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Jack Smith is Dead.

I’m trying to get away from using the term: sobering reality.  It sounds like a bad pun in the context of this kind of a blog.  However the truth that “Jack Smith is dead” is something that’s been stuck in my mind recently.

I toyed with the idea of changing his name but frankly, I’m not sure what I’d change it to that’s much more nondescript than Jack Smith.  He was a real person.  I met him several times.  He was the father of a friend of mind and the son of my father’s best friend.  He was a con-man in the most real sense of the word.  He wasn’t the cartoon version that you usually see on TV.  Those guys, you wonder how anybody could be taken in by them because their game is so obvious.  This was a real con man.  He inspired confidence.  He was friendly and seemed sincere.

He did some rotten things and died early.  I’m given to understand that alcohol probably had a fair amount to do with his death.  I wasn’t really sure what happened to him but recently my Dad told me: Jack Smith’s dead.

Another friend of mine has a similar cautionary tale to tell.  It’s about his brother.  His brother was a drunk and was in a recovery program for years.  After years of sobriety he lapsed and never made it back to the recovery rooms.  He never had a chance to pick up another white chip.  At his funeral, friends from his recovery group showed up and tossed some dirt on his coffin.  They looked at that dead man’s brother and told him solemnly: “Well, your brother doesn’t drink anymore.” 

I wish that stories like this were enough.  I wish that we alcoholics would learn from the stories and never pick up a bottle again.  However, we don’t.  At least, it isn’t a long term solution.  We might be inspired to stave off our desires for a little bit, but we need to be constantly reminded of our fate.

The guys I’ve seen who are the most successful in recovery are the ones who seem to truly believe that if they take one more drink….it will kill them.  Is that literally true?  Maybe, not.   However, the concept they have wrapped their head around is that any given drink could be their last.

We just don’t know if we have one more recovery in us.  That’s scary.  But it’s not alway scary enough for some of us.   What we drunks can do it keep adding reminders to our inventory.  “Jack Smith is dead” and “Bob doesn’t drink anymore” are two little thoughts that can put a stop to my temptations.  Some days I think I’m just like them.

On the dangerous days, I think I’m completely different.  Their failings don’t apply to me.  That’s not what my family and friends want to hear but it’s true. 

That’s why I still go to meetings.  I don’t like to do it.  I’d rather be doing almost anything other than showing up in some church basement on any given evening to hear the same stuff over and over.  But, at this point, I need it.  The friendship of the others who struggle helps to keep me sober. 

Someday, it will be said of me: “Joel is dead”.  It will be said for the last time “Joel doesn’t drink anymore”.  When that is said, and under what circumstances is largely up to me.  I hope, frankly, by the time I do shuffle off the coil drinking will be so far behind me that it’s not even mentioned.

Then again, I don’t know that it should ever be forgotten.  Hopefully, if anything is said about my drinking at all at that point, it will be words of hope for those who are there.  He drank, but it didn’t take him.  He fell, but he got back up.  He went through things that he never thought he’d go through but it counted for something.

Jack Smith is dead.  My day is coming.  What will be said after that?  It’s not written yet, but the pen is put to paper every day for what is potentially the last time.

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Failing Sucks

Failing stinks.

And it’s darn hard to blog about.  Over the past couple of years I’ve posted my struggles with alcohol but most of it’s been set in the past.  As if it was all behind me. 

Well, I hate to say it, but it isn’t.  During my time in rehab I learned a lot about what my fellow addicts go through.  Frankly, I learned a lot more than I ever wanted.  Drugs must be hard to kick but I often think that at least nobody has to pass by a billboard for crack or see meth on sale in the grocery store.

Well for those of us whose weakness is alcohol, that isn’t true.  It’s everywhere. 

Did you know that mouthwash is 22% alcohol?  I did.  And even on a Sunday when you can’t by alcohol anywhere else you can buy it.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it?  I used to watch the show “Intervention” and see people do that and think how screwed up they were.  Well…there you go. 

I don’t recommend it.  It tastes terrible and makes your stomach hurt.  Plus, when your mind clears it’s hard to think of many things much seedier. 

So, since I’ve been honest about stuff up to this point.  Here I go again.

