On Friday, the men of Guiding Light Recovery sat down together in the chapel of our Heartside facility for their weekly house meeting. This is a time for the men enrolled in our four-month program to discuss their week and to voice any concerns they have with staff or each other.
It is a time for group discussion about why they are here, what are they doing with their lives, and what they want to get out of their time here at Guiding Light. Today’s topic of discussion was on the concept of transformation.
At the beginning of the meeting, Program Director Brian Elve passed around copies of an excerpt from the book A Shift in Being by Leon Vanderpol. The excerpt was titled A Lesson from the Caterpillar and details the process of how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It is not so much through a natural process, but rather through a very deliberate decision on the caterpillar’s part that it decides to spin itself into a chrysalis and go through a very real process of death and emergence. The reading details how “wrapped in the cocoon, the caterpillar’s body decays and disintegrates into a blob of primordial goo, a nutrient-rich stew of death cells. Then one day something remarkable happens: in the midst of the puddle of decaying ooze, a new cell pops up.” This new cell, called an imaginal cell, is mistaken by the immune system of the dying caterpillar to be a foreign body and is killed. However, as more and more imaginal cells pop up, they overwhelm what used to be the caterpillar and become the building blocks for what will ultimately become a butterfly.
“I’ve had the pleasure of reading this several times and it talks about how in our human transformation, there is a process of death and emergence.” Brian said. “The author asks the question ‘what is dying?’ for humans. Obviously, there is the very real sense of death and the dying of our body and mind. But then there is the layer of our ego-based self-concept which no longer reflects the truth of who we are. This is the unraveling of the ego’s grip on the mind, the stripping away of all that is not reflective of the ‘I’ at the core of our being. The dissolution of our sense of separate existence.” Brian always seems to have a way of tying abstract and esoteric philosophical concepts to a client’s immediate predicament, namely, getting sober. “When you look at it that way…there is this idea that once you know you are an addict or an alcoholic you have a responsibility to do something about it. We tend to spend a lot of our time here talking about ‘what is my true self?’ Well, we can certainly surmise that this “true self” doesn’t show up when you’re drunk. So, when we say something about our ego dying to the fact that we are addicts and alcoholics, that’s the beginning of the process.”
The group discussed the philosophical implications and parallels of the journey of transformation they were themselves on, and that of the caterpillar deciding to become a butterfly. “It does feel sometimes like a part of me is dying, but there is also this part of me that is being reborn,” said one client. Another man recounted the chain of events that led him to Guiding Light: “Personally, I had to almost die several times to actually get it through my head that I had to come here and change my life. For 30 years I never wanted to let go of anything and nothing changed. You know, I finally did have to surrender and give up. I’m learning here that I have to let go of my old self…to make that whole transformation and get rid of that person. We have to die because we are reborn again.” The process of letting go of decades of addiction-based learned behavior and letting a very real part of your self “die” is one of the hardest parts of getting sober. The internal resistance to change one faces is analogous to the way that the caterpillar’s immune system resists the imaginal cells that transform it into a butterfly. At Guiding Light, we recognize how difficult it can be for a man struggling with substance abuse addiction to change, but also know how much hope there is when they are given the tools and support to do so.
“So here…you’re all sober…what have you realized you are letting go of that represents letting go of this old self?” Brian asked. “What I hear the author saying is that there is going to be a lot of resistance…because we are so familiar with what it is like to be the caterpillar. So, if you are in this group, and you think you’re going to be the butterfly at the end of your four months here, you probably ain’t hearin’ us real clear. This isn’t so much about becoming a butterfly as it is about our resistance to even approaching change at all. Human beings do not want to get into any form of chrysalis. And the closer our ego gets to making that change the more resistance it will put up.”
As a former client of Guiding Light Recovery myself, I can tell the reader from experience that it is in small, intimate, and informal philosophical discussions like this that the real work and change of this program occurs. It is, in my opinion, what sets Guiding Light apart from other substance abuse treatment programs. Many men arrive here as a last resort after unsuccessfully attempting to get sober through a myriad of differing means and methods. Since we are a program that comes free of any financial cost to our clients, one would not be remiss to be skeptical of our relatively high success rates (78% of clients achieve a year of sobriety or longer.) Especially since many similar substance-abuse treatment programs often cost tens of thousands of dollars to attend. But the very fact that we have no financial incentive to keep men enrolled here is a key to our success. The only incentive we have is to help men to become the best versions of themselves and to rise up to their God-given potential. We are not a profit-seeking endeavour, we only seek to give those in our community in need the means to lift themselves up. In the parlance of Jesus Christ’s teachings, we seek to teach men how to fish.
The only real cost for men to become accepted in the Guiding Light Recovery program is their willingness to change and commitment to living a different way. Our clients have access to professional and holistic treatment and care from therapists, spiritual directors, and life coaches. It costs roughly $300 a day to house, feed, and teach one client how a life in sobriety is possible, and we could not do it without you. You are the reason we see miracles happen here every day. It truly is a miracle that a man can come here seeking shelter, often at the darkest time of his life, and find light in the form of God’s love. From all of us at Guiding Light, clients and staff alike, thank you so much for all that you do, and God bless.
THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST HAS BECOME A NEW PERSON. THE OLD LIFE IS GONE; A NEW LIFE HAS BEGUN!
2 CORINTHIANS 5:17