My family had finally figured out what to do with me. They weren’t about to throw more money at the problem; so they found a free long-term treatment facility in Savannah, Georgia and prayed I’d find my way back again.
Destination —Mission Teens.
Mission Teens, Inc. is a non-denominational Christian Discipleship ministry dedicated to helping those who battle life-controlling problems such as substance abuse by ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They believe that the Gospel should be free to all and by seeking God, you can find light even in the darkest of days.
Boy, was I dark. I had fallen pretty far down a deep black hole, but I was finally ready for some sun.
For those who aren’t familiar with this program, Mission Teens has programs throughout the entire country —roughly 15 locations spanning from New Jersey, Florida, Tennesee, Iowa, California, Michigan, and a few more.
Savannah, Georgia was the place they chose for me. I thought that was okay.
I had never been there before so I was ready for a new adventure. The coolest part is that they don’t charge for their services and do not receive any funding from the government. All of their support comes from concerned individuals and a few churches who are sensitive to the type of work they do.
The Back Story
Reverend James D. Bracken (1934-2012) founded this particular ministry in 1969. He opened the first residential center in Norma, New Jersey (still there today) because he knew there was a need amongst troubled men and women who were attending his home prayer meetings. In short, these people were all battling some type of addiction. They tried whatever resources were available back then, but nothing seemed to work.
As a result, Mission Teens was born. The first two years were the hardest I’ve heard. They were putting in a lot of work, generally speaking, and seeing little results. After some perseverance and a ton of faith, things finally took off.
Today, that same program is used in all 15 centers across the country. Since 1969, over 20,000 people like me have changed the trajectory of our lives because of this very program. In their annual follow-up review, approximately 87 percent of all residents report living a clean and sober life because of their time there.
And I have to say that is true for me too. This was my last chance to get it right.
I liked how they treat each person as a member of the family. Everything is self-sustaining. If there was a problem, we didn’t call the maintenance guy down the street. We’d fix it. Junior staff members and higher-ranking residents teach the “younger” ones. And so, as I moved up in the program, I got more responsibilities (I’ll expand on that later).
Senior staff and directors (who were residents of the program at one time) handle the major problems and decisions. The discipleship-training is divided up into four phases, each lasting 2-4 months. As I proved that I could handle the increasing responsibilities of each phase, my privileges increased.
It’s a highly structured program with a rigid daily schedule. Everyone is expected to obey the house rules and follow the agenda.
Infractions of the rules or schedule are corrected with writing assignments, loss of privileges or extra work chores —none of which was preferred. The first phase of training is a 2-month induction period (known as a probie, which is short for probation) with very few privileges or responsibilities. It was so strict that if you looked at a member of the opposite sex for longer than three seconds, you’d get written up.
I’ve said this before in one of my other posts but I actually never got written up for anything until my last week there (more on that later). I always had a thing with authority and I hated getting in trouble. So I did my best considering. And eventually, as crazy as this sounds, God revealed himself to me in multiple ways (more on that as well).
Let me just say, I wasn’t a believer walking in, but I was by the time I left.
The program itself consists of five and a half hours of Bible study per day. I’ve heard that the training amounts to roughly one year of Bible school, which I thought was pretty cool after the fact (considering I was raised Jewish). The daily schedule varies slightly at each of the centers, but fundamentally, it remains the same.
The next two phases (at the 2-4 month marker, you’re known as a trainee and a resident during months 4-6) add general household responsibilities, which sounds mundane, but they actually helped me adapt to normal life. To be honest, I had never done laundry before. I didn’t even know how to work the machines. And what do you know —by the end of four months, I was room captain. What do you think one of the main duties of that position was?
If you guessed doing my room’s laundry (about eight girls), you’d be right.
I actually did an awesome job. I’m super picky about people touching my clothes so it kind of worked out. Because of that, I took extra good care of my roommates’ stuff and I think it showed. Funny thing is, I’m also particular about the dryer.
A.k.a., I don’t use it. I’ve had a few negative experiences where shirts of mine shrunk (which again sounds simple but not to me) and I couldn’t wear them after that, which also made me feel fat. So I vowed to never dry my clothes like that again. Instead, I got permission to use our room as a drying rack, which always caused a stir when we had morning inspection for that specific day.
Here Are Some House Rules
Anyway, privileges in these two phases include phone calls and visits from immediate family (as well as pastoral or legal counsel) only. No friends are allowed to visit or call anyone in this discipleship program, which makes sense. I never argued with that. In the final phase (6-8 months), you’re known as a “counselor in training” (or trainee counselor a.k.a. TC), basically, that means you have the same duties as senior staff except, you’re still a resident.
