By: Anthony Acampora
“We live life forward, and we understand it backwards.”
This saying resonates with me on many levels. How I relate has everything to do with going through tremendous suffering as a result of being unable or unwilling to forgive those who I thought were the cause of the suffering. This horrendous period of torment made absolutely no sense to me while going through it, but now, looking back, it makes perfect sense. Today I pull from those experiences daily to encourage those who are currently in emotional pain and in great need of hope.
For the past four years, I have been blessed to be the Director and Chaplain in the Faith in Recovery program at Banyan Treatment Centers. This is a non-denominational Christ-centered faith-based substance and alcohol abuse program. Our patients come from all over the country; some grew up in the church and fell away as a result of addiction, others never stepped foot in a church. We meet every patient right where they are at on their spiritual journey, even if they do not have a spiritual journey.
My previous career as director of corporate security was to have employees fired, arrested, or both. The euphoria from my professional achievements was always short-lived and with these being my main objectives, having a heart got in the way of my mission. I became desensitized to human suffering and pushed forward with the task at hand. What is so amazing is my job now consists of the exact opposite. Instead of taking part in the process that is destroying lives, I am taking part in this incredible process of restoring lives.
I can truly say that I would take the latter over the former every time. Gone are the bonuses, six figure salary, titles, large budgets, and the travel around the country. The superficial things I once strived for have taken a backseat to things that are much more valuable: a heart and a deep compassion for those suffering with similar issues that I experienced. There is no comparison to watching someone who comes in completely hopeless and shortly after witness the genuine transformation of their heart.
The judgment or condemnation they experienced in the past is not part of our program. Too many patients have shared feelings of guilt, shame, and judgment at their church growing up. As soon as they were no longer forced to go, they stop going. I related to their stories because this was my experience as well, with the same outcome. The sad part is that guilt, shame, and condemnations are in complete contrast of the teachings of Christ. Somewhere along the last 2,000 years, the Church did not get the memo. It is not surprising that patients come in with a distorted view of God and anything associated with Him. Our goal is to break through those distortions and provide them with the truth. The truth we stand on in our Faith in Recovery program at Banyan is the Word of God. Our patients do not just hear about this they now embark on the process of applying Biblical truths to their lives, and they begin to change for the better. They learn how to forgive by practicing forgiveness. They begin the process of overcoming anger issues by practicing self-control and patience. We start with the small stuff and build up to the deeper issues. The reality is you cannot force someone into religion or believing in God. What is interesting is God did not force us into believing as He gave us the gift of free will. Our patients come in with tremendous guilt and shame already, the last thing they need is us pouring more on them. Patients with addictions and mental health disorders need to know that they have value and worth. They need compassion and a listening ear. We focus on the person they are becoming, not the person they were in active addiction.
One of the best parts of my job is to bring in my pit bull, Luke, a certified therapy dog. Our patients absolutely love him, and the feeling is obviously mutual. They wrestle, hug, cuddle, and run around with him. When someone starts to cry in group, he is immediately right there with his paw on their knee and head on their chest. Sometimes I do not know who enjoys it more: the patients, Luke, or I watching this heartwarming interaction take place. What is so powerful is the fact that he does not hold any resentment toward people even-though he was treated horribly prior to being rescued. He was able to forgive and move on to an incredible life of providing encouragement and comfort to people who desperately need it. Luke is a shining example of tests being turn into testimony.
Another focus in our program is transparency. Our patients are encouraged to open up about past suffering. This can only occur in an environment of trust and healing. We approach addiction as the tip of the iceberg; the majority of what patients need to deal with is underneath the surface. The setting must be compassionate not judgmental; otherwise, it is much more difficult to get them to open up. After completing our program, numerous female patients have thanked me, saying they have never felt comfortable enough to share what they did in other environments. We also dedicate time to help restore broken relationships with our patients’ families. In many cases, trust has been shattered and, as we know, hurt people hurt people. The people who bear the brunt of the pain are the ones closest to the person in active addiction. They also tend to be the ones who take the most time to heal from the deep wounds. Distant and broken relationships are often restored, and the trust returns in time so there is still hope in any and every situation.
Another key component to faith programming is the camaraderie and connections developed with members of the local church at celebrate recovery meetings, Christian concerts, etc. Most of our patients remain local after completing treatment, which allows them to have a built-in support system as they continue what they have been doing while in the program. It is a much smoother transition than trying to start from scratch. The approach we take in our faith-based program is that those who are suffering with mental health disorders or addiction are not problem people they are people with problems. We see who they truly are in this program not who they became in the mist of their pain and despair. When in a dark place, a little light can make a huge difference. Our goal is to be a light for our patients.
Anthony Acampora is the Faith in Recovery Program Director and Chaplain at Banyan Treatment Centers. He is a published author, writer and speaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree in ministry from Vision International University and received an Advanced Diploma in Biblical Studies from the Int’l School of Ministry. He is a former board member of the Henderson Behavioral Health, FACT and the National Alliance Mental Illness, Broward County. In 2019 Anthony was selected “Professional of the Year” by: Broward National Recovery Month Organization. In 2018 he was selected as Global Goodwill Ambassador representing the USA. In 2015 he received the “Volunteer Recognition Award” from National Alliance Mental Illness, Broward County. In 2014, he was selected “Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers, Broward County. He is the host of the Faith in Recovery Show.
All other photos courtesy of Anthony Acampora