Jonathan, age 45, was born in Miami, Florida, and raised in Severna Park, Maryland. He spent his formative years with his father. “I love him, but a lot of things were kept behind the scenes. And I watched a man that I respected my whole life, completely deconstruct through drinking. In 1997 he hit a big wall and sobered up. His life completely turned around,” recalls Jonathan. “Because of this, I have always been interested in the dynamic of parental role models. I needed to know these things.”
“I graduated high school and got accepted into schools with scholarship offers. In an act of hatred, I took the educational path off the table. My father thought that I did not want to go to college, but I did not go because I hated my father. The flood gates of addiction completely opened for me when I turned 21. I remember buying my first beer and drinking by myself. At that point, I knew it was a bad idea. I got into the restaurant business and that environment became gas on the fire of my addiction. For ten years, I wanted to go back to school and try and repair my relationship with my dad.”
“I developed anger issues that resulted into borderline rage. One day, I came to work drunk, got into an argument with my manager, and got fired. I would be allowed to come back to work if I sobered up. The next day I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and it just hit the right spot. Soon after I started going to meetings, my friend hired me to work at his restaurant. The new job brought me back to Severna Park and the bus route that I would take drove right by Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). To me that was a huge sign. So, after ten years, I finally ended up going back to school. I was sober. I was going to AA meetings. I had a good sponsor. I had a good place to live. I developed a genuine enthusiasm for academia and wanting to succeed.”
“I would graduate AACC, then the University of Maryland with a degree in English language and literature. Being sober made it all possible. But, one night I decided to celebrate and celebrating became drinking. Even though I finally fulfilled what I dreamed of doing, I left college in a self-induced black cloud. I ruined the experience. My girlfriend since childhood told me that she ‘loved me but, could not watch me do this to myself again,’ and left me.”
Jonathan would spend the next few years bouncing from job to job, and hotel to hotel. “I celebrated my 43rd birthday in Portland, Maine. I was killing myself drinking and could not grasp the thought of my dad seeing my body on a slab. I called my father and told him that I was scared and could not live like this any longer. I got on a train the next day and came home. When I got there, my stepmother informed me that they knew about my problems and would like to suggest a place for me to go. ‘We would like you to try Helping Up Mission (HUM) in Baltimore.’ “
“I arrived at HUM in March. I had no other choice. But old habits die hard, and I relapsed and was out by October. My anger and rage came back and one of my best friends ended up calling the Sheriff’s office on me. And by that December, I was outside, alone, cold, and frightened. I had hit my ‘rock-bottom.’ “
“God, please help me get out of this! I called my friends at HUM and they told me to ‘just get here.’ I agreed. The next day, waiting for the bus and freezing cold God answered my plea. The bus that I was waiting for was not going to stop. He told me ‘go stand in front of that bus.’ It worked, the bus practically ran over me, but it stopped.”
Jonathan had to spend three weeks in HUM’s Overnight Guest Services (OGS) when he arrived. “Pete Griffin, Assistant Director of Programs, told me to ‘figure some stuff out for myself.’ And John Mister, OGS Treatment Coordinator, told me ‘to just show up, consistently, to prove that I wanted recovery.’ It was a humbling experience, but three weeks later he asked me if ‘I had anything to take care of?’ I said, no, everything is right in front of me. My diligence finally paid off and I was admitted back into the program.”
“The initial ‘Seed Phase’ (45-day blackout) moved quickly. After that was over, I started going out and walking for exercise – on purpose. A passion that I carry to this day. I also appreciated the continuity of knowing what I was doing, having been in the program before. I was held accountable, but there was room for me being able to ask, ‘am I doing the right thing.’ I learned how to let things go. I meditated, prayed, and read. We went on a therapeutic mountain biking trip. Getting on the bike helped me parlay my walking into hiking. I have been training with a 40-pound pack, so that during the next year I can hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.”
“Thinking about what the future may hold, I have a lot more faith in my abilities. I could do a multitude of things. And one of them might have to be sitting still for a while, and I can live with that. I have gratitude for so many people here. HUM is an awesome, beautiful thing.”

