August NL 2021 Feature Story Michael C.

Thanks to You Michael is Ready to Say Yes

“When you combine a healthy active lifestyle with everything that HUM has to offer you have a ‘recipe’ for success.”

Michael, age 34, graduated from Helping Up Mission (HUM) in 2019 and in October 2020, was hired as our Philanthropy Coordinator. Although his journey of life-transformation has at times been rough due to anxiety and depression, today Michael will be preparing for his next step leading Team HUM at the 2021 Baltimore Running Festival.

Born and raised in Toms River, New Jersey, Michael grew up the youngest in a loving family of five. “I was first introduced to the team sports of soccer and baseball when I was 5. I really enjoyed the team aspect and competitive nature of sports with my friends. Toms River still is a hotbed of youth sports,” states Michael.

“During high school, I was a good student, played baseball, and ran track. I was a long-distance runner. The summer going into senior year I experimented with marijuana because of peer pressure. At first it was a weekend distraction that slowly progressed to a daily activity. Marijuana helped ease my mind and allowed me to escape my negative thoughts. Regardless of my early stages of addiction, I was able to graduate high school and move on to college at Rider University to study marketing.”

“While in college, I continued smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol on a regular basis. I was able to keep myself together and graduated college with a degree in marketing. The summer after graduation, I started my own ice cream business on Long Beach Island a popular summer tourist location on the Jersey Shore. Things were going good, despite my inability to deal with my mental health issues and drug use.”

“Eventually harder drugs were introduced to my lifestyle as the marijuana and drinking stopped doing their “job.” Honestly, opioids allowed me to become more outgoing. In 2017, I decide to get away from my negative influences in New Jersey and move to Maryland with my sister for a fresh start. I thought that a change in location would provide a change in my situation, but that is not what I found. Instead, my drug use continued. Looking at the prospect of becoming homeless or getting help – I chose the help that I desperately needed. “

Michael came to HUM and completed our one-year Spiritual Recovery Program. “After graduation, I started working and stopped focusing on my recovery. Instead, I was so worried about making money that I got away from the intensive substance abuse programs at HUM and relapse became part of my story. I realized that I learned a valuable lesson in keeping recovery in the forefront of my journey. I recognized the hope and peace of mind that HUM provided, and I reenrolled a couple of months later.”

“This time I did things differently. I started listening to people who had been successful in returning from addiction and I focused on the programs instead of rushing back to work. Sometimes sitting still is better than making a rash/emotional decision. Eventually a job opened up in our Philanthropy Department and Pete Griffin, Assistant Director of Programs, thought that I would be a great fit. In October 2020, I was hired which brings us to today.”

“My primary responsibility is to handle our Gifts-In-Kind (GIK) program for the mission in addition to supporting many Philanthropy initiatives/projects. GIK provides much needed clothing and essential toiletries to the 540 men and women that we serve. I remember how great it felt as a program member to receive these “blessings.” Now I get to see the work that I do have a direct impact on my friends in the program, which makes it rewarding.”

“I am also proud to be this year’s 2021 Team HUM Captain for the Baltimore Running Festival. Running is in my family. My brother competed in the Olympic time trials for marathons and as a former long-distance runner myself, I understand the importance of the team’s motto: One Life at a Time, One Mile at a Time. On October 9, two hundred men, women, and children will join me in raising awareness and critical funds while representing HUM. These funds will help save people from the devasting grips of addiction. Throughout the years at Helping Up Mission, exercise and healthy eating habits have been a big part of my recovery. Fitness has helped me learn discipline which was much needed in my life. I also realized how much these things helped with my mental health as well. When you combine a healthy active lifestyle with everything that HUM has to offer you have a ‘recipe’ for success.”

“Growing up, I never imagined living and working at a Baltimore City rehabilitation center. It is funny where God leads us, but I trust in His plan. I hope to continue working at HUM and giving back to the place that helped save my life. Whether it is leading a team at the Baltimore Running Festival or securing vital GIK donations for our clients, I am ready to say ‘Yes.’”

 

 

