And then one day, a friend of mine, who was staff at the house I am currently staying at asked me if I wanted to attend this three day spiritual retreat. Without hesitation, I replied. Yes.
And that was the best decision I ever made in my life, to this day…..
~An excerpt from “Just Say Yes”.
This retreat I was asked to attend is called The Indiana Dunes Great Banquet. It is a weekend without distractions, a weekend spent living in cabins, eating great food, fellowship, music, and geared toward giving “The lost”, “Those on the fence”, and “The ones who have fallen astray” a profound spiritual experience. Something that, as I understand it is absolutely key in the ongoing process of recovery from alcohol and drugs. I want to be careful not to offend anyone, but after all this is my story, so I’m going to tell it exactly the way that it happened- hopefully without turning anyone off or potentially ruining this weekend for anyone who may be interested in attending. It is a life changing experience for many, and it was for me.
I arrived Thursday evening, and placed all my things in my assigned cabin spot. I did know a few other guys attending, so that helped ease some of the social awkwardness of meeting a bunch of new people in a religious /spiritual setting. Up until this weekend, I had always felt judged when I was in church, or small groups of any kind. I have pretty much always felt judged, to be honest. I don’t know if it has always been my guilty conscience and the way I have been living, or if it is just some form of self centered fear. Maybe its both. The first night, Thursday was a little weird, but most new things are. We just kind of sat around and talked, got to know some of the other men and had coffee and snacks. I told my self that I was going to follow through with this, and I was sticking to that. I just had to step out side of my comfort zone- something that Im learning day in and day out, is vital to success, not only in recovery, but in life in general.
Thursday evening becomes Friday morning and Im awoken to some soft music, and the smell of a morning bonfire. Coffee is served, the early A.M hours are peaceful and I can already tell that there is some kind of magic on the early morning chill. I don’t know it at this time, but I am very soon going to be encountering God, first hand…
I love talking about God, and I love fellowship with others. I truly enjoy talking about deep, emotional, or intellectual and spiritual ideas, and events. So it was quite easy at this point for me to jump right in and get involved. Throughout the Friday hours I heard many different stories of struggle, brokenness, woe, loss, grief, suffering and the like. I also heard much hope, triumph, success, overcoming, and many under dog stories- something that for whatever reason, I have always had an affinity to- the under dog part. So i was now enthralled of this. I was engaged. I heard buzz words like Grace, Forgiveness, Mercy, Love, Peace, etc…All things I was in dire need of. All things it had been a very long time since I had experienced. And I was now a part of this Great Banquet weekend. Friday gave way to Saturday and it was more and more of the same. Powerful testimonies, amazing men telling amazing stories about how God had changed their lives. And I started to feel another nudge. I had been lead to this very weekend, this very time, and for very specific reasons. I needed to be here, and God, and many other men knew it too. Saturday afternoon came around and we went to chapel. (Without certain details) this is where my encounter actually began. I heard men talking about some of their secret places. I heard men sobbing and I could actually FEEL their remorse and honest need for true forgiveness. I shared mine, my secret places. I spoke them out loud. I named them. I owned them. Everything from the dumpster donuts, to my best friends death, to losing my mother, to my son being born addicted, to thoughts of suicide, and everything in between. As I named them, i relived them. And as I relived them, I experienced the need for true forgiveness. From God, from people, and also, from myself. There were just somethings inside of me that I never thought I would ever be able to forgive myself for. I thought I would just always be yolked to these past life experiences, trauma, and emotional wreckage. Up until this banquet, my past nightmares were my identity. They were me. I was them. I remember kind of slumping down into my place on the pew in the small chapel. Heaving seriously heavy sobs with actual remorse, but not of a morbid self reflection type- more of an authentic ownership, acknowledgement, and relinquishing.I was actually starting to open up the deepest secret places of Herb that I had compartmentalized with for so long that I had forgotten about them. I was letting go… It didn’t happen right away, but as the afternoon turned into evening on that chilly Saturday, I actually started to feel like the past no longer had such a grip on me. I started to experience a little slice of peace in my life. That there was to be some hope in all of this after all. That I was going to be okay.
Saturday night came with the quickness and we were doing our thing. We were fellowshipping and the moods were light and cheery. We finished up the last of our “talks” and were instructed to collect our things for the night and to begin another walk and climb up the hill toward the chapel. We were lead up the hill in the pale moon light toward the small chapel in the back corner of the property. Group by group we marched up the hill toward chapel with a giant wooden cross illuminated by some small flood lamps, set up with this very moment in mind no doubt. As we all made our way to our places inside the chapel, a very special moment in my life unfolded. (Again without certain details) I experienced something that I had been missing out on for a very long time: unconditional love, selflessness, kindness, forgiveness, Grace, and for the first time in my entire life actually FELT God’s presence in the midst. He was there, and there is not a person on this planet who could convince me otherwise. As I sat in that chapel on that chilly Saturday night, the strangest most welcomed feeling came over me…it was Grace. It was peace. It was forgiveness. It was mercy. It was Love. There was no more grief, pain, despair, there was no longer that “void” that once was. I was in awe for the first time in my life, and some how, I could actually envision my entire life coming to this one point. All the horrible memories, all the wonderful times, all melting together into one beautiful mosaic of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness. I had finally found something real. I had finally realized that I had been trying to fill a “God shaped hole” with things that only made the hole deeper and wider. My past was forgiven. My present was at peace. And I just knew, in this moment that my future would be secure. I had never in my life experienced such selfless, beautiful love as I was experiencing right now. God was revealing Himself through these people. He was showing me that I have never been alone. That He has always been there with me. And I finally felt and accepted Him.
They say that this disease of addiction is a spiritual disease. And that makes sense to me now. It’s a spiritual disease, I think, because it turns us(Me) into polar opposites of ourselves. Remember, Jekyll and Hyde? This disease takes my moral compass out and smashes it into smithereens. I had truly become everything that I hate about this world. I was a lying, cheating, thieving, no good, rotten, manipulating, con man, felon, junkie, derelict, degenerate, loser. All things that I would never want to be. But I was not those things as I sat in that chapel on Saturday night. I had become a forgiven, redeemed, loved, brother, son, father, and over comer! I had realized that all of the talks I had been participating in were in fact about me! I just didn’t know it at the time. The same God that these guys were telling me about all weekend long was the same God wrapping His loving arms around me in the pale light inside this small chapel in the corner of Camp on this night. And for the first time in as long as I could remember I felt full. I felt like everything was going to be okay. I knew it would be. I was home. I had finally found my way home. As I sit here on this Wednesday evening and type these words, it dawns on me that I haven’t used drugs in quite some time. Over twenty months. It also dawns on me that I cannot remember when the last time I actually entertained the thought of using drugs was. There is definitely some kind of magic if you will to this whole recovery and spirituality thing. There is definitely a connection between addiction, recovery, and a profound spiritual experience. I can testify to that, along with millions of others I’m sure. But I’m not questioning what it is. It just is. There is no chemical solution to a spiritual problem, and I had been spending many of years learning that the hard way. Today, I have hope, I have faith, I have a future, I have a relationship with God, as I understand Him, and I have many amazing people in my life. I no longer have to run from my problems. Today I am free….