A Survivor’s Story: Danny Wills

Danny Wills is a survivor. As a child he remembers police visiting his home frequently for domestic violence and worrying about his mother all the time. At age 13, his father put him out of their home, and he began living on the streets.

“I was my own parent,” he says today. “There was so much I didn’t know then, but I survived.”

On his own at such a young age, he became influenced by others involved in criminal activities and became addicted to heroin. Negative attention, the thinking goes, was better than no attention.

Eventually, he was arrested for several burglaries and went to prison off-and-on for nearly 20 years. An arrest for driving under the influence two years ago led to a mental health court referring him to Sound, where he was diagnosed with PTSD, bipolar disorder, and depression.

He remembers that DUI arrest date – October 15, 2015 – as a turning point and hasn’t used drugs since then. “That was my true birth date,” he says.

“Sound saved my life. It gave me a new beginning and a different outlook on life,” Danny says. “I learned that I could change my thinking, change the way I feel, and change my life. I am living proof that a person with the right help can get better.”

Danny credits his counselor, John-Paul Sharp, with changing his outlook by using a new cognitive behavior therapy called CETA (Common Elements Treatment Approach).

“JP heard my stories, and it took the sting out of them. He was always there for me,” says Danny.

Danny was referred to John-Paul by his case manager as a client who wanted to get better but was overwhelmed by anxiety and traumatic memories. This put him at risk for slipping into his old life.

“Danny required a different prescription incorporating cognitive behavior therapy to treat anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma symptoms,” says John-Paul. “Before, Danny had rigid views of himself and the world, but he wanted to change. Through CETA and traumatic memory reprocessing, he learned how to integrate new ways of thinking about old stories that allowed him to reprocess emotions and reinforce new neural pathways. Eventually, he came to see the world as a safe place.”

Danny also attended AA meetings, bible study sessions, and support groups for PTSD and bipolar issues; took appropriate medications; learned nonviolent communication skills; and mended relationships with his sisters. “Now I see them all the time,” he says, which was important in avoiding his old street friends.

After getting the help he needed from Sound and a roof over his head, Danny volunteered and grew interested in becoming a one-on-one peer counselor. He studied hard, became approved for prison counseling, and works full-time for a behavioral health provider in Burien.

He also has become an ambassador for the kind of help he received from Sound and other agencies. In November, he spoke about his personal story of recovery at the King County Legislative Forum before over 700 members of the public and agency representatives  — and received a standing ovation.

Danny is 62 now, and has different goals. What motivates him is wanting a better life for his time left on earth. “I am a changed man, and I want this on my tombstone.”