Is a Floridian who travels further south every winter called a sand bird?
If so, that could be said of Glenda Harrison, who travels to her winter home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
But the 69-year-old Sun City Center resident doesn’t head south just to enjoy Mexico’s beautiful beaches and tourist attractions. Her primary focus is to work with serious, hard-core heroin addicts who have nowhere else to turn.
She’s come a long way from Colorado Springs, Colo., where her mother packed her and her sister into a borrowed 1942 Ford coupe, moved the family to Florida and left behind an alcoholic and disbarred lawyer/husband. The trio temporarily shared a four-room house with relatives in West Palm Beach. She was 5 at the time.
While working at a Tasty Freeze and studying for her real estate license, her mother was able to afford a garage apartment located between mansions in West Palm Beach. For the next three years, life took a change for the better as Harrison and her sister played with the Kennedy children and their friends. Once they had to learn how to properly hold a teacup to have tea with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
“It was the best time of my life,” Harrison said. “There was no stress waiting for the door to slam when my dad would come home.”
That changed when her mother moved to back to Colorado and returned to her husband.
Her rebellious teen years were difficult. She became pregnant at age 17, married her high school sweetheart, then found herself alone two years later.
“I went wild and took up with a rock ‘n’ roll band that opened for groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits,” Harrison said. “I married the bass player, smoked hashish and lived a hippie lifestyle.”
During this time, Harrison joined the Self-Realization Fellowship, a group dedicated to spiritual and humanitarian work, and heard Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speak.
“It changed my life,” she said. “My faith and connection with God was always strong, but I began looking beyond. I became discouraged with organized religion.”
For the next several years, Harrison studied Buddhism, Hinduism and the works of Paramahansa Yogananda.
“At that point we were hippied out,” she said.
In 1969 she found herself divorced once again and living with her 10-year-old daughter in Telluride, Colo. Without financial support from her ex, Harrison went on food stamps and worked four jobs. She waited tables and was a cleaning attendant at a local sauna. To make ends meet she sublet her rental home and camped out for the summer five miles from town.
“We showered at the sauna and lived in a two-room tent,” she said. “Our food was hung in a tree to keep it out of reach of the bears.”
For awhile, life was an adventure for Harrison as she served burgers at a club where Bonnie Raitt hung out in her early days. The two of them would have drinks and sing together.
“Bonnie and I and Jim Beam had a great summer,” she said.
In 1972 she packed up and moved to Durango, Colo., where she met her third and final husband four years later. They dated for 25 years before they married.
During those years, Harrison continued her spiritual studies, founded a Religious Science church in Durango, earned a bachelor’s degree in pre medicine, and was certified as a chiropractic assistant and biofeedback practitioner. She opened a private practice in biofeedback and stress management in Santa Fe, N.M., and earned a master’s degree in psychology from Southwestern College in Santa Fe.
The couple vacationed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and eventually built a home there, where she opened a support group for caregivers of people with cancer. Her own husband had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1994 and died of the disease in 2009. After his death, a friend in Puerto Vallarta asked her to work in a detox and rehab clinic, helping heroin and crystal meth addicts. She provides high intensity therapy, for one to three hours, three to four times a week.
In 2012, after visiting a friend in Sun City Center, Harrison decided to make the community her summer home, where she lives six months of the year.
These days Harrison continues her therapeutic work in Mexico and lectures around the country at seminars on addiction, therapy and biofeedback. When staying in her Kings Point home, she provides therapy via Skype.
“Maybe my calling is to bring light and love to the world,” said Harrison, 69. “I’m blessed, grateful and in awe of the miracles of life. I have unfaltering faith in the universe that all I need will be provided for.”
And now she is off to Hawaii to see her grandson graduate from high school.
Original article by freelance writer Dosi Loverro, who can be reached at dloverro(at)gmail.com.
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