Tag Archives: veterans

In Recovery:  Part 4 – VA Program

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt. 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St Pt. I
Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center, across from the VA Treatment Program
Jamaica Plain VA

VA Treatment Begins

On October 17th 2016, I was released from jail and brought directly to a VA Treatment Program called Sarrtp. It stands for Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Program, in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts. SARRTP is just one of the many Mental Health Recovery and Rehabilitation Programs the VA offers. It is the first time that I had entered any real recovery program of substance in my entire life.

SARRTP set up in a double-wide trailer across from the VA hospital you see in the above picture. It was intimidating to me; the tight quarters were uncomfortable to me. Spending time in my room was really the only solace I had early on in this program.

Me – November 2016

I’ve always been kind of a loner, contrary to the drunk Rob who is loud and aggressive. I certainly am not accustomed to this type of fairly restrictive environment as it seemed like many of the residents were. The program requires that you stay on the campus for the first 30 days, and then you are only allowed to venture off campus on a few hours pass.

The Rigors of Group Therapy

The rigors of this group-intensive program were apparent from the jump. There would be no hiding in the corner, no one-sentence responses; they expected you to participate early and often. Our days were chock-full of classes, health appointments–as many of you who were addicts of one substance or another can attest, our health is usually ignored for long periods of time–meetings with social workers and therapists, and the like.

And so, I was also not prepared for group therapy. Having been to many therapists over my lifetime, but I had never been involved in such intensive group therapy. And, quite frankly, listening to some of my fellow Veterans in this VA Treatment Program droned on about their woes was sometimes difficult for me to engage in regularly. More than a few seemed to have difficulty expressing just what the hell was going on. I worked on my patience for them as much as I could muster.

I know that sounds terrible, but I am a fish out of water when it comes to close social combat; at getting to know people. In between classes, and in the evening downtime at the trailer, I keep to myself.

With no money and no phone until November, I began justruminating.blog, a blog which I decided early on to be about VA Recovery Treatment, and to feature the poetry I had been writing off and on since 1983.

VA Treatment Is Unsettling
VA Treatment at Jamaica Plain
Jamaica Plain VAMC

As is usual in my life, folks early on passed judgement on me before I had a chance to get comfortable enough to be who I truly am. More than one resident (and staff member) related that I was abrasive and self-centered, and thought I was too good for the group on the whole, just because I didn’t want to hang around the t.v. room all night, sharing war stories and wasting time. Or not.

But, and interestingly, I will note that early on I decided that I would not watch t.v. at all. Except for the Presidential Debate in 2016 and football, I successfully avoided t.v. right up until I actually moved to Colorado in early 2018. Small talk is nothing I hate, and there is no shortage of that in VA treatment. Socializing about the good ole days of drinking was not my bag.

As a result, I made no friends for the entire three months I was there. And I was ok with that. As a matter of fact, I did not make any close friends for the entire time I was in VA Treatment, from October 2016, until November of 2017. Without booze to amplify my attitude, I was fairly inept socially.

Writing To The Rescue

However, in my defense, I was there to work on my recovery, not spend time wasting away in the social milieu that seemed to exist in the halls of recovery at all the VAs. In retrospect, I did a lot of isolating and social distancing before it became the 2020 norm!

Right from day one I started a journal, but only kept at it for about 10 days. That was typical of me: I would begin projects with vim-and-vigor, but usually I would abandon such projects out of boredom, or the fortitude they required to sustain them; however, I did plug into blogging as a way of journaling, so there’s that.

The First Days In VA Treatment

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I started this blog exactly 7 days after I arrived at SARRTP. Here is my very first post on my recovery! I decided very early on that I would chronicle my recovery journey-and the life that led me there-in brutally honest fashion. And I did just that, quite intensely, until around March of 2017.

So, I pretty much walked away from blogging full-time in March, as I had tried to do too much, and my purpose for the blog got inadvertently shifted to being more worried about how many likes and comments I was getting, than my original purpose. Although I wrote a few scattered posts in 2017 and 2018, I would not return to daily writing until September of this year.

