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Testimony of the Month

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My name is Joseph Johnson and thanks to the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, I have hope.

I was out of hope two years ago when I slit my wrists inside a dingy motel room along North Temple Street on the west side of Salt Lake. But everything changed when I came to the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake on November 4, 2013.

Sobriety,  A Job and New Hope

One of the biggest ways the Mission helped me was by giving my life meaning again. After my wife lost a three-year battle with cancer in 2008, I slowly fell into a deep depression, culminating in the day I decided to kill myself.

But at the Rescue Mission, I was surrounded by a community of people focused on a noble purpose – taking care of the homeless. So for me, one of the most important parts of the New Life Program was the work therapy component, removing the focus from myself and forcing me to consider the plight of people worse off than I was.

For those who might not know, each person in the New Life Program has assigned work therapy responsibilities. Some people serve in the homeless dorm, making beds, washing sheets and collecting clothing. Others serve in the kitchen, preparing meals for the hundreds of hungry people who come to the Mission.

I was recruited to help run the front desk. I checked in people for the night, helped the homeless get the services they needed and scheduled volunteers. I felt that what I was doing had value, and it felt great to serve others. It seemed like many of the homeless people who came through the door really appreciated my help.

Looking back, I probably benefitted the most from my responsibilities. It had been so long since I felt needed and was doing something significant. I finally had some value again. People depended on me. I couldn’t slack off or I would be letting down our whole team and the people we served.

The value I gained at the Rescue Mission grew into a sense of accomplishment. So when it was time for me to find a job outside the Rescue Mission, my desire to accomplish grew. I found an opening for a job that I really wanted. It was perfeorming technical support for a network systems company. The company contracts with different public and private groups to provide support for different online functions and internal networking.

I was good at this kind of work as I had been an avionics expert in the Air National Guard and knew about internal computer systems and processes. But it was a hard job to get. I interviewed several times over the course of two months. During those months I had other job offers to work at retail electronics stores, but I turned them down in hopes of obtaining a job that paid a living wage.

I also realized that I needed a sense of purpose if I was going to stay sober, and I really felt like having a job that challenged me would make a big difference in my long-term success. Finally, after all the interviews, phone calls and waiting, I was hired.

Today, I love my job and I love helping people solve complex systems questions. It’s fun and I really feel like people need me and depend on me.

Struggling to Find Hope

Thanks to the help I received at the Rescue Mission, my life is totally different from a year ago. I am even rebuilding relationships with my two adult step-children with whom I had struggled to keep in touch after their mother died of cancer six years ago. It was the end of that three-year cancer battle that sent me spiraling into homelessness and hopelessness. If you have never lost someone close to you – to cancer or another illness – you might find it hard to relate to my story, but my wife’s battle with cancer and eventual death broke me.

Even before she died, alcohol and drug use had been part of my life. We both drank too much and sometimes used drugs, but we were always able to have good jobs and raise our children. However, when my wife was in the late stages of her cancer, she drank until she passed out each night. She just could not endure the pain. She said it didn’t matter if she drank herself to death because she was dying anyway.

Each night I would pick her up off the floor and put her to bed. When I tried to make her stop drinking, we would get into fights. She felt like I couldn’t relate to what she was going through, and I felt like she couldn’t relate to what I was going through. I told her, “you don’t have cancer, our whole family has cancer!” And that’s what it felt like.

It was so hard at the end that we separated and were living in different homes when she died. The whole experience was devastating. After she died, I started drinking more and more. While I still held down my job as the manager of an electronics store, I was coming to work hungover every day. At night, I was so disinterested in life that I just got drunk until I fell asleep.

By January of 2012, I had lost my job and couldn’t pay rent. I was evicted and for the first time in my life I had nowhere to go. I was so depressed that I couldn’t really take care of myself, and I was so isolated that I really had no friends or family to turn to. Since it was winter and freezing, I did the only thing I could. I went to the public housing shelter.

It was shocking to be homeless and the shock breathed a little life into me. I went out, got a job and saved up some money. After I had saved up enough, I secured a long-term rental at a dumpy hotel on North Temple in Salt Lake.

The motel wasn’t much better than the public housing shelter. I never knew when one of my neighbors might fly off the handle, bust into my room and try to hurt me. The one thing that was good about the public housing shelter was that they made sure no one had any alcohol inside. That rule helped me stay sober. But once in my own motel room, I returned to drinking a bottle a day.

By April of 2013, I had completely run out of hope. With my last little bit of money, I bought a cell phone as a present for my 22-year-old step-daughter and made plans to take my own life. I cut and cut on my wrists as I drank and slowly waited to bleed to death. But in the morning, I woke up again. I hadn’t lost enough blood and my wounds were already healing.

I didn’t want the maid to find me, so I called the police, who checked me into the psychiatric evaluation facility at the University of Utah. I transitioned into some temporary housing, but still was as lonely and depressed as ever.

The Help I Needed

In November, someone told me about the Rescue Mission. While I was leery about joining the New Life Program because it was a one-year commitment, I decided to give it a shot.

Through the Bible studies, counseling sessions, work therapy and meeting with my community mentor – Scott Price – my life has changed. I don’t have thoughts of killing myself anymore. And with more success and sobriety, I feel like I can be a father to my step-children again. They have already lost a mother; they shouldn’t have to lose their father as well.

So moving forward, my goals are simple: I want to continue succeeding at my job and stay sober. I look forward to graduating from the New Life Program and getting my own apartment. Most of all, I’m excited about repairing relationships with my children and earning their respect.

I can’t say how thankful I am for the Rescue Mission and all of its supporters. I truly believe that without this place, I would be dead today. The Mission was here when I was desperate and hopeless. They gave me a new life, for which I am eternally grateful. 


To learn more about what is happening at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in November, check out our monthly newsletter, The Rescuer:

pdfDecember 2014 Rescuer

Looking for more testimonies? You can find them all in our Archives

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