For twenty years I kept something in my home that I secretly treasured. It was an old brick from Detroit, a memory from the treatment center where I’d sobered up in 1972. The place was known as Sacred Heart Center, but I never knew how sacred it really was for me until the bulldozers arrived one gray, cold, winter morning to knock it to the ground. The 180 alcoholic men that resided there at any given time had all been moved to newer and brighter quarters out in the Michigan suburbs but the new place would never hold the same level of meaning for my life. I had found recovery in that old place and I doubt if I was the only drunk to come find a brick the bulldozers left behind.
There’s something very special – something that maybe is indeed scared – about the place where we finally sober up. I somehow doubt it’s just because it’s where we quit drinking and drugging. I more suspect it’s sacred because it’s where we finally connect with people and with a Power for which we’ve been searching long and hard. The drunken pilgrimage ends so a new sober one can begin.
In all my years in recovery, I’ve never met an addict who wasn’t alone, and lonely, and lost deep inside. But like every addict who’s gone before us, instead of facing and healing the spiritual split that’s tearing our insides apart, we put on a mask to cover over our shame and to hide from our pain. We get really good at separating from our souls. As the years drag on, we need more and more alcohol or drugs to prop us up and hold our acts together until finally, under pressure, our masks crack and our worlds collapse. Bulldozers had been chasing after us for years.
Bill Wilson writes: “We were like actors on the stage.” We’d been acting all our lives and if we ever took the alcohol or the drugs away – it’s like we’d be out there in the middle of the stage, with the spotlight shining right on us – and we wouldn’t remember any of our lines. We knew how to drink and drug, but we didn’t know how to live in the world without relying on the very stuff that was killing us. Our lives had become unmanageable: we could never manage to get our insides to match our outsides.
The first time those two realities came together for me was there in that Detroit treatment center on the day I took my fifth step. For the first time in my life, another human being got to see what I looked like from inside. He saw a young man who was flawed, scared, and filled with shame; but that day, I risked it all to start the journey toward getting well. The mask came off. Guts were spilled in front of God, myself and another human being; the ground was made sacred forever.
I’ve worked in residential treatment centers for nearly forty- two years now. I’ve had a front row seat to watching the miracle of recovery repeat itself for thousands and thousands of other men and women. It’s been a real blessing. So many needed a safe place to come to; a time to heal; a temporary home and family to shelter them from the streets and from themselves.
Those sacred places are growing fewer and fewer now, especially for the poor and for working families. Publicly funded programs are closing while managed care companies still keep so many from accessing the residential care they desperately need. It varies somewhat from state to state, but in Texas we usually manage to come in dead last in supporting residential care for our poor struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Veterans in the addiction field say we’re back to where we were 30 or 40 years ago.
When I think back that long ago in time, I can’t help but remember the sacred place that was there to take me in when I needed it most. It had been an abandoned school house in a burned out city before the drunks moved in and somehow made it holy. I’m sure there were other places just like that for some of you reading this now.
I finally lost that brick I had carried for so long. Perhaps it seemed silly to keep hauling it around each time we moved. Maybe it was time to let it go, or maybe I just lost touch with the sacred. Whatever it was, I know I’m the less for losing it and I know we’re the less for allowing more and more of our sacred ground to slip away.
– Father Bill W.