Treatment Day 7: A Mother’s Love.

May 1, 2011

      No clever graphics and captions today. Just some – hopefully – powerful prose.

    Today we had a “coin-out” session, an event unique to the Notdisneyland Sober Ranch.  The coin-out (which involves the use of a coin, as I will explain below) is a ceremony through which we recognize one of our members who graduates from the program. It is a powerful thing to behold; it would be impossible for me to overstate either its poignancy, or its importance to the process.

    The event serves many purposes. First and foremost, it recognizes an amazing accomplishment. Ninety days in treatment by a person committed to the program begets a transformation in people you have to see to believe.  And the person who coined out today – we’ll call him “R” – was certainly committed to the program, and was absolutely transformed – more on that transformation in a moment.

   The coin-out also inspires the other people who are in treatment. Newcomers – myself included – have an opportunity to see in stark relief the change that is possible in a person who truly surrenders to the program. I know: like so many other things I discuss here, this sounds pithy, hokey, and – most disconcerting of all – it sounds a lot like dogma. But it works. I wouldn’t tell you it worked if it didn’t.

   Finally – and I am just now getting around to the theme of my post  –  the coin-out is intended for the family of the person graduating. Because the coin-out works like this: every one in our little community sits in a circle, just like we do in group therapy. Our clinical director gets us started. She picks a theme for the ceremony, chooses a coin that is representative of that theme and talks about the person who is graduating. Then she passes the coin, and everyone in the room has an opportunity to talk when the coin gets to them.

    If you’ve been reading at all, then you probably can guess that there are a lot of tears in these ceremonies. It is an extremely emotional experience for all of us. There are a lot of pauses. There is sobbing. There is sadness. There is hope. And a whole lot of love. It really is a sad thing, from the selfish perspective of those left behind. Because a group dynamic is a fragile thing; you can never predict the effect on the group of losing one of your giants. And R is one of our giants. He is a guru. A ninja. The Daniel-san of sobriety.

    So there is a little bit of grieving going on in these ceremonies, and a lot of it in this particular one. R is an extremely bright guy. He learned during his time here. He listened. He humbled himself. He studied. He worked. And when the time came, he gave away his sobriety to we newcomers. It is one of the principles we live by: “we lost what we had, we spent what we saved, we have what we give away.” R lives that principal. He was the first guy I spoke to when I got here. He put me at ease, he made me laugh and he welcomed me with open arms.

   And so, with his parents listening, we went around the room and described their son, and the difference that has taken place in him over the last 90 days (of which, admittedly, I was around for only a small part). We talked about how R found God and found his understanding of spirituality, and how those things combined with true surrender to that God and to this program have worked a miracle in the life of their son.

    Finally, the coin made it all the way around the room, and the last person to talk was R’s mom. She started to speak and was completely overcome with emotion. After taking a moment, crying, starting to talk again, crying, and repeating that process a few more times, she finally got out, in a joyous voice befitting a mother who has gotten back her first-born: “I got my son back! The old one! The one from before the addiction!” That was all she was able to say before breaking down again.

    So you may be skeptical about whether addiction is a disease. You might think the 12-step program is outdated, or that AA isn’t the only or even the best way for an addict to stop using or drinking. But when you’ve seen the things we’ve seen, inside these walls, and when you’ve seen real transformations, and you’ve heard a mother rejoice to have her son back, you’re not going to convince me there’s not a God who cares about us and heals us. Even those of who are afflicted with addiction. You might even say especially those of us with addiction. This God frees people from the bondage of sin and disease. If I may speak on a personal level, seeing these things has cured me of any vestige of atheism or agnosticism I had left, and made me see them for what they were: a symptom of my disease.

    Because, you see, I had to deny God in order to do drugs. Those concepts are mutually exclusive for me, I know that now. I didn’t have a philosophical opposition to God. I needed him not to exist in order to rationalize what I was doing. Tonight, I feel like Peter in the new testament, except I denied Him way more than three times. That’s a tough truth to own up to. But you know what? I don’t feel anything other than peace about coming ’round. I don’t believe that God kept track. In fact, I know so – He’s just glad to have me back.

    There are people who will read this who know me, and  they will go through the same thing R’s mother did. I don’t presume that this means I’m cured of addiction, which I recognize as a lifelong battle. But I can tell you that this is what real surrender sounds like. I’ll give more detail later, but steps 1 through 3 involve the concept of surrendering to God, to my “Higher Power.” I think I did just that.

     And for me, God isn’t a Good Orderly Direction, or a Group of Drunks, or the group conscience. It’s the Person who made this universe and who made me. That God had a son named Christ. You don’t have to come to this same conclusion to get sober. AA correctly goes to great lengths to be inclusive of drunks of every spiritual ilk. But for me to get sober, I had to come to terms with where I stand on the Person who made me. I ran from that question for a long time.

    I’m. Not. Gonna. Run. Anymore.

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