Transcending Suffering — The Men of Nehemiah War Against Addiction
Settled on a quiet corner of South Dallas not far from the famed Cotton Bowl, The Men of Nehemiah battle addictions under the shadow of the cross.
Addictions have always carried suffering into the human family. But drugs and other addictions have become a dark curse in the modern world, supercharged by relative comfort, leisure, accessibility, and the collapse of traditional mores and social values.
For the families that have dealt with an addicted son or daughter, husband or wife, there is little comfort in words. Whether drugs and alcohol — or behavioral addictions such as sex, pornography, gambling, and even impulse control addictions — it doesn’t matter. The pain never ceases. The excruciating ache comes from a never-empty warehouse of emotions that too few not affected know or care about.
For the user, there’s often the burden of shame, which is often more difficult to accept than even love or forgiveness. Each addiction summons the addicted to war for their soul — to enter their own messiness in a lonely fight.
But ultimately, transcending suffering demands the heart to yield before the mind and body can heal.
Battling Addiction Under the Shadow of the Cross
Settled on a quiet corner of South Dallas not far from the famed Cotton Bowl, The Men of Nehemiah (MON) battle addictions under the shadow of the cross. It’s a unique rehabilitation model dealing with a wide variety of men. Some have lived on the streets or in cars, others have been in prison, and others have rotated through other rehab programs. Some have been through them all.
The world ignored them mainly because they were hopelessly difficult — seemingly incapable of change. Families grew cold, unwilling, or unable to bear the struggle as their own. Often these men became invisible and unreachable to society. Regardless of their backgrounds, they all share the long fall into the web of addictions and self-destruction — and came to the ends of themselves.
The MON is exactly the place they need to be.
The Cross Points the Way to Recovery
In this Season of Hope, the MON has proven that the healing of mind and body is possible at the cross. An ancient hideous instrument of suffering and death, the cross becomes the lighthouse pointing the way to recovery.
Over the years, I’ve written a great deal about drugs in the U.S. and how the scaled business model of the illicit drug trade has totally corrupted the society and government of Mexico — and how that corruption is seeping into local, state, and federal governments in the U.S.
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But, as a nation, we can’t give in or give up. In just over 20 years, drug deaths by overdose are over one million Americans and growing, and the collateral destruction of friends, family, and society is incalculable. (Alcohol-related deaths add to nearly 90,000 per year.)
Reason for Hope
Visiting with the MON refreshed my perspective and filled me with encouragement and hope, and a profound sense of humility. These men — who, in many cases, have spent decades in addictions — are on the way to a new life as productive citizens.
There is no shortage of facilities in the recovery business model. Nearly 18,000 rehabilitation centers serve upwards of 4 million people a year across the U.S. (only a small percentage of the population fighting some drug and alcohol addiction at any given time enter rehab centers for residential or outpatient services.) The cost is staggering, at nearly $45 billion yearly.
There are no hard and fast standards of what “cured” means concerning addictions. If someone is “sober” or hasn’t retreated into addictive patterns within a year, it is a milestone but not a cure. Without uniform standards, the actual relapse rates remain unclear. However, figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 40-60% of individuals relapse while in recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 40% of the individuals who enter treatment never complete the program for various reasons.
Pointing Men to God
In contrast, the MON works in an all-inclusive nine-month residency model that first and foremost points men to God in “grace-filled Biblical discipleship that shows men their true value in Christ.” (An “Intense” outpatient program and outpatient services are also available.) MON currently has a 70% success rate with one year of sobriety.
The MON model also shows that money is not necessarily the key to successful treatment. The MON nine-month residency program is funded entirely with donations or insurance where available and is between $22,500 and $27,000. In Texas, the average residential program is $56,654, which is approximately the national average.
Rand Carlson, the Director of Community Engagement for MON, and himself, a recovering addict (five years sober from a fifteen-year cocaine habit) and graduate of the center, stressed the importance of the core differences in the mission of the MON recovery program.
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First, MON is centered in a structured military environment that provides routine, discipline, and practical life skills, explained Mr. Carlson. The men dress in combat casual military clothes and go to and from chores and duties in marching formation. It is the first time that most of these men have had a demanding, non-optional structure to their everyday routine.
During my visit, the men were in a morning class — one of 15 hours of the weekly Bible and life-skill sessions. The men’s attention and camaraderie struck me. It was very evident that they considered this serious work.
In addition to the mandatory Bible and life-skill lessons, the men have 13 hours of individual, evidence-based counseling provided by a staff of professional and licensed counselors. All of the programs are custom fit to the individual, and each works to give that man the tools to understand their traumas, compulsions, behaviors, and strategies for success. In addition, the MON provides family counseling because once sober, “they can’t be sent back to a dysfunctional family life,” Mr. Carlson explained.
The other leg of the MON program is community-based. Many of these men have been outside of communities and relationships, and the MON carries out a variety of community-based activities, including a men’s choir performing in the community and various churches, which you can see here. Powerful worship makes powerful men.
A Changing Culture
In his work with MON, Mr. Carlson also noted the changing demographics of the men who come to the center. Only a few years ago, most men coming into the center were African American from lower-income backgrounds. This has been changing. Now a majority of men are white and Latino, and some come from middle and upper-middle-class suburban backgrounds. It is a change that signals the ever-increasing accessibility, potency, and lower cost of drugs pouring into the country — and the culture’s general accommodation, even promotion of casual drug use.
(Interestingly, in my interviews with addicts in several cities over several decades, marijuana was always the first drug they used. Not everyone who uses recreational weed becomes a drug addict, obviously — but every addict I’ve talked to began with the gateway drug, marijuana.)
Each Man’s Story is Different
Talking to individual men who have made or are making the transition from the streets is a sweet, authentic experience at MON. Their personal stories are harrowing and humbling to hear. Each man’s story is different in the details, family history, and the beginnings of their addictions. But they all carried the same sense of lostness and a certain uncenteredness in their lives. In that emptiness, darkness followed.
In their counseling work with the MON staff, they come face-to-face with traumas and behaviors that betrayed them — and learn their responsibilities and boundaries as men. Things in other decades the culture taught and reinforced that are now long discarded.
God’s Love and Redemption Reach Everyone
But as crucial as that personal clinical work is, the fundamental transformation of mind and spirit at the foundation of the MON is the Master’s message. Every man I talked to at the MON was vibrant and alive in the knowledge that he was a child of God and the work of the cross.
Everyone enthusiastically talked about how God had provided in their lives — providing a steadfast friend when they warred in the spirit or seemed weakest. Or had provided restoration with loved ones or miraculously found a meaningful job. But more importantly, to the men I spoke to, they were empowered to change those around them and their community. They understood that Grace and Mercy travel together in life. They know that God’s love and His redemption are for everyone, everywhere, every time.
Michael Giere writes award-winning commentary and essays on the intersection of politics, culture and faith. He is a critically acclaimed novelist (The White River Series) and short-story writer.