13 Transformations for Christmas

My second Christmas blog is written by my friend and neighbor Lee Hart. In his moving article, he describes transformation for 13 men as being a difficult process with setbacks along the way, a process that requires the loving assistance of community and most important of all, hitting a bottom to where placing their lives in God’s hands offers the one hope that brings about transformation. Will it last? Cynics can dispute the chances of lasting change but as Philip Yancey says, “Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.” Personally, I like their chances. Their faith in that God who favors them along with personal commitment will make the difference. John Buller

Lee Hart is a long-time Calgary resident who began his own journey of transformation about six years ago. In that time he has worked “to give back, what was freely given to him” and has become a sponsor (or mentor) to a number of men struggling with the disease of alcoholism — carrying a message of hope. It is never hopeless, but we are helpless, until we find a sincere willingness to change, and ask for God’s help. Along with “working with others”, Hart has been a writer for more than 40 years. He worked for newspapers as a writer and editor for many years, and for the past 25 years has been an agricultural writer and field editor for Canadian farm magazines Country Guide and more recently Grainews.

 13 Transformations for Christmas

I experienced a very moving moment of transformation recently  as I attended the “graduation” of 13 men from a 12-week drug and alcohol rehabilitation program here in Calgary. The fact the event was just one week before Christmas made it even more special. What an amazing gift for  their friends and families!

It was not the first “grad” of this nature I have been to in recent years., but it was particularly important to me as one of my best friends took his few minutes at the mike to express his heartfelt gratitude to the staff of the Fresh Start Recovery Center, his fellow recovering addicts and alcoholics, and of course God for giving him another chance at life.

Each spoke in turn about where they were in life 12 weeks ago before being accepted into this program. Most of these guys were between the ages of 25 and 40 although there was one old sufferer (55 years) who hadn’t been out of Yellowknife in more than 25 years largely because for much of that time he had been in and out of prison for one offence or another.

Their stories were as varied as their personalities, but all had a common message — their alcoholism or drug addiction had brought them to a point of complete hopelessness. Most had lost everything – jobs, homes, family and friends, and perhaps worst of all they had lost any hope of ever being released from the death-grip of their addiction.

One young man, Jeff, said he had pleaded with his family just to leave him alone. He said he was a wasted, useless human being and he just wanted to die. They didn’t give up on him, and helped him to get into Fresh Start.  At the grad ceremony, among the audience of about 125 friends and family were his sister and his mom who had driven all the way from the North West Territories to be there for his graduation. There were a lot of tears.

My friend Tim has been struggling with his alcoholism for more than 15 years. He’s been in and out of jail, in and out of treatment centers. Although there had been brief periods of recovery, those were followed by relapse. Late last August as he disappeared into another binge of drinking and drugs he texted me that he just wanted to die. He felt it was hopeless. I was prepared for a call saying he had overdosed, or met some other untimely end.

But by the grace of God he hit his bottom, and made it to the Renfrew Recovery Detox Center in Calgary, where over the next few days they got him clean and sober. He didn’t have many treatment options left, but through the caring persistence of the Renfrew staff they finally on September 9 got him a bed at the Fresh Start Recovery Center.

I have known Tim for a few years. We meet or at least talk just about every day. When he is clean and sober he is probably one of the finest young men a person could ever know. Clean cut, polite, courteous, unassuming. He’s been in the welding trade for number of years – he could make good money there, and that helped to support his spiraling drug and alcohol addiction.

But his great passion in life, and by all accounts, his great talent in life is golf. He wants to be a professional golfer, he wants a career in the golf industry. He was an amazing golfer as a 15 and 16 year old, but soon got derailed by the booze. There was a long period of self-destruction. When he finally picked up his clubs again about a year and a half ago, he was still an amazing golfer. After just a few weeks of rigorous practice he could play a challenging course and come in with a 68 or 69 score on a par 72 course. It sure bugged me— I dream of someday breaking 100.

In good stretches he has worked with professional golfers here in Calgary, who all agree “here is a kid who has something.”  He had a dream, but he also suffers from a serious, life-threatening disease — alcoholism.

As they completed the 12 week recovery program,  these men and their friends and families celebrated the fact they had all been clean and sober for 90 days. That 90 days of counseling in a safe and supportive environment had brought each one from the depths of despair to the threshold of hope — an amazing transformation.  They’ve all been given another chance.

The reality of drug and alcohol addiction is that there is no cure. It is a chronic, progressive and fatal disease. But there is a solution. Part or most of their rehabilitation program is built around a 75-year-old program called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is a 12-step program. It is a program each sufferer must practice for the rest of their lives, one day at a time, if they hope to remain sober.

The AA program itself has nothing to do with alcohol….alcohol is only mentioned once in the 12 Steps. The AA program is about learning to change who you are as a person. It’s about teaching men and women how to live life on life’s terms, dealing with the joys, difficulties and stresses of everyday life without resorting to that great “fixer” – alcohol.

And a vital component of that 12 step program is learning to connect with your spirituality — finding God or that higher power, it is essential. The book of AA clearly states “no human power can relieve us of alcoholism” and “there is no cure, we are granted a daily reprieve contingent on our spiritual condition.”

Will these 13 men make it? I don’t know. I certainly hope so. They completed a 12-week recovery program, but they are really just at the beginning of their journey. If they leave that center and a week or month or two down the road say “I think I am okay now. I think I can go back to my old life, I can go back to my old job, my old friends, and my old thinking and damn I am sure I can manage a drink now and then, I know how to handle it…” if they allow that kind of thinking to creep into their minds, it will only be a matter of time before they are right back at their absolute bottom and they may have another chance at recovery or they may just die. That happens far too often.

They need to leave that center with a rock solid commitment to keep in touch of their recovery, with that 12-step program, every day of their lives. The willingness to change who they are needs to be burned into their souls. And every day of their lives they need to be asking for God’s help and guidance. It has often been said in the AA program that alcoholism is the only disease that tells you don’t have a disease. That’s often followed with a comment, “while I’m in this room at my AA meeting, my disease is out in the parking lot doing push ups.”  There is no break. There is no room to let your guard down…alcoholism “is a cunning, powerful and baffling” disease.

I hope they all make it. Some do, but many don’t. Changing who and what you have been for probably more than half your life is no easy task. But if they ask for God’s help they will make it.

It was moving and inspiring for me to bear witness to the first and dramatic phase of transformation these men have made. My prayers are with them as they continue the journey.

Lee Hart 

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