We’d lead the devotional prayer each morning as well as each evening —including praise and worship. We had to write up other residents if they weren’t following the rules. We were in charge. We even got to manage one-on-one therapy sessions with the other residents of the same sex, which helped me too. I was never good at confrontation so both of those responsibilities went a long way in my recovery.
I will say, by the seven-month mark, not only was I room captain, I was also food manager (FM).
This meant I was in charge of everything kitchen related. And if you know me, you’d also know that I’m far from a gourmet chef. In fact, I rarely cook at all. So this was a rather interesting learning experience. I had to make a daily menu for each meal. Every day, there would be a different set of residents in the kitchen (same sex at all times) who were in charge of cooking our meals.
Each chef had an assistant so you could expect two to be in the kitchen each day for all three feasts. FM did all of the behind the scenes work. No one would eat if the FM didn’t do their job properly. I had to prep breakfast, lunch and dinner so when the cooks for the day entered the kitchen to start cooking, everything was already out of the pantry, ready for him or her. The chefs weren’t really allowed to mosey around, which was why the FM did the legwork.
It was a pretty big responsibility but I felt up to the challenge.
If something went wrong in the kitchen that day, it would land on me to fix it. I was also the one who got in trouble by senior staff if that happened. Besides the daily menus, I’d have to write a weekly inventory to see how much of each food item we had and what we needed. We had a few refrigerators in multiple garages out back filled to the brim with produce, meat, fruit, veggies, bread and more. I remember being really overwhelmed when I found out I had to count every single item.
Because it’s faith-based, every article of food had been donated by the local community. It was pretty awesome. Churches would come over and send us off with truckloads of everything you could think of. Even local restaurants delivered extra food they would have thrown away.
I mean we ate really well —Panera, Olive Garden, Starbucks, Kroger —you name it, chances are we had it.
If I needed assistance, I could always ask for help. Almost all of the staff are graduates of the program (who do not receive a salary). They work as missionaries, giving back by helping others. The assistant executive director at each center works directly with the executive director to train the staff, oversee the general condition of the buildings, raise necessary support, as well as teach and counsel. Everyone lives directly on the property.
Prior to entering the program, I just finished rock bottom number two and was hiding out a friend’s in Deerfield Beach, Florida —until my dad picked me up and drove me here. During that time (I was staying at my dad’s house in Orlando for about two weeks while my family found a place for me to go, which is how I ended up here), I was required to take an initial blood test (and a pregnancy test) before being accepted. Incoming residents are also required to purchase a return plane ticket (or the monetary equivalent) in the event he or she was asked to leave.
And so, on May 16, 2012, my dad and I drive from Orlando, Florida to Savannah in hopes this place would save my life.
The Jew at a Christain Rehab
I remember my first day. I wore my infamous red skinny jeans and a tight black tank top. I’d later learn that this outfit was a no-no. We had to wear oversized everything so that we wouldn’t cause a member of the opposite sex to stumble (their words, not mine).
At first, I graveled with this. Clothes were always my thing and I liked to look good. In the beginning, I will say I was normally asked to change. I was never written up for it because I’d always do exactly what they asked. It was a learning process. It was all new.
Eventually, though, I became the example of what to wear since (believe it or not) at that point, I had given up trying to look pretty. I ultimately found my groove and accepted the protocol of the program. Anyway, my dad, at the time, drove a navy blue BMW convertible. I remember pulling up mid-afternoon. The guys were working outside doing some chores (if the boys were outside, the girls were inside) I’d later have to do.
I remember getting out of the car, looking around, and thinking this place didn’t seem so bad. I actually had hope.
Since most females were a bit older, when I walked in people noticed (or at least that was my perception). I remember the guys staring at me but I was too afraid to look or do anything. I went directly to the main office where senior staff searched me and began the intake process. I had a bunch of NA and AA books from my time in a Florida rehab, but everything besides a bible and my journal (pens too) were taken.
We couldn’t listen to music (until a certain point in the program and it had to be a Christian artist) or do anything really besides what they told us to and when. I remember being pissed but I went along with it anyway. My dad was able to stay while this went down. I remember when he left. We hug goodbye and I’m officially a resident. It was sad to see him go because it made everything that much more real. I make my way upstairs to pick a bed and unpack. I walk up a bunch of stairs and find a rather large room with bunk beds spread throughout including a connected bathroom (one toilet, one sink, one shower).