Our feature story this month focuses on the journey of Rick W., a 53 year old Navy veteran, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Boston. His alcoholic parents divorced when Rick was 8, and he took it hard. His family moved to Florida and eventually back to Boston. His father was now a raging abusive alcoholic and at age 12 Rick would have to intervene. Coincidentally, Rick started drinking alcohol at age 12, to escape loneliness and the childhood trauma of bullying. “I could not sleep at night and sometimes I got very depressed. The first time that I drank, I had four beers and I liked it so much and from then on, if there was anyway that I could get a drink, I would,” Rick remembers.

Rick feels that some of his bullying was brought on by himself. A lover of fiction, especially the stories by F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Rick would frequently dress up in white sports coats and tweed pants. “I just really got into that period of time. They (the characters) had freedom. They were always drinking, partying, and having a great time. I realize now that the books were my first indication that alcoholism was not great for me to have. And at the time, I realized that I was an alcoholic.

Eventually Rick dropped out of high school to join the service. “I was tired of school. I was tired of people. I wanted to be able to take care of myself. So I joined the Navy, and I thought that it would be a place where I could get my life back under control.”

At first, Rick trained to become a medic hospital corpsman. But, when he was getting ready to go to his first duty station, things changed. “I was told that I would become an “8048” and that’s a combat medic. It never dawned on me that I would end up a Marine. So I went to bootcamp and became indoctrinated into the Marine Corps, from how to salute to combat techniques.”

After spending time in Asia, Rick began training at Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center in the Californian desert. “In January of 1991, we got our orders. I thought that I would not have nightmares anymore, I wouldn’t have to be bullied anymore. Fitzgerald became a distant memory. But it (war) changes you. The sounds of gunfire, the sounds of explosions. I was in Operation Desert Storm. I walked into battle with a gun in my hand and walked out with a strange sense of guilt that I have carried for the rest of my life.”

Once the war was over Rick’s life didn’t change for the better and drinking started to affect his military career. On one excursion in Somalia, he was sweeping a village, when an insurgent stabbed him with a crude knife. “I still have the scar, (the knife) got me deep enough that it took out my appendix, part of my large intestine, and almost nicked my spine. I spent three months in the hospital and four weeks learning how to walk again.”

The hospital administered morphine to ease Rick’s pain, but alcohol was his painkiller. “Being a medic, I knew that I was an alcoholic. Just like I knew it when I was a teenager. I never wanted to stop. I have Barrett’s esophagus from reflux attacks. And yet I still drank!”

In October of 2019, a peer recovery specialist named Joyce recognized that Rick needed long-term help and recommended Helping Up Mission (HUM). “For the first 45 days, I spent so much time in the chapel. It was the first time ever that I felt the Spirit come to me. I prayed to God to

please take the pain and anxiety away from me. And then I felt it all go away. I learned how to actually talk to God.”

At one point, Rick learned that he was staying in the program and doing recovery for himself. He wanted to finish the program. “Something about the graduations, keep you going. Seeing people phase up, seeing people graduate, and halfway through the year, you start noticing people that you have been interacting with. And you think maybe I can do this.”

“It’s funny when you come to HUM, you feel totally lost. And at some point, you are a part of it. It becomes your family.

Speaking of family, “The biggest highlight for me this year is because of all the work I have done, on August 22, my fiancee Elizabeth married me. She married me because she really believed and continues to believe in me. I never felt worthy. I was just a nice drunk. I drank alone. I never really was in love with anybody, I did not even love myself. I was able to marry the love of my life, and I would not be able to do that if it was not for HUM.

“Combat will change you forever. You will never look at the world the same. When you open up and believe in God, you finally know that you do not have to carry as much guilt. You can confess and feel whole again. The same goes for drinking. You can be forgiven. I’m a better father and a good husband. And I am going to become a Peer Recovery Specialist to help others turn their life around.

Because of your generous contributions, Brian (age 41) has focused on his recovery and learned to ask questions. Brian was raised in Pasadena, MD and had a good childhood. “I came from a middle-class family. I never wanted for anything. My parents divorced before I was two and my stepfather became my dad, while my father bounced in and out. He was a holiday father, only visiting on Christmases and birthdays. I knew that I wasn’t the reason for his actions, so I don’t let it affect me. I grew up in a very strict environment. I did what I was told, when I was told. It wasn’t an ask why kind of household,” recalls Brian.

