By Susan LeDoux
Celebrate Recovery is a Christian 12-step program that relies on God rather than a vague “higher power,” to help with “hurts, habits and hang-ups,” not just drug or alcohol addiction.
Bill Gibbons, Discipleship and Leadership Development Pastor at Pearce Memorial Church works closely with two couples who “saw the vision of Celebrate Recovery and ran with it.” Local churches like Pearce, are embracing this faith-based ministry because it helps people become better Christians and overcome what may have a hold on their lives.
The Good News spoke with the couples (which we named “Joe and Sarah,” “Mark and Kathy”) as they spoke with, according to Gibbons, “courageous transparency” about their individual journeys.
Prior to starting Celebrate Recovery at Pearce, each reclaimed his/her life through a different 12-step program. Sarah said although it is great they could support each other as spouses, “it’s really important that both of us know we have to be on our own journey.”
She and her husband, Joe, shared a common struggle with alcohol, but stressed they were in different situations. Sarah had lost custody of her children during her battle with addiction.
They all dealt with denial.
“I was full of denial,” Sarah said. “I felt like, maybe I am an alcoholic, but let me just try to control my drinking. If I was controlling it, I wasn’t enjoying it. If I was enjoying it, I wasn’t controlling it.” Simply not drinking did not work. It was not until she entered a 12-step program that she regained control over her life.
“What was originally “perfect” in my mind is different from what I have today. I’m unbelievably happy and free from alcohol addiction.”
When Joe saw the change in his wife, he decided a 12-step program might work for him as well. He found his own program and began his separate journey to sobriety.
Although they support each other, Sarah said, “That’s really important that both know (our journeys must be separate). It’s great we’re here to support each other, but I have to be careful not to do things for him because if I say, ‘I think you need to pray more,” he thinks he already prays enough. I have to be okay with that. It’s not my job to fix him.” Likewise, his suggestion that she may need to call her sponsor may or may not go over like a lead balloon, depending on how she is feeling.
When Kathy realized she was powerless over fear, anxiety, and perfectionism, she also turned to a 12-step program. She learned perfectionism and control were the coping strategies she had been using to make sense of her world.
And her world had its challenges. Her husband, Mark had been dealing unsuccessfully with sexual struggles throughout their marriage. He found his own 12-step program and finally won freedom from a 35-year battle.
“Not only did I find freedom from this thing,” he said, “but I found a relationship with Christ that I never had before. I’d always been a Christian, but struggled with God’s love, like it wasn’t super real. I believed in him and saw evidence of him around me in the beauty of creation, but I didn’t see a lot of evidence that he loved me. But through that program and the whole process, I did see that, and felt his love.”
Sometimes God brings us through trials for a purpose.
Kathy said she remembered sitting in the pew at Pearce when God placed it on her heart that she had to tell her story to someone.
“I did not want to do that. I felt I told enough people, but God kept reiterating that over and over again.” She and Mark decided to go to Pastor Roger Haskins and tell him they both are involved in 12-step programs, and that the church is often the least safe place for people to admit they were struggling. “Yet that’s what God called the church to be — the safe place, the hands and feet of God’s love,” Kathy said. ” Instead, it’s the place to wear masks.”
Pastor Roger embraced the idea of a Celebrate Recovery program. Soon both couples were off to Tennessee for training.
Celebrate Recovery is not only for drug or alcohol addictions. Rather, it is a 12-step program to free people from whatever holds them back from becoming the men and women God created them to be. Our addictions, like our idols, can take many forms. As Kathy stressed, Celebrate Recovery can be for anyone.
Since all four of them continue in their separate 12-step programs, could Celebrate Recovery be the only 12-step program for a person struggling with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups?”
Yes, they said. However, some people may need to attend a meeting daily, or in Sarah’s case, two to three a day. The Celebrate Recovery program includes 12-step studies in addition to the general meeting open to all on Wednesday evenings.
Pastor Bill Gibbons explained Celebrate Recovery is one of several “journey” groups (other churches may call them “small” groups) at Pearce involved with worship, community, and service. Leading Celebrate Recovery is how these couples serve.
The 12-step study included in Celebrate Recovery is gender specific — men with men on Mondays, women with women on Thursdays. The study groups are closed to new people until the members complete the study. Leaders from previous studies will then lead new 12-step studies. Having accountability partners keeps members close.
Joe said, “The first three steps sum it up: ‘I can’t,’ ‘God can,’ and ‘I will let him’ All we have to do is turn to him. It’s a process, and we won’t end up in some perfect Nirvana. We will find redemption.”
At Celebrate Recovery they share pain, laughter, and worship in celebration of what God is doing in their lives. For more information, go to https://pearcechurch.org/journey-groups/