At first, I hated it.
It really was a hard adjustment. We had no personal space. Well, we each had a few cubbies and drawers but you know what I mean. I got the bottom bunk and my zone wasn’t half bad. In fact, I thought it was one of the better spots. Ironically, it just worked out that way since they actually selected my bed and area for me. I was in the far right corner by a pretty window. My view was the front yard with this beautiful weeping willow tree directly in my line of vision. They were everywhere. I loved that. I remember at night, if I couldn’t sleep, I’d move feet to head and just stare at the moon that shined directly into the glass.
I remember writing a letter to my mom telling her if she didn’t come pick me up, I was literally going to kill myself. I, of course, was being a bit overdramatic. I believe my mom used the word drama queen, but I was desperate. I felt trapped. I mean we couldn’t leave the property. The house itself was beautiful. It reminded me of a southern plantation —colonial style with large white pillars and a huge yard where we’d play card games, perform outside chores, smoke cigarettes and do our morning exercise.
We only left on Sundays for church. This was not okay (I remember thinking at the time). I recall senior staff calling me to the office. Guess what? My mom called them as soon as she received that letter a few days after my arrival. They sit me down where I explain that I was exaggerating and I was not going to harm myself —that was so two days ago.
After we talk it out, I vowed to make the best of my time here, and I did, but it was tough.
The truth was, even then, I somehow still wanted to get high. I wanted to leave, but I had nowhere to go. It was May 20, 2012. I had been there for four days now. It was 8:30 a.m. Luckily, the house wakes up a little later on Sundays (a.k.a. church day, a.k.a. the day of rest —normal wake up is 7:00 a.m.). Oh, it just so happened to be my first day off grace.
Every new resident has a three-day leeway where you’re exempt from normal responsibilities —known as the grace period. This way you have some time to get adjusted to the new schedule. Except, mine was now over.
And so, I had to do chores just like everybody else.
The chores ranged from sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting certain rooms to garbage and organization. Each day, you received a different chore. Today was KP —a.k.a. kitchen prep with Liz. For every meal, KP for that day had to head down to the kitchen 15 minutes prior to clean and dry any leftover silverware, plates, and cups in preparation for the upcoming meal.
I remember making my way from the upstairs (where the rooms were) to the downstairs area where a large living room with two couches laid separating the devotional room, foyer and where we ate. The dining room itself had two large tables (one for the boys and one for the girls). If you were facing the mess hall’s front door, the main office was directly behind those tables. We’d use that office for meetings as well as our canteen.
If you wanted a snack, a drink or your morning cup of joe, you’d get in line at the entrance of that office and wait for a staff member to collect your $.75.
You were able to buy those items before and after every meal. Now, still in the dining hall, there was a serving line where each gender would be called by section to come up and collect our food from the chef assigned that day. We’d say a prayer before each meal and we’d even have to go around and share a scripture that spoke to us at that moment. Behind the serving line was the actual kitchen. And then behind the kitchen was a small room with two large sinks and a drying station —a.k.a. the KP room.
There weren’t any dishwashers, which is why this chore existed. Now during each meal, we could only talk to the members of our sex. We had some secret moments with the guys but for the most part, we girls kept to ourselves. When I first got there, it was mostly guys —literally a 30 to five ratio. As time went on, more girls closer to my age arrived. But at this point, I was the youngest gal there. The other ladies ranged from about 30-45 years-old.
After we’d eat, everyone would have a few minutes to smoke their cigarettes, read, or relax a bit before morning chores.
After chores we had class then we’d break for lunch and have more chores. After that, we’d shower and relax a bit until dinner. Post dinner, on a normal day, we’d have an hour to read our bibles and smoke more cigarettes before some type of church service in the devotional room.
We’d start with some praise and worship (headed by the TCs) and then get into the teaching for that specific setting. It was pretty cool because different local educators, pastures or spiritual mentors would come over to teach and speak at the nightly service as well as classes during the day. There were a lot of different personalities and I definitely learned a bunch as well.
Anyway, back to right now.
So it’s post-lunch on my first official day off grace. If you were KP, like I was, you stayed to manually wash and dry all of the dishes used at that meal (for all three meals then the next day, another couple would be assigned —normally chores are done individually but KP required two people).
