A New Path
When Major Tom Taylor, administrator for business at the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Saugus, Massachusetts, asked graduates of the program if they were interested in becoming adherents, identifying with The Salvation Army, Gilberto Rivera and Samuel Cruz were the first to volunteer and to complete the adherents training. They share how they came to the Army and what they now tell other beneficiaries on the path to recovery.
In June 2014, my recovery started in Boston at the Barbara McInnis House for the homeless. But after a suicide attempt, the caretakers said I needed more help than what they could offer.
A hospital counselor told me about the Saugus ARC and how it combined spiritual growth and addiction recovery, as well as possible work opportunities. On my first day at the ARC, an intake person asked me, “What do you need from us?” Through tears, I said, “I need to know that Christ is in my life, and that I’m not alone in the world.” She said, “You’ve come to the right place.”
Every day, you wake up to the challenge of fighting your own “demons” as you try to follow ARC rules and disciplines. But I reminded myself that addiction is the path to loss. It’s living under bridges, eating from garbage cans, shooting up, suffering the physical pain of sleeping on the streets, and possible death.
When Major Taylor asked me about my job skills, I wasn’t sure what to say. “I’m a hard worker, and I never make the same mistake twice,” I finally said. But he wanted more. “What type of person were you in jail?” Nervously, I told him, “I was a leader. I organized people into teams, even if it was not for good intentions.” I realized that he was sizing me up, maybe even thinking, How might he be used positively in leading people at work, or even to Christ? When the Major said, “You’ll be the houseman for the men’s building,” I asked, “Why not choose someone with more experience or bigger muscles or better English skills?” He said, “This will be your new challenge.” And it became my calling.
I speak to beneficiaries who are struggling. Sometimes they say, “It’s too hard,” or “I want to leave and use again.” I remind them that acknowledging their weaknesses is good because that’s exactly what you first need to do on the path to recovery. God knows our weaknesses. He gives us the strength to face them.
Becoming an adherent was the first step toward reaching three personal goals: getting my driver’s license, getting my GED, and becoming a Salvation Army soldier. I want to be the person the Army calls when they need to pick someone up from a clinic or to listen to what a new beneficiary has to say.
I asked the Lord for a new path, and He gave it to me. To this day, I practice everything I learned in recovery, and I share it. It would be easy and safe to stay within these walls. But the real work is on the streets, helping people who struggle with addiction, as I did.
For years, I struggled with addiction. And after another relapse in February 2015, I knew that it was now or never. When I lived in New Jersey, I had attended a Salvation Army church. But I had never sought help. Now in Boston, I spoke to Major Elizur Vasquez from the Central Hispanic Corps and he made all the necessary arrangements for me to join the Saugus ARC.
Everything that I thought I knew about recovery was backwards. I learned that, before I could recover, I had to first trust that I could make it happen. I was a “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple who did not believe Jesus had risen. Like Thomas, I needed to first believe.
I’ve been in recovery programs, but I’ve never seen the people treat the beneficiaries with as much kindness as they do at this ARC. We’re treated as equals here. When we do activities, Major Taylor follows the example of Christ by taking off his officer’s jacket and becoming one of us. He sits with us at meals and shows the same courtesy to a new beneficiary as he does to one who’s been here for years. We don’t need to make appointments to see him. He’s always available.
If you want to change, the ARC will do everything to help you. But they cannot help anyone unless he or she wants to change. For example, just one hour into my first day, I saw a drug dealer I had known for years. As we were getting settled, he told me he still had his cell phone and that he was planning to leave immediately. He had called his wife, who was waiting outside. He said, “Come with me, stay in my house, or I’ll drive you wherever you want to go.” But I thought, In the past, I paid you a lot of money, but not once did you offer me a place to stay or a meal to eat. But now that I have all this and more from The Salvation Army, you’re telling me to leave it behind? I could have followed the dealer. Instead, I followed God, because I wanted to change.
Some people feel that, physically, recovery is too much work. I ask them, “How many years did you work for drugs, for your dealer, for your lawyer or for the courts? This time, do the work for yourself. It is not easy, but it is also not impossible.” Talking with beneficiaries helps me too. They give me strength to continue on my own path. When I see some beneficiaries, it’s like looking into a mirror of my past. I remember coming in with no focus or knowing what I wanted from my life. I remember arriving in old dirty boots, and jeans that I had been wearing for months.
Although I’m 53, I’m a new man. People who haven’t seen me in years tell me how I‘ve changed. I say, “Thanks to God and to The Salvation Army.” Today, I have my recovery and my future in hand. And I’m never going to let either of them go.
Interview by Hugo Bravo