guitar.

On the second or third day of our journey we walked past a musician handing out free soup.

As I was enjoying this delightful free meal he struck me as a hippie-ish type, so I asked him if he wanted to buy some DMT or Ayahuasca from me.

His eyes lit up and he told me “I’d love to get my hands on that Ayahuasca jar, but it’s a sacred brew.  One should not pay for it.  It can only be acquired through trading. So what can I offer you?”

Without even realizing how ballsy this request actually was I told him “Can I have your guitar?  I’ll give you a rock of DMT and the address of the guy who makes it as well.”

Surprisingly, without even blinking, the guy replied “Sure, take it.  I’ll manifest a new one in a few days.”

And so I acquired the guitar that would stick with me until this day. And a legal source of income for a homeless guy.  I couldn’t believe it.  Just focusing my intention on that guitar for one day and the universe had simply thrown it in my lap.  If there really is something like the law of attraction, this was it.

The guitar I traded for a jar of Ayahuasca

From that point on, our daily routine consisted of roaming the streets of Venice Beach/Santa Monica/Hollywood and talking to everyone that crossed our path.

We never begged or asked for anything. But plenty of food came our  way. And after a while we even had a few places where we could go every day (free coffee in McDonald’s, free shower & food from OPCC in the morning, free leftover products in the evening from a group called “The Purple People” that randomly handed it out on Venice Beach every night, etc.)

We figured the only legit way of making money would be offering our individual value and skills to the world and hustling our way up from there. 

Panhandling or begging was not an option as every hour spent doing something like that can also be spent investing in the future. So I would spend my afternoons making money from my music while he would hand out resumes to all the restaurants in the city to work as a chef.  Some classier clothes quickly came my way as well. Ad we soon met a couple of trustworthy people who let us store our belongings in their car without actually driving away one day ?

In a couple of weeks we had gathered a very nice group of friends to hang out with and got into to new fun experiences or help from unexpected places.

Adrian and me were really a blessing for each other.  We never allowed ourselves the other person to sink to an attitude that would decrease one’s life quality or self-esteem.

I can imagine it’s easy for a homeless person to sink to such a level.  To believe you are at the mercy of others and do things you thought you’d never be okay with just to survive.  But that wasn’t our state of mind.

When life gives you a reset, it’s actually giving you a clean slate.  You can now decide whatever you want to paint on that empty canvas.  We could’ve painted a life of forced prostitution, petty crime to “get around” and sleeping in abandoned buildings with other shady folks of the night who had no sense of a moral “north” anymore.  Instead, we went for quality.

Instead of sleeping on a card board boxes in dark alleys, we slept as if the world was our paradise.  We chose a spot somewhere between Santa Monica and Venice.  A nice green parking lot that bordered at the beach.  We cut off the leaves from some palm trees and made beds out of it.  Every night we listened to the few songs that fit on our 128 MB mp3-player and talked the kind of talks people talk while roasting marsh mellows above a fire.  When the battery died we looked at the stars while the sound of the waves lulled us to sleep. Until the sound of the city slowly coming to live again would wake us up naturally.

It was supposed to be the lowest moment of my life according to conventional beliefs. But in reality it was one of the most beautiful periods I had ever experienced up until them.  I was free, I had the best friend I could wish for, and life provided everything we needed to survive while we kept hustling to move up again.

When enough money had come to us, we would sometimes rent a room for the night. Which we then completely flooded with 20 of our friends as we snuck them passed the security camera to sleep on the floor and enjoy the minibar. But generally we just enjoyed the soft bed of those palm tree leaves as we were one with nature.

We never tolerated anything or anyone in our life that we wouldn’t wish for with all our hearts, even if we got all the money in the world in return for it. And exclusively surrounded ourselves with people who had the same positive attitude towards life and others.

I remember a night when we were sleeping over in a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard.  The owner had taken a liking to us and we spent the evening out on the balcony with him while he kept handing us free beers.

As the people in the hostel went to sleep he told us he’d take us out for a night of partying in Hollywood. All drinks on him.

On the way to the first bar we passed a homeless guy who begged us to give him some money.  We told him that even though we looked like “wealthy folks” we were actually homeless as well and had just spent all our money for the day.  The owner of the hostel told him to “beat it quickly before he kicked the shit out of him for being such a douchebag”.  Then he turned to us and told us how he had nothing against homeless people “like us”, but he couldn’t stand the ones that walked around with an underfed dog.  “Those worthless wimps’ puny lives are ruining those beautiful animals.”  Something told me he wouldn’t be the nicest person to his own dog as well.

