Pictured above: The Renewal Ranch in Houston, Arkansas, is one place men can go for help overcoming addiction.


In American culture, there are many idioms by which men are defined and conditioned, most of them extolling the virtues of the rugged individualist, the steely he-man who feels no pain and suffers no weaknesses. U.S. culture is packed with examples of this ideotype in action, from cowboys to crime fighters to superheroes in TV and film, not to mention the tough-guy attributes that come from the world of sports.


As with any stereotype, reality hardly squares with such crafted images, and that is particularly true when it comes to mental health. Statistics show men are just as predisposed to common mental health issues as women and, in some cases, much more so. Yet many still suffer in silence due to fear of being stigmatized over failing to tough things out and be the bullet-proof, self-reliant breadwinner and all-around superhero many men are socialized to regard as ideal.


Consider: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show men represent 80 percent of suicides annually in the U.S. and are more than 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Mental Health America reported that more than 6 million men experience symptoms of depression annually and state that the number is likely egregiously underreported. Men lead their female counterparts in rates of substance use disorder, as well as various addictions, including gambling, pornography and video games.


Many men never seek help for their problems, and those who do often wait until they hit rock bottom. Paul Holderfield Jr., pastor of Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock, said he has seen the scenario time and again. Holderfield’s church runs a small recovery program for members and their loved ones, but his experience with addiction goes back much further to his own upbringing.

Paul Holderfield Jr. and his wife, Cathy

Coming from a long line of “drunkards,” he said, his father finally “broke the chains” when he kicked his drinking habits. Holderfield and his siblings never touched the stuff.


“It changed the course of my family,” he said.


Holderfield’s church program largely serves church members and their loved ones at no cost. The last class had 10 men and 10 women, and the next class, which starts in August, will last four months. Holderfield said the biggest part of the program are Sunday morning services, and he considers faith the ultimate weapon in the battle against substance abuse.


He said the ministry is currently “maxed out” due to a combination of high demand and the high cost of other treatment programs, which has led other nonprofits to enter the field in a big way. The average cost for a person to go through a recovery program in the state is $53,000 for an average of 28 days, said James Loy, executive director of Renewal Ranch in Houston, Arkansas. Renewal Ranch’s recovery curriculum lasts one year and is free to patients.

— James Loy, executive director of Renewal Ranch

The ranch started in 2011 with a class of eight men and has grown to over 70 men and their families. By the end of the year, Loy hopes to be able to facilitate having 100 men at once. The ranch employs 30 full-time staff members, 11 of whom are graduates of the program.


“I would describe our program as an intense discipleship program,” he said, adding that participants undergo 600 hours of biblical teaching and 300 hours of community service.


The process has its wins; more than 400 men have graduated from the ranch to date, and many have moved on to become pastors, college graduates, policemen and business owners. The group created an endowment two years ago to provide scholarships for alumni who decide to go on to pursue a degree.


Places like Renewal Ranch teach critical skills for staving off temptations. Those skills include personal accountability, building a community of support, asking for help, knowing limits and situational awareness. Loy said the general success rate of addiction recovery is 4 to 5 percent, while his program tracks at about 60 percent of graduates staying clean and sober a year out.

boys mental health

The ranch not only helps men overcome addictions, but it also provides aftercare that can help them stay sober in the long run.

“What we’re looking for is a little brokenness, a little honesty, transparency and definitely a willingness to change the direction of their lives,” he said. “Addiction is the height of selfish, self-centered behavior. … Addiction leads you to a place where I do what I want when I want and how I want. They’re coming from a very undisciplined life, and we’re trying to get them to lead a disciplined life.”


He said one primary differentiator is not having a program cost, which allows patients to focus solely on recovery without worrying about paying for it. That is important because financial stressors can often set back progress. None of that pressure makes it into the ranch, where all participants’ needs are met, from food and materials to teachers and more.


Most of the curriculum at Renewal Ranch focuses on substance abuse, but there are other snares for men to fall into, especially during the age of the internet. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health estimates between 3 to 5 percent of all Americans can be classified as being addicted to sex, and a Kinsey Institute survey reported 9 percent of porn viewers said they tried unsuccessfully to stop consumption.


“[Porn] is rampant all throughout society,” said Blake Polston, executive director of M18 Recovery in Little Rock.


M18 works alongside New Life Church in Little Rock and is divided into two parts, M18 Men and M18 Women, which is run by Polston’s wife, Ashley. In addition to addiction, Polston’s program also teaches about lust and pornography, connecting those having difficulty with these vices to Polston’s counterparts at NLC.


