Billy_Smith_fork-lift

The Courage to Change

02
.11

“My dad beat my mom until she was a rag doll,” says 49-year-old Billy. “At times I thought he would kill her. That’s only one of my childhood memories.”

Billy’s dad was drunk all the time. And his heavy drinking resulted in physical altercations. Every night Billy cranked up the volume on his radio to fall asleep. The music muffled the terrifying screams of his mom as she was punched and kicked by his dad. “He beat her over anything,” says Billy.

Billy lived in constant fear. More times than he’d like to remember Billy’s dad forced him to hold damaged household electrical cords or put his fingers in light sockets while his father inserted the plug in the outlet. The pain was unbearable — and Billy wasn’t allowed to cry. If he did, a beating followed. “I learned to be tough,” says Billy.

Due to his problem drinking, Billy’s dad never worked and his mom’s income was barely enough to put a roof over the family of eight. “We were dirt poor,” says Billy. “There was little food and my clothes came from The Salvation Army Thrift Store.”

At age seven, Billy was offered a chance to attend a Salvation Army summer camp. Says Billy: “God answered my desperate prayers and removed me from the abuse.” For the next five consecutive years Billy was able to be a kid for a week, feel safe, and relax and laugh.

Meanwhile Billy tried to numb the pain of his tumultuous home life. At age five he drank his first whiskey. At age eight he ran away from home. By age 12, illegal street drugs were his antidepressants and he was stealing to feed his habit. Out of control, he was sent to reform school.

Then Billy was homeless. He preferred living on the streets over home. He joined a gang where he enjoyed the feeling of caring and attention he’d lacked all his life.

But with gang life, came senseless violence. One day Billy was ordered to beat up someone — anyone. His unsuspecting victim was a middle-aged man in a pub washroom. Following the brutal attack, paramedics were called. A waitress told Billy his victim was a single dad who was raising five kids. Billy was so ashamed.

That day Billy saw gang life in a different light. He had to find a way out. But the brutal truth of gang life is that the only way most gang members leave the gang is in a body bag. So Billy vanished. For the next five years he never let his guard down.

When Billy resurfaced he lived in a tent in a relative’s back yard. Still deeply entrenched in drugs and alcohol he drank until he passed out. “Then I took drugs to wake up,” says Billy, “and do it all over again. That was a cycle my whole life.”

Billy’s bad choices began to affect his cousin’s family and he was asked to vacate the premises. He soon found himself on the doorstep of The Salvation Army Harbour Light in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Here, the primary objective is to assist men and women who are without shelter, and/or whose lives have become dysfunctional because of addiction to chemical substances.

“The Army believed in me when I couldn’t see to believe in myself,” says Billy.

That was seven years ago and Billy has been clean ever since. He has moved on to a better, peaceful life and is employed at the Harbour Light as its shipping/receiving/food procurement manager.

In 2009 Billy won The Salvation Army’s “Courage to Change” award.

“Before, I existed,” says Billy. “Now, I live to help others survive.”

 

2 Comments

Sherry

Billy’s testimony on courage and strength is very inspirational and precious!

Bruce Morrison

Beautiful story!! I also started drinking the day I turned six years old and whay followed was nothing short of Hell on Earth!! For the next fifty-two years I was to experience jail, detox, hospitals and over twenty-six years on skid row. I tried numerous if not hundreds of times to sober up but was not successful. On August 29/12 I was in seizures and D.T.s and was rushed to hospital in very serious shape, I am not sure what was done to me but I am very grateful for the help I recieved from the Emergency Room Staff. The doctor asked what I wanted to do and I said I would like to go to Detox, AGAIN!! For the first forty-eight hour I laid on the couch in the Observation Room and didn’t move at all, no washroom, no getting up for something to drink just laid there wanting to never wake up again. I actually was praying to GOD to end my life for me, little did I know he heard my plea’s and on September first 2012 at eleven AM my prayer was answered. At ten AM I asked the staff at detox if I could attend an A.A. meeting that was being held in the front room, to this day I have no idea what was said I just know I was seeing things and shaking violently. The meeting ended with The Lords Prayer and one of the guys who came in to put the meeting on crossed the room and put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘ Hang in there Bruce, it will get better”. At that very moment God worked his loving grace on me and I knew that after all these years the WAR was over, I knew I wasn’t the great know-it-all and I felt a sense of PEACE that I had never felt before. I approached one of the staff and said that I was going to seizure again, he said he knew and suggested I return to the hospital. I said that I would do whatever was suggested to me, and meant it this time. Almost two years later I have been DELIVERED from the viscious cycle of SIN and I have been able to have something that I always wanted and that is some PEACE and JOY. I attend one on one Bible Study weekly, I am involved with my Corps, I pray daily and I read my Bible daily, more important I thank God for his SON JESUS and I am very aware of the price that has been paid for my SALVATION and I say “AMEN!!”. GOD BLESS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in Canada and Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 28, calls on Canadians to join the national conversation about mental health.

Wellness for All

01
.28

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in Canada and Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 28, calls on Canadians to join the national conversation about mental health.

Did you know that:

  • on any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness
  • only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who had a serious mental illness
  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life
  • 2 out [...]
Salvation Army program in Ottawa helps young parents complete their high school education

Literacy Impacts Lives

01
.27

Family Literacy Day, held annually on January 27, raises awareness about the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.

Increasing the level of literacy in both adults and children can lead families and individuals to social stability, increased self-confidence and economic opportunity.

Many people with low literacy levels live in a cycle of poverty. They have fewer choices in jobs, education housing and other things they need to live full lives.

From coast to coast, Salvation Army literacy [...]