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Sharing the Weight

Doug Brummel and Scott Miller know what it's like to be high on drugs and alcohol, and how tough it is to kick such addictions. Both did so, crediting submission to Jesus Christ as the only answer that worked for them.

They now lead Celebrate Recovery programs at their respective churches — Shelter Cove and Big Valley Grace — and say they have seen a big impact on hundreds of lives.

The Celebrate Recovery program, offered at a dozen area churches, began 16 years ago in Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Southern California. Warren is the author of the "Purpose-Driven Life" series.

The three-prong program offers a weekly gathering, usually with dinner and a praise service with testimonies or lessons; "open share" discussion groups, often held after the larger group meetings; and 12-step programs, usually genderand topic-specific small groups that work through four workbooks over nine months to a year.

The step studies, as they are called, can involve these categories (not all are offered at all churches): drug and alcohol addictions, sexual addiction (pornography, phone sex, promiscuity, etc.), anger/co-dependency, healthy lifestyles (weight, exercise, nutrition, eating disorders, etc.), a coed class for blended families and a class for teenage girls.

People in Celebrate Recovery can participate in one or all three facets. There are often 100 to 200 people attending Big Valley's or Shelter Cove's Celebrate Recovery gatherings, but perhaps only 35 or so are in the step studies, where the real work of recovery happens.

"It's hard working recovery," Brummel said. "You deal with issues that go way, way back, and it's hard work. Most people who realize they have a problem aren't ready yet to work on them."

But he doesn't worry about numbers.

"What we provide — and this is our main goal — is that this is a safe place to come and be who you want to be without judgment and fear. If you come once a month, great. If you want to come once a year, fine. If you come every week and want to work, that's good.

"We have everyone from homeless people off the street to doctors and lawyers to everyone else. Most people think they need to clean up and get right before they come to church. God said he came for the sick. On Friday nights, you can be as sick as you want and still come.

"We have people who are out on the street with dual diagnoses and they're really spun out. You see this dirty, scruffy guy who slept for the first three months who was only here for the free pizza, and now all of a sudden he's raising his hands in praise. He might be sitting next to the doctor or lawyer in the three-piece suit and nobody's going to say anything."

Several pastors have been through the program, which leads to stronger churches, Miller said.

He said accepting people who are struggling with issues should be the norm.

"I believe the evangelical church has become a place where people come and hide from the real world, and then they go home to lives that are falling to pieces," Miller said. "The church doesn't know what to do with them, so we send them to secular places like AA and secular counselors for help. I think it saddens our Savior. I think he sits up in heaven and says, 'My church is my bride. It should be the place for grace; the place where people can be healed not just spiritually but emotionally.'

"Celebrate Recovery is changing the evangelical churches. I see it happening before my eyes. People are allowed to be real and admit they have issues, and they're embraced with love instead of judgement. If you create a grace-based program and allow people to be broken, then God does the fixing. All of a sudden, you have transformed lives like you haven't seen in a long time."

Slipping into addiction

Miller and Brummel know all about transformed lives.

Miller said his first taste of alcohol came when he was in junior high school, when "another kid handed me some wine out back at a church function."

Having a strong prescription drug for pain after getting his wisdom teeth out at age 16 was "a life-changing experience. I became instantaneously interested in staying high."

His parents found a stash of marijuana in his room when he was 18.

"My dad said in love, 'Scott, you can't keep smoking pot. If you choose that, you have to leave our house.' I was so addicted, it didn't even cross my mind to say, 'OK, I'll quit and stay at home.' I sacrificed my family without a moment's thought, as addicts do."

Miller said he "became a proclaimed atheist" and "went through every drug out there — heroin, cocaine, LSD. I ended up finding out my drug of choice was any prescription narcotic that I could get."

He moved to Alaska to work on the oil pipeline. Working 12 hours a day for nine weeks at a time, he said he'd be sober on the job but partied heavily during his time off.

"I would work for six months and make $50,000 and go party for six months," he said.

He eventually moved to Colorado and worked with a friend at a center for developmentally disabled children.

