Transition to civilian life a challenge for Marine vet; finding way back from the brink
PRESCOTT - Transitioning from military life to civilian life can be a challenge for some veterans. The stress of finding a job and housing, the lack of a structured environment, and fitting in with society can cause veterans to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief.
Marine veteran Davis Honie, 55, was one of the many veterans who found himself looking for answers at the bottom of a bottle.
Honie joined the Marines in 1976. Over six years in the Marines, Honie served in Hawaii, Australia, Japan and the South Pacific.
"The good part about the military was that I got to travel. I was so happy about that because I went to places that I know I would never in my life get to go to," Honie said. "It was some experience and I made sure to take advantage to touring the land."
While military life was an adventure, civilian life was just the opposite for Honie.
After being discharged in 1982, Honie returned to his family's ranch at the village of Polacca on the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona. To help him continue the family tradition of ranching, Honie's father gave him some cows.
"I ended up turning into an alcoholic. I drank up all my cattle," Honie said. "I just turned to the bottle."
From there, Honie hit rock bottom, panhandling for money and living on the streets of Albuquerque and Phoenix.
"I was the most professional panhandler in the world," Honie said. "I took a NAPA auto parts shirt and turned it into my own shirt. I used the letters to write 'Native American Panhandlers Association'."
After a few years of living hand to mouth, Honie had had enough. He connected with the Veterans Affairs office in Prescott and enrolled in the drug and alcohol program.
"I told myself I had to get myself healthy and earn money the right way," Honie said. "I didn't want to die. To this day I'm happy I made that decision."
To help focus on his recovery efforts, Honie began drawing various Native American inspired pieces of artwork. Many of Honie's pieces feature butterflies and birds, Hopi Indian symbols of harmony and gracefulness. All of Honie's artwork is done freehand with colored pencils and markers.
"You need sunshine in your life and harmony and gracefulness," Honie said looking over a drawing of a Hopi sun he created. "You need to think bright, colorful ideas. I try to think that way everyday."
As his sobriety flourished, so did his drawings. Honie's artwork began to become more intricate and detailed. The bright colors pop off the pages and his love of his Native American culture is showcased in his drawings.
"Some of the guys asked me how I did this on the computer, but I don't even know how to use a computer," Honie said laughing. "But, you can see that not all the lines are perfect."
After getting sober, Honie transitioned from the VA's drug and alcohol domiciliary to rent-controlled housing through the U.S. Vets organization. He currently holds a job and has been alcohol free for three years and eight months.
"Mr. Honie has overcome many challenges during his time spent in the U.S. VETS program," organization executive director Barbara Mikkelsen said. "Through his innate artistry, he is able to communicate his native cultural values and experiences in a way that has strengthened his self-confidence and capacity to live a productive and healthy lifestyle."
Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone