During the month of December, I teamed up with Denver Rescue Mission and a bunch of other people who write on The Internet to #servedenver. As you make your resolutions and plans and set your goals for the new year, I'd love to encourage you to keep in mind the people in your community who are in need throughout the year, not just during the holidays. And if you're looking for a place to serve in Denver, I cannot recommend the Mission highly enough.
I first met Josh in the dining room at Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter. We were both there to help serve dinner, the difference between us being that Josh stayed at the shelter that night. He entered the Mission's New Life Program a few months ago after deciding he needed help to quit drinking, and he's now on the road to long-term rehabilitation.
Josh was never homeless. In fact, he was still employed when he made the decision to voluntarily enter the program candidacy phase required of participants looking to enroll in the New Life Program. He’d spent years working in the restaurant industry as a bartender, front of house manager, and corporate trainer. Outside of work, though, his drinking had taken over.
“Over the years I always drank, heavily. Daily. Up until this program I had never gone more than 2 days without drinking in 15 years…basically it was the only way I could go to sleep, it was the only way I could feel better when I woke up in the morning, to get rid of the shakes and the nausea. The only time I didn’t drink is when I was at work.”
Josh’s family and friends tried for years to convince him to do something about his drinking, but it wasn’t until he found himself living alone in a hotel and lashing out at his girlfriend that he realized he needed help.
“It was like a moment of clarity or an epiphany, she was like ‘Please let me take you somewhere’ and we took off. I was like ‘Just take me to a detox center’. I hadn’t ever been to detox before. I don’t even know where it is, honestly. It’s close to downtown, but the only reason I know that is because when I got out I saw skyscrapers.”
When he arrived at the Lawrence Street Shelter, Josh didn’t know much about the program besides the fact that it wasn’t going to be a quick 30 or 60 days and that the amenities were not going to be luxurious. He found out about work therapy very quickly.
“During that time you work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, you don’t leave the facility at all, no contact with the outside world, no visitors. You can come in and watch tv on a pretty limited basis, but no newspapers, computers, nothing like that. It kind of cuts off all social stimulus, kind of breaks you down from the bottom to start all over again. To be blatantly honest, I didn’t know if I was gonna be committed, I just wanted to see what it was about. Then when I came in I was even more leery, like ‘Wow dude I don’t know about all this. This isn’t my style at all. What is this madness?’”
Given his background in the restaurant industry, Josh was initially assigned to work in the kitchen at the shelter. It didn’t take long for his work supervisor to notice how talkative he was and ask if he wanted to become a volunteer coordinator. Now he’s more a front of house guy, delegating responsibilities to the volunteers, making sure they have everything they need, and answering any questions they have about how things work at the Mission. He’s also learned quite a bit about working with the homeless.
“In a lot of ways I think that’s one of the many blessings that this program offers. Working with the homeless has been phenomenal. The vast majority of them come in for every meal and if they don’t, you see them on almost a daily basis, so they get to be interested in what you’re doing. For the most part they know what’s going on in the program, they know the nuances, so they ask where you are in your program. And I know what’s going on with them and try to take care of them as best we can.”
Josh is currently in phase two of three in his program, which means he’s on track to graduate around April of this year. He knows it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and he recognizes the benefits of doing the hard work of rehabilitation over the long haul.
“I was always a very spontaneous person before, didn’t really take the time to think about a lot of decisions I was making and what the repercussions were gonna be. Now I take the time to do that and it seems to always turn out better. This is a year plus of your life that you’re giving in to, so you gotta go into it wholeheartedly. If you put your mind into it and stay dedicated, everything it’s about is way beyond. A year is not that long when you think of everything you’re getting out of it. I got years ahead of me now to spend with my family and friends that I wouldn’t have had.”
When I ask Josh what he would say is the best part of being in the program, he doesn’t hesitate:
“Coming out a completely new person. The New Life Program? That’s what they give you. It’s real. It’s a whole soul change.”