Sobriety Can Be A Long And Winding Road

May 31, 2016

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Working with our guests day in and day out, staff and volunteers know that sobriety can be a long and winding road. We always wish the road would show a straight line leading to a transformed life, but rarely can we expect that.

One thing that makes a difference? You. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you about *Steve…

Steve made quite an entrance when he first came to BSM for a meal a while back. He was loud, angry, mildly belligerent and very, very drunk. His hair was matted; his clothes disheveled. And although he was not drinking while sitting at a table in the corner of the dining room, his half empty vodka bottle kept falling out of his jacket, and to his credit he did apologize repeatedly for that. Fortunately it was a plastic bottle, so no broken glass or puddles of alcohol graced the floor. Since many of the staff had met such Steves before, they knew how to engage with him – with hospitality, kindness and generosity.

To say that a greeting such as this didn’t initially go down well would be an understatement. It rarely does. But what the staff has learned over the years is to pay attention not so much to what some of our new guests say, but rather to what they do – in this case whether or not they come back. And that’s what Steve did – week after week he kept coming back. Angry, mildly belligerent, and drunk. And the staff greeted him repeatedly in the same way as they had done on that first day – thanking him for coming, and doing their best to fulfill some of his basic needs for clean clothes, some socks and underwear. The things that most of us take for granted.

For the better part of a year, the team engaged with Steve with little to show for it. They’d gently inquire about his life before he found himself living on the streets. He wasn’t very forthcoming. He did say at one point that he has a daughter who was not speaking to him. We also learned that he was employed for many years; that he once had a middle-class life. That was about it.

What we were fairly certain of, though, was that Steve had experienced one or more traumas that contributed to his downward spiral. We know that trauma is as real as gravity, and like gravity, it is both ubiquitous and invisible. Also like gravity, we know how real trauma is by the impact it has on all of us. And the impact on Steve was profound. In time Steve alluded to the fact that something had happened, and we chose not to pry. Rather, the team chose to let his story emerge (or not) in its own time.

And then a little less than a year ago Steve came to a staff member saying, “I just can’t do this anymore. Can you help me?” Of course the response was, “Yes.”

The fates favored Steve that day. As it happened, that morning a space opened up in the city’s Detox Center. There is almost always a long waiting list, but on that day we were able to get him in right away. And after detoxing, he made the courageous choice to go into treatment. And while in treatment the fates favored him once again – he met another regular BSM guest also in recovery. For the next several months Steve and his friend developed a strong, close, supportive relationship that has been key to his continued recovery. Both of them stayed in touch with various team members who worked in concert with the staff at the treatment center to continue to stay in contact and provide hope and encouragement.

After several months in treatment, Steve was permitted to leave for short periods of time. There is always the risk of, as people in recovery say, reencountering the “people, places and things” that can lead to relapse. One of the few places he was permitted to go to was the Breaking Bread meals at BSM. And not to be too repetitious, he was met the same way he had been on that first day – with hospitality, kindness and generosity.

As Steve continued to work his recovery program, other opportunities appeared. He was able to qualify for housing, and now has an apartment. He even brought home a kitten that was living outside near his apartment. He calls that his first step toward giving back. And even though he now lives in a neighborhood quite far from Broad Street, he keeps coming back for meals and deep conversations.

He then began his quest to find a job. What he hadn’t told us beforehand was that he was a certified heavy warehouse equipment operator. He still had his card in his possession. This was remarkable because most of his belongings – including his ID – had been stolen while he was on the streets. In time he was able to schedule an interview with an employment agency. There was just one wrinkle, though. Because of our Clothing Closet he did have a decent wardrobe now, but he didn’t have any money for a haircut, and that might have been a game breaker at the interview. One of the staff then called his barber, made an appointment for him, and that last wrinkle smoothed out. Steve nailed the interview, and now has work.

Steve is not out of the woods yet. He is in therapy dealing with the underlying currents that pulled him out of the mainstream and onto the margins of society. And it has not been smooth sailing all the time. He briefly revisited some of the people, place and things that fed his addiction. And he did relapse not long ago, and ended up with a black eye for his efforts. When he made it home after that altercation, the first thing he did was call one of our staff. He was embarrassed and deeply disappointed with himself. The staff member reminded him that relapse is often a part of the healing process. He told Steve that it isn’t so much about falling down. Rather it is about getting up again. He suggested he immediately go to a meeting, and check in at our next meal. And fortunately he did just that.

Having said all that about relapsing, it is also true that so far Steve has displayed enormous courage and humility. He is very open about how much he needs the support of the BSM team right now. More importantly, he can now imagine a time when he is not dependent on BSM for encouragement, and instead foresees the day when he can keep coming back to offer encouragement to others.

Steve has been on the path that so many of our guests know so well. The difference now is that he knows a better way. Because of you.

Your support is so important in transforming people’s lives, like Steve. There are so many more who are ready to walk that long and winding road. But we can’t do it without you. We’re counting on you.

*To protect our guest’s privacy “Steve” is a pseudonym, and some non-essential material was altered to protect his identity.