Wake Up Call

The morning of my second day came very early. I had slept reasonably well all things considered. I had begun the schedule I would keep almost every day for the next 6 months. During the week the lights were shut out in the dorm at 9:30pm. After that Overcomers could still be outside in the recreation area or in the mission library until 10:45.

At first I was staying up and reading or journaling in the library but before long I found myself going to bed at 9:30 or even earlier. The lights were turned on each day at 5:30am. I am not a morning person but I am fairly adaptable so I adjusted to this fairly quickly. The first thing that happens each day is that all the men get out of their bunks and spend 5 minutes just sitting quietly in our chairs beside our bunks. The idea is that this gives those men who wish to do so the opportunity to begin their day with a few moments of quiet reflection or prayer before the morning chaos begins. Frankly, I never found that time all that productive for those purposes but somebody along the way thought it was a good idea.

The next event on the daily agenda was “pray-in” at 6:10am. Pray-in occurred before each meal each day and it was a time for the leaders to give any necessary announcements to the whole group and for us to pray for the meal that was to follow. In the mornings only about half the men bothered to go down to breakfast. The rest would stay up in the dorm area to take advantage of the first time of the day when smoking was allowed.

Smoking is an interesting rabbit trail to chase for a moment. I don’t have exact numbers but I’d say that well over half of the men who come into the Overcomer program are smokers….that is, smokers of those things legally smoked. It is unquestionably an addiction yet it is not, at this writing, banned from the program entirely. Overcomers is actually one of the few Christian programs that permits smoking. If the administrators of the program had their way it would be prohibited but there is also a genuine concern that the loss of tobacco would keep too many people out of the program.

The main problem is the tremendous irony that smoking adds to the recovery program. It is especially in classes that this irony surfaces. For 3 and a half hours a day we would sit in class learning more about our addictions and how to deny our urges for our poison of choice. However, every 50 minutes there was a scheduled break so that clients could ingest their dose of nicotine. By 10 minutes until the break most of the counselors would admit that concentration of the smokers was gone out the window as the clock watching began in earnest. That being said, a common maxim in class by the counselors was that the program truly happens for real out on the “smoking deck”.

They were right. It was where reality came out. It was where the men were the least guarded and felt safe enough to give their real opinions as opposed to some of the “programese” that they would speak in class. I was often out there. A friend of mine dropped my pipes and a generous supply of tobacco by a few weeks into the program and I joined them many evenings and drove away their acrid fumes with my aromatic clouds from my bowl. Pipe smoking wasn’t a big habit of mine. Usually pipe smokers don’t inhale the smoke and we don’t tend to get hooked on the nicotine. By the final couple of months of the program, as the weather at night turned bitter and cold I forwent smoking all together and haven’t picked them back up since. For me it was mostly the social aspect that I enjoyed and when the weather made it too miserable I found other outlets. The pipe did raise quite a few eyebrows at first though as apparently nobody in the program had ever brought one before.

I almost stopped smoking it immediately. It hadn’t taken long for the other men to learn that I had once been a college instructor, and indeed one at the famous/infamous Christian college across town. This led to a few of the guys, jumping on my love of books, pipe and general level of education, to try to tag me with the nickname of “Professor”. I winced anytime someone tried that and I would usually sincerely ask them not to call me that. A reminder like that was a bitter sting everytime I thought of it. I wasn’t any longer a professor or a teacher and I hated being reminded of that. However, the others who knew were understanding and while they indeed appreciated the irony of my position they were willing to forgo calling me that for the most part. Another Overcomer I worked with in the kitchen had a similar aversion to being called “Chef” though he had owned a restaurant in the past and was easily qualified for the title.

One of the hardest and most humbling parts of the past few months has been the loss of my position as a teacher. I suppose in our society so much of who we are is tied up in what we do for a living. My entire reason for moving back to Greenville was to take a teaching position in a program that I cared about. Most of what I had done over the past 8 years was invested in that program and those students. I loved teaching. I had growing reservations about where I taught and a lingering bitterness due to one particular situation years ago but that didn’t change how I felt about the actual doing of my job. In retrospect, I should have left years ago.

But, that didn’t happen. I let an addiction gain control of me and I threw away much of what I had worked for over the past 8 years. I found myself in my late 30’s with no job in a terrible job market with experience and skills that seem too particular to easily be desirable to employers. A survey of friends and acquaintances at similar times of life puts them with established careers and in very different places that the one that I find myself today.

Today, I sell bread along side of kids. I don’t fit in when people look at me behind a register. The other day a woman came into the store where I work and made a comment that was intended to be friendly about how seeing me behind the counter in my apron and hat made her think of one of those reality shows on television where the boss apparently does the job of the regular employees for a day. I understood what she was observing and I smiled and nodded as I took her order but that one hurt more than a little. Yeah, I seem to be a little late in life to be working in that position, I know. Thanks, I needed that. Your order will be ready in a minute.

That’s what a rough day is like. I’ll have a few more before God chooses to show me his plan for me more clearly but I suppose that this is one of those “whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content” times. That’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s been a regular part of the curriculum for the past few months. Days begin and end. They did in the mission and they do now that I am out. I was blessed when I was teaching and loving it. I was blessed when waking up in a dorm full of men at 5:30 in the morning. I am blessed to be under the provision and care of God where I am now.

More later…thanks for reading.

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    • Thomas Jacob
    • March 11th, 2010

    I am both blessed and extremely impressed by these entries. I love that God is working in you. Love you, man.

  1. Hi Joel,

    Yes, life can grind you down sometimes… if you let it get to you. I was working as a waiter on weekends when I was trying to get started in insurance after leaving public school teaching.

    Your talents are applicable to many fields. You do, or will, have options.

    There are thousands of colleges in the USA. Some will not recoil as much as others at employing someone that has had a human setback. The lucky ones will recognize your value to them.

    All good wishes,

    Rob

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