Dele is Feeling Your Christmas Blessings
“I started to become ME again”
Ayodele, 35, who goes by Dele, was born in Baton Rouge, but raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up as a child of separation and divorce, Dele lived with his American mother and older brother during the week and spent every other weekend with his Nigerian father. Dele did well in school, had a good home life, and was an all-star caliber baseball player as a child. At age 15, all of that changed when he started smoking marijuana.
“My brother introduced me to “weed.” Since I was comfortable with him, smoking weed did not take a whole lot of thought. And things progressed to drinking beer. My grades started slipping in high school and with three months left to graduate, I told my mother that I was done with classes. She responded, “if you are done with school, you cannot live here.” I immediately moved out and began living with my cousins. And my addictions just took off from there. A lot of partying and drinking.”
“My father had a lot of lofty expectations. He wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. He would say, “work now and play later.” I reversed that to play now and work some other time. He did not want to talk about anything other than education. I did not even know what I wanted for myself. I became rebellious toward him and in ninth grade, I got into a fight with him on school property. I ended up in juvenile detention and that was the beginning of my in and out of jail phase.”
Dele would cycle between violating probation, and 90-day juvenile programs. “It hardened me. I did what I had to do to fit in. I was in and out of the juvenile detention facilities until I turned 17. And then I went straight to county jail. I got out of prison for the last time in 2013.
“My older brother was in an out of rehabs at the time. He had finally gotten clean, and by seeing him go through the process of sobriety, I thought I should try it as well. I went to rehab for the first time in 2015.” Dele started repeating the in and out process, but this time with rehabs. “But my spirituality started to grow. I could hear God speaking. He would tell me to remove myself from situations – to not go.”
Dele, recounts a pivotal moment God told him to “not go.” “One late night, I was running out of drugs (cocaine) and I could hear Him say “don’t go.” But I had to find more. It was three o’clock in the morning and I am going back and forth in my head. My addiction finally wins, and I went looking for drugs. A dealer pulls up in his truck and a gunshot rings off inside the vehicle. He pushes the victim out of the truck and takes off. A guy runs up and starts wrapping the victim’s head while hollering out for someone to call the police. In my mind that was not what I came here for. Nobody called the police. We just walked off in our separate ways. “
“For some time, what I witnessed kept playing through my mind. If I did not stop using drugs now, I might be next in line. At the time I was a member of Back On My Feet Atlanta (BOMF) and told them that I wanted to leave Georgia. I wanted to get clean and I was not going to do so there. They introduced me to Helping Up Mission (HUM) through the BOMF team in Baltimore. I got on a bus with a suitcase and a map and arrived at HUM in June of 2019.”
“When I started the Spiritual Recovery Program (SRP) at HUM, my heart and spirit were hardened. I did not want to make any new relationships with people. But little by little, as I went to meetings and classes, things changed. The camaraderie at HUM, guys checking on you to see how you are doing and making small talk. Overtime, I would speak up more and more.”
“I started volunteering. I helped build the patio at the Chase Street Women’s Center with Coca-Cola Consolidated. I also volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul church on Friday evenings. Pretty soon, I began signing up for everything that HUM had to offer and my true personality began to come out. I was eating and sleeping well and, in the process, I started to become ME again.”
Today, Dele is back in school, pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy. He graduated from the SRP and is building his connection with his Higher Power. Dele is also rebuilding trust and restoring relationships with his father and his 11-year-old son. “My dad and I are a lot closer than we have ever been. I commit myself now to be there for my family. To be there for my son. I am excited about having a future that does not involve drugs and alcohol and my biggest problem is which courses should I take in school.”
“Thank you to all of the donors for making HUM possible. For me to come here all the way from Atlanta and feel comfort and safety. To be here at Christmas. It is all a blessing.”

“God, this is it, I’m done. Please make something happen.”

Listen and subscribe to A Shot of Hope: Recovery Stories

Struggling with addiction for over 20 years, Ramon (39) asked God for help, “God, this is it, I’m done. Please make something happen.” Thanks to generous donors like yourself, Ramon’s prayers were answered, and he came to Helping Up Mission (HUM), where he has healed, “spiritually, mentally, and physically.”

Born in Guatemala, Ramon’s family moved a lot: from Costa Rica to the Dominican Republic, to Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. His father, a preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist church, and his mother did a good job of making his family feel safe during the many moves. “I never liked to be in one place for very long. I got used to moving and liked meeting new people and discovering new cultures,” recalls Ramon.

Being raised Seventh Day Adventist, with a strict ethical code against the consumption of alcohol, Ramon did not have his first drink until age 19.  That all changed while in college. “That first night, I drank two forty-ounce beers. After that, I never drank casually. Drinking was all or nothing and I always drank to get drunk and I didn’t care about the consequences.”

Ramon’s “no-care” lifestyle would continue for another 15 years. Much like his childhood relocations, Ramon would often move to change the situations, yet his addictions would resurface. “Through the geographical moves, I now realize that I was the problem. I had always blamed my situations on other things.” Ramon moved to California to live with his sister, but his addiction resurfaced and he moved to Texas with his brother. “I thought that if I were around my brother, everything would get better. But I wasn’t happy and quickly started isolating myself. I moved back with my parents who were living in New Jersey, and repeated the process. My father got transferred to Maryland, and I moved too.  The pattern repeated: I got healthy again but started drinking.

In Baltimore, Ramon got arrested and while in detention asked, “God, this is it, I’m done. Please make something happen. That is when I met John. He said that he knew of a place that would help me. I did not see him again and I was released. We never exchanged information and I did not know how to find him.  But through coincidence, or more likely by GOD, John was there when I returned to get my things. And that is how I found Helping Up Mission.”

“The hardest thing about the Spiritual Recovery Program at HUM is living in a dorm with 30 guys, although it is cool how the men come from all walks of life. Learning to stay still, letting the ‘fog clear’, and taking direction were also hard at first. But they (staff) provide us with so much and there are so many opportunities to carry us through the year. I joined the choir and connected with the group Brothers in Prayer. I signed up for everything that HUM had to offer, like backpacking. I joined a recovery homegroup and attended Celebrate Recovery.”

Throughout the year I also stayed connected with John. He said he had a job opening for me when I was ready. At first, it was hard to find a job because of my past. But HUM helped me expunge my criminal record, and I work for John now at Sofi’s Crepes Fells Point. A job that I can walk to! It has been a blessing.

