A RECOVER Leader’s Journey: Lifting The Mask To Reveal His Authentic Self.

Ron, A RECOVER 12-Step Program Leader | October 28, 2022

Hi, my name is Ron, and I am a fully devoted follower of Christ. I need to emphasize: that it’s through Christ’s strength, not my own, that I have overcome addiction and dependency to substance abuse and sexual integrity issues. I have addressed fears and anxieties in my life that have been restricting me from moving forward. I am currently working on self-control, self-centeredness, and areas I soothe by sugar and caffeine. 

I want to start with a brief overview of my life and my family of origin before the RECOVER 12-step program. As a kid, I was involved in sports, often excelled, and was rewarded for my achievements. I grew up in a blended family. I have two sisters, and I am the middle child. I never knew my biological father and had no contact with him before he died. Addiction, especially to alcohol, runs on his side of the family. This played a significant role in my sense of identity. 

My stepdad was a businessman who provided for us, so we never went without. I called him “Dad” as he technically raised me and was “Dad” to me. There is no blood relation, but on my stepdad’s side, there was verbal, emotional, and physical abuse and mental illness. He was diagnosed with Bipolar and Multiple Personality disorder, which would later take his life. His mental ailments became increasingly present in our home. Growing up in this environment was hard to understand as a child. I never knew which version of my stepdad I would get or what would happen. Every day I felt like I had to walk on eggshells at home–it was a scary and confusing time in my life. By age five, I started experimenting sexually due to what I had been exposed to.

By the age of fifteen, I started getting high, which was often initiated by my stepdad. This is not what a child should experience, but I didn’t know any better then.

It seemed okay because it felt good and was the example set forth for me. These childhood years are responsible for my core wounds and led to the coping mechanisms that would run their course throughout my life. While I now realize the environment I grew up in was not my fault, the choices I made as a result of those wounds were, and still are, my responsibility. 

I hold true to the fact that I had to do the hard work of the RECOVER program, but Christ gave me the strength to overcome and free me from the barriers I was facing. I have been in RECOVER for around seven years. I have been employed here at Willow Creek going on 15 years. I have six years of sobriety under my belt after 18 years of addiction. Some might ask, Ron, “How could you have been employed at a church with struggles like that?” The answer is simple: Not only through God’s grace but by lying and masking my true self, creating a false representation of who I truly was, and hiding my struggles in the dark. I was blind to some of my vices and didn’t consider others a big deal because of my denial. I thought if people were to find out who I truly was, I would have to be honest, which I was good at avoiding. 

Growing up, I was somewhat familiar with church and attended occasionally, but God held no meaning in my life. I was confused about who God was. I was forced to go to church by my parents and would ask to use the restroom to break up what felt like a three-hour-long service. I knew we prayed. I knew of good and evil, but it wasn’t until later in my life, through specific experiences, that I realized God’s power, plans, and purpose in store for me. God prepared in advance to open my eyes through the pain and suffering I experienced. I have learned that God doesn’t waste anything. He can use everything for His glory and for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. It took trust, submission, and belief–even when I was blinded by the destructive behaviors and the harm I was causing. In the midst of it all, God was still seeking me out. His love is like that for everyone!  

Going through the RECOVER curriculum, I first learned to admit that, on my own, I was powerless over my addictive and compulsive behaviors. I also learned that I genuinely needed Christ to restore me to sanity. This is Step 2. “We came to realize that a power greater than ourselves could restore us back to sanity.” Now the opposite of sanity is insanity, and Albert Einstein defined insanity by saying it is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different result. In my early years, I kept doing the same things over and over again to try to fill the hole in my life that only God could fill. To understand that Christ—my higher power—could restore me to sanity, I had to understand who God said He was, and also what He offers us. He is sovereign, full of mercy and grace. He heals, forgives, and saves. He gives life and brings truth, healing, and hope. He does not judge or condemn. He is all loving and accepting and makes all things new. He is a God that restores, redeems, and rebuilds. God has provided a way for every soul who desires to be rescued. That way is through our maker and creator, Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can redeem our souls. It is God who made our souls, and it is the Lord, Jesus, who died to redeem our souls. It is the holy spirit who can fill your soul with God’s love and guide you through life. I needed this God who was greater than me. I needed Jesus Christ and have learned I cannot do these things alone. Before I trusted that God could be that for me, I wanted to be restored and authentic to myself and the people around me and, ultimately, to my calling in Christ. I have learned that I no longer have to walk this walk alone. I can have God as my guide, my compass. He will direct my path. 

I wasn’t ready to stop making those bad decisions, so I would continue going around in a circle, repeating the same cycle–until the day I hit rock bottom in 2016. The door stopped spinning, and yet again, I had a choice. I could choose life and freedom through Christ or continue down my current path of destruction, fighting my own battles. I realized that if I didn’t change, nothing else would, and everything would continue on the downward spiral of hurt, addiction, and destruction, lacking in authenticity. I became exhausted by my life, claiming to be a Christian but not being authentic and letting my addictions run my life. It got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to have freedom. I remember being at home in my kitchen and falling to my knees, lifting my hands in the air in complete submission, and crying out to God, “I can’t do this anymore, I need your help. I don’t want to live this life anymore. I give it to You; please show me the way.” In the past, I had surrendered– what feels like 1000 times, but never in full submission and trust, relying on Him to fight my battles. From that day forward, I believe true transformation and sobriety have taken place.  

Throughout my life, I was always searching for my true self because of the messages of my core wounds. My relationship with Christ and participation in the RECOVER program has taught me to be transparent and honest. I no longer have to hide and let fear, anxiety, and addiction control my life. A fully surrendered life is a process, and it takes submission.

I have learned that when I let go, God transforms my life. Trusting and relying on a power greater than myself to restore me to sanity, and turning my life and will over to the care of Him, has been the best decision of my life. And I can be confident that God will guide me for the rest of my life. 

This relationship takes two. As we have learned about accountability, I’ve realized that God is the ultimate accountability. He is a partner who will not only restore your life, but he will continue to lead and guide you into everlasting eternity. 

Before RECOVER, I had an addiction; I was confused, hiding, masking my true self, searching, and longing for identity. I acted lustful, selfish, and self-seeking. I was great at manipulating my way out of situations and putting myself on top. These are some of my character defects that I continue to work on today. 

Today not only do I serve here in RECOVER, but I am also a pastor. I serve on our prayer team, help in our prison and jail ministry, and am a funeral officiant. I do not say these things to draw attention to myself. I share them to show what doing hard work in the program, including a searching and courageous inventory and investing in yourself, looks like. It started right here in this ministry. 

I had to invest internally for God to use me externally. I am someone who never thought he could lead, speak in front of people, or be sober, but God had a purpose, and He has a plan for me. He has a plan for you, too.

One of the greatest investments we can make is in ourselves. No one else can do the hard work for you. All things are possible with God’s strength, a program, and a healthy community. If I can do it, you can too, and If I can encourage anyone today, it would be not to give up. It would be to show up each week and be honest with yourself and those around you. Be courageous, ask God to search you and seek you and invite Him into your heart as your Lord and Savior, the truth and the light of your life and allow His light to shine where no darkness can hide. Your life and your future are worth it!

If you want to learn more about the RECOVER 12-step program at Willow Creek, please follow this link.

What is RECOVER And Who is it For? Find out more about the program’s 12 steps, which issues can be addressed and what to expect in a meeting.

Worried about a friend or loved one? See this article: Loving An Addict: Identifying Substance Abuse and How To Help.

For more on practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.