It’s not a game. It’s not easy. It’s not luck. Breaking destructive habits is a serious journey. Guiding Light Recovery’s Brian Elve shares some of the thoughts on what our residents need to heal.
“We want this to be a safe space for truth telling.”
Guiding Light Recovery (GLR) Program Director Brian Elve reflects on one of the main goals of the program. “Be honest and learn how to live a life in recovery.”
Sounds simple, but getting to that point takes time. “When guys come in here, they are at rock bottom. I was the same way when I came in.”
Brian knows too well the damage addiction can do. Decades of his own alcohol abuse led him to Guiding Light’s Recovery Program in 2012 and now later this year, he’ll celebrate five years of sobriety and four years of being employed with Guiding Light.
The staff at GLR has implemented a lot of changes over the years, many of which began after Stuart Ray become Guiding Light’s Executive Director in 2009. When Stuart decided that connecting men with stable employment and independent living would be the main focus, they scrutinized every aspect of their programming to make sure it could support that ultimate goal. In short, Guiding Light wanted everyone who came in for help to leave employed and paying his own way through life. For some (like those in the Back to Work program), that period is about three months. But for those in recovery dealing with addiction, it takes longer. The barriers are more complex.
The solution for those in recovery is not simply ‘staying sober’ or even ‘finding a job.’ Alone, those solutions are fleeting. They’re temporary, external fixes. One drink can ruin sobriety and finding a job doesn’t mean you’ll keep it. In theory, someone can stop drinking and find a job in a day or two. But is he rehabilitated? Is he living life differently? How long will the good times last? In order to have long-term results, there is a need to dig deeper.
Five years ago, things were a bit different. Having the men find stable work was certainly a bonus, but not necessarily the end goal. The cafeteria was open twice a day for the public to come and eat free meals, which kept the kitchen and security team pretty busy each day. After supper, the men were shut in for the night, preventing them from getting into trouble, but also keeping them away from attending local support groups.
After years of doing it this way, the staff members were now asking themselves if the structure still worked. They knew they could do better.
“A lot of the guys here do fine with rules. They can follow those,” offers Brian. “But following rules doesn’t translate into long-term health and sobriety. Doing assignments, serving lunches, having friends and working hard are all great things. But they have little to do with staying sober and clean. It doesn’t change years of behavior. Because, what happens when they leave the program and the rules are gone?”
When Brian was first hired as an Employment Counselor in 2013, he lobbied Stuart to start thinking about Alcoholics Anonymous as one potential piece of the program. He introduced Stuart to a couple of friends, successful businessmen, who credit AA as part of their continued sobriety. Stuart agreed this would be a good offering, so they swapped out community suppers for AA meetings onsite several times a week. This was a big turning point in the direction of Guiding Light. Now, when a man is accepted as a candidate for the Recovery program, he’ll attend an AA meeting that very day.
Soon after implementing AA, Brian moved from Guiding Light’s Employment Counselor position to be the Recovery Program Director. “I knew I could help shape this. I knew I had something to offer.” Stuart gave him the autonomy to research, to present new ideas, and modify things along the way. Everything revolved around, “What does this person need to get well? What has been proven to be successful in recovery? What other methods are out there?”
“AA is still only a piece of what goes on here,” Brian says. “Most guys who come in don’t realize how much fuller life can be outside of just ‘not drinking.’ Guiding Light Recovery intentionally pushes at all areas of their life: how they think, speak, act, feel, interact. That’s when our Seven Focus Points begin to impact them.”
The Seven Focus Points were carved into stone (or paper) after researching and experimenting with what worked and what didn’t. Stuart’s early mantra was “don’t worry about how long it takes, let’s just get it right.”
“Getting it right,” so to speak, starts the very day a client walks in the door asking for help. Each person is asked, “Why do you want to be here?” This is where Focus Point One comes into play.
FOCUS POINT # 1: Willingness to Change
The client is willing to change even though it is painful, daily, life-long, slow, and requires new choices.
When a man comes in the front door needing recovery help, he isn’t accepted into the program right away. He’s first given a 7-14 day probationary period where all the staff can meet him, individually and as a group. He’ll be given a bed, three meals a day, and some tasks to do. He’ll attend AA the very day he comes in. The staff observe the man, to see if he’s serious about tackling, not just his addiction, but his whole self. Is he willing to let go of his pride? Is he willing to learn new things? Is he willing to complete small tasks? Is he willing to be honest?
FOCUS POINT # 2: Honesty
The client is willing to share the truth even when there is risk of self-disclosure, discomfort, or unpleasant consequences. Honesty is more than just telling the truth; it demands self-reflection and vulnerability.
Throughout the program, including that early probationary period, honesty is a core value. It’s likely that years of manipulation and unaddressed behavior has brought him to this point in his life. There are no ‘magic words’ for program acceptance, just the demand of ever-deepening honesty.
It’s a big deal when a man is accepted into GLR. It means that he’s given the opportunity to change. Coming in, the client is broken, although he may not realize how broken he is or what he has become. He’ll be drug tested and breathalyzed regularly. He’s given a schedule of classes, counseling sessions and exercise.
Brian shares a unique exercise the men go through: “There’s one week where they need to write down every untruth or white lie they told each day.”
