This is the second instalment in a four-part series on recovery in Greater Victoria. Find more in the next edition of Victoria News or online at vicnews.com/tag/house-of-hope.
As soon as Rick Storey sits down on one of the mismatched couches in Foundation House’s living room — one of three recovery homes run by Umbrella Society for people dealing with substance abuse issues — he says he’s come from a history of post-traumatic stress.
“Basically, PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] seems to be my thing,” he says in a deep, rough voice that sounds pretty good when paired with gentle strums on his acoustic guitar. Storey describes a past that he no longer wants any part of — wrestling with self-sabotage, turning to drugs, fights exploding and ending in prison sentences. “That’s been the story of my life.”
Paula Greene, executive director of the Men’s Trauma Centre, says researchers have found a direct link between childhood abuse and PTSD resulting in an involvement with the criminal justice system. When a child internalizes the abuse they’ve experienced it can distort vast facets of their life such as trust, intimacy and their sense of self-worth, says Greene, which in turn can lead to a life of substance abuse issues or involvement in criminal activity.
Storey uses the word terror a lot when he talks about his father, describing situations where, as a 10-year-old, he would do things to provoke his father in order to save his mom and two younger sisters from a beating. As a way of escaping residential schools in the mid ‘60s in Winnipeg, Storey’s mother married his father, a 25-year-old professional boxer from Russia. It wasn’t until years later, after seeing his mother’s age on his birth certificate, that he realized she was 12 years old when he was born. After two years of counselling and therapy, Storey has been able to deal with a memory that had a monumental impact on his life, although he didn’t speak about it for close to 40 years.
“I watched [my dad] punch my mother until she collapsed in the corner of the kitchen floor,” he says. “I thought he killed my mom, she hit the floor and I watched for minutes — she didn’t breath. I couldn’t even cry.”
It’s a memory that Storey can recall every detail of. Looking his 10-year-old son in the eye, Storey’s father took the biggest knife the family owned out of a nearby drawer and patted his son on the head.
“Don’t ever get married, he told me … and while looking me in the eyes he just peeled his arm, 360 degrees, right to the bone,” he draws a circle around his right forearm as he’s talking. Storey remembers the blood going everywhere — the floor, the walls, all over his face and in his mouth — “even the taste of blood still brings back those memories.”
Eventually, Storey’s uncles showed up and took his father to a local veterinary clinic that would see him get airlifted to hospital, and then came back to deal with his mother, still laying on the kitchen floor.
“They went and got a sheet off my mom’s bed,” with the plan of burying her to save her abuser from a life in jail, but as Storey’s uncles were loading her into the back of a car they realized she still had a pulse. They took her to a hospital, saying they had found her on the side of the road in that condition.
A week later Storey’s father came home with a deformed arm that allowed him to work but left him unable to fight professionally ever again. It was four months and a week after the brutal beating when a cab pulled up outside the family’s house and Storey’s mother got out.
“Our family never discussed it, everyone knew but it was never discussed.”
According to Greene, PTSD is very apparent in the men who seek out services at the Men’s Trauma Centre, although it can look very different from the stereotypical war veteran image such as aggressive or addictive behaviour.
“It can also look like debilitating anxiety and depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia, social isolation — I mean, you name it and it can present that way,” she says.
Blake Andison, who works for Umbrella Society and first met Storey about a year ago in the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre after Storey had requested to speak with him, agrees with Greene.
“Some are willing to process [their trauma] and look at it and others are not, but I would say almost everyone I’m working with has some form of trauma they’re trying to work through,” he says.
Storey has since left Foundation House and moved into a place of his own, has a solid job doing construction work and has even started his own company called Richard Karl Contracting. Storey recently attended the grand opening of Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community, which has been renamed New Roads after a song Storey wrote while staying there. He performed the song at the event in front of 200 people, but there was only one person in the audience he could see — his daughter.
“I haven’t seen my kids for three years,” says Storey. “When she heard I was going to do this song she wanted to come — it was a really healing day for both of us. She said, ‘Dad, I’ve never been so proud of you.’ So, that was big for me.”
Both Andison and Storey have high hopes for the next chapter in Storey’s life. He finishes his interview with Black Press Media by reading his Drug of Choice letter, written as part of therapy, detailing his goodbye to a life he wants nothing to do with.
“Today, I’m of sound mind, clarity and focus to understand, that although not a drug, my cycle and repetition of sabotage, chaos and bad behaviour has been because I couldn’t give myself a moment to be worthy or prideful,” he reads out loud. “… I am who I am today … I’m not broke and damaged, I’m human. I’ve absorbed the self-destruction… and endured many hours of counselling. I am worthy of self-understanding, self-love and forgiveness.”
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