Addicts cope with struggles through 12-step program


GIBSON CITY — For many drug addicts, the struggle to regain a clean life takes a toll.

In Ford County, survivors have a place to go to seek help from others and receive treatment through the Celebrate Recovery program. The program is a weekly, 12-step Biblically focused course that guides people through their struggles and gives them a new sense of hope.

For Nick Carlson, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Gibson City, the journey is personal. Before he became a minister, Carlson struggled with an alcohol and drug addiction, receiving recovery help from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Seven years ago, Carlson was approached about the possibility of starting an AA group in Gibson City.

“I was involved in AA in my recovery time, but when I was approached about it, I didn’t feel like it was what I was supposed to do,” Carlson said at the local Celebrate Recovery group’s fifth-year celebration on Nov. 9.

“I knew there was a tremendous need for meetings in Gibson City because there was no AA around here.”

Carlson said that once addicts are released from prison, they often don’t have any means of transportation.

“For many who have an alcohol predicament, they usually don’t have driver’s licenses and usually the court requires them to attend meetings,” Carlson said. “So its inconvenient for people in Gibson City and around the area since there’s no place to go.”

Though Carlson completed the AA recovery course a few years earlier, as a church pastor, Carlson thought a Christian program was needed.

“The central portion needed to be the knowledge and focus of Jesus Christ in a setting where it was OK to say that,” Carlson said. “I’m certainly not anti-AA — since I got my start there — but I felt like there was something else that needed to happen.”

Once he discovered Celebrate Recovery, Carlson said he began talking with his congregation at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship about leading the new program.

One person, in particular, was John Schneider of Gibson City, whose personal struggle with alcohol fit well with Carlson’s own.

Schneider and his family began attending New Beginnings after the Sibley Methodist Church closed its doors in May 2010. After learning what they had in common, Schneider and Carlson began talking about the struggles that addicts share in the local community.

“Over time I began asking for prayers for different people that I knew were struggling with addiction,” he said.

Schneider said that once Carlson provided an information packet for him, he instantly became hooked on the program and what it provided for recovering addicts.

“I’m not an avid reader, but I took it home that night and read through the entire book in one sitting, then I watched the six DVDs the next day,” he said. “I was sold. This program showed me what I had already done in my life and through our Lord Jesus Christ that all addicts —whether that be drug addicts or alcohol addicts — belong in a safe place where they can share their thoughts.”

Schneider and wife Teresa are now the main leaders of the Gibson City group that meets every Thursday night.

“A lot of times it’s hard work, but God gives us the things we need when we need it,” Teresa Schneider said.

Helping local people recover
Founded in 1991, Celebrate Recovery is an internationally recognized recovery program for addiction survivors that provides group discussions with a Christ-centered focus.

John Baker, a California businessman, began the program after struggling with alcohol problems that almost cost him his marriage and family life.

The program started as a ministry of Saddleback Church in Orange County in California, whose senior pastor is Rick Warren, who delivered Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural invocation.

Celebrate Recovery is the official law enforcement addiction recovery program in 44 states, and a branch of the ministry was launched nationwide recently to combat sex trafficking.

The course is broken into a 12-step recovery process, similar to what one would find in an AA meeting. At the group’s meetings, leaders hold discussions in small groups with recovering addicts, helping them to continue down the path to total recovery.

A light meal is provided before each session, and the night kicks off with group worship. After about 15 minutes, the group splits into smaller tables, with meetings then lasting a little over an hour.

“Addition is a bondage, like a yoke,” Carlson said. “Celebrate Recovery is about breaking apart that yoke.”

Since the program began in Gibson City in 2012, Carlson said that numerous people have gone through the program, with some staying to assist and lead the group.

“It’s great to see people come to the program for the first time, and then days turn to weeks, months and years,” Carlson said. “We have some who have been through the whole thing and come back again as leaders.”

