Friday, August 7, 2009

The Road to Damascus

Its Friday Baby!

And my day started in a great way. Today we had a graduation celebration – and although I have been to three graduations since I have been here, this one was really nice for me to see.

Each Friday, during our morning devotions, the ranch celebrates advancements and promotions – Its kind of a nice opportunity to see individual progress and lets the whole group share in the successes of our fellow residents; candidate to Phase I, Phase I to Phase II, Phase II to Phase III, etc. Unfortunately, graduations are rare…

This morning, we graduated Robert. Each Thursday night before a graduation we have cake and ice cream in the West dorm – the dorms where the higher phase guys live – I got a chance to talk to Robert for the first time – I rarely get to speak to the higher phase guys mainly because by the time they reach that dorm, they have jobs, they are working, they are transitioning into their ‘post-ranch’ lives.

Robert got to the ranch in a really difficult way. I am sharing this story because it might shed some light on the tragedy of addiction. He had been having some troubles and started to drink. By no means was his intention to kill himself by starting this particular binge, but the hold of alcohol addiction is so great that he just couldn’t stop drinking that time. He drank, alone, for nearly 30 days. Every day, every morning, every night, he drank. He hadn’t planned on this binge lasting as long as it did, but it had a grip on him that he couldn’t shake this time.

Robert realized that he was probably going to die and at some point, he had the mental clarity to seek some help. So he found an envelope and on the back he scrawled ‘Please Help Me” and slid it under the apartment door and went back to drinking. I asked him why he did this, and he doesn’t even remember doing it, but at some point, he did it. The paramedic saved the envelope and Robert has it to this day.

His land lord happened to come by a couple days later, saw the envelope, and called police and paramedics and he was taken to the hospital – the doctors said his level of malnutrition was so great and his system was so toxic that he may not have lasted another morning. If you don’t believe in God, then I don’t know how to explain a miracle to you. I, too, was the recipient of a God-given miracle the night I over dosed on alcohol and nearly died – and minutes from death I, too, was saved. And sometimes, you can’t explain something like this away with ‘coincidence’.

When he arrived at the hospital, the boots he was wearing had to be surgically removed from his feet. He had not taken them off in over a month. I am telling you this because I need you to understand that when alcohol gets a grip on you, and it wont let go – something as simple as taking off your shoes seems secondary to being and getting drunk.

His feet had rotted into his socks, and the resulting infection was so severe they thought he may lose his feet completely. But he didn’t. He decided to find some help here on the ranch.

So, Robert got on the list, and he patiently waited in the hospital until he made it to the top of the list and he arrived at the ranch 14 months ago. The other guys who were here retold the stories of how he couldn’t really walk. As a group, they would help him the half mile every morning to devotions. As a group, they would clean his wounds every night. One of the guys in maintenance eventually fashioned a cart that they could pull with their bikes and they would carry him down there and back. One rule of the ranch is that you need to be physically able to work on a ranch, so people like Robert usually don’t last. Like a herd, its survival of the fittest.

They guys would have to lift him up into the shuttles in the morning before church and many times he would listen to the service from the van on the radio because he couldn’t go in.

He said that when he arrived he was given a top bunk and it used to take him nearly 20 minutes to get up or down. That he would shuffle to the phone when he would get a call and many times, by the time he got there, the person on the line would have hung up. “Oh Shit!” usually followed this.

But he hung in there, he did it, and by the grace of God and the help of some really understanding friends, he made it through the program. And today, for graduation, he walks normally, he can run and jump, and the guys who helped him in the early days all pitched in and bought him a new pair of running shoes.

