Each moment, part of Bill Beuch’s mind was occupied with one priority: how to keep a secret from every person in his life. Every moment, another part of his mind was occupied with a deeper priority: how to keep a secret from himself. Denial, Beuch says, is a coping skill addicts learn, but the energy required to maintain the “convoluted thinking we do to protect ourselves” is substantial. As an alcoholic, Beuch’s load was crippling.
One day, more than 20 years ago, he walked into a room and began the process of releasing his grip on it. In an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Beuch says, “you come in and admit your deepest, darkest secret, the darkest most shameful thing, and you find out that all the people around you have the same secret.”
By speaking thoughts that in isolation metastasize like cancer, Beuch says participants in twelve-step support groups learn from one another that “we can live in this world with these things. And we’re really not that bad.”
“At least we have some hope. That’s really what it’s about. It’s about hope.”
Beuch is a co-leader, with Deborah Lloyd Allers, of Celebrate Recovery, a group that meets Friday evenings at Rising Hope Methodist Church on Russell Road. Two things distinguish Celebrate Recovery from 12 step-progams like AA. It is explicitly “Christ-centered,” Allers said, unlike AA, which refers only to faith in “a higher power.” Also, Celebrate Recovery transcends “symptoms” as Beuch put it, like alcohol, gambling or domestic abuse. Celebrate Recovery welcomes anyone who wishes to confront his or her “hurts, habits and hang-ups.” Besides the usually suspects of addiction, its literature lists co-dependency, the need to control, fear, stress, religious guilt, anger, grief, relationships, faith issues, rejection and forgiveness issues.
What is the common denominator for people who have come to the program since it began on the first Friday of November?
“Pain,” said Allers. She cited one participant struggling with issues in her home who has now been able to share them with the group. “She has women who will honestly listen to her pain. And her pain brought her here.”
On Friday evenings, after a brief worship service, participants break into small groups along gender lines. As participation grows, Beuch and Allers said they hope to be able to form more specific groups, not necessarily based on gender. But to encourage the freedom to discuss a range of issues, including sexual abuse and domestic violence, the leaders agree the current format creates the most comfort.
The small groups are loosely structured. People are given the space to say what they need to say. Participants are encouraged to face themselves honestly and critically, but there is no “finger-shaking” at others. “It’s not a matter of fixing one another, it’s a matter of coming open, letting our secrets out, and that frees you,” Beuch said.
Allers said that in the first meeting, the members of her group surprised her with their eagerness to share. “It was a good conversation because people were actually able to sit and admit to each what they were denying in their life, what their issue might have been.”
Beuch said he was disappointed that his group of men had some holdouts who refused to speak about themselves, while others had too much too stay. But he says the group is learning together how to be as inclusive as possible.
“I still don’t understand who God is and how he works,” Beuch said. “But I’ve expanded my universe to include this church community.”
ALLERS BEGAN WORKING in the administration of Rising Hope in April. In June, she traveled to Maryland with other people from the church to attend a seminar hosted by John Baker, who created Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church, the mega-church in California presided over by Rick Warren, author of the “The Purpose-Driven Life.” Baker transformed AA’s 12 steps into eight principles based on the Beatitudes, the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For instance, the first step, “We admitted we are powerless over alcohol, that our lives have become unmanageable,” becomes “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.”
For Allers, who said she has spent 24 years “sitting in the rooms, as we call it,” the seminar was transformative. “I personally walked away saying this is what I need to do. I can share my strength and hope and experiences with other people.” Now, Allers is trying to spread awareness of Celebrate Recovery. “We know that there is a whole population out there that can use this if we get them through the doors.”
“The eight principles of this program could apply to any of us. They are just good common-sense advice on how to live,” said Beuch. But he admitted that people who are not desperate to change probably won’t have the motivation to walk in. “You have to hit a bottom, you have to be ready to do something about it and want to make a change.” But he added that desperation is only, “how it starts. Now once you get in, it’s kind of contagious; it starts to build on you. You see that it effects your whole life.”
“These are things that all of us can do,” Beuch said later. “There aren’t any of us that are satisfied with who we are.”
Gary McPherson, 55, was ready to make a change. At his home in D.C., “things just weren’t going well. I was doing some uncharacteristic things and it forced me to have to move.” After a lifetime of going regularly to church, he had lapsed in the last few years. “It wasn’t clear that God was out there.”
McPherson moved to the Russell Road area a month ago. On his first morning in his new home, he was walking to a 7-11 when he ran into a friend who invited him to Rising Hope, across the street. He went in, and since then has been worshipping there five days a week. “I didn’t realize it at first, how things were coming about, but my life has changed and it wasn’t by design. I didn’t plan to come to Rising Hope. I didn’t know that Rising Hope existed.”
He also started attending Celebrate Recovery. “It’s deeper than AA or anything because AA gets you to know a higher power, but in Celebrate Recovery they talk about God,” he said. “It’s a recovery, from pulling down strongholds. Strongholds are the addiction — there are so many different strongholds, and we try to pull them down.”
“In my group some of the people have changed and some have been sober for quite some time. But it does give everyone a chance to look at themselves honestly and openly. There’s no back talk. It’s not a two-way conversation. It’s just you sharing, one person at a time.”
“It gives you an opportunity to be a better Christian. It gives you an opportunity to be a better person. It gives you an opportunity to just be honest,” McPherson added. “This place fills a hole in my soul.”