By chance, somewhere in the inner-city, every few weeks, I meet Patrick. Today I meet him in Beaver Hills House Park. He’s walking to get cigarettes before he starts work—an afternoon shift.
His face lights up when he sees me, something I’m always grateful for, something that has less to do with me than with the history we share.
I know beforehand that included in his update will be his work status (food prep, dishwashing, now at the Coast Terrace), his volunteering activity (usually at the Spady Centre) and the length of time he’s been sober.
A few minutes in he says, “You know Steve, how I was playing Russian roulette with my life.” And I say, “I know it well Patrick.” “Well,” he says, “it’s been five years, five months, and 15 days today. But who’s counting?” And he laughs. And as usual, he lets me congratulate him with a handshake.
We remember back, mid 90’s. I’m managing the Herb Jamieson Centre (Hope Mission’s homeless shelter for men) and Patrick is a regular guest. I have it in notes somewhere, my assessment of Patrick: Patrick has FAS, is chronically addicted, chronically homeless…
I could easily turn this into a drunkalogue, with scores of attendant stories of outbursts, some violent, many self-damaging. I cannot remember how many times we had to have Patrick removed, have him barred, how many weeks he spent in our medical dorm, or how often we had to send him to the Royal Alex hospital…did we always hope for recovery? Or did we wonder sometimes if his not coming back would be a kindness for all?
“I worked so hard to get what I have,” says Patrick. “That’s why I count days. If I lost that. Well, I can’t lose that, but if I did, I would lose five things (five is the number today): I’d lose my life, lose my job, lose my friends, loose the respect of what family I have left, and lose the respect and love I have for myself.”
And here, I always marvel at his lucidity and candour and love him for it.
This isn’t his first attempt at sobriety, but by far, it’s the longest. He recalls the moments of waking up, being on the razor-edge of ending things or starting again. I recall Hope Mission’s role, Patrick’s graduation from the Breakout program, the picture of the group of graduates, and Patrick standing beside former Premier Ed Stelmach.
These are all well travelled routes in our conversations, but I always look forward to the trip and think, somehow, it’s important for both of us.
He needs to be on his way. Says see you again. I tell him he looks great, and of course he does. And he smiles.