Archive for the ‘ Recovery ’ Category

Consequences

The long term consequences of the stupid stuff you did when in your addiction are the worst.  The body can heal from an awful lot of damage.  Most of the physical effects of the abuse I put myself through cleared up quickly.  Since I tended to binge and then cycle off of the alcohol I became very familiar with detoxification.  The first 48 hours were the worst.  Inside of a week or so the anxiety and restlessness subsided.  I would get my appetite back.  Frequently I’d feel…well not exactly pain in my abdomen…but just an odd feeling.  That took a little longer to subside.

That happened for the last time the week I entered the Overcomer program.  Lots of other changes happened after that during the next few months.  That part is over.  I’m out now.  Now each day the long term stuff comes home to roost.

The pain I caused my friends and family seems to be healing.  Trust slowly comes back.  Frankly, my friends and family are fully aware that I’m not fully trustworthy at this point.  It would be foolish of them to not be closely holding me accountable.  The substance of my temptation is too readily available.

Everyday on my way home I see a billboard at the corner of Wade Hampton and Church.  It’s a bourbon bottle pouring a drink into a glass.  It’s even my old brand.  But really, this doesn’t bother me.

It’s the day to day stuff that’s getting to me at this point.  I have two jobs.  One of them I technically started back in July of 2009.  A friend from BJU who manages a local café gave me a job as soon as he saw my application…no questions asked.  I told him what happened.  Weeks later he was suspecting that I was drinking and even though I left suddenly to go into rehab he gave me back my job when I came out.  Again, no questions asked.

I’ve always felt that I was a grateful person and I really do appreciate the fact that I have a job but that only goes so far to soothe one’s mind.  The job is depressing right now.  Months ago I got passed over for a position with more responsibility and challenge.  Now, though I have weekend job that I really enjoy there is no guarantee that it will turn into anything more than a part time position anytime soon.  That weekend job pretty much sealed my fate at the café.  There is no opportunity for me to progress.  No opportunity to grow.  I’m an interchangeable cog. I’m fully swappable with any high school kid.  The value I have to the company is well represented by the fact that after over a year my nametag is just the backside of an old business card with my name written in sharpie.  It’s 7 or so hours a day on my feet for low pay at a place where the company’s idea of a good raise comes out to about 2%.  I had a little hope a few weeks ago to expand my role a little but that didn’t work out.  After getting it all but solidified I made the mistake of telling the higher-ups that I thought that I was about to go full time at my weekend job so they put it on what seems to be permanent hold.  The pragmatic will probably point out that it’s my own fault for telling them but I didn’t feel right about having them invest some fairly intense training in me only to have me leave within two weeks.  That didn’t work out for me.

I get up at 4:30am to open the store.  I fill the same orders day after day for a couple of dozen regulars along with less frequent walk-ins.  I get a half hour break then lunch comes.  I like lunch best.  It’s usually busy and I stay busy enough during that 2 ½ hours for the time to pass quickly.

Last year it wasn’t quite the same.  In the recovery program I didn’t see the news much.  I wasn’t as in tune with the schedule of my old life as it moved on.  This year when classes go back in session…I notice.  I see Facebook posts from old friends and students who are talking about things I used to be deeply involved with.  Holiday breaks come and go.  They rejoice in the extra time off to be with friends and family.  I pick up some extra shifts and work crazy hours for 18 days straight.

And after all is said and done as the philosopher Jimmy Buffet once said….It’s my own damn fault.  I tough realization but one that has to be accepted.

I accept it better some days than others.  I’m still not drinking though.

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Inescapable Conclusions

My parallel time last year in Overcomers would have found me about to enter the program in earnest in a couple of days.  The first two weeks of Overcomers is filled, mostly, with a daily task followed by one hour of class per week day.  Pre-programmers are also required to attend additional sessions at night most evenings.  While the first two weeks are somewhat frustrating because it seems to be so little work being done on one’s problem and so much ….well just other stuff.  The routine and rules quickly become challenging to one’s state of mind.

