Nova Scotia

How a single act of honesty changed the life of this homeless drug addict

Danny MacKillop, from Reserve Mines, N.S., is now in rehab and says he feels a sense of purpose in his life.

'I know I have a purpose,' says Danny MacKillop, who has gone from N.S., to Toronto and now rehab in Vancouver

Danny MacKillop has been in rehab for a month in Vancouver after a series of events that led him to reconnect with his mother. (Rob Hammond)

A single act of honesty continues to ripple through the life of a man from Reserve Mines, N.S.

"It's been amazing," said Danny MacKillop of his first few weeks at a drug treatment centre in Vancouver. "I feel great. Every day, I can look into the mirror and I like what I see."

Several months ago, life was very different for the 38-year-old. He was living on the streets of Toronto, addicted to heroin and other drugs. 

Then, in November 2017, he found some money that Toronto police special Const. Jay Kirkwood left behind at an ATM, and rather than spend it to support his habit, MacKillop returned it.

"My first instinct was just to give it back," he said. "It was the right thing to do."

Returning the $40 to the special constable triggered a series of events that have changed MacKillop's life.

Kirkwood posted the story on Facebook, tagging MacKillop. MacKillop's mother, Mary, saw the post and immediately took a flight to Toronto to find him.

A 'miracle'

Mary MacKillop hadn't seen her son in eight years, or been in touch with him for almost two. Her first day in Toronto was spent searching the streets, soup kitchens and hostels. As the sun set, she was almost ready to give up when she saw a familiar face — her son's.

"What blows me away about the whole thing is that I wasn't even in the area they would have said to find me," said MacKillop. "So for me to find her in that place was just truly a miracle."

MacKillop said he vividly remembers seeing his mom on Yonge Street.

"Just, 'Oh my God! Oh my God!'" said MacKillop. "I knew — as soon as I saw her — I knew everything was going to be all right. It was my mom. My mom was my safety." 

Winnipeg has seen wave of crime and violence related to illicit drug use, poverty and mental health issues. (CBC)

Despite a decade of drug abuse and homelessness, the sight of his mother motivated him to get help. 

"Once I saw my mom, I knew — I can't do it myself, but together we can."

Something good happening

Within a few days, a friend had bought MacKillop a ticket for a bus that took him as far as Calgary, where he met another friend, who drove him to rehab in Vancouver.

"It was awful," he recalled of the trip. "I was coming off of hard drugs, you know. Luckily, I had three seats on the back of the Greyhound.

"I just tried to sleep and lay down. Irritable and restless, but I managed to pull through."

He's almost a month into his treatment and he said it's going great. 

"Now that my sponsor, Daniel MacEachern, is taking me through the steps, something magical is happening," he said. "I can't explain it, but something is really going on, for the good." 

Cape Breton connection

MacEachern is also from Cape Breton. He and MacKillop knew of each other growing up, but have really connected only in the last month. MacEachern faced his own addiction demons over six or seven years. 

Clean now for four years, he's the operations manager at the Together We Can Treatment Centre in Vancouver, serving 300 clients.

Daniel MacEachern, left, of the Together We Can rehab centre in Vancouver, is MacKillop's recovery sponsor. (submitted by Danny MacKillop)

MacEachern said most of the staff have also been addicts.

"There's something therapeutic sitting across from someone who went through the same sufferings that you went through," he said.

Trust the process

Reflecting on how MacKillop's story unfolded — returning the money, connecting with his mother and arriving at the treatment centre — MacEachern is philosophical.

"Sometimes, the universe gives you some signs that you just have to follow," he said, "and I think when you trust a process like this, you're always going to be walking in the light. It's been beautiful."

He sees MacKillop and others make daily progress in rehab.

"It's kind of the miracle of this place," he said. "You see people come in so beaten and broken, and then … a light comes on."

For MacKillop, the steadfast support of his family and friends across the country continues to buoy his spirit. 

"The messages I'm getting is overwhelming. It's great to see," said MacKillop. "If I'm feeling down or whatever, I just go online, read a few encouraging posts and I just get on with my day.

"I feel like I know I have a purpose with my life. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I'll get there. We'll get there."