For Americans under 50 years of age, drug overdose is the leading cause of death, above firearms, motor vehicle crashes or HIV/AIDS. And according to the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, the number of incidences in Florida surpasses the national average. Most everyone knows someone who struggles with addiction, a family member, coworker or neighbor. “Addiction does not discriminate; anybody and everybody is susceptible,” Antony Tchividjian is quick to point out. Coming from a 16-year-addiction to drugs, Antony finally achieved sobriety through Calvary House, a residential recovery program affiliated with Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale where he is now on staff.
“Unlike most of the men I work with, I did not come from a broken home,” said Antony. “I grew up in a loving Christian family. My dad was a well-respected psychologist and one of my best friends, and my mom is the eldest child of the late Billy Graham. But even with all of the blessings and benefits that came with growing up in a famous family who loved me and took care of me, I became a heroin addict.”
Antony described his battle with addiction as a slow drift that eventually spiraled out of control. Remembering the amazing feeling he had when prescribed Percocet for a root canal when he was a teen, Antony began taking pills recreationally in college to fit in with the crowd at parties. “Before you know it, you’ve become dependent on them and everything in your life revolves around how am I going to be able to supply myself with pills or whatever it was. That’s when it gets bad. You lie. You start stealing. You do anything to supply your habit… It becomes a vicious cycle and you need something catastrophic to get you out of that cycle.”
Antony had been through three other recovery programs before he finally achieved sobriety at Calvary House. “I just remember being in the hospital detoxing and for the first time I just surrendered. I said, ‘OK Lord, I’m going to do whatever it is you want me to do,’ and I meant it… I came straight from the hospital to Calvary House.”
What is it about Calvary House that is making a difference?
For Calvary House Director Dan Laliberte it’s all about helping the men build a relationship with Christ and providing daily structure including regular drug tests and accountability.
“How it works is the guys who come into the ministry, they volunteer at the church for the year and in turn the church supplies Calvary House. So that’s how we are able to operate without taking any payment. It’s a free service, but you are required to work. The Bible says, ‘If a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat,’ and as men we should work. So we go and take care of the church.”
“We have landscaping, restaurant, maintenance, custodial; there’s a construction team. So the guys also learn trades. Some of the guys do end up getting hired along the way at the church, and some guys get hired in other businesses. We just graduated a 19-year-old kid off the streets who went into maintenance, started learning electric and now he got hired with an electrician company, and that’s what he’s pursuing. He’s full time with them now and trying to become an electrician.”
Paul Walker, executive pastor at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, said, “We are committed to growing both our Calvary House for men and Calvary House for women. We really want this to be a place of healing both spiritually, emotionally and even physically. And so we believe that working together with other partners throughout Broward and Palm Beach county that what the enemy meant for evil God’s going to turn around for good.”
An important aspect to the program is skills training. “As a church we’re really committed to providing skills and opportunities for them to either get their GED or if they’ve got a high school diploma, they can get a college diploma as well. We recognize that we can do all this great stuff to help them, but if they don’t have a way to make a living, chances are they’re going to go back to their old way of life.”
Since the ministry was started 28 years ago, the structure has evolved from a simple halfway house located in a modular home to a full-fledged residential recovery program in an apartment complex in Pompano Beach.
The program was recently broken into four phases that men progress through over the course of a year.
Phase 1 is Introduction
In this phase men get acquainted with the program and are taught the basics of Christianity through the Alpha Group program. They develop simple disciplines, and after 12 weeks they have an evaluation meeting with staff, their work supervisor and mentor to determine if they’re ready to move to the next phase.
Phase 2 is Regeneration
This phase involves eight weeks of intensive counseling with Living Water Christian Counseling Center, with Dr. Norm Wise, in addition to their regular work schedule, church and Bible studies.
Phase 3 is Inner Healing
During phase 3, the men participate in an intensive class called Bondage Breakers, taught by Pastor Bill Schott. “Our hope and prayer is that some of these issues that rise to the surface through the counseling in phase 2 we can actually start dealing with in the inner healing class.”
Phase 4 is Servant Leadership
In this final phase, the men start leading the younger guys in the class. “We call them in front of the class, acknowledge them as servant leaders and they take an oath saying they’re taking this responsibility seriously. Then if there are issues, we want the younger guys to go to the servant leaders and they guide them to do the right thing.”
Each phase is roughly 12 weeks.
“We have every moment of their day scheduled and structured. So from day one until the day they graduate there is a structure in place. There is a plan. It’s very routine. And it helps with the reprogramming of your mind,” Dan said. “When living the lives we were living, everything was on emotion; when I feel like it, I’m going to do it. A lot of the guys struggle with the mundane, but life isn’t going to be some exciting new adventure. Monday you’ve got to get up and go to work; it’s just part of life. So we help the guys learn that you’re going to wake up at 5 a.m. It’s a discipline; we’re helping them to start their day with the Lord. When you go to work, you’re going to be respectful. You’re going to show up on time. You’re going to respect you roommates… There’s also something to be said on a scientific level that over time if you continue to do the same things with repetition, it will actually start to reprogram your mind to different ways of thinking. So this structure over the period of a year actually does reprogram the way you think. Then we ease them out. We have a transitional side where guys have 3 to 6 months until they find a job, and there’s still some structure but less structure.”
During this time, the men are being mentored and encouraged by the Calvary House staff as well as the staff they are working with during their employment at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.
“One of the coolest things about Calvary House besides building a relationship with Christ is the community you build,” said Dan. “These are the guys that play with my kids, come to my house, watch football with me. They pray with me. They know my struggles. It’s a family.”
This community and accountability is an important ingredient to long term sobriety since a study from the National Institute on Drugs found that from one to five years, the success rate of sobriety goes from 36% to 86%. “So our goal is to keep guys involved with us as long as possible,” said Dan.
Ed Weigand, a Calvary House staff member, has initiated an alumni program to keep men involved in the ministry and let them know about upcoming retreats, men’s ministry or Bible events, and family days. Ed exchanges text messages with many men who have gone through the program and has been mentoring men since he started to work in facilities at Calvary Chapel in 2006.
“We’ve tried to locate as many men in the area as we can. Antony has started an alumni page on Facebook, and we had an alumni gathering in The Grill of about 50 men and a couple of their wives just recently,” said Ed.
While working with men struggling with addiction can be challenging, Dan said he feels called to the ministry. “In this kind of work you’re being lied to, you’re being manipulated, but we love them.” Dan said he is often reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
He shared, “Never in a million years did we think that God would use us to this capacity when we were in our addiction. When you are in that hole, you feel worthless, unwanted unable, incapable and God sees something different… God can still restore everything, still give you a family, still use you in ways that you never would have imagined.”