Brian took the long walk home.
In March 2018, he flew back home to Dallas to visit family — and what awaited him was upsetting. His mother was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and his siblings had decided to sell the family home.
At odds with his brother and sister, and without the funds to fly back to Colorado Springs, Brian set out on foot. His plan was to walk the 724 miles from his hometown to one where he had no home.
“I was really upset. So I said, ‘I’m just gonna walk back to Colorado.’ And I started walking.”
He wasn’t sure where he stood with God. Years of alcoholism and homelessness had strained that relationship. But then Brian saw a “burning bush” — an experience that kick-started the restoration of his faith and his life.
“I was walkin’ through Texas and a guy pulled his truck over,” he said. “The guy said, ‘I’ve been looking for you … and God told me to tell you that he remembers you.’ And he handed me a $100 bill. That really freaked me out. But if He remembers me, I guess I need to remember Him.”
Runnin’ and Gunnin’
Brian, who recently turned 60, grew up in the south Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff. He came from a middle-class family, played football and did well in school. He was even named Class President in 9th grade and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” as a high school senior.
“I had what was considered at that time to be a very normal, good childhood,” he said. “I stayed out of trouble. … We’d drink on the weekends, but that was about it.”
After high school, Brian went to Southern Methodist University on an academic scholarship. But by the middle of his sophomore year, he lost interest and dropped out. Around that time, he started associating with “nefarious individuals” — hot-rodders, drunks and addicts.
“That’s when I really fell into amphetamines. I got to the point where I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was going, so I decided to go into the Air Force. I thought maybe that’d straighten me out.”
Brian enlisted at age 22 and was designated to become a Russian linguist, primarily because he had studied the language in school. It was a rare opportunity for a young college dropout. In the early ‘80s, the Cold War was reaching a crescendo that would provide job security for Brian. But it didn’t last long.
“I had gone back to Dallas on a pass and hooked up with some friends,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m taking a nine-month vacation from the Air Force and selling drugs in Dallas. And they were not too happy about that when we all caught up with each other.”
The consequences for going AWOL were one year of confinement at a military prison and complete loss of his military benefits. But that wasn’t enough to steer Brian clear of “speed” (a slang term for amphetamines).
“I got out and started runnin’ and gunnin’ again,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m in prison. The first time was for possession of amphetamines. I ended up going three times, with progressively worse criminal activity.”
Running on Empty
After spending much of his late twenties and early thirties in prison, Brian finally straightened out. He was staying clean and sober, attending and serving at a local Bible church and starting a good career in plant management. He even got married and had two kids — a son and a daughter.
In 2001, he was offered a management position at a packing plant in Colorado Springs and flew out with his wife to explore the possibility of relocating his family to the Pikes Peak region.
“We really liked it and thought it would be a nice place to raise kids,” he said. “We loved the mountains.”
The plant shuttered 18 months later, leaving Brian without a job. But that gave him the push he needed to take a risk he’d been considering for years, and he started his own packaging plant. The business was growing at a promising rate when, after three years, investors pulled their funding and the plant abruptly closed.
Brian found work, but life was far from perfect. He had taken a liking to Colorado’s craft beer and, by 2008, his heavy drinking was beginning to have devastating effects on his family and his well-being.
“Everything got worse. She took the kids and moved out of the house. We got a divorce three years later.”
He focused on work, attempting to distract himself from the pain of his personal life. But it soon became apparent that something wasn’t right. And the problem got too big to ignore any longer.
“I thought everything was okay,” he said. “Then I ended up having this huge anxiety attack and I thought I was dying. My heart felt like it was fixin’ to pop out of my chest. So I ended up in the hospital.”
Brian tried to put the health scare out of his mind. He was in denial about how drinking and drug abuse was degrading his mental and emotional health. But it was destroying his life — and the end of the runway was fast approaching. Unable to work, Brian was evicted from his apartment.
“For the next three years I was on the streets, sometimes in shelters. I was just totally in a daze,” he said. “All the stresses of living that kind of life were overwhelming. … I couldn’t function properly — at all.”
The Way Back
Brian started staying at the Mission regularly after his trip to Texas in March 2018.
By that time, he was battling frequent bouts of mental illness — mania, paranoia, delusions, psychosis. Last September, after a particularly rough night, he was taken to a local crisis center for treatment.
“I was afraid to go to the crisis center, because I thought they were gonna send me down to the state hospital and lock me up for who knows how long,” he said. “But it was bad enough that I was willing to go.”
After months of therapy and medication, Brian was feeling better. But he wasn’t out of the woods. Hoping to turn things around, he entered the New Life Program (men’s addiction recovery) last November.
Since then, Brian has worked in the Mission’s donation warehouse. He said that the work readiness program has really helped him get back in the swing of things.
“By the time you’re in work readiness, you’re working almost full-time and getting used to what’s going to happen when you get out of here. I’m thankful for the Mission being here and thankful for the [New Life] program being here.”
After he graduates Oct. 17, Brian plans to move into Mission Inn (a sober-living complex owned and operated by SRM) and work full-time in the shelter. He said it feels good to serve in a place he once lived — helping people with similar struggles.
“When people find out that you’ve had similar experiences, they tend to listen to you more,” he said. “I have so many experiences that are similar to what those people have gone through.”
Through all life’s ups and downs, Brian has maintained relationships with his son and daughter. He looks forward to seeing them both after graduation. He also looks forward to spending more time in nature, enjoying Colorado’s natural beauty.
“Before I became homeless, my hobby was camping and hiking,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not sure camping is still going to be on my list, but we’ll see.”
His spiritual life has also flourished in recovery. He now attends church regularly and said his relationship with God is as good as it’s ever been.
“I pray every night and I thank God for the life he’s given me,” he said. “Because everything that has happened has brought me to the point I’m at today. And even though I’ve made many wrong decisions in it, he’s kept me alive long enough to at least get back. That’s what I’m most grateful for. It could have turned out a lot different — a whole lot different.”