Trigger Warning: This article contains references to suicide that may be disturbing to individuals. If you are feeling distressed and need to talk to a counselor, please call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline by dialing 988.
Foreclosure, addiction, and failed marriages forced Herb to exist in a local motel. He stayed there for nearly three years before he was completely out of money. With no place to live, no money, and no one who cared about him, he planned to end his life. That was his solution to his problems.
As he prepared to execute his plan, a voice inside of him told him to look in the phone book. Not knowing what he was searching for he found the Opportunity House phone number. He called and spoke to Kim Long who told him we had a bed for him. Bringing only a bag of personal possessions with him, he hired a cab to Opportunity House.
When Herb was drafted into the Navy in 1971 during the Vietnam War, he felt lucky to avoid the Army and combat. He trained to be a 50-caliber specialist and eventually became a cook. He was on track to fulfill his dream of becoming a chef.
In 1972 his world changed, and he was actively engaged in combat in Vietnam and continued in combat for two years. He was not prepared for the emotional scars of war and self-medicated with heroin and alcohol to detach from his combat experience.
He returned home to the Bronx and married his high school sweetheart. With no job opportunities, he returned to San Diego, where he was stationed prior to Vietnam. He went to school for culinary arts and hotel management. He got a job and continued to advance in his career. He had periods of sobriety that were short-lived but, when the nightmares came back, he reverted to old habits to erase the pain.
He returned to New York and went to the VA for help. The meetings he attended focused on reliving combat experiences, which only magnified his issues and led him deeper into his addiction. To the outside world, he looked like a chef working in prestigious hotels, but inside he was falling apart. His wife left him because she couldn’t deal with his unpredictable behavior. He built walls to keep family, friends, and others from knowing what was really happening in his life. It was a pattern that he repeated for years.
Sober But Not Stable
Decades later, he went to Teen Challenge and got sober. He returned to Reading, Pennsylvania and married his third wife. While he remained sober, his demons continued to haunt him. “I began to hear voices in my head that were telling me to end my life,” added Herb. It was a battle he fought every day. He just wanted the pain, the depression, and the nightmares to end.
With nowhere to turn, Herb came to Opportunity House. “That night, I knew my life was saved,” noted Herb. As he put his bag on the bed in the Men’s Dorm, Herb knew that he had a second chance to live and flourish. Breaking down the barriers that prevented him from living the life he envisioned proved both painful and cathartic.
He began working with Kim and trusted her. “I had no place else to put my hope, so I trusted her. I started to lower some of the walls I put up around myself,” he recalled. Kim connected Herb to the Lebanon VA Hospital to get the help he needed. He was diagnosed with PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. “Hearing those words was an epiphany for me. All of my symptoms had a name. A weight was lifted off of me,” remarked Herb.
Opportunity House Provides a New Beginning
Today, Herb is focusing on the next chapter of his life. As a senior resident living in permanent housing at Opportunity House, he inspires others and shares his story of hope with them. “ I thank God every day. This is where you will do your best work to better yourself,” Herb said. “You will find people who will lead you and guide you to get your life on track. Don’t give up. You can make it.”
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