James joined the Marines at 17. “I was mad at everyone,” he says, “and I just wanted to get away.”

He’d lost his Dad four years earlier. James was himself in intensive care at the time, after having been hit by a drunk driver. He didn’t get to see his Dad before he died. “I was in a hospital in Novato and he was in a hospital in San Francisco. I went the bad way after that,” he says.

While in the Marines, James suffered a sexual assault. Admitting victimization in the armed forces isn’t an easy thing today. But it was unthinkable in the 1980s. As a result of the trauma he couldn’t acknowledge, James’ on-the-job performance suffered. He left the service without an honorable discharge–and, therefore, without access to many of the services that could potentially help him.

James’ life after that was a seesaw. He’d muscle through long chapters of stability and prosperity. A jack of all trades, he’s at home in a restaurant kitchen, a hospital, or a construction site, and he did well at all his jobs for a time. But he was also contending with undiagnosed depression and panic and anxiety attacks. Drugs helped, but they also made him homeless several times. “Pretty soon, I’d be out there ripping and roaring in the bushes,” he says. “It was inevitable.”

In his 40s and 50s, he thought he had it licked. He had his own apartment, good jobs, and savings. He saw his Mom regularly and helped her out around the house.

But while he was away on a construction site, his Mom died. Once again, a parent died without a farewell. James’ sister and best friend died shortly after and James fell apart.

He was camping in the bushes around the Mary Isaak Center, coming in for lunch. “[Shelter Manager] Silvia told me how to get a bed,” James said. But she and James’ Housing Navigator Pamela didn’t let him stay in that bed too long. “I woke up in my bunk one day and they were there, telling me it was time to go to treatment.”

“I went because I knew them and trusted them,” James says. “I also knew that I just didn’t have another run in me.”

After James returned from treatment, Pamela helped him find housing in Petaluma in a house dedicated to homeless veterans. “I see Pam every week. She comes out to the house to check in. It keeps me connected.” Pam helped him connect with a therapist which is proving helpful. He also values the connection he’s made with Annie Nichol, the Petaluma Heath Care Center nurse practitioner headquartered at the Mary Isaak Center.

He’s taken on a leadership role in the local recovery community “which helps a lot. It’s good to be busy and helpful,” he says. Pamela encouraged him to take care of his health, so three days a week, James joins a roomful of women for a kickboxing class. “In a lot of ways, this has been the most powerful part of my recovery,” he says.