Once we made sure everything was, in fact, clean and dry (I was usually the dryer), we’d call the maintenance guy (resident inspector for the day) to come check us out. Pending every last drop of water was dried, we’d be approved and could relax until classes started. The resident inspector for that day would also have to examine everyone else’s chores to make sure they were done properly too. And boy were they sticklers.
I say this because even if there was a miniature droplet of H2O, the inspector would make us reclean everything over again, which if you couldn’t have guessed, was not a good thing.
You’d also get written up for not doing your job correctly. Normally, they were pretty lax but if you caught someone on a bad day, chances are, they’d unconsciously take their anger out on you. Luckily, that rarely happened because I was pretty OCD about drying. And, everyone there, at the time, was pretty cool.
Liz (a 30-something brunette from Georgia) and I had bonded pretty fast. I felt a special connection with her because we have similar stories. I remember her making this place actually bearable because she’d always make me laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine and she always had a funny one-liner.
Since Sundays are different than the regular schedule, it was nice to dress up and leave the house. I get bored pretty easily, which was honestly why I relapsed, to begin with. They say when you get off grace, you’ll have less free time, therefore, you’ll be less bored. I remember thinking, I just don’t know.
I needed some excitement though. If I couldn’t do drugs anymore, I needed something.
I remember wishing I could at least talk to the boys but that wasn’t happening. I will say that you can say a lot without actually speaking —eye flirting is a thing, people and I was about to learn that. Luckily, I had just bonded with another gal; Liz’s best friend, Dana. Dana was in her late 30s, a petite yoga instructor with two adorable kids. I remember thinking how awesome these ladies were. Maybe I can get through it.
At church that Sunday, we got to sing with the band on stage. It was more like a rock concert than a service, which I really enjoyed. It actually kept my attention and I was excited to return next week. You see, each Sunday, we’d rotate between five or six churches that ranged in denomination. We’d go to a few Pentecostal ones that were always a good time (holy spirit fire, anyone?) Then there was the Baptist one, which was a little more stuffy and my last pick.
The more inspiring and relatable were the non-denominational churches (like the rock concert that day), which happened to be my favorite.
Except, I’d have to wait another week before we jammed out again. Church was over. When we get back a little after 1:00 p.m., I was on KP duty for lunch. There are no chores on Sundays besides the ones that dealt with food, which of course was me. Liz and I definitely made the best of it though. I remember us talking. I remember her making me laugh yet again. She called everything crusty and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. I was feeling more and more comfortable.
I mean, I wanted to find my version of God and sober serenity, which I never had before. Except, I knew it was a process. Nothing was going to happen overnight. And so, I remember praying to God asking him to give me a sign that this was where I was supposed to be. I mean clearly what I was doing before was not working, but there were times when I thought about running away. One part of me wanted to say fuck it, get high, and not care if I died along the way. And the other (the smaller part) needed to stay here and learn how to live without drugs.
I know it sounds awful, but at the time, I couldn’t help it.
I remember writing this all down. I remember saying how free I’d feel if I just left. I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone. Yeah, I’d miss my family, and I’d throw away all of my great potential, but man I just love getting high. I really don’t know what to do. It sounds insane —absolute insanity, but it’s how I feel. I know that’s not living. So I will stick it out. I just hope I can make it.
I want to make my family proud. I want to make myself proud. All I can do is try. They say I haven’t complained once, which makes me smile. I guess the other newbies did. I guess I was doing something right. I remember thinking how messed up in the head I was. I mean, it was a constant up and down —extreme highs and extreme lows. I remember wishing I was someone else. I hated myself. I hated that I loved being a drug addict, a dealer, the fast life.
I hated that I loved it so much.
After everything, from being held up at gunpoint, robbed, beaten, stealing from loved ones, lying to everyone, getting raped, getting kidnapped, detoxing, relapsing, and getting kicked out of my halfway house to IOP, losing friends and eventually losing myself, I didn’t understand how I still longed for that rush.
The adventure of picking up, the getting high with my buddies or even using alone; it’s just the feeling I’d get after shooting blues, Dilaudid, or heroin up felt like the answer to all of my problems. Whether I was smoking, snorting or shooting them, nothing else mattered. I felt so fucking good. I miss it. I wanted it right then and there. I wanted it all the time.
And so, I asked God to please help me remove this obsession. I am begging you. I want to want it, and I do, but then again I don’t.
It makes no sense, I know. I literally sound like a nut. It was just so hard and I felt like no one understood because I didn’t even fully get it myself. After all the misery it’s costed me, all the pain to my family, the places it led me too, the people I’ve met, and yet I still somehow crave it?
