Second Chances

How DLC, with a little help from a canine friend, saved this man’s life.

About six years ago, someone in West Palm Beach abandoned a vivacious Labrador/German Shepherd mix, a friendly dog who ended up at the local animal shelter. When nobody claimed him, he was scheduled for euthanasia.

At about the same time, a middle-aged man named Elier, wrestling with depression and self-medicating with alcohol, dropped by the shelter, looking to adopt a canine friend. When he came to the cage with the Lab/Shepherd mix, Elier took one look and said, “He’s the one.”

Above the cage was a tag with the dog’s name: Chance.

“I’m going to give him a second chance,” said Elier, and he brought the dog home.

Fast forward to a few years later. Elier’s drinking was out of control. He had lost everything, including his job and his home. He went to a treatment center and established sobriety, but when he was released, he had no place to go. He and Chance spent three weeks homeless, living out of his car.

A friend in Fort Myers offered Elier a place to stay for free, but on one condition: he couldn’t bring his dog. Elier gave Chance to a friend so he could focus on getting his life in better order.

“It was the hardest decision in my life,” says Elier. “I don’t have kids, and Chance was my family. But I wasn’t in any shape to take care of a dog, much less myself.”

But the plan backfired. Without Chance, Elier felt without hope. His depression spiraled and he crashed hard, literally drinking himself to near death.

It was time for someone to take a chance on Elier.

That’s how he ended up at DLC.

“I was a wreck when I got there,” says Elier. “I was broke, broke from the floor up.”

But his second chance had begun . . .

“They saved my life”

Elier started drinking at 15, and it steadily worsened over the next 40 years. He says he was a “functioning alcoholic,” holding a steady job and even winning awards for his work. But his drinking continued to increase until he lost everything, eventually leading him to DLC.

Elier spent his first 10 days going through detox in DLC’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, where a counselor asked him if he had been having any suicidal thoughts.

“No,” replied Elier. But then it hit him: he had actually been slowly killing himself for years with alcohol, and he didn’t care if he lived or died.

He spent the next 28 days in DLC’s Crossroads residential recovery program, where he began to learn a lot more about himself, and even experienced animal-assisted therapy through equine and pet therapy services.

While in Crossroads, Elier was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which helped explain his lifelong bouts with depression. It also dawned on him that his mother, who also struggled with alcohol use, also likely had bipolar disorder.

“I just thought I was sad all of the time,” he says. “But now I know it was clinical depression. My manic stages never lasted very long, but I would be in a depressed state for months, and it was debilitating.”

Now on medication for bipolar disorder, Elier says he’s “seeing the world in a different light.” He was also put on medication to help with arthritis and neuropathy, so he’s feeling better physically, too.

Today, Elier lives in a recovery residence and will soon celebrate one year of sobriety.

“Alcoholism and mental illnesses are diseases,” he says. “I come from a Latino, ‘macho’ culture where you just don’t talk about that kind of stuff.”

He says that being honest with himself has helped with healing — healing that wouldn’t have been possible without DLC.

“Without DLC, I wouldn’t be here,” says Elier. “They saved my life. Now, I can function. I find joy in life again.”

His goals are to continue recovery, to live independently again, and to help others, perhaps as a sponsor in a substance use recovery program.

And, of course, to get a dog again. Maybe he’ll even be reunited with Chance.

“You just can’t beat the unconditional love of a dog,” he says.

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