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22 July 2021
Chook has been volunteering with the Salvos in Queensland for the last 10 years.
As National Homelessness Week (1-7 August) approaches, Chook shares his journey from ‘sleeping rough’ for 10 years, to finally finding stability, and the opportunity to care for himself and others.
Words Naomi Singlehurst
Today, as Chook walks through his front door, he feels a real sense of security and peace. It is even sweeter, he says, because for 15 years, he had nowhere to call home.
Having spent 10 years living rough, including under a bridge, through Tasmania’s often near zero winter temperatures, Chook recalls, “You try and find a sheltered spot, but then when you stop moving, you get cold pretty quick.
“Unless you have some bedding, or cardboard or plastic or something, you are better off moving all night and then maybe you can go to sleep in a patch of morning sun.”
Staying awake all night wasn’t always possible for Chook. “I was in the grip of unrelenting alcoholism and more often than not, I’d collapse. Often I used to wake up in the police cells or in hospital,” he says.
When pressed about the factors that led to past homelessness and addiction, Chook won’t use any of it as an excuse, but does see that an unhealthy self-image contributed to addiction.
“There was a broken home, and the old man had an anger problem and us kids lived in fear at the time. But that’s not what makes me an alcoholic – it is what happens in my mind prior to me taking a drink, and in my body after I take that drink. I start and I can’t stop,” he shares.
What he does understand now, is that the first time he had a drink was the first time he
felt ‘normal’. “I think the fundamental thing that contributed to my alcoholism was that I believed there was something wrong with me. This was untrue, but I believed it and that alcohol could fix it,” he explains.
Addiction saw Chook spiral downwards into poverty and homelessness.
In 1996, Chook found some stability and moved to Queensland for a job. He managed to control his drinking, but only for some time.
One day, having lost all sense of hope, he consumed two bottles of prescription medication. As he recounts now, “I basically laid down to die. But I woke up the next morning! It was then I thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about life.”
After that incident, Chook found his way to a detox unit, and was subsequently offered a place in a residential (live-in) recovery service run by the Salvos.
Chook graduated from the program, moved into the service’s transitional housing and was then provided the assistance he needed to put his name on a community housing list. He finally secured long-term accommodation and remains there today.
Chook stayed ‘dry’ for eight years, but then drank again. “My ego was smashed,” he shares. “I realised I’d become something I never ever wanted to be – a charity case.”
Chook also realised he needed to be completely honest about his issues and began to seriously apply all that he had learned in recovery and 12-step programs previously.
“That was 17 years ago,” says Chook proudly. “I’ve been free from alcohol and mind-altering drugs since. I’ve been volunteering with the Salvos for the last decade, mainly with ‘extended [recovery] care’ and I will go out of my way if my story can help someone else.”
Looking back now, Chook is grateful for all the support he has been given and believes through it all, the hand of God ultimately pulled him through into recovery and stability.
He is full of gratitude and faith for the guidance of his ‘higher power’. With a smile, he says, “I’ve got a very childlike faith. I basically accept there is a God and I’m not him. I must remain in the ‘freshness’ of my faith – my reliance on God has to begin all over again each day as if nothing has yet been done.
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