In a Place They Never Imagined
Nobody dreams of one day feeling lost, as if hope is simply something for other people. But the hard realities of life sometimes have a way of sneaking up on us, and we can find ourselves in a place we never imagined.
Each day men and women enter the door of a substance abuse treatment facility. They feel abandoned…ashamed…alone. They want their lives to be more than they are but just can’t seem to break free from an addiction that, in many cases, has been the only consistent thing they’ve known. Broken, they are in search of healing that they aren’t sure even exists.
Not everyone at a treatment facility will find sobriety, but many will. Life-change often is about more than completing a 12-step program. It’s about finding something greater than ourselves. Since 2021, Addiction Recovery Center has partnered with Southeast Christian Church to help those struggling with addiction find the life-change they desperately seek.
Southeast now has a presence in each of ARC’s 16 residential treatment centers throughout Kentucky. Every Sunday more than 750 men and women choose to hear the Gospel at worship services that are hosted by Southeast staff or an ARC intern or employee trained by Southeast.
Those who come to ARC feeling as though their lives are without hope are finding it. In 2022 alone, 1,408 men and women were baptized at monthly convocations, while more than 700 were baptized in just the first part of 2023. In just the past year and a half, over 2,000 people have come to know that God doesn’t define them by their pasts and instead desires a relationship with them.
Besides the weekly worship services, Southeast offers 3-day training sessions for ARC interns who feel they have been called into ministry as well as Spiritual Pathways Discipleship groups open to anyone. The latter features curriculum divided into phases so that clients—no matter how long their stay—can participate and continue their spiritual growth.
Real life-change is happening each day at ARC because of the Southeast-ARC partnership. Men and women who didn’t think they had a future are now excited for what tomorrow will bring.
One of those who now feels that he has a future is Chris Lee. That wasn’t the case a year and a half ago. He wanted to believe that life would get better, but almost three decades of addiction had stolen pretty much any hope that remained.
Now 42, Chris was just 13 when he started using drugs, 16 when he first experimented with harder substances, and 21 when addiction fully consumed him. Although he had his entire life in front of him, his mistakes had already cost him plenty.
A high school baseball star, Chris’ talented right arm earned him a scholarship to pitch in college. Despite having a fastball that gave batters whiplash and him dreams of one day playing professionally, life possessed an even more devastating changeup.
“I was egotistical and that led me to getting kicked out of college, which destroyed any hopes and dreams of what I was going to do in my life. So, alcohol was a comforter,” he said.
Chris did get another baseball scholarship—to Kentucky State University—but he already was so broken that things again didn’t work out and he played just one game. He got a job as a painter at the university but didn’t finish his degree and coped the only way he knew how.
“I spiraled into drug and drink. I had moments of sobriety but nothing lasting,” he said.
As his life floated without direction, Chris had a hard time holding on to things that mattered. He became a father when he was 25, but instead of being the catalyst for turning his life around, it ended up being another painful reminder of the hold that addiction had on him.
While things with the mother didn’t work out, Chris gained custody of their son. That was short-lived, however, because of his inability to break free from drugs and alcohol. Addiction not only cost him custody of his son, but it also robbed him of birthdays, holidays, and the opportunity to be the father that he desperately wanted to be.
“I spent six years away from him in the same town due to my addiction. There’s something very crippling about a father not fulfilling those fatherly duties,” Chris said, adding that he didn’t meet his own father until he was 18 and feared he was living out the same pattern with his son.
Chris tried to find sobriety over the years and even discovered it after completing a 3-month program a few years ago. However, the pain of a failed relationship ended up being too much and he soon “spiraled back into drink and drug.”
The turning point for Chris came on the back of a garbage truck on a rainy day a little over a year ago. Working for the sanitation department, he couldn’t focus on anything other than making sure the methamphetamine in his pocket didn’t get wet. Distracted, he didn’t notice his co-worker in the compactor.
“I went to compact (the trash), and he barely made it out,” Chris said. “He gave me this look, ‘I know why that happened. You almost killed me.’ He didn’t say a word, but just his look, I was so ashamed and guilty.”
Chris quit his job that Monday, showed up at ARC’s Crown Recovery Center for men near Springfield (about 90 minutes southeast of Louisville) on Friday, and had his first day of sobriety on Saturday.
“It wasn’t so much courage but brokenness and guilt, shame, remorse…I was so empty,” he said, adding that he couldn’t continue living the way he had been. “It was either this or death.”
Chris remembers attending the Southeast worship service his first Sunday at Crown and the immediate impact that it had. He recalls that Kyle Idleman’s message was about processing emotions.
“Some of his words I keyed in on really just struck me,” Chris said. “He conveyed this Jesus message, how Jesus might have processed His emotions by going off by Himself. Through those words, I learned to sit in my emotions and let those process, but not become attached to them. From that point on, I kind of let those Sunday services dwell in me.”
As he went through the ARC program, Chris also became disciplined in reading Scripture and processing his emotions through journaling. For the first time in a long time, he could see a life without drugs and alcohol.
“Something just clicked. Those cravings went away. The obsession, the fear of relapsing again, those things kind of went away,” he said. “I had hope—I have hope—and my life has just completely done a 180 from where I was a year ago.”
From church on Sunday, to discipleship groups throughout the week, Chris credits the faith-based program at Crown for not only helping him find sobriety but keeping it.
“My addiction kind of mimics that Matthew 12 story—the devil and his spirits come back even stronger. So, it really was going to take an act of God, it was going to take something like a Southeast-ARC partnership to really turn my life around,” he said.
Chris was baptized in 2017, but he wants to have another celebration—at one of the monthly convocations—now that he is walking in a different light.
Although he has completed the program, Chris still lives at Crown. He serves as the program director for Southeast’s Sunday worship service as well as an admissions clerk for ARC. The former allows him to help others in their faith journey, while the latter enables him to make sure new clients have a positive first encounter when they arrive at the center.
“We try to show them as much love as we can while giving them space to get acclimated, because it’s a tough time. It was a tough time in my life,” he said, adding a client’s experience during the intake process is a vital part of their recovery.
Chris is hopeful that serving as an admissions clerk will be the first step toward a career of helping others overcome addiction. He noted that ARC offers a supervisory program where he can obtain his alcohol and drug counselor’s license, enabling him to open a life coaching business that is founded in recovery and spirituality.
“My life will be in recovery. My career will be in recovery,” he said.
So, why is that important for Chris?
“The selfish answer would be because it saves my life,” he said. “The loving answer would be because it could possibly save somebody else’s.”
Like Chris, Jenn Faler was just 13 when she started using drugs. However, that’s not where the similarities of their stories end.
“I spent 27 years in active addiction,” she said.
While Chris initially found sobriety for a brief period, Jenn, after completing a recovery program in 2017, was sober for years. However, like Chris, her newfound sobriety couldn’t bear the weight of life.
Life became unexpectedly heavy in 2019 when Jenn’s youngest son was diagnosed with a rare life-threatening infection on his brain just before his 12th birthday. Following massive brain surgery, he spent weeks in the hospital and rehabilitation center, where he had to learn to walk again.
Jenn remained sober through it all. But once life settled back down, the months of stress and worry caught up to her and she lost focus. “So, after 3-1/2 years…I had a relapse,” she said.
The cost was high.
“When I first relapsed, I had a 3-bedroom house…I paid all the bills, all three of my kids living with me, I had a really good job, I had a brand-new car, and about eight months later, almost everything was gone,” she said.
Arrested for possession, Jenn begged the officer, judge, anyone who would listen to let her go back to rehab. It had worked before, and she hoped it would again. The court agreed, but instead of sending Jenn to the same program she previously completed, it sent her to ARC’s Blackberry residential treatment center for women in Louisa in the far eastern part of the state.
It didn’t take Jenn long to realize that was God’s doing.
“From the very first time that we went to a Southeast service in Louisa, I could just feel, like, a pulling, and I think, for once in my life, I gave in to something good,” she said.
The court only ordered Jenn to a 90-day treatment program, but she chose to stay an additional three months, also spending time at ARC’s White Oak Hill and Eagle Creek residential centers, in order to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to her.
