From an E3 Specialist in the Army, to a lying specialist who lost all ambition, and now a leader in the community
Daniel R. was 19-years-old when he enlisted in the Army: “I joined the service, because I wanted to serve my country, have a stable job, and eventually turn my experience into a career in law enforcement.”
As with most addicts, it didn’t go as planned. He began drinking once he turned 21, and by the time he was 22, he was drinking heavily. “I wanted to get away from the work itself. I would go home, relax, and enjoy my time as much as possible, which meant go and drink. Since the military is a very structured environment, as long as I showed up and did what I needed to do, I was fine.”
“Since the military is a very structured environment, as long as I showed up and did what I needed to do, I was fine.”
Daniel was a member of the U.S. Army Military Police Corp., first stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, and then deployed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he served as a guard in the detainment camps and received an Army Achievement Medal upon completion of his tour of duty. He was exercising frequently, so he didn’t know he had a problem until after he was honorably discharged at the age of 24.
Once his physical activity went down, the drinking caught up with him. “The plan was to become a police officer when I got out, and I got the ball rolling, but the disease kicked in and I lost all ambition. Drinking was the priority. I was not mature, and I was egotistical – I had never really grown up and I was too prideful to ask for help. I also didn’t know how to ask for help, nor did I want to.”
After a year of living on his own, lying and manipulating people to support his drinking habit, he ended up moving back in with his mom, and she gave him an ultimatum: treatment or he couldn’t live there anymore. Without medical benefits, the only place they could find and afford was in Mexico. Daniel originally promised to stay for three months, but after six weeks, he conned his way home, and it didn’t take long for him to start drinking again.
“I had never really grown up and I was too prideful to ask for help. I also didn’t know how to ask for help, nor did I want to.”
After two months at a friend’s house, he spent a week living in a hotel. When his money ran out, he spent a day-and-a-half living on the streets, and that’s when wrote a suicide message to his military friends on the east coast. He didn’t want people to come look for him, but that plan failed. Daniel was found sleeping in his totaled car parked in his mom’s driveway, taken to the hospital and put on a 5150 hold. Then, after three days in a psychiatric clinic, he went to the VA in Long Beach.
It was a Friday and Daniel agreed on a 90-day program at the Veterans Village Recovery Center. He was supposed to check in the following Monday, so he decided to have one last hurrah and ended up blowing off his appointment. After squatting at his mom’s house while she was out of town, he began his three-week homeless stint after she unexpectedly came home early.
“The priority was to get alcohol by any means necessary. I drained my resources, broke into my mom’s yard to collect cans, and sold my belongings. I used meet-up sites like OfferUp, which we also use at the Thrift Shop.” Daniel would spend his days at different Starbucks cafes around the area, and either sneak back into his totaled car at night or sleep at a nearby park.
Moments of Clarity
Once he was tapped out, Daniel contemplated the last two things he had to sell: a nice pair of Ray-Bans and a Fossil watch – both had sentimental value. On his way to sell them, physically and mentally exhausted, he stopped and thought about what he was doing. “Something turned me around. I ended up going back to my mom’s house and waiting for her there. That’s when she took me to the VA hospital again.”
After detoxing for four days, he went back to the same counselors he saw three weeks earlier: Marta, Renee and Mario, who is a graduate of Beacon House. “This time, they weren’t as sympathetic to my case, because I had blown them off. I went in begging for the same thing. They looked me dead in the eye and told me I needed real help. They told me I needed to go to Beacon House.”
“They looked me dead in the eye and told me I needed real help. They told me I needed to go to Beacon House.”
Daniel didn’t want to go to long-term treatment. He told them he’d sleep on it and had a plan to get out of it when he returned the next day. He asked his mom to stay in the waiting room when he met with Marta, Renee and Mario again. They knew what he was up to, however, and they brought his mom in to the meeting. Daniel knew then that his plan was foiled. “They cut to the chase. I paused and didn’t want to say yes, but finally I had that clarity. I needed to stop making the same mistakes. I needed to listen to other people. So I told them I would do it.”
After the initial phone assessment with the Beacon House team, Daniel was told to show up the next day. He didn’t expect it to happen so fast. “I planned to do the same thing – one last hurrah – but God stepped in. He didn’t give me any leeway. He expected me to step up and do it… what a blessing that turned out to be though. I’ve been given a second chance at life.”
Hope For the Future
Daniel in the Thrift Shop, wearing the Ray-Bans he nearly sold to support his drinking
Over the last two plus years, Daniel has moved through the Primary Program, served in leadership roles, enrolled at Harbor College to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice, and worked in both the Catering Program and at the Thrift Shop, where he serves as a manager and motivates others to do their best. He has also learned from his past mistakes, including how he can make changes for the better.
“I was not mature while in the Army. Now, years later with plenty of experiences in between, it has prepared me to take life on life’s terms and not to run from the adversity I face. All this combined with the recovery I practice in every environment I enter is preparing me for my future career and relationships. Being able to handle pressure without folding, overcoming adversity, understanding how I can always improve, and ultimately looking to help all those around me. Once I leave the Beacon House and become an independent alumni, I’m confident I can take everything I’ve learned and thrive.”
While his classes are teaching him about the structure of the criminal justice system and the ethics involved, he said seeing the system’s overall imperfection and how they’re taking ownership of what they can do better is something that attracts him to it. “I feel I have learned a lot about responsibility over the last two years. I can be somebody who goes out there, does his best and looks out for others. I want to be a leader out in the community and be helpful.”
“I feel I have learned a lot about responsibility over the last two years. I can be somebody who goes out there, does his best and looks out for others.”
As he looks to pursue his original dream of becoming a police officer, taking what he’s learned and applying it to his goals, he wants to take that new-found ambition and drive back to the community where he grew up and serve as a leader.
“I love my story, because this is what it took for me to achieve my dreams. Thankfully, it’s not over yet, and I’m filled with hope for the future.”
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