Drugs and alcohol were introduced to Brian’s life at age 12. “I began using psychedelic drugs like ecstasy and acid at an early age. But I didn’t realize that I had a problem until my thirties. In my twenties, I was a Union sheet metal worker. I could party, go to work, and go to school while using drugs. I never ‘had a problem’ until I met opiates. Once I did everything spiraled downhill.”

“When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s I was shy to an extent. I would stay in the house and only come out when needed. When I met opiates that changed. I ventured out of the house. I wanted to talk. I started hanging out on the streets, and once I did that, I became a part of the street life.”

Eventually jobs became harder to hold on to. One day Brian got hurt on a job and ended up going to pain management. “I figured out how easy it was to obtain large amounts of opiates. I went from two cars, a house and motorcycles to losing everything. Soon I was living in tents and abandoned homes. And by the grace of something I’m still here.”

Brian attended and completed a six-month program on his own free will. “After months of sobriety, I was walking down 25th and Maryland Avenue and the crack dealer said ‘testers’. At first, I kept walking. But then I thought ok. I could do this.” Shortly thereafter Brian was once again, living on the streets panhandling in West Baltimore.

Eventually an ‘Old Friend’ found Brian and told him that he was going to Helping Up Mission (HUM). Brian responded, “Really? You’re going to that place on Baltimore Street? He said, “just come with me man”, at first, I said, “no”. Yet, when I pulled up out front of HUM, it wasn’t anything like what I had in mind. And it was January and it was cold.”

“At HUM I had a question for everything. When I was a child we only went to church on Christmas and Easter. I never was religious. But the Spiritual Life staff has been open to my goofy questions. My beliefs have been opened. I want to learn more about religion, but I want to learn about all aspects of it – the good and the bad.

For the most part, Brian acknowledges that his work therapy assignments have had right timing. “I chose to come here, to fully work and focus on myself. I didn’t come here to get my kids back, for a good girlfriend, or a good job. At first, I cleaned toilets, and then I was a peacekeeper at the 23 desk. The 23 desk is a focal point of the building dealing with 400 different personalities (as they check in and out). It taught me patience. Finally, I started working in the Treatment office, where I ask a lot of questions and talk a lot with the men. I get to help people daily.”

On relationships, Brian has reached out to his father. He is also rebuilding the relationship with his mother. “Recently, I got a phone call from her, stopped by the house and when I was getting ready to leave, she asked if I would come by the next day. But family doesn’t have to be blood. My daughter’s mother has been there for me this whole year. We can relate. The other day I texted my daughter that I only had two weeks until graduation and she said, “I know. I am proud of you.” And that brought me to tears. So, through me being selfish in my recovery, I have earned back respect and relationships. I’m not perfect, but I am living reasonably happy. Now, I plan on doing the next right thing.”

“After graduation I’m going back to work and possibly taking the steps to become a part time Peer Recovery Specialist. I plan on getting my alumni badge and coming back here, to keep asking questions. I have a newly discovered passion for helping people. Now, I love talking to people.”

“To the donors, you ladies and gentlemen are truly a blessing, because of your blessings HUM gives so much opportunity and Hope.”

Paul P, 61, was born in Baltimore City. He was the youngest of four boys, raised in a family that liked to drink. “I remember my mother constantly, albeit gently, reminding my father to please not drink a lot. And my dad would say “sure honey, I promise that I won’t.” By age 7, in order to be a part of the family, Paul learned to mix cocktails and sooned crafted Harvey Wallbangers for the men and Whiskey Sours for the women. “I had no desire to drink, I just wanted to have fun and fit in. This was my family’s way of life, they loved to drink.”

“I withheld drinking right up to the legal age of 18, when at my high school graduation I drank to celebrate becoming an adult. I remember drinking beer and at some point I switched to Southern Comfort.” Paul’s first and overzealous experience with alcohol led to vomiting profusely throughout the night. It  was enough for Paul to experience the negative effects of drinking, and he quit the next day. He stayed sober until he turned 35.

