How years of struggle led to a life filled with purpose and meaning
Daniel C. grew up on the east coast, the fifth of seven children. He and his siblings were raised by two hard-working parents in a Catholic household, and he attended private school until he got to high school.
He said he felt emotionally unstable from a young age and didn’t know how to deal with his feelings. Then, at age 11, he was introduced to marijuana. From that day forward, he used almost daily. “At age 13, I was drinking and smoking every single day, and that’s how I identified myself. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t feel like I fit in. I fancied myself a loner, and with drugs, I became this mysterious guy doing something edgy.”
A couple of years later, Daniel began selling drugs. “I thought it was cool. It’s what I was about, and it made me feel like I was wanted. My phone was always blowing up with calls, and people would want to hang out with me. It made me feel like I was part of something, but really, I just had what they wanted.”
‘Houston, We Have A Problem’
Once Daniel started experimenting with other drugs, it snowballed from there. He tried everything, but the constant was always marijuana and alcohol. “I was 17 when I first thought to myself, ‘Man, I think I have a drinking problem.’ I couldn’t go to sleep without drinking a six pack. I knew that wasn’t normal, but I just kept doing it… I don’t know if I wasn’t willing or wasn’t able to stop, but it intensified from there.”
Daniel barely graduated high school and had no aspirations beyond that. He just knew he never wanted to go back to school again. He moved out of his parents’ house and in with some friends from high school, and they all did the same thing he did – drink all day. Daniel even drank when he was working, but it was easy since he worked in restaurants. “It was the perfect job, because I could get loaded, sell drugs to the other staff members, and walk home with cash… it was conducive to the lifestyle I was living.”
“It was the perfect job, because I could get loaded, sell drugs to the other staff members, and walk home with cash… it was conducive to the lifestyle I was living.”
Daniel knew things were starting to get worse when he was always the last one awake, still drinking, and then the first one up in the morning, drinking again while everyone was either passed out or hungover. “That lasted a couple of years and just got progressively worse, but I was okay with it. I had two jobs, so I had money and I felt completely independent. Nobody could tell me what to do, because I was paying for my car and paying my rent.”
That’s when Daniel was introduced to OxyContin, and he said things got out of hand real quick. He couldn’t keep drinking the same amount and do oxy, because he would get really sick, so he shifted to just oxy. Then his friends moved out without warning, and he felt abandoned. “People were telling me, ‘Hey, this is a problem,’ but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. For a while, I thought I could stop whenever I wanted to, because I was still able to manage my bills and go to work. Then one weekend I tried to stop, and I couldn’t even last three hours. That’s the point when I realized I was addicted and I couldn’t stop.”
At that point, Daniel was spending everything he had on drugs. Since he couldn’t manage to get to work on time, he lost his job. Then he couldn’t pay his rent, so he lost his apartment and moved back in with his family, and he also wrecked his car. Around that same time, he was introduced to heroin and it became an everyday thing. His addiction got worse, and he started stealing and lying to his family. Daniel was arrested five times for petty crimes and spent four months in jail. Because he kept getting arrested while on probation, new charges started adding up, and he was finally sentenced to four years in prison.
The First of Many
That’s when Daniel went into treatment for the first time. “In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says, ‘There comes a time where we find we can no longer live with alcohol or live without it.’ That’s where I found myself. I could no longer live doing the things I was doing, but I didn’t feel I could live without the drugs either.” While at that first treatment center, Daniel climbed out of a second story window and attempted suicide. Fortunately for him, a cop car had pulled up, so it had blocked the pavement. That cop car broke his fall.
After a stay in a psych hospital, he returned to his parents’ house, only to steal and use again. He continued down the same path, in and out of treatment centers, legal stuff over his head… his parents didn’t know what to do anymore. That’s when Daniel went to live with his older sister and go to treatment in California. He would go into a short-term treatment program, get out, start using again, and then when his sister found out, he would be back in treatment. This cycle continued multiple times in multiple cities.
Daniel was then referred to a treatment center in Memphis, and it turned into the same cycle, but this time, he became homeless. He started working at a warehouse, taking the bus an hour to get there, and getting paid next to nothing. He decided what little money he had would go to drugs instead of rent, knowing he wouldn’t have a place to go back to… that left him homeless on the cold streets of Memphis in the middle of winter. “I think I remember sleeping behind an Alano Club on Christmas Day. All my stuff had been stolen, and I was freezing cold. I was homeless, broken and miserable.”
That Memphis treatment center referred him to another facility in Arizona, but within a couple of months, he got into a fight and got kicked out. That’s when Daniel spent two years homeless on the streets of Prescott, Arizona. “The sad thing was, even though I didn’t have a place to live and had nothing to my name, I was content with that for a while, because I had drugs, I had cigarettes, and I had enough money for a little bit of food.”
“The sad thing was, even though I didn’t have a place to live and had nothing to my name, I was content with that for a while, because I had drugs, I had cigarettes, and I had enough money for a little bit of food.”
Then Daniel was arrested, spent time in jail, got out, and got in trouble yet again. This time, he pled his case down to a drug court program. He was released to yet another treatment center, and he ended up leaving after a couple of weeks, so he could get loaded – all the while knowing he had seven years over his head. At that point, he was living on the streets and had nothing left, so he called his sister for help. “I was paranoid and distraught. I knew I couldn’t keep doing that – it was only a matter of time before I was locked up again.”
One More Try
Back to Los Angeles and back to another treatment center, which of course, he left early. “At this point, I was so broken, so hopeless, and had been to so many treatment centers… I felt like it didn’t work. I remember being angry and suicidal. I felt like I had no options left. Nothing was going to help me, and this was just the way I was going to die. I wished it would happen soon… I didn’t have the guts to kill myself, but I just wanted it to end.”
