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May3WedDrugs and alcohol cost Michael Winter his career, his dignity and almost his life. Today, he advocates for those battling the same obstacles he faced. May 3, 2017 by Melissa Wallace
Holding a knife to his throat, Michael Winter decided it was time to die. It was January 2009, and the 28-year-old was homeless, jobless and unable to afford alcohol or his expensive cocaine and heroin habit.
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“My life was done,” he says. “I was suicidal, lost and messed up.
“I thought, OK, it's time.”
Michael grew up in Toronto and began drinking, smoking and doing drugs at a young age. He loathed authority and it wasn't long before he left home and became addicted to harder drugs.
In high school, he worked part time to buy drugs and alcohol while pursuing a passion for football. Scouts took notice of his talent and he was ranked in the top 10 of all Canadian prospective collegiate athletes. When he received a full scholarship to New Mexico State University, he told himself he would change his life for the better once he got there. Instead, the complete opposite happened.
“Drugs were more accessible and the party lifestyle was there for you,” he says. “So after two and a half years of school, I quit because I couldn't handle everything. Then it was a downward spiral that kept getting worse.”
From the eight years when he left university to the day he got sober, Michael remembers having two overdoses, one which left him in an eight-hour heroin-induced coma. He became homeless and survived by doing “unsavoury things.” Still, his pride remained intact.
“I would rather crawl around the world naked on glass before I asked for anyone's help,” he says. “I was lost.”
"No Greater Gift"
Sobbing uncontrollably while preparing to end his life, Michael broke from character and called his mother. She connected him with a detox centre. For 35 days, he was in detox, then stayed in a safe house, followed by rehab.
“I was about eight months clean when I came out, but I didn't know how to function,” he says. “I didn't have confidence, I didn't have housing and I felt disconnected from society.”
Michael became homeless again, but was sober. He slept on park benches and in alleyways, using his backpack as a pillow and getting food from The Salvation Army.
One day, as he was walking down a Vancouver street, exhausted and looking for a place to lie down, a staff worker from The Salvation Army's Harbour Light invited him to sleep at their centre instead. Michael remembers going there, eating a muffin and passing out.
The next day, staff told Michael about longer-term housing options, and he began a journey through various Army programs and homes for the next two and a half years.
“Living within the walls of The Salvation Army in my early recovery was the first time I felt comfortable,” he says. “I didn't have to worry about where I would get my next meal or how I would find shelter or where I would sleep. More importantly, I was treated with dignity and respect, listened to and cared for at a time when I did not feel that my life had much worth. I went from surviving to thriving.”
As Michael talked to staff and read the Bible, he began to put his faith in God. It provided the foundation for his recovery as he learned that, with God in his life, he would never be alone again.
“I truly believe that there's no greater gift than the gift of Jesus Christ,” he says.
“The Only Answer”
After Michael completed his treatment, he began working as a shelter worker at Harbour Light. He was living in subsidized housing and taking courses in the University of British Columbia's social work program.
It was around this time that he met his wife, Aimee, online.
“I saw her profile and thought, She's stunning!" he says. “It's difficult for me to tell people that a drink will ruin my life, but when I met her and told her, she said, 'You seem to be doing good now, right?'
“She loved and accepted me as I was and we've been inseparable since.”
Today, Michael and Aimee are married with a two-year-old son, Isaac, and a baby on the way. For the past four years, he has been working as the community ministries supervisor at the Lighthouse Resource Centre, operated by The Salvation Army and located in Port Hardy, B.C.
Michael not only relates to the people who come through the doors, he advocates on their behalf as a member of the Housing and Homelessness Committee and Addiction Services Planning Committee.
“I know what they're going through because I've been through it,” he says. “I know how it feels to be lost in addiction, to be stuck and depressed.
“We pray with people constantly and hope they can see God through our actions and feel comfortable, loved and not judged,” says Michael, who is studying to be an official member of The Salvation Army. “God came to me in His perfect time to prepare the way for my new life. He's the only answer.”