After graduating from Towson University, Paul moved to New York City to pursue a career in theatre, his passion. After a successful period in show business, he joined the corporate world as a telecommunications trainer. Although he found happiness and success, Paul was not prepared for a looming trauma that would launch him toward alcoholism.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Paul was on his way to a business meeting at the World Trade Center. He had just boarded a subway train at Grand Central Station when the first plane hit the North Tower. In that moment, while in the subway, everything stopped. “I was stuck and terrorized.”  The events of 9/11 traumatized him so irreparably that he packed up and moved to Atlanta, where he began drinking heavily in isolation.

“I kept a pantry stacked with empty wine and vodka bottles from floor to ceiling. I was so ashamed of my drinking and the quantity of bottles, that on recycling days I would disperse them evenly throughout my neighborhood trash bins. And yet, a highly functioning alcoholic, I was able to work and maintain my daily schedule.”

“Around this time I became increasingly involved in ministry at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta. I reconnected with my theatrical inner spirit by writing, directing, choreographing, and acting in their drama ministry.” In 2017, Paul’s overindulgent drinking caught up with him. The church’s Pastor recognized his struggles with alcohol and alerted Paul’s brother David to the fact thatPaul needed help.  The family that Paul tried so hard to fit into immediately sprung into action and offered an intervention. They got him onto a flight to Baltimore and when he arrived they witnessed how bad his addiction had become. Paul couldn’t walk. The tremors from his new withdrawal rendered his legs useless and he had to be brought to the car via a wheelchair.  Paul was broken.

Upon returning to Maryland, Paul was admitted to a thirty day program at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda (NIH).  “This was physical recovery, I could walk again. Immediately upon discharge from NIH, my brother brought me to Helping Up Mission (HUM). After the intake process, David kept asking if I was going to be OK? And I said,” I’m going to be fine, this is good, I am where I need to be.”

During his first Friday chapel, (which is open to the public at 1:30pm) Paul heard our HUM Choir and Band perform for the first time and immediately asked “Miss Kim” (HUM Board Member and Choir Director Kim Lewis) to join. Once again, Paul found where he needed to be.

For the first six months of his one-year Spiritual Recovery Program, Paul traveled with the Choir all over the Greater Baltimore Area to sing at churches and community events. Engaging with other people through an activity he loves enabled Paul to feel accepted within his community.

After his blackout period (45 days of limited communication) ended, Paul became heavily involved in another community– Alcoholics Anonymous. “I got a home group at Canton Beginners; where I am now the secretary, got a sponsor, and started doing the 12 Steps.  I also started attending and participating in institutional commitments. Going out into the surrounding areas and meeting like-minded people, struggling with their own addictions where they are. I enjoy the camaraderie.”

Paul’s Work Therapy Assignments included work in the Philanthropy office, where he developed his interpersonal skills with donors. His new role as Graduate Library Intern enables him to give back to the men we serve.  “I work closely with Miss Betty, the library volunteer administrator, to coordinate and develop the book orders. But the most satisfying aspect of my job is helping the men use the computer, many for the first time! I’m just giving back to the place that saved my life.”

Currently, Paul is performing again with the Baltimore Men’s Chorus, where he recently directed and choreographed a cabaret at Spotlighters Theatre downtown. He is heavily involved at the Gallery Church Baltimore, his home church, working with Lead Pastor Ellis Prince.  Thanks to you, Paul has found a new family.

Auto Draft 33

Brian, 50, was born in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. His father left the family coal company to work at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. When Brian was 11 his grandfather died, so his father needed to return to West Virginia to take over the business. Brian’s mother didn’t want to go, and chose to stay in Baltimore with Brian. “I felt that I did something wrong, because my father left,” Brian remembers.

Brian’s earliest addiction was money. “I thought my father left with everything, so I got a job to impress him. I was delivering papers, but I was also delivering drugs for my step-brother. There were times that he gave me $500 per week. When I was 16 years old, I went to Fox Chevrolet and paid $14,672 for a new Chevy van. My mother was so proud of me—she thought it was from delivering papers.”

