March 7 was graduation for ten of the women who attend Celebrate Recovery at Christian Life Cathedral on Millsap Road in Fayetteville. They all arrived about 30 minutes early so that they could practice for graduation. For the last year, they attended a step-study together, where they have struggled and cried and worked the 12 steps together. Twice that many started with them in the beginning. They are the survivors, in more ways than one.
They have survived child abuse, the death of a spouse, co-dependency, drug and alcohol abuse, the litany could go on and on. In the beginning, they barely knew one another. They honestly didn’t know if they would make it. To many of them, the honesty that was required was the scariest part. “I felt horrible, broken, and I had no hope,” said Theresa. “Then during the step-study I began to feel hope and not alone.” People in Celebrate Recovery use their first names to protect their anonymity.
As they practiced their graduation ceremony, some of them cried. The week before they had made posters for a cardboard testimony. They had also chosen the song “Whatever You’re Doing” by Sanctus Real as their graduation song. They also cried and hugged during graduation.
Theresa is a recovering alcoholic who was in drug court when she came to Celebrate Recovery. Her family is wealthy, and her relatives are high-ranking political figures. Kat is a business woman who suffered from co-dependency. Liz is an artist, bohemian to the core, who suffered from abuse and low self-esteem. Their group is rounded out with two housewives, two students, a teacher, a travel agent and a store manager.
“I felt immediately at home when I came to CR, unlike anything I’d ever felt,” said Kat “I appreciated the realness that I didn’t have to be anyone but who I was, and I didn’t have to act a certain way. If I did not feel good, I did not have to act like I felt good. That made a huge difference for me.”
“I was so depressed, I would lock myself in my house and not answer my phone,” said Liz, “I would make excuses not to go anywhere, lock myself away in my own little pity-party.” She laughed nervously.
Celebrate Recovery is a 12-step program for Christians. Celebrate Recovery was formed in 1991, when John Baker, a recovering alcoholic, went to his pastor, Rick Warren (“The Purpose Driven Life”), and said that he felt that while Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous were fine, that people in the Christian Church were suffering from many types of addictions, and that the church was failing to address it.
Celebrate Recovery is modeled after 12-step programs, but does not follow the format for the meetings. A typical Celebrate Recovery lasts for about 3 hours – it begins with an hour of worship and either a lesson or a testimony. During this part of the meeting is when the graduation ceremony was held. Then the members break up into smaller groups, by gender and issue, and have what Celebrate Recovery terms “open-share.” This allows people to discuss how the lesson or testimony had affected them. “It has helped me to get everything, from childhood to now, out,” said Liz. “Because I’ve locked it and kept it secret, and those secrets cause guilt and shame and pain. Then getting it all out and sharing it with people, and them loving me.”
Another aspect that makes Celebrate Recovery different is that once a person takes the first step, admitting they are powerless over their addiction, they join a step-study, like the one the women graduated from. These groups are also divided by gender, so that a person can feel safe. “I needed a place to be safe and to be real,” said Kat. “It was the first place that I ever found that did that for me, that I could talk about my thoughts, and not be put down for it.”
Celebrate Recovery internationally has seen nearly one million people graduate. It has gone into drug courts and prisons. It has helped people affect the changes that they wanted. In Northwest Arkansas alone, there are five Celebrate Recoveries at local churches. By the end of the year, that number is purported to reach 20 churches. Celebrate Recovery is growing.