Richard and his family moved to Jenison when he was in fourth grade – the heart of West Michigan’s ‘Bible Belt.’ Faith was part of their lives and the family regularly went to church. But at home, a young Richard was dealing with an alcoholic mother and a distant father. Fast-forward a few years and Richard is an outcast, misfit, goth high schooler who started drinking and smoking pot when he was 13. He dropped out after his mother’s addiction killed her, but the thought of following down a similar path didn’t slow him down at all. “Drinking, smoking pot, doing coke – anything I could get my hands on. I was in love with it. I didn’t want to do anything else,” says Richard, who is now 38 years old.
“I had thoughts about stopping after my mom died, but drinking and partying was better than being shy and awkward. I worked, but my life was mostly about drinking.” Richard bounced around from job to job; it wouldn’t take long before his bosses had to fire him for showing up drunk. When he was 25, he hit his rock bottom. Or at least his first rock bottom. “I didn’t leave my room for weeks. I just drank several half gallons [of liquor] a day. I don’t even know how many because I bought cases at a time. I drank myself to the point where I couldn’t walk anymore. One day I realized I didn’t have feeling in my hands or in my legs.” Richard knew it was bad. He called a friend who called an ambulance. “They literally dragged me out of my bedroom. If I would’ve kept drinking any longer, I would’ve been dead.” After spending months in the hospital, followed by months of physical therapy learning how to walk again, Richard tried rehab for the first time. “It was just lot of classes. They would talk mostly about alcoholism, how the brain works, a lot of group therapies and health classes. It worked for the time I was there.”
At Guiding Light clients are closely coached and mentored in the tools to create and keep a sober life worth living. The recovery journey begins with a four month residential experience, combining life coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction, physical fitness and a stable environment in which men can “wake up” and successfully re-imagine their engagement with the world. After rehab, Richard went to a sober house and managed to stay clean for a few months. But one night, he decided to get high. And then he decided to get drunk. This would be the theme of Richard’s life for more than a decade: Rehab. Relapse. Repeat. Richard knew he needed something different. He knew he needed to return to his faith. He knew he needed Guiding Light. “I’ve seen people come through this program and really succeed. I’ve seen the people they were before they came in and the people they were when they came out. I wanted what they had.”
Richard came to Guiding Light in September 2022. “It’s amazing. The combination of everything that we go through here, with our spiritual direction, our physical training, going to the gym and CrossFit, and our one-on-ones. They motivate us to push ourselves to live outside the box that we usually live in.” Since entering Guiding Light, Richard has started to take care of his body, as well as his mind and heart. He’s starting to see exercise as something to enjoy, not a chore or something he’s not good at. With losing almost 50 pounds, he feels good and can move his body without pain. He’s been willing to try different sports, something he’s hasn’t done before. Richard shares about his relationship with his spiritual director, “We’ve been kind of deconstructing my faith and what I believe, and we’re building it back up. When I came in here, I was completely spiritually broken. I lost my faith. I lost contact with my church. I just didn’t believe anymore. And that’s one of the reasons I relapsed last time. I thought I had to work to get into heaven, that faith was all about earning my way and I felt hopeless. Now, I can say ‘I am loved by God’ and believe that. I can volunteer at church because it’s something I want to do, not something I have to do to ‘earn’ His grace.”
“Something that is different about Guiding Light is how they teach me how to open up, be vulnerable, to have better, deeper friendships.” Richard is intentionally building a community here, with those at Iron House, his church, and support groups like AA he attends in the community. The journey is far from over. But Richard knows that he has Guiding Light, which means he has a community, a support system of men who will face these challenges with him, and Life Coaches who have been in his shoes. And he has his faith in God to guide him along the way. “Without Guiding Light, I’d be back out there on the streets looking for that next fix, that next drink. I’d still be working my way through different rehabs, detoxes, hospitals and probably jail, if I wasn’t dead.”