“I worked hard and sold drugs. I was a functioning addict who used cocaine, but my mother was a nurse and she thought cocaine wasn’t addictive. I’d get clean for 60 days and then I’d start using again, but in my mind I wasn’t an addict. I started selling heroin and made fun of the people I sold to. As it turns out, my God has a sense of humor. I got hurt at work and needed back surgery. I started using Fentanyl patches and I was good to go, but when they said I didn’t need the medication anymore I started snorting dope. I became what I had judged.”

“Last year my mother got really sick. She was dying. She was in hospice and my family didn’t tell me because I was so messed up. Then my mother didn’t call me for my birthday, and I got worried. I later found a message from her—she had been in a coma and came out of it to look for me. I went to see her, but did dope in the bathroom while I was there. A nurse caught me and started crying. She said, “you’re killing your mother, get some help.” I didn’t know what to do. I’ll never forget the day I was with a girl, and the next thing I know I’m waking up from the inside of a rubber body bag. Paramedics hit me six times with Narcan. I haven’t seen that girl to this day, but if it wasn’t for her finding help I’d be dead. I knew that I had to do something, so I went to detox at Bayview. I was there for ten days when they usually only give you three. They suggested Helping Up Mission. The following Monday, at six o’clock in the morning, I was here. And I’ve been here ever since.”

“I decided that I was going to succeed. I started going to meetings every night of the week and bringing new guys with me. I got a sponsor and I started doing step work. I read the Bible, especially the daily Proverbs. This program has given me the structure that I needed in my life. You have to change the way you’re living. Today, I can walk through things instead of around them, even when it’s not great. I want to be clean more than I want to be high no matter what.”

“Three weeks ago my mother died, but before she did I went to the hospital and said, “Mom, I love you.” She responded, “I love you too.” I said, “Mom, you’re going to be alright,” and she said, “No, you’re going to be alright. I love you,” and she closed her eyes. I came back to the HUM and dealt with it. It’s not easy, but life shows up. At my home group I celebrated a year clean with a couple hundred people there.”

Brian now runs the crew for HUM’s maintenance work therapy program. He helps with the interview process and brings guys in with the right skills. Brian says, “ it helps with their recovery, and I point them in the right direction. I’ve got guys beating the door down at six o’clock in morning. I tell the guys to do everything that’s suggested, and they can’t tell me it doesn’t work.”

“Today, I get on my knees every day and say, ”Not my will but Yours be done.” I believe that this is what he wants me to do. I just take that little step, and God will take it the rest of the way. I don’t know how, I can’t see it, I can’t touch it. But I know it.”

“Relapse changed my perspective”

Nick is 35 years old. Born in Laurel, MD, he had a good childhood. Raised by both of his parents and with help from his grandmother, Nick grew up secure.

After graduating from high school Nick started working in the restaurant business, during which time he first tried alcohol with a group of friends. A fiercely private young man, Nick was coping with a lot of complicated feelings, and he found that the alcohol helped him fit in. For the first time he felt comfortable. As is common , working in food service contributed immensely to his budding drinking issues due to the ease of finding alcohol. Before long Nick started consuming large amounts.

At age 20 Nick got his first DUI, which didn’t halt his drinking. He denied that he had a problem, and quickly picked up another DUI eight months later. Nick recalls, “I rolled that car off of a ramp, looked around, made sure my friends were ok, chucked the wine and waited for the police.” The shock of the accident was immense and Nick got arrested, but it was not enough to stop his attachment to alcohol. Throughout the next decade Nick’s habit turned into that of a “functional alcoholic”. Although he was not healthy,he got by.

When Nick moved to California his family was unaware ofhow bad his drinking had become. “I was out of sight, out of mind,” Nick says. “Everybody was drinking in West Hollywood, my lifestyle was accepted.My eight years in California was rinse and repeat, the insanity of doing the same things over and over.”

Eventually Nick returned to Maryland. In 2016 the downward spiral of his life reached a low point when he ended up passed out on the ground in Baltimore County. “The police woke me up and they asked if I was suicidal. I said no, but if I keep drinking like this aren’t I slowly killing myself?” They immediately took me to Harford Memorial Hospital for detox. After eight days of treatment Nick was given the opportunity to go to Helping Up Mission for a year of Spiritual Recovery. Recognizing his addiction, Nick made his way to HUM.

