From the Brink: Father finds Salvation at Winnipeg Booth Centre

by Prairie Division
Categories: Prairie News
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As Conrad Ginter stood on the edge of the Disraeli Bridge, looking out over Higgins Avenue, he started to cry.

“I said to myself, ‘Just end it right now. All the pain will go away. Everybody who hates you will be happy you’re gone.’ And I just stood there and I waited for a semi.”

It was September of 2016, and Ginter had walked to the bridge – from the Kings Hotel, where he had been living, just down the street – to put an end to his battle with alcoholism that had been tormenting him for 25 years.

The son of an alcoholic and raised in rural Manitoba, Ginter found out the hard way a couple of days before his 18th birthday that he was likely genetically inclined to be an alcoholic as well, when someone spiked his Coke with whiskey at a dance.

He continued to drink unwittingly throughout the night, returned to his high school dormitory drunk and slept through his final exams the next day, resulting in his expulsion from high school in his senior year.

“I guess I had that gene, because I didn’t stop,” Ginter, 43, says.

He worked at a local car dealership for a while, before becoming a truck driver when he was 21.

In 1999 he met his wife Debra, and the two were married in 2000, and now have four children together.

Ginter continued to drink heavily, and occasionally his wife would tell him that he had a problem and needed to seek help.

“We’d come to Winnipeg to visit her mom and dad and I’d always avoid Main Street because of all the [homeless people]; I didn’t want the kids seeing it,” Ginter says. “One time I drove down there deliberately and I said, ‘Look. Those are alcoholics. They’re homeless, they have nothing, alcohol ruined their lives. I’m not an alcoholic; I’ve got it under control.’”

When Ginter’s brother-in-law passed away, he recalls his drinking problem getting worse, ultimately culminating while on the job driving a truck to Minnesota.

“I left Friday night and I was supposed to be there Monday. I had all weekend to go there, and I spent my whole weekend in Pembina just drinking,” Ginter says. “Sunday morning I’m like, ‘Oh no, I gotta go. Well I’ll have a couple more beer.’ Six in the evening: ‘Oh man I really gotta go.’

“I started driving. I got through the Twin Cities, and I had beer in the fridge and I reached to grab one and I went on the shoulder. I put the beer back and saw flashing lights. My whole sleeper was full of empties, I didn’t even throw them away. They took me away.”

Ginter paid a $15,000 fine and spent a month in jail, where he went through severe withdrawal and was assaulted by other inmates.

After his release, he eventually fell back into abusing alcohol, moved into the Kings Hotel after being kicked out of his house, and after his grandfather’s death in 2016, decided he was going to kill himself.

“Just as I was about to jump, I felt a lady grab my right arm,” Ginter recalls as tears well in his eyes. “She said, ‘You need to come down. You need to come talk to somebody. There’s somebody that wants to talk to you. You need to follow me.’ I don’t know why I did, but I did.”

The two walked back down to Higgins Avenue where Ginter, angry and embarrassed, began to yell at the woman.

“I was yelling at her, saying, ‘Who the h*** wants to meet me?’ And she turns to me and she says, ‘You’ve already met him. He wants you to come back.’ I turned away from her and looked down the street and I turned back and she was gone.

“I’ll never forget that moment.”

The next morning, Ginter went to The Salvation Army’s Weetamah location for the Sunday morning church service and to eat. He had been frequenting the building for a while, as had his estranged wife and daughter, but would never go inside when he saw his wife’s van parked out front.

That morning, The Salvation Army’s Lieutenant Mark Young gently took Ginter’s arm as he was on his way out.

“He said, ‘Me and you need to talk. You’ve been coming here for a month and a half. I know who you are. You’re Alexia’s dad. But you never come when she’s here. We need to talk. I want you here tomorrow morning, but be sober.’”

The next morning when Ginter showed up for their meeting, Young told him something important had come up and he needed to push their meeting to the next morning, but again instructed him to show up sober.

Young continued to postpone their meeting each day, while Ginter did his best to distract himself from drinking, staying out of his hotel room as much as possible and going for long walks.

After a week of back-and-forth, and beginning to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, Ginter went back to Young one more time.

“How do you feel?” Young asked him.

“Right now I’m pretty mad at you.”

“I believe it. But you’ve been sober for a week; how do you feel?”

“S****y. I’m shaking; I need help.”

“I know you do. I just wanted to make sure you knew you needed help.”

With Young’s help, Ginter cleaned out his hotel room and filled out the intake forms for The Salvation Army’s Winnipeg Booth Centre Anchorage addiction treatment program.

As Ginter began to learn what caused his drinking problem and how to properly process the grief that he had previously numbed with alcohol, he was soon overcome with emotion and asked one of the intake workers who he had become close with to leave the program.

“He had a supper with his family and he called them and said, ‘I can’t make it tonight, I’m needed here.’ And he sat with me until eight o’clock at night,” Ginter says. “He said to me, ‘Monday morning you can leave. You cannot leave the building all weekend. Monday morning you can. But I want you to write out the pros and cons of you leaving and you staying. What’s your life going to be like if you leave Monday morning? What’s your life going to be like if you stay? I know you haven’t done your steps yet, but you really gotta think; are you going to be alive a year from now if you leave?’

“That’s one of the many ways that Anchorage saved my life.”

Ginter completed the three-month program and moved into a sober living facility after he graduated. He’s been sober for nearly two years.

“[God] came to me that night on the bridge. I know it was Him,” Ginter says.

“Don’t ever give up. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. I was so ashamed of myself. A grown man living in a hotel; can’t even see his wife and kids because of his booze problem. And the more guilt I had, the more shame I had, the more I drank. Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever not ask for help. I thought nobody loved me anymore, and I thought ending my life would be the answer. It turned out that I was the one who was blind to the love. Everybody wanted to help me and I was just turning them away.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, there are a number of resources available to you. If you’d like to learn more about The Salvation Army’s Winnipeg Booth Centre and the Anchorage addiction treatment program, visit wpgboothcentre.ca