The community saved him when he couldn’t save himself
Special to The Union
He couldn’t have known as a child that one day he would end up clinging to life in a hospital bed.
It turned out that a series of life choices led William Wallace there.
As far back as he can remember, Wallace was raised in a family that normalized alcoholism.
“Alcohol was a constant at every get together,” explained Wallace. “I grew up in an environment where it was just present.”
As young as 7 years old, he recalled being offered sips of alcohol from family members at social gatherings. These sips slowly turned into heavy drinks and by 10th grade, he was supplementing alcohol with drugs. He soon found himself deeply addicted, and for the next 18 years, alcohol and drugs consumed his life.
Then, one day, something changed.
“I can’t do the drugs anymore. I woke up and I was done,” he recalled. “But the alcohol never stopped.”
Wallace was unable to give up alcohol then, but later overcame his 18-year drug addiction on his own. He continued to drink and admittedly struggled with his mental health. He made poor choices at times, including one choice that resulted in a five-year prison sentence.
“It didn’t take away five years of my life,” he said. “It gave me five years of my life.”
In going to prison, Wallace discovered something he hadn’t experienced consistently: sobriety. Free from alcohol, he enrolled in self-help classes, graduated from substance abuse programs, and became a model inmate.
Prison ended up being a blessing in disguise, but following his release, with alcohol available at every store, every social gathering, every event, the temptation was too great. He slowly returned to his old ways, and sadness followed.
“I got to the point in 2013 where I had tried everything in life but hadn’t gotten anywhere,” he said. “I was tired of being a slave to alcohol … there was nothing rewarding in my life except having that drink.”
In September 2013, Wallace attended a local festival with on-site camping, and decided as the festival came to a close, so would his life. He returned to his campsite on the last night of the festival and swallowed a mass quantity of pills.
“I said to myself, ‘Good night, it’s been a good life,’ and went in my tent and laid down,” he shared through tears. “This was a Sunday night. My nearly lifeless body was found the following Friday because someone got curious why my tent was still in the campground.”
Wallace was found barely alive with his heart beating once per minute. He was rushed to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where he remained in the trauma unit for the next two and half months. Once he regained consciousness and gradually began to recover, he realized for the first time in his life, he wanted to live.
“What was amazing is while I was there, people kept coming in,” he said. “People from Hospitality House, Spirit (Peer Empowerment) Center, (Nevada County) Behavioral Health — they wanted to know my story. They placed a value on me that I had never felt before … people truly care. It just gave me a whole new attitude. It strengthened my heart and hope.”
In the months Wallace spent recovering, he gained new perspective. “Suddenly it started coming together and making sense,” he explained. “Everyone has support out there, but sometimes our eyes and hearts aren’t open to it. But once we become willing to accept that support and use those tools, we discover we have the opportunity to have a happy and healthier life.”
Wallace was happier and stronger for release come December 2013, but he had nowhere to go, having lost his home following his hospitalization.
“People kept coming in from Hospitality House,” he said. “They kept talking about this homeless shelter. On December 11, 2013, I was released from the hospital and I was invited to Hospitality House and it happened to be the first day of the opening on Sutton Way.”
Wallace became one of the first guests of Utah’s Place, where he was met with care and compassion. He was given the tools he needed to return to stability and thrived in peer support classes, graduating from crisis support and suicide prevention classes offered at Nevada County Behavioral Health.
Within six months, Wallace gained a new life and was offered an opportunity to manage a clean and sober living home. He moved into the home and managed it for the next five years.
Today, Wallace continues to maintain his sobriety, has a wonderful home, operates his own thriving construction company called “Wallace Works” and offers peer support for those struggling with addiction and mental health. He gives back at every opportunity to those in need and is an active volunteer at Hospitality House. Most of all, he’s happy.
“My life is amazing,” he said. “It’s not all roses. It can be tough, and I still see people struggling on the street, but I want people to know if I can make it, you can make it. I know they can.”
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