78% of men who come through Guiding Light Recovery, find employment, and move to Iron House, our sober living apartments in Kentwood, will stay sober over a year. One of the primary reasons why the Guiding Light Recovery program is so successful is the emphasis we place on long-term healing and rehabilitation. We work with clients not on the timescale of days or weeks but of months and years. Most men when they first step through our doors, intend on staying for, as one client put it, “four months and one second.” The idea of staying in a substance abuse treatment program for that amount of time seems incredibly daunting at first. However, as a client has time to heal, he begins to realize that a much longer-term solution is needed if he wants to truly deal with his problem. This is why we encourage our clients to stay, find a job, save up money, and move to Iron House. Iron House consists of six buildings of two-bedroom apartment units and is capable of housing up to 42 people. It is reserved exclusively for clients that came through Guiding Light programming and is a place for these newly sober men recovering from addiction to find stability, a positive environment, and a supportive community of their peers. Since all the men living at Iron House are in recovery themselves, it is relatively easy, or at least easier, to live a normal, independent, and fulfilling life in sobriety.
DJ came to Guiding Light almost two years ago and is a current resident of Iron House. He was born in Jenison, the second of three children to working-class parents who divorced when he was a toddler. He recalls that his mother and father had a lot of resentment towards each other, and that he was able to pit them against one another and fall through the cracks. “I was good at staying under the radar,” he said. “I got away with a lot.” DJ’s trajectory follows many young addicts where-in the lifestyle of youthful experimentation with drugs and alcohol is fun and enticing, but inevitably becomes a trap. DJ became more and more dependent on alcohol and drugs. Over the years, his addiction escalated to include cocaine, marijuana, mushrooms and assorted hallucinogens. At 17, DJ dropped out of high school to pursue full-time work waiting tables. The tips especially motivated him – and so did easy access to alcohol in the establishments where he would be employed for more than a decade.
At 23, DJ entered his first rehabilitation program, but a week afterward was drinking again, something he says was now “out of control.” He tried kicking the habit by moving to Florida, but discovered that the so-called “geographical cure” was a myth. “My problems just followed me,” he recalls. He tried moving to California, still clinging to the hope that a change in scenery would fix him, but quickly realized that the only difference was “everything was more expensive” and found himself drinking two fifths a day and homeless.
DJ moved back to Grand Rapids and tried at least two other rehab options, but nothing worked. He was aware of Guiding Light, but had always dismissed it as a traditional homeless shelter. When he learned that Guiding Light offered a real, focused, and professional substance abuse treatment program, he made the call. He arrived at 255 Division Ave. S in May of 2021 showing up two hours early for his morning appointment. “I was ready to go,” he remembers. One of the first things DJ viewed upon entering Guiding Light was the cross hanging near the entry, and, as a gay man, immediately felt unsure about what he was getting himself into. “I sort of puffed out my chest more and stood up a little straighter because it’s a defense mechanism. I didn’t have the best relationship with religion when I grew up, and I didn’t know what this place was going to be like for someone like me.”
One of the first things a client will see when passing through the front doors of Guiding Light is a sign that reads: We do not presume you to be Christian, but it is our hope that we are Christian toward you and welcome you in the same manner that each of us has been welcomed through Jesus Christ into the heart of God. Over time, DJ was relieved to discover that Guiding Light doesn’t force religious beliefs on anyone, relying instead on spiritual direction, evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, and other resources to equip men to stay sober and live their lives in a new way. “Guiding Light doesn’t cure you,” says DJ. “It changes your thinking. Your problems don’t go away, but they teach you how to work through them. It’s very distinctive.”
LIFE AFTER ADDICTION
After 4 months in the Recovery program, DJ stayed with us on Division, found a job, commuted by bus, and began saving up money to put down a deposit and first month’s rent for an apartment at Iron House. He remains there today, and appreciates the leg up this has given him in transitioning to a new way of life. We recognize that the process of picking up the pieces and learning to live a life free from the bonds of addiction cannot happen overnight. It takes longer than 30, 60, or even 90 days for a man struggling with substance abuse issues to get to the psychological, spiritual, and physical roots of his addiction…let alone figure out anything realistic to do about it. This is why we strongly encourage to think of themselves as taking part in a long-term commitment to their sobriety and an entirely different way of being. Iron House provides men like DJ an affordable, accountable, sustainable, and supportive environment within which they can grow and build a sustainable recovery for themselves. Iron House provides another step in gradually reintroducing a recovering addict to a new life, and it is arguably one of the most crucial aspects of the Guiding Light Recovery program.