Days begin early at the mission.  The lights go on at 5:30 and the men only have a couple of minutes to get out of their bunks.  The first mandatory event of the day is “Pray-in” and that happens about 40 minutes after lights-on.  Chapel is at 7 am so and before an Overcomer goes there he must have his bunk and area clean, himself dressed and ready to go and if he still has one of the daily dormitory tasks then that must be done as well.  Breakfast is also fit into this time before 7am.  I usually skipped breakfast as it tended to be the meal of the day where there was the least variety and frankly quality of food.  We usually had cereal two day a week and those were the days I was most likely to go downstairs for a meal.   I would sometimes head down for coffee…well a cup of brown water with grit in it.  For reasons that remain somewhat obscure we weren’t allowed to make have coffee in the dorm though frankly stashes of instant coffee were some of the more benign and common contraband many of us tended to stash away.  Once I was able to go to Wal-Mart as part of my duties I did procure some instant packets to either use in the dorm with tap water or to add to the lousy coffee we did get in the mornings or at church to make it palatable. 

I guess this brings up the subject of contraband and the rules that had to do with it.  Obviously, being an addiction recovery program, the possessions and substances that clients are permitted to possess are very limited.  Mouthwashes and other personal hygiene items cannot contain alcohol for obvious reasons.  Overcomers are also not allowed to keep more than a daily dose of any medication in their possession.  During the week medication was dispensed by the infirmary and closely controlled.  On weekends the men are allowed to have enough doses of their meds to cover Saturday and Sunday.  Even drugs such as over the counter pain relievers are closely controlled and we were not supposed to have supplies of them in our possession.  This was another frequently broken rule as one quickly learned that it was truly a miserable experience to have a headache and no access to pain medication over night.  Initially I intended to keep these rules myself but later on I began keeping a “stash”.  This presents a bit of a moral dilemma as on the one hand as an Overcomer progresses through the program we are encouraged to see our willingness to violate rules as “relapse behavior”.  On the other hand having a headache or bad cold in the middle of the night stinks.  While in a true emergency a counselor could have been called and come in to access medicine unless the situation was truly serious one usually had to wait until the next morning or even until Monday to get medication.  However, one quickly realized that many guys kept supplies of some meds and a trusted friend would usually share or point you in the right direction if you needed something.  It felt rather odd to be “trafficking” in Advil or cold medicine but the men appreciated the irony of the situation.  One man who provided me with some Advil late one evening when I had a headache briefly put on his former hat as a dealer when he informed me that “the first one is free….cause I know you’ll be back.”

Even with only one hour of class per day quite a bit happens in those first two weeks.  In my case I think the most important thing I learned was that regardless of age or background all of us in the program were more or less the same.  There were young guys sent to the program as a last chance before jail and older men who had wasted a tremendous amount of their lives.  There were meth manufacturers and successful business owners.  (In some cases they were the same man.)  There were the openly rebellious and then there were men like me.  Smart enough not to openly challenge the counselors but inwardly most unconvinced that 6 ½ months of treatment and counseling are really necessary.

At the end of the day though I believe every man who is successful in the program comes to the same unavoidable, inescapable conclusion:  No matter what I think of the most apparently foolish person sitting in that classroom, no matter how unlearned, unwise or self-destructive I may perceive them to be: I’m sitting in the same room with them in a recovery program.

Good ain’t forever and bad ain’t for good.

Writing has hazards involved that one may not consider before the page begins to fill.  It’s not always cathartic.  Sometimes it locks emotions into place when they are better dealt with or moved through.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post for several reasons.  No, that’s not really true.  Just one if I’m honest.  I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been so busy with all the things I’m involved with.  It would be more comfortable to say that I had some kind of writer’s block, couldn’t really figure out where I wanted to go with my story next or just lost interest in the whole thing but none of that would be true.  The real reason I’ve been silent is that the only things I felt like saying..putting down in print just sound like pathetic whingeing on  and self pity.  At least that’s what it sounds like in my head and I would find it difficult to believe that it would come across much differently on a blog.

However, it’s getting in the way of a lot more than just moving ahead with this silly website.  It’s taking an awful toll on my sanity or at least my peace of mind.  It’s robbing me of joy and hope and faith so I guess getting it out is the best way to proceed and then hopefully I’ll have it done with, faced and left behind.

It’s been odd to see how being confined in a recovery program was less stressful than return to “real life”, a home and a job.  On reflection I guess that living in a world where most of your time is structured and your activities predetermined does take a good deal of pressure off but it’s hardly a vacation.  I sure as hell don’t want to go back there.  The honeymoon of homecoming ended quickly though and the last month or so has been rough.

