Freedom Club Week 1 (The beginning)
Together: We cannot do this alone.
Sarah was heartbroken and embarrassed as she walked sheepishly into the dark basement of the small brick church. For years Sarah had walked by the church since her favorite restaurant was just down the street. Sarah didn’t know too much about the church. She attended a different church, one that was bright with lots of new carpets and cool programs. This place seemed drab by comparison. She continued to ask herself why she was even here. Maybe she should skip it all together and simply go out to eat and go home. But this church, St. Luke’s, was the only church that her pastor knew of that offered what she needed. Sarah had, for years, hidden the painful truth from pretty much everyone. At least she thought she had. But the actual truth was much worse than she thought. It seemed that she was the last to discover that her daughter had been using methamphetamine.
Sarah shamefacedly looked around and hoped that nobody would see her entering the building; she was terrified that someone would recognize her so she had worn a hat and some second hand clothing that she had bought at a local thrift store. Until recently, she only shopped upscale stores but the embarrassment was overwhelming her every thought.
Sarah had hoped to be the last one in and be able to simply sneak in, maintaining her invisibility; but that hope was dashed when a young man was waiting to hold the door for her. “He was very polite,” she thought. A part of her was also angry that her daughter, Michelle was not like this young man. Certainly she was raised better; instead she had chosen a life of addiction, prostitution and other shameful behaviors. Sarah remembered how Michelle used to be when she was in grade school. She used to recite the Gettysburg Address in a very masculine voice as if she was Abraham Lincoln, himself. Sarah also remembered her daughter at her sister’s wedding. The reception was just getting going, Michelle, who had gotten drunk, threw up all over the dance floor getting some on the wedding dress. In those days, Sarah had just written it off as a child experiment. But now she knew better. While she still hoped it was just a phase; now 15 years later her beautiful 27-year-old girl was strung out on heroin and methamphetamine. Sarah did not even really know where her daughter was living or when she would make another appearance to ask for money.
It had been more than three weeks since she had talked to Michelle. Michelle had a plan on how she was going to make a million dollars, easy. Actually the plan was hatched by Michelle’s latest boyfriend who could hardly keep his pants from falling down as he spoke in enthusiastic terms even though it seemed he could barely keep his eyes open. This boyfriend of Michelle’s knew a guy who would help them start a business from the trunk of their car. They just needed a little start up cash. Sarah knew that they were being swindled and tried to explain it to Michelle. Sarah finally said in exasperation that she simply did not have the money to invest in such a scheme at this time. In anger Michelle had thrown countless angry and unrepeatable words at her before storming out the door and out of Sarah’s life. Sarah wondered if she would ever see her daughter again. That memory is what was stirring her to walk through these doors now. She could see little hope and had no other ideas on what to do. Sarah felt as if she would suffocate. The meeting hadn’t even started and she was already crying but she couldn’t tell you why. This was more painful than childbirth she thought as the young man rushed to get ahead of her so he could open up the door to the meeting room.
Inside scattered around metal chairs were an older couple, a man who looked as if he had been in Vietnam and wore his patches proudly, and a smiling oriental man. Standing by the coffee maker was a man in a nice suit with a white shirt and a red tie; he seemed to be taking his time. Preparing his coffee it was obvious that he was thinking deeply. No one seemed to be talking; that is until Rosie arrived. Now Rosie was the life of every party. She was wearing a bright flowery dress that almost looked like it was glowing. While most would not call her beautiful she had an air about her. She had confidence and strength; she laughed easily and told exciting and entertaining stories. Sarah tried to hide behind a pole and not be seen. Even in this room full of people she felt alone. However, there was a part of her that wanted to be alone. At this moment her greatest desire was invisibility. However, when she moved the chair it scraped the floor and made a loud sound that sounded like someone passing gas. Sarah was horrified, everyone was looking at her and then Rosie laughed. Not a simple chuckle but a whole body laugh; Rosie’s fat rolls danced up and down.
When the laughter died down everyone found their seat. The man in the suit came over and introduced himself, “My name is Roger welcome to the Freedom Club.” Sarah still red in the face tried to get out who she was but nothing seemed to come out of her mouth so she just wept instead. Roger reached into his pocket and pulled out a little package of Kleenex and handed her the whole pack. “We were all like this when we started,” someone said, Sarah was not sure where that had come from. A young woman who seemed to appear out of nowhere came over and sat next to Sarah and simply held her hand. Normally Sarah did not like to be touched by strangers, but today it seemed right.
