THE UPPER ROOM - Tranquility and Hope for those with Addictions

By+Kathy Jonas

Imagine trying to talk yourself out of something that you know you’re going to do anyway.

That’s how a resident of The Upper Room of the First United Methodist Church in downtown South Bend described addiction. 

It is a very tough disease to understand. Intellectually, most people know that alcoholism and drug addiction are not a matter of willpower, but the stigma persists and recovery remains illusive for many.

The Upper Room of the First United Methodist Church in downtown South Bend has been quietly serving the needs of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts for the past 25 years. 

It is a refuge for men who have completed treatment, but need somewhere to live in order to ease back into the stresses and demands of our culture. There is something powerful about the understanding that comes from living with people who have experienced the same thing that you have experienced.

“Abstinence is only the beginning,” said an Upper Room board member with a son who has been sober for more than a year, but who went out of town due to the lack of treatment choices in the area.

In gratitude for the support she received out of state, she decided to try and help “grow” the recovery community in the South Bend area. “It’s more than just not using,” she said. “That’s just the first step. It is hard, long work and it takes a lifetime.”

Reverend Mary Hubbard, pastor at First United Methodist for the past six years, said the Upper Room is “a miracle.” She said she has watched lives being transformed and cannot explain it other than to use that word. “I’ve watched people come in tight and guarded and just open up and flourish,” she said. “They learn a lot about God and about themselves.”



Lee, who has been at the Upper Room since March, said he was terrified and uncertain when he first began living there, “but I was struck immediately by the camaraderie and oneness, the spirit of the place.”

He said that alcoholics and drug addicts can be “pretty unlovable people,” but at The Upper Room he found people who began to love him and embrace him almost immediately.

“When you’re in the midst of addiction, you’re also in the midst of loneliness and isolation. It is hard to shake off those defense mechanisms. They’re like a coat that you put on,” he said.

Lee said The Upper Room has given him hope, as has God. “I always thought of addicts and alcoholics as weak in will power. Why don’t they just stop? I understand it differently now. You can’t really understand it unless you go through it.”


A Little Background

“The Upper Room is a faith-based program not driven by politics or funding,” according to one board member. 

The residential living facility currently houses approximately 18 men on the third floor of the church. It is estimated that more than 3,000 men have come through the program during its existence.

But financial challenges have forced the program to rely more on donations and grants in order to continue doing what the church has done effectively the past quarter of a century. Funding staff members Ben Noell, director, and Joe Hooten, assistant director, is essential−but also part of that challenge.

“But when you donate, you’re not just helping a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, you’re helping prevent child abuse or violence in the home. The community at large is affected positively,” said an Upper Room board member. “Addiction takes an emotional and financial toll on the family and on society.”

Did you know that more than half of all men and women in the United States have one or more close relatives with a serious alcohol problem? The costs are staggering: $224 billion estimated lost in productivity, health care, and demands on the judicial system. This amounts to $746 for each man, woman and child. The emotional costs to the addict and the family of the person suffering from the disease are even more devastating.

Residents of The Upper Room are required to pay a small weekly rent and continue the work they’ve done in treatment through traditional methods and/or community-based meetings and social activities. Residents can stay at the facility as long as they are making progress.

Spirituality is key at The Upper Room. A program that involves various principals to recovery is used, which includes turning your life over to a higher power, making right the wrongs of the past regarding those important in your life, and taking a daily look in the mirror.  “We carry a message that recovery is possible,” Hooten said.


Walt’s Story

Walt, a South Bend resident for the past 19 years, credits The Upper Room with changing him completely – and saving his life. 

“I pray every night that God keeps the bad people away from me and the good people around me.” He counts the people at The Upper Room as the good people. And he thanks God for bringing him there. “I needed a spiritual place for my recovery and God opened a door.”

Walt was fortunate to have a boss who stuck with him even when times were difficult. “My boss has seen so much progress from me. He’s really happy. He smiles all the time,”  Walt said.

When Walt first came to The Upper Room about a year ago, he said he saw hurt, resentment, anger and low self-esteem when he looked in the mirror. “When you’re addicted, you feel lonely, isolated and left out.“ He said a teacher abused him when he was just 12 and 13 years old and that was something he had to learn to accept. “I never told anyone,” he said. “I should have spoken up. It messes you up.”

Walt said now he prays for the people he has hurt and for those who have hurt him. 

How does it feel to let go of the things that have been weighing on him most of his life? 

“I feel happy. I feel free of pain.”


Photography by Steve Toepp / Midwest Photographics