alcohol, alcoholism, chief Administrator, denials, donations, emotional abuse, erradication of disease, evil, guilt, Hampton Roads, justification, loading dock, material donations, Pastor, physical abuse, Rescue Mission, resentments, Salvation Army, Salvation Army Major, sex abuse, spiritually, surprise inspection, telephone operator
(Instead of Hell Bent, I became Heaven Bound)
I checked in, got a picture/name badge, a list of the rules, a haircut, shower shave and a dorm assignment to a room with five other men. This place was the Ritz Carlton compared to the Rescue Mission. I had a very nice lunch in a very large cafeteria-style dining hall. Men who were working at the store and docks next door came in for lunch. It was quite a crowd. The Center population hovered between 118-125 the entire time I was there.
I was given the day off because to start in the middle of the day would disrupt the general work routine. Plus, God knew that I needed as much time as was wise and efficient to decompress. Being thrust straight from the street into the hard, hot environment of a five-bay loading dock might very well have given me the bends. 24 hours is what they gave, and 24 hours is what I took: gladly and without complaint.
I collapsed on my cot, and except for supper and a required meeting, I slept until it was time to get up for work the next morning. After a good breakfast, the General Foreman read a list of new men and gave them their assigned work details. I was assigned to the Loading Dock.
The Chief Administrator and Pastor, a Salvation Army Major stood. He was tall and rotund. He reminded me a little of Teddy Roosevelt. He made some general announcements, gave a brief homily, led us in prayer and dismissed us for work.we left the hall single-file as the general Foreman checked each of us to make sure we were clean shaven. The checking us out bit turned out not to be a daily even. I was performed on a “surprise inspection” basis.
The loading dock was hot, sweaty, dirty, smelly and hard hard work. This one center, by itself, served all the material donations for the entire, 7 city, metropolitan Hampton Roads area and three outlying cities, and two counties — a population approaching 2.5 million. At peak efficiency they ran 7 large trucks — radio dispatched — 10 hours a day. On a typical morning, the men could arrive to work on the dock to find 3 trucks already waiting to be unloaded. Items donated ranged in size and weight from bags of clothes and children’s to home exercise equipment with heavy weights, to ling size beds and pianos — stoves and refrigerators.
10 to 15 men would congregate at the edge of the dock waiting for the truck to be opened. Once open, they would move like industrious ants quickly in and out of the truck, carrying items to be piled in segregated locations on the dock — clothes there, books here, etc. The pile of clothes could reach unbelievably mountainous proportions.
I won’t go into all the work details and my experiences as a worker with the Salvation Army. That would require half a book by itself. I will say that I went from dock worker to clothes hanger to telephone operator scheduling and detailing donations within three months of my arrival. When I left at the end of thirteen months, I was highly regarded by all at the center as a hard, intelligent, and committed worker.
The real story of what happened to me was what it did for me spiritually. The real story is one of the eradication of disease and the rekindling of faith.
I had known for 15 years or more that I was an alcoholic. My father denied it when I tried to talk to him about it, but it was the fact of the matter. It was the cause for everything that was ruinous in my life. It was the sole or dependent cause in every instance of personal disaster to which I can point. At one point, as a very young man, I had great potential to perform wonderful things. My abuse of and addiction to alcohol killed all that potential as dead as yesterday’s news.
Sure, there were other factors. I was emotionally/physically abused and morally corrupted in pre-puberty by my sister. I was sexually abused by a male teacher, whom I idolized, when I was just 14. I was forced by an emotionally absent and nearly physically absent father into a work lifestyle which I abhorred and went against the very fiber of my being. I had no active and present male role-model.
Pretty big deal? Yeah maybe, but SO WHAT? These things were only the reasons I began to drink. They were in no way excuses. And even more so, they were no excuses for me to continue to drink long after the evidence of personal destruction began to pile up.
I have done and said some pretty evil fucking things either while drunk or under the iron control of alcohol’s indirect influence. Every time I got drunk, it was me and me alone that put the glass or bottle to my lips and turned it up. There was no gun at the back of my head forcing me to drink. The guilt I felt at my own responsibility was overwhelming and I used that guilt to drink more and more and more. and, more and more. It wasn’t long before I was drowning. Justification after justification, and resentment after resentment piled one on top of the other to build a self-constructed Mountain of Hell.
All resentments, denials, and justification were stripped away. Now, it was just me and booze face to face. It was killing me. I was addicted to it body and soul. I poured another glass full. Satan laughed.
Now, almost exactly five years later, it seems like that last beer before going into the Salvation Army has been an eternity and it seems like it was just yesterday. Then I think,
Hey Ham! Five years is five years — neither more nor less. You can’t make time move to the dictates of your own will. A minute will always be 60 seconds no matter how you try to compress or stretch it. Yesterday was yesterday. Today is today. let’s not worry about tomorrow.