As Sarah regained her composure she noticed that the boy who had held the door open was sitting next to the Vietnam Veteran and they were talking quietly. The boy was suddenly looking nervous and the Vet was giving him some instructions. Slowly, the Vet stood up. Somehow the room had filled up with a wide variety of faces. There really was no shape of pattern to how the chairs were set out. It seemed everyone just found a way to get comfortable. There were a few folks at tables and most had a Styrofoam cup of coffee in their hands. Except for the occasional cough and shuffling of chairs the entire room was silent.
Sarah noticed a lectern in one corner with some sort of sound system behind it. The Vet made his way to the lectern and began reading.
“The Lord is my
I have all that I need He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”
Even though he was reading the words that Sarah knew were from the twenty third psalm she recognized that he was saying them more than simply reading them. He was expressing them as sort of a prayer. Sarah looked around and unlike most church settings that she had attended everyone seemed focused. Rosie sat with her hand raised as the Vet spoke. Everyone in the room seemed to consider those words and the Vet let the words simply hang in the air for a moment.
“We have some new comers here tonight. So that you know my name is Mike. I am a facilitator of this group but I’m not really in charge. I don’t want to embarrass anyone by having them introduce themselves. I once read that the two greatest fears were meeting new people and public speaking. Both of those came out ahead of death by the way. I heard a comedian once say that most people would rather be in the casket than reading the eulogy”
A few folks smiled but the room still felt serious and Sarah was having trouble breathing.
“I am going to do some teaching here in a bit. But before I do I want to introduce my son Bruce to you all.”
The young man who had held the door for Sarah raised his hand quickly and put it back down just as quick.
“Bruce was who put me on the path that led to the Freedom Club. For seven years Bruce was trapped in Methamphetamine addiction and more than once I thought I had lost him.”
Mike seemed to choke up and took a moment to recapture his emotions.
Bruce smiled, moved quickly to the lectern and put his hand on his father’s shoulder.
“Let me tell them what happened, at least how it started.” Mike sat down toward the back of the room.
“I am twenty five years old,” Bruce began, “for most of the past five years I have been on the streets doing whatever it took to get my next fix. But it was not always like that. Sure I drank in High School like most of the guys that I knew. I chased girls and enjoyed life. In grade school we had this police officer come and he told us about all of the dangers of using drugs. I remember vowing to never go down that road, so I was clean all the way through school. I was third in my class and played football. I received a scholarship to study business and was ready to get going. Mom and dad had been divorced for a few years and it had actually gone pretty smoothly. Well that summer I was going to spend as much time as possible with my mom since the college was closer to dad. To be honest I really wanted a different scene.”
Sarah looked around and it seemed like everyone was listening attentively; but their thoughts were somewhere else. As she scanned the room she noticed that some were wearing nice clothes and others looked pretty rough. Somehow though, she felt as though they were all on the same team. Normally she would have looked down on some of these people but this room seemed to be a great equalizer.
“Mom lived in a small apartment and worked as a waitress in a dumpy greasy spoon. She was always a talker so she made good tips and typically had no issues with money. Everything started out great! We laughed and ate together. I would watch movies until mom got off of work and then we would go for walks or play cards. I met her new boyfriend and right away I had this anger well up in me. At the time I thought that maybe it was just the thought of her replacing my dad. Looking back I realize that he was a jerk. He talked down to her and let her know that he was not happy having a kid hanging around. She made excuses. I watched them fight more than once. He would storm out of the house, she would apologize, make excuses for him and then light up a cigarette. She would tell me that he wasn’t so bad and that when I wasn’t around he was adorable and sweet. We would go back to being normal for a day or two. The stress of being there though was getting to me. I felt as if I was ruining my mom’s future. I kept hearing her say, ‘He is nice when I am not there.’ Though to be honest I don’t know now if she actually even said that.”
Bruce paused as if he was reliving the event. Sarah noticed that Mike was weeping quietly. Glancing around she noticed that many were wiping eyes and others were stoic.
“I guess I wasn’t sure what to do with the stress so one day I borrowed one of mom’s cigarettes and started smoking. It didn’t take long for her to find out that I had started smoking; but she didn’t seem to care too much. More than once she told me that they were bad for me and that I shouldn’t have started. Soon I was buying my own packs and even smoking cigars since that seemed much more sophisticated.
Anyway the summer went on and most days were incredible. They felt like the end of an era or the beginning of a new one. The boyfriend would come sometimes and most days he really tried to get along with me, but the tension was always heavy. More and more the visits ended with fights. I saw him push my mom but I was too afraid to do anything. I felt guilty about that too. Everything in me told me that I needed to defend her. What was I going to do? I was just a kid and this guy was tough. Total uncertainty hit me hard one day and I decided to go blow some money at the mall. I don’t know how long I was gone but I do remember that I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes that day. When I got back the door was open. When I think back on it, it was a bit strange. I should have known that something was wrong. Mom was a stickler for safety. I thought maybe she had bought some groceries or something and had her hands full when she came in.”
