Seeing Encouraging Signs

June 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Success Stories

“Success” is seeing encouraging signs 

About six years ago I started working among a different group of people as part of my outreach. Our area has a “DUI  Court” program that offers an alternative to jail for driving related offences. My involvement began when someone reached out for a liaison when I signed his attendance chit at a 12 Step meeting. Since I was in long term recovery I was invited to work to familiarize the individual with 12 Step recovery apart from the judicial program.

I learned that the DUI Court approach, while keeping people out of jail, was no cake walk. There were many mandatory stipulations  – weekly check-ins. periodic drug testing, counseling, family groups – all fee based, in addition to job search, community service, and required 12 Step meetings outside of the judicial system. One of the responsibilities I accepted was a weekly call-in to probation officers in order to verify that the court participant was in fact working with someone outside in the recovery community. I didn’t mind, even when an occasional callback was received from a probation officer looking for specific details on an individuals work in the 12 Step program. I politely responded that given the “anonymous’ nature of 12 Step programs, I was prevented from answering questions beyond the fact that we were working together and they kept in touch.

Suffice to say, many opting for DUI Court quickly grew weary of its many demands, high fees, and sanctions – minor infractions like showing up a few minutes late for a group session that could exact a weekend jail sentence. I also grew accustomed to another reality. Most who managed to stay clean and sober while they were in the DUI Court program for a year or so, would invariably relapse once they successfully completed and graduated. The persistence of this phenomenon was astonishing. No more reporting in, or fees, or urinalysis testing, or haggling with the court system, usually meant freedom to go back to living with a certain reckless abandon. Of the few that eventually came back into recovery for another try, I heard of the disastrous consequences of their own relapses.

I started working with one individual about nine months ago who fit the typical “resistance pattern.” Male, fifty something, skilled laborer, who had a DUI some 20 years ago and insisted they had no drinking problem today, let alone could be labeled an alcoholic. Basically angry! Having dealt with so many like this in the past few years, I’d consistently given a similar response: “Look, I don’t know what got you here and its sure not my responsibility to fix your problem. Maybe you have good reason to dislike the program – the court, the counseling, the 12 Step meetings, all of it. Heck, I’ve been known to question a lot of things myself. That said, please don’t try to push back on the specifics that the court demands. I’ve seen people try. You simply will not win. That said, I will make myself available to help you or talk to you in any way I possibly can. You have my number. Pick up the phone and call.”     ‘

My friend rarely called and when he did, he seemed only interested in complaining about the requirements he was being “forced” to adhere to. He hated the counseling. He hated his probation officer. And he hated the 12 Step meetings. I saw a lot of anger, a lot of  resentment, and a lot of resistance. And truth be told, I saw a fellow that might tolerate the process for as long as he had to – “white knuckle” it, as they say – and go back to life as he knew it shortly after graduating. Pretty much par for the course. Destined to be a grim statistic, I suppose.

Last week however was something different. At a meeting we were both at, I made a quick-witted remark that broke the room into laughter. I looked over and saw my friend laughing with a big grin too. I finished what I was saying and looked over at my friend again. He still had that wide grin on his face. After the meeting, I approached him in search of an explanation for all the smiling. “Oh nothing much,” he said. “I just crack up at some of the funny things I hear. And for what its worth, I decided a couple weeks ago that since people in these meetings are always talking about changes in their lives, I would make an earnest effort to work the steps myself. You know, just to see if these people were playing me.”

I chuckled and said, “Funny how that works. I think I remember that pretty much being my motivation starting out. Seems to have worked for me. Well, it takes what it takes. Good for you.”

Seeing that new gleam in his eye, I thought about all those I’d encountered with my involvement in Faith Partners ministry over the years and the unpredictability of recovery. I was struck by the thought that this might be one of those improbable moments of grace. Many make it, but many others don’t. I can never tell with certainty about anyone’s motivation, or whether that motivation will persist. Experience with Faith Partners has taught me though, to see opportunities for recovery, to maintain healthy personal boundaries, to look for signs of progress and work off that to offer encouragement to those navigating the complexities of recovery. When offering ones experience, an authentic compassion and dependence upon a loving God, that kind of success will surely come.

