Four years ago, John Hayes couldn’t even help himself when his life spun horribly out of control amid alcohol-fueled blackouts and DUI arrests. Today, he’s helping others with addictions and harmful habits find hope for a new life, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
“Without the love grace and mercy of God, I literally wouldn’t be here today,” said the 49-year-old Hayes, adding that he was on a path of self-destruction.
He is among local facilitatators for Celebrate Recovery, a biblically-based support group providing tools for people to find freedom from drugs, alcohol, overeating, pornography, gambling, smoking and a host of other harmful habits or struggles. Programs at local churches offer weekly meetings highlighting elements from surrender to quiet time and prayer in a 12-step format.
Meetings are so important that many of them meet even on major holidays, when the temptation to slip into old habits can be powerful.
The ministry, launched 20 years ago at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California, now operates in 20,000 churches worldwide.
In Bartholomew County, most leaders such as Hayes carefully point out that mainstream support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous also have their place and purpose. But he and others said Celebrate Recovery offers a very pointed Christian perspective using Jesus’ wisdom from Scripture.
Hayes strongly emphasizes that the faith-based approach works for those willing to approach God humbly. He wasn’t like that initially. In fact, the first time he showed up at Celebrate Recovery at Community Church of Columbus four years ago after a court order to get help, he stopped attending. Then, after serving 18 months in prison following multiple arrests, and also losing his home to foreclosure and his family through divorce, he found himself broken and contrite.
“To know that I am still loved and I am forgiven (by God) — that was huge burden taken off my shoulders,” Hayes said of his discovery in his second chance at Celebrate Recovery. “And now I want to make sure other people have that, too.”
He has been sober from drug and alcohol use for two-and-a-half years. It also allowed him to return to his job, one that he initially lost when his world unraveled.
Lisa Friesner launched Celebrate Recovery in 2006 at Berean Bible Church, which became The Ridge. She had struggled with debilitating grief after infertility, three miscarriages and a divorce, and made unhealthy choices to cope with the pain.
“I’ve found that a key part of the program is finding out that you’re not alone,” Friesner said. “We always say this a ‘we’ program, and not an ‘I’ program.”
The difficulty for her as a facilitator is simple.
“Everyone often thinks it’s a program just for addicts,” Friesner said.
Yet, some of the 15 to 20 people who attend The Ridge’s Thursday evening meetings battle depression and other obstacles. Before participants ever make it to meetings, they acknowledge battling fear — of others knowing their secrets, of possible rejection, of goodness-knows-what.
“It can paralyze them,” Friesner said.
Cindy Fillenworth serves as a facilitator for another branch of Celebrate Recovery — one that meets Mondays for women in the Bartholomew County Jail’s Women Recovering With a Purpose program and Sunday morning at Community Church of Columbus for women who have graduated from the jail’s program.
“If nothing else, we want them to know Jesus loves them,” Fillenworth said. “And we clearly tell them, ‘Don’t try to carry this (problem) by yourself.’”
Carole Moyer represents a different component of Celebrate Recovery that she helped launch in 2008 at Columbus’ Dayspring Church of God Apostolic. She grew up in a household with an alcoholic father, an enabling mother, and four brothers who used heroin. She herself quickly learned the role of fixer, which followed her into adulthood and began damaging relationships.
She has learned that God himself wants to be an enabler — a healthy one.
“He wants us to be able to live freely,” Moyer said.
She mentioned that some people have completed Dayspring’s eight-month program two or three times.
“Every time you go through it,” she said, “God will show you something different.”