As Ramon looks ahead to his future, he is thankful for HUM teaching him to sit still and just letting God lead. “I passionately want to be a Peer Recovery Specialist. I want to help people get over the hump of addiction. I know what they are going through, and I want to show them how they can start from nothing and relearn what they know about God, religion, and recovery.”

“My relationship with God today is very personal. Recovery has really helped me see His love for humankind, but we must find out how to love ourselves first. God has given me the gift of being comfortable around people. Because of my upbringing, I trust people, and that is what I want to help instill in others. By trusting in God, like when I prayed to him from the detention center, He opened the door and placed John into my life.”

“Today, I am most thankful for my health and my life. My family stuck with me, even when I was reaching a point in my life where (it seemed) there was no coming back.   I am thankful for God bringing back my sanity (Recovery Step 2). And I am thankful for love allowing me to adapt to and accept people where they are. I am grateful for HUM healing me: spiritually, mentally, and physically. If I had the opportunity to go back and talk to myself on my first day I would say, ‘Ramon, you are at the right place. God brought you here. It’s starting now!’ “

Thanks to donors, volunteers, and partners like you, Ramon is well on his way to becoming a Peer Recovery Specialist. His true life-transformation is a testament to your generosity on many levels. And the hope that Ramon provides the men and women that we serve is immeasurable.

 

Kedrick, 51, born and raised in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. Although he was raised by two working parents who both retired from the State, his mother would often tell him that “we are poor compared to our neighbors”. Her intent was to keep Kedrick humble, but her comments instilled a sense of inadequacy that Kedrick fought hard to overcome.

Kedrick’s life was fairly comfortable, with plenty of opportunities. His mother made efforts to expose him to culture, while his dad tutored him in math and reading. At age 13 his parents divorced. His father’s drinking and violence toward his mother crumbled his family, and were the basis of other childhood traumas that led to Kedrick’s own drinking. “I drank to escape,” he recalls.

Kedricks found solace in the presence of his oldest sister Barbara. “She was a true big sister and a huge asset, I always wanted to be with her”. Just like his mother, Barbara fell victim to an abusive relationship, and was murdered while Kedrick was in his freshman year of college at West Virginia Wesleyan. Reeling from the loss, Kedrick thought that a change of location might improve his circumstances. He transferred to the University of New Haven.

“I drank alone, and I drank for the effect.”

Uprooted and grieving, Kedrick’s drinking took a turn for the worse. “I began drinking to fall asleep and numb my loss,” he says, “I drank alone, and I drank for the effect.”  He began to recognize his addiction manifesting itself in him as it had his father before him. Kedrick started going to Al-Anon to seek help, deflecting the admission of his problem. At age 22, Kedrick eventually made it to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“I was a functioning alcoholic,” he remembers. Kedrick received his degree in Creative Writing at Vermont College, and he believed it was the beginning of a new chapter. “School was a means for ‘everything to be ok’, ‘I’ll be fine, I won’t drink anymore. I won’t be an alcoholic. I won’t feel less than.”

After finishing his degree he immediately entered an International Journalism Master’s Degree Program at City, University of London.

“The degrees didn’t fix me,” he reflects, “I still felt incomplete and empty. I always sought God, but I came up short. I moved a lot, to escape, to reinvent myself. Changing places meant always starting over, often times failing.”

In 2018 Kedrick would drink alone while listening to Christian music. He stopped socializing for the most part, and finally came to the revelation that he was tired of his struggle. He quit his job, called his family (who were unaware of his relapse), and checked himself into Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for detox. While in Bayview, a counselor suggested another program for him to begin his recovery. “I was ready to leave and seek a Christian program, at first I called Salvation Army, but I kept hearing good stories about Helping Up Mission (HUM).”

Something deeper inside me said give HUM a try

Kedrick felt, “A year long program surrounded by so many people did not seem appealing, but something deeper inside me said give HUM a try.”

Today Kedrick celebrates 8 months of sobriety at HUM, and he feels acceptance and adjusted to life on life’s terms. He says that, “a lack of acceptance, patience, and tolerance was my downfall”, and “the staff of the Helping Up Mission has been a blessing, by helping me realize my true potential. It’s not all about me, It’s bigger than me, It’s a collective and they’re there to help me, so I must make the effort to help another.”

Before HUM, Kedrick’s writing was published in two Maryland newspapers, as well as in West Virginia, and London. He also held editor and columnist jobs in regional newspapers. While at HUM, Kedrick has used his writing skills to benefit the Inspiring Hope Campaign Newsletter for the Women’s and Children’s center.   Kedrick is the Editor in Chief  of our very own HUM Gazette — A newspaper by and for our HUM clients. Kedrick muses, “Seeing other guys get excited, and interested in writing… I enjoy the thrill that they receive when they see their names in print. It’s one of the ways that I give back.”

Today Kedrick has a homegroup, a sponsor, a home-church — The Carpenter’s House of Baltimore, where he is the Assistant Editor of their newsletter; and he is working the 12 steps of AA. Remembering what his mother instilled in him about monetary wealth, Kedrick’s favorite verse is:

Matthew 6:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

Keith, 55, was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. From an early age he was recognized for being gifted in the Arts. Being a talented dancer and singer helped Keith rise quickly in the theatre world, yet his self-doubt and eagerness to be accepted led him down a dark path. This is a story about redemption.

