Retreat helps fill recovering addicts with sense of hope
By MICHAEL WOJCIK
STIRLING - At age 41, Scott finally feels sick and tired - a deep disgust that suggests that this Passaic County resident wants to kick years of smoking "crack" cocaine and using other drugs. A clearer-thinking Scott says he finally wants to break this suffocating addiction that led him to four prison sentences.
On the weekend of March 3-5, Scott (last name withheld) felt the shackles of the drug addiction loosen during a retreat with 20 other male clients in treatment and recovery at Straight & Narrow, an agency of diocesan Catholic Charities in Paterson. Scott said he opened up more to God at the retreat, conducted in the comforts of Trinity House of the Shrine of St. Joseph in peaceful, bucolic Stirling.
"God always had His hand on me, sparing me [from the perils of addiction]," said Scott, a Straight & Narrow client for the five months. Following his latest stint in a county jail last year, he now feels inspired to pursue his passion - art. "God has started to work in my life. I learned to let God direct my path," he said.
On a sunny Saturday morning, Scott and his fellow retreatents - also recovering from alcohol and drug abuse - piled into a meeting room to absorb the insights of retreat director, Ron Reinhart. Sporting a bushy white beard and shoulder-length hair, the 63-year-old Reinhart reached the depths of addiction like these men, before entering recovery. He shared his hard-won story, which illuminated a few of the "12 steps" of recovery by Alcohol Anonymous. Among them are the importance of believing in a "higher power" and of taking a daily personal "inventory" of your life.
"God's doing for us what we can't do for ourselves [- giving us strength to pursue our recovery]," said Reinhart, a Cenacle Missionary volunteer, who lives at Trinity House with wife Dolly and together have been conducting retreats for recovering Straight & Narrow clients every other month, since last June. "We must take inventory of our lives, asking questions like 'Did I hurt somebody today?' and 'What corrective measures can I take to do things better?' "
Recovering addicts should "start thinking about how to serve people by doing things with love." They need to ask God's forgiveness and ask Him for the inspiration to become His conscience, Reinhart said.
"Ask God to direct your thinking against dishonest or selfish actions," said Reinhart, a lapsed Catholic, who returned to the Church after sobering up 23 years ago. "Pray and meditate only for God's knowledge and will and ways to carry those out," he said.
During the retreat, Straight & Narrow clients also have many avenues to get closer to God through time for fellowship and recreation, additional talks and video presentations. Retreatents visited nearby Raptor Trust, which cares for birds of prey, and the Great Swamp "to see God at work in nature." They listened to talks by people, who may have not suffered addiction, but other troubles in life, such as layoffs, financial crises or failed marriages, Reinhart said.
"These presenters give witness to broken lives and to the fact that we all have problems," said Reinhart, who noted that the retreats - held alternately for male and female Straight & Narrow clients - are made possible by the great generosity of the faithful of the Shrine of St. Joseph, who even cook meals for the retreatents, and other faithful connected to the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, which operates the shrine. "Having a relationship with God will help the clients be able to recover from this seemingly hopeless state of addiction," he said.
Also working on these retreats has been Brother Joe Dudek, who first met the Reinhart years ago, while serving in a shelter in Cleveland that retreat director had founded. Brother Dudek encouraged Reinhart to direct retreats for recovering addicts in Alabama, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. He offered to conduct these retreats free of charge to Straight & Narrow, noted Reinhart.
"These retreats point clients in the direction of God, Whom they go and seek in their own way," said Reinhart, who emphasized that the retreats, which also will be held on the weekends of May 27-29, June 29-31, Sept. 9-11 and Nov. 4-6, do not openly evangelize Catholicism and are open to Straight & Narrow clients of all faiths and backgrounds.
During these retreats, Reinhart shares his difficult story of addiction, which this Ohio native credits for destroying his first two marriages. He drank and smoked marijuana at a young age and later graduated to cocaine, heroin, and "crack" cocaine, which led to a prison sentence. But after his 40th birthday, he decided to seek help. He spent 18 months in a detoxification program at Talbot Inn, a Catholic-run center in Cleveland, which he eventually would direct. He recently retired from a career, running recovery programs.
"Clients come back from the retreats energized," said Msgr. Louis Bihr, Straight & Narrow's pastoral care director, who also said he is a recovering alcoholic. "Clients get some time away from Straight & Narrow in the peace, quiet and serenity of Stirling and to get in tune with God, which gives them hope."
Another Straight & Narrow client enlightened by last weekend's retreat, 21-year-old Matt, also of Passaic County, said he also started feeling closer to God. He used cocaine, ecstasy and "crack" cocaine, which led him to skip his college classes, ignore friends and family and get arrested for possession and distribution.
"Getting high all night in my room, was no fun anymore," said Matt, who now dreams of starting his own landscaping business. "God has proven that He's been there for me in so many ways. Now I am leaning on Him [during his recovery]."