I failed.   I drank.  No excuse.  I can blame a lot on everything that happens after the first drink…’cause that’s what that stuff does.  However there is no excuse for the first one..

If you’re wondering why.  I don’t have a good reason.  Nothing that would sound logical or sensible to anyone.  I guess we drunks think that we can have the feeling of the first buzz and then stop…even though we’ve never done it before…

Admitting failure sucks and it’s a huge barrier to recovery.  Failing and making a “recovery” ….that I can take.  But putting everybody through another round of this mess is the last thing I ever wanted to do.  It keeps you from asking for help because you know you’ll see the looks of disappointment on the faces of those you love.

So….you lie.  When faced with incontrovertible proof of your stupidity you come up with the most creative load of crap you can imagine and you throw that mess out there.  Because they want to believe you, sometimes your loved ones let it go even though they have to know something is not right. 

This is a hard place to live.  It’s nobody’s fault but mine but it all goes so much further than me.  I can’t take it back.

So what’s next?  Something I absolutely hate.  Meetings.  Accountability.  Stuff that most of you don’t have to do.  You don’t have to toss away your evenings to hang out in a room full of fellow drunks.  You don’t have to have people come check on you when your alone.  That’s the privilege you get by not tossing all trust in you away.  That’s where I’m at today. 

So, you want to read a drunk’s blog.  Here it is.  This is who we are.  It’s a never ending battle.  It’s the ugly part. 

But…I’m not giving up….

Two years later….

May 1 of 2009 a lot of things changed.

When I woke up that morning, my family didn’t realize the extent of my drinking problem and I had a job as a teacher.

By midnight both facts had changed.

It was inevitable by that point, I just didn’t know it.  My body was crashing.  I’d had more alcohol than my system could process.  My judgement was gone.  I wasn’t thinking straight and about a month earlier the events that would end my employment had been set in motion.

What does it take for an alcoholic to get help?  Where is “rock bottom” and once you reach it will you stop or just figure out a way to break rocks and get even lower?  I don’t remember much about that week.  From about Wednesday on I only recall bits and pieces and frankly I don’t know what order to put them in.

I remember waking up on Friday, taking a drink, walking downstairs to say goodbye to my father who was heading back home that morning and then the next thing I recall I was sitting on the end of a table in the emergency room trying to convince the doctor that my 4.2 blood alcohol level was the result of having taken cough medicine.

I was on my way to N.C. so that my family could try and figure out how to help me when I got the call from my dean that I needed to come in and talk with him.  My job was gone before I could get out of town and then a night of the worst detox I’ve ever been through began.

It’s two years later now.  In that time I had a bout where I was drinking again.  I went to a 7 month rehab program.  I spent a year working in food service and fought depression and despondence.  I’ve had dark days and days of hope.

Today, I’m happy.  My family and friends rallied around me.  I’ve fought my way back to a job that I love and it looks like this year, even more than 2009 was a year of negative change, it will be a year of life changing events that are positive.

So, tomorrow begins another year.  This last one, while less traumatic than the one before has been just as full of the unexpected.  The opportunities for joy and defeat were there.  God saw fit to grant me grace and victory in most cases.

The biggest difference between this and last year?  Last year I was wrestling with the idea of cosmic irony and expecting little from life.  This year, it’s about hope and new opportunities.

My thoughts this year:  If you know someone who you think needs help.  Stop waiting and get that process moving.  If you suspect that you are in trouble….well if you think that about yourself…others have probably noticed a long time ago.

If you find yourself doing an internet search on the warning signs of alcoholism and then ignoring it because you only have 6 out of 10…. you are in real trouble.

It’s not worth the wait…It’s not worth your so called pride.  Make the move.  Recovery is possible.  No matter what you think you’ll have to give up to get better…you can do it.  Don’t let a job, fear of what people will say or concern about separation from your family and friends during the process stop you.  All of that is able to be restored.

Now is the day to get help or start offering help.  Regrets are inevitable.  Don’t let the regret for not getting or offering help in time be one of yours.

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.

The difference a year makes…

August 29, 2009 I awoke from a drunken stupor with my wife and friends at the foot of my bed telling me I needed serious help.