Keith attended the Baltimore School for the Arts as a voice major and then switched over to dance and got courted by the Dance Theatre of Harlem. He received a full scholarship and moved to New York to pursue ballet. People immediately took notice of his talent and intended to make him into a star.

“It was a really interesting time because once I got to New York, it was like, okay… I’m here… I had a year and a half of training as a ballet dancer, which is not a lot and I’m in a school with all of these people who were hungry for something that I knew nothing about, and it wasn’t one of those things that I was hungry for. But it was something that somebody wanted me to do and I found myself doing that a lot in my life. They saw what I didn’t see.

My mother was always very supportive of me, but I always had some insecurity. I was always a soft kid, being bullied. Overcoming this was difficult, and his own father didn’t help. I remember one time my dad said to me “you’ll never be like your brother.”

That really stuck and manifested into “I’ll never be as good as this person. I’ll never be a good dancer. We carry these insecurities with us throughout our lives. I remember one time as a kid asking my mother, “Why don’t people like me?” and she said, “Everybody’s not going to like you.” I always wanted to be accepted.

I performed in a production of Sophisticated Ladies with Maurice Hines, which was such an adrenaline rush, and I started drinking a lot. I started disconnecting from my friends in New York, because everybody’s working and I was not. Looking back I realize that I was just creating this idea in my head. So then I started making new friends. Once they see that I’m cool we’ll be friends. I started buying drinks for all of my new friends. And then I started buying other things.

I knew these people didn’t really like me. They just liked my money. I was going to have a great time getting high with these people or getting high,period, not with these people. Finally, one time when I was sitting on the floor with a crack pipe in my hand, I looked down at myself and thought,what are you doing? So I called my sister-in-law. She’s a very strong believer, and she said, “I knew that you were going to call.” She took me to church.

I just felt something every time that I went to church. It was like I was crying out. The Pastor suddenly said, “There’s one person that I have to pray for,” so he pointed me out and he told me that they’ve been waiting for me for a long time.

Shortly thereafter, I came to the Helping Up Mission. I started going to the classes, writing, reading, Praying, meditating, and getting stuff out that wasn’t good for me.

These were blessings, gifts, I was given so many things that took me places that I’d never go. That part of my life is over, and I thank You, God, for giving me an opportunity to do all the things that You allowed me to do. I changed paths and got my CDL license.

And then something strong came over me and I started giving myself ballet classes, four or five days a week. I realized, He’s preparing me for something.

Soon people were asking me to come and teach master classes ballet classes. So I’m thinking, God, what is this that You want me to? I prayed on it and the following day I got a call from a woman who has as a conservatory. She made me an offer that I could not refuse. I cried because I knew I had nothing to do with it. I knew that was God working in my life. You know that this is a gift that I was given. I love the beauty of it.

I teach kids and they come with insecurities, and I totally understand that because I had my insecurities. Having the opportunity to see the same kids six days a week and to watch them grow… I love doing it.

In the dance world Keith felt like an outsider. This past year he has learned what acceptance feels like. It’s just talking to God of acceptance and a welcome of Grace.

I ask for His guidance.

At HUM, I’m fed every day and my blessings are just crazy. It’s crazy. Thank you guys. My compassion for those hurting is stronger, keep a watchful eye on them. I just pray that people can feel good, because we don’t have that long on this Earth. We have so much to be grateful for. That’s something that I hope for, and especially for the guys here. They’re always a part of my prayers. There’s a Holy Spirit that moves through this place. It’s all throughout this building, you know, and I just pray that we find what we need in order to move through life. We just have to get out of His way and let Him do His work.

Randy says that it is all about relationships. Randy grew up Catholic, but by the time he was 10 years old, his family stopped going to church. As he got a little older, he tried to find something spiritual. He says that “he always believed there was a God, but not in the structured way, or [he] only conceived of an angry, resentful God.” Randy always thought of himself as a good person, to whom bad things happened. Before entering the one-year residential Spiritual Recovery Program (SRP) at Helping Up Mission (HUM) in 2016, Randy lost his father, mother and close friend all within a very short period of time.  Maybe he had to lose all of these people to stand on his own and establish new relationships.

In the first few days at HUM, instead of losing people, he started to gain real friends. Kim Lewis, one of HUM’s Board members who co-leads the Choir and Band with Kirk Wise, invited Randy to join the choir only days after entering the SRP. Randy had never sung publically, although he had always performed in orchestra and band. He was extremely nervous when he started singing, particularly as he was one of two men singing tenor high parts.  Choir helped fill up his weekend with positive activity when he was on “blackout” (restricted to campus for 45 days). Now, Randy has joined the choir at his “home church”, St. Leo’s in Little Italy, and sings regularly at mass. He also attends recovery meetings on Sunday and Wednesday.

Music has become a huge part of his life. Randy comments, “It calms me down and has so much emotion”.  Kirk also teaches a class called “The Power of Music”.  Randy remembers a specific song that powerfully impacted him called “The Sower”. It compares people to soil and that with hard soil, God has to get in there and help break it down before nutrients and seed can be planted. A massive tree emerges as the result of the hard work.

Miss Kim also connected Randy to Monday night Bible Study at HUM, which is part of Randy’s weekly routine. Randy started helping out with playing the videos for Monday night Bible study, which taught him how to use the A/V system, a skill needed for Treatment Intern duties that were eventually assigned to him. Another door opened!

