She Was Looking for a Drink. She Found Faith.

She Was Looking for a Drink. She Found Faith.

Credit: Daniel Krieger for The New York Times

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When Gloria Espada boards the subway, she keeps at hand a change purse stashed with a few dollar bills, just in case anyone asks for money. “I know what it’s like to sleep on a train,” she said. It’s a remarkable change for Ms. Espada, 53, to now be able to help others. In September 2018, she moved to New York City from Camden, N.J., hoping a new location would lead to sobriety and stability. Four months later, she ended up homeless and in a shelter in East New York, Brooklyn. Devastated that her plans had derailed again, she found herself on a three-day bender.

On the fourth day, she went looking for a pub on Atlantic Avenue and spotted a Pentecostal church, housed inside a pink building that used to be a movie theater. Inside, an usher welcomed her with a hug. Down at the pulpit, the pastor made his altar call, and she moved forward. “As I’m walking down, I could feel that God was telling me: ‘You’re in the right place. You’re finally home where you belong,’” Ms. Espada said recently, sitting on a burgundy chair in the back row of that church.

Eight months after coming into the fold, it feels like another home to her. For 42 years, Ms. Espada’s life was marked by a dependency on drugs and alcohol. She would excel at work, then substance abuse would cause her to lose her jobs.

“I would go up five steps and come down 10,” she said. Now, Ms. Espada spends her time sharing her testimony, ministering in parks and helping people in need. The congregation “helped me get to where I am today,” she said. “I thank God I took that step in believing in a power higher than myself that could help me.” When Ms. Espada was at low points in her life, help was hard to come by, even from her family. “No one ever cared for me,” she said. Ms. Espada was born in Coamo, P.R., the third oldest of eight children. Her parents’ relationship was turbulent, and when Ms. Espada was 7, her mother moved the children to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

As Ms. Espada recalls, her gateway to alcohol came when she was 11 and her mother told her that she had tried to abort her pregnancy with her. Ms. Espada ran out of the house and met a friend, who invited her to raid the family liquor cabinet. “That’s when my addiction to alcohol started,” Ms. Espada said. In her early teenage years, she continually lost herself to alcohol. She was also sexually assaulted several times.

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