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Mar17WedMy lunch bag reminds me of how far I have come, with the help of The Salvation Army. March 17, 2021 by Brent Perry
I remember the date well: June 30, 2006. I had not washed or bathed in weeks, and I was passed out in Toronto’s Moss Park, right across from The Salvation Army’s Maxwell Meighen Centre, a multi-care facility where I was a resident.
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- Faith & Friends
But unlike other benders, when I came to that morning, the first thing I saw was a lunch bag in front of me. The bag had a message written on it in crayon: “Xavier loves you.” And there was a happy face drawn on it.
I never had any way of ever finding out, but I’ve always assumed that a child had walked by, either on a school trip or with his or her parents, saw me and took pity on me by leaving me their lunch.
At that moment, I saw myself through that child’s eyes. What happened? I thought. How did I get here?
Where I was at that point was a million miles away and a thousand years beyond the life I had known. I had graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with an MBA. I moved from Kingston to Toronto, intent on a career in corporate finance.
I was married at the time and a father of a boy, but he sadly passed away from congenital heart disease. That was a difficult time but my wife and I had two more children before we divorced.
Determined to make a fresh start, I moved to the United States and started working for Goldman Sachs in New York and London, England. I became addicted to the lifestyle, but I also became addicted to alcohol and cocaine.
I ended up back in Toronto. I’d lost my children, I’d lost my family, I’d lost all my material possessions. But the worst thing was that I’d lost myself.
“Are You Ready?”
Looking at that lunch bag, realizing how I must have looked to that child, made me realize I needed help.
I crossed the street and returned to the Maxwell Meighen Centre. My support worker took one look at me and knew something had changed.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’m going to walk with you down the street to St. Michael’s Hospital.”
She brought me right to the emergency department because I was in very rough shape. From there, I went into detox, which was very desperately needed, and after that I went into treatment. And I got clean, for the first time in a long time.
But now what? I had nothing, and I had nowhere to go. The hospital was trying to get me into a safe facility but in the meantime, I had nowhere to go.
I returned to Maxwell Meighen, where I was placed in the protective services unit. There, I could stay clean, safe and sober. Without The Salvation Army, I probably would have relapsed and I seriously doubt I would be here today.
The Army found a place for me at Transition House, a short-term supportive residence in Toronto for men with addiction challenges who want to make a positive change in their lives. The Salvation Army gave me a subway token to get there. Every single thing I owned was in a garbage bag, and I can remember to this day walking up the steps to go to Transition House.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been clean and sober for more than 14 years and I am a firm believer in the 12-Step program, which requires a belief in a higher power.
As for me, I choose God.
For the last decade, I have been on the board of directors of Transition House, the place that took me in.
I have spent a considerable period of time trying to mend my relationships with those that I had harmed.
My philosophy has been I needed to make amends for everything I had done in my past. I cannot control the outcome. Some people will accept that and some won’t, but that’s fine.
All I can do is clean up my side of the street.
I started over from scratch and created my own consulting company. It took some time but I got my business up and running and made it into a success.
Along the way—and this is the biggest blessing of all—I established an excellent relationship with both of my sons, now grown. I have a granddaughter now, who apparently finds me quite entertaining on FaceTime.
I also fell in love and I’m now engaged. It was my fiancée who called me up one evening and told me that The Salvation Army was looking for a senior philanthropy advisor in Ontario.
I applied, but during the job interview, I never once mentioned my past or how The Salvation Army had helped get me back on my feet. I wanted to get the job based upon my merits and abilities. After I was hired, however, I shared my past with my boss.
Life for me has come full circle.
A Life Changed
I still have that lunch bag, by the way. I have no idea how I was able to keep it but it was in the green garbage bag that had all my earthly possessions.
It’s in a hideously ugly frame that I found while I was at Transition House. I was walking down the street. It was garbage day, and somebody had thrown it away, not surprisingly, but I retrieved it and framed the lunch bag. I know that I could reframe it but there are too many memories associated with it for me.
Looking at it reminds me of that long-ago day when my life changed, thanks to the good people at The Salvation Army.
Things have come a long way from my days as an international financier, but I have no regrets. I love the Army. I absolutely believe in the incredible work that they do—what we do.
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