The Spiritual Retreats have also provided vital opportunities for life change. In the past and when he first entered the SRP at HUM, he always had to fill his time and space – filling the boredom led to drug use. But now, he feels better, describing this as “inner peace”. Randy explains, “I’m OK with myself”. He has moved from bored

om (or fear of it) to calm. He credits the spiritual retreats as part of this, attending Camp Wabanna, Bon Secours and CREDO.

Camp Wabanna contributed to this calm Randy feels by helping him be by himself. Randy doesn’t play sports, and so he spent  time in the beautiful environment sitting and reading his Bible. Within a group of 300 men in the SRP at one time, it can be easy to just see people in passing, but Randy felt that he took the time to really get to know people on this retreat.

At Bon Secours, he learned a discipline called the “Daily Examen”, crediting it for changing his life and outlook. He says, “It has put a new spin on life”. He used to think about what he didn’t do or accomplish in a day, but after learning the examen, he is reviewing what he accomplished over the day. It has turned his all of his thoughts from negative ones, to positive! He is sleeping better as a result, too.

Additionally, Randy has realized life “isn’t all about [him]”. Instead of reacting to everything in dramatic fashion, he is praying about things. He hadn’t realized before how much anxiety he was experiencing before because he dealt with it by “drinking and drugging”. He has realized that whatever is going on won’t kill him and that everyone has to suffer sometimes. He is starting to see things through God’s eyes and in a Christ-like form. He has been “promoted” to an Intern at HUM, and where he gets so much joy out of seeing other people grow – he’s so grateful.

Randy Has a Positive Outlook on Life 1

Randy is really learning how to build relationships

Randy has now been at HUM for nearly one year, he is performing his role as an Intern in the Treatment Office, and has entered a process of discernment with the Catholic Church about priesthood. He is seeking balance in life rather than vacillating between working crazy amounts and avoiding people with “me time”. He is learning to take little of everything at the “buffet of life”, but not overindulging on anything. Randy is really learning how to build relationships and says that “he never had friends like at HUM.”

Randy helps other people find their path!

In his role as an Intern, Randy has to deal with a lot of different personalities. He learns that he can’t put expectations on people because they all come from different backgrounds. And he is learning how to manage his own expectations about himself. If he can make it through the day without a drink, that is enough sometimes. This is some good training for him, particularly if he receives a call to priesthood, as he looks forward to working with people from all walks of life and helping them find their own way. This is really what gives him joy – helping other people find their path! And, it would not have been possible without the integration of spirituality in HUM’s programs.

 

HUM was the best place to go for help.

Dean is 60 years old from West Baltimore. “We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor. Pretty much, everything I asked my mother to get me, she got it for me.” Dean recalls that he had to go to Sunday school each Sunday or else he could not go out and ride his bike afterwards. He started singing in church and it was the only thing he liked doing. “Even when I was in school, I used to cut class and go in the broom closet and sing. We got in trouble, but it was fun.” He would sing a bit of Jackson 5 or the Temptations with his friends.

Dean had his first experience getting high after high school graduation.  “I thought it was the only way to have fun.” By his twenties, people around him started dying. At that point, he would get high to protect him from the pain of losing loved ones.

“I was getting high and trying to hide it from people.” His younger sister died of brain cancer, so he started using more to cover the pain. Then his brother died of colon cancer and he increased the usage to help with the pain. Finally, his wife had lung and brain cancer. He quit his job to be with her. Dean recalls, “While she was in the hospital, I laid the drugs down. I said I wanted to be with her with a clear head.” After seeing all of the death around him, he just gave up and didn’t care anymore.

He had his own lawn service that made him enough money to buy his drugs. People kept telling him he wasn’t looking right, so he just pulled away and became an introvert. He recalls that people recognized that he had  problems, “but they didn’t have guts enough to say, ‘Dean, you need help.”

One day, his mom saw him cutting grass. She tried to call to him and he didn’t answer. Eventually, she got in his face and said, “Boy, what’s wrong with you. You need help.” That evening, his family sat around and told him he needed to get into a program. “I tried to play it off and play the jokester, but they told me now is not the time to joke.” They asked if he wanted to be homeless. “I have always been with family. They told me if I didn’t get myself together and find someplace to go, I was going to be homeless. That rocked my world.” The intervention included information on several options for help. His church had donated to Helping Up Mission, and his sister had done research and said HUM was the best place to go to get help.

The next day he came to HUM

He agreed and then went and got high again. “I wanted help, but I really didn’t know how to ask for it.” “Part of me was saying nah, you don’t want that kind of help, you can go another year like this.” The next day he came to HUM, but was in such bad shape that he ended up at Johns Hopkins for a brief detox to help get him over the rough spots. After detox, HUM welcomed him back and told his family that Dean would have a rough couple of weeks. Dean remembers, “I was sick as a dog. Didn’t want to be bothered with nobody and was thinking of ways to get put out. But I guess God had other plans, because I am still here.”

Finding good people to be around

The spiritual life classes really hit home. “I said to myself, I am going to give it a go, I am going to try.” Dean believes that being held accountable at his work therapy also helped get him through his seed phase. Likewise, it really helped him when he found good people to be around. He met great friends in his dorm. “The whole dorm was just guys that were feeling what I was feeling.” They approached him and said, “I feel your pain. I done been there, I know what you are feeling.” That really encouraged Dean. He recalls, “Just surrounding yourself with people who are honest with you and are not going to tell you what you want to hear will get you through this.”

