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7 min read

From Isolation to Community: Feeling alive again

Joseph is a welcoming presence at the UGM Men’s Shelter, cherished by staff, residents, and volunteers alike. However, beneath Joseph’s kind exterior is a story of a battle with addiction. Read on to see how his experience in the UGM Recovery program has transformed his life through the support of a safe, healing community.


 

Isolation in Addiction

For almost a decade, Joseph was married with a successful career in sales and customer service. Unbeknownst to most people, he said, “I spent most of my life as a functioning alcoholic [and] addict. The trick is you are functioning until you’re not.”

 

“The trick is you are functioning until you’re not.”

 

Joseph displayed addictive tendencies which intensified as he moved through life. “I get addicted to everything. I got addicted to sports as a kid, [then] addicted to romance [as an adult].” His loved ones were concerned about him, but Joseph didn’t open up about it to them. He explained, “When you are an addict, you think you are fooling everybody, but you’re really not fooling anybody.”

As a result, Joseph was living in his vehicle in February of 2023. He had recently been evicted from his apartment and felt completely isolated. “I was in a heavy thick fog of alcohol and depression…I felt like my world was getting smaller and smaller. I had not been working since some of the [Covid] shutdowns started.” Joseph not only felt uncomfortable in his car due to the lack of space, but the consistently below-freezing temperatures also put him in a dangerous situation.

Joe-at-mens-shelter

The effects were taking a toll on his body; something needed to change. “I was able to survive, but it was getting to where I was falling apart. I was unhealthy and needed to get somewhere for safety.” Joseph arrived at the UGM Men’s Shelter in hopes that it could temporarily provide him with a warm meal and a safe environment while he looked for a long-term solution. “I thought maybe I could live here for a couple of weeks, find a job, get to work, save up, then I could figure this out.”

 

“I thought maybe I could live here for a couple of weeks, find a job, get to work, save up, then I could figure this out.”

 

A few days later, Joseph was encouraged to see medical personnel at UGM for an extremely uncomfortable skin condition. They checked him out and helped him set an appointment at a nearby clinic. “I was in really bad shape physically, not just mentally and spiritually.” Soon after, he started to see improvement in various aspects of his physical health, a reflection of the beginning of his inner healing. “Looking back, it is amazing how big those victories were.”

A UGM staff member gave Joseph a tour of the shelter and casually shared about the Life Recovery program. Initially, Joseph had no idea what he was talking about, but later realized he had the opportunity to recover and heal from addiction. He decided to join and it transformed his life.  

 

 

Healing through Vulnerability

Choosing to be part of the Life Recovery program is a commitment of at least 18 months, consisting of recovery meetings, self-evaluations, and trauma-informed counseling and classes.  

Self-Eval-1

“I was literally shaking before doing my first self-eval…I shared that I had been lying to myself and lying to everybody else about my addictions throughout my life,” Joseph said.

 

“This is strength to open up to these men and see them asking questions, showing care, interacting, and in the end, relating. We go in there and think nobody gets it but everybody gets it. You are not alone.”

 

By consistently participating in self-evaluations (a practice of reviewing personal choices and behavior in a group setting), the process has become less daunting for him but remains difficult. He has learned how life-giving it is to come alongside others in humility and vulnerability. “I can talk about this stuff, and it isn’t weak; this is strength. That was such a new concept to me. This is putting in work. This is strength to open up to these men and see them asking questions, showing care, interacting, and in the end, relating. We go in there and think nobody gets it [but] everybody gets it. You are not alone.”

 

 

Pain Lasting Through the Seasons

UGM has given Joseph the space to reveal painful childhood experiences in order to understand the impact they have had on his life.

AloneHe was raised by a single mother, yet still had a strained relationship with his dad who left when he was young. Joseph felt anger and resentment toward his father while growing up but became fairly close to him during his teenage years. Despite his father’s passing long ago, he explained, “I still idolize my dad. I still struggle with that. I miss him.”

Joseph’s dad being in and out of his life was devastating. “I remember thinking, ‘You can’t count on anyone. Everybody is lying. There’s something wrong with me.’ All of those lies really started to amplify…It never crossed my mind that I could just be myself and people would care for me.”

He put on a good front a lot of the time, but Joseph was truly struggling. “I could still be kind and care for people, but deep down there was a real cynicism and a real alone-ness. So that’s where the addiction started. That’s when I started drinking, smoking pot, [and smoking] cigarettes.”

 

“I could still be kind and care for people, but deep down there was a real cynicism and a real alone-ness. So that’s where the addiction started.”

 

Despite having good grades in high school and a potential golf scholarship, Joseph decided not to pursue that path. With slipping grades, he thought, “I’ll show them.” He explained, “It makes no sense, but I was just so hurt. When you’re that young, you’re going through a lot. I remember making a conscious choice to just screw up.”

