Not a day went by that Steven A. Gonzalez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, could function without a drink. For years, he tried keeping his alcohol use from his wife, Sophia, but drinking a fifth or more of vodka a day proved difficult to hide — especially when it led to hospital visits after passing out plus arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and domestic violence.
“I never hit my wife,” Steven says, “but I scared her and messed up our apartment because of how intoxicated I was.”
Steven didn’t plan to be this kind of man, husband, or father to the couple’s three children. He and Sophia began marriage counseling, and he admitted himself to a men’s recovery unit. But he quit the program early because he believed he had his drinking under control.
“I felt really good and thought everything was OK,” he says. However, for the next 18 months, Steven went on a drinking spree which he recalls as “pure mayhem.”
To cope, Sophia likewise began drinking, as well as seeking solace in an emotional affair with their marriage counselor, which in turn led her into a deep suicidal depression. The couple lost hope, with their six-year marriage and young family in shambles.
“I realized what our lives had become and it scared me,” says Sophia, who told her mom she feared they wouldn’t survive much longer without help.
Sophia’s twin sister had gone through Adult & Teen Challenge, a U.S. Missions 12- to 18-month addiction recovery program that offers education, mentoring, and spiritual guidance. Because Adult & Teen Challenge helped her,, she encouraged Sophia to look specifically into the Asbury Teen Challenge Family Center in San Jose, California, which allows the entire family to remain intact through recovery.
“We knew we both needed to do something, but we never imagined we could actually do it together,” says Sophia. Steven agrees.
“I liked the idea that I could go through the program with my wife and children without worrying about how they were doing while I was gone,” Steven says.
Asbury Family Center, started in 1994, is the only Adult & Teen Challenge center that offers this kind of recovery program in which families stay in a 13-unit apartment complex. While Asbury works with the parents — who often both struggle with addictions — children also are helped in the recovery process, receiving counseling and healthy spiritual and educational opportunities that most addicted families don’t experience.
While the results consistently reveal a positive impact on graduates, Asbury Teen Challenge Family Center leaders Randy R. Rowe and Dana F. Rowe acknowledge it’s a long process.
“At our family center we aren’t simply focusing on the individual’s recovery from addiction, we’re focusing on so many other aspects as well,” says Dana, chief development officer for Teen Challenge’s NorWestCal Nevada region.
Dana’s husband, Randy, the chief executive officer, says in such an intense dynamic, secrets tend to emerge and ways the addictive person has hidden behaviors no longer work.
Steven and Sophia Gonzalez decided to give the program a try for the sake of their three children — Melody, 8; Marco, 6; and Maya, 5 — with the understanding that once they finished, they’d file for divorce. But after they moved into the facility, the black cloud lifted, Sophia says, and God showed them hope.
“Being able to grow alongside each other and not leave the kids out was the breath of fresh air we needed,” she says.
They stayed for the entire 18-month program, but Steven says having to relearn how to truthfully relate as spouses proved even tougher than recovering from addiction.
“I had been loaded all the time, so getting sober and getting to know each other while sober was scary,” he says. But working on their recovery together helped them see what a healthy and solidly spiritual family life should look like.
“I’d lived in bondage, but now I was free,” he says. “Not because of the program itself, but because of the cross of Christ, which had power.”
Seven years later, and now married 14 years, Steven, 40, and Sophia, 36, returned to San Jose’s Teen Challenge. Only now they serve as directors of both the Women’s and Children’s Center and the Asbury Family Center.
“We’ve been in their shoes,” Steven says. “We know firsthand how difficult it is. But we also know how successful it can be.”
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