August 29, 2010 I’d been clean for over a year and was offered a job to get back in the broadcasting field I love.

Apologies if some of this post repeats a few things from posts right after I got out of the program but I’m going back through my journals and I wanted to start at the beginning as this new year begins.

This week marks my one year anniversary of entering the Overcomers addiction recovery program so I thought it would be a good time to resume my blogging about that experience.

Here’s how it all began.

On May 1 of 2009 I lost my job at Bob Jones University.  I had let my use of alcohol get out of control over the preceding years and it had begun to take a serious toll on my health.  No longer could I conceal from my family and friends the profound physical effects the abuse was taking on me.  I was using alcohol on a daily basis except for cycles when I would attempt to stop drinking on my own.  In those times I would try different strategies for weaning myself off of alcohol.  Because I was at a point where abstaining from alcohol for more than 5 or 6 hours would send me into very noticeable detoxification effects I was compelled to use alcohol at least enough to stave off detox while I was at work.  This was really dumb but we drunks aren’t known for our clear thinking.

As for how the school found out; well, this is apparently how it shook out:  This may sound odd but when I was drinking at my worst I didn’t need to use alcohol at work directly.  I could, pretty easily, have an “eye opener” when I got up and then make it through the day without alcohol until I got home in the afternoon.  However, when I would go through times when I was trying to get off of alcohol I’d go through very difficult and noticeable detox symptoms.  These included inability to focus or sit still for long and dreadful bouts of sweating.  So in order to attempt to make it through the day without these problems when I was going through the 36-48 hours necessary to truly get off the bourbon I would drink small amounts of wine from picnic sized bottles.  My true foolishness was that I once disposed of a couple of these bottles on campus.  The story that I got when confronted in May was that the custodial crew had been keeping a close eye on the trash in various university buildings because of a problem they had in the past with homeless people attempting to stay in buildings overnight.  (I had actually heard of this happening during summers at least.)  During these searches they found some bottles that I had disposed of in an envelope that had my name on it.  Also, I had apparently thrown away the bag they had come with and the receipt from the grocery store where I had purchased them.  When I was confronted by my dean he told me that they had cross referenced the last four digits of the card used to purchase the wine with Campus Store receipts and found that I used a card that ended in the same four numbers.  Also, my time entering campus on the date of purchase was about 10 minutes after the time and date on the receipt.  I was pretty much caught at that point but still making some feeble excuses.  I was also still drunk from my last bender at the time having blown a .42 blood alcohol level at the hospital less than 4 hours earlier thus when he asked me to pull up my online bank statement for final confirmation I agreed and he immediately saw the entries for a local liquor store.  It was over by that point and after a meeting with the provost I was asked not to return to campus until after the school year was ended to clean out my office.  In retrospect, I’m not sure that was the whole story.  I have a feeling that at some point a collegue or student may have smelled alcohol or suspected my problem in some other way and have brought it to the attention of the administration.  That’s neither here nor there though because I needed to get caught one way or another.  It was killing me.

My usage had been heavy for the past two years or so.  The previous summer, after a year of noticing problems myself during the school year I was determined to get off of alcohol during the summer.  I was totally unsuccessful in this, partially because I really didn’t want to and partially because my wife went away to Boston for a month with her job leaving me with no accountability whatsoever.  For the month she was gone I did pretty much nothing but drink every day all day except for weeks when I worked with the camps I was obligated to.  The university had stopped providing us with summer jobs so I had nothing to do most of the summer.

By the end of that month I was seeing physical issues I’d never seen before.  My urine was bright orange and I had some odd abdominal pain.  This was my first real attempt at stopping.  I told my friend and doctor and my immediate supervisor at work as well as my wife that I had an alcohol problem and I promised them all I would stop.  Within weeks, once I was feeling better, I was drinking again.  I had a physical breakdown just before Thanksgiving one morning.  After a binge of drinking I got up one morning and had an “eye opener” to get me moving, walked outside and realized that my eyes were not at all adjusting to the sunlight.  I was nearly blind and could barely drive to work.  I was terrified and was just trying to make it through work.  That day I was emotional and weepy.  Everybody knew something was wrong but I just lied about being tired and feeling some particular spiritual oppression and then went home and claimed to be sick for a few days.

