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Celebrate Recovery program aids people with addictions

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 27, 2011 at 12:27 a.m.

Wanda Ulrey opens her Celebrate Recovery lesson book during a meeting Thursday evening at Faith Family Church.  Ulrey began her involvement with the program 10 years ago, after trying other programs like ALANON, a group for friends and family of addicts.

Pastor Leonard Johnson wasn't always a pious man.

From a young age, and for many years, he was plagued by drugs, alcohol, gambling and extramarital affairs. And even though he was baptized in the Christian faith at age 11, he admits the life he led before entering the ministry about 15 years ago was in direct opposition to the biblical teachings he studied as a child.

"I used to smoke enough dope to get all of Victoria high," the 63-year-old Johnson said. "I drank, I cheated on both wives and at one point, I was spending about $4,000 a month on gambling."

Johnson speaks openly about his past these days. He knows how far he's come since the mid-'90s, when God began pulling him away from his medley of destructive habits and pushing him back to the church. A few years later, Johnson became ordained and started working in ministry full time.

When asked, Johnson admits he no longer desires drugs and alcohol. And because he was able to conquer his own addictions, he now helps others overcome their own. Every Thursday, Johnson leads Celebrate Recovery at Faith Family Church, a faith-based, eight-principles, 12-step program that focuses on healing addictions, hurts and hang-ups.

"I asked God one day, 'Why did I have to go through all of this crap in my life,' and He told me 'Because no one would listen to you if you didn't,'" Johnson said.

Standing before a group of about 100 people at Celebrate Recovery every week, Johnson explains the eight principles of the program and acquaints attendees with the addictions he overcame years ago.

"There are a lot of people who come through Celebrate Recovery who say, 'Hey, I used to smoke dope with you.' But it's OK because one of the principles of this program is to live by example," Johnson said.

Celebrate Recovery follows similar guidelines with Alcoholics Anonymous, Johnson said, though it's based on fundamental Christian principles and recognizes Jesus above other Gods. AA recognizes the "God of your understanding," he said.

After Johnson's orientation, the program breaks people up into small groups specific to a person's issue: drugs, alcohol, co-dependency, food, sexual abuse or martial disharmony, among others.

One Celebrate Recovery regular, Gaudelio Morin, 33, said the program continues to help him find resolve with his anger and work out problems within his marriage.

Attending for more than a year, Morin assists with leading small groups and gives orientations with his wife.

"If I was angry, I'd get emotional and start drinking. Through the program, God told me that it's not everybody else's fault and that I'm responsible for my own actions, " Morin said, describing the impetus that led him to Celebrate Recovery in 2010. "I've got more self control now. I got help from Celebrate Recovery, I encourage everyone to give it a try."

Another team leader Wanda Ulrey, who now helps facilitate Celebrate Recovery in the Cuero Prison twice a month, said she attends the program for help with co-dependency issues.

"This program made me realize I had hurts I hadn't dealt with and habits I needed to change," said Ulrey, who has attended Celebrate Recovery since its inception in 2000. "I was excited about this program when I started coming because it uses God's word and the Bible. And when I started getting into the word of God, it changed my life."

Once a Celebrate Recovery attendee completes the 25-week course, they receive a certificate of completion. But Johnson said he encourages them to continue coming to the break-out groups because recovery and a relationship with God is a lifelong commitment.

"I've seen thousands of people come here, and people get saved each week, but I always tell them you didn't get screwed up overnight, and you won't get healed overnight," he said.

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