Dan Lal swipes his fingers across the screen of his smartphone.
Sitting on a couch with his “street, friend,” Lal shows Rob images from several weeks earlier — snapshots from when Rob had first reached out to The Lighthouse Project, which led him to undertake detox and now, four weeks later, to the Adult & Teen Challenge Okanagan recovery centre in Lake Country.
It is a Saturday morning — visitation day. Lal has arrived from Kamloops to reconnect with Rob, bringing with him Martin Tong, a recovery centre graduate.
Scrolling through images and video clips, the new friends recall the stories behind each capture, a visual record of one man’s journey from addiction and life on the street to detox and recovery.
They pause to view a video clip recorded by a security camera at The Lighthouse Fellowship church’s front door, catching the exact moment Pastor Brandon Linse arrived to find the homeless and drug-addicted Rob waiting on the steps.
Their exchange is brief, yet profound. Rob watches intently as he views himself stepping into the camera frame — as if watching a clip from a movie of his own life.
“Are you cold?”
“Well, you can come in if you want.”
Both Rob and Lal break out in wide smiles.
“That was it,” Lal said. “That was when it all changed, right there.”
“That’s where I was. I wanted a way out,” Rob added.
Four weeks have passed since Rob arrived at Adult & Teen Challenge Okanagan to begin his year-long commitment to recovery from drug addiction.
Rob said he is almost back to his ideal body weight.
“I was down almost 50 pounds from my normal weight of 175 pounds,” he said. “I still have withdrawal because I’m tapering off the drugs that I’m taking. I’ve got two more months until I’m free from opioid addiction. You can’t stop all at once.”
He explains that he is being administered a time-released amount, which will be reduced over the next two months until he no longer takes anything.
“They’re bringing me down to the point where I probably won’t get restless when they cut me off because I’ll be at such a low amount that my brain will probably be healed to the point where my receptors aren’t going, ‘Ahhh!’ all the time,’” Rob said.
Living in a shared home environment with 14 men takes some time to adjust to, he said.
“Just getting used to being around the same people all the time is kinda hard,” Rob said. ”You gotta get used to that. But, you know, it’s a safe place and I gotta do what I gotta do to get through it and that’s what I’ll do.”
Rob said he is learning new strategies to help him cope during his step-down process. He can access counselling whenever he feels the need. Each morning, he wakes up between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. before making his way into the kitchen to help clean up the pots and pans.
“I’ve been on dishes for quite awhile,” he said, laughing. “They [staff] comment in the kitchen and say, ‘You’re the best dishwasher we’ve ever had.’”
Rob’s efforts often earn him a fresh coffee from a drive-thru, picked up by a staff member on their way to work.
Most afternoons find Rob taking part in work experience, chopping wood or repairing donated vehicles in the automotive shop — the sale of each provides a small source of revenue in support of the recovery centre.
After dinner, everyone connects for chapel before another devotion time.
“By then, it’s quarter after nine and I’m ready for bed,” Rob said.
Having grown up in Toronto, Rob trained as an auto mechanic for import vehicles, which led him to own a towing company and work as a mechanic in nearby Markham. It was a time when zoning for business properties in the area changed, which in turn had a major financial impact on his towing business.
With the increased cost of doing business, Rob said he was no longer able to sustain his job. It was then that he became addicted to drugs.
“It came to a point I couldn’t afford to do it [drugs] anymore,” he said. “I wanted a change. I wanted out.”
Rob moved to B.C. more than a decade ago, determined to kick his costly habit. He said he still used for a time before eventually getting into recovery.
“I got on the methadone program for a couple of years before deciding it was time to get off of it and be clean,” he said. “I spent two-and-a-half years coming off it. I dropped down 10 per cent every couple of weeks — sometimes every four weeks, just depending on how I felt.”
Being clean again allowed Rob to earn a modest living in Kamloops, working for a moving company and taking on mechanical jobs.
A short time later, Rob said, he sustained a serious head injury after being struck by a vehicle. He woke up on a bench in the parking lot outside Royal Inland Hospital, not knowing who he was. He said he was diagnosed with having suffered a double stroke, the result of head trauma.
After four months of being shuffled around on different wards at RIH, Rob said he ended up on 1 South, the psychiatric ward, before he began understanding where he was.
“Most of the time that I was in the hospital, I don’t really remember. [I was] probably in a lot of pain, which I don’t recall, but they were pumping me full of fentanyl … and I got re-addicted.”
After being released from the hospital, Rob said, he found he had no place to go. He had lost his housing, his driver’s licence and the ability to earn a living. He continued to use drugs while living on Kamloops’ streets for the past two years.
It wasn’t until he met Lal from The Lighthouse Project nearly two months ago that his life began to change. Rob speaks of that day, meeting Lal for the first time.
“I’m sure that it was divine intervention that day,” he said.
Earlier that day, he said he found a large bag of crystal meth on the ground and traded it for heroin — his drug of choice. Heading to a familiar spot near Peterson Creek, Rob sat down and used the drug.
Shortly afterward, Lal spotted Rob and stopped, asking him, “Why don’t you come to church on Sunday?”
“I was like, OK. I was pretty much at the point where I was getting tired of being on the street, and getting tired of being addicted, and being tired of nobody helping me,” Rob said. “I was ready to kill myself.”
Rob said his grandmother looked after him until he turned 17. He said he felt both his parents never really wanted him. His mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness; his father “was looking for a bottle and a woman to solve all his problems.”
He recalls attending church with his grandma, a strong Presbyterian woman, who encouraged him to be confirmed in the faith as a teen, which Rob did. Since her death, Rob said he cherishes those memories.
“I would give anything for a card game and a cup of tea with her, anything,” he said.
As Rob talks about the days ahead, his understanding and commitment to change is growing, as is his faith.
“The Lord’s been after me since I was 27,” he said. “The Lord tried the easy way to get my attention many, many, many times — and this time, he didn’t spare any punches.”
Rob said he would like to return to his auto-motive work roots.
“It says in the Bible, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. When I get back on my feet, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
Rob is looking forward to again getting his driver’s licence and, at some point, a vehicle — suggesting that when he graduates from the year-long recovery program, there may be a “fixer-upper” with his name on it.
“[For now], I’m just trying to figure out what God’s plan for me is,” Rob said. “That’s what I’m up to. I don’t know what the plan is. I’m asking all the time — ‘Just let me know.’”
For more information about The Lighthouse Project, go online to lighthouseprojects.ca, call 778-538-4118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.