Blessings,

Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC
Marietta, GA

Facing the Reality of Relapse

June 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Success Stories

“Success” is facing the reality of relapse

One of the people I’ve been working with in the recovery community, talked to me in great detail about their recent relapse and reentry into recovery. They have about 35 days and, given some of the details of the episode, that itself is a minor miracle. I’ve known P. for about 6 years. They were one of the first regulars at our church plant every Sunday. They attended the AA meeting I started Saturday evenings, and I got to know their story pretty well – middle-class housewife who began to lose it all and continued to get busted for drinking related offenses. After some jail time, their drinking escalated, being compounded by the death of their husband and loneliness began to set in. Her problems began to mount. I also learned of their extraordinarily high tolerance for alcohol. One episode involved a relapse where they chugged a quart of vodka walking home from work, and passed out on a local thoroughfare partly in the roadway ripe to get clipped by a truck. Of course, they were taken promptly to the county jail once it was determined that they’d violated probation here, and in two other local counties. Their blood alcohol level tested at 0.46, which is more than lethal.

In any case I was told of the terrifying last relapse. Apparently, in an attempt to quit on their own they drank up what they had, and stopped for about 2 days. That’s when the dramatic results of self-detox kicked in. Visual and audio hallucinations (the dog was passing out then trying to break down the door…people that couldn’t be see, were talking outside the bedroom window…the phone rang, but didn’t ring…), loss of balance, falling and cracking their forehead. The neighbors heard the commotion and came to their assistance. A ride to the ER was followed by a 2 week stint in the hospital.

I asked what the doctors said, and she replied, “They said I was really sick. But I asked how that could be since I hadn’t been drinking for a couple days. All they could say was ‘Dear, you’re really sick!'”

Startled by her revelations, I interrupted saying, “Of course you’re sick! That’s what alcohol detox is all about! Without that inordinate supply of alcohol, your body was reacting adversely and your brain was going haywire, practically ‘collapsing.’ You bet you’re really sick. We don’t see alcoholism displayed to such an extent very often, but I would suggest that you take this extremely seriously, because you may be crossing over into the realm of irreparable brain damage. It’s one thing to say you have to quit drinking because you got a DUI or had trouble on the job. It’s quite another to say you have to quit because the liquor is causing irreversible brain trauma.”

Shifting gears, and not wanting to be too dramatic, I added,” In the years that I’ve known you, I seen several major relapses, some that put you in jail, and some that put you in the hospital. Let’s be clear. You don’t want to wind up in an asylum – if they even still have those – but that’s where you’re headed. I’ve never tried to soft-peddle sobriety to you or paint a rosy picture of rainbows and butterflies, but I am gravely concerned, and want you to know. There are a lot of people who hold you in their prayers. I do hope you treat this episode differently, because I don’t want to see you become another statistic.”

Perhaps I struck a chord. The tension seemed to leave  her face, replaced by what could be described as a slight ray of hope that beginning another long journey into recovery might be ever so slightly less stressful if shared with another. I thought for sometime after about why ministries of compassion are so important to me.  Given the stark realities we face, responses may take more effort, determination, and time than most are aware or prepared to undertake. Experience with an ongoing Faith Partners team has reinforced some valuable spiritual lessons for me. In spite of my many earnest attempts and continued diligence over the years, I’ve realized that I cannot sometimes save people from themselves. But neither can I give up on them. All I can do at times is to stand firmly in my hopes for them, with compassion.

In this respect, I’ve also come to realize that the character of “success” derived from Faith Partners outreach takes on another quality: that  of a more sustained determination and growing discernment over appropriate courses of response. Effective skills take time to develop. Should attempts at helping fall short, I can live with that kind of success.

Continued prayers,

Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC,
Marietta, GA