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Faith paves the way to recovery for alcoholic

Homeless, alcoholic and hopeless, Dan Oller arrived last year at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, skeptical that its addiction treatment program could help him when 11 others had not.

“There’s always that doubt in your mind, once you’ve failed over and over,” said Oller, who started drinking and doing drugs when he was 12. “I was thoroughly beaten this time. I was willing to do anything.”

For Oller, now 49, the mission’s Christian-based approach has been a wellspring of faith, helping him navigate the path to recovery.

“There’s no doubt what’s different this time: the understanding of God that I lacked all my life,” said Oller, who graduated the program last summer and became the mission’s maintenance supervisor. “There’s no other explanation.”

The mission’s clients are homeless alcoholics and drug addicts, served in its residential program. But on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the mission opens its doors to a wider swath of the needy and their families.

On Thursday, about 500 people came for breakfast, which started at 6 a.m. By noon, hundreds more crowded into rooms watching videos or football games and waiting their turn for an all-you-can-eat dinner of turkey and trimmings. All told, the mission usually serves about 1,200 holiday meals.

Volunteering to serve food at the meals is one of the Charlotte area’s most popular choices for people looking to help. Slots fill up long before each holiday. People were still dropping off food Thursday afternoon.

“To see people give so freely, to make sure we have something, to be a part of that is amazing,” said Oller, who was on duty, keeping supplies flowing and helping where needed. “You truly see God in that.”

The last stop

The mission dates to 1938, when it was started by W. Frank Graham, evangelist Billy Graham’s father, and other business people. Rebound, the men’s 140-bed treatment program, and Dove’s Nest, with 22 slots for women, are modeled on the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous system but with a specific emphasis on Christian faith.

Many clients have been through treatment many times before, said E.J. Underwood, a 17-year employee and the mission’s director of development.

“We’re like the last stop before the funeral home,” she said. “They’re so close to death. It’s heartbreaking.”

Thoughts of suicide brought Oller to the mission in April 2008. “I literally felt tortured the last 20 years of my life,” he said.

Oller, born and raised in Oklahoma City, is the youngest of four boys. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he bounced between the two, often on his own. Neither parent drank, he says, and he doesn’t blame them for his addiction. But the constant moving meant he changed schools every year, sometimes more often.

Drugs and alcohol became a way to fit in. Oller downed his first drink at 12, a Coors beer, followed by puffing on a joint.

By 14, he was stoned and drunk most days and got arrested the first time, for stealing a motorcycle. He sold it to get money for drugs. Stoned on stolen valiums and other pills, he also had a head-on collision that year while driving a motorcycle. He fractured his skull, went into a coma and spent three weeks in the hospital.

The day he got out, he went to an Alice Cooper concert, dropped acid, smoked pot and drank.

His father, he recalls, told him to get right or get out. Oller dropped out of school and left home. At 17, he tried his first treatment program.

“I’d have full intentions of making it work,” he said of that and every subsequent attempt.

He prayed sometimes to be freed from his addiction, but he didn’t trust in faith.

“I couldn’t understand, if there was this magnificent God, why was all this happening in my life?” he said. “I wasn’t going to blame myself.”

Sinking even lower

Oller says he was always able to hold a job. Work building cell towers brought him to North Carolina in 1999. He’d been clean three years and made it another a year. Painful kidney stones took him to a doctor, who he says gave him a prescription for “an ungodly amount” of painkillers.

“I though I could handle it,” he said.

He relapsed, sinking even lower than in the past. He couldn’t work, had no place to live.

“I got so disgusted with my life I wanted to end it and was making plans to do it,” he said.

A friend got him to the mission. The message of God’s empowering love slowly seeped past his skepticism. He graduated from the 90-day program on July 4 and lives in a small apartment at the halfway house next door.

As maintenance supervisor, he’s able to use a lifetime of experience in plumbing, heating, building and fixing things to care for the four-acre uptown site plus two smaller buildings in other locations.

He oversees about 14 residents assigned to clean and do maintenance chores. He says it’s the best job he’s ever had because he’s helping the place that helped him.

“I give thanks to God every day.”

source: Charlotte Observer

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