Across West Virginia in cities and towns Sunday, September 17, 2017 is WV Day of Hope: A Celebration of Prevention and Recovery. Birthed about three years ago as a result of a faith-based roundtable hosted by Community Impact Coalition, a few community members and faith leaders in Wheeling asked themselves, “what could be done about substance misuse in West Virginia?”. The idea for the day arose to unify and promote a drug-free lifestyle throughout West Virginia by engaging the faith community of all denominations to incorporate special services, liturgy, events and outreach among their community and congregations. In recognition of WV Day of Hope initiative, a young man who is living recovery everyday was invited to Wheeling to share his story of Hope.
In listening to Chris Dew speak, what is most striking is his utmost transparency about every inch of his journey before, during and now continuing in recovery. He shares, “From before I can remember, I had a severe stuttering problem, as well as a seemingly uncommon emptiness in my soul. At a very young age, I started trying to find anything that would fill that void and calm my nerves. This quest eventually led me to drugs, and by the time I was 17, I was a full blown IV heroin addict.”
Chris describes his attempts to seek recovery on will power alone to no avail. His journey includes multiple attempts over several years in various rehabs and programs having no true recovery success until as he says, “I decided to actually DO the steps.” Chris often refers to the long standing, well known 12 Step Recovery Programs facilitated by Narcotics Anonymous / Alcoholics Anonymous as being integral to his finally finding a solution for wholeness and restoration in his life. He attributes his new life of health, healing and freedom from addiction to choosing to yield to a ‘Higher Power’. In his case, Chris states surrendering every aspect of his Head, Hands, Heart and daily life to Jesus is the one thing that changed everything. Chris recounts, “On Christmas Eve 2010, I heard the gospel and Jesus saved me. From that point on, nothing has been the same. I had a taste of the pleasure I had been looking for my whole life. The hopelessness I once felt was filled with unshakeable hope.”
In celebration of WV Day of Hope, Chris Dew shares more of his story of finding and living in daily Hope as a life transformed beyond his dreams with this set of “Five Questions”.
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1) One of C.S. Lewis’s most famous quotes is a text that is meaningful to you – “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Why is it so meaningful to you?
This quote is extremely meaningful to me because it describes my experience in life. For years I was like the ignorant child making mud pies in a slum, trying to find joy in this world. From an early age, I remember being empty; feeling like there was a hole in my soul. I began trying to find anything that would fill that void in me; from sports, popularity, girls, partying, etc. None of these things worked, so I began using alcohol and drugs to fill this void in me. The drugs and alcohol would provide temporary relief, but I would soon be empty again. On Christmas Eve of 2010, that all changed. I had just checked into a treatment center less than a week prior and was invited to a church service. I showed up to church weighing 100 lbs and withdrawing from all the drugs. That night I heard that every person was created for a relationship with God, but our sin has separated us from Him leaving a gaping hole and emptiness in our souls. I heard how there isn’t anything we can do to reconcile that relationship, but how God had made a way for that to happen through Jesus Christ. The speaker said that Jesus had lived a perfect life in my place, had died on the cross paying for my sin and had rose again conquering sin and death. I learned that if we repent of sin and place our faith in God, we would be reconciled to God for eternity. That night, I did just that, and everything changed. It was like I went from making mud pies in a slum to living the holiday at sea I had always dreamed of. My relationship with God was restored and I realized the thing I was longing for was not drugs, but God.
2) You entered several different rehabilitation programs over the course of many years. What were the program differences that helped assist in your recovery?