Last post I mentioned the difficulty of my current work situation.  The gratefulness for just having a job in this economy was wearing off and the reality of manning a cash register was hitting home.  It hasn’t gotten much better over the past few weeks.  One customer even managed to one-up the customer I talked about last time who joked about “Undercover Boss” by asking me point blank “What job were you doing before you took this one?” and “Why did you leave that job?”.  Yes, I realize that I would have been completely within my rights to say “None of your business” to both questions but frankly I was so taken back by the direct nature of the inquiry that it was my final answer of “personal reasons” that ended the line of questioning.

About that time something else happened that really shattered my morale.  For the first five weeks or so back at work I was scheduled to work every Saturday.  Usually I was scheduled from the early morning to deep into the afternoon so Saturday by any definition it had ever been to me in all my working years was a thing of the past.  Saturday’s working at a restaurant are great.  Not only are you doing the same job as you’ve done all week but you get to do it on a day when most of the rest of the world is out having a good time.  It’s worse by far, I would guess, than working most other places on Saturday.  I’ve graded papers on a Saturday, been in the office on a Saturday or had to work an event on a Saturday but the special thing about Saturday at an eating establishment is that almost all of you clients are just stopping in to have a meal on their way to or from some enjoyable event.  The weather has been nice too so everyone is in their warm weather outdoor clothing and many are driving up with the various apparatus of their activity of choice strapped on a rack to the top or back of their car.  So generally speaking, on weekends especially, I tended to start out at about 6:30 am at work with a mildly misanthropic attitude towards humanity in general and customers in particular, building towards deep disdain for every S.O.B, and D.O.B for that matter, that walked in the door, finally finishing up with believing, by the end of the day, that I truly understood the motivations of every psychopathic megalomaniacal villain in every movie ever made.  It got worse each week.

One Monday morning after a Sunday of working morning to afternoon followed by a mandatory meeting at work that night I just pulled up in my car to work a few minutes early and prayed for God just to give me some encouragement for the day while I was at work.  That’s all I wanted.  Just something to show me some light in the tunnel for those next few hours.  Well, to human observation at least, God seemed to listen and then put in a call to His irony department.  Within an hour after checking in for work I was given the news that due to the departure of another employee my schedule was going to be changed.  I was going to get a Monday through Friday schedule with pretty much full time hours and I would be working the early shift that would allow me to late afternoons and evenings free to pursue some of the activities that I had been wanting to schedule.  Awesome.  Encouragement at work just like I had asked.   I even called the wife who passed the info on to my parents.  Everybody was happy.

Literal encouragement  just during those few work hours, was exactly what it turned into.  Right after I had checked out for the day I mentioned the changes to another store manager and was quickly informed that she would not allow me to be installed into the schedule I had been offered.  So it was taken away within minutes.  A day of rejoicing was replaced by not only the revoking of the schedule that I thought I had but by being informed by the scheduling manager that she had no intention of giving anyone that advantageous of a schedule at any time.  I wasn’t too thrilled with her to say the least but at this writing at least I have resisted the urge to put mousetraps in the cash register she uses or to inact that idea I had that would make her hair fall out.  Frankly, I wasn’t too happy with God either.  Encouragement during work.  Yep, I had that.  Ripping it all away as I walked out the door.  Very funny.  You got me good with that one.

A person can deal with almost any situation so long as there is hope.  That’s the whole point of that famous sign in hell: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  Someone flicked a switch and that sign began to buzz and then glow in bright neon in my head.  Any illusions that I had about my situation really getting better at that job were dispelled.  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s somewhat of a freeing thing as well.  Knowing where you stand definitely has value but in a job market where there is a glut of darn near everybody it is a kick in the head to realize that you may well be investing your time in a place where there is little likelihood of there being a payoff.   Cosmic irony kind of sucks too when the mind has been stewing in sarcasm and pessimism already.

When in the Overcomer program I found it easier to be upbeat about the future.  I think that I sort of had this idea that I was paying my penance while in the program and was learning my lesson and consciously our unconsciously was expecting God to notice and then get on with the blessings.  Then I came out of the program and here a year after my world came apart I find myself in roughly the same physical place.  Contentment and peace comes and goes.  Today, It’s back.  I put that mostly on the fact that lately I’ve been able to get my eyes off of myself, look for opportunities in the place God has put me and also I’ve carved out a few opportunities by volunteering with the Scout troop near my home.  That sort of thing is key and it will help keep me from ever being a miserable drunk or miserable sober for that matter again.

The great philosopher Roger Miller said: “Everything changes a little and it should. Good ain’t forever and bad ain’t for good.”

