Giving It Away to Keep It

By Brad McEwen

When I began work on this week’s Beyond the Bank feature, I had no idea that before the day was out its subject matter would take on even deeper poignancy for me.

As I typed away Monday afternoon—praying I could do justice to the story of an incredibly caring man doing difficult but important work in our community—I was gut-punched by the tragic news that Hank, the youngest son of my cousin Tom, had lost his battle with drug addiction—a war I wasn’t even aware he was even waging.

Although geographic distance and a considerable age gap had kept me from really forming a relationship with Hank, it was still devastating to learn that the immensely talented and kind-hearted young man of 26, who, like me, grew up in a tight-knit family full of love and support, had died so suddenly.

It was even more sobering, as I digested the news, to consider that his death adds him to the frighteningly long list of Americans who have succumbed to drug overdoses in the past few years.

For perspective, the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates some 64,000-plus U.S. citizens died from drug overdoses in 2016. And as recent news reports indicate that number could be matched or even exceeded this year—a fact countless Albany area residents who’ve recently been touched by the specter of addiction know all too well.

As mind-boggling as those figures are, however, more distressing to me as I consider what happened to Hank, is the knowledge that under slightly different circumstances his story, at that of others who have left us too soon, might’ve had a different ending.

I don’t pretend to know the specifics of what Hank was going through or whether his family knew what he was dealing with, or whether any steps had been taken to seek recovery, for sadly, I hadn’t spoken to him, his parents or his siblings for some time and therefore knew nothing of his suffering.

And that’s one of the reasons news of his passing had such an effect on me.

I can’t help but wonder; had I shared with my extended family what I went through not so long ago—nearly losing everything before receiving God’s grace—would it have made a difference for Hank?

If I had stayed in touch and known what he was dealing with could I have somehow intervened and helped him find a way out of darkness?

Given the chance, could I have told Hank about a place like the Anchorage—and about a man like the faith-based recovery center’s clinical director Dudley Thomas—would he be sitting at the piano right now, using his incredible gifts to compose another beautiful tune?

There’s simply no answer to those questions.

But I can use what happened to Hank as added inspiration for me to present this week’s Beyond the Bank where I’m fortunate to share what a blessing having access to the Anchorage has been for countless men struggling with the disease of addiction and their families.

Like nearly every other man who arrives at the Albany recovery facility for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect when my wife dropped me off at the Anchorage intake office nearly five years ago. I had no idea who Dudley Thomas was, and I had absolutely no clue that what was about to happen to me would forever alter the course of my life.

I only knew that I was scared and exhausted—scared of what might happen to me if this last ditch effort didn’t work and dog-tired of feeling lost, helpless and utterly alone, despite being surrounded by loving family and friends.

Mercifully, those feelings began to ease once I sat down with “Mr. Dudley,” as he’s affectionately known to the hundreds of men he’s welcomed to the Anchorage. With kind eyes and a genuine smile I won’t soon forget, Dudley told me quite frankly, but with incredible warmth and sincerity, that even though I was “SICK,” I had come to the right place to find relief.

“You have a problem,” he said. “But there is a solution.”

The beauty of the Anchorage program—the initial phase of which typically takes about four months to complete—is its simplicity, which Dudley was pleased to share with me once again when I stopped by to chat with him about his mission to help others find a way out of the black hole that is addiction.

“We provide quality treatment for men that may have a problem with substance use disorder,” Dudley explained. “That’s what we’re trying to do, trying to provide quality treatment for individuals that do not have the means to pay for it.

“And of course we use the faith-based approach, complimented by the 12 steps.”

While the use of a 12 step program is a vital part of the Anchorage’s treatment plan, what really sets the Anchorage apart, and what I believe saved my life, is its faith-based approached where addicts and alcoholics are encouraged to forge a relationship with Christ and accept God’s grace to combat what Dudley says is their underlying, root issue.

“Selfishness and self-centeredness is purely human spirit oriented and our objective is to persuade them to be willing to conform their human spirit to the Holy Spirit,” Dudley told me matter-of-factly. “That’s the whole objective—to try to take the human, person spirit and meet Christ’s intended purpose for us to conform to the Holy Spirit.

“Let me put it to you this way, most of your secular treatment facilities use the Center for Applied Sciences model, which is the bio/psycho/social model. And what that covers mostly is the biological, the physiological and the social components of a human being. But they neglect to emphasize the spiritual component.

“We use that same approach, but we add to that the spiritual component. That’s why we’re faith-based. And we emphasize that a true solution to the problem—that has been proven through research over time to have been a better approach—is when the human being is willing to undergo a spiritual rebirth. That’s what makes the big difference.”

