On any given Thursday evening at Eastridge Community Church, you'll find the upper parking lot full and the main building abuzz as adults, teens and kids make their way after dinner to their respective programs.
The adult attendees, who range from twenty-somethings to grey-haired retirees, are very ordinary looking folks - the kind you'd find at a grocery store or little league game or as a next-door-neighbor. It's not until a speaker gets up and introduces himself as "a believer in Jesus Christ, recovering from alcoholism and lust" that there's much indication this is more than your average worship service.
This is the weekly group session for the Celebrate Recovery program at Eastridge, a nationally franchised Christian 12-step addiction support group and recovery program. Based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous and the eight principles of the Beatitudes, it originated at the Saddleback Church in California, home of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Attendees meet every Thursday for teachings, testimonies and group sessions according to the addictions they struggle with, including chemical addiction, codependency, sexual addiction and any other "habits, hurts and hang ups."
Mingling in that group are the program directors, Brad and Renee Rutledge, a friendly, chipper couple who greet newcomers and old friends with equal warmth. If they seem like a model individuals now, it's only because of the long, hard struggle they went through themselves on the road to addiction recovery.
In October, they'll celebrate their 23rd anniversary, but for the first five years of their marriage and the first five years of their daughter's life, they openly admit, they were drug addicts. They stumbled their way through recovery on their own and now use their experiences to lead and guide other recovering addicts.
At tonight's service, a particpant who wished to be referred to only as George (not his real name), gets up to give his testimony.
For decades, George led a double life. In public, he was a God-fearing man, a husband, a father and a respectable educator. He played on the community football team, went to church regularly, served in the National Guard. But away from the eyes of the community and his family, he struggled with an addiction that had consumed him for most of his adult life - sex and pornography.
"The person everyone saw was quite different from what I saw," said George, a shy, conservative man with a slow drawl.
There'd be times when he wouldn't be able to sing the words of the church hymns because of the guilt and shame that wracked him.
George had tried to quit many times on his own, but as soon as life's stress and complication became too much, he would escape again through porn and sexual encounters.
Things finally came to a head when he suspected he had a sexually transmitted disease and told his wife, who left him for several months.
This began a process of honest soul-searching and counseling in an effort to save his marriage. As part of the counseling, he began attending Celebrate Recovery at Eastridge.
There he met other Christian men going through the same addiction and other addictions. For the first time in a long time, he could look people straight in the eye and have a meaningful conversation, because he didn't have anything to hide.
After the testimony, the adults break up by gender into groups based on their addictions: men's chemical dependency, women's codependency, men's sexual addictions, and so on.
In the "Celebrate Recovery 101" group, two leaders explain the format, principles, and curriculum of Celebrate Recovery to newcomers and visitors.
Though attendees claim that the steps and principles taught in Celebrate Recovery can be used by anyone to address any difficulty in his or her life, not all visitors take such a view and they sometimes seem threatened by the idea that they could participate with addicts.
On this night, two visitors who came to support a family member in the program remain skeptical and propose that if a person had true faith and a true relationship with Christ, they could end an addiction.
They illustrate the differing views and debate on the best approach to addiction, treatment and recovery that exist within the Christian community and society in general.
First of two-part series exploring faith-based addiction treatment and support.