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.

The Mission

Let me take a moment to give you a general layout of the mission where I spent 6 months.  It was built in 1999 and replaced an older building that once stood in what is now the parking lot of the current mission.  The mission is in West Greenville near some rather poor neighborhoods.  Gentrification is slowly taking bits of that area of the city but it has not overcome most of the blocks of poverty yet.  The old mission used to be next door to an old rooming house that was apparently a location for just about any kind of vice one can imagine.  That building was knocked down a while back but long time residents still remember things like drugs being passed to men in the mission by tennis balls thrown over the wall.

The homeless mill back and forth between this area and the revitalized downtown of Greenville.  A walk around downtown takes visitors past many wonderful shops, coffee houses, restaurants and scenic parks.  As one follows the paths that sometimes go under bridges that carry busy roads it is easy to miss what I came to think of as the “hardcore” homeless living in the dark corners.  While I don’t meant to suggest that there is currently enough space in the homeless shelters of Greenville to accommodate everyone who needs a place to stay on any given day, most people could find a place in one of the shelters within a few days if they wanted to.  However, there is a contingent of the homeless that for one reason or another do not want to live at shelters.  Some simply do not want to follow the rules against alcohol and drug use or some of the other policies.  Others cannot be safely housed with others because of their behavioral or mental problems.

On cold nights (below 40) the Greenville Rescue Mission opens its “Cold Weather Shelter” where anyone can come to stay warm(er) for the night at least.  Security is a prime consideration that most people don’t think about when society wonders why there aren’t more places that can be open to shelter the homeless.  One cannot simply open the doors to the gym of the mission and let people come in without searching for weapons or having security present all through the night.

I had a chance to meet many of the men who stayed in the mission on the “homeless” side during my time there.  The “whys” that bring a man to live in a mission are many.  I met men that were homeless following an extended prison stay.  I knew of men who were professionals whose every possession was taken away as a result of judgments against them for “white collar crime”.  One man was apparently a professional airline pilot at one time and was now reduced to picking up cargo runs following his prison stay and loss of his license to pilot passenger craft.  Another man told me that over 20 years ago he had simply decided that he had enough of married life, left his wife and daughter and began travelling.  For the past couple of decades he had drifted from one location to another, never living anywhere more than a few months.  He estimated that in all that time he had spent perhaps 6 months in a dwelling of his own provision.  Otherwise he was under the sky or in a shelter.  I met a man who had multiple campsites hidden all around Greenville.  When he was tired he simply went to his closest temporary home.  As far as he knew his tents and possessions were still right where he left them in the midst of the town in unnoticed locations.

Often young men would come through the mission.  They were perhaps just over 18 or in their early 20’s.  Usually they had run away or simply decided that they didn’t want to live by their parent’s rules any longer.  The scary part was to sit in the mission library and see the two ends of the spectrum.  In one chair one might see a man in his 50’s arguing loudly over a game of checkers with another man who had seen decades drift away with absolutely nothing to show for the spent years.  A few feet away an 18 year old boy would be talking some nonsense about a video game they could no longer even afford or indeed had a place to play if they could.  It was the same person really, just with half a century or so between them.

I’d say the most notable thing about many of the men in the mission is their unwillingness or inability to grow up.  I do not speak of simply retaining the joys of youth that can be retained into maturity.  The men there who seem unable to break the cycles that keep them in missions are the ones who simply never obtain the willingness to take on any long term responsibility.  I saw inarguable evidence that a man who chooses to be idle and carefree can easily do so for the entirety of a very long life.  I’m sure that there are many who never make it that far but that lifestyle is quite survivable with a little cunning, luck and by means of a few services provided by both private and public organizations.

My contact with the homeless up to this point was minimal.  Now that I think of it, minimal to the point of none.  To borrow from Spinal Tap, how much more minimal could it be and I think, “None, none more minimal.”  I don’t suppose that is all that uncommon though.  Though on reflection, I (and you indeed) might have met, talked with, known a homeless person without ever realizing it.  The obvious ones: the ones in dirty clothes, long greasy hair carrying battered packs or bags are one group, but there are others I know who you might strike up a conversation with in downtown Greenville at the park, library or a coffee shop and you would most likely never know they were “one of those homeless people” unless they volunteered the information.

