From the streets to ‘home’ again
For the last decade, ‘Chook’ has been volunteering with The Salvation Army and other organisations, to support those in alcohol and drug recovery. This National Homelessness week, Chook shares his journey – from sleeping rough for 10 years, to finding stability and through that, the opportunity to care for others.
Today, as Chook walks through his front door, he feels a real sense of security and peace. His home is his retreat – a place of safety, security and warmth. It is even sweeter, he says, because for 15 years, he had nowhere to call home.
Having spent 10 years living rough, including under a bridge, through Tasmania’s often near-zero winter temperatures, Chook recalls, “You try and find a sheltered spot, but then when you stop moving, you get cold pretty quick.
“Unless you have some bedding, or cardboard or plastic or something, you are better off moving all night and then maybe you can go to sleep in a patch of morning sun.”
Battle with booze
Staying awake all night wasn’t always possible for Chook.
“I was in the grip of unrelenting alcoholism and more often than not, I’d collapse. Often I used to wake up in the police cells or in hospital,” he says.
Chook tells his story with warmth, a deep sense of humour, and a raw honesty that developed over many years of sharing in 12-steps programs and addiction recovery.
“There was a broken home, and the old man had an anger problem and us kids lived in fear at the time. But that’s not what makes me an alcoholic – it is what happens in my mind prior to me taking a drink and in my body after I take that drink. I start and I can’t stop,” he says.
What he does understand now, is that the first time he had a drink was the first time he felt ‘normal’.
“I think the fundamental thing that contributed to my alcoholism was that I believed there was something wrong with me. This was untrue, but I believed it and that alcohol could fix it,” says Chook.
Losing it all and finding help
Addiction saw Chook spiral downwards into poverty and homelessness.
In the harsh winters of Tasmania, he lived under a bridge for some time. With his warm laugh, he adds, “I had to move from under the bridge because I kept falling in the river. That’s not much fun in Tassie – especially when you only own one set of clothes!”
In 1996, Chook found some stability and moved to Queensland for a job. He managed to control his drinking, but only for some time.
One day, having lost all sense of hope, he consumed two bottles of prescription medication. As he recounts now, “I basically laid down to die. But I woke up the next morning!
“It was then I thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about life.”
After that incident, Chook found his way to a detox unit, and was subsequently offered a place in a residential recovery service run by The Salvation Army.
“It took me 10 and a half months to complete a six-month program,” he says. “At my graduation, they said ‘you can do another six months if you want’, which I didn’t take as an insult. I now see it as a ‘God job’.”
Chook moved into the service’s transitional housing and was then provided the assistance he needed to put his name on a community housing list. He finally secured long-term accommodation and remains there today.
On the road to recovery
Chook stayed ‘dry’ for eight years, but then drank again.
“The police picked me up three times in one weekend, but each time they dropped me off at the hospital…my ego was smashed,” he says.
“I realised I’d become something I never ever wanted to be – not some strong rebel, but a charity case.”
Chook also finally realised he needed to be completely honest about his issues and began to apply all the that he had learned in recovery and 12-step programs previously.
“That was 17 years ago,” says Chook proudly. “I’ve been free from alcohol and mind-altering drugs since. I’ve been volunteering with the Salvos for the last decade, mainly with ‘extended [recovery] care’ and I will go out of my way if my story can help someone else.”
Thank God for home
Looking back now, Chook believes it was the hand of God that pulled him through – towards stability and recovery, and eventually helped him secure a home. He is full of gratitude and faith for the guidance of his ‘higher power’.
With a smile, he says, “I’ve got a very childlike faith. I basically accept there is a God and I’m not Him. I must remain in the ‘freshness’ of my faith – my reliance on God has to begin all over again each day as if nothing has yet been done.”