“As a pastor, my best source is the Bible,” said Jerry Biuso, pastor at New Life Church, who quoted the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew:


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell, and if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”


M18 is 4 1/2 years old and has grown from four beds to 34 over time. The free program has the capacity for 12 men in phase 1, 12 men in phase 2, six women in phase 1 and six women in phase 2. Phase 1 lasts four months, and completers are given the option of entering phase 2, which is the organization’s aftercare phase and can last indefinitely.


Polston said in addition to men being more likely to engage in addictive behaviors than women, there are also general differences in each gender’s approach to getting help. With drugs and alcohol, for example, men heading towards rock bottom will often wind up homeless, while women are more likely to enter into toxic, enabling relationships with men just to avoid living on the streets. Those behavior trends apply even if there are children involved; men will often leave their kids in the care of others, while women usually opt to stay with their kids, even if it means not seeking treatment.


After recovery, the disparities continue because men can find basic jobs and roommates while they work to land on their feet. Women who have gotten clean face greater challenges, such as landing a decent job and finding suitable housing for themselves and their children.


M18 takes a page from John 3:16 Ministries near Batesville, a treatment program from which Polston graduated. Before leading his ministry, Polston was arrested for drug manufacturing when he lived in a trailer on his family’s land in northeast Arkansas. Spending 38 days in county jail, he said he thanked the drug task force agent for arresting him, giving his life to Jesus that day in handcuffs.


Bryan Tuggle, founder and director of John 3:16, helped Polston get out of jail and into the program. The two shared more than a profession: Tuggle was Polston’s stepfather years prior, when Tuggle was suffering from his own bout with addiction. Polston got clean and went on to spend 2 1/2 years at the facility.


Polston met his wife at a youth detention facility in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where they were both ministering to incarcerated teens. The couple were later hired as the recovery pastors at New Life Church in Conway, where, Polston said, they eventually felt led to start an in-patient recovery facility in the heart of Little Rock. They desired something that was not on an island and gave patients the opportunity to do right or wrong every single day, he added.


One important thing successful programs have in common is the understanding that addiction can reach anyone anywhere. Loy said having an open door means welcoming individuals from all neighborhoods and all points on the socioeconomic scale with the same love and compassion.


“What we see at Renewal Ranch is addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Loy said. “Whether you’re rich, poor, Black, white, Hispanic — whatever ethnic or socio-economic background that you come from, what addiction touches, it destroys.”


Loy said he knows what those in the program are going through, having waged his own battle with alcohol and drugs. After losing his father at age 8 and watching his mother die of cancer while he was in high school, he turned to drinking after his senior year of football. Drinking turned to marijuana, which turned to cocaine, meth and pills.


“Ten years later, I’m addicted to a multitude of substances, and I’m in bondage,” he said. “The journey of how I got there was a slow progression of going deeper and deeper into the depths of addiction.”


Loy said some of the common pitfalls he sees today involve gateway drugs, such as people using marijuana before experimenting with harder drugs. Another slippery slope, he said, is when men are prescribed pain pills for a sports- or work-related injury, which can quickly lead to dependency and expand into opioid abuse, including the use of heroin and fentanyl.


“We’re seeing a lot of that currently,” Loy said. “It’s not what’s in the gun cabinet; it’s what’s in the pill cabinet at home. They have access to that, and it’s really damaging.”


Experts have found the same to be true with any addiction.


“Pornography is the most prominent form of unwanted sexual behavior, infiltrating every aspect of the places we live, work and worship,” wrote author Jay Stringer in his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.


Stringer wrote that porn, a $97 billion industry that comprises 35 percent of all online downloads, doubles a couple’s likelihood of divorce. As with substance abuse, Loy said the dangers of “small concessions” often lead down the path to dependency.


“What’s going in the eye gates, and what are you listening to?” he said. “If you put junk in, you’re going to get junk out.”


Proper support is a big component for men dealing with any addiction — or even avoiding such behaviors altogether — as the oft-used “iron sharpens iron” motto preaches. By that same token, the wrong circle can also bring a man back down. After finding recovery, many men are emboldened to return to their old friends and help them see the light. That is extremely dangerous because it can be hard to know if temptation still has a hold, Polston said, adding that he knows the lesson all too well.


A friend of his had been sober for three years after graduating from Renewal Ranch. He was planning an intervention for another man, which Polston advised he should not do alone. Later that night, Polston received a call from his friend’s wife, who told him Polston’s friend had died. He was offered drugs and shot up in a Walgreens parking lot, where he overdosed with his children in the backseat, Polston said.


“He had no idea the magnitude or the gravity that that substance still had on his life,” said Polston. “He had no clue.”


For help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline at 800-662-4357 or the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. If someone has an overdose, don’t run; call 911.


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