“ Light at the End of a Long Tunnel”
After six aimless years following his discharge from the Navy/Special Forces, FFB resident, Doug Abernethy, embarked on a mission to help afflicted people – especially his fellow servicemen, and himself – both plagued with emotional problems and addictions. Dealing with the debilitating effects of his own PTSD following twelve months of jungle combat in Vietnam, Doug was determined to find a way out of his emotional lockdown. Boozing and brawling as a member of a motorcycle gang only served to worsen his ever-present, tortuous inner anger and guilt.
Doug’s recovery journey started in 1968 in Denver as he worked part-time at a recovery center as an interim counselor while earning an Associates Degree in Humanities (Counseling) at Denver Metro State College. In addition, he studied the basic book of clinical psychiatry, “DSM,” by attending classes at nearby Pueblo Junior College. A working wife and the GI Bill were very helpful here.
In 1973, Doug moved to Canyon, Texas, continuing his education at the local University of Texas regional college while also working construction to support himself and his family. In 1976, Doug moved again, this time to Hutchinson, KS where he received a B.S. Degree in Counseling. Doug’s first job as a licensed counselor came also in 1976 at a private treatment center, Love, Inc., in Norton, KS. It was also the year that Doug and Julie got divorced.
Doug’s hunger for more knowledge and practical experience in the many areas of counseling had him moving several times in the next twenty-five years. All along this journey, Doug continued his education, piling up more than 186 hours of college course credits, culminating in a Masters Degree in Counseling from the University of Colorado in 1987.
During the years 1976 to 2001, Doug served an extensive variety of populations: military personnel suffering from PTSD; military personnel with Marital Sex and Physical Abuse disorders; incarcerated youthful gang members with drug and substance abuse addictions; several private recovery and rehab clinics for drug and substance abusers; incorrigible youths – both boys and girls ages 6-12; special assignment to the Government Witness Protection program; a Methadon clinic; and a Texas State Prison for Violent Offenders with Addictions. These assignments ranged from one to four years, a common amount of time for counselors engaged with difficult populations. While Doug lasted only one year in his 1991 assignment at the Texas (Breckinridge) State Prison, it was also here that Doug fully grasped the truth that would set him free from the self-anger and guilt he had been carrying for some twenty-nine, unhappy, unsettled years.
At Breckinbridge Doug worked with 168 men with histories of addiction and all serving long sentences for violent crimes, including murder. Working one-on-one with these inmates, it became ever so much clearer to Doug that seeking forgiveness from a “higher power” was a very vital key for emotional healing. Although Doug had been aware and indeed emphasized the value of forgiveness with his many past clients, he himself, did not consider that he was worthy or deserving of such forgiveness. At Breckinbridge, however, Doug came to realize that the gravity of one’s misdeeds was not a barrier to divine forgiveness: if “a higher power” could forgive the most grevious sins, then the wrongdoer himself could and should forgive himself as well. With no more condemnation from “a higher power” and no more condemnation from himself, Doug finally and fully found peace and a priceless sense of being accepted and loved in this Texas State prison!
It needs to be explained why the term “higher power” has been used here instead of the more appropriate and specific spiritual terms of “God” and “Jesus Christ.” Most all state and federally funded institutions restrict counselors from advocating specific religions and their “personalities,” while at the same time, allowing consideration of general spiritual truths. This approach is very similar to what is found in Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and many other such programs.
Doug was quite aware of the Christianity behind the “higher power” and for him his restoration was more of a process rather than a brilliant “Road to Damascus” experience. The peace that he finally and fully apprehended at Beckinbridge, however, would be sorely tested some eight years later
Next Week: Doug Abernethy’s Final Chapter: “Down but not Out!”