Were you to visit your local mission you would doubtlessly find many interesting people.  They have amazing stories to tell and you will learn a lot.  Your temptation may well be to help them in some way because many of them will seem to just be missing an only an “opportunity” to get themselves straightened out.  I wouldn’t advise anyone who feels led to help someone else to not do it however I do think that if you want to reach out to people in this situation one should do so with eyes wide open.  Be prepared for your generosity to show little apparent fruit.  Keep in mind that if someone seems intelligent, well spoken, talented, gifted and otherwise personable and still finds themselves chronically in a rescue mission or homeless then there is an often hidden piece of the puzzle that may not be readily apparent.  It could be something as profound as a mental illness or even simple laziness or even that that person simply doesn’t place a high value on the kind of home and job stability that most of us hold so dear.

That being said, nothing you ever do for someone else is ever truly wasted.  I learned that some of the homeless were exactly who I thought they were but I learned that many of them were somewhat surprising.  Missions and shelters are amazing places.  There are good ones and bad ones.  Some truly want to help others.  Some are little more than scams that keep their residents under their control by demanding amazingly high “rent” or percentages of their wages for jobs that the facilities help them get.  Some are safer than others.  Some tolerate no drugs, alcohol or dangerous behavior and others are little more than subsidized crack houses.

My friends and family were somewhat concerned for my safety while in the program.  In the case of the Greenville Rescue Mission I had little to fear.  Clients who are belligerent or dangerous are not admitted at all if their behavior is known and nobody who refuses to follow the rules is retained as a client.  An unfortunate yet necessary part of the safe operation of a mission like GRM is that they do not take severely disturbed or mentally unstable people.  On the one hand I often saw profoundly troubled people who had no place to go.  Some people just seemed to shuffle between state and county services, the police and what few services they were eligible for.  Frankly, the mission side and the Overcomers were filled with convicted criminals.  Some of them had done some truly horrible and violent things.  I met many men whose lives have been changed and were it not for that change they would have been dangerous to be around them at all.  I met men who had killed, knifed, shot, stabbed, beaten, robbed, home invaded, and worse.  I found myself in a situation once that I was told quite frankly by one man had it happened in prison I’d have found myself laying on the floor of a shower with multiple leaks having sprung forth from my person.

There is something in the make-up of the chronically homeless that keeps them there.  There were several men that I met during my time at GRM who had considerable skill in valuable areas.  Some were truly amazing cooks.  Others were skilled tradesmen.  It was not uncommon for these men to find a good job and move out and seemingly get their lives together and then within a few weeks be back again.  Some men had cycled in and out of the mission in Greenville or in surrounding cities or counties for years.

The cliché would be that “people are the same all over” and while my experience is that yes, these men are very much like you and me in many ways, there is also, in the case of many of them, something different.  There is a wanderlust.  There is a profound disregard for the stability that we cherish.  Some, as I said earlier, simply have never had their character mature though their bodies have grown old.

Let me close out this part by finishing out a description of the facility.  The mission houses about 150 at any given time including the Overcomers.  There are several small “family apartments” for in-tact married families with children who are homeless.  There is a common dining area and kitchen where all meals are prepared.  There is a gymnasium with a basketball court taken from a long since demolished local facility and a small chapel.  The common meeting area is the “Library” which serves as a game room and general hangout.  It is frequently too noisy for study or quiet contemplation but I found it fine for journal writing and frankly it gave me quite a bit of inspiration.

It is not technically “free” to live in the mission.  I believe the actual charge was something like $9 a day but men usually worked a small job outside the mission or in the kitchen or house crew or at one of the Miracle Hill warehouses to pay their boarding.  Stays are supposed to be limited to 90 days but under certain circumstances some men have stayed much longer.  The goal of the mission is to transition men to living on their own and even while I was there programs were being improved so as to make these transitions more likely and more successful.

So this is where I was for the last few months and who I was with.  I learned at least as much as I did in my years of college and grad school in only a few short months.  You can’t buy perspective like that nor can one get it from a documentary or a book.  Growing up white and middle class does indeed shelter one from a good deal of things.  Some of what I now know I could well have gone the rest of my life without ever learning.  Some of it I wish I didn’t know.  But after all was said and done my eyes are open to a side of life that I had no experience with.  I can’t recommend the path I’ve taken to learn these things and to be here but I do treasure it for myself and hope to find the words to share some of what I’ve learned in the future.