Without any fight left in him and without any other options, he tried one more treatment facility, even though he didn’t think it would help. “I ended up going into a long-term program. It’s not that I particularly wanted to, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and they allowed me to keep a bed.”
That’s when Daniel first heard about the Beacon House – when he met someone who had gone through the program. “He told me two things that really stuck out to me: 1) Being at the Beacon House was the happiest he’s ever been in his life. It was mind-boggling to me, especially since he was successful, had a business, a family, the house, the car, the bank account… and 2) He said it’s more than just alcohol treatment. It’s like Life College. They teach you how to live your life. I don’t know why, but I believed him.”
“He said it’s more than just alcohol treatment. It’s like Life College. They teach you how to live your life. I don’t know why, but I believed him.”
Once again, he said it wasn’t something he necessarily wanted to do, but he was so broken, so he knew it was either go to the Beacon House or go back to living on the streets, and he couldn’t do that anymore. “I showed up scared and hopeless. I really didn’t think it was going to help me. It might work for other people, but not me.”
When he got to the Beacon House, he thought he would fall back into the same routine: get angry, get bored and get kicked out. He was also depressed, terrified of people and socially awkward. He was fearful of what other people thought of him, and it was extremely difficult for him to engage in conversations – traits that are not very conducive to the social model of the Beacon House.
“I was really uncomfortable when the other guys would come up to me and ask me questions about myself. They would welcome me and encourage me, telling me there was nothing to be afraid of… they worked with me until I became more comfortable and talked more. Then I started to open up about stuff I had never talked about before that.”
“They worked with me until I became more comfortable and talked more. Then I started to open up about stuff I had never talked about before that.”
(Middle row, on aisle) More comfortable after about 6 months at the Beacon House
Daniel said when he got there, he thought, “This won’t work for me… nothing will.” Then he saw it working for other people. Finally he thought, “Maybe this could work for me too.” After six or seven months, it finally clicked, and ten months in, he realized that it would work for him if he continued to do the things they were teaching him to do.
Looking at the Other Side of the Table
Around that same time, Daniel began having thoughts about interning in the program department, but he was still too fearful to admit it. He was so insecure that he thought he would never be good at it – he wouldn’t have anything to contribute. After a year at the Beacon House, he started thinking that it was something he could do, and at 18 months, he finally got up the nerve to ask, although he was still afraid they wouldn’t accept him.
“I told them I wanted to intern, and the lead staff member asked all the interns and staff to raise their hands if they wanted me to work with them… everyone raised their hands. They had been trying to tell me since I got there that I was part of it. That’s one of the first times that I really felt loved and accepted. I realized they do care about me, and they do want me to be here.”
“That’s one of the first times that I really felt loved and accepted. I realized they do care about me, and they do want me to be here.”
Daniel started learning as much as he could. He registered as an addictions counselor, and then he went to the Training Institute for Addiction Counselors to get certified. While he was interning in the program department, he began to put together his resume. He asked the Director of Clinical Programs to look at it. He thought she would be a good person to see what he could adjust, and she asked if he ever thought about working at the Beacon House. “I told her I had thought about it, but I didn’t think it was in the cards for me… that’s when she let me know that they wanted to hire me.”
Daniel began working as a staff counselor in the Lighthouse, where new men live when they first arrive at the Beacon House. He also began saving money and eventually moved out on his own. Now he has a car, a savings account, a job, and he has reconnected with his family. “I talk to my family all the time, and I see my sister regularly. She’s super supportive and we have a great relationship.”
Speaking at his graduation from the Primary Phase
Part of Daniel’s desire to pursue helping others was seeing his sister’s career path evolve. She originally got her degree in international business, but then decided to pursue a career in social work, leading her to California to study at USC. “She was making good money and she was good at her job, but it wasn’t fulfilling. That’s why she decided to go back to school and get her master’s degree in social work. She devotes her time to helping people, and she’s an example that it’s more rewarding than bringing home the big paycheck. As challenging as it can be at times, the reward you get from it is unlike anything else.”
Daniel also said his own recovery inspired his future career path. “I never wanted to go to college, but when I came to the Beacon House, I started to discover that this actually worked… I started to see that when I am able to help someone, it puts me in a position that I’ve never experienced before. It gives me this peace, this clarity. I discovered that every experience I’ve had, no matter how miserable, put me in a position to relate to and help somebody else. In doing so, it gives my life purpose and meaning. I see other people who are broken and hurting – people who feel hopeless like I once did – and they are able to relate to someone else the same way I did.”
“I discovered that every experience I’ve had, no matter how miserable, put me in a position to relate to and help somebody else. In doing so, it gives my life purpose and meaning.”
Currently a part-time student at Los Angeles Harbor College, Daniel is planning to transfer to a university to pursue a degree in social work. “I remember graduating from high school and thinking that I was never ever going back to school. I hated it. It felt like a chore, and I felt like I wasn’t capable. Through the process of recovery, I’ve decided that I am capable – I am able to do this. Just last week, I found out that I made the Dean’s List, and I realized that I am able to do a lot more than I was ever able to give myself credit for.”
While he says he doesn’t know exactly what his future is going to look like, he does know that it’s a continual process. “I discover new challenges all the time, new experiences that I’ve never dealt with before. I continue to apply the tools I’ve been taught – asking for help, being accountable, and working with others. These skills are foundational to recovery, as well as learning and growing. I’m also able to be an example that there’s hope. If it could work for me, it can work for you.”
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