"It reignited in me something that I'd had early in my life, the love for the underdog," he explained. There he met his wife, who "had no understanding" of how deeply he was into the drug culture.

The couple had two children. Meanwhile, Miller was buying drugs from "an unscrupulous doctor who would write prescriptions for a fee. He got busted and my supply dried up."

So Miller started writing his own forged prescriptions. He, too, was arrested, leading to mandatory drug testing, which "kept me sober because I didn't want to go to jail. That was my bottom line. I've been sober since that time — 16 years, six months. I began to see that my life got better off the drugs than on it."

He and his family moved to Modesto and bought a home near Big Valley Grace.

"As soon as I walked in there, the rest is history," Miller said. "I became a Christian under (former pastor) David Seifert's 'Dynamics of Christianity' class. I was baptized in the river on Sept. 25, 1994. I knew the forgiveness of Christ."

But, he said, "my addictions shifted from drugs and alcohol to other things: Work, success, avoiding conflict. Something was still missing. I was on the road all the time. I was very successful, but never home. My family was falling apart. My wife would cry and say, 'I need a husband. Your children need a father.'

"One day, pastor David preached a sermon about true sacrifice. He asked, 'What are you holding back from God?' I said, 'I've giving you my addictions but I haven't given you my life.' I knew it was an important moment. It was like being high without drugs."

Miller later was asked to be on staff at Big Valley, went through divinity classes and now is pastor of recovery and counseling ministries.

"I'm one of the few recovery pastors on planet Earth," he said. "Every day, I come to work knowing I'm doing what I was born to do."

Sober, but not serene

Brummel's story is similar.

"I was raised at Ripon Christian. I was a basketball jock there," he said. "I made all-league and all-tourney."

But as a senior, "I got a girl pregnant and they kicked me out of school. I got real bitter."

After two divorces and into a third marriage, Brummel said, "I decided it was time to grow up. I went back to college and got two degrees: A (bachelor's degree) in biblical studies from Fresno Pacific and a (bachelor's degree) in history from California State University, Stanislaus.

"I still drank and used (drugs) when I went to college. I know it sounds crazy, because it is crazy. But knowing religion and having a relationship with Christ are two different things."

Six months after earning his degrees, Brummel was in prison.

"I had been drinking all day. I was on (Highway) 132 coming home from Stanford, where my stepson was dying of cystic fibrosis. An innocent lady died, and they gave me two years for vehicular manslaughter. I could not deny that alcohol had something to do with me falling asleep. I broke my back and was in ICU for 10 days. But there's no excuse. They're missing a mother and a grandmother and I can't give that back to them."

He was clean for three years during his parole, but then "I started drinking and using again. That was crazy."

One night, he was driving home "and I realized I couldn't cross McHenry. I was wasted. I called my wife and told her, 'I will do whatever you want me to do.' She took me to the hospital for detox.

"I hooked up with a man in our church who took me to my first AA meeting. I went to AA for the next three years. Finally, alcohol was not the main problem. It was the broken relationship with Jesus Christ.

"I could do sober. I did it for five years without getting any serenity. When I started doing the Celebrate Recovery books, it took me to the core issues. I not only wanted the sobriety, I wanted the serenity."

He stopped drinking eight years ago.

"Two weeks later, I quit doing the cocaine and meth and the other drugs. Three years later, I stopped smoking. A couple of years after that, I got rid of Internet pornography. I didn't want substitute addictions. I wanted to be healed. Celebrate Recovery offered wellness."

Who would be helped by the program that helped him?

"Anyone who's hurting," Brummel said. "If we can get out of the mentality that it's only a drug and alcohol program, I think our community could grow, our churches could grow. It deals with all kinds of bitterness and animosity. It doesn't matter what's hurting you, come to Celebrate Recovery.

"We don't preach; we sing. We don't have expectations; all we have is the peace of Jesus. Let him heal you.

"You don't have to believe. We have all kinds of people who come. It doesn't matter. Come as you are. It's the best and safest place to be."

The national Celebrate Recovery Web site is To comment, click on the link with this story at staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012