Charles Larson: Growing up in Belvidere, I had a close family and stable home life. My mom and dad were always there for me. Our extended family was always getting together for picnics, holidays or just to visit.
I have several older cousins and family friends who I thought were the coolest people. I knew they partied, too. So I started smoking pot when I was 10. By junior high it was a daily thing. Soon, the marijuana led me to other drugs. By age 17, I tried cocaine.
My family and close friends gave me my first intervention. My junior year of high school, I went to inpatient rehab. I learned a lot from those 45 days, but it did not stop me. Around age 18, I started doing acid heavily.
On a family vacation to California when I was younger, the mountains had seemed to call to me as we flew over them. So, after graduating high school I headed to Denver. I was in a big city, working in construction with other addicts and alcoholics. For seven years, I had periods and binges of crack use … all while I owned and operated a good-sized construction company.
This all changed when I found out about my son, Nicholas, who was 3. I cleaned up enough to get sole custody and a position with a big construction company in Denver. Nick and I lived in the foothills and I had him placed in a Christian school.
My addiction did not leave me, though. After about five years, I was arrested for possession of methamphetamine, which had become my drug of choice. I sent Nick to live with my parents, and I was lost without him, my friends and my family.
For about eight years I lived out of dumpsters, scrapping metal and occasionally stealing to get my fix. In the middle of all this madness I fathered two little girls … but I chose the drug over them. They were adopted by their aunt and uncle. In trying to clean up for them and for the courts, I lived in parks.
This kept me sober, but I didn’t know how to live. I went to a judge and asked her to incarcerate me. She gave me 45 days in jail. I called Mom and Dad and asked them if I could come home once I got out.
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Sam Larson (Charles’ mother): We received that phone call from Charlie over Father’s Day weekend 2009. I thought about how much of our life had been about phone calls – calls from Charlie needing money, being in jail, saying that he was cold and could we pay for a hotel for a few nights, calls from people saying he owed them money or had borrowed something and didn’t return it, calls from collection agencies and attorneys. There were even calls that would say, “I just wanted to say hello and touch base.” Then we’d try to figure out at that split second how to handle each call.
I reflected on the path we had been down during the many years of Charlie’s addiction: his promises to us and to himself, the conditions in which he had lived, and his future. How were we going to fit him back into our life?
Our main condition for him to come back was that he had to go to Rockford Rescue Mission, where he would be given the tools to learn to live life again.
There had been an occasional drink in our home, but no drugs. And drinking never seemed to be the problem with Charlie; it was always drugs. Years later, one of those same relatives who first exposed Charlie to marijuana cried when she saw how bad he looked.
I can remember a few years ago, sitting at our grandson Nick’s DARE graduation and listening to the speaker tell his story of drug use and how much he had missed in his life. He told everyone to pay attention to their kids, and to be aware of their activities.
I started to cry, first because of what Charlie was missing with his son, but second because we were parents who did that. We were involved in our two children’s lives. We based our work and activities around them. But I have learned that the path Charlie took was not because of the way he was raised. It was his choice.
We were half expecting to be notified that he was dead; we were afraid he would not have any identification on him and that people would not know who his family was. But that was not the phone call that we received that Father’s Day. Instead, it was Charlie, and he was ready to come home.
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Charles: Mom and Dad were waiting outside the jail in Denver when I was released. On Aug. 26, 2009, I entered the Men’s Life Recovery program.
That was the day I surrendered my life to Christ. My life seemed to change instantly. I had no cravings – just a peaceful, joyful feeling of purpose from that moment on. Not only was the Mission the tool of my salvation, it also taught me what physical and mental things I would need to watch out for in my recovery. I learned to have patience with the people I had