L.B. Chandler first came to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission in the fall of 2004, walking through the front door with two rolling suitcases.
He was 25 years old at a time in which he described himself as a “very lost and broken young man.”
The Santa Barbara program was not his first attempt to get sober.
“I needed long-term accountability and structure to figure out my drug addiction,” he told the News-Press. “I came here on a court mandate and obviously it changed my life.”
Fifteen years later, Mr. Chandler now serves as the men’s program director, where he oversees the 12-month residential treatment facility for substance abuse. Under the program, the clients live at the East Yanonali Street location for one year – with the first nine months all in house.
“They live here, they go to classes and process groups and they’re in therapy and going to 12-step meetings at night,” Mr. Chandler explained. “Their day is filled up with really setting a foundation for recovery to be able to transition back into the community, and establish a way of life that will be successful for them as far as being absent from drugs and alcohol.”
With the mantra of being of service to others, the commercial kitchen at the Rescue Mission is run by the clients. They prepare five meals a day – breakfast and dinner for the homeless population and three meals a day for themselves.
“Someone who is willing to come and spend a year of their life in treatment for substance abuse – obviously their life has gotten to a certain level of dysfunction,” Mr. Chandler said. “The idea of just reestablishing a routine of consistency is really important. Our facility has the ability to do that.”
While it wasn’t necessarily his choice to start the program, Mr. Chandler was hired on by the Rescue Mission upon completion of the program. He has served in several capacities over that time – and his infectious optimism and positive outlook has made a lasting impression on dozens of graduates. The Rescue Mission holds barbecues and reunions annually – which used to never draw many attendees. Last fall, some 60 graduates came back to reconnect with one another – in large part due to Mr. Chandler, said Rebecca Weber, director of communications for the Rescue Mission.
“I think I’m called to be here. I think that when you live a life like I lived and the places that it took me… I believe that when I came out of that I believe this is what God had planned for me,” Mr. Chandler said. “And I’m not one to sort of throw that stuff around.
“I believe this is where I’m supposed to be. I’m grateful to be able to work in an environment with 35 men in our facility that are just like I am – they’re just at a different point in the process.”
Three case managers who work under Mr. Chandler also went through the treatment program and now work to help others struggling with drug addiction or substance abuse.
“We lived in this building for a year,” he said. “We lived in the dorm rooms upstairs. I took part in the homeless feast. I sat in the same type of counseling sessions as they did.
“There’s something to be said about having someone come alongside you that really has been where you’re at.”
While being able to provide empathetic support does help some clients, Mr. Chandler knows that just because he went through the program doesn’t make him an expert. He pointed out that there are people in all sorts of different professions that can excel without having similar personal history.
“I do think that being able to connect with someone and having experienced your own level of hurt that you caused yourself and you’ve caused others… being able to meet them with empathy and compassion, having been there, that resonates with people.”
Recovering from a drug addiction is no easy task. Over time, Mr. Chandler has learned that in order to truly help the client, he needs to understand their story before judging their behavior.
“When you do the assessments and the background, you understand where people are coming from and what they’re experiencing,” he said. “They come in here with anger or fear… When you know the hurt that’s behind those things… it gives you a sense of compassion for that person. You’re not just identifying someone by the difficulty of your interaction with them.”
He considers the treatment program “the perfect storm” in its own morbid way. Those who seek treatment clearly want to get better and display the “gift of desperation,” Mr. Chandler said.
“We’re the last house on the block, per se,” he said.
“To come to a program that is long and has such high accountability and really takes a year out of your life, in order to surrender to that and to come to a place where you’re ready to accept a different way of life… it takes a lot of hurt and it takes a lot of brokenness,” Mr. Chandler said.
The Lafayette, Louisiana native who moved to Lompoc at the age of eight has gone on to complete the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Program at Santa Barbara City College and is a state-certified addiction counselor. He’s married and has three children.
When asked if he finally finding fulfillment in his life, Mr. Chandler’s face lights up.
“Yeah, my life is very full.”