The Day I Met Douglas
I had a lot of expectations when I started my new job at Providence Home last month.
The historic, Columbia, South Carolina, ministry serves men in transition. (And by “transition,” I don’t mean what’s in the news these days.)
I mean men working their way to freedom—be it physically, emotionally, spiritually. Most times it’s a combination of all of these—men just out of prison or shaking the shackles of substance or other kinds of abuse or trauma.
I’d expected to meet men who’d been born into tough circumstances.
What I’d not anticipated was meeting a young man who had attended and graduated from a tony private high school in the area.
Now that was a revelation.
Because, you know, stereotypes and all.
It’s not that I ever thought this school was perfect. Perfect is impossible. It’s just a good school run by good people trying to live Godly lives.
If we’re talking stereotypes (and I am), the vast majority of kids from this particular school move right into college, get their degrees, get married and invariably, visit the campus five or six years later, their little ones in tow.
You don’t usually hear about the ones who become raging alcoholics.
Douglas (as I’ll call him) says as a young kid, he learned how to compartmentalize.
He grew up in a home where he says there was much acrimony between his parents. Their bad relationship ended in a bitter divorce. Douglas says he now understands that, like him, for many of the men at Providence Home, broken relationships with their fathers represents ground zero on their journeys to destruction.
It’s not an excuse. But it is one reason. And many times, as in Douglas’s case, it’s the first, most caustic wound. The one that festers their entire lives.
But what perhaps sets Douglas apart from others is his very early relationship with Jesus Christ. Over the course of his young lifetime, this knowing Him would serve Douglas—and save him—time and again.
“Jesus was always my first love,” he tells me.
“You remember that as a kid?” I ask.
“Yes. Five or six years old, going to church and being excited about His kingdom on earth. I was always spiritually in tune.”
After his parents divorced, his alcoholic father married a woman battling the same demon. He describes the unrest in their home—the screaming, the fights during his high school years—as worse than what he’d experienced as a little boy.
That’s when he says he became a “master” of compartmentalization. He was enrolled in this private school where he was around kids who looked like him but, for the most part, weren’t sharing his reality.
At the end of a long day, they mostly wanted to go home. Douglas tried to be anywhere else.
At school, he was popular, engrossed in the good things you do at good schools. He shone on the football field. He was a Boy Scout. He studied hard and enjoyed reading his Bible. “Anything to stay out of the house, I would do,” he says.
Douglas has never forgotten the school principal so tuned into his students that he broke down Douglas’s constructed walls and grasped the gravity of his situation. Recently, when that gentleman died, Douglas attended the funeral. A couple of key teachers knew, as well, and when his dad went to jail for a short time, they stepped in to help, even providing Douglas and his dad a place to say when that second, lethal marriage collapsed.
But what about his peers, I wondered? Did any of his friends know this sunny student with the vibrant prayer life, a leader in his youth group, faced hell at home?
He seems surprised by the question.
“No!” he insists. “They’d have been shocked. Mortified! I never told anyone. I never said anything.”
All through these turbulent high school years, Douglas says, faith got him through. He says he never took any medicine, never drank, never tested the boundaries of this particularly strict school—even as a senior.
He went on to graduate and was a walk-on football player at a college prep school in the Upstate.
But that’s where the compartmented walls that had served him so well in high school began to close in on him. He says he was surrounded by kids with “bad habits.” Even the athletes, he says, were drinking and smoking pot. It became harder to resist.
When his dad called him home to testify in his divorce proceedings and the tensions between them erupted, Douglas says, for him that’s when the dam broke.
“There was no more walking in the light,” he says.
“I gave up being good. There was no more resistance. There was no reason to be good. No reward for being good. No benefit to doing the right thing,” he says. “I tried to be good for so long and always got treated so poorly by the people I loved and trusted. So, I said to myself, ‘Everyone drinks, everyone does drugs, so I’ll just drink and smoke pot.’”
Douglas committed to his new life with a vengeance.
He says he even enjoyed the “duplicity of this life,” of “understanding how the world works.” He liked, he says, being “devious and conniving” in his mind, showing up at class high and still being able to “perform.”
But it became boring.
He would leave the football team and, eventually, that school.
He took jobs in the service industry. He fell hard for booze and for any woman who gave him some time. One of them had an abortion and ran. The decision gutted him. Drink filled the hole.
This was how life went for years. There were moments of clarity. Even a few solid jobs. Remarkably, the college he left tracked him down and encouraged him to finish his degree online. He did—in Christian studies.
Even more remarkably, no matter his condition, despite the fact that he gave up “being good” and was rarely sober, this young man who had known Jesus as a young boy never could give up on God. With his life out of control, he still found his way to church on Sundays.
And, he knows now, God never, ever gave up on him.
In 2019, he was living in North Carolina, drinking “all day, every day, depressed and sad.” He was bouncing around between boarding homes. And that’s when he says he felt the Lord saying to him, “If you want to be serious about Me, you need to go home and clean up your act.”
So Douglas headed to Columbia. He tried (and failed) various detox programs in the area before winding up at Providence Home late last year.
“This is the best I’ve done at life in a decade,” he proudly proclaims. “I think it’s the perfect place for the Lord to take all of the skills, experience, all of the darkness, all of the wisdom and put it together in a way that brings benefit to His brand, and His kingdom, and His Son.”
Douglas thinks Providence Home is simply the place God wanted him to land and heal. And shine.
Today, Douglas has a solid job at a package delivery company where he is not only depended on, but is delivering—literally and figurately. Away from work, he uses his time at Providence Home to strengthen his relationship with Jesus.
I ask him about his hopes for the future.
He is slow to answer.
He confides that he is “cautious” about moving forward because he knows that whatever God has planned for him is so much better than anything he can imagine for himself.
He says he doesn’t want to get ahead of God, and so he doesn’t like to project.
But maybe, just maybe, someday “a dog and a happy wife” would be on his wish list.
Even as he says it, I picture him back on that high school campus, catching a football game, his wife and little ones by his side.
I imagine him beaming. Only now it’s for real.
Because he will have absolutely nothing to hide.