An uneven homelife made it hard for Stuart to believe he mattered. Searching for solace in alcohol and drugs, he escaped reality — until his addiction started to affect his family. It took a brush with death for Stu to decide to try something new.
Inconsistent parenting styles led to Stu’s childhood being a turbulent time
I grew up near Edmonton, and my parents divorced when I was young. They were polar opposites: my mom had no rules, she wouldn’t have cared if I ate candy for supper. My dad, on the other hand, was all structure, rules, homework. It was hard to adjust when I switched back and forth between homes.
My parents also used isolation as a form of punishment, and I spent a lot of time alone. With so much time to think, I started to put the pieces together: if nobody wants to see me, then I mustn’t be any good. That’s where my struggles with mental illness began.
One summer, my dad grounded me for two months. During that time, I had nothing to do but read and drink the tiny alcohol bottles he collected. That’s when I first felt liquid courage — I’d never felt worthy of anything, except when I drank.
Fed up with rules, Stu moved in with his mom full-time and joined the Edmonton music scene
I rebelled as a teenager, and left my dad to be with my mom in the city. Mom struggled with an addiction to alcohol, so when I moved to be with her, it was more like couchsurfing with friends.
I found my way into music: I joined bands, where I used jam night as an excuse to drink, and got introduced to psychedelics and marijuana. By the end of the night, I’d have a ‘beeramid’ stacked behind my drum stool.
Over the years, I met a lot of creative people, and one of them became my wife. But my addiction began to impact my family. After my son was born, my wife started having a problem with my drinking — it had gotten worse, and, unfortunately, I was quite the drunk. I went five years sober from drugs to try to save our marriage, but it didn't work. My relationship with my wife fell apart.
Addiction stole Stu’s ability to safely support his kids
After the divorce, I got my own place, and for a while I was doing well. Sure, I was drinking quite a bit. But then, when I didn’t have my kids, I started to hit drugs really hard. When my son and daughter would come over, things would be missing or broken because I’d sold everything to fuel my addiction.
The last time I saw my kids during that season of life, I was on a bender and going through really bad withdrawal. My daughter wanted to call the ambulance, but I promised her it’d pass. I think I scared them a lot. I was so tired of disappointing them.
I’d also started selling cocaine to make ends meet, and I got in trouble with my drug dealers. They threatened to break my legs, my arms. I’d scared my kids and now I was being chased by my dealers. It confirmed what I’d always believed about myself: that I was worthless. So I gave up, and I ran away from everything.
Caught in a dangerous cycle, Stu escaped to the coast
I came to the West Coast to die. I’ve always wanted to die in the mountains. I didn’t tell anyone, I just got into my car and left. I threw my phone out the window and I drove right through Vancouver, hoping to make it to Squamish before I ran out of gas. I pulled over onto the roadside and found a place where I could jump.
I sat there in my car for two days, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill myself. I felt like an absolute failure. So instead, I put my thumb out, and the first car that came over the hill picked me up.
Back in Vancouver, I met a guy who was also homeless and using drugs, and he took me to the Downtown Eastside. I’m pretty personable, and I can make friends easily, so I fit right in. I got connected with a drug dealer, and he hooked me up with clean crack cocaine. It took hold of me right away, and I spent a lot of time trying to find that experience again.
I was homeless for about four months. After buying junk drugs laced with meth, I spent some of that time in full-blown psychosis; I couldn’t distinguish what was reality and what my mind was making up. During my final month living on the streets, I gave up the hard drugs — I needed a mental break. I spent a lot of my days walking, and I was just tired and cold. I’d had enough.
A chance encounter gave Stu the hope that he could try a different path
One day, I met UGM’s Mobile Mission. The staff and volunteer who were in the van that day were very friendly, and they seemed genuine. They offered me a prayer that really hit me deep, and they gave me a card for recovery at UGM.
It was perfect timing, because I was tired of rock bottom. For so many years, I’d been a family man, paid my bills, and I was worried I would never be a part of that kind of life ever again. I was at my wits’ end — but when the Mobile Mission team welcomed me, I felt like I existed. And finally, I was done giving up.
I went into recovery at UGM. When I arrived, I was terrified: I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I almost ran a couple of times, but by that point I’d made a friend, Edison, and having him in my corner really helped. I’d never had a friendship like that before, and he became like a brother. That feeling really carried me through.
After his time in recovery, Stu took every opportunity to rebuild his life
The aftercare support I received was hugely important to me. The UGM staff were really accessible, and they taught me so many coping skills: I learned about boundaries, about holding true to my word and doing what I say I’m going to. I started to be aware of God’s presence, to believe that He’s got my back.
Three days out from recovery, I got a job building natural playgrounds. It’s been four years since then, and I’m now responsible for supplying our job sites with everything needed to keep a project running: logs, tools, sand, soil, mulch. I spend a lot of time operating machinery and doing carpentry. I’ve been there long enough that I’ve got some seniority, and having other guys look to me for leadership is humbling.
One of the best parts of this journey has been growing closer with my children — I see them at least once a month. That means the world to me. And I’ve been able to repair my friendship with my ex-wife: I’ve made amends, so we can move past the turmoil of our divorce. We get along better now than we did the last five years of our marriage! I’m able to navigate relationships in a healthy way, and that’s been huge for me.
Having committed to a recovery-centred lifestyle, Stu has bright plans for the future
For the first time in a long time, I have dreams. I’d love to someday have an apartment where my kids could visit longer-term. That would be my ideal scenario.
I went on a camping trip by myself a few weekends ago. That was on my bucket list because when I used to camp, alcohol was essential. To go without it was a humbling experience. I brought my journal, brought my Bible, and did some reflecting in the peace and quiet. It was really, really nice, and I'm going to start doing that more often.
I’m starting to feel like myself again. For so many years, I hated the skin I was in, but now, I actually like who I am. And I'm in no rush to go back to old habits.
UGM gave me the tools to battle my thoughts. For many years, I believed the lie “You’re not good enough.” But now, as long as I feel I’m giving it an honest effort, then I know I am good enough.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” — Luke 2:14
The winter holidays have always felt to me like a time for abundance. Even as the days grow colder and the nights stretch longer, we push back against the growing gloom with bright decorations, food, and time with family and friends. In the middle of the darkness, light is born.
But we know that not everyone experiences abundance during the holidays. As you know, our neighbours in Metro Vancouver are facing the challenge of rising prices, which has pushed people further into poverty, homelessness, and addiction — unless they are met with the abundant care you provide through your support of UGM.
Stuart’s story highlights the importance of hope and generosity. It’s with joy that we share that we were able to serve 2,313 Thanksgiving meals this year — our first in-person, indoors celebration since the start of the pandemic. It’s with even more joy that we dream of a year where every one of our community members has enough.
Thank you for sharing generously with people in need during this season. It’s with your help that new beginnings are possible.
In faith and hope,
Your $5.45 Can Help Change a Life
Rising prices are impacting our kitchen, driving up the cost to provide a meal. This Christmas, your $5.45 will provide a hearty meal and the kind of life-giving hope that can spark someone’s transformation! Please give generously today.