Even the phrase, ‘I’m doing great!’ can be a white lie in a place like this. Is there a deep honesty in what you’re saying, or are you tweaking the story a bit? Through the exercise, Brian often hears men saying, “I had no idea I was changing my story to fit each person I told it to!”
FOCUS POINT # 3: Self-Awareness
The client begins to choose his own patterns of behavior, to understand the stories he tells himself about who he is. Through an ongoing assessment of self, he may develop a different worldview.
Men start to see themselves in a different way as they go through GLR. They start to see patterns of how they relate to others, think, act, feel, and speak. It is both liberating and challenging. Men have full days of classes, assignments, meals, counseling and chores. “We’ll talk about coping methods and defense mechanisms, the things that distract us from looking within.” By the end of the first month, each man will have obtained a sponsor (AA or NA), whom he’ll need to call every day.
Each man will also understand his body’s physical needs, whether that be exercise, good food or sleep. He’ll recognize patterns of behavior, in relating to himself and to others. “It’s a powerful experience to see men start choosing new ways of being and relating,” Brian shares. “It is a privilege to witness their transformation.”
FOCUS POINT #4: Accountability to Others
Through honesty and transparency, the client will allow other people to challenge his attitudes and actions and to hold him to his commitments.
After what might be years of escaping commitment and responsibility, the men are finally held to account here. If something a man says doesn’t quite match his actions, it will likely come up in a session, a meeting, or a devotional, often by his own peers. “They challenge each other!” Brian explains.
There is a lot of hiding and broken promises when men are in their addiction. Here, the men are challenged to structure their lives to be transparent so they can be held accountable for what they say they want and value.
FOCUS POINT #5: Vulnerability
The client learns to live with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. He realizes that vulnerability is NOT a weakness, but is courageous and it can’t be maintained without a willingness to express honest feelings and emotions.
A man humbled enough to ask Guiding Light for help is only part of being ‘vulnerable.’ A man also needs to be teachable and open-minded. He needs to listen to others and be open to constructive feedback.
Many of the men used drinking and drugging to avoid pain, numb feelings and ignore problems. Here the men are presented with tools to help them reveal their true selves and to foster close, meaningful relationships. They’re given tools to help them live a different way of life. Men start to learn how to say what they mean and ask for what they need, letting their true selves be known despite it being uncomfortable and exposing.
Being vulnerable is a key part of learning how to lovingly interact with family and how to live in community with those who challenge you or disagree with you.
FOCUS POINT #6: Spiritual Curiosity
The client realizes that EVERYONE is a spiritual being, and is willing to explore the questions, “What is the content of my spirituality?” and “How does my spirituality show up in my life?”
“God made everyone different so everyone responds differently to our program,” Brian observes. “Without getting to know each man, we wouldn’t know what he needs, personally and spiritually.” For some guys, ‘getting right with God’ is a daunting task.
“Men often want a deeper relationship with God, but they might not know how to get there,” Brian says. Each man is required to meet with a Spiritual Director at least once in the first month of his recovery. These volunteers are carefully selected and professionally trained through the Dominican Center to help the men discover what they want their spiritual lives to look like.
“They’re not pushy,” Brian confirms. “They sit with the men and offer help to get them where they want to go.” In his initial session, each man is asked “What do you want your relationship with God to look like? How do you want it to grow?” The Spiritual Director provides a different kind of counseling, offering tools and strategies to help a man get closer to his faith.
“There is a lot of space to talk about discovering God and who He is,” Brian says. “It’s a key relational piece here.”
FOCUS POINT #7: Self-Compassion
The client starts to see himself as more than the sum of his behaviors and that he has worth simply by being human. Negative self-image is displaced by the realization that all persons are worthwhile and that all persons live with struggles and successes.
After going through GLR, the hope is that each man will have an entirely new way of relating to the world and to himself. He will know that he is worthy of love and deeply valued.
The Seven Focus Point classes are cycled through every seven weeks. All the sessions are geared to work together simultaneously. They’re interactive, conversational, and help the men gain a new level of trust, friendship, and accountability with each other. All the men help by asking each other “How are you going to live differently? What do you want and how will you get there?” The whole curriculum encourages each man to take action toward his true values.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
Sometime during his 4th or 5th month, each man will start looking for work that is suited to his abilities and his commitment to staying sober. Guiding Light will help him save 75% of his check, so that as he transitions out he’ll have a savings account with enough money to start living independently. During the final phase of the program, each man is eligible to rent a room at Iron House, the sober living apartments owned by Guiding Light. While not mandatory, Iron House offers the continued encouragement of a sober community.
Guiding Light Recovery acknowledges the need to expand, especially in light of the recent tsunami of opioid addictions. At this point, the program can only serve 28 men. That’s not a lot when we’re serving all of Kent County and beyond. We’re often near capacity.
There is no question that we’re outgrowing our building. The physical space is constraining for what we’re trying to do. The men have very little private or community space. And there isn’t a single tree or blade of grass on the property.
The hope is that one day, Guiding Light Recovery can relocate to a larger space, a greener space, away from traffic and sirens and other distractions. We long for the day when a man in recovery, reflective of his life, can sit under a tree, look at the sky, and be in awe of the many opportunities he has been given.
THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST HAS BECOME A NEW PERSON. THE OLD LIFE IS GONE; A NEW LIFE HAS BEGUN!
2 CORINTHIANS 5:17