Wayne’s family moved a lot when he was younger. Sometimes they lived in garages, extension cords supplying heat from other people’s homes. “For most of my life, my relationship with my family wasn’t good,” he continues. “I never felt comfortable; I didn’t feel known. My sister was involved with a gang—so alcohol and drugs were always there. I started drinking when I was 8,” hepauses. “And I didn’t stop for 50 years.”
“It was a coping addiction,” he says matter-of-factly. “I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Didn’t feel right.” Though Wayne was able to mask his high functioning addiction and find work in the automotive industry, he struggled with the cyclical tension of capability, addiction, and insecurity. “I always did well at these jobs,” he explains. “But when people would try to promote me, I’d just quit. You see, I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t read.” This cycle continued throughout his adult life: fear of people discovering his illiteracy, isolation, and an ever-increasing dependence on alcohol.
Wayne eventually settled in New Westminster. He had housing but felt like he was losing control. “I got to the point where I couldn’t deal with anything,” he explains. Within a three-week span, Wayne’s mom and brother died. Wayne was living alone. Despite a troubled relationship with his family, grief shook him to his core. He ended up living on the streets, building his cardboard home under an overpass. “I checked out—wanted to get away from everyone and everything. Day by day, it was the same: wake up, hunt for bottles, buy booze, drink all day. It was unmanageable. It was sick.”
One day on the street, Wayne befriended a man named Jo. “Jo brought me to dinner at UGM down on East Hastings. I ate a meal and got talking with some Outreach Workers. As we were about to leave, I just turned around.” Though Wayne had never felt compelled to leave his street home before, he felt a pull to stay in UGM’s Emergency Shelter that night. “It wasn’t just the food,” he remembers. “It was starting to talk to the staff, and seeing the place. I felt safe here.”
“Thirty years ago, I knew I had a problem,” Wayne explains. “And I knew I needed help but didn’t know when or how. At UGM, I guess I knew I had a chance to try.” In the morning, Wayne spoke to the staff about UGM’s Alcohol & Drug Recovery program. “After learning more I thought, OK, I can do this,” he reflects. “And I haven’t left since.”
“I had some fears about recovery,” Wayne admits. “I couldn’t spell and felt kind of stupid. I don’t like making a fool out of myself so I didn’t want to speak up. I was worried. Until I met Jack, my counsellor. Right after that, I felt comfortable.”
As the alcohol left his system and he began eating proper meals, Wayne started to think a lot more clearly about everything. “I began to teach myself to read,” he explains. “I started with novels, and then the Bible. Reading the Bible all the time, on my own and with others, I learned how to read a bit again.”
Wayne finished recovery on May 19, 2013. Today, a sense of purpose is sprinkled throughout his everyday. He co-runs a life group for UGM’s residents and alumni and works as a UGM kitchen employee. “My life is really, really good,” he shares.
Wayne calmly unpacks his new outlook—one that’s rooted in a restored sense of joy and appreciation. “I learned that I can look in the mirror and actually like myself,” he says. “And by liking myself, I’m able to open myself up to others.” Realizing the importance of relationships, Wayne reconnected with his brother. “My brother tells me, ‘I’ve got my brother back. I lost him well over 30 years ago. But I’ve got him back now.’ A lot of that was because of me coming here,” Wayne explains. “There’s a lot of damage we do to our families and friends. When you support UGM, you save lives. But it doesn’t just affect that one life. Your support gives people back their lives, but also, it gives them back to their families.”