VA Treatment Room
VA Treatment Meeting

And the same thing happened after my dedication to fitness, which lasted until the November cold crept it’s way into New England. After that, I wouldn’t work out again, ever. When I finally was able to buy a phone in November, I also got caught up in photography, and I spent countless hours manipulating media and posting the end results on my blog and social media.

Recovery Floodgates Open Wide

I did, however, embrace my new found freedom, and many of the concepts that SARRTP was introducing to me. I realized very early, that to make the most of the opportunity I was given by the VA, I had to take recovery seriously.

Also, I recognized very early, that participating in all the classes and therapy, everyone trying to figure out a proper diagnosis for me, was taking an emotional toll; especially when some of my fellow Veterans in VA treatment, would really go deep on what their issues were, and how they used to overcome tremendous emotional hardships. I had to try everything in my power to make difficult changes to the ways I acted and thought. And I had to immerse myself fully in the experience if I was to stay sober and grow as an individual.

But, dear reader, it ends up being much more difficult than I had ever imagined. For, it was one thing to be sober in jail, and a far different story when interacting with so many different types of folks, and on so many levels so often. My main issues would prove to be my emotions, my impulsivity, and my lack of social awareness. I needed to get my priorities straight if I wanted to “graduate” to the next program that the VA offered. Not only did I want this, I needed it!

In Recovery:  Part 3 – Reality Check

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt. 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St Pt. I
Plymouth County Correctional Facility Accommodations

About 3 months into my incarceration, I learned there was a Veterans Service Officer in the jail; someone who specifically works with Veterans within the facility. It was mid-August, and I had begun to take stock in my situation. Except for a few boxes, all of my belongings were gone. I was no longer employed. I had no savings. I had nowhere to live once I was released from jail. Alcohol had brought me to my knees.

Jamaica Plain VA

I met with the VSO sometime in late August. He told me that there was a program I might be able to transition to at the VA; but I had to be committed to sobriety. I had to also meet with a representative from the VA, in order for them to assess my eligibility. Dare I say that I was, at this point, hopeful? August was a month of reality checks for me. The toughest one? That I had become powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. It was the first time in my life that I realized that, every time I picked up a drink, it was always followed by many others. I finally accepted that I could no longer drink.

This reality set much deeper inside my world after meeting with the representative from the VA. During that grueling 3 hour ordeal, I told the story of my life. He wanted details. So many details. The walk back to my cell was a dizzying one. I had never had to express so thoroughly, the many traumatic and tragic events of my life to anyone. The VA representative wasn’t even sure that I would be eligible for the program. It took several weeks before I heard back.

In the meantime, jail was starting to take its toll. Although I had taken a job in the kitchen–one of the most brutally challenging jobs I ever had–in order to earn “good time,” the constant noise and boredom was getting to me. Jail is extremely loud all of the time. The word “nigger” is used thousands of times a day, by every race, for every reason. The food is completely atrocious. Let’s just say that gratitude was not on my radar at this point in my so-called ‘recovery.’

I couldn’t even stand to try to watch the miniscule t.v. that was attached to the second floor beam; not only was the incessant yammering bothersome, when I was incarcerated I did not have my glasses with me. Being nearsighted, I could barely see it anyways. So, I spent nearly all of my waking time reading. I read 78 books in 5 months. One of those books, A Million Little Pieces (an account of rehab, by someone who purported to have gone through it. However, later it was discovered that the author had falsified many portions of the book. Still a great book though), I finished the morning of my release.

I talked to one guy there the entire time I was locked up. Walter was his name. We had some laughs. As a matter of fact, he put $60 on my Canteen, helping me to endure the last 2 brutal weeks of my incarceration. It astonishes me that someone could endure years of incarceration; I was barely holding on at 5 months. Earlier this year, I found out he went to prison on drug charges. I looked him up via the prison network. I have been writing him, talking with him on the phone, sending him money every month. His one act of kindness will be returned tenfold, because I know how dismall incarceration without money can be. Anyway, I digress.

