Keeping the faith

One chaplain, one treatment center, one world crisis

Eric Oakes, MSW, MBA, is the chief operations officer of Banyan Treatment Centers, Pompano Beach, Florida, United States.

This article is not about people who practice their faith. This is not about those who seek religion. This is not about a prophet or even a tale of great works by great leaders. This is about people who seek shelter from the storm of addiction and find, hunkered down with them, a soul who provides just a little more than the shelter they sought.

I am the chief operations officer of Banyan Treatment Centers, a company with 11 Behavioral Health Centers throughout five states in the US. One day, Banyan’s owner and I discussed the possibility of a faith-based approach to treatment. We had not yet put pencil to paper to create one. As circumstance would have it, such planning would not be necessary.

Chaplain Anthony Acampora arrived and built the Faith in Recovery Program at Banyan Treatment Center, a nondenominational, Christ-centered, faith-based substance and alcohol abuse recovery program. Blessed with boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm, he set up a small chapel in our outpatient center, invited speakers from the faith community, and ran a solid program. In the process, Anthony became a fixture on our staff and in the treatment community. He led many meetings and events with an opening prayer and offered pastoral comfort to all. Staff seemed to understand instinctively that Anthony was there for them. He states, “Patients come from all over the country; some grew up in the church and fell away as a result of addiction, others never stepped foot in a church. We meet every patient right where they are at on their spiritual journey, even if they do not have a spiritual journey.”1

No condemnation

Like many good leaders, Anthony chose his current life when his past one hit a wall. Enmeshed in the world of security and intelligence, he experienced pain beyond measure, and it nearly broke him. Then Anthony embraced his faith. It is in this way that he reaches many of those who enter our Faith in Recovery program. Under his guidance, clients see another way—another purpose, perhaps—and they see it through the eyes of a gentle giant. That giant speaks Scripture and gives pastoral advice. But, perhaps more important Anthony reveals himself to them, much as he would have you believe his faith was revealed to him—not as some polished, shiny, and perfect gift but as a work in progress, a diamond in the rough, a real “fixer-upper.”

In every person’s heart is a longing for acceptance. Anthony declares, “Too many patients have shared feelings of guilt, shame, and judgment at their church growing up. As soon as they were no longer forced to go, they [stopped] going. I related to their stories because this was my experience as well, with the same outcome. The sad part is that guilt, shame, and condemnation are in complete contrast with Christ’s teachings. Somewhere along the last 2,000 years, the Church did not get the memo. It is not surprising that patients come in with a distorted view of God and anything associated with Him. Our goal is to break through those distortions and provide them with the truth.”2

For real

It is not difficult to understand why other community-based, life-saving services such as first responders and hospitals have ministry components. Firefighters insist upon chaplains that “wear the uniform,” and police, the same. They need to know that their chaplain understands their unique frame of reference and that he or she is one of them. In a secular treatment setting, this kind of outreach rarely exists—but it is so desperately needed, especially by persons who can be viewed as being “for real.”

Anthony Alcampora

Anyone who knows “a man of God” or “a woman of God” intimately will recognize the ambiguity and dissonance that are inherent parts of the person and the persona. A religious person is destined to be seen only as an iconic figure by some or a hypocrite by many, with little room in between. It is truly the in-between that is Anthony’s domain and the life of many chaplains. He is transparent about his own life, which allows others to be transparent also.

Anthony declares, “The majority of what patients need to deal with is underneath the surface. . . . In many cases, trust has been shattered and, as we know, hurt people hurt people. The people who bear the brunt of the pain are the ones closest to the person in active addiction. They also tend to be the ones who take the most time to heal from the deep wounds. Distant and broken relationships are often restored, and the trust returns in time, so there is still hope in any and every situation.”3

As we forgive

One day, I stumbled into a conversation with Anthony about forgiveness. I asked him how to let go of resentment. I raised the question out of curiosity and a genuine desire to learn. Yes, Anthony offered platitudes, and yes, he gave me Scripture. But Anthony also did the unexpected. He sent me three more texts later that evening, trying to approach the subject from different angles.

One particularly effective angle has been Luke—his pit bull—a certified therapy dog. Anthony states, “When someone starts to cry in group, he is immediately right there with his paw on their knee and head on their chest. Sometimes I do not know who enjoys it more: the patients, Luke, or I watching this heartwarming interaction take place. What is so powerful is the fact that he does not hold any resentment toward people even-though he was treated horribly prior to being rescued. He was able to forgive and move on to an incredible life of providing encouragement and comfort to people who desperately need it.”4

Beyond the naked eye

Qualitatively, the outcomes of our program during the past five years have been overwhelmingly positive. That is what matters to me. Measured in countless lives through countless records and countless surveys, this “value-added service” or “specialty treatment track” has been successful beyond estimation. Testimony from staff and client alike indicates that the ministry is touching individuals that might not otherwise be reached. Through the thoughtful use of Scripture and loving guidance, we can help many people through one of the most difficult struggles of their lives.

Many staff members are in recovery themselves and are, therefore, inevitably associated with people still struggling with the constant decision to choose life or death. Former clients, we are well aware, can relapse. Many people have comorbidity issues such as weakened hearts and immune systems and damaged livers. Often, they die. Young people. Beautiful people. Sad people. Yet, our industry does little to address our burdens of losing them.

We need more, and we need more now

When the pandemic first hit, as Anthony has during past hurricanes, storms, and other emergencies, he sent me a text late one evening. “If you need anything . . .” My response was self-absorbed and brief. “Thanks, Anthony.” This pandemic is deadly—so is addiction.

This article began as some thoughts on a particular man and developed into realizing the need for more people like him. There seems an almost willful ignorance of the complexities of the diseases we treat and our constituents’ true needs. Our industry has few chaplains, despite the reality that many of us suffer burnout; emotional fatigue; fear; depression; and, in many cases, death. In this pandemic, we need chaplains in an industry that regularly deals with sickness; fear; lack of hope; and, at its worst, death and dying. We need more like Anthony.

  1. Anthony Acampora, “Finding the Light in Darkness,” Somatic Psychotherapy Today, accessed February 18, 2021, https://somaticpsychotherapytoday.com/finding-the-light-in-darkness/.
  2. Acampora.
  3. Acampora.
  4. Acampora.

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