Bruce stopped and seemed unable to go on. Mike came up and the two hugged. Then Mike told everyone what happened next.
“When Bruce walked in he found his mother in the bathtub. She had been killed.”
Sarah found herself crying, she was not even sure why. She didn’t know these people why should she care?
Bruce found his voice, “I hated the boyfriend and I hated myself. It was entirely my fault. I was sure of it. That was the first day that I decided to smoke marijuana. Over the next couple of weeks, I replaced all of my college bound friends for those that were content to waste their lives away. That is when I met Lisa. Lisa was the most beautiful girl that had ever paid attention to me. She made me really happy. Lisa introduced me to meth. The first time I used it because I did not want to lose Lisa. But soon meth owned me. I would use and then take off for several days. Lisa would not know where I was. She always assumed that I was out scoping for other girls. Dad worried a lot but he didn’t know what to do.”
Mike nodded and then came up to the podium.
“Bruce was now all that I had left. Part of me had hoped to reunite with his mom though that was always fairly unrealistic. I was a selfish man and I don’t know if she would have ever come back. That is one of the challenges of dealing with these addictions is that the reasons people use make sense in many ways. Bruce used drugs to medicate the pain of losing his mother. Someone else uses drugs or alcohol to fit in. But really it all stems from medicating pain. We all want to be significant and the drugs make you feel significant. By the time that you figure out it is a lie it is typically too late. You are hooked and destined for the long hard road of recovery. I don’t like to be negative but there is not a quick fix.”
A hand shot up from the man in the suit. Mike pointed at him with his whole hand and motioned for him to ask the question.
“What about Naltrexone and other medications that I have read about that can help with preventing relapse at least for alcoholics?”
“That is a tough one really. I know that they do seem to help some folks. Those that I know that have used them never got off of the new drug and most had to take a series of other pills to deal with other symptoms. My thoughts are that if you go that route there must be a plan to wean them off of the new drug right from the start.”
The man in the suit looked like someone had stolen his puppy.
“I don’t want to be all negative here. But I care about all of you.”
Mike looked around the room and seemed to be mentally hugging the entire group of at least twenty five or so folks who had gathered.
“You must understand that we are fighting this fight together and it will not be a short battle. Instead it will be a prolonged conflict that will involve your every resource.”
With that statement another hand shot up from a woman who looked to be in her sixties and took good care of herself.
“I am on social security. Treatment programs are expensive and I simply cannot afford to help my grandkids. I do love them though.” She seemed embarrassed that she had said that last line.
“I know that some of you are on fixed incomes but I am not talking about money. Yes you may need some money to help your loved one get into a treatment program. But really any program will help them if they are ready for freedom. The problem is that we lack the emotional resources to make them face their own mess. We keep rescuing them and think we are doing them right.”
Mike paused for a moment and took a thoughtful breath. “But regarding money, how much have you spent bailing out your loved ones. Maybe from jail, but also out of what they called desperate situations?”
Mike could see that several people were doing some mental calculations. Many had paid electric bills, bought them food, some even gave cash that ended up who knows where?
“My guess is that we have spent quite a bit around this room allowing our loved ones to stay in their addiction. Maybe we can spend some of that money to set them free.”
Bruce stood up and walked up beside his dad.
“My dad is right. I wouldn’t have said that when I was in my addiction of course. I saw him as my escape valve. I totally took advantage of him. One moment I would be spitting on him and the next I would be asking him for money. I never asked for money for drugs. No, I knew he would never do that. I asked for rent money, food money or shoes. My friends with children used the needs of their kids to talk family members into helping them out. As long as someone was paying my rent I could spend my money on my next hit. When the food bank gave me three days worth of groceries I did not need to spend that money on food. Sometimes I would even take the canned goods to a grocery store for a refund so that I could have some extra cash. I am sure that it is tough but you must cut them off from all support.”
The woman who had a question before took a deep breath and stood up.
“I borrowed money from my sister to take a taxi to visit my son in jail. I love to visit him in jail. I know that sounds terrible. At least there I know where he is. When he is on that stuff I might not hear from him for weeks at a time.”
Mike looked knowingly. “Does anyone else relate?”
Looking around Sarah could see that nearly every hand had reluctantly been raised. Mike pointed back to a tray of fruit and then toward the coffee set up.
“Let’s take a break for a few minutes. Have a snack; try to get to know some of our new people. You know how you felt when you first came here,” Mike almost whispered as he looked around whimsically.
JOIN US NEXT WEEK AS WE CONTINUE OUR STORY