I did my first night in rehab at five years of age. I didn’t leave until I was 18.
It was the 1980s and the staff of Yeldall Manor, a rehab in the southeast of England, mostly lived ‘on-site’. In our case that meant taking up residence in a small flat on the first floor of the Manor and eating our meals in community. Much of my childhood was spent playing pool with the lads, helping with their work duties, and joining-in with swimming trips and games of 5-a-side.
Even as a kid I understood, quite implicitly, that recovery from addiction was exceedingly hard. What was going on in that place, in those men, was something deep and painful and precarious. Lots didn’t complete the programme. Many who did would struggle to stay clean.
Looking back, I wonder how many of the men who passed through the Manor during those years found their freedom. Some guys stayed ‘around’ so you knew they were well. Others moved away but would stay in touch, sometimes dropping-in with wives and kids in tow, demonstrably enjoying life in recovery. Others would relapse. Some, like John, the resident I got closest to as a kid, would lose their lives to addiction. In his case to an overdose in a McDonald’s toilet. Others would return to do the programme for a second or a third time. Occasionally, men would turn-up unannounced, hurting and angry and intoxicated.
As a kid I learnt, up close, how hard it is to overcome an addiction. After nearly a decade working in addiction care, I’ve discovered how hard it is for those who put heart and soul into helping others find freedom. The work is slow and intense, the pay is poor, and the ‘results’ always fall far short of what we long to see and believe is possible. So why keep going?
Why invest yourself in addiction care?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pondered this question. Nor how often it’s been pitched at me – not just by those who work with addicts, but by those who volunteer, donate, and open-up heart and home to those trying to escape addiction’s grasp.
Here are five of my answers:
1) Honestly, first and foremost, because it just feels ‘right’. It’s right that everyone who needs it should have access to a pathway out of addiction. It’s right to stand with those who hold out hope for something beyond the smallness and the darkness of a life dominated by substances. It’s right not to give-up on the guy who, despite looking you square in the eye and telling you he hasn’t drunk, has just failed a breathalyzer.
2) Next, because ‘clean time’ is precious. I will never forget hearing the mother of an ex-resident tell me that her 23-year old son had just been found dead. He’d relapsed immediately after leaving our programme having been with us for just 6 weeks. As I expressed my sadness and concern, wrestling within myself with a sense of guilt that we had failed them as a family, she said this to me: “We are so grateful for everyone at Yeldall. You gave us our son back”. It hadn’t been for long. It was imperfect. And yet, to that family, no price can be put on those 6 weeks of peace and connection.
3) Thirdly, because the impact on the lives of those who conquer their addiction is immense. Like the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean in Loren Eiseley’s story, our investment may have no measurable impact on the total addiction problem but its impact on the life of each addict who finds freedom is absolute. A life is transformed. Night turns to day.
4) Fourthly, because that impact isn’t remotely limited to the individual. For every man or woman who finds freedom from addiction there is a benefit which flows outward to family, friends, and communities. Societally, the benefits of spending on addiction treatment are well rehearsed. Public Health England argues that in the short-term there is a £3 social return on every £1 spent on alcohol treatment, which rises to £26 over 10 years. The impact also flows downwards to children, children’s children, and beyond – the conquest of one person’s addiction becoming the end-point of a multi-generational story of pain and addiction.
5) Finally, as a Christian I’m convinced that addiction care expresses God’s heart and brings Him glory. Novō’s mission is to “glorify God by offering healing, wholeness and hope to hurting and broken people”. We can’t control outcomes. Addiction is a complex, powerful force. But we can wholeheartedly support those pursuing recovery and, in the process, we will always bring glory to the God who is prodigal [def: ‘wastefully extravagant’] in his love for us.