A crowd of family, friends and community members stood and applauded Saturday for 13 men and women graduates from a year-long residential alcohol and drug treatment program made possible by the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
Three times a year the Rescue Mission, at 535 E. Yanonali St., gathers its most successful clients, along with their families and closest friends, to celebrate the important milestone of one full-year of sobriety. This month’s “Tribute to Recovery” ceremony at nearby Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara honored the graduates with diplomas, food and the promise of continued support as they make the transition into what it is hoped will be productive, relapse-free lives.
Rolf Geyling, president of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, opened the ceremony by addressing the graduates directly. After congratulating them on their success, he told them that however hard lifelong sobriety may sound, they need only to worry about little steps taken each day.
“What you have achieved is not a big accomplishment, but many little accomplishments that have become something big,” he said. “Most big accomplishments are just a series of seemingly inconsequential steps that add up over time.”
The graduates came from all walks of life, but all shared the specter of addiction that led to frayed relationships, homelessness and repeated arrests. Most patients are introduced to the program through the criminal justice system and take it as part of a court order. Geyling said the program’s goal is to only take in those whose lives have truly fallen into total darkness.
“We reserve the beds only for people who struggle with acute addictions,” he told Noozhawk. “For every one person we take in, we have to turn down eight.
“We’re dealing with people who have already fallen out of 12-step and other programs, and farther into addiction and homelessness.”
Jason Cruise, 25, was one of those people. A speaker at the event, Cruise started drinking at age 13, and by his 20th birthday the spiral had begun. He said alcohol was his gateway drug, so he entered a 12-step program in the hopes it would turn his life around.
“I started using again the day I graduated,” he said. “Alcohol was my social lubricant, and I didn't know how to relate to people without it. I feel like the mission was able to give me those tools.”
Because the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission offers year-round enrollment, patients don’t usually reach the 365-day landmark at the same time. Those who are invited to the ceremony usually fall within a few weeks of the mark and must remain in the program until they do. Cruise won’t make that mark until August, but he said he plans to attend Santa Barbara City College in the hopes of becoming a personal trainer.
Joining Cruise was Mariah Schanick, 22, who re-entered the program in 2013 after being dismissed and falling back into addiction. The Lompoc native, who also spoke at the ceremony, described the turmoil her life descended into before arriving at the Rescue Mission.
“Even though I excelled in school and graduated with a 4.0 GPA, I had an urge to fit in that led me to addiction,” she told the guests. “After being admitted to the mission, I found God and realized I deserved more.”
Schanick is still two months away from reaching the 365-day mark, but said she plans to go into a sober living program until she feels confident she can proceed without treatment.
Many former graduates were in attendance, and 16 of the Rescue Mission’s 23 staff members have graduated from the program themselves. Geyling said the program is designed to provide a supportive community for recovering addicts who often return to drugs as a result of isolation. It costs the organization roughly $25,000 a year to provide room and board to recovering addicts, and the Rescue Mission operates on donations alone.
“There’s a tremendous need for what we do in the community,” Geyling said. “To see lives transformed, that’s what we do this for.”