A second chance - Salish Current

Gary, currently the house manager for the Light House Mission but previously homeless for many years, stands on the entry steps of the mission, at the corner of F and West Holly streets in Bellingham. (John Dunne photo © 2022)


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Gary, who asked that his last name not be used, looks older than his 50 years. Graying hair and deeply etched features are testaments to a rough life, starting with being sexually abused by a young babysitter for a year at age 5. 

Gary’s family was upper-middle-class, his father a technical writer for a computer company and his mother a nurse. His father was a heavy-handed disciplinarian but his mother was caring and nurturing, which helped him through some hard times with his father. The family moved every 2-3 years so he was always having to make new friends. 

Gary started smoking marijuana as a teen to help him fit in. He had some good years as a young man, getting married and having a child, and then some hard times. His situation now is a better period of his life. 

He has been drug-free for 18 months and is on his way through the recovery process. He has become a trusted part of the Light House Mission staff and has a full-time job with many responsibilities, as house manager. He feels he has a new life and a real purpose in helping others like himself. He has been thinking about becoming a drug counselor or certified as a peer counselor.

A hard road

Getting this far hasn’t been easy. Gary began abusing drugs at age 32. He became estranged and broke off communication with his former wife, child, stepchildren and parents because he was too ashamed about his drug use to face them. 

He camped out for several years, supporting himself by stealing food for himself from grocery stores and other things that he could sell on the black market. That life finally caught up with him and he spent 23 months in prison for burglary. 

Following prison, Gary lived briefly with his former wife in the Salt Lake City area until he relapsed and she asked him to leave. After six more months of “camping out,” he moved to Washington in 2019, hoping to move in with a long-time friend. When that didn’t work out, he was back to “camping out.”

After living outside for a month in cold, rainy weather, he took shelter at the Light House Mission in Bellingham, in December 2019. That lasted only a month, until Gary decided he was more comfortable on his own and left the shelter. 

After six weeks Gary returned to the shelter, this time entering the Light House Mission’s Ascent Program, which requires abstinence or the person is asked to leave the program. A person can reapply for the program but must be accepted by a committee of staff and peers. 

Overcoming a major block

Gary was asked to leave once, not for relapsing, but rather for getting “stuck” — unable to progress in the recovery process. Undiagnosed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) had created the block: he had struggled for the previous five years with PTSD following an attempt to murder him.

Gary has been in therapy for PTSD at Sea Mar Everett Behavioral Health Clinic for the past 10 months via telemedicine. He has reestablished weekly communications with his now-adult children and his parents, and has apologized for the pain he has caused them. 

Gary has not yet completed the recovery process, although he has been maintaining his sobriety and feels confident that he is heading in the right direction for the first time in his life. He has become comfortable with himself and able to talk easily about his difficulties.

The Light House Mission is a religious-based organization. Gary made it clear when he entered the program that he did not believe in God. In the two-plus years he has been involved, he said that has grown to know God and that that belief has become a sustaining part of his life. Gary sees a brighter future for himself, built from the wreckage, and believes everyone deserves a second chance in life.

— Contributed by John Dunne, with permission

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