The question comes up: So what do you think of the university now that you are gone?  That’s not an easy question for me to answer.  When it comes to them letting me go I have no quarrel with that.  I violated a clear policy that I knew was an offence that would result in dismissal if I ever got caught.  My dean, provost and HR representative were kind and sorrowful as I went through that part of the process.

I did have issues with the school but I had not business taking the job with them knowing their stance on things or remaining there as they made decisions with which I had profound disagreement.  When there interference in matters such as where my wife and I would go to church became intolerably intrusive I should have had the courage to leave immediately.  As I became more unhappy as I realized that my optimistic view of “real fundamentalism” was sadly untrue I should have made my plans to move on and then gone.  I didn’t.  I loved teaching and knew that it was most unlikely I could teach at an accredited school.

I have one other regret and criticism of the school.  While I cannot blame them for my alcoholism I do wish that the school had some way for someone like me, who knew he had a serious alcohol problem two years earlier, to get help without the absolute certainty that I would be thrown out.  I had to be very careful who I talked to in order to get help.  Later I found out that some colleagues were questioned about what they knew and when they knew it so as I suspected, even asking friends for help put them in danger.  I know for a fact that there are others who need help and in some cases have been living in quiet desperation for many years.  Yet there is no institutionalized plan for getting assistance and in fact the medical plan specifically excludes coverage for addiction related health issues presumably because we aren’t supposed to have any as a matter of policy.

Three months of AA meetings didn’t accomplish much other than giving me an opportunity to give an outward show of “doing something” about my alcohol problem while masking the fact that it was still there.  For two months I did stay clean but a new job and a return to comparative normality saw me begin to drink again.  I switched from bourbon to vodka which was easier to hide when it came to odor.  It was also cheaper and I found myself drawn to horrible flavored vodka that was easier to chug quickly.  My plan became to buy a bottle on the way home and chug what I could around the corner from the house.  That got my buzz on to get started.  Then usually sometime during the afternoon or evening I’d manage to sneak the bottle into the house and upstairs to hide it.

The charade didn’t last long.  On July 29 I returned home after work drinking as usual.  Within a few minutes she had sent me to bed to sleep it off and when I awoke later that night she and a couple of my friends were standing at the foot of my bed telling me that had a place for me to go.

On August 3 I entered the Overcomers program.  My parents, wife and a close friend dropped me off that morning.  The first thing that happens when you arrive is you are drug and alcohol tested.  Your possessions are searched and your are escorted into the mission where, if successful, you will live for at least the next 27 weeks.

Most guys enter the program on Thursday or Friday and have a day or two to settle in before assigned a job.  I happened upon an opening in the kitchen and offered to begin immediately.  I saw situations where guys didn’t have a job for several days and frankly they quickly became bored out of their minds.  Since “pre-programmers” only have class at 4 pm the rest of the day moves slowly.  Men are not allowed in their bunks during the day or allowed to nap anywhere else in the mission so general lethargy and sleeping isn’t an option.  There is no computer or internet access nor are Overcomers allowed to listen to radios or CDs during the day.

Pre-program is just an introduction to the Overcomers.  It is taught by all the counselors in rotation and one learns a lot about the counselors and fellow Overcomers during this time.  At the high point there were 15 in my “class” that could have potentially graduated the same month as I.  Counselors were honest as they told us a telling statistic.  Chances were that only 2 or 3 of us would be at that graduation.  It was indeed 3 by February and I was one of them.

As I begin updating this blog again I’m reading through my journal that I kept while in the program.  I hope to keep pace with where I was week by week and give you an idea of what a recovery program is like.  After all is said and done none of this is in vain.  Obviously my life has changed but I can’t help but feel that I’m supposed to use this experience for others.  If you or somebody you know has a problem I’ll be glad to advise in any way I can and get you in touch with the right people so that help can be obtained.  Yes, the writing of any blog is a bit of an exercise in vanity and writing about these things helps me remember and work things out in my own mind.  I just hope it’s helpful in some other ways too.

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.