The rain was slowly transitioning on Thursday morning as we finished up spiritual, arms around each other as we recited the Serenity Prayer.
By this point, even the new guy recites it with the certainty of memory and the fervency of belief. He’s struggling to stay in the moment, the scurrying rats of niggling insurance worries nipping at his heels, but in this moment, he’s present. Focused. Willing.
Two of these guys will transition out the next day, one to the Intensive Outpatient Program here at the Polly Bales Building, the other across the mountains to a small Carolina town he fled from four weeks ago, heroin wrapped around his soul like rusty barbed wire. Jess Gupton brought him here, and he still smiles when he thinks back.
“She’s an angel,” he says. “Really. An angel.”
“Come to decide that the things that I tried were in my life just to get high on / when I sit alone, come get a little known, but I need more than myself this time …”
Walking through the dining hall, out the side door to the patio, where a partial overhang isn’t big enough to shelter all of the men on break before their next groups. Down on the river, a flock of honking geese descends, gliding onto the murky brown water as the sound of falling rain slaps the carpet of leaves in the gulch between the Caldwell Center and Polly Bales.
This kid — I say “kid,” because he’s young enough to be my son, but at 25 he’s more of a man than I was at his age — looks out on the rain-shrouded hills and smiles.
“I can’t describe it, man,” he says. “I can’t describe how good I feel. I never thought it could be this good.”
“Step from the road to the sea to the sky and I do believe that we rely on / when I lay it on, come get to play it on / all my life to sacrifice …”
He’s been here 28 days, and although his insurance won’t cover a stay in IOP, he’s not afraid. Concerned? Sure. Uncertain? Most definitely. But afraid? No. Not anymore. He’s done with fear, and he’s done with killing himself. He comes from generations of addicts and alcoholics, he says, and before he got to Cornerstone, he had resigned himself to joining their ranks. Life, he thought, served no purpose but to heap misery upon tragedy, until something came along to put an end to his suffering.
“It’s so simple,” he marvels. “I didn’t understand that until I came here — how you don’t have to live like that. How you can do anything you put your mind to. How it’s all a choice.”
“When will I know that I really can't go to the well once more time to decide on? When it's killing me, when will I really see, all that I need to look inside / come to believe that I better not leave before I get my chance to ride …”
His curly brown hair spills out from under a ball cap as a cold February wind slices up from the water, driving us all a little closer to the doorway. Pulling his hoodie up, he casts his eyes up toward Hood Hall, where he’ll spend another night — maybe two — before he departs this place.
“I don’t want to go back,” he says quietly. Almost a whisper.
“I don’t ever want to go back.”
“When to descend to amend for a friend / all the channels that have broken down / now you bring it up, I'm gonna ring it up, just to hear you sing it out / step from the road to the sea to the sky and I do believe what we rely on / when I lay it on, come get to play it on, all my life to sacrifice …”
The man I see standing before me is a changed one from the boy who sat in his first Thursday morning spiritual, only a month ago. Then, his eyes were haunted. Today, they’re clear. Then, he spoke hesitantly, haltingly, unsure of what he wanted, only that he wanted the pain to stop. Today, he stands on the precipice of a new way to live, and he’s eager. Hungry. Ready.
I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know this: Cornerstone of Recovery has changed him, and he’ll leave with a full heart and a head full of tools. What he does once he leaves here is up to him, but no matter what life visits upon him, he’s prepared.
Remember, I tell him, there’s nothing wrong with being afraid. Everyone who steps to the door of an airplane before they skydive the first time is terrified, and that’s what it is: You’re about to jump out of an airplane. Know this: That parachute on your back? It’s been packed by people who care about you and know what they’re doing. Seth … Christopher … Sara … Anne … every single one of them has given everything to make sure it’ll open up.
All you have to do is pull the ripcord. And when you do, open your eyes and enjoy the view. It won’t get any better.
“I like that.”
Pull the ripcord.
We hug, one last time. It’s full snowing now, the grounds of this place soon to turn white, even if just for a few hours.
“Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder where it's so white as snow …”
I head back up the hill, saying a silent prayer that this kid … this man … will find the freedom he didn’t even know he needed, delivered by some of the best people I’ve known.
Here’s your Friday motivation, friends.