I’m not saying both the dog and the junkie didn’t deserve a better life. But I totally didn’t resonate with that expression of hate. Ad I also realized that we were in no better position than the guy with the dog.  It was a bit like I imagine it must be to hear your neighbor say “Most Muslims are cruel and ignorant people, but you are alright because you live next door”.

Nevertheless we had a fun, otherwise drama-free night with him, and he actually offered us to stay a couple of nights longer at the hostel for free.

It was a very tempting offer for 2 guys who slept on the beach and had to take the bus to Hollywood every time we had some business to do in that part of town.  But still we looked at each other and both said at the same time “We’re not going to do it.”

We both felt that the guy wasn’t in a very loving place and we didn’t want to have a friend like that. Even if he took care of all our survival needs and asked for nothing in return.

Another night we got in the car with2 sexy ladies who told us we could sleep over at their place.  My buddy was in the front with the woman who owned the apartment, and the three back seats were taken by me, her friend and.. her friend’s bong.

That’s right.  There was a bong taking up an entire seat in the car.  It had even fastened its seatbelt and she saw it as “her friend”.  It looked a bit like the big one from the movie “half baked”, but without the tubes coming out of it.

The entire drive home she urged me to take bong hits with her. And by the time we got to their apartment I was so high I could barely move anymore.  I was already used to smoking weed from the Netherlands that was supposed to be “the strongest”, but clearly California plays major league when it comes to this stuff.

Back in the apartment we started playing some flirty social games to get to know each other and it looked like a promising night.

At one point one of the girls told us that through the modelling world, she had connections that provided her with cocaine much more pure than anything you could get your hands on the in the area. And if we wanted to stay there for the night we absolutely needed to share the experience with her.  So we just went along with it.

Even though it was a lot to handle at first in combination with the weed, we both still managed to stay grounded and make rational decisions.

The girls didn’t.  They had looked perfectly normal when we met them. But now they both started freaking out hysterically about some first-world-problems that weren’t even happening at the moment and all they cared for was doing more drugs while locking themselves up in the bathroom. Yelling at each other and telling us that we absolutely could not leave but also that they weren’t sure if we could stay either (I know, right?)

So we left.

For the same reason.  The warmest bed, the wealthiest breakfast and the best sex were not worth doing more drugs than we enjoyed and surrounding ourselves with the kind of people we would not surround ourselves with if we had the choice.  We’d rather sleep on the pavement until the bus came.

Because there is no “if you have the choice”. You always have a choice.

You can say to yourself “How did I get into this fudged up situation??” and stay in there wondering the same thing while it continues. Or you can just get out.

You can hang around with people who are unstable at times because there is something about them you like.  Or you can just choose not to because it’s not a good recipe for happiness.

When you’re homeless, you’re also “homefree”.  You realize that, your life being entirely empty.  There is an abundance of people on this planet you can meet and interact with.  There is total abundance of places to sleep, food to eat or experiences to have.  The world is yours.

On a planet with Billions of people, why spend any time around anyone that isn’t completely the kind of person you’d surround yourself with if you could choose from every single one of them.  (Because you can ? )

On the other hand we did remember to always express or gratefulness towards any person who helped us in any way.  I remember one time when we forgot to this and we literally felt like the worst two people alive on this entire planet because of it.  We figured if we didn’t stay grateful we probably would no longer deserve all the good things coming to us.

Another thing we realized was that poverty is never an excuse to start becoming a “leech-type” of person.  You always have something to give.  So it is never okay to think you’re in a position where you are entitled to handouts without giving things away yourself, just because you have less.  That’s your ego talking, you have to keep sharing with the world.

On Christmas day (which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful things to experience in Venice), a guy who looked a lot “wealthier” than us told me he really liked my shades.  Even though I secretly identified myself with how cool they made me look, I thought to myself “What the heck?  It’s Christmas!” and told the guy he could have them.

That’s when I learned giving stuff away instead of keeping it or selling it , actually makes you feel really fucking good.

