Story by Sam Shook and LaDeana Burrell, Photos by Sam Shook and stillrecovery.org
“I can quit whenever I want to.”
We’ve all heard this phrase before, whether from ourselves or a loved one, and we all know what it means. Celebrate Recovery member and ministry leader LaDeana Burrell said that “Issues are like onions.” To get to the source of the problem, one must first peel away at many layers, and the first layer to work through is admission of a problem. How do you get that in the open, though? That’s where Celebrate Recovery comes in. You might have heard of the faith-based twelve step program through films such as Fireproof or Home Run, but what is the history of this organization?
It started in California, at a church called Saddleback, by a doctor named Rick Warren. Eventually, it spread from Saddleback all across the United States in churches and college campuses, and then went on to spread throughout several other countries. There is even a branch here in Stillwater at Eagle Heights Baptist Church. The Stillwater branch also has direct ties back to the first Celebrate Recovery in Oklahoma.
“You can go to one about every night in a large town,” said Burrell.
The steps are based off of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but with a focus on healing through Jesus Christ. Burrell noted that Celebrate Recovery isn’t a counseling session, or a place that’s trying to “fix” you. It’s just a place where you can get support, and share what ails you without any judgement. If you struggle with addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, or have life issues with perfection, anger, pornography, et cetera, they are there for you. If you suffer from mental illness, too, you can go to them without anyone belittling you. Celebrate Recovery also has a prison ministry.
LaDeana Burrell told me her story, of how she became involved with Celebrate Recovery. Growing up, Burrell was in a family where she “… wasn’t able to express feelings.” She thought this was normal, but, normal is relative to the person, she said.
Once she left, she realized that her life had not been “normal.” Burrell was diagnosed with agoraphobia, which is an anxiety disorder which leads to a fear of locations or situations that could cause panic. It often leads to an avoidance of places where one could feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. She struggled with it, and sought counselling, and though that was helpful, she needed more on going-support. That is when Burrell discovered Celebrate Recovery.
Initially, she said, “I was in a place of extreme fear.”
Because of the fear, she had some difficulty taking that first step. When she did make it back, however, they helped her face her fear, and she eventually became one of the ministry leaders there.
“I didn’t realize how much pressure I put on myself that created the anxiety that created the panic,” she said.
After some time, she felt like God wanted her to give back, and now she leads a small group and step study.
There is something freeing about telling others about her struggles. Even though she did go through some monumental hardships, the twelve steps of the program helped her to make it through. It helped her to be able to see how others dealt with their problems; it was, in a word, insightful. Many others have found Celebrate Recovery through various means. Some are court ordered to attend. Other times they are found by people who were searching for someone to help them with their struggles. In Stillwater, you might have found them by the sign promoting it in front of Eagle Heights Baptist Church. As far as membership is concerned, they are made up of numerous congregations.
“Hurts, habits, and hang ups are what Celebrate Recovery is all about,” said Burrell.
For them, she told me, success is measured on the individual level. It is a place where you can be held accountable, and they expect anonymity, so people can feel like they can open up. With misconceptions and erroneous social stigmas sticking around, anonymity can be vital to helping someone feel like they can share their burdens. Burrell noted that people are only as sick as their secrets, and that a person is only able to heal once they open up. Sometimes, too, you just need someone to call you out and tell you the truth. Ultimately, however, the main goal is to work together knowing that only God can help you. Even if you don’t believe, it is undeniable that faith can be a powerful tool to help others.
“Don’t let someone else take your inventory,” Burrell said, “in the end, you only answer to Jesus.”
I asked Burrell if there was anything she wished to say to readers. She said, “We’re thankful that you showed up, and just keep coming back, because no one knows why we’re there, but as you keep coming back you are always more aware of what you need to work on.”
In the end, everyone has different struggles. Celebrate Recovery believes that it takes all of them working together in order to help. If you or a loved one is looking for a faith-based program where you can speak about your burdens, whether addiction or mental illness, you can find them every Sunday evening. They also have a website, stillrecovery.org. Check it out, and maybe you’ll find recovery that you can celebrate.