I went to mental hospitals, meetings, court-issued classes, and inpatient facilities during my years in addiction. I never stayed sober for more than a few hours after returning home from any of these. But this last treatment center was an inpatient facility in Florence, SC. The main difference was my faith in Jesus Christ, but there were some other aspects of this facility that God used to prepare me for continued sobriety over the last 6 1/2+ years. First, I had hit a bottom and was willing to do pretty much anything to get sober. The only people at this facility were people who wanted to be there and were ready for a change. Next, they gave us practical tools to work through our past (the 12 steps). These biblical steps were crucial in my development. Also, the treatment facility was set up so we had to get a job to pay our own way. I got a job as a lifeguard and swim coach at the local YMCA. This integration into daily life made the transition out of treatment not as drastic. Lastly, the community atmosphere was absolutely crucial. The relationships that were cultivated during my time in treatment are still some of my best friends today.
3) You often explain you decided to take different action steps in your life to affect change in your head, hands, and heart. What were those actions?
HEAD- In order to change my thinking I had to get wisdom. I made it my aim to learn as much about addiction, recovery, and God as possible from people who had been successful and the mistakes of others who had not. I listened and took notes in 12-step meetings, church services, and just one on one meetings with people. I knew I did not have the information I needed, so I tried to be like a sponge and soak up as much as possible.
HANDS- “Faith without works is dead.” I had met many people who knew a lot about recovery and God, but still could not seem to stay sober. I knew that knowledge alone would not suffice, so I started trying to apply each thing I learned. I started doing small things right, like folding my clothes and doing my chores at the facility, which led to bigger things (like being honest and carrying out the spiritual things I learned).
HEART- This is where it goes from just staying sober, to truly living in freedom. The heart is what we desire and what we love. We are able by sheer will power to get knowledge and apply it, but only God can change our hearts. Through the Gospel, God has changed my heart to desire and love what He loves. This is a miracle that is not possible through anything other than Jesus Christ.
4) Who were the difference makers in your life and what did they do to help you in your recovery in the beginning, the middle, and continuing now?
There were many people who have made a massive difference in my recovery- including mentors, spiritual leaders, and friends. The main one is my best friend Jimbo Hawkins. He was a homeless crack addict on the streets of Dallas for 20+ years, but came through the treatment facility and met Christ about the same time as I did. We were roommates for many years and now remain best friends. He has been with me through the ups and downs of life and has taught me more than I could ever imagine about gratitude despite material poverty, joy in the midst of circumstantial trials, and genuine loyalty in friendship.
I also have about 6 older men who remain mentors to me. These men are all gifts from God that have shown me what it looks like to follow Jesus, love my wife, and live life to the full through sacrificing my life to serve others. One of them is in recovery, but the others are just older men who love Jesus, love me, and want the best for me.
I’ve learned that recovery isn’t possible in isolation. Community, mentors, and deep friendships are necessary for lasting change.
5) What are the most surprising things (name as many as you like) about how your life is now, compared to how it was, and what gives you hope moving forward?
When I first entered into treatment facility I hoped that I would get off of hard drugs and just live a normal mediocre life, but I have been blessed with so much more. I have been blessed with true joy and a full, exciting life. I have a beautiful wife, real friends, passionate purpose, complete freedom, and real hope for the future. I expected a better slum with better mud, and God gave me the holiday at sea I had always dreamed of.
There are many things that give me hope moving forward, but mainly it’s that this life isn’t all that there is. When I believed that this life was all there is, there was no reason to live for anything other than instant gratification. Now that I know that we are all eternal souls with temporary bodies, there is much to live for. The hope I have now is rooted in the assurance of eternity with God, and my purpose on earth is to play a part in as many others having that same hope. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have ETERNAL LIFE” (John 3:16 ESV).
About the author: Wendy Scatterday, AIA is an architect and sole-proprietor of Scatterday Architecture in Wheeling, West Virginia. She is currently serving on Wheeling City Council representing Ward 4. As part of her City Council appointments, Ms. Scatterday serves as Chair of the City’s Health and Recreation Committee. Upon entering first time public office in July 2016, Councilor Scatterday and Mayor Elliott agreed she would lead the City of Wheeling’s efforts in creating a collaborative, community-wide approach to better address the substance misuse and prevention issues occurring in Wheeling and surrounding communities.