The next day that same guy managed to be the link between us and a local tattoo artist who gave us matching tattoos to commemorate the experience we had together over the past few weeks. (Yes, I know, it sounds really bromantic but it’s probably the most treasured tattoo I have.)


Leaving the Lifestyle

The day I was about to board my plane back to Belgium, my friend told me he had secured a job and I could move in  with him in an apartment in the area if I wanted to.  I was making enough money off my music to sustain myself if I didn’t have to pay any rent so it seemed like the perfect thing for me to do.  Even though I already had my ticket to Belgium in hand.

I sat there for hours contemplating.  “My parents kind of deserved to see me again.  And 2 of my closest friends had been worrying that I was dead, so I’d love to reconnect with them as well.”

On the other hand, it was now realistically possible for me to stay in California and chase my dreams.

In the end I gave the man one of the best hugs I had ever given anyone up until then and hopped on that plane.

I regretted that decision for months to come. But it was the right one. Because it would lead me to a lot of growth, a long-term relationship with the coolest girl I was about to meet in those first years, meeting musicians it really clicked with and recording an album together that we genuinely enjoyed making. And meeting some of the most amazing people in the world I could ever imagine.  Life knows what’s right for you if you do the right thing ?


What You Can Learn from Being Homeless

So why am I telling you this long personal story?

Because there are a lot of very important lessons in it to apply to your life right now.

First of all, think about this:  What if someone hit the reset button for your life today?

What if, you lost everything you had and ended up somewhere on the other side of the planet?

What if your life was now empty and you could fill it up with anything you desired? Some things might take a while for you to acquire. But in the end you’d get it as long as you kept your options open and waited for it.

What kind of friends and lovers would you surround yourself with?  What kind of character traits would they have?  How would they treat you?  How would they treat other people?

With what kind of experiences would you fill your life, what activities and habits would you engage in?

In what sort of environment would you live?

It’s okay to dream things bordering on what you believe is unrealistic here.  Just paint a nice picture for yourself.

Second.  Look at your life right now.

Does it look anything like the life you just imagined?

If it does.  That’s amazing.  You can stop reading now ?

For most people reading this it will probably be slightly different but still pretty good.

Maybe you have some really great friends that each have their flaws. But you love them anyway.

Maybe you have a great relationship with someone you really love but there are some fundamental issues that keep popping up now and then.

And maybe you have a job that is not entirely what you dream of doing but pays well and is actually quite fun.

Sometimes you feel that deep down you long for something more  you can’t quite put your finger on. But at the same time you’re living a pretty good life and you’re pretty happy most of the time.

Now please keep an open-mind as I tell you something that is quite hard to believe when you’re currently in that situation.  I know how stupid it sounds because I have been there too, but I also know it’s true because I’ve seen the other side.

When you have nothing and are flat-ass broke, you are actually closer to that perfect fantasy than where you are now.

It sounds weird, but it is easier to make the leap from a life you’d rate 1 on a scale where 0 is being dead and 10 is living out your ultimate fantasy life, to a life you’d give a 9/10, than it is to move from a place you’d rate 7/10 to that same 9/10.

Please read again slowly because it’s a little hard to let it sink in at first (and it wasn’t the most beautiful sentence I’ve ever written ? )

It’s pretty weird to think about, because the 7 looks like “you’re almost there”, but still the 1 is closer to the 9.  Why?

Because when your life is currently 1/10 (e.g.  Being homeless and flat-ass broke)  you have nothing in it.  That means you have all the room in the world for something.  Now all you need to do is go fill that nothing with the stuff your dreams are made of.

Go find those people who are too good to be true, go talk to everyone and never settle for anything less than your ideal fantasy.  Oddly enough they are easier to be found than you think, even if you have incredibly high standards.  Go do the things you want to do instead of the things you always do because you’re used to doing them.  Going from a 1/10 to a 9/10 is just a matter of searching for that 9 and staying there.

On the other hand, when your life is currently “perfectly fine”, “not so bad” or you’re “quite happy”.  It is one of the hardest things in the world to ever make it better than where you’re at right now.

Why?  Because you are attached to everything you already have.

Your current friends take up your social life, your current partner (or favorite porn site) takes up your sex life, and your job, hobbies and habits take up your time.  And worst of all, most of those things are pretty nice.

Nice enough so that you don’t want to lose them.  Because losing them would mean ending up with a life that’s only 1/10 and makes you very unhappy.

