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Recovery group celebrates two years of change

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SNOQUALMIE - Recovery, a word name synonymous with strife, pain and wounded emotions, is actually supposed to be fun.

That is the philosophy of Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based addiction and recovery program that is looking back on two years of changing people's lives.

"Recovery should be fun. It's not dull," said Mary Leonard, who has been involved with Celebrate Recovery. "You're alive and we are going to have fun."

For starters, the program breaks even the basic rules of recovery and addiction meetings. As opposed to a group of people sitting in a circle in a dimly-lit church basement drinking bad coffee, Celebrate Recovery meets at the House of Soul, a cozy coffee shop on Falls Avenue in Snoqualmie.

"You can just come in and be yourself," said William Johnson, the Celebrate Recovery barista who has been involved with the program since 2002.

The program, which was brought to the Valley two years ago by Bill and Leslie Bedell, originated at Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo, Calif. It follows many of the same tenants as the basic 12-step recovery program, but adds a Biblical perspective to each step. There are now more than 1,000 Celebrate Recovery groups in the United States and more have started to form in other countries.

Celebrate Recovery in the Valley starts every weekly meeting with a casual hang-out time with pizza and, if the weather is nice; a cook out. After that people break into groups and talk. The evening ends with a testimony or lecture given by one of the program's leaders.

The Bedells had high hopes for the program, but it has been successful beyond all their expectations. They expect anywhere from 60 to 80 people every week and look forward to a concerted outreach effort in the coming weeks to add even more.

"As director of Celebrate Recovery for the past two years, I have seen an unparalleled history of life change," said Bill. "I am often asked to summarize what this program is all about, and it all boils down to life transformation."

Although Celebrate Recovery is a faith-based program, it receives little support from religious organizations and relies on itself to sustain the program. The Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church gives the program use of its facilities and a good word on Sunday, but no church funds are given to the program. Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Pastor Monty Wright is eager, however, to provide Celebrate Recover with a home in his church.

"When I first started Snoqualmie Valley Alliance four years ago, I was committed to seeing a church that was about healing and growing the whole person," Wright said. "I have walked through life's struggles with hundreds of people, and I know that pat answers and a Bible study are not the answers that bring about total healing for those who struggle with various life hurts, destructive habits and tenacious hang-ups. So a program like Celebrate Recovery was key in developing a church that was ready to see total-person healing in the Snoqualmie Valley."

"Hurts, habits and hang-ups" has been a catch-all phrase Celebrate Recovery uses to cover just about anything the program deals with. Many who come to the program have dealt or are dealing with substance abuse, but more are coming who deal with anger, hopelessness and loneliness. There are stories of people who have restored relationships with estranged family members and others who have been brought back from the brink of suicide.

"We are impacting the community one family at a time," said Leslie.

Stacey Jillson came to Celebrate Recovery to deal with overeating. She had tried every diet on the market, but was continually frustrated by the results. When she moved to Maple Valley last year she found out about Celebrate Recovery and got involved. She has since lost 46 pounds, but points more to her own self-esteem and relationships with others as a true gauge of her well-being.

"It's not about food or alcohol or drugs. It's not about the substance," Jillson said. "It's about hope, strength, finding something greater than yourself and support that is consistent and unflagging."

Whatever the problem, those involved in Celebrate Recovery believe the community that is fostered by the program can change lives and stop destructive behavior. The leaders of Celebrate Recover cringed at typical recovery words to describe the program. Instead, they wanted the experience of their own lives to be the explanation of how and why Celebrate Recovery works. Some of the people who go through Celebrate Recovery end up being leaders, something many of them didn't think they would ever become in the throes of addiction. But finding out who people truly are, both their strengths and weaknesses, is the main purpose of Celebrate Recovery.

"It's a place where I can be myself," Jillson said. "Warts and all."

* Celebrate Recovery meets every Friday from at 6 p.m. at the House of Soul, which is located next the Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church office at 8032 Falls Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie. There will be an open house on Friday, Feb. 13, from 6-10 p.m.

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