I’m not saying I’m going to go off and get high or at least not right now. I am going to give this place a chance. I just hope I don’t get fat. I want to be that gangster girl I used to be, but here I am, a Jew at a Jesus camp.
And then, I found a scripture that spoke to my soul (Romans 7:15). It literally sent my spirit on fire.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. I hate what I do but I still do it. And even though, I do what I do, I do not want to do it. I agree that the law is good. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For if I do what I do not want to do, I know it is no longer I who does it, but rather, sin living in me.
I couldn’t believe it. That right there summed everything I was going through up in a few short sentences. And so, I began to take God’s word more seriously. I’d pick up my recovery bible. I’d ask God to talk to me by opening to a random page and every single time, that exact verse that I randomly would land on, would be the very thing I was dealing with at that very moment. Some may call that irony, others a coincidence but I called it faith.
Because after that, even more, unexpected things started to happen.
Finding My Place
I remember praying to God (again) telling him that if I was meant to be here, send me someone from my past to keep me company during the next few months. I kid you not. A few hours later, I get called into the office.
The head guy says to me, “Macey, do you know a girl named Paige? Our records indicate that she’s from your hometown and we cannot have people who have used together in the same house.”
I was stunned. Did God just answer my prayer?
I laugh and proceed to tell him what I had prayed for. He was just as stunned. We sat there for a few minutes laughing. I explain that I knew Paige and we had used together —so they send her to another center in Alabama.
Since it was still Sunday and still our free day, after Liz and I get checked out of KP (which happened directly before my visit to the office), we were able to hang out, chill. And so, we talk some more. The girls only had one room since there were way more boys (they had about 6 rooms with 5 in each). Our room was pretty large (the biggest one actually). Each set of bunk beds laid in the corner of the room and then along each of the sides. So the middle of the floor was completely open. We’d normally all gather in the center for some girl talk.
Liz then asks me if there were any boys I had my eye on.
We both talk about our type and who we were dating prior to coming here. I had dated that boy Nate who asked me out a day after we met. Remember, he was an addict and eventually, we both became homeless. I was a little embarrassed to share this and some other things about myself but there was no reason to be.
These ladies had gone through similar scenarios so I was in good company. We then exchange crushes a.k.a. who we thought was cute in the house. We both knew nothing would ever come of it but it was fun to talk about nonetheless. The funniest thing though, the guy I had my eye one, looked like the twin of my first boyfriend from high school a.k.a. my first love. I kid you not. Ironically, most of the guys were around my age and either from New Jersey or Tennesee.
I remember thinking that it sucks I can’t even get to know this kid or any of the guys on a friendship level.
I remember secretly wishing he’d write me a note or something. In fact, I may have even prayed for it. I know I’m not supposed to be thinking about that, but without drugs, my mind needed something to think about. I remember writing myself a letter saying, I’d see what happened. I hoped something; just knowing that he thought I was cute would have been good enough. So until then, I’d eye flirt and play it cool.
And I think he eye flirted back. There were a few times, during chores that we had no choice but to cross paths and make eye contact. I remember him staring at me a little longer than three seconds. I think it made me blush. But on that day, I kept those thoughts to myself.
And so, later that Sunday afternoon, we end up going outside to play some card game called apples to apples.
While we were fiddling, I remember thinking to myself that I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could change so much. Except, I can’t. I couldn’t. I can only better my future self. And I hoped that was enough to save me. The days go by and everything was pretty much the same. The days went by slow but the weeks went by fast.
On some occasions, I’d get so sick of this place. I had my moments. All of the stupid rules, like why can’t I wear anything besides an XXL jersey for men? I remember thinking, it’s like they want us to be fat and ugly. I thought some of them picked on me because I wasn’t. In short, it was annoying.
But then, I’d get a letter from my family, and something would flip.
They gave me hope. They reassured me that I wasn’t, in fact, missing out on anything. They were doing the same shit they always did and this was my time to work on myself. They say there’s a season for everything under the sun. And this was my time of rest.
This was my time to get better. I needed to change the way I saw myself. I needed to reevaluate my priorities. I didn’t (and still don’t) need tangible objects to feel good. I was always judging myself based on whether or not I was alone. I had to learn that being alone isn’t so bad. I had to learn to love the girl I had become and work toward the girl I was always meant to be. I was stuck somewhere between try harder and why bother.
Until I realized that sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, is where you find yourself.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.