Around mid-September I got the news that I would be accepted into a program at the Jamaica Plains VA. It was to be a fairly restrictive in-patient program that would require daily classes, limited movement, regular urine tests. I would have to be directly transported to the facility on the day of my release. I had to agree that any violation of the program’s policies, would result in immediate expulsion from the program. Of course, I did agree. So on October 9th, 2016, I was brought to the Substance Abuse Residential Recovery Treatment Program (SARRTP, by two friends from the car business. It would be the very first time I had ever participated in any such program. It would be the first time my new-found sobriety would be put to the test.

Goodbye Jail

In Recovery:  Part 2 – Jail Time

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt. 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St Pt. I
Plymouth County Correctional Facility

The picture above is exactly where I spent time in jail from May 12, 2016 to October 9, 2016. It doesn’t show many inmates at the moment, because they are in lockdown; only the “pod” custodians are allowed out during this time. There is hardly a worse feeling you will ever feel, than when your freedom has been taken away. The only other time that I had been overtaken with such a feeling of desperate hopelessness and depression, was when I was taken to the Youth Development Center at the young age of 14.

If you have ever been to criminal court, there are two types of defendants: the ones who are asked to step to the podium, and the ones that are escorted past the podium, to the wall with the door built into it. The former are the “lucky” ones; they will be going home. The latter are not so “lucky”; they will be handcuffed and escorted through the door in the wall. I was the latter on May 12, 2016. At about 4:30 p.m., I was escorted through the wall, into the bowels of the courthouse. My bail had been revoked. I was on my way to the Plymouth County Correctional Facility.

Mug Shot

The sadness and despair of being incarcerated is a feeling few ever experience. It is a deep and pervasive depression that takes hold of you immediately. I remember thinking that my boss, who thought I was just checking in with probation and returning to work, would have no idea what had happened to me.

I remember how angry I was that my ex had filed a bogus Restraining Order, triggering my bail revocation. I remember the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness as I was guided into the small dark van that would take me to jail. I don’t remember blaming myself and my actions long before this day had arrived. Believe it or not such honesty and introspection didn’t take hold for several months.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of jail processing and procedures. I will tell you that all inmates are processed and classified based upon numerous factors, and put into dorms until you are placed into a “pod.” Jail is not prison. Jail is where you go while you await your trial, or where you serve sentences that are generally less than 2 years. I had hopes of getting out of jail when my bench trial for the bogus Domestic Abuse charge came up on June 18th. I never, ever expected to be found guilty on that charge, but I was. I was ordered to serve 6 months.

I can tell you that the disease of alcoholism fueled my thoughts for the first few months in jail. Incredibly, I was feeling relieved that once I was out, I could resume drinking in peace; the catalyst for all my troubles would be nowhere to be found. After my conviction in June, she had sold her home, destroyed what property I had left there, and moved to Florida. It took me another 2 months before I stopped blaming her, and began to consider the possibility that my life had become unmanageable; that I was powerless over alcohol. The reality of what I faced upon release from jail did not take hold right away. Imagine! Even as I sat in a small cell, I was not thinking about being sober! I was not thinking of the consequences of my actions. It was not until about 3 months in, that the reality of my future had begun to sink in.

In Recovery:  Part 1 – A Problem

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt. 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St Pt. I
Little House of Horrors Residence 05/2013-04/2016

May 12th, 2016, started out like any other day:  I woke up hungover, walked the two miles to the car dealership, and moved about my day as a Car Salesman.  It also happened to be the day I had to report to my Probation Officer, as I was on probation for 2 OUI’s (Operating Under the Influence), and had a pending Domestic Abuse case that was falsely brought about by this woman (the 5th such accusation, 4 dismissals).  Normally, this would have been routine:  I would show up, chit-chat briefly with my P.O., and go about my merry way.  But when my P.O. said “We have a problem”, I never anticipated that I would be hauled off to jail.

About a 1.5 months prior, I had literally escaped from an abusive relationship with a woman, and her little house of horrors on Grafton Street, Brockton Ma.  After 3 years that saw my alcoholism take me to new depths of depravity.  This woman, also an alcoholic, would be the catalyst for many, many nights of physical as well as mental abuse and torment.  Early in April of 2016, after I had gotten myself admitted to the Brockton Hospital, while she was working, I tore through the house collecting everything of mine I could fit into a dealership SUV, and left.  To say the next month was difficult was an understatement.

