Where’s Our Train?

It was a whirlwind of a day.   We finished up our workshop at San Patrignano yesterday and trained it into Bologna.  Laura, our AirBnB host, has a lovely little flat in the heart of Bologna that made for easy access to the sites here in Bologna as well as proximity to the train station.  That proximity prompted us to spend the day in Florence.

We headed out to the train station and purchased our tickets.  “Track 6”, they said.  So we waited by track 6 but no train arrived at the scheduled time.  We then noticed that our train number was no longer on the Departures board. Uh oh!  Sure enough, there was another track 6 and we had missed our train.  Once we exchanged our tickets and got a seat on the next train (a super fast train) we settled in for the trip.  It is such a small world that two Americans, on their honeymoon sat across from us.  Turns out they were from Warren County, NJ!  We told them all about our adventure at San Pa and they were genuinely impressed with San Pa’s success.

Upon our arrival at Florence, Kate and I hit the pavement and walked all over Florence – the Duomo, the Accademia Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio and everything in between.  We even ran into Noni – one of the participants at the San Pa workshop – near the Duomo.  We enjoyed some delicious gelati and some lovely pannini along the way.  The sights and sounds transported us to another dimension as we soaked it all in.

This is the final post from Italy.  The take away posts and reflections will come later.  Tomorrow … home.

 

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Exhaustion Sets In

We finished up at San Patrignano today and took the train from Rimini to Bologna.  Honestly, I am exhausted from the week.

It was a very moving “ciao” with our companions – Alessandro, Laura, Kyra and Rachele.  We gave them little tokens of our appreciation and thank you notes for all they did for us during the week.  It is nothing short of a miracle how one can get to know another during the course of a week.  All it took was a little openness, a little humility, presence and a whole lot of love and WHAM! … friendships are born.  We promised we’d write and stay in touch and they were genuinely looking forward to building the friendship.  More will come later (it is after 11 pm here in Bologna).

I leave you with a photo essay of our farewell dinner and an evening in Bologna.  Buona notte!

Botticella

Day Three – The San Patrignano Experience

Sunday morning the group of us went on a field trip to the San Patrignano outpost of Botticella. Botticella is approximately 40 km from the main campus and is situated up in the mountains. The trip up there began with a stop at a coffee bar where we could get a good cup of coffee or tea. We grabbed a cup to go (the Italians call it “take away”) and back in the mini van we went.

Let me tell you, it is not easy with a take away to keep the coffee in the cup on the roads in Italy! Between the winding roads, the narrowness of the roads, the motorcyclists who believe the lines are merely recommendations, no shoulders and the bicyclists, Kate and I were fortunate that the drink ended up in our stomach and not in our lap! IMG_1260

The scenery along the way was majestic. Matteo and Arianna provided lots of backstory on the region and Botticella/San Pa along the way. Arianna works with the Executive Director of the facility, Monica, in the administrative offices. It was she who reviewed our applications and motivational letters so she knew a little about us already. We chatted throughout the day and by the afternoon we were able to find commonality in our stories and our lives. The same with Matteo.

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Arianna, Marco and Matteo

I have to say that one of the most gratifying parts of this experience has been the humanity piece. Not only are we making new friends in the participants of workshop but we are discovering new layers of ourselves during this process. Through the process of simple conversation we become vulnerable with people like Arianna, Rachele, Alessandro, and Tom. We can identify with their struggles, their fears, their emotions not only because we have been there but also because this is part of what it means to be human; we are all brothers and sisters trying find our way and helping each other along the way.

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Upon our arrival we were greeted by the director, Marco. He explained the admission process in general and the role of Botticella in that process in particular. Basically, Botticella is a testing ground. When a person applies for admission they are interviewed at least once. If the administration is unsure of depth of the commitment of the applicant they will accept them on a preliminary basis and send them to Botticella. Marco explained that the applicant is “put to the test” – the lines on the bedspread must be perfectly straight or they must remake the bed, there must be nothing on the floor of the bedroom or they must re-clean it, the table settings must be perfectly spaced and aligned or they must re-do it, etc. They do this to make sure the applicant understands what is expected of them in San Pa over the next 3-4 years.