We would cry together

Every morning now, Dean wakes up and prays to be a better person than he was yesterday. He believes that the many opportunities here at HUM have really helped him. The pastors, the book club, the art room, and the treatment coordinators have all really encouraged Dean to grow. But if you listen to Dean, you will know that his counselor and his time in the choir really had an impact on his time at HUM. Dean describes his counselor, “We would talk, laugh, and cry together. She taught me to look at life a different way.”

It took him four months to join the choir. He explains, “I had to work on me. [But] I heard them singing and it was like a magnet, it just drew me to it. Just singing praises to the Lord and being in the company of that group of guys. They helped me through my hardest times.” Dean is not one for talking, but singing allows him to express himself.

HUM helped Dean through the hurt

Dean has had to deal with death again since coming to HUM. A friend left the program early and died from an overdose. It was very difficult, and he is sure that if he was on the street he would have tried to numb the pain like he did so many times. But, he had his support from HUM to help him through the hurt.

Dean explains, “If I went back out and used again today, I would be letting a lot of people down. First of all, I would be letting myself down. And today, I want to live. It hasn’t always been peaches and cream through this journey. But, I have had more good days than bad days.” He says that now they are mostly good days. Dean says, “I graduated, I became an intern and I have stuck around… I’ve got a purpose today.”

Thanks to you, Dean has found the man he always knew he could be. He is singing again, worshiping a God that won’t give up on him, and making sure that he will be leave his mark on this earth as a man who was dependable.

Robert is 67 years old and just recently celebrated three years of hope being clean and sober after fifty-two years of addiction. Better known as Blue by everyone at HUM, he explains that someone once joked about him being one of the Blues Brothers and while he didn’t see the resemblance, he loves the blues so he let the nickname stick.

Blue was born in 1950 in Baltimore. He started drinking and smoking by the time he was twelve. At the age of fifteen, a friend’s older brother introduced him to heroin. He explains, “It was just the sixties. I was a hippy. I was high through the whole time. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting high off of something.”

Blue recalls, “This is the era of Vietnam with the draft. So, guys like me didn’t really have anything to look forward to. None of us wanted to fight in some jungle that didn’t make sense. So, when I went down to the draft board I was extremely high, and I never got drafted.”

Blue was arrested for possession of heroin.

In 1968, a month after graduating high school, Blue was arrested for possession of heroin. Blue said, “I went on methadone after I got busted. My mother and father didn’t have a clue what to do.” They took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed the methadone.

During this time, he met his wife and fell in love. They were both on methadone for ten years, and then he detoxed off of it. His wife was taken off of it abruptly and overdosed a few days later. Blue gave her CPR and brought her back to life. After a few days she overdosed again, and this time, he could not bring her back. Blue was devastated and did his best to bring up his daughters without their mother.

“I got high for fifty-two years.”

Blue explains, “I was jumping from one thing to another. I was in a program; I wasn’t in a program. I was shooting dope; I wasn’t shooting dope. I was drinking because I would go to that when I didn’t want to do dope because I would get strung out on it. I smoked a lot of weed. I got high for fifty-two years. I didn’t get high off of any one thing for fifty-two years, but I was getting high off of something for fifty-two years. I didn’t go three months where I didn’t get high a couple of times.”

“I got so cold.”

In 2000, Blue lost his job because he was shooting dope and couldn’t work without it. He ended up homeless and set up a makeshift shelter between two buildings. After about a year of living on the streets, he found an old broken-down hearse in a parking lot. The back was unlocked and he moved in. He remembers, “I almost froze to death on Christmas Eve in 2004. I was dope sick. I didn’t have any money. I went into the back of the hearse and covered up with every piece of clothing and blanket that I had. I got so cold. I will never forget that.” He went into a shop and sat there to try to warm up, but was forced to leave. As he was walking down the street, a lady saw he was distressed and let him sleep on her couch and get warm. “It was quite a Christmas. It is not something I am trying to go back to ever. When I see [homeless] guys come in here at night, I know what it is like.”

Blue had been in and out of programs so many times

In January 2014, Blue went to Bayview Hospital to detox. He had lost so much weight and gotten into such bad shape that he couldn’t walk. He was sent to a rehab center to regain the ability to walk. He was physically getting better. But in September of 2014, he took some pills and drank a pint of vodka and woke up in an ambulance on the way to St. Agnes. The social worker at St. Agnes told Blue’s wife about HUM. He had been in and out of programs so many times and had always focused on the physical and mental health side, but never had he thought about the spiritual aspect of recovery. When he arrived at HUM, they told him that it was a year-long program and he was not ready to commit to that. He admits that he thought, “Oh no! I am gone. I headed to the door. The only reason I came back is because my wife stayed at the desk and stared at me.”

“I was in really bad shape, really.”

The first three or four months Blue struggled and did not sleep much. “I was in really bad shape, really.” When asked what changed for him, he explains, “I stopped fighting God. It sounds like something you would say because it sounds good. Just the difference of not having to fight.” His entire life he had been an agnostic. He could not explain the existence of God and the existence of bad things at the same time. Now he says, “It has been a relief not to have to understand, I know what I know. I learn what I can. I help whoever I can. I do the best I can.”