“And you know, it’s my experience and not just my opinion, that THAT is the ultimate goal of dealing with addiction.”

Much of that experience, and Dudley’s belief in the power of spiritual rebirth, has come from spending the last several years at the forefront of helping area residents battle addiction and find a path to recovery.

“I’ve been here for 15 years,” said the Morven, GA native and board certified human services practitioner with degrees in human services technology and organizational leadership, who in addition to his time at the Anchorage has completed field placements at Dougherty County Mental Health, the Gateway Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center in Thomasville and Turning Point Behavior Center in Moultrie.

But perhaps even more important than the perspective he attained in the field of recovery is the knowledge and understanding he’s gained from the personal experiences that led him into that field later in life.

Dudley told me that he began his career in counseling while in his 50s, shortly after wrapping up a successful career in the Unites States Army where he retired as a decorated Sergeant Major who specialized in logistics and personnel administration, a career path he now sees as a prelude to his life’s true calling.

“I had no intention when I retired from the military of doing anything faith-based, much less being in recovery,” Dudley explained. “But the thing that I realized after my retirement from the military was that I myself have a problem.

“And I sought help.

“And having done that it led me to take the human services technology class [at Darton College], which complemented my own struggles with addiction. And I ended up here, with no intention of staying.

“But, here I am.”

At 75 many have wondered about Dudley’s future with the organization, but when asked he laughingly explained that he no longer has any thoughts of retirement, having come to the realization that giving up his position at the Anchorage just isn’t a part of God’s plan right now.

“I’ve had ups and downs—prostate cancer, got over that, cataract surgery, A-fib of the heart,” he said with a laugh. “But right now I’ve got a clean bill of health and I feel well enough to get up and come to work every morning.

“I give credit to a power greater than me for that. I don’t take no credit for that.

“I do honestly believe that God, as I understand Him, as kept me healthy and around to do his bidding and He’s prepared me to be able to do that.”

Dudley’s faith that he is doing God’s work is so deep that he now believes his 30 years of continuous military service also factored into God’s plan for him to teach others how to find relief from alcoholism and drug addiction through faith-based treatment.

“Having had the experience of dealing with men from all walks of life under good, bad and unpleasant situations—i.e. being in combat—and of course being at a high level of dealing with big volumes of men, I view all of that as a prelude to exactly what I’m doing today without my knowledge,” he said. “And when I recognized my own difficulties and struggles in my humanness, with the absence of God, and Him being the solution, I believe his grace was extended to me in order that I may pass that on to men in a different way.

“When I review and look back at my life, from the very beginning of my entering the military, up to the time I assumed this job, He had prepared me to be here. And I’m passionate about it. And I think that’s why He’s kept me here and He has given me the good health to continue to pass that on to those that suffer from the same thing I suffered from. And that’s human self-will run riot.

“I’ve learned how to apply my will to the will of God and pass that message on to others that suffer in the same way that I did. So I really look at where I am now as my ultimate true calling that God prepared me for from day one.”

It doesn’t take long during a conversation with Dudley to see what a huge role God plays in the work of the Anchorage, but it is important to recognize that there are other aspects to the treatment provided to its clients.

As critical as the spiritual aspect of the Anchorage’s treatment plan is, Dudley also believes that the men who come through the program need to have a true understanding of their disease and have access to all the tools they need, to not only manage their addiction, but to become responsible members of society.

“I use a person-centered approach, which is, we meet the client where they are and provide them with a full array of tools and external support, if they need that, to deal with their life issues,” he explained. “We help them deal with the real livelihood issues on a daily basis and in an appropriate manner, and teach them how to communicate. If they have financial obligations we encourage them to take care of those matters when they are back on their feet after they’ve overcome their addiction. I always use every available resource.

“I try to keep myself abreast of what goes on in the treatment field and some things are good. We use science to a degree and we kind of fight fire with fire.

“But they have to understand that we have human responsibilities that we need to meet, with the assurance that if we have that relationship with Christ, that He’s going to provide means and ways for us to do that, if we stay grounded in Him.”

The notion that Dudley, and the rest of the Anchorage team, utilizes every available resources is a key component, not only in the facility’s treatment methods, but also in the treatment center’s very existence.

Unlike many other drug and alcohol treatment centers, the Anchorage is entirely funded by the generous donations of individuals, businesses, churches and other organizations. It receives no money from federal, state or local government.

Thankfully the support base is strong enough that, without any governmental funding, the facility—which can house and provide three meals a day to as many as 55 men at any given time—has remained in operation since 1953 and still only charges clients an initial $40 fee to cover the cost of a personal Bible and other materials used during the treatment process.

