Alabama Tornadoes – By Gabriel Rheaume

tornado-541911_1280“You will escape disaster together and you will commence shoulder to shoulder your common journey…”

The power is out. Every now and then a power outage can remind me of so many things we normally take for granted. I can really be grateful for everything and anything if I choose to look at it that way. The power going out always reminds me of when the tornadoes that hit Alabama in 2011. I was in a religious program of recovery called the Cenacolo Community. That was before I really knew what recovery was – before I escaped the community. Before I fell further and harder – but that’s a different story.

I woke up that April morning, with everyone else in the house, to one of the most ferocious and furious storms I’ve ever witnessed. The power was out and it was dark. Our house was giant – high ceilings, long hallways, big windows, and lots of rooms. All of a sudden it seemed really small when the twenty residents were crowded in the hallway and unsure of what was going on. The noise of the wind is what I remember the most. It roared like a vacuum. Every window in the house rattled. Rain was pounding the walls and the Spanish tile on the roof was getting tossed around. Despite the chaos, we were the Cenacolo Community and we carried out our daily tasks no matter what.

pray-1218498_1280For the first time, our morning obligation of praying The Joyful Mysteries seemed profoundly appropriate. We all gathered into the chapel down the hall. We began as always with music from the guitar and djembe and then prayer. We were on our knees praying in unity and for a purpose. It almost felt like an exorcism. Each person was enunciating their words. One leading the prayer, the rest of us following in ritualistic chant; our voices rising above the storm. I remember the intensity and determination of the prayer. Each syllable was guided towards God with precision and demand to alleviate the storm. For the stories sake, I wish I could say that when the rosary concluded, the storm lifted, the sun came out, and birds started chirping. Frankly, I don’t remember, but I think it actually went something like that.

We lived in the hills of Alabama and didn’t associate with the distant neighbors. We didn’t use the telephone, have cable, or receive the daily news.  Really, the only outside information we had access to was from Monsignor Chaleen. He was a religious hermit, yet was appointed by the Bishop to watch over us boys and deliver mass once a week. If not the Monsignor, it was one of the Franciscan Friars from EWTN. I didn’t even know Sadam Hussein was killed or whatever happened at that time, until way after the fact.

It was the Knights of the Holy Eucharist who brought us the news of the surrounding towns. As we went outside we saw minimal destruction aside from the few trees which fell on our driveway and a few broken tiles. However, the nearby town of Cullman was pulverized. Tuscaloosa was ravaged. Three hundred and sixty three tornadoes were confirmed during this three day tornado outbreak, resulting in over three hundred fatalities. Nearby homes were destroyed, roofs torn off, corner stores were cinder block rubble. Yet our house, a massive target, subject to all of Mother Natures peculiarities, was left virtually unscathed. I’m not trying to convince you that Mary conjured up a divine miracle, or her divine intercession spared us from imminent death and devastation – but maybe she did. I guess it could have been some kind of miracle.

We didn’t know then the power was going to be out for nine days. Twenty men, in the middle of nowhere, living off of “material providence” (donations), with no electricity or running water. All of us drug addicts, either recovering, or just drug addicts without the drugs – a potentially volatile situation. However, instead of ensuing chaos, the disastrous storm brought our group together in unity! The house had an outdoor wood forno and we also built a temporary grill. We had to make everything by the heat of the fire for nine days. A river ran through our property and shower time became a little swim break before the evening rosary. It was late April which was perfect weather for the year’s first swim. We already hand-washed our clothes, but now, me and Peter Wdoviak, the house cleaners, carried all of the wash rags, kitchen and bath towels down to the creek leading to the river to wash them. We weren’t allowed to sit down during the work day, but Pete and I made an exception at this time of declared emergency.

We both made a seat and put our feet in the creek. We washed the towels and told stories, sung old punk rock songs kneippen-860135_1280and talked of our travels. We would sneak away from our job and watch the snakes in the trees, like truant children exploring the woods. We collected river rocks to make a circular pool in the creek for the laundry and fantasized about making our own private hot tub. Some days were harder than others without power. I know this is true, but honestly I can’t remember much about the difficulties. What I do remember is that, that week and a half without electricity brought us back to a simpler time – back to our youth, back to nature. It had turned us into a real community.

Out of disaster comes unity. That’s why in the Twelve Step Fellowships we stick together. We are like survivors of a sinking ship, “escape disaster together… commence shoulder to shoulder your common journey”, we get to abandon ship and start anew, so that others “may survive and rediscover life” (The Big Book, 152-153). Today I am grateful for the hardships in my life and to have fallen so far down. I am enjoying the climb back up. I am grateful for all of the gifts in my life from the basics of water and electricity, to my new friendships and associations. I attribute all of these to the Twelve Step process and the decision I made to take my life back and turn my will over to a Higher Power.

When I got home today and saw that the power was still out, I really wanted to pout about my phone battery being low and that I couldn’t relax and sit down and watch tv. But right now I am so grateful to be sitting in the dark, writing in silence by the light of a candle and flashlight. Because of my journey, I know that no matter what, everything is going to be alright.


About Gabriel Rheaume

Gabriel Rheaume is a word artist, tree lover, and a person in long term recovery. He has been published in print and various online sources. He is from Michigan and was born in 1982. Gabriel has a bachelor's degree in English from Wayne State University, in Detroit.
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  1. Hi Gabe, great words and testimony! Sober and straight today by “The grace of God and the fellowship of this program!” Peace, Fr Charlie B.

    • Father Charlie,

      What a privilege to hear from you! i remember you visiting the Alabama house once or twice while I was there in 2011. You are a real inspiration to all the young men and women in Community and a personal inspiration to me. I didn’t stay for the whole walk, but after I left, I struggled really bad and had more hardships and pitfalls until I had enough. I got involved in both NA and AA and have been clean and sober for over 2 years! Thank you so much for everything you do!

  2. Absolutely beautiful!!

  3. Avatar
    Nick McWilliams

    Wonderfully put! I remember it all.

    • Hey Nick, thanks for reading! I have more Cenacolo stories!

      • I’m about to enter Cenacolo Alabama in two weeks. I am mixed with tons of emotions. I know of other long term treatments as well that could help, and after reading more stories of Cenacolo.I’m having doubts that it’s a true and genuine place to help me. Can you please tell me good and bad things and be unbiased and honest. Thanks

        • Hey William. I don’t think I can give you an unbiased opinion. Have you done the “Working Days”? Three day orientation yet? Feel free to find me and message on Fb Gabe Rheaume or email me, No matter what, if you’re considering Cenacolo, it must mean that you’re in definite need of help, so get help by any means necessary… My best advice is, if you go to Community, after you’ve completed, go to NA or AA, addicts need support no matter how much clean time you have. Getting involved in a program of recovery after completing will keep you clean and happy.

  4. Thank you for stopping by and reading, I’m glad you like the story!

  5. Great insight! Out of disaster comes unity. I love that. E
    verything is going to be alright.

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