“I’ve always loved music,” Darrell explains. “But it wasn’t until I picked up a guitar and sang along that I felt I’d found my calling.”
“I was a shy kid. When I was drinking, all that shyness went away.” Darrell was 13 when he first felt grabbed by music, and 14 when he first tasted alcohol, so he’s spent most of life wrestling between the two things that gave him a sense of belonging.
By the time he was 21, Darrell realized he had a problem with drinking. For three decades, he repeated the cycle of a functioning alcoholic: live, work, rehab, relapse. Eventually, he moved to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, where he continued to pursue music, his addiction hovering in life’s corner.
“I was living in a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel. There were bedbugs and cockroaches everywhere,” he shares. “In an atmosphere like that, if you keep drinking, you get the feeling the walls are moving in on you.”
One day, Darrell came to UGM for a meal. “I had a good dinner here. I sat in a chapel service and listened to what they were saying. I thought, ‘I have to do something about my addiction.’ A seed was planted.” Darrell was a regular community member here for several years, befriending staff and chaplains. It can take years of relationship before someone feels ready to make the change they want; that slow burn is part of life together.
“I should’ve done something earlier, but sometimes you need to hit rock bottom,” he says. “In the end, this disease takes so much from you. One day, defeated, I walked down to UGM and poured out everything; they welcomed me into the A&D Recovery Program.”
Knowing he’d done recovery programs in the past, Darrell wanted this time to be different. “In the past, when I found success in sobriety, I’d take over my life again and then crash and burn. Since I’d tried doing it on my own, this was the time to surrender everything. When I came here I said, ‘I’m going to give you a chance, God. I’ve tried everything else.’”
After six months, Darrell celebrated his commencement from the program. He continued in Second-Stage Recovery, living at UGM, and eventually moving into an Affordable Housing unit at Maurice McElrea Place. Today, he is a cherished employee on our Housing Facilities team.
“I’m in the same neighbourhood as before but I look at it with different eyes: I view it with compassion instead of judgement,” he shares. “I’m happy. I play music. I like my neighbours. Here, at UGM, there’s hope.
This place is a home.”
Several years ago, Darrell wrote a song called “Don’t Throw Your Life Away,” which is inspired by the struggles he experienced in early adulthood. “It’s a reminder to me,” he says. “And I can see, later on, that it’s meant for others to listen to too. I never did anything with this song because of the booze and my lack of confidence. But I knew that, now that I’m living out my recovery, I wanted to do something with it.” Last November, he visited his brother in Halifax for the first time in fifteen years and they recorded his song together. It’s beautiful, and we invite you to listen to an acoustic version, filmed in Crab Park, below!
It’s only through your support that stories like Darrell’s are a reality. Remember, just $3.29 provides a warm, hearty meal for someone in need. How many meals will you give?