Renea Ritchie grew up with parents who found themselves buried beneath the pressures of life. Her father was a bad gambler and her mother suffered from mental health issues. This meant that they didn’t always deal well with things, including Renea.
So, at the age of 9, Renea began her unexpectedly long journey with drugs. She was in trouble with the law two years later, and by the time she was 13, her parents locked her out of the house, forcing her to stay on the streets. Terrified, Renea had no money, nowhere to go, and no one to turn to.
When she was 14, Renea got engaged to a 26-year-old man, marrying him five days after her 15th birthday. “That was my father’s idea,” she said.
Then, at age 18, she began using intravenous drugs, changing the trajectory of her life. “If I would have only known,” she reflected.
During the next 20 years, Renea was in jail more than she was out. She had overdosed and been hospitalized multiple times. She had been homeless and arrested for a myriad of things.
“I’ve lost everything that I have ever loved because of my addiction,” she said.
Renea had one hospital stay where she hit rock bottom. Hospitalized for three months, she developed MRSA in one of her lungs and needed various invasive procedures. The infection spread to her bloodstream, she became septic, and her body started rejecting the antibiotics. Three different times in that one hospital stay, her condition became so critical that her doctors—unsure if she would make it through the night—warned Renea that she should call her family to come say potential goodbyes.
The first time this happened, Renea called home, but her family said they didn’t have enough gas money to come see her. The second time, she called and they said they didn’t like hospitals, so they wouldn’t be coming that time either. The third time, she didn’t even bother to call, assuming they would make up another excuse not to come.
Unsure of how many more breaths she had left and feeling the weight of everyone abandoning her, Renea had a divine encounter with the Lord. He met her through a doctor who was brought to his knees by her story, desperate to save her life so that she would know her value in the eyes of his Heavenly Father. She believes that doctor was an angel sent from God to encourage her that she had a purpose and that God was not yet finished.
Still, after recovering, Renea went back to the streets, to the comfort of what she knew. She was kicked out of the county, run out of the state, and found herself caught up in abusive relationships. She was arrested for having two active meth labs in her house for which she received a 12-year sentence. She felt like that was the end for her.
Renea’s sentence, however, was probated and she was sent to Addiction Recovery Care (ARC). This was her turning point.
“There were people there that loved me back to life when I wasn’t able to love myself,” she said.
On August 9, 2019 at ARC, Renea decided to follow Christ.
Renea stayed and completed ARC’s internship program and Peer-Support Academy. She became a Licensed Peer-Support Specialist and worked full-time on staff. Renea was so proud of how far she had come.
Renea, however, hadn’t processed the mental and emotional brokenness she had experienced. She also was dealing with not having talked to her children in 12 years and the death of her parents shortly after having rebuilt a relationship with them. During all of this, she wasn’t working her recovery program, and just like that, she made one wrong decision that quickly led her to relapse.
As Renea continued walking with Jesus in this commonly nonlinear process of recovery and healing, she decided to return to ARC’s residential recovery program. She came face-to-face with the reality of relapse in the recovery process.
“The guilt and shame that comes with relapse has killed so many,” she said.
However, the Father took what the enemy meant for evil and turned it for good in Renea’s story.
Today, Renea is grateful to be at ARC actively working toward healing emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Her humility radiates from her as she rejoices in a second chance.
“When you are called to help the broken or broken-hearted, God has to break you first. Because of what I’ve been through, I can relate and understand others,” Renea said.
“I didn’t throw away those 20 months of sobriety,” she added. “I am still proud to say that out of the last 26 months, I’ve been clean for 25. I praise God because my relapse has only made me stronger.”
Renea is now just a few days away from becoming an intern again, and she is walking faithfully alongside the other women at ARC.
Renea’s recovery journey isn’t unlike that of most alcoholics and addicts.
“It’s not a light switch thing a lot of times. It takes time to work through the reasons that you were driven to substances to change the way you felt,” said Matt Robison, Southeast's ARC Connections Ministry Leader.
While there are times a person never takes another drink after turning their life over to God, the reality is only 3% to 9% of addicts and alcoholics get clean and sober, and they relapse an average of five times.
“That’s not me waking up in the morning…hung over,” Matt said. “That is telling someone I need help, starting down that pathway of help, and then relapsing.”
Having struggled with his sobriety for years before taking his last drink almost two years ago, Matt knows that recovery truly is a journey and, like with Renea, the journey doesn’t start over following a relapse, but instead continues.
“You don’t lose what you had. You just change your sobriety date,” he said.
It’s why those who are now sober continue to refer to themselves as alcoholics and addicts. Faith may have delivered them from their desire and trust in their substance abuse, but recovery remains an ongoing process.
“It’s my choice every day whether I want to walk in deliverance,” Matt said. “I have to do the things I have to do every single day to stay on that path.”
For Matt, that means going to counseling, staying in contact with his sponsor, helping other men in their struggle with addiction, and speaking freely about his recovery.
“If I’m not talking about recovery, you should worry about my recovery,” he said.
Matt, like Renea, understands the importance of releasing himself of shame from his addiction, pointing to Romans 5:3-5: “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
For those who think that recovery should be quick, simple, and without relapse, Matt reminds them of the ultimate purpose of the recovery journey.
“We act like our goal is to have this super-long sobriety date, and that’s great,” he said. “But the goal is to not die or to not hurt any other people. What I love about Renea’s statement of ‘I’ve been sober for 25 of the last 26 months,’ that means for 25 months, she’s still here.”