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I recently finished the 6-month treatment program at The Healing Place. For those of you unfamiliar with the program –- and that’s probably most of you, since I haven’t written it up yet -– it’s an intensive, AA-based program designed to take men off the street, strip them of their self-willing, often anti-social behaviors, and teach them a new way of life through the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Yes, I know. It sounds a little like brainwashing. And to tell you the truth, it kind of is.

But in a good way.

Anyway, participants like myself spend the last week of the program doing what we call “12-stepping.” The name comes from the Twelfth Step itself, which states that "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

Not surprisingly, those of us who are “12-stepping” are called “12-steppers.” We don once again the blue hospital scrubs worn when we first entered detox months ago, and are asked to return to the 20-bed detox facility located at The Healing Place, there to work with and speak to those alcoholics and addicts still in the active grip of their disease. It’s a process I found appealing on many, many different levels, not the least of which is the “return to roots” that comes with all educational awakenings.

In addition to working in detox itself, 12-steppers are commonly asked to speak at the thrice-weekly meeting of The Healing Place’s in-house AA meeting, dubbed the 700 Group, after the building’s 700 Dinwiddie Street address. As expected, I was asked to speak.

This is what I said, more or less.

    Good evening. I am an alcoholic named Jim.

    Because I’ve been here long enough to know that I’d be speaking here tonight, I actually prepared a few words in advance. And while I’m sure they’d be very pretty, that’s not what I want to talk about right now.

    No, what I want to talk about is what happened in detox not more than an hour ago. Two brothers, one here less than a day, one less than a few hours, just got up and walked out the door. Their drug of choice was heroin. And, as Mike Grooms would say, the “cruel whisper of their disease” was just too strong. They left without even giving the program a chance.

    I had a chance to talk to one of the guys last night. He and I were out in the smokeyard, and I told him that he looked pretty good for someone detoxing off heroin. He told me that the physical part wasn’t the problem, it was the damage he had done to his relationship with his wife. She was fed up with him, he said, and he didn’t know what to do.

    I told him my own story, about how before I came to The Healing Place my mother-in-law wouldn’t even let me in her house. About how I spent three weeks sleeping like a dog outside their apartment building, waiting for any chance to see my wife and son, who were staying there. I told him about how hard it was every day to hold off drinking as long as I could, because I knew that once I started there was no chance my wife would let me see my son. I told him about the birthday cards I bought for both of them with what little spare change I managed not to spend on alcohol, and how I held out just long enough to see my son on his second birthday.

    And then I came in.

    I told him how hard it was here at first, how alone I felt in the middle of all these guys I didn’t know. I told him that I didn’t think I’d be able to make it one week, much less six months. But I did make it, day by day. Minute by minute sometimes. In the end, I told him about how things are now, how I see my wife and son every weekend, and how my son wakes up every morning wanting to see Daddy again.

    I told him it’s been tough this week, not being able to call on the phone. Not being able to see them both, even if it's just for one weekend. It’s been tough, I told him, but in a good way. Because it tells me I’ve managed to make myself part of my family’s life again.

    And I did it from inside a homeless shelter. That’s what this place can do for you, I told him. Those are the Promises.

    As I sat there watching him pack his things just an hour ago, he couldn’t look me in the eye. I asked him what he thought his wife would do when she heard he was leaving. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear as he walked out the door.

    It was as if I was staring my own disease in the face. Now, The Healing Place isn’t perfect, that’s for sure. But I firmly believe that it is blessed.

    And for every two tragedies like what just happened –- and make no mistake, it’s a tragedy every time someone turns his back on salvation -– for every two tragedies like that, there are 200 miracles walking around this building every single day. Just stand in the hall outside these doors any Thursday at quarter to six, and you’ll see a parade of men coming to Silver Chip Community. These are men, dozens and dozens of them, whose lives were broken and empty when they first walked in these doors. These are men who were truly lost. Now they are found.

    God lives in this house. I know that.

    You guys in detox, you might be getting tired of hearing from everyone about how great this program is. We can get kind of carried away sometimes, I know. And it’s okay if you’re unsure about the program right now. You’re right where you need to be.

    If you don’t believe what you hear, just keep coming back.

    And believe what you see.