Bryan’s Story: Disaster & Recovery

Brian Driving the Canteen

Brian Driving the Canteen

When The Salvation Army canteens were called into action following the recent historic flooding and storms, so was Bryan Flaxbeard. He could drive, he could cook, and he was eager to make a difference. But just a year ago, Bryan would not have been heading out to help, because his own life needed help.

“I was capable of running a multimillion dollar operation, but I wasn’t capable of controlling my own life.”

For Bryan, drinking was just a part of the job. As an executive chef for some of the finest restaurants across the country, he worked in a high-pressure culture that came with a side order of drugs and alcohol.

“The minute I stepped out the doors, I was a drunk. That’s how I dealt with the stress of the business,” explained Bryan. “And being the highest man on the totem pole, people were willing to offer me anything.”

 With more than a decade in the business, the succulent taste of that lifestyle turned his life into a disaster.

 “A little over a year ago, I started hitting rock bottom. I was drinking from the time I woke up, until the time I went to bed. And I would not go to sleep unless I had a bottle of liquor right next to me.”

After two hospitalizations and two attempted suicides, Bryan’s family couldn’t bear any more pain. His mother and sister insisted that he get help before he wound up dead. They wanted him to try The Salvation Army.

 “My first response was, ‘y’all are crazy.'”

 Bryan agreed to spend one night in the homeless dorm to get a feel for the environment, and afterwards begrudgingly decided The Salvation Army was his best option. The next day, he enrolled in one of the recovery programs.

 “I remember walking up to the building. And it’s a very ominous feeling when you’re 34 years old, you’ve had a six-figure salary, yet you’ve got everything you own in a backpack,” joked Bryan.

 But he was surprised to find himself welcomed with open arms.

 “They took me in, took me under their wings, and nursed me back to health.”

Bryan has graduated from The Salvation Army recovery programs and is now a part-time employee. He’s attending college to start a new career and continue with his new life. He also recently received his one year sobriety chip – which he dedicated to his mother.

 “My family can look at me and know me for who I am. This whole year that I’ve been at The Salvation Army has truly been a learning experience. Because I’ve been drunk for so long, I didn’t even know who I was. And The Salvation Army has helped me figure that out.”


 When the historic floods hit Mobile and Baldwin Counties, The Salvation Army jumped into action sending our two canteens and two disaster relief teams out into the affected areas. Bryan happened to be at work and was sent out one of the teams.

“They sent us on a mission to assess the damage and show these people that someone cares about them. To see a smiling face is such a blessing in its own. And that’s what we were trying to do – be a blessing to those who were without hope,” explained Bryan.

His team was sent to Baldwin County over a three-day period, offering food, drinks, snacks and fellowship to some of the hardest hit areas. He was shocked to hear the stories and see the damage that rainfall could create.

IMG_3099“A lot of folks said that they saw the water coming up, and they wanted to evacuate. But they couldn’t. By the time they got their keys, their children, and whatever fire safe they had, the water was already up over the cars.”

“One family got trapped in the garage, and they had to swim down underneath the door to get over to the attic, so that the first responders could rescue and saw them out of their attic.”

Roads were washed out. Lawns were covered with ripped out carpet and people’s belongings. Mothers were trying to calm down their children, and fathers were frustrated because there was nothing they could do to fix the situation.

But Bryan was amazed that when they pulled up in The Salvation Army canteen, it brought a sense of comfort and hope to those hurting families.

IMG_2328“It really was a sight to behold when someone is crying, and they look at you and start smiling. It was awesome – to know that when people see you, they know that for this moment, they’re going to be alright. We may not solve all their problems, but for right then, they’re happy.”

He couldn’t believe that even the first responders, “the people that are in charge of saving lives,” were excited to see them.

“I have cooked for some of the most famous people in the world – princes, movie stars, athletes. I’ve cooked for them and hung out with them. But I’ve never had so much satisfaction in my life as when I was the person that brought somebody joy.”

Bryan’s journey with The Salvation Army saved Brian from his own disaster, and now he’s helping others heal from their disasters. The Salvation Army has taken him from someone who couldn’t look a person in the eye – who couldn’t even make it through the night without alcohol – to someone who is happy, reunited with family, and living life to its fullest.

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