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Wayne’s problems started early.

“I looked at the world differently,” he says. “I had a lot of bad in my life. That led to a lot of mistrust.”

Mistrust led to trouble, including drug and alcohol abuse, time in prison and stints in and out of drug and alcohol rehab, including at the Duluth Bethel. But a visit to his mother shortly before her death changed his perspective—and changed his life.

“I knew it was the last time I was going to see her alive,” Wayne says. “I knew I was either going to make a change and do it now or I’d never be able to do it again.”

I’m pleased to say Wayne made that change. After repeated efforts, he turned his life around with the help of the Bethel Port Rehabilitation Program. Today, he is one of thousands of people in recovery locally, living their lives one day at a time, working on staying healthy through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and thankful for the gift of sobriety.

Wayne is one of the success stories of the Duluth Bethel. In recovery, we like to say that every story is different, yet they all share essential truths of addiction and overcoming substance use disorder.

Like many, Wayne didn’t succeed the first time he sought treatment. But he kept coming back. In his corner were dedicated treatment professionals as well as support from AA and the strong Twin Ports recovery community.

Part of how he keeps his sobriety is by giving back with service. He helps organize one of the largest weekly AA meetings in the Twin Ports, held at 7 p.m. every Saturday at the Bethel. The centerpiece of this meeting is a person in recovery simply telling his or her story.

Similarly, the best way to understand how Wayne went from hopelessness to living the promises of recovery is to hear him tell his story.

“When I knew I had to go back to treatment, I didn’t really want to go to the Bethel and face all of those people again,” he says. “But I knew that’s where I had to go. I had to let go of the shame and guilt and just take the love.”

He added: “Everything I needed to succeed was given to me there. My counselors tell me, ‘It was all you.’ But the Bethel gave me the opportunity to get my feet back on the ground. There are a lot of caring individuals there.”

Treatment professionals work with people like Wayne to put them in safe place and then to provide the support they need to work through life’s issues, dealing with the pain that often drives people to drugs and alcohol in the first place. Drinking is only part of the problem. The real issue is alcoholic thinking.

Wayne is now living a life he never could have imagined. He has skills that earn him a paycheck. He has a safe and secure place to live. He has friends and the support of the AA program to get through the challenges that life presents without turning to drugs or alcohol.

“I have a life,” Wayne says. “All of my fantasies and dreams before didn’t come close to what I actually have now. When I couldn’t do it on my own, the Bethel helped me get away from the crazy I had created in my life.”

Now he wants to spread the word and the hope of recovery to others still suffering.

“I tell my story whenever I get the opportunity,” he says. “People need to see somebody who’s been there and hear their story. When they think it’s never going to happen, I tell them it can happen. I’m proof. It happened to me.”

Author Dennis Cummings is Executive Director of the Duluth Bethel, a nonprofit organization that provides treatment for substance use disorder as well as community-based corrections programs to hundreds of men and women annually. This column originally ran in the April 9 edition of the Duluth Budgeteer News. Look for future columns every month in the Budgeteer.