For eight months Nick became heavily involved in our one-year Spiritual Recovery Program, eventually becoming an Intern in the Philanthropy Department. Nick says, “I was a yes man, a model client, helping where I could and frankly doing too much and not working on my own recovery”. Overly confident, Nick thought, “ I got this.” One day he developed the idea that “Maybe I was a heavy drinker and not an alcoholic,” and went out and bought some vodka. One was never enough, and relapse was imminent.

When men are asked to leave the program for violating the rules, they must wait three months to reapply. Nick settled into a sober living home, but his addiction got the best of him. “I felt that there was unfinished business, that I left [HUM] too soon,” Nick recalls. After four months, Nick reentered the Mission and decided to do things differently. “I needed to work on my character defects and start paying more attention to my own recovery,” he says. “I don’t just call this a Spiritual Recovery Program, I call it a place of opportunity, you can work on anything while you are here and Helping Up has the tools to do so.”

Today, Nick has connected more with his Higher Power, and makes prayer and daily inventory a part of his routine. “I check my mind, body, and soul to keep up with the small changes and triggers that I experience. This really is helpful to my recovery. This is not just a recovery model, but a good life choice for all human beings.”

Finally, Nick states, “Even though I believe that relapse does not have to be a part of recovery, for me it had to be. Relapse changed my perspective and “I am grateful that HUM had the resources to accommodate me after my relapse, so that I was able to return and continue to make a full recovery. Others aren’t so lucky….”

Eric is 40 years old and from West Baltimore, but moved to Carol County as a child. He explains that his parents were good people and he wanted to be like them. Eric was a good student, and his goal was to become a police officer after college. He recalls, “I wanted to be a detective. I always wanted to protect everything around me and police did that.”

Eric started using at the age of 14 when he saw the cool kids using, and he wanted to be like them. Not long after, he began getting drugs from the city for his friends in the county. Despite his drug use, he managed to continue through school with good grades. He had a teacher who noticed something was going on and confronted him. Eric remembers, “She told me she would help me in any way.”

Shortly after graduation, he was charged with robbery and assault. Although the charges were eventually dropped, Eric was no longer able to attend college to become a police officer. Before he could start college again, Eric got into a street fight and ended up in jail for robbery.

Eric moved to New York to be with the mother of his child and began a pattern of drinking and bad decision making. When he returned to Baltimore, his mother died, and Eric went on a six-month drug run. He explains, “Literally, I was trying to die.” He tried to get clean but instead became addicted to heroin. He and his girlfriend had their children taken from them because of the drugs.

He went through several cycles of getting clean and then messing up. In 2015, he got clean again and was clean until he was in an accident. The doctor prescribed pain medicine and Eric refused to take it at first. Eventually, he was in so much pain that he started taking the pills. After about a week of taking the pills, he decided to come to HUM. Eric said, “I knew I was getting ready to go on a run.” He could tell he was losing control and knew he needed help.

When he came to HUM, Eric “saw people making it. I saw people making themselves make it. I saw there was a whole lot going on in one building.” Even though he didn’t need the majority of what was offered at HUM, he was impressed. He had a place to live and the ability to leave, but Eric decided to stick it out to see what would happen and recently graduated.

Eric shares that he is sure that, “you cannot skip the struggle. That is where the personality is built. That is where the character is built. Anybody, anywhere that skips any struggle when they fall on their face, they are lucky if they get up again. People are dying from that.”

Eric is now the overdose outreach advocate at a nationally known hospital. He goes out into the places of need to help those struggling with addiction and tries to share hope with them. “I care about people seeing who they can be,” Eric explains. He likes providing options. “When I was in the midst of everything, there were no options. You wake up every day, and your intent has to be get money or be prepared to die. I have choices nowadays.”

He believes there is something at HUM that is special. There is no reason this many men who would never even speak to each other in the street can get along at the mission.

Eric feels like he is living right now to help others out. “I feel like my existence right now on this earth is if I am not making it better, don’t touch it.” He is thankful that he got to meet every single person that he met at HUM. When asked about his plans, Eric explains, “I want to try to share the hope that I learned. To me it is real.”

Listen to Eric tell his story on our podcast.

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.

 

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.”

Download MP3