Damien Schoop remembers his first Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. He was with his sister in Chicago, meeting her boyfriend. He downed it as quickly as a soda, unfazed by the hoppy, slightly bitter taste hitting his tongue. Then he opened the next one.
He was just 10 years old.
It took about an hour and a half of walking alongside his sister before he was sober enough for her to bring him back home. He was so tired she put him right to bed.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and I threw up," Schoop said.
He and his sister never talked about that night again. But Schoop kept drinking on and off for 35 more years.
Today, 51-year-old Schoop is rebuilding his relationship with his two sons and his father. He has completed his general educational development test (GED) and received job training. And although he still lives at the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities in downtown St. Paul, he works there, too, as a call center financial counselor for a national company. Due to COVID-19 restrictions at his job, Schoop is the only person living at Union Gospel Mission and working from home.
Schoop hopes to eventually move into his own place and set down roots.
"This place has just literally revolutionized and changed my whole attitude on life," he said.
Chris Suerig, who directs the mission's Christ-centered addiction treatment center, called Christ Recovery Center (CRC), said Schoop "is an inspiring example of moving out of homelessness when you are only given the basic supports of shelter and food but an overflowing amount of love and accountability to rebuild your life."
Schoop was born in Washington, D.C. At 17, he took a job at a call center. Drinking got him through the day.
"[I thought] the only way that I … can ever do this job was to be somebody else," Schoop said. Every time he drank, he was able to mimic a British accent that made him one of the top salesmen.
"But it came at a cost," Schoop said. "I was never sober. I was always drinking. Before the shift started, when the shift ended and when I got home. I would pass out, get up and I would do it over."
Three years later, he met face-to-face with his father for the holidays, whom he hadn't seen in a decade. His father was now sober himself. Seeing the state of his son, he took him to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the next morning.
"I had no clue where we were going," Schoop said. They walked in and he noticed the sterling silver coffee pots laid out next to doughnuts. His father hugged strangers in the room.
"There was a woman that started sharing her story … she says she goes to bars and does a British accent to have guys buy her drinks," Schoop said.
That caught his attention. After a few meetings, Schoop stayed sober for 17 years. He got another telemarketing job, became a manager and started a new life in California.
A trip to Tijuana with his co-workers — and a shot of tequila — changed that. His older sister eventually persuaded him to return to Minnesota to get sober.
After Schoop's landlord changed the locks on him due to late payments, Schoop called up an old AA sponsor. The sponsor took him to United Gospel Mission and to CRC.
"He drove me to my first meal that I had had in probably three weeks," Schoop said.
The no-insurance requirement helped Schoop complete the 12-step AA program while discovering his spirituality and connection to God.
Schoop is now sober and "putting in the work," he said. He thanks CRC for helping to get him there.
"It's not about me, it's about the people who I can possibly help," said Schoop, who hopes to lead Bible studies for future CRC students.
"I can't help everybody, but at least my testimony can be something inspiring."
Ksenia Gorinshteyn is a Twin Cities freelance writer.