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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 12 24 21 – In the Trenches, On the Eve

“How can a man understand and appreciate the time of peace

when he has never been in the trenches of life.” ― Paul Bamikole

This Christmas Eve Gratitude Friday, I started thinking about my days of running a long term, publicly funded residential treatment center and what it is like to be in the trenches in the Substance Use care field. For those of you outside of the work, it can be an incredibly challenging time, even without COVID to contend with. For many of us in recovery, the holidays can be a complex time, our expectations approach that of It’s a Wonderful Life, but reality rarely if ever hits those chords. The Holidays can bring back memories of dashed hopes, losses and people we have let down. There is a whole lot of processing and support going on in a well-functioning SU residential treatment center at this time of the year. More years than not, my team and I ended up spending time with our treatment community on the Holiday, dealing with one thing or another. It is 24/7 work, and people who do it also have to contend with a host of needs without the proper resources to accomplish them but dedicated to doing their best anyway.

The Holidays are also the finest hour of service. At the Halfway Home of the Lehigh Valley, we would have an annual Thanksgiving and a December Holiday dinner. The staff would serve the residents as close to a homecooked holiday dinner as we could put together. Everyone would eat together and there would be a lot of sharing that would occur. Residents would express gratitude for the first Holiday meal in memory not eaten under a bridge or in a prison cell. Others would share that the recovery community was their adoptive family due to estrangement or loss. People would share hope and talk about seeing a child or their family and share their recovery with the people they loved. What those dinners did for me, and I suspect many of our underpaid and overworked staff was highlighted what kept us going through those challenges and endless workdays. Occurring in collaboration with the recovery community, also working tirelessly to support long term recovery. Our Alumni, people who were sitting in those chairs in prior years would show up with homemade cookies and bus passes for our residents, out of gratitude for what the program had helped them achieve. I would go home, seeing my own story in the eyes of people we served and feeling gratitude for the staff who showed up day in day out and at 2 AM to serve this community. They are all, each and every one of them, my people.

Truth be told, there are a lot of trenches people are holding down at this time of the year. Rarely a magic moment of peace and grace. That oft told story of the WWI 1914 Christmas Truce was the exception, not the rule. In 1944, our troops where in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the harshest fighting in all of WWII. In recent years and probably in the life experience of more than a few of our friends and family members who served, the Holidays were a time away from family, dodging mortar attacks, improvised explosive devices and sniper fire in service to our nation while 7,000 miles away from home. After two decades of war, our family members are now home but Afghanistan is starving, largely outside of our awareness. No opining here, just noting how complex and multidimensional our world is in how our actions as a people matter. History will inform us of the wisdom or folly of our actions if we listen.

There are other kinds of trenches with butts in them right now. Our firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement personnel put other family’s needs in the forefront out in our communities. They miss their own holiday celebrations for us. They do so to save lives and protect communities. Whatever our religions, political beliefs, or host of other ways we divide ourselves up on, we should take a moment out of our own family celebrations and toast them and their sacrifices. I hope none of us need their help this Holiday, but one thing we should all acknowledge is that these sacrifices are largely made by people trying their best to anyone in need. They are in the trench for us.

Right now in America, one of the toughest trenches to occupy is that of our front line medical care and support staff. Doctors, nurses, med techs and the hospital cleaning staff have rough jobs yet again this year. Once more into the breech, dear friends! I wrote a piece about them all a few weeks back, Unsung Heroes Under Siege. This was before the Omicron surge. Two years into a pandemic with a variant that replicates at a rate 70 times faster than the delta variant. If you are one of these people, thank you. If one of your family members is out there on the front lines, thank you too.

There are a whole lot of ways people chose to serve society. Today, I take a moment to express gratitude for our public servants. Peace on Earth and goodwill rings as a platitude but also a worthy aspiration. Healing our world starts with healing ourselves and our communities. Many people dedicate their lives to these values. I never have pretended to have all or even a few of the answers, but it seems abundantly clear to me we must focus on our higher aspects and avoid our base divisiveness to move forward. I do so here today. I am grateful for the butts in the trenches this difficult Holiday season. What are you grateful for today?

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