The Calgary Dream Center is one of Legacy Kitchens’ Charities of Choice because of its success in helping transform the lives of men and their families. Our signature event fundraiser for the Calgary Dream Center, Music for a Winter Evening, took place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall just before Christmas. This well attended event was enormously successful in raising over $150,000 for the transformation activities of the Dream Center.
One of the evening’s highlights was the very moving testimony in poetry by Luke Cole, a gifted 25 year old Calgary artist who is a recovering resident of the Center which guides men caught in cycles of poverty and addiction into lives of purpose. Luke’s amazing story is featured in this week’s posting. His poem that he presented that evening with his mother at his side is in the sidebar.
Luke Cole’s Story of Transformation – by Lee Hart
Luke Cole wants to continue growing up. He wants a career. He wants a place of his own, he wants to pay his own bills —hopefully drink less coffee in the process — but more importantly he wants to learn to live life on life’s terms.
The 25-year-old Calgary young man, who has been a resident at Calgary Dream Centre since October 2014 doesn’t want to go back to those dark places in his mind, and those dark days in his life, particularly over the past couple years, that had his life in a downward spiral of drug and alcohol addiction. At his young age, with a lifetime ahead, the grip of addiction was killing him.
“Being here has given me a new beginning,” says Luke,, as he talks about being part of the Dream Centre seven-week youth program, which was the first stage of his so-far five-month stay at the Dream Centre recovery centre. The day of this interview he had his first job interview, which he hoped might lead to a career in retail. And from there he could look at other possibilities as well — getting more involved in his art, developing a healthy personal relationship, reconnecting with his family, just having a life.
“I need to focus on the positive, in a world where there is so much negative,” says Luke. “There is a lot of crap out there. And there will be things that come along in life I just have to learn to deal with. Our dog Levy, for example, is getting up in years and may not be around much longer. That may be a test from God to see how I deal with that. I don’t want to throw away all that I have learned over something that is just part of life.”
Luke’s battle with addiction had roots in his earlier life. Raised in a good home with his parents and sister, he recalls a long-struggle of not feeling good about himself. Although he didn’t admit it to his parents until later, he was bullied through much of his middle school and high school life. Later as he matured he had confusion in understanding and finding his place in the world as a young gay man, in a society built around the belief that “being straight” is the norm.
“I was really tormented in school — I didn’t understand,” he says. “I had no sense of value. I wasn’t sure who I was or which way to go.”
His first experiences with alcohol were good. He enjoyed the feeling. It made him feel comfortable. When he turned 18, he could drink freely. He drank more, but didn’t see it as a problem. His life was quite manageable. At age 20 he left home for a year to attend university in British Columbia and that’s really where “all hell broke lose,” he says.
“At first I enjoyed drinking,” says Luke. “It made me feel good. I enjoyed parties. I perhaps didn’t realize it at the time, but really it was just covering up what I was feeling inside. I was hurting. I had this void inside and drinking filled that void — took away my troubles.”
After a year at the performing arts school, Luke returned to Calgary. The drinking continued and got worse. He was a daily drinker, although occasionally would launch on a more extended binge.
He got involved in a relationship, which was good for a while. But when that relationship ended it put him into a depression and a downward spiral with more drinking. He didn’t know how else to cope.
He would work for a while but then either lose or leave a job. There was tension at home. His drinking and his behavior were causing upset in the family. He got into some scraps but with the help of his family avoided the possibility of going to jail. But the drinking continued and got worse.
The rubber hit the road in the late summer of 2014. Luke’s parents were away at their summer cottage. His on-again, off-again relationship with his partner was still causing anxiety.
“I was just out of control ,” Luke says. “I just went on this binge. I was alone, I had access to alcohol, I didn’t care about anything.” At the same time within him, he knew he wanted to stop — wanted to live.
Returning home to find their son was in a seriously bad state, the Coles looked for help.
“We had been very concerned for sometime, but really didn’t know how bad it was and we also didn’t know what to do about it,” says his mom Darcy. She began to investigate and came across the name of a facility called the Calgary Dream Centre which could offer some help.
“We couldn’t go on the way we were,” she says. “It was tearing the family apart and it was killing Luke.”
Although it was all new territory to Luke and his mom, they met with Calgary Dream Centre staff who explained the program of recovery at their residential facility. By early October 2014 they had a spot available for Luke in their youth program.
Since joining the program Luke has never looked back. The Calgary Dream Centre program, which is built around a 12-step recovery program, isn’t about teaching people how to manage alcohol. It is about learning to understand yourself as a person, learning to change yourself, learning to find a higher “spiritual” power in your life, learning to grow up and develop coping skills so you can learn to live life on life’s terms.
“The youth program is very similar to the adult program,” says Luke. “You attend many of the same meetings together where we hear the same message, but there are some differences as well.”
For Luke the main message was about learning about who he was as a person and to begin finding value in himself. He began journaling again which has great therapeutic value for expressing thoughts and feelings. The program teaches discipline and responsibility as each resident is responsible for a range of duties around the facility such as cleaning, and helping with meals.
In working through the 12 step recovery program, residents first must admit and accept they have an addiction they are powerless over. Then they need to develop a connection with a higher power — the God in their lives — and realize that no human power can relieve their alcoholism.
“We were raised in the Catholic church so I was always aware of God, understood faith and knew about prayer,” says Luke. “But I had to learn about connecting to God on a daily basis for help to lead me out of this dark place I was living.”
The 12-step program focused on showing Luke to accept responsibility for himself and his actions and learn tools for coping with all of life’s challenges. “It is about learning to grow up,” he says. “And learning to rely on God to handle all the issues in life that are beyond my control.”
Luke has just begun a lifelong journey of recovery, but he is positive about the future.
“I finally have my feet on the ground again,” he says. “I want a career, I want to pursue my art. I need to make amends to my family and others for the harm I have caused. I want to get married some day and have a stable relationship. I also want to give back and help others find their way out this darkness. The Dream Centre program has given me a new starting point.”
For Darcy Cole, looking proudly at her son, as he begins a new journey in recovery it is a simple yet vital matter, “The Dream Centre saved his life,” she says.