NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) – Do not underestimate the power of grief. It’s a lesson our next Courage To Come Back award winner took a lifetime to learn. NEWS 1130’s series of profiles continues with a look at the recipient in the Addiction category.
“I tend to ramble,” admits Josh Dahling. “I’m not used to talking about myself.”
But what a story he has to tell. Dahling and his family emigrated from Apartheid-era South Africa, only to experience even more hardships in his new home. By the time he reached his mid-teens, he had been bullied, experienced physical and sexual abuse, and had developed alcohol and drug addictions, landing himself on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Then the death of his father sent his life further spiraling out of control.
“He was shot on a boat and then thrown overboard,” Dahling recalls. “His body wasn’t in a refrigerated morgue…and they asked me to identify him. When you haven’t seen your father since you’re seven and that’s the next image, it’s pretty traumatic,” he admits.
Dahling continued to abuse drugs and alcohol. His “ah-ha” moment came in a recovery house. He was told he had assaulted a police officer and that, if he left, he would be placed under arrest. That was the start of him turning his life around.
“My life sucked! I could tell you about [hitting] a lot of bottoms. When you’re a kid getting abused by older men, to me, that’s a pretty low bottom. It screws you up!”
He went back to school and spent years as an addictions counselor, but it was volunteering a bereavement camp that revealed his true path.
“This is what I’m meant to do. I felt at home. This is something that I had true empathy and compassion for,” he says. “What I enjoy about this work is I find it so healing for me.”
Dahling still remembers his first time volunteering at Camp Kerry, taking a boat ride with youngsters he realized were just like him.
“‘Yeah, my dad died,’ you know, four year old kid, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s too bad. My dad died years ago too.’ Another kid’s like, ‘Oh yeah, my dad died too!’ And another kid, ‘Oh, my mom and dad died. My brother died.’ I’m like, ‘What’s going on here?'”
Today, the 42-year-old is 20 years sober and continues to work with the Camp Kerry Society, which still provides critical support for children, youth, and families coping with grief and loss. As for his Courage To Come Back award, that’s great, but says he’s just getting warmed up.
“I’m not even nearly started yet. I got so much I want to do.”