Allen is 51 years old and has been a client of the Guiding Light Recovery program for seven months. He was born and raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, and has spent the last thirty years of his life “on a tear” throughout the country.
Looking back on his life today, he can now say that he has been an alcoholic and addict from the very beginning. But it took multiple close brushes with death, whether purposefully or accidentally, for him to come to terms with the reality that he truly needed help.
Growing up in Battle Creek, Allen started out with high hopes and prospects. At age 22, he owned his own restaurant but was “too young and didn’t know how to manage money” and had a tendency to “blow any money I had on the wrong things.” From the very start, Allen found it easier to run away from his problems rather than face them. “I burned all my bridges in Battle Creek, I walked out on a, not even two years old son. I told my family that I would be right back and kissed my son on the forehead and then jumped on a plane to Georgia and never looked back.” In Atlanta, Allen re-connected with his biological father, who got him a construction job. Even at this young age, in retrospect, Allen recognizes the way he was living was completely beyond the pale. “It was just nuts…me living in a big city, getting a job and living in hotel, getting paid on Friday and then waking up Saturday and, nine times out of ten I wouldn’t even get any sleep and I’d be broke, that’s how it was for the entire year.” From there, Allen began a pattern he would continue throughout his life of always finding work in the field that he loves and feels he was “put on this earth to do,” cooking. No matter what levels of self-destruction and insanity his prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol would drive him to, he would always find a way to keep going. “The owner of the construction company found out I used to own a restaurant and was a very experienced cook, and it turned out he had a restaurant in Dayton, Ohio. So, instead of sending me out to the next job site he flew me out there. He put me up in an apartment and I was trained by a chef there. I did good for probably about six months, and then it was just the same old thing just a different time. I was hitting every bar on the way home from work, just making a mess of everything.” From there, Allen decided to move in with his step-father in Cincinnati and “got a job right away in a roadhouse that just opened up. Within three weeks of working there as a cook, the owner saw what I could do, and paid for my hotel room right next door and promoted me to Kitchen Manager within a month and…here we go again. It was just a party in the hotel room every night after work, I was working seven days a week on 12-13 hour shifts and I was drinking in all my free time.”
By this time Allen was about 30 years old and decided to move to Miami where he, again, quickly found employment in the restaurant business and ingratiated himself into his new surroundings. “I got a job at a Longhorn’s Steakhouse and the first night went out with a bunch of the cooks to a local Café. I walk up to the bar, and a guy comes up to greet me and gives me a bag of cocaine and says ‘welcome to Miami,’ and there you go. It was like hitting the lottery again, everything is dirt cheap, new friends…same stuff, just a different location. I kept that up for a couple years.” In Miami, Allen fell deeper and deeper into a lifestyle of drug abuse for over a decade. “Looking back at it now, it only felt like a few years. It just amazes me to this day, but…it was a lifestyle and just a big haze, and that’s just the way it was, and I thought it was okay to live like that.”
Allen has spoken about how his addiction forced him to become “confined” to himself. He describes a condition in which there was no amount of drugs or alcohol that could help him forget the emptiness inside his soul. This feeling of inescapable internal meaninglessness and darkness is a story that many who struggle with addiction can relate to. It is a story of how there are never enough drugs, drinks, changes of scenery, relationships, jobs, or lifestyle choices in the world that can change the fundamental fact that you cannot escape the person looking back at you in the mirror. “It was terrible, I mean, it was nice at first with the beaches and all that but once you got into the cocaine and started locking yourself up that’s all that matters. You’re so high you can’t escape. You can’t even go to the grocery store and you just want more and more drugs and alcohol and that’s all you think about.”
Allen bounced around for several more years from “Florida, to Reno, to Georgia, to Michigan, to Kentucky…back and forth, back and forth.” The one constant in his life was his ability to ingratiate himself into any situation he found himself in. He could, somehow, always find a way to make a living no matter where he was. “The best thing, or worst depending on how you look at it, is that I could get a job at any restaurant I walked into. So, I don’t know if ultimately that was my biggest downfall or what, but it supported my habit.” Eventually he found himself back in Florida living with his biological father again and working at a Mancino’s. “Here we go again,” he said. “I had all the beer I could drink, just stay away from the hard drugs is all he asked me. All I would do was drink and work…and that was my life, I was a functioning alcoholic.” It was around this time that Allen began attempting to try getting sober and spent some time in treatment for his alcoholism but was “drinking a beer within five minutes” of leaving. From this point on, Allen began to feel increasingly hopeless and his addiction started to take some very dark turns for the worse. He recalls times when he would “disappear for weeks and end up on the wrong side of town with the wrong people, doing drugs and drinking. I wouldn’t go outside and I would just have people bring me what I needed. I did whatever I could to stay hidden.”
Allen eventually found his way back to Michigan, the details of which even he admits are fuzzy. “To be honest with you, I don’t remember how I ended up back here at all.” The day he arrived in Battle Creek, he found himself in a jail cell within hours. “I was hungry, and I went to this local grocery store to steal meat, and I was so messed up the meat was hanging out of my pocket. I asked the cashier for a garbage bag and he said to me ‘no you’re not getting a garbage bag you’re going to jail.’ I went straight to jail…the same day I got back to Michigan.” Allen was charged with shoplifting, and spent several months locked up.
