Guiding Light Helps Tim Build a Sober Life After Losing it All
The very first time Tim tasted alcohol – at the age of 14 – he remembers that “I absolutely loved it. It was like a euphoric sense of freedom. Once I took that drink, it’s like all my anxiety went away, and a fog was lifted.”
Today, some 30 years later, he looks in the rearview mirror to understand that only by the grace of God is he alive to tell his story, one that includes a year-long stretch where “I almost drank myself to death.”
Tim was born to a farm family in Zeeland, the second of four children raised by college graduates. His father worked as a diesel mechanic and his mother served as a nurse. He was exposed at an early age to the Christian Reformed Church, youth groups, summertime camping trips and a healthy dose of friends hailing from church and school.
By the time he was in high school, though, Tim started using alcohol and dropped out. He began experimenting with marijuana as well and, by the time he was 17, was writing bad checks and living largely as a runaway.
During his teen years, he resorted to living out of his car for some nine months, parking it on dead-end roads and other places around rural Zeeland and nearby Borculo where he wouldn’t be detected. One day, though, he drove into his hometown and was immediately spotted and arrested for the check-writing. Because of his age, the charge was reduced from a felony and he was placed on probation.
When Tim was 24, he lost a brother in a Christmas Eve house fire, and it sent him into an even more dramatic downward spiral. “My drinking escalated in an extreme way,” he says, recalling that he grew to drink at least 12 beers most workdays and double that or more on weekend days.
Eventually, he was arrested and convicted of drunk driving, and “that sort of opened my eyes.” He began attending support group meetings and quit drinking for six months. His old habits returned, though, and he was arrested a second time for drunk driving. He blew under the legal limit, “But that really opened my eyes, and I now knew I had a problem and took it seriously.”
Tim describes that moment as a “huge turnaround,” but in the next breath acknowledges, “I’m really good at throwing good things away.” Even though he worked the program and remained sober for the better part of a decade, Tim relapsed and began drinking once more.
He had married during that long sober stretch, but the drinking led to divorce and a strained relationship with his stepdaughter.
“We were living in Hudsonville, the house with the white picket fence and everything,” he says. “Our cars were paid for and I had a good job in construction.
“I lost it all.”
Tim ended up moving to Alabama with friends, where he relapsed more times than he can count during nine years there. “I was a mess.”
On a trip back to Michigan, Tim arranged through his sister to visit Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where he received counseling and attended meetings. He remembers listening to another client share his story, “which sounded just like me, and it scared me to hear him tell it,” says Tim.
Even so, he continued to drink, until a Pine Rest case manager suggested that Tim consult Guiding Light. He got sober and was accepted into the nonprofit’s no-joke Recovery program in April 2021. He found it unlike any other program in which he’d been enrolled.
“I really get tough love here,” he says. “There are people pushing you to face the issues you have. I came in here lying to myself about a lot of things.
“At Guiding Light, they help you see the truth. They help you change virtually everything. Nobody here is afraid to show you what that truth is.”
Tim cherishes the program for its many facets. Those include integrating physical fitness into the regimen – he’s always enjoyed running – and providing him with a counselor, life coach, spiritual director and more.
“It’s very structured, and that’s what I needed to pull me out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know what that was. I’d isolated myself for so long and from so many. Now, I am being thrown into a room with two other guys and forced to deal with a whole lot of stuff – and I needed it all.”
“It’s very straightforward,” says Tim, who appreciates how Guiding Light’s aim is to provide individualized treatment based on the client’s specific needs – a main tenet of the recovery process. “I feel there are so many resources focused on me.”
Tim says telling his story in a public way “is worth it, if it helps only one person.”
Guiding Light, he says, is “something I would strongly suggest to anybody out there with a true desire to quit. I won’t say it’s easy. In fact, when I first came here, it was really difficult. But in looking back, I can see how it’s changed me, and helped me to define the better person I’m capable of being.”
July 11 marked 90 days sober for Tim. In that time, he’s been making plans for reuniting with his stepdaughter, now 25, with whom he hasn’t spoken in eight years.
“I want to reconcile,” Tim says, and it begins with making a list of those he’s harmed. “I’m doing that right now, owning up to what I’ve done. I apologize for it all, and I’m hoping for the best.”