Additionally the Anchorage relies heavily on the support of countless volunteers who aid the treatment facility in other ways, including teaching classes, sharing experiences and providing work opportunities for clients who have completed the initial phase and want to remain at the Anchorage for what is known as “after care.”

Because of that community support, much of which comes from people motivated by their relationship with God, Dudley said the facility is able to keep a keen focus on faith as a means to combat addiction, even though the faith-based method does cause slight confusion among some members of the community.

“I believe that people have a skewed view of the Anchorage because they perceive it as religion when in fact, it’s not,” he said. “It’s a spiritual, faith-based program that unequivocally stands on the mercy and grace of God as being the solution for humanity’s dilemma.

“We do not apologize for putting Christ at the head of what we do here. However we don’t try to force that on any individual. We let that be their choice. So, we continuously have an environment that allows the individual to become acclimated to the message that Christ is the solution to humanity’s struggle with the human spirit.

“We have local volunteers to share scripture and give support from all denominations. We don’t look at that. If they have a message to share with our clients we’re open to that.”

Because of that local support, Dudley said the Anchorage can provide another aspect of treatment to its clients where they are given the opportunity to give back to the community while also learning important values and skills they need to maintain a healthy path of recovery once they finish the program.

“They are assigned as individuals or teams to do various details and tasks on the property and that (also) extends to supporting the community, such as the YMCA, or the elderly,” Dudley said. “We try to do those things as a give back to the community. The first four month phase is non-working, but we do try to support the local community in non-skilled labors. And we give back to businesses, churches and organizations that donate to us.”

“That process of them being allowed to work in the community teaches them to give. It’s the exact opposite of the disease of addiction that creates a tendency for the individual to take. It’s teaching them to give instead of take all of the time. And it allows them an opportunity to get out of self and be more open to being supportive to others.”

Despite all the good that is being done by Dudley and others connected to the Anchorage, many detractors still point to certain statistics that indicate that many who complete drug and alcohol treatment programs suffer relapses and often end up back in rehab facilities.

Asked if he sees that as an issue, Dudley offered a typically thoughtful response and one that speaks to the underlying difficulty of achieving and maintaining sobriety and to society’s need to adjust its views on drug addiction, alcoholism and recovery

“My frustrations are the unwillingness of some of the men to acknowledge that they have a problem with their human spirit,” he said. “They would like to shift that to a mood altering substance, when in fact, the mood altering substance is only the symptom. And until they are willing to look at THEMSELVES as being the problem, it can get pretty frustrating at times.

“However, I can overcome that when I reflect on my own struggles and the length of time it took me to have what I refer to as a spiritual awakening to what the true solution to mankind’s dilemma is.”

As Dudley sees it, he can only look at two things to measure success—the number of men who complete the program once they enroll (which is around 85-90 percent) and the many men he sees long after they’ve left treatment who are maintaining sobriety.

“The thing that kind of eases my frustration is to realize that people have a right to exercise their free will. Unfortunately a lot of times they don’t recognize that while they’re here and it takes them stumbling again once they leave here to realize the opportunity they have.

“In my heart of hearts, when I look at the term success rate, it merely implies that I am more than happy to give the benefit of success to any client that completes this four month program even though he may stumble when he leaves here. He will have been prepared so that he can get up and take what he learned here and right himself and move forward.

“So when I look at success, from my perspective, it's an individual’s willingness to take four months out of their life and participate in something that can be completely new and different to them. Because I’m very confident that we will have provided them with real solutions that they can implement in their lives to make them better human beings.

“And what restores my passion and keeps me passion going is to see these guys long after they’ve left. The fruits of my labor a lot of times don’t show immediately. But I’ve had the opportunity to see it appear long after the people have left here. So that keeps me going.”

And part of seeing those men who have spent time at the Anchorage and are now leading successful and productive lives is that many of them are not only still in recovery, but sharing their experiences and doing what Dudley believes is an important product of having a spiritual awakening and key to his motivation for his work at the Anchorage.

“In order to keep it, you’ve got to give it away.”

I have no way of knowing whether knowledge of a program like the one offered at the Anchorage could have helped Hank, but I have no doubt the treatment being offered by Dudley and the Anchorage team can provide relief for others suffering from the disease of addiction and alcoholism, which means it’s imperative that I share what I know.

And as someone who knows firsthand the importance of recognizing the very real struggle so many of our friends and neighbors are going through, I can tell you that when I go to my knees to thank the God of my understanding for placing me in front of men like Dudley Thomas, I also give thanks for the Anchorage and for the community that supports its mission.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen