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Joe Zacker, Part II
Joe Zacker is a new man.
Since he was last seen on the streets of Sequim, he has gained 40 pounds.
Much more importantly, he has been sober.
“Four hundred sixty-one days,” he said. “I count ‘em all.”
Zacker, who moved to Sequim in 1994, spent nearly 10 years homeless in Sequim, setting up camp each night in a spot behind the QFC grocery store.
He admits it was a miserable experience. When it rained, he wrapped himself in plastic.
Fifteen months ago he decided he’d had enough.
He said no particular event precipitated his decision. “I just decided to stop drinking. I’d been drinking all of my life. But it just got progressively worse.”
He downplays the difficulty of the decision, but clearly there was more to it.
He said it was based on his “will to live.”
“I knew I was going to die,” he added.
Zacker’s friend Seth Adkins volunteered to drive him to the Kitsap Recovery Center in Bremerton. Zacker credits the “KRC” with saving his life.
At the facility he first went through a detox program. “It was cool,” he said. “They were nice.”
Was he sick?
“Well, yeah,” he says. “I mean it was pretty uncomfortable. I went through the DTs and all that stuff.”
Then he moved across the hall for a 30-day treatment program.
That’s where he said he received the education he needed.
“Every day you go to class and they teach you all this stuff and you have homework. You don’t have much free time. You learn all of the different aspects of addiction and alcoholism. And you look at all the things that can lead you down that path. And you look at all the things you can do to stay on a good path to recovery.”
After 30 days the patients are free to leave or to sign up for a guest program for another 30 days — maybe longer “if you haven’t figured out your job situation.” Zacker stayed another three weeks before a counselor mentioned a group home in Bremerton that might suit his needs.
“I did the interview and they accepted me,” he said.
These days Zacker is in a Bremerton group home he shares with 12 other addicts. He says he’s happier than he’s been in decades.
The home is modest and plainly outfitted. Zacker’s tiny room is stuffed with stuff, including a $5 stereo tape deck from Goodwill. His TV is old enough to have a slot for VHS tapes. But he says the home is just perfect for him.
“It’s the only way to fly,” he said.
He’s had two hernia operations and is now awaiting another for a damaged rotator cuff.
Then he’ll go to work: “something to do with cars,” he said. He mentioned a friend from Sequim who has a truck repair shop in Bremerton who will hire him.
Zacker said it’s a shame there is nothing similar to the KRC in Clallam County. There are treatment centers, he said, but nothing for those needing residential treatment or a place to detox. While there are treatment centers, their services often are insufficient, he said.
Many of the patients utilize the centers only because they’ve been ordered there by a judge. “They just cycle through,” Zacker said.
A detox followed by residential treatment “brings you to a fork in the road. Do you want to go back to what you were doing, which is nothing? Or do you want a future doing anything you want to do?”
“You have to face that problem and learn how to deal with it. It’s not just quitting. It goes beyond that. And you can help others by going to AA meetings. “
People with problems like his, he said, “ought to do what I did.”
“Especially if you’re as old as I am.”
He said after drinking daily for decades it became the norm. “It’s like eating,” he said.
“Until you put it all in perspective. You’re just putting one foot after another into the grave, slowly but surely.”
“It’s the only way to go for somebody that’s bad off. You have to get into a clean and sober house.”
He said his drinking and the resulting homelessness “had a lot to do with just giving up.” The recession meant he couldn’t work. “The economy was horrible.”
With no job to go to, there was no need to stay sober.
“But,” he was quick to add, “that’s just an excuse. Everybody went through it.”
His new life provides more than a roof over his head. It provides responsibilities and community.
When asked what others could do to lend a hand, he was confused by the question. “Nothing,” he said.
But if someone wants to donate to KRC, or Catholic Community Services, which also lends a hand, he’d be grateful.
In the meantime, he said he knows the source of his current good health and happiness.
“It just comes by the grace of God. If it wasn’t for God … I know I couldn’t have done all this without his help.
“I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.