You’d be crying over your break up.  You’d feel lonely without your friends.  You’d have to change your standard of living when you get fired and you end up broke.  It would seem like the worst thing happening in the world.

Except that it’s not.

Because everything you think you own, actually ends up owning you.  You may think you own a television and freak out when some guy tries to steal it. But that’s only because you’ve grown accustomed to watching it and it’s now part of your daily routine.  If you could re-create your life from scratch and do anything in the world you want to, would you fill it with watching television?  Or would you rather do something cooler that now seems out of reach?

And if you had no friends anymore, would you choose a similar type of person with the same type of drama you’d had to put up with from the people you love?  Or would you choose someone with all their good characteristics but without the bad ones?

Would you still pick the same job?

And are you sure this is the best place to live for you, or do you just think it is because you already spent most of your life here?  Have you seen the rest of the world and compared yet? 

If not, why do you endlessly compare before making micro level decisions (like which dishwater to buy), but refuse to do it for the decisions that actually shape your entire life?  Like the country you live in, or the person you get into a relationship with?  (So yeah, by this logic, the no sex before marriage thing is not a very smart move.)

It may seem like those things are all pretty great, but if they are not the stuff your wildest dreams and secret fantasies are made of they are also something else:

They are what’s keeping you from the stuff your wildest dreams are made of.  Because every inch of space in your life you fill up with those “pretty cool things”, leaves less room for the things you dream of to fill up.

The lesson here is to live every day as if it is your first day on this planet.  As if you wake up with nothing and all the time in the world, then consciously choose to spend it with the people you dream of (or meeting them if you haven’t yet), doing the work you dream of, in the places you dream of, or working towards that and enjoying the process.

You may be afraid to let everything you have that is “kind of okay” go. But having been put in a position where it was all taken from me, I can tell you that ending up with nothing felt much more amazing than living “a pretty decent life”.

About a year ago, I even went through a period where I consciously stayed “lonely” for a while. Just because I knew that would leave room and make it easier for me to attract the kind of people I dream of into my life.  And boy, was I right.

One year later there is only one area of my life that is currently not exactly how I dreamt it to be, and I’m working on it.

The most important thing to take from this homeless story is this:

When you have nothing anymore, you also have nothing to lose.  Which creates a situation most of us can only dream of:

Because you have nothing to lose, you do the kind of stuff that seems risky but actually totally isn’t risky at all.

Remember how I got a guitar from a stranger just by asking for it?  How many people actually do that?  We just decide up front it’s stupid and people are going to say no.

Except that you don’t know whether it’s stupid or not if you don’t try.

How many times did you let the (wo)man of your dreams walk by and didn’t ask them out just because they might say no?  Or didn’t apply for a job just because you didn’t have the credentials?

Guess what.  A lot of the time people just say yes.

The world is full of beautiful opportunities. People give away expensive guitars when you ask them.  People let you sleep in their paid hostel and give you complete meals for free if you ask them.

People act as if they know you and help you with your job interview if you ask them.  Unless of course you are so attached to the comfort level of your current situation that you’d rather say “no” to yourself up front and not even ask ?

You probably feel me coming from a mile away by now, but I’ll say it anyway:

Even if you are not homeless.  Even if you have a lot of stuff “to lose”.  Your world still has the same endless possibilities. Probably more if you go for it.

You can still rebuild your life from scratch.  You can still refuse to settle for less than the addictive mediocrity people around you seem to be okay with (up until their inevitable mid-life crisis).  All you have to do is realize that there is nothing to lose anyway.

Life is filled with everything you dream of, say yes to random opportunities and look in places you don’t usually look instead of being busy with things that make you feel “pretty good”.

Maybe sometimes you’ll have to let go of some things or people you’re currently fond of in the process. But  realize that those things were only temporary, and never entirely yours in the first place.  And that every time something leaves a big gaping hole (I can read your dirty mind right now) in your life, it also leaves a lot of room to fill with something better.

Everything in your life that’s currently not entirely the way you secretly dream of, is only taking up space. Because deep down you were afraid of feeling empty and alone so something “nice” seemed like a better choice than waiting for an “unrealistic” ideal future that never comes.  Which is the spiritual equivalent of a hoarding problem.

Once you’re willing to let go of everything you have and everything you know, it’s amazing how fast the things you thought you could only dream of all start to magically appear in your life.

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