Recovery: Arrival

P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, at the beginning of one of the Jeeves novels, laments about the difficulty of knowing where to begin a story.  This is especially difficult when one knows that some readers may have a certain degree of familiarity with places, characters or situations and others most certainly do not.  One group will quickly grow impatient and urge the author to “get on with it” and “move along” while others can be quite confused and left with too many unanswered questions.  So it is with this portion of the story for me.

The events that brought me to the place where I want to begin things are not things that I have much desire to rehash at this time at least.  Suffice it to say that over the course of the last few years I cultivated an extremely unhealthy relationship with alcohol that brought many aspects of my world crashing down on May 1 of 2009.  It is that date that I count as the time that I entered the culture of “recovery” because before that I had only sought to free myself of the bondage to alcohol in my own strength.  Only a very few people knew of my problem before that point and even the ones that I did let in on my secret were routinely lied to and not truly allowed to help me in any meaningful way.  There is more to be said about that portion of my life but as I said, that’s not really where I want to go with this right now though I reserve the right to rabbit-trail off in that direction as opportunity allows.

Even after May 2009 I was not truly submitted into recovery in ways that could allow God to work in my life.  I was going to a lot of meetings and listening to some good counsel from friends but I wasn’t putting much if any of it into practice.  I was buying more chances and taking one more opportunity to see if I could figure out a way to get my life back together and still do things the way I wanted to do them.  It was on July 29 that it broke down once more and by August 3, 2009 I was walking into the Greenville Rescue Mission to enter a 27 week recovery program called Overcomers.

You don’t join this exclusive club all that easily.  First you have to screw your life up pretty badly.  (Check)  Then you find yourself sitting across the desk from a man named Curtis Pitts.  Mr. Pitts was a judge here in South Carolina for many years.  He’s retired now and he administers the Overcomers program for Miracle Hill Ministries.  On July 30 I found myself sitting in a chair deeply in the throws of detoxing from alcohol abuse and vacantly answering the question Curtis asks every man who wants to get into the program: “Are you ready to change your life?”  Nobody gets in to the program that doesn’t say yes.  There are two ways to make yes come out of your mouth at that point.  One is to really have no idea what you are saying and to believe you are making an informed and rational decision when you say “yes”.  The other is to have no intension of changing but being smart enough to know that going through one more program might buy you another chance with someone so you say “yes.”  I fell into the former category.  I said yes but had no real idea what was to come.

Overcomers isn’t a detox or medical facility so a man under the influence or only hours away from his last drink or drug can’t immediately enter the program.  It was Monday before I could take care of my personal affairs to the point of being able to go away for 6 months or so and for the worst effects of alcohol poisoning to be out of my system.  I’d been through this detox before many times.  Over the past two years or so I’d will powered my way off of the bottle for as much as a few weeks at a time.  I knew how the cycle would go for me.  8 to 12 hours after my last drink the restlessness and extreme discomfort would begin.  Sweating bouts would happen regularly and it would be days before my appetite for food would return though food generally helped the process if I could make myself eat.  Sitting still was not an option for more than a few moments and though there was no food in my stomach I felt a constant urge to vomit or at least retch.  I had tried various methods of getting off of alcohol and trying to beat the detox.  Slowly weaning myself off of alcohol really didn’t work.  Gutting though it seemed the best way.  The worst detox I ever had was back on May 1.  That endless night was filled with mental discomfort that I can scarcely describe.  In the dark of the bedroom I was in I thought I saw people standing in the shadows or moving around the foot of the bed.  I swore that I saw words written on the walls of the bedroom.  Images and visions that made no sense that I can only vaguely recall played in loops like a VCR set on endless play.  I saw exactly the same images replayed again and again and time seemed to stand still.  As bad as it was though…65 days later I was drinking again.

And so as I said, I walked into a rescue mission that August morning with my possessions packed into two bags.

I had been to that rescue mission once before as I recall.  Kat and I had dropped off some bread we had picked up as part of a local food collection program but I had never really thought much about who lived there.  “The homeless” I supposed.  One can’t really grow up in America without hearing about the homeless.  It seemed to become a big issue back when I was a kid with the usual camps advocating for the homeless or condemning them.  Not being a very political animal I didn’t give much consideration to them.  I had helped out with a food drive or two and taken a bag of obligatory cans of whatnot to a drop off around the holidays but I never had met any homeless people.

The Greenville Rescue Mission is divided into two halves.  On one half is the Overcomer program that I joined and the other half is a collection of men whose circumstances have led them to Greenville with no place to live.  I got to know several of those men over the next few months.  The first few days though were all about adjusting to an environment like none I had ever seen.