I ended up hiding out in a $50 per night motel, all the while still abusing alcohol.  It was a struggle to get to work everyday.  The woman would rage at me on the dealership property, and would beg me to come home.  She promised she would not appear in the pending case in June.  She just wanted me back.  She would grill some of the employees to find out where I was living.  She flooded my phone and email.  I tried to give her what money I could, but her anger and resolve to find me increased daily.  Back at the motel, I continued to drink, reasoning  that I could now do it in peace; for she was no longer around to berate me.

But I digress.  My P.O. said that “We have a problem.”  I had to appear before a judge for a possible Revocation of Probation Hearing.  Why?  Well, after blowing off the woman for over a month and a half, she finally decided to exact revenge on me.  She filed a false 209a (Restraining Order-the oft-abused tool in the toolbox of the crooked legal system, just ask all those fathers trying to overcome Parental Alienation), lying her way through countless details that just were not true. 

However, anyone who is familiar with the Criminal Justice System, knows that a 209a is a “Guilty Before Innocent” document that has gotten thousands of innocent folks incarcerated; with barely a chance of surmounting a defense against such a document. 

So, for all appearances, it seemed to my P.O., that I had violated the stay away order from the pending Domestic Abuse Case.  What she didn’t understand was this:  After the woman bailed me out of the jail she put me in with her false accusation of abuse in February, we resumed life TOGETHER, in her home.  She knew damn well we’d just resume “business as usual.”  Now, unsuccessful in getting me to return back to what I called the “little house of horrors”, the 209a essentially sealed my fate.

The point of my post is not to sow sour grapes.  It is to illustrate the chaos that alcohol can reap upon the alcoholic.  This short post is barely a microcosm into my 3 years with this powerful toxic, narcissistic, and abusive woman.  I had no idea how bad life could get for me, until I shacked up with another raging alcoholic.  My disease brought me in front of the judge, in an empty courthouse, at 4:30 p.m.  With no lawyer, and no chance to defend against the 209a, I was handcuffed and transported to the Plymouth County Correctional Facility.

My Recovery:  Paralyzed 

my_recovery

I hope you read this post all the way through, because this man’s life is changing before your very eyes.

As I sit here and type, headphones on, I’m thinking about my new job with the paralyzed soldiers in Building 8; that’s where I work 24 hours a week now, for those of you who don’t follow me regularly.

If you would have told me last year, that I would be comfortable feeding a quadriplegic in a busy canteen, I would have told you that you have lost your marbles.

But there I was yesterday, escorting my new friend–and yes, he is quickly becoming my friend–Jim, down to the canteen for hot chocolate and a muffin.  I was the one who suggested it.  I was the one who paid.  And let me tell you, it felt incredible.

muffin on justruminating men's blog

At first I was intimidated by the environment.  There are about 25 men living in Building 8.  Almost all of them are completely paralyzed.  I’ve made it a habit of forcing myself to go into their rooms.  It’s a little daunting, but I am now almost completely comfortable doing it.

There’s Grover, an old crusty, who informed me that his name is not Grover, it’s Command Sergeant Major.  Then there is Ron.  Ron is your proto-typical stoner who owns 6 electric guitars that he can play.  He also has one of the biggest private safes I’ve ever seen.  Right in his room!

There’s one-legged Pete.  Pete is surly to me every time I say hello or try to strike up a conversation with.  My mission is to crack Pete before I leave at the end of March.

There are many other characters, but Jim is my favorite.  He is full of sarcasm and put downs, and I match him blow for blow.  I abuse him verbally and he abuses me.  He beat me in chess yesterday and relentlessly tortured me about it.  He also makes fun of the way I think, talk, look, and the way I call bingo–I call it using all kinds of voices and accents.  He’s one helluva man, I’ll tell you what.

lifechanging on justruminating men's blog

So my life is changing before my eyes.  I never listened 3 years ago when my then psychiatrist said that volunteering would be incredibly good for my well-being.  Now I know what he means.  What a blessing in disguise.  I might even go so far as to say I am actually happy when I am there.

Now THAT’S astounding to me.

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