Clients Come Out of Their Shell in Service to CommunityAnna Ciulla
Every four to five weeks, the turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (here in Juno Beach) get a visit from some unlikely companions in recovery. Their visitors, like the turtles, have been sick or injured and are undergoing therapies—only in this case, for drug and alcohol addiction. Our very own Alan Cutler plans and facilitates these visits. He is one of two therapists who lead our Spirituality and Core Change groups, and has been taking clients in treatment for substance abuse on the same excursion for a couple of years now.
What Turtles in Rehab Are Teaching Clients in Treatment
Today the routine is a regular therapeutic component of the program of care that we try to make available to all clients at Beach House. A number of them have in fact gone on to regularly volunteer at the Center after completing our programs—and what seems to bring these alumni back to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center is a deep and abiding sense of spiritual connection with these turtles in rehab.
Turtles like Dusty. In February of this year, the small loggerhead reportedly washed up one mile from shore in a “chronically debilitated” state. He was anemic, hypoglycemic, malnourished and starving to death, and “was put into freshwater to remove the barnacles and leeches that covered most of his body.” Dusty spent the next five months undergoing a rehab regimen that, however good for him, was not always fun and in fact could be hard and grueling at times, too.
Meanwhile, Dusty’s progress was tracked with regular updates. A yellow turtle icon meant, “There is a minor issue that we are working to resolve.” A green turtle icon meant, “The turtle is progressing well and responding to therapy as desired.”
Near the end of those roughly five months, those green icons began to appear consecutively on Dusty’s weekly treatment status reports, meaning he would soon be healthy enough to be released back into the ocean … freedom. And just last month, Dusty got to taste that freedom, finally setting off on the open seas with the farewell blessing of his caregivers and a clean bill of health.
The resonances for those in treatment for addiction are striking. By way of illustration, Alan recalled the first time he took a group of clients to meet the turtles. As they were leaving, a client pulled him aside, and said, “Alan, we’re the turtles.”
When Alan asked him to elaborate, the client went on to explain that like the turtles, he and his fellow clients had gotten hurt out in the real world, either because of their own needs or because of what they were doing—but that the people at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center love on the turtles and help to heal them, and when the turtles are ready, they send them out to sea to start living their life.
The Lessons in Spiritual Connection and Giving Back
For Alan, who has visited the turtles with his family across the years, the spiritual connection with these loggerhead turtles and the people who care for them is personally very rich: “The reason I’m a therapist today is that when I went to [drug and alcohol] treatment 20 years ago, I went to a long-term treatment facility and was there for nine months. And the people who worked with me did the same thing the staff at the Center do for the turtles … they loved on me. I wasn’t very happy to be there, but when I was there I had a spiritual awakening when I was praying at lunch. I said to God, ‘I want to spend the rest of my life giving back as it was given to me.’”
“Giving back”— a measure of spiritual awakening—is one of the lessons that clients receive when they visit the Center, which may also help to explain why they often find these trips so spiritually transformational.
“Many of the clients come in here having never known about being in community,” Alan explained. “Unfortunately, addiction is a very selfish disease, but I see this awakening when clients go there … [The trip to the Marinelife Center] gives them a sense of being part of something greater than they may have ever known.”
And that’s the point: a spiritual awakening that births positive core change and the gradual recognition that you’re part of a larger community.
“When Beach House clients get to the right stage in their treatment, they start doing things for the community,” according to Alan. “The real trick is teaching them to be functioning, caring members of society, because if they’re still focused on themselves, they will relapse—but if they think of their community, they’ll succeed.”