After graduation, Joseph started living with his high school sweetheart. “I still had my addictions, but it was a bit of a healthier time. I was more of a workaholic.” At the surface, it paid off professionally as he thrived in a sales position, which was an opportunity for him to utilize his natural customer service skills by connecting with others.

 

 

Life Without an Anchor

Joseph experienced numerous losses of loved ones in a short period of time. His older brother was tragically killed by a drunk driver, and in the same year, his grandparents passed away. A couple years after that, his dad passed as well. These losses were extremely painful for Joseph and he struggled to cope. “It’s part of life having that loss, but I had no anchor. I was always cynical about my own beliefs. When I would start to talk to God or open up, I would shut myself down. Not having any type of anchor and foundation when losing that many people in that short of time sent me into popping pills.”

death-1

Having no relationship with God at the time, he explained, “I was agnostic. I didn’t even stop to think that God was there for me, that God was reaching out and cheering for me and trying to lead me in the right direction. I was so lost in my own struggles.”

 

“I didn’t even stop to think that God was there for me, that God was reaching out and cheering for me and trying to lead me in the right direction. I was so lost in my own struggles.”

 

Trying to continue working and attempting to keep his addiction a secret, Joseph relied on pills to get through the day. “I was an addict for so long, that I finally just wore myself out. I was thinking, I am killing myself. I wasn’t even getting high or feeling good anymore.” His marriage was ending, health was declining, and hope was dwindling.

 

 

Searching for a Way Out

In 2016, Joseph quit taking pills on his own. With courage, he shared about his addiction with his managers and told them he was no longer able to work due to anxiety and the effects of withdrawal. He was met with love and compassion. “They were so cool. They kept me on as an employee for an additional 3 extra months.” In addition to providing Joseph with medical leave, his managers offered to support him in going to rehab, although he didn’t take the offer. Many people saw the value of Joseph’s life, even though he couldn’t yet see it.

 

“There was no recovery, just quitting.”

 

Despite his inner strength and resilience, this feat was debilitating and too much to bear alone. “There was no recovery, just quitting,” he explained. People checked in and cared about his well-being, but no one really understood what he was going through. To numb the pain, he turned to marijuana, then drinking.

God-reaching

Looking back on his life, Joseph can see God’s hand at work and the nearness of His presence, although he wasn’t aware of it then. “There were so many times when God was saying, ‘I’m right here, I’m helping you. I love you.” I look back on good experiences and tough times and profound experiences, many of which happened when I was quite young…Remembering these times helps me get away from regrets and shame. Things still pull at me, but I can look back and see [that] all of this led to us being here.”

 

 

A Life Changed by Faith

His faith in God has grown and deepened gradually over the past year. “I see Him so much in community and in other people.” Attending the church Jacob’s Well has helped him become accountable and committed to being in community with other followers of Jesus. Joseph laughed and said, “Over half [of Jacob’s Well] is connected to UGM.” Men in UGM Recovery initially introduced him to the church and he has since invited other residents to join him.

Jacobs-Well

Joseph’s life has been marked by the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. He lives a changed life because he has been made new. “For me to be alive and have the freedom because of what He did for us is everything. I have my struggles about meeting expectations, but when I’m able to spend time with people at church in prayer, listening to music, watching friendships grow from that; this is what it means to be alive again.”

 

“I’m really living my life with purpose, with real feeling, with real care, and real struggles.”

 

Joseph’s friendly and gentle demeanor brings a lightness to the spaces he is in. Now working full time at the Davenport Grand Hotel, he has found healing through being an employee. “I’m really living my life with purpose, with real feeling, with real care, and real struggles.” Joseph has unexpectedly shared his testimony with some of his coworkers, finding a sense of freedom in being vulnerable and being received with kindness and compassion.  

 

 

The Joy of Freedom

After a life of isolation, Joseph is living in freedom. Recently moving into Phase 5 of UGM Recovery, he eagerly awaits having his own space in Aftercare Housing. Once he is no longer a UGM resident, he wants to continue to pour back into the UGM community and lean on his support system. He says, “I am going to be in recovery for the rest of my life,” and has the tools and resources to successfully do so.

 

“I want to say a huge thank you. It is life-changing stuff…That is really showing when people are providing what they can to help others out from an awesome heart condition.”

 

When asked what he would say to those who make this life transformation possible, he said, “When we are in program, we don’t really know what’s happening at different offices and behind the scenes and [with] donors. I want to say a huge thank you. It is life-changing stuff…That is really showing [God’s goodness] when people are providing what they can to help others out from an awesome heart condition.”

Joseph-2

Thank you, Joseph, for your humility and vulnerability. Your story reminds us of the freedom offered to all people in Jesus Christ. May your life continue to be transformed and blessed. We are cheering for you every step of the way!

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

 

 

Join us in supporting transformation for people like Joseph by giving monthly.
Together, we can help those battling addiction pave a new path in life.

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