The road between the housing square and the mess hall is about a half mile. This is like the road to Damascus for many guys – we use to to pray, to reflect, a lot of crying or thinking is done on that road. But, its also a nice road this time of year, lined with tall corn, and live crops – off to the side, the farm is a buzz with activity. We have a Festival every year with a 20 acre corn maze (which is fashioned into a picture that you can only see from the sky), we have kids activities like a pig race course, a rabbit town (see photos), a squash smash (where kids get to hit squash like baseballs and get gooey – its shaped like a baseball stadium), there is roping, we have a goat city, several different play grounds, of course a petting zoo, farm fresh concessions – all kinds of stuff. When you have 70 guys as working labor, you can really put on a good festival.

This road is also the road into or out of the ranch. And, upon completion of the program (we must have a job and a demonstrated ability to keep it), we are given $2000 in housing assistance; free furniture; we are given clothes, shoes, some guys get a laptop. We are also given a car if we have a license and insurance (if not, we get a year to claim the car). And graduation is always neat because the graduate gets to climb in to his car and drive that road he’s walked or ridden on his bike for 14 months.

So Robert got into his late model Jeep Cherokee and rode away. And that’s how life on the farm is completed.

Neat, isn’t it.

I hang around with a really great group of guys. We are all about the same age, we all came in within 3 weeks of each other, and we all laugh a LOT. It makes it so much more bearable to be here. One of the chaplains commented that he’s been here for 8 years and he’s been waiting and praying a group like mine would get here because we bring an energy and life to the program and it helps other residents see this place as doable. We decided a few weeks ago that our goal, as a group, is to hold each other accountable because we want to graduate all together. That has never been done. That’s a lot of cars!

So we meet each week and discuss many things, but we hold each other accountable to the program and to sobriety, and to walking the walk of being better men. The motto for many guys on the ranch is ‘Work your own program,” but we decided that was not an acceptable mantra for us. That, like an army platoon, ‘No Man Left Behind’ was more fitting.

But we laugh and laugh – mostly at ourselves. I hope that once I leave here I will continue to find the lunacy in my own behavior. There is something so good about laughing at yourself – and not taking yourself too seriously. I have four nephews who ALWAYS laugh at themselves. Sometimes I write this blog in the cabin alone and I think of silly things they do and how they crack themselves up. I hope someday they realize that they have taught me almost as much as I hope to teach them. In fact, my whole family and circle of friends should.

But, that’s my day, that’s how many of my days go, in fact. And I hadn’t planned on blogging, but I think someone had to tell this graduation story because its an important one – and, not uncommon. And so if you ever have moments when you just cant understand someone who is suffering from an addiction, remember, there are times we don’t understand it either and all you can hope for is that, at some point, there is enough clarity and an envelope to scrawl ‘Please Help Me’ on because most of the time that’s what we want, too.

And, I also want you to understand the power and dedication it takes to over come addiction. The struggle of getting in and out of bed or walking to morning devotions didn’t stop him from keeping with the program. And if he can do it, so the hell can I - and if you are struggling with anything at all, so can you.

Its poignant because the desire to get cleaned up for an addict can be like that road- Its is long, its rocky, and even when your feet have rotted and you feel like you cant walk, many times people will come along and fashion you a cart to help you along. I said it before in an earlier blog – I don’t believe you can get through this program or life alone – People are successful only because many many people want them to be successful.

And on my road, every morning, I do thank God for each person in my life who is helping me – and I thank each of you by name. You are my cart, you helped me clean my wounds, and in a few months, I’ll be driving out of here and I promise, I’ll give you all ride too.

So, with that, have a great weekend! (the photos are of me in a row boat a few weeks ago, I am including it so you can share the experience of solitude, that being alone doesn't have to be lonely).


1 comment:

  1. justine_vasquez@yahoo.comDecember 3, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    You are a very brave and courageous young man. And I know that your father is very proud of you and I can see why. Your whole family must be very proud to see what a beautiful person you have become. Addiction always brings out the ugliness in a person but they never see it. I didn't know you then but I just know that you have grown so much wiser and you have so much compassion for your friends who are struggling with their demons. You are a true friend. No man left behind. I just want to thank you also for all the help you have given me. Thank You Justine