Botticella is also the starting point for a new program dealing with gambling addiction. The gambling problem in Italy is growing exponentially – particularly with online gambling and lottery scratch-offs. The gambling program is the same structure as the drug program at San Pa with a few exceptions; there is more psychotherapy involved in the program and the program is condensed over an 18 month period rather than 3+ years.

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Marco was most gracious host and quite entertaining while being very informative. He asked about the English word for “Bullwinkle” as he made antlers using his hands. He brought out a large set of deer antlers, held them up to his head and proclaimed “Big Bambi”. He thought his English was “terrifying”. “When I try to speak the English I sound like I have a mouth full of potatoes.”

WeFree Days

Monday we continued our tour of the grounds and learned more about the philosophy behind the San Pa program.  Yesterday was spent hanging out with the kids and the teens during WeFree celebration at San Pa.

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We toured the kennels on Monday.  One of San Pa’s social enterprises is training therapy dogs.  They also take in retired police dogs and strays. They have about 140 dogs on the premises and the crew spends their days socializing with the dogs, training them and making them feel loved and welcome.

Before San Pa was San Pa, it was a vineyard.  After its transition to a community, San Pa retained the vineyards as one of its social enterprises.  The wine produced by San Pa is renowned and has won several awards.  The process is quite extensive.  In August it is typically slow for several sectors in the community because most of Italy goes on Holiday or “vacanza” for the month.  IMG_1299Thus, most of San Pa’s outside customers are closed and that translates to down-time for many departments at San Pa.  For those residents who find themselves with slow work during that time they often help harvest the grapes in the vineyards.  Thus begins the elaborate process of crushing the grapes, removing impurities and fermenting in oak barrels in a climate-controlled cellar.  When ready, the wines are bottled, corked, labeled and shipped throughout the world.  IMG_1291

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We passed by the stables where the cows (used for producing milk for the cheese made at San Pa) and the pigs (used for meat and sausage sold to the public or used to feed the residents) but did not have the time for a tour.  Neither did we have the opportunity to view the equine sector where the horses are used for therapy, breeding and show. Perhaps on another day.

Tuesday was a big day at San Pa – WeFree Days 2017.  WeFree Days is a two-day event designed to be both educational and fun for teens across Italy.  Over 3,000 students attended the festivities!  There were dance performances, theater, music, art and crafting events for the students.  For the adults there was a public forum with speakers from a variety of disciplines to discuss ideas and issues surrounding drugs, educational systems and prevention.  The students had a wonderful time and really appreciated the interaction of the San Pa residents discussing their stories with drugs and the dangers of addiction.  It was quite moving! IMG_20171010_084147099_HDR

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As I have mentioned earlier, one of the most rewarding parts of this workshop is the opportunity to be present with the residents.  I have spent countless hours having conversations with many residents – Dylan, Tom, Scott, Mark, Edo, Gustavo – to name a few.  We’ve shared some laughs, sure, but we’ve also shared our stories.  I’ve answered many questions about my journey in recovery, told my history and shared what I’ve learned during the process.  The value of human connection, empathy and fellowship cannot be underestimated.  We all struggle with the same challenges, we all share in the same joys.

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Making art with Steph and Rachele

We are family, regardless of the language barriers, because love overcomes all obstacles.

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Enjoying WeFree Days

 

Recollections of My Mom – Part 2

“We were living in a 3 room apartment when Phil was born so his crib was in the bedroom with us.  In the morning he’d awaken early and lay there and watch us and if we stirred in our sleep, he would react by standing up in his crib and letting us know he knew it was time for the day to begin.  Sometimes I’d awaken and through a slit in my eyes glance over to the crib and see him eyeballing us and so I’d pretend to be asleep a while longer.  Seems I always needed my sleep and enough sleep was not enough sleep!”

Mom is styling

Mom styling it on Adams Place

“We moved upstairs to a 4 room apartment and from there we could see trees and the roofs of houses and we would sit by the window and watch the birds and at times, the squirrels.  At times we’d sit there and watch the rain and recite the poem, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring …’ You would recite pronounce it something like, “A rainen, a pouring, the old man a’yoring. He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morgan.”

