Recovering from addiction requires help, and sometimes second chances. This is Nick's Story, and this is how YOU helped him embark on a new journey.
I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
Philippians 4:12-13 (The Message)
Sometimes people make mistakes.
On April 24, 2009, Nick was accepted into Denver Rescue Mission's New Life Program at Harvest Farm. He was navigating the program well, attending his classes, maintaining his sobriety and building a support system. “I was doing recovery,” says Nick. “I had a pretty good network. I was connected with a small group. I was attending church, living in a sobriety house and I had a mentor.” Nick was also enrolled at Colorado State University, pursuing his goal to become a veterinary technician.
Then, he fell in love with a girl.
Eventually, Nick’s love turned into an unhealthy obsession. His entire life became about his girlfriend, and after two years of being in recovery, Nick quit the New Life Program.He dropped out of school, trashed his goals and moved to Denver. “I felt this void inside,” says Nick. “And I was just trying to fill it.”
His living situation in Denver was affordable, but miserable—five housemates, four rooms, one bathroom, crummy carpets and stained walls, bottles everywhere, and dog feces left on the floor for days. His housemates were shady, through his walls he could hear people coming in and out of the house. “I know the owner grew weed, and I’m pretty sure he dealt drugs,” says Nick. “It just wasn’t a comfortable place. The only time I came out of my room was to cook and use the bathroom. All of us kept our door shut, all the time. I remember one of the guys spray painted the words ‘STAY OUT’ in big letters on his door.”
Nearly every day, Nick would walk in the front door of that house, take a left and go straight to his room. But, despite the harsh reality of his new space, he was still sober, still navigating his addiction with success.
In 1969, Shirley Chisholm, an American politician, educator and author stood in front of the House Select Committee and spoke these words, “It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality.”
According to Chisholm, it isn’t the action of using drugs that makes one an addict, but rather the situation in which an individual finds themselves, namely, a harsh reality. When exposed to a harsh reality, the natural tendency is to try and escape, to get out. Escaping can come in many forms, both healthy and unhealthy. Nick’s came in the form of alcohol.
It happened at that house, the one with the crummy carpets and stained walls. He left his room to use the kitchen. He was preparing chicken and rice for himself and his girlfriend. While cooking, he opened a cabinet. It was a harmless gesture. He only wanted spices. The chicken didn’t taste right, “It wasn’t bad,” he says. “But it tasted dry, and I felt like it could use some seasoning.” He knew where the spices were kept, he didn’t use them much, but he knew what cabinet they were in, the one just above the stove.
Nick reached for the metal handle. The first thing he saw when he opened it was the tiny bottle of nutmeg and then the rosemary. The third thing he saw was the gallon bottle of Wild Turkey. ‘A couple of sips won’t hurt anything,’ he thought to himself.
Sometimes people make mistakes. And sometimes people in recovery relapse.
In a moment of weakness, a moment where temptation clamors and judgment subsides, people who live with addiction can make one mistake and that one mistake turns into two and then, before they know it, they’re right back where they started—addicted and alone.
Nick’s harsh reality didn’t begin with his living situation, although the house was preposterous. It didn’t start with his unhealthy relationship. Nick’s harsh reality began when he decided to leave his friends in Fort Collins, his system of support, his connections.
“I made a mistake,” says Nick. “I slowly started to take my mind off of what I needed to do to stay sober, and I left my community behind.”
Addiction ravages families and causes good people to neglect their relationships, their work and their goals. It can be a lonely experience. “There was a time when I felt alone. It was terrible, it is terrible, to be dying on the streets, to have your life run amuck....” Nick’s voice fades, and he shakes his head, to the left and then the right. His eyes are closed, but he’s searching for the right words to say.
“My addiction and my recovery are contingent upon my walk with Christ,” he says. “I think it starts with devotions, with meditation and prayer, and with church. Those are the cornerstones of my spirituality. Those are the things that guide me into Scripture, and those are things that guide me into relationship with people around me.”
After that sip of whiskey, Nick drank nearly every day for two years. After a long internal battle, he decided to apply for a six-month rehabilitation program in downtown Denver. He was accepted and successfully graduated the program.
Then, on June 13, 2017, Nick found his way back to Denver Rescue Mission. Of course, it wasn’t our first time meeting Nick. We knew of him from the New Life Program back in 2009.
“Once I finished my rehab, I knew that I needed to go into transitional housing,” says Nick. “I didn’t want to go out there and fall on my face, again. I want to transition back into society, but I want to do it slowly. I’m not ready to jump right back in, so I came to Denver Rescue Mission.”
Nick is enrolled in our STAR Transitional Program. STAR has been a platform from which he can save money by working a job, and it has been a place where he can navigate his addiction. “STAR holds me accountable to being sober, and the structure here has put me in the best position possible to transition back into society.”
For people in recovery, there is no remedy to fix the situation, no cream or pill to make the addiction go away, but there is healthy community and authentic relationship. These are the pillars of recovery, the forces that empower and sustain people who live with addictions.
Just as people are not defined by their harsh reality, people do not have to be defined by their addiction. This is why our case managers’ and counselors’ main focus is instilling hope in our participants, hope that a new reality can be reached. Through community, understanding one’s triggers and making healthier decisions, a new life is possible. One of our counselors said it best, “we help our participants recognize triggers, we dismantle the lies they live with—‘I’m not enough’ or ‘I’m a failure’—and we replace those lies with truth. Scripture says we are holy, loved, image bearers of God. And then the question becomes what does that identity—holy, loved, child of God—look like for the specific individual, how does that identity impact their day-to-day life? That’s when we acknowledge their gifts—God has provided everyone with a gift set—and we want to recognize those gifts and speak into them.”
And it’s not just our case management team that helps people navigating addiction. It’s you, too, our donors. Your support changes lives, your donations empower our team to make a difference.
Sometimes people make mistakes. And sometimes people in recovery relapse. But wherever a community of people and support exists, hope exists also. Hope for sobriety and hope for a new reality.
Letter from the CEO
People often ask me, “How is it going at the Mission?” My response is usually short: “Well, it is busy,” I say. “There never seems to be a shortage of people to serve.” With three emergency shelters sleeping over 800 people a night, and a Lawrence Street Community Center serving upwards of 2,000 meals a day to 1,000 people, there is plenty of work to do. Our New Life Program is always full, with over 200 men currently enrolled.
This type of “busyness” can cause those laboring daily in it to become frustrated or dejected, particularly when there does not seem to be a reduction in the number of people seeking help.
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Nick's story was featured in the May 2018 issue of Changing Lives titled “A Harsh Reality”
Also in this issue:
- Why choosing Denver Rescue Mission for your Donor Advised Fund is your best choice.
- Mother's Day at The Crossing
- Kelly Brough On Why Denver Rescue Mission Matters
- Letter from the CEO