Jenn transitioned from Eagle Creek to a sober living facility in March and now is in the process of finding her own place. She credits her success to the Southeast-ARC partnership.
“The program that I went to (previously) wasn’t a faith-based program…It wasn’t anything based around God or helping us see that, even though we made bad choices in life, there’s still hope and that we’re still loved,” she said.
Jenn, who is now 46, started making bad choices regarding drugs and alcohol at such a young age partly as a way to bond with her dad. “My dad smoked weed with me, so I thought that was normal,” she said.
Getting high also became a way for Jenn to deal with the insecurities of being a teenager.
“I was sort of always uncomfortable in my own skin and just didn’t know where I fit it or didn’t feel like I fit in,” she said. “So, instead of looking for my worth in God, which is where it is, I wanted people to like me and accept me. Whenever I would do substances, I felt like I fit in or I felt grown up, even though I wasn’t. So, it just kind of helped me cope with things that I didn’t really know how to cope with.”
Following graduation, Jenn went to college but soon dropped out. It’s a pattern that repeated itself for years, as she bounced from job to job and relationship to relationship, always pushing away the people who cared about her the most.
“It’s crazy, because I was so mad at my mom for years because she just wanted what was best for me,” Jenn said. “It wasn’t until later in life when I got sober that I realized my mom was the only person who stuck by me, and she shouldn’t have. I really do believe that if it wasn’t for my mom’s prayers, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
Jenn knew drugs and alcohol were ruining her life and things needed to change, but, having been in and out of so many short-term treatment programs over the years, she felt stuck.
“I was miserable on drugs, and I was miserable off of drugs,” she said. “For people like me, after you get so far into your life and that’s all that you know, you eventually want to stop and then you can’t. You don’t know how to.”
Jenn is thankful that God didn’t give up on her and led her to ARC. It was there that she learned that she didn’t have to be miserable anymore. Not only did she find sobriety, but she also found Him. Baptized at Eagle Creek, she now attends church every Sunday and Bible study with her mom throughout the week.
“I stay around people that I want to be like, not people that I don’t want to be like,” she said.
Jenn wants others battling addiction to know that they, too, don’t have to be miserable. With hope of one day becoming a certified alcohol and drug counselor, she is interning at one of ARC’s outpatient centers and soon will be taking classes to earn her peer support certification.
“It’s going to help me remember where I came from when I see someone early in recovery. It’s going to help me remember what I don’t want to go back to,” she said of working with those in recovery. “It will help me show people that they can do it, too, because I remember when I didn’t think my life was ever going to be different.”
Jenn also wants others to know that no matter what mistakes they’ve made, God still loves them.
“If they don’t think there is any hope for them, there really is hope,” she said. “They just have to believe, and they just have to open their heart just a little bit to let God in, and He will show them the way.”
The post-treatment path will not look the same for everyone whose life has been touched by Southeast at ARC. The hope, however, is that they will continue their faith walk, in turn aiding their recovery journey.
“Part of our plan and goal is to partner with smaller churches all over the state so that when a client leaves treatment, we can hand them off to a known, healthy church if they are unable to attend a Southeast campus,” said Bill Weedman, who serves as the ARC Operations Leader for Southeast.
That may not always be possible since clients sometimes leave or relocate suddenly. Still, Southeast staff are hopeful that clients will remember a theme that has been repeated throughout each phase of the Spiritual Pathways Discipleship group: Sobriety is not the absence of addiction; sobriety is the addition of connection.
Jodi Seevers, Southeast’s ARC Women’s Ministry Leader for the West Region, called it a privilege to witness women grow in their faith.
“We have seen women move from avoiding the areas where we have church and classes each week, to coming in reluctantly with heads down and not making any eye contact, to eventually walking in with their heads up and grounded in the truth that they each were made in the image of God on purpose for a purpose,” she said.
Jodi noted it is a special moment when they let their guard down and become engaged.
“When they lean in, open their Bibles, and start asking questions, we are so excited because we know they feel safe,” she said.
Both Chris and Jenn experienced that moment during their stay at ARC. Their prayer now is that everyone who walks through the doors at ARC will as well.