Most men who enter the Overcomer program come in, more or less, the same way: broken.  The previous few days or hours that precede entering a rehabilitation program are usually among the hardest of a person’s life.  Often a man is brought by a friend or family member who is desperate to see change in the man or boy that is being dropped off.  I was brought in by my wife, parents and a good friend.  After passing my breathalyzer test and a drug screen I said my goodbyes, was prayed over and I entered the program.

Most “intakes” to the program were done on Thursdays or Fridays but in my case I came in on a Monday.  The program plan is for the first few days of a “client’s” stay to be relatively free from responsibilities other than learning the routine.  My stay started off somewhat differently.  After being checked in and oriented by one of the “team leaders” I found what would be my first job at the mission almost immediately.  (As an aside, I’ll go into “team leaders” a bit more later but for my Bob Jones University friends reading this I can use “team leader = hall leader” as an easy bit of shorthand for you to understand the position.)

For the first few weeks of the program everyone is what is called a “pre-programmer”.  This means that one works at their mission job for most of the day and has one hour of class at 4:00pm.  Most clients are assigned to a job about 48 hours or so after they arrive or, in the case of those showing up at the end of the week, on Monday.  I was still in the process of being checked in and oriented when I heard one of the guys from the kitchen tell Scott, the team leader, that they needed help in the kitchen.  Since I like to cook I immediately volunteered that I wouldn’t mind working there and the next thing I knew I was down in the supervisor’s office being interviewed.  That turned out to be one of the best decisions I made.  Working in the kitchen was an amazing experience and I’ll go into more of that later.

So at the end of the day I found myself journaling about my first hours and taking in my new home.  The Overcomer dorm is a large room with about 60 bunk beds and lockers inside.  There are two bathroom areas with the facilities one would expect.  The bunks were metal frame with a hodge-podge of donated orthopedic mattresses on them.  Some mattresses were much better than others.  New guys always got the worst ones because as soon as a guy gets “disqualified” or “DQed” from the program and his bed is stripped the scavengers come for his mattress.  I’ve seen a mattress move to a new location literally before the previous owner was out the front door.

Bed linen consists of a thin blue ribbed bedspread that is tied at each end and stretched over the mattress.  On top of this each man is issued a blanket of some kind and pillows and pillow cases.  During the day the bunks are expected to be neatly made and nothing else is permitted to be stored on the bunks.  Everything else each man owns is secured in his locker apart from shoes which are kept under the bottom bunks.  The mission kept the building well heated and cooled so the type of blanket wasn’t all that important for warmth.  I had a tan comforter that I eventually started using as the covering for the blue spread.  I brought a light weight blanket from home as my covering.

I brought the recommended clothes for my stay and little more as there was not much room for storage.  Some men came in literally with only the clothes on their backs.  Others brought far more than they would ever need.  After 15 years of living with my wife I was now in a dorm with 50something other men with all of my worldly possessions in a 7’ tall locker.  Life had changed already and that night found me laying on a lumpy mattress staring up at a fluorescent fixture in the dim glow of the light from the bathroom.  All around me I heard the snores and noises of the other men.  The reality of what I was in for over the next few months started to crash in upon me and I felt very alone for the first of many times.

Back after a detour…

After being away for about 6 months I am back in circulation.  Actually as of this writing I’ve been back for about 2 weeks but yesterday was the formal completion of what I’ve been up to for the past few months and I didn’t really want to start sharing much until that happened.  However, now I feel like starting to tell some of what has happened to me.  I’ve learned quite a lot and met some fascinating characters.  I wrote quite a bit while away so I have a lot of pages of thoughts to help bring back some of what I felt during the last few months and I’ll be sharing some of that.  You may find it interesting…or not I don’t know but I highly suspect that these little online ego trips we call Blogs are mostly for the amusement of the authors anyway.

So I begin with this disclaimer:  I’m going to tell the mostly true story of what happened to me over the past few months.  Some names have been changed to protect privacy.  Some events will be slightly changed in the name of simply good storytelling.  However the bulk of what I write will be true…or at least true in spirit.  Just know that your humble narrator is admittedly somewhat unreliable but also realize that the stuff that might be somewhat fictionalized is inconsequential and most of the more outrageous stuff and characters you may choose to meet if you follow this site are very real indeed.

And so I’ll begin.  We’ll just have to see what happens.