Last fall, the Gibson City group expanded to include Paxton. A Celebrate Recovery group meets on Monday nights at Paxton’s Upper Room Bible Church. Additionally, the Christian Life Church in Rantoul hosts its own program on Tuesday nights, and that program’s leader, Stan Hornsby, was in attendance at the Gibson City event.

At the five-year anniversary event in Gibson City on Nov. 9, a number of the program’s participants gave testimonials to the audience.

A participant from Paxton, only identified as Casey since last names aren’t disclosed at meetings, shared how the program renewed her focus on her life.

“I was baptized in the summer of 2012,” she said. “From that time until last summer I was like a sponge, just soaking everything in.”

“Last year I finished the first step. I was still drinking socially and in questionable relationships. I got here through the church, getting involved in God. I needed this program, because it has saved my love. Today, I am 10 months sober. I’m having new changes going on in my life, and I’ve been seeing a lot of breakthroughs.”

All of the local program’s leaders shared how they struggled with addiction in the past and how they overcame it. Alcohol, anxiety, eating disorders and dysfunctional relationships were among the problems shared by those in attendance.

The attendees gave praises and a standing ovation to Eric, a member of the Rantoul group. He shared how he met his now-adult twin daughters for the first time this past summer.

Carlson and John Schneider, along with Teresa Schneider, John Schmitt, Rodney Maus and Kristina Meece, lead the Gibson City group. Kevin Heiser leads the Paxton group with Bruce and Debbie Garthwait and Dave Hohulin. Stan and Grace Hornsby lead the Rantoul group.

Expanding for the future
After five years organizing the group in Gibson City, Carlson said there is still a great need for expanded addiction treatment services in the area.

Recognizing that ex-inmates often have a hard time adjusting to the outside world, Carlson hopes to open a house for recovering addicts in Gibson City.

The house would be part of the local Celebrate Recovery program in conjunction with Teen Challenge USA, where people could receive the love of church family and encouragement to resume normal lives.

“One of the things that’s disturbing to me is that when somebody is fed into their addiction and it becomes a legal issue, then they get out of the legal system and they cannot find a job and become a productive member of society,” Carlson said. “We have people coming out of drug treatment facilities who are going right back into the same places they came out of. As someone who’s been there before, they need somewhere to go and somebody to put a leg up.

“I want to work with local businesses who would let felons come in and work for them. I understand that’s not going to work out every time, but some of these people just need the chance to become productive people.”

Carlson said he hopes to start a Celebrate Recovery mental health initiative in Gibson City soon, and he said one person has already expressed interest in leading it.

Addiction often begins at a young age, yet many people don’t recognize it. Carlson said he has spoken with officials from the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school district about ways to combat the drug crisis.

“The scary thing about that is when (GCMS Superintendent) Jeremy Darnell was principal of (GCMS) Middle School, he was seeing drug problems with kids that were in sixth grade,” Carlson explained. “This is a real issue. We recognize that, and we’re working on that, trying to figure out how we can make that happen here.”

Carlson said he has also spoken with leaders of the Assembly of God (the New Beginnings denomination) with the goal of starting a local group in every rural Assembly of God congregation in Illinois.

Still, Carlson said the local group isn’t going away anytime soon, and it will be there to serve those in need.

“They say it takes a village, but it takes a village to raise an alcoholic,” Carlson said. “It takes a family to raise someone up in their Christian walk.

“It’s our ultimate goal to eradicate addiction from Ford County. We want to show people that there is freedom, that their life wasn’t an accident and isn’t a joke, and that God has something for them.”

Local meeting times
Celebrate Recovery has three local groups. The Paxton group meets on Monday nights at 6:30 at the Upper Room Bible Church, 355 W. Orleans St. For more information, contact Kevin Heiser at 309-660-9928 or email

The Rantoul group meets at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Christian Life Church, 300 N. Maplewood Dr. For more information, contact Stan Hornsby at 217-493-6429 or

New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, 925 N. Illinois 47, hosts the Gibson City group at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. For more information, contact Carlson at 217-781-1128 or email


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