Each week, at the graduation chapel, Blue sits in the same place and jumps up to give a hug and hope to those who are celebrating their graduation from the one-year Spiritual Recovery Program. He explains, “I feel very strongly emotionally about what is happening here. I know what it took for me to do it – to come in here and go for a year. I’ve been out there for so many years, and I’ve seen how this struggle is with drugs and alcohol. To me, a year is a miracle. So, yeah, I hug them guys when they make that year because you started something, and you finished it. We don’t do that a lot. We’re good at starting things, but not finishing them.”

“I came to understand that God kept me around…”

Blue is a graduate intern here at HUM as a Treatment Coordinator Assistant and sees his role now as to help others who are struggling to get clean. “I came to understand that God kept me around through all that stuff. God let me survive all of that. So what’s the purpose? I am 67 years old. I spent 52 of those 67 years getting high off of everything. So, I can look at my life in two ways; I’ve wasted my whole life. Or no, I’ve put 52 years of hard experience to understand the stuff nowadays. So, I choose the second.”

Blue is well known at HUM. He explains, “I am a firm believer that the small things in life make the difference. The big [things] are going to happen to everyone. The little ones are gifts. When someone talks to you and they actually care, it’s something you remember. It can make a huge difference in the rest of your day. It might make a difference in the rest of your life. Care might be the difference between life and death.” This New Year, Blue will continue to do what he can to offer hope to the hurting.

“I was using drugs for so long that I didn’t know how to live without them.”

Dustin was a Baltimore City firefighter when he fell through a flight of stairs and was injured. He was prescribed pain pills to help him recover, and “started needing more and more.”

“When I couldn’t pass the physical to go back to the department, the insurance got cut off, which means the doctor got cut off. I realized I was addicted and started feeling the withdrawal.” So, Dustin started buying pain pills on the street. When he couldn’t get them anymore, a buddy suggested trying heroin as a stronger and cheaper alternative.

He woke up one morning and couldn’t find any drugs. He remembers, “I was sitting around, hating myself, and hating life. I cursed God a lot and was wondering what went wrong.” A week earlier his sister and mom had tried an intervention. Dustin decided to try to detox and went to Bayview Hospital. He was in there for seven days when a social worker, “an angel on my shoulder” as Dustin puts it, came to him and explained that he needed to do something or he would die. She told him about Helping Up Mission and showed him videos of the Mission on YouTube, but he still wasn’t sure.

Eventually, Dustin decided to come to HUM. He remembers, “When the cab pulled up out front, I was scared and nervous. I was still sore and feeling [the effects of withdrawal]. I was using drugs for so long that I didn’t know how to live without them.”

At first, a year seemed daunting, but after three months of going to classes and chapel, he decided he wanted to stay. “I liked the way I was feeling. Every time I would see [my mom]; she would say ‘You’re looking good. You’re walking tall now. Keep it up.’”

“I started building a strong support network. I was making good friends. We started playing softball together. We were all learning to live again, learning to play again, learning to have fun again. Besides my family, the friends that I made here that are still my friends today; I consider them family now. There is no way we would be where we are now without each other’s support. We still hold each other accountable every day.”

When he came to HUM, Dustin knew his mother had terminal cancer. The time they had together while he was going through recovery allowed them to get to know each other better than ever before. Dustin remembers, “It was kind of a blessing that we knew she was terminal and we got to know each other [again]…it was liberating. One Sunday I visited her, and they did a church service in the cafeteria at the nursing home. We prayed together there for the first time probably since I was a little boy. I still remember that.”

After about six months, as Dustin was beginning to get his life together, he got a phone call that his four-year-old son had pneumonia and was in the hospital. Although they thought he was getting better, he did not begin to breathe on his own when the hospital removed the ventilator. Dustin was on his way to say his goodbyes to his son when his friends rallied around him. They wouldn’t let him go the hospital on his own. They were with him and went through the painful time with Dustin. While he was numb and thought about using again, he didn’t want to lose all of his progress and all the trust he had built back up. He didn’t want to disappoint those who believed in him. “I loved to see the look on my mom’s face. I loved that my daughter smiles back at me now.”

His mom’s health was deteriorating, and she could not make it to his son’s funeral. Three weeks later, Dustin’s sister called to say that his mother only had a day or two left. He and his sister spent the night with his mom as she passed away. “I just felt gratitude. If I would have picked up [and started using] after my son passed away, then I wouldn’t have been able to be there with my mom. It just kind of put everything in perspective for me. As hard as it was, it was peaceful. We were able to be there with her. I was clean and clear-minded. I was at peace, and she was at peace.”

Dustin explained how he continued his recovery during this difficult time. “I leaned on my network. That is a big part of my story; I had that positive network.” He remembers, “It was hard at first. All I knew is that I had to keep moving forward.” A few days after his mom had passed away, Mike Rallo encouraged Dustin to share his story with the new guys at HUM. “It was an emotional day. When I walked out of there, I just felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.” It was also an opportunity for him to help others at HUM. “Before, I thought nobody’s going to learn from me.” Now he can see that others learn from his struggles and how he got through it.

