The first time I walked into Celebrate Recovery® at Horizons Church, I showed up for all the wrong reasons: I wanted to impress my girlfriend, Kourtney, who had been bugging me to go with her.
As I sat through 45 minutes of what I later learned was “Large Group,” I determined my Celebrate Recovery experience would be “one and done.” I thought it was time to go, but Kourtney informed me that there was more to the CR experience. I listened halfheartedly as the man up front rattled off several “Open Share Groups” that would be taking place in five minutes. The last group he mentioned was “Men’s Welcome Home for Veterans.”
“They’ve got a group just for veterans?” I mumbled. “Well, I’m stuck here until Kourtney is ready to leave; I might as well be stuck with some fellow veterans.”
I had joined the Marine Corps right out of high school, after a very difficult childhood in rural Lewis County, West Virginia. My early years were an endless crucible of sexual and violent physical abuse. I often told social workers cover stories for my own mother. I thought I was being responsible by lying. After all, if they knew the truth, they would “break up” our family and send us to foster homes.
One day, after being sexually abused by a family friend, I reported the incident to my mother. I was horrified when she laughed out loud saying, “I doubt it.” When I lashed out in violence against the teenager responsible, my mother still refused to believe I had been victimized.
It crushed my heart to know that my own mother wouldn’t protect me. I realized I was on my own in this world. I isolated myself, shutting out all relationships and acting out violently with classmates. I seethed with anger, getting into fights on a regular basis.
My violence landed me in trouble with school officials, which provoked more physical abuse at home from my mother and stepfather. I was in a cycle of anger and violence. In high school I added a constant flow of alcohol, and the cycle was complete. After a particularly painful episode with my mother and stepfather, I walked out of my house and never looked back. I was 16 years old, and I was homeless. I bounced from couch to couch or slept outside until a classmate’s family offered their home to live in until I graduated.
I somehow managed to finish high school, and I immediately joined the Marine Corps. I hoped it might be a way out of the maddening cycle in which I was trapped. After boot camp and School of Infantry, I became a machine gunner and checked into my unit at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Unfortunately, my habits followed me there. Drinking and fighting were routine. As I prepared for my first deployment to the war in Afghanistan, I realized I was an alcoholic.
During my time in the Marine Corps, I saw and did things that no one should have to experience. I came home to West Virginia as a violent alcoholic with PTSD. I chose to divorce my wife at the time to prevent further damaging her. I was arrested multiple times on alcohol-related charges and violence.
Finally, in late 2016 I found myself homeless again. While trying to impress my girlfriend, Kourtney, I found myself in that first Celebrate Recovery meeting. I had decided I wasn’t coming back. But I chose to attend the Welcome Home group since I was stuck at the church until Kourtney was ready to leave. I’m so glad I did.
I sat down in that tiny circle with two Iraq/Afghan veterans, one veteran of Desert Storm, and two veterans who served in the Navy. Each man was older than me, and each man impressed me with his kindness, transparency, and acceptance. I liked how they spoke to one another with candor and love. I liked how they called one another “brother.” I could tell they meant it.
Guess what? Even though I had decided I was “one and done,” I came back the next week and the week after that and the week after that. That was nearly two years ago. During the past two years, I received Christ as my Savior. I followed him in water baptism and completed a Step Study. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. I haven’t been in a single fight. I mended relationships with my family. I got a good job. I married Kourtney. I’ve become a leader in my Celebrate Recovery group, and I use my story to help others.
Frankly, I’m not sure I would be alive today if I hadn’t found Christ and my brothers at Celebrate Recovery. I still struggle, but now I don’t struggle alone. I continue to grow in my relationship with God. I want to stay dependent upon him, and I’m always brought back to one important reminder for me, from 1 Corinthians 10:12—“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (NIV).
And that’s why we at Celebrate Recovery say, “Keep coming back!” Thanks for letting me share.