Success Story: John
When you meet John C., you can’t help but wonder what his energy, sense of humor, and work ethic might have been directed toward had he not lost an eye nearly 30 years ago. Instead, a traumatic accident derailed the 19-year-old’s plans to make a career in the U.S. Navy and set him off on a road of self-destructive drinking and drug abuse as he struggled to make sense of his life.
John loved the Navy, but the accident ended his military career after only one year and a day. Despite 12 hours of surgery and four operations in five months, he lost his eye and was honorably discharged. The loss of the eye hit him hard, but he was told he was fine emotionally and sent on his way. Within weeks, he was drinking heavily and using drugs. Within a few years, he had numerous drunk-driving arrests. “There are a lot of forks in the road of life and I have the tendency to take the wrong one,” he says. “I didn’t want to face the new life I was thrown into, and I didn’t care about the consequences of anything back then.”
But through the bad years, part of John wanted better for himself. In 1987, at age 24, he went through a rehab program and stopped drinking. He hasn’t had a drink since, but drugs were harder to kick. Throughout the 1990s, he abused cocaine regularly. In another burst of inner strength, he woke up one morning seven years ago, after a three-day bender, and decided to stop using drugs for good. He has been drug-free ever since.
John held down good, regular jobs throughout his life at car dealerships and in the sheet metal and concrete industries. But anger, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness plagued him, even after he got clean. The frequent headaches he suffered from since the accident added to his problems. But Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t widely recognized in those days, and John went undiagnosed.
In late 2008, John asked Veterans Inc. to help him get his life back on track. “I was going downhill when I got here. The case managers helped me think straight and guided me in the right direction. They were always there for me. It didn’t matter how big or small the problem was. It was like climbing a set of stairs, one step at a time.”
“Six months after coming here, I started feeling better about myself. I went to AA meetings every night, and talked to a therapist once a week.” John got his driver’s license back and worked in the shelter’s kitchen as well as volunteering for other jobs around the building. With his case manager’s help, he filed for disability benefits but was rejected four times. He wouldn’t give up. The fifth time, he was awarded benefits. Today, he receives disability benefits for his lost eye, the headaches, and the osteoporosis he was diagnosed with later in life.
The osteoporosis in his back is so severe it puts him at risk for a debilitating injury. For some time, the resulting inability to work depressed him, but today he has a broader perspective: “I can’t let it get me down or I’ll be down the rest of my life. I’ve learned not to judge myself for not being able to work.”
John’s upbeat, positive outlook on life is contagious. “Veterans Inc. helped me get my life back. Everything is 180 degrees different than before,” he says. But he hasn’t forgotten the tough times he went though, often due to his own actions. After too many accidents caused by substance abuse, he says “I don’t really know why I’m still here. Maybe it’s to let people know that there are second chances. If you have the willpower, you can re-build your life.”
John moved out of Veterans Inc. housing in March 2010, after a little over a year here. He lives with his girlfriend and their two cats, and they hope to add a dog and move to a home in Maine or New Hampshire in the future. In the meantime, he visits the Grove Street headquarters daily, “to talk to the guys, especially the new ones, who need a little hope.”