Dustin graduated in November of 2015. Shortly after graduation, Dustin and his close friends were all offered staff positions at HUM. He recalls, “To be able to give back to a place that saved all of our lives, it was awesome.” He continues, “It’s about the guys that are here in the program. Just to be able to give back to them, it’s a special place, and I feel it when I walk in here.”

Dustin has a new life after coming to HUM. In August, he had a new a life come into the world when he and his wife had a baby boy. “Hopefully I went through the struggles so he won’t have to.” Dustin’s daughter is eleven now, and he gets to be there for her, too. “I love being a dad.”

Dustin says that those who support HUM matter. “You save lives every day. I’m not just thankful, but I’m sure my family is. I’m sure my kids are. I’m sure my mom was thankful to have her son for her last six months – her real son, not her son who was showing up high.”

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Jake is 32 years old and working on his bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore; he has plans to earn his Masters in Public Health to work on water security or to develop vaccines. Looking back at everything that brought him to this point in his life, Jake says that he is, “grateful for the Helping Up Mission and for everything I’ve been through.” He believes that “not everyone’s life has to be reduced to shambles, but I’m grateful because maybe if mine didn’t, I might be living a mediocre life.”

Jake grew up in Severn where he went to several small, religious schools. His parents divorced when he was eight years old, but he continued to have relationships with both his mother and father and knew that they both loved him. Jake’s father was more like a best friend growing up – he was always encouraging, but rarely disciplined Jake. 

He remembers, “I figured out pretty early that, if I can project the appropriate image, then I can get away with anything.” Jake had always been a good child and had earned his parent’s trust, so he barely had any oversight at that point in his life. He explains that he liked the “thrill of living a double life.”  In high school, Jake started using a variety of different recreational substances off and on.  After he graduated high school, he says, “I just wasn’t expecting the lack of direction that I had in life.  ” That hit me really hard because I had all the confidence in the world throughout high school that, in spite of my behavior, I thought I could have anything in the world that I wanted.”  Eventually, Jake started “relying on drugs to get any enjoyment out of life.” 

Jake

He remembers that “I didn’t want to do school anymore. I didn’t really want to do anything anymore.” After he had wrecked a car, he was sent to a strict rehab facility and then tried other rehab programs.  Jake recalls, “I hated the life I had and didn’t know how to stop or make it change.” So, he believes that he made one of his best decisions and joined the military.  He has always had an interest in the medical field, so he joined the Navy to serve in the medical corps.   

During the five years in the Navy, Jake trained in Illinois and served in Italy and Pearl Harbor.  He was also able to serve on a six-month humanitarian mission to Central and South America.  Jake says the military “let me travel, let me know that I could do anything that I put my mind to, gave me friends around the globe, and gave me ideas for my future.” While he may have had the opportunity to drink with his peers, Jake recalls that substance abuse was not an option for him while in the Navy. 

When he got out of the Navy, Jake had the best of intentions.  “I got out thinking that I was different enough that coming back here everything would be different.  It wasn’t really true. I came back to the same old frustrations, the same old obstacles.” “I can’t remember what the first reason I went back to using drugs was, except maybe boredom.”  Although he had a job he loved, Jake went back to his old ways and struggled for two years with his addiction. 

His older brother told him about Helping Up Mission, so he came to HUM for the first time in 2015.  “All II wanted was to salvage what was left of my life.  I didn’t know anything about really addressing me at the core and what is wrong. And I didn’t even really care to do that.  I was too scared to do that. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t think it was necessary. I just wanted to protect the few things I had in this world – a car, apartment, and a few decent relationships.   I just wanted to stop digging the hole deeper.” Jake stayed for about three months but wanted to get back to his life as quickly as possible. 

Two months after he left HUM, Jake was “way out of control. It was my worst ever. There was daily use of heroin and cocaine.” His family was worried, and his sister staged an intervention, but he didn’t get the help he needed. He just kept using. It wasn’t until he overdosed and got in another car accident before Jake felt broken enough to see that he needed help.  Two days later, Jake came “crawling back in the doors of HUM.”

This time around, Jake entered HUM with a quiet new focus.  He found a couple of guys that he could relate to, stuck with them, and then really did some introspection.  He has taken advantage of the mental health counselors during this time at HUM.  “Before, I had no desire to really dig.  I was too afraid of what I would find.  Now I know that there is no hope of hope if I don’t do what is uncomfortable.”

Jake has learned to cut himself a break and to stop clinging to his past.  He now knows to take responsibility for the things he needs to, but that he isn’t responsible for the things he can’t control.  “I walked into the doors this time and just let go of the entire outside world.  I was no longer trying to save anything from the past.  I just knew that I needed to get myself straight.”

Jake says just hearing that “I am a wicked sinner and it’s okay” really helped him.  Now he knows that he “doesn’t need to be righteous for God to love me, or for me to love myself.”

Since coming to HUM, Jake has realized that he can combine the strengths of the 12 step program with his faith to make recovery work for him. In fact, Jake is the Secretary of his AA home group and enjoys serving in this way.  “I have been fortunate to find a meeting where I connect with the guys there.”

Jake will stay at HUM through graduation this time but then plans to move on and finish up his schooling.  Because he has allowed himself to focus on his recovery during his stay at the Mission, Jake is celebrating his independence and believes God knows how his future will all work out.

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