Long after Mom has passed she continues to be a blessing in my life.  These stories, these glimpses into viewing the world through her eyes, are such an amazing gift to me and my siblings.  Unbeknownst to her recording these stories and thoughts opens a window into her world from 50+ years ago – her dreams, her struggles, her hopes.  Thanks Mom.

 

Recollections of My Mom – Part 1

“Philip was up every 3 hours day and night wanting to be fed.  This being my first child, I was influenced to some degree by the stories I’d heard and knew he had to burp well after feeding or else he could vomit as he slept and that could be disastrous.  Phil would feed a little and then fall asleep and I’d have to awaken him to be sure he burped and then feed him some more, because he had taken so little.  Well, it ended that each feeding took and hour and a half and we finally finished that round of feed, sleep, burp; feed, sleep, burp; feed sleep burp; and we’d both get to sleep, only to turn over for the 1 1/2 hours and be awakened for the next session.  Needless to say, I am not sure who was more tired, he or I.   Some early pictures would reveal that he was doing quite well, but his father and I were walking around like zombies from lack of sleep!  Pat would take the 2 o’clock feeding so that I would have a longer stretch of sleep but it soon took its toll on both of us, although from the weight noted above [5 lbs. 10 ozs. at birth and 8 lbs 15.5 ozs at 3 weeks old], Phil did quite well.”

Mom at Uncle Jack's House

Mom as a young teen at Uncle Jack’s house

Mom’s Musings – 12/30/63 and 12/31/63

“Saw Steven in the afternoon – He drank 4 ozs. of formula – looks like Philip only he has a rounder face and fatter cheeks.  Spoke to Philip on the phone; he kept repeating ‘paint a wall’ and ‘wagon’.”

 

“Did not see Steven until 5:30 this evening.  Very blue and lonely all day.  Steven drank 2 ozs.; keeps rolling eyes to top of head. Spoke to Philip at Grandpa ‘B’ house. Told me daddy went to the store.”

 

One thing I have to note is how blessed I am that my mother took the time to write down  her thoughts and how intriguing it is to catch a glimpse into her thoughts, emotions, and her world.

Mom’s Musings – 12/29/63

“Dec. 29 – This day was somewhat of a nightmare but thank God I came through the afternoon crisis.  Pat, Mom and Dad, Margaret and Pat’s mom came to see me in evening.  Too bad Ann will be going home tomorrow. Could use moral support.”

Brothers

 

While rummaging through some boxes I ran across some journals/notes written by my mom.  I’ll be posting some of them periodically and perhaps jotting down some of my thoughts.  This first post describes the day by brother, Steven, was born.

Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of flazingo.com

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

Knock, Knock

It’s Sunday evening. I am at the local supermarket doing the family grocery shopping. I push my cart up and down the aisles, skillfully negotiating the journey with the one wheel that pulls to the left and the other that just spins and doesn’t do anything. I’ve gotten almost everything on my list (plus a few impulse items) – all but the frozen veggies and the dairy items.

As I slowly approach the frozen food aisle I hear the voice of a little toddler. “Knock, knock.” Pause. “Knock, knock.” I see several adults wheel their carts out of the aisle toward the checkout. No one seems to be “biting” on the “knock, knock” joke.

As I turn the corner into the aisle, my hunch was confirmed. There in the child seat of cart with her hooded coat on was a beautiful little girl. She couldn’t have been more than two years old. Her dad was rummaging through the freezer, gathering up his frozen veggies.

As I approach she sees me. I smile at her. “Knock, knock.” she says.

“Who’s there?” I reply.

She is a little shocked. She was not expecting the interaction as no one else had paid her any attention. She paused for a second … deep in thought. Dad turned and looked, waiting expectantly for her response. Then she threw her hands in the air as if she were going to shout “Surprise!”. Laughing

“It’s me!” she exclaimed.

Dad just beamed, smiled and began to laugh. He couldn’t contain himself.

“Oh, isn’t that just wonderful!” I said to her with a big smile. “I’m so glad it’s you!”

Dad and I shared a smile, a nod and a silent acknowledgement of how precious this miracle moment was. Then he continues down the aisle.

“Bye” she says.

“Bye bye.”