Seeing Encouraging Signs

“Success” is seeing encouraging signs 

About six years ago I started working among a different group of people as part of my outreach. Our area has a “DUI  Court” program that offers an alternative to jail for driving related offences. My involvement began when someone reached out for a liaison when I signed his attendance chit at a 12 Step meeting. Since I was in long term recovery I was invited to work to familiarize the individual with 12 Step recovery apart from the judicial program.

I learned that the DUI Court approach, while keeping people out of jail, was no cake walk. There were many mandatory stipulations  – weekly check-ins. periodic drug testing, counseling, family groups – all fee based, in addition to job search, community service, and required 12 Step meetings outside of the judicial system. One of the responsibilities I accepted was a weekly call-in to probation officers in order to verify that the court participant was in fact working with someone outside in the recovery community. I didn’t mind, even when an occasional callback was received from a probation officer looking for specific details on an individuals work in the 12 Step program. I politely responded that given the “anonymous’ nature of 12 Step programs, I was prevented from answering questions beyond the fact that we were working together and they kept in touch.

Suffice to say, many opting for DUI Court quickly grew weary of its many demands, high fees, and sanctions – minor infractions like showing up a few minutes late for a group session that could exact a weekend jail sentence. I also grew accustomed to another reality. Most who managed to stay clean and sober while they were in the DUI Court program for a year or so, would invariably relapse once they successfully completed and graduated. The persistence of this phenomenon was astonishing. No more reporting in, or fees, or urinalysis testing, or haggling with the court system, usually meant freedom to go back to living with a certain reckless abandon. Of the few that eventually came back into recovery for another try, I heard of the disastrous consequences of their own relapses.

I started working with one individual about nine months ago who fit the typical “resistance pattern.” Male, fifty something, skilled laborer, who had a DUI some 20 years ago and insisted they had no drinking problem today, let alone could be labeled an alcoholic. Basically angry! Having dealt with so many like this in the past few years, I’d consistently given a similar response: “Look, I don’t know what got you here and its sure not my responsibility to fix your problem. Maybe you have good reason to dislike the program – the court, the counseling, the 12 Step meetings, all of it. Heck, I’ve been known to question a lot of things myself. That said, please don’t try to push back on the specifics that the court demands. I’ve seen people try. You simply will not win. That said, I will make myself available to help you or talk to you in any way I possibly can. You have my number. Pick up the phone and call.”     ‘

My friend rarely called and when he did, he seemed only interested in complaining about the requirements he was being “forced” to adhere to. He hated the counseling. He hated his probation officer. And he hated the 12 Step meetings. I saw a lot of anger, a lot of  resentment, and a lot of resistance. And truth be told, I saw a fellow that might tolerate the process for as long as he had to – “white knuckle” it, as they say – and go back to life as he knew it shortly after graduating. Pretty much par for the course. Destined to be a grim statistic, I suppose.

Last week however was something different. At a meeting we were both at, I made a quick-witted remark that broke the room into laughter. I looked over and saw my friend laughing with a big grin too. I finished what I was saying and looked over at my friend again. He still had that wide grin on his face. After the meeting, I approached him in search of an explanation for all the smiling. “Oh nothing much,” he said. “I just crack up at some of the funny things I hear. And for what its worth, I decided a couple weeks ago that since people in these meetings are always talking about changes in their lives, I would make an earnest effort to work the steps myself. You know, just to see if these people were playing me.”

I chuckled and said, “Funny how that works. I think I remember that pretty much being my motivation starting out. Seems to have worked for me. Well, it takes what it takes. Good for you.”

Seeing that new gleam in his eye, I thought about all those I’d encountered with my involvement in Faith Partners ministry over the years and the unpredictability of recovery. I was struck by the thought that this might be one of those improbable moments of grace. Many make it, but many others don’t. I can never tell with certainty about anyone’s motivation, or whether that motivation will persist. Experience with Faith Partners has taught me though, to see opportunities for recovery, to maintain healthy personal boundaries, to look for signs of progress and work off that to offer encouragement to those navigating the complexities of recovery. When offering ones experience, an authentic compassion and dependence upon a loving God, that kind of success will surely come.


Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC
Marietta, GA

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