After spending another night sleeping on the ground in Beacon Hill Park, Chris Hancock often woke up thinking about how he lost his job, girlfriend, house and family in a five-year span due to his alcohol addiction.
Feeling physically ill and shaking from withdrawal, Hancock knew once he downed a few drinks those thoughts wouldn’t be there anymore. They would go away for at least another day as long as he had his booze.
Every day was spent tracking down more alcohol, money and a place to lay his head for the night. At the height of his addiction, Hancock was drinking between 40 and 60 ounces of rye a day.
“It’s not a hangover, it’s a place of hopelessness. You begin to realize that your survival depends on getting your drug of choice,” said Hancock, noting he was raised by good parents and had a normal childhood.
“In order to survive, you probably will have to do things you don’t really feel are good. One tends to really struggle with the idea of whether it’s worthwhile continuing on.”
Prior to Victoria, Hancock was living in Calgary where he worked as a flight attendant for an airline. He had everything a young man could possibly want, but was also formulating a disease.
Holding down a stable job and life, Hancock never thought he’d be one of those people living on the streets, drinking out of a brown paper bag. In his head he wasn’t an alcoholic, but the disease took hold as he progressed into his early 30s.
Eventually Hancock lost his job and girlfriend, so he decided to move to Victoria where he had his family to help him get back on his feet. But the addiction continued, placing a strain on his loved ones who could no longer stand by and watch him slowly die.
“Over a period of time of me promising to stop drinking and several bouts of detoxes and other treatment programs, they had to start backing away,” said Hancock, noting his lowest point was when his family started to disappear.
His addiction became so severe that his nervous system began shutting down, making it difficult at times to walk or sign his own name.
“It really is amazing how after a couple of drinks you begin to tell yourself that this is acceptable. Your own standards for yourself begin to fall into addiction.”
During one of his last visits to detox, which he attended at least a dozen times, Hancock was approached by a worker with the Umbrella Society for addictions and mental health. He was hooked up with a network of services funded by United Way and eventually managed to get his life back on track.
Now at 38 years old, Hancock is an avid hiker, backpacker and snowboarder, working as an outreach worker for the Umbrella Society. His job is a constant reminder of how lucky he is to be sober and how much work is needed to stay on the right path.
“I feel very sad where I got to, but I’m very happy that I am where I am. It’s been a long and slow process and a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely paid off,” said Hancock, who marked five years of sobriety in September. “I live a beautiful life now and I support myself, have a lovely little place down by the water, a beautiful girlfriend. Life is just good now.”
Hancock credits much of his success to the services he utilized that are funded by United Way. As the region’s largest non-government funder, United Way assists charitable organizations by identifying and funding programs to address immediate needs and underlying causes of the community’s most pressing social challenges.
Last year, the organization and its community partners reached 80,000 individuals, families, children and youth thanks to support from 11,000 donors. This year, United Way hopes to engage 2,000 additional donors through its community campaign that was launched in September. The goal is to raise $6 million.
“The need is great in our community,” said United Way CEO Patricia Jelinski.
“We are asking our donors, both inside and outside of workplaces, to continue to support our cause and introduce a friend or co-worker to United Way. December is a key month when people give back to their community and every donation, big or small, can help change a person’s life.”
Donations to the community campaign are accepted at workplaces, United Way’s office at 1144 Fort St., by calling 250-385-6708 or online at uwgv.ca.