Allen immediately went to a year-long rehabilitation facility upon his release, within 18 months he was drinking again. “It started with a few shots of vodka at night to a half-gallon a day within a week.” Allen’s lifestyle was beginning to really catch up with him in a bad way. He found himself back in his hometown with everything around him going completely off the rails. He was no longer able to continue his “good-luck” streak of finding a way to squeak by as a functioning alcoholic, it was the beginning of the end. “I went to go check myself in at the local mission downtown to dry myself out, because I was drinking way too much. I was looking for help.” Allen managed to stay sober for a brief period of time and got a job working at Jimmy John’s. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Michigan the shelter Allen was staying at closed down and he was put up into a hotel across the street from a liquor store. One night at that hotel, Allen attempted suicide by purposefully overdosing and trying to drink himself to death. However, God appeared to have other plans for him. “I woke up the next morning…laughing…hearing the birds chirping. And I just looked up at the sky and said ‘alright You win, I’ll go get some help.”
Allen checked himself into a hospital and began the long and painful process of detoxing from incredibly high and dangerous levels of constant alcohol abuse. “I went from drinking a couple of half-gallons of vodka a day to nothing. It was miserable, I was having seizures left and right, the nurses were all shocked that I was still alive.” From there, Allen was sent to Pine Rest in Grand Rapids where he first heard about Guiding Light. “I just happened to see a flyer that said 77% of all men here that complete the program make it, and it caught my eye. I called them up and an actual human answered the phone. I told him what was up, he asked when I could be here, and I went to talk to my case worker about it. The next thing you know I’m in a cab, then I’m standing outside of this building. I have no clue where I’m at, and I have this huge guy holding this door open for me, and he tells me his name is Brian (Guiding Light Recovery Program Director, Brian Elve).” It was at this moment that Allen’s life took on a new chapter. “It’s been a journey, I didn’t realize right then and there that I was turning my will over to God and admitting that I was powerless over alcohol when I decided to ask for help until I got here. You know, when I got here I didn’t think I was going to make it, I had my bags packed more than once and I thought to myself okay, since I couldn’t kill myself before, if I don’t get accepted here I can go live on the streets and get COVID and die that way. That’s how I was going to do it, the quickest, easiest way I thought. Just be done with it and I’ll just be another statistic.” But Allen believes God clearly had other plans for him. He was accepted into the Recovery program in June, 2021, and has been here ever since.
It is ironic that, after completing his four months in the program, Allen was hired to become the new Kitchen Director at Guiding Light. Here he is today, doing the same job that he had always described as enabling his lifestyle of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Now however, this all-too-familiar job enables and nurtures his new-found connection with God, sobriety, and gives him an outlet to help his fellow man. “I like this life now because there is no drama. It’s very humbling to reach out to people that need food and to be able to provide that for them. It’s an amazing feeling to go from having nothing to having this responsibility. When I finally gave everything to God, he’s given back to me ten times over.” Allen’s relationship with God has transformed as a result of his experience at Guiding Light, and he now sees him as a “friend” rather than an adversary. “The first time I went to church I hated it, I hated the preacher because I thought he was talking to me. I always had a negative attitude about that kind of stuff, but, once I actually saw how He got me from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids within a week’s time…there’s only one way…God did it. He made it possible for me to get here and to find out exactly who He was and what He is capable of. I have seen the miracles that He has provided here with other men and myself. He’s someone who I can talk to, and He gives me confirmation, a couple times a week, if I am staying on the right path.”
Today, Allen is seven months sober, and is planning on moving to Iron House, Guiding Light’s sober living apartments in Kentwood. From there he plans on continuing to stay connected with his fellow brothers in recovery and continue to work as the Guiding Light Kitchen Director for the foreseeable future. While in Guiding Light, Allen also managed to reconnect with his, now 27 years old, son, has regular conversations with him, and is working to become a part of his life again. Allen is a long, long way from the person he was when he came through the doors of Guiding Light. “I told myself and I told others that if I didn’t make it through here, somehow I would figure out how to get someone to have some kind of guardianship over me, because I really needed somebody to keep tabs on me. I knew that if I went back to being by myself, I’d be dead. But now, with God in my life, there’s no stopping me and I can finally live a successful life, and I can enjoy life and just be happy. Turns out God has wanted me to be happy this whole time, but I never knew it until I got here.”
Allen is just one of so many examples of men that have come to Guiding Light at the absolute end of their rope and at the peak of utter desperation, despair, and hopelessness. He is an absolute testament to the incredibly powerful and transformative work that takes place here. By any rational measurement, Allen should not be alive today. Yet somehow, here he is, doing (as it says on his business card) “God’s work.” None of the success stories like Allen’s that come out of Guiding Light would be possible without you. Believe it or not, it is because of the generous support and donations from people like you that Allen is alive today. “It’s been an amazing story and an amazing journey. If you would have told me seven months ago that God would be in my life and that things would work out the way they have I wouldn’t have believed you. This is my new family here at Guiding Light, and I want to say thank you so much to everyone that made this possible.” God bless you, from all of us at Guiding Light, for helping men like Allen find God’s grace in this world. Thank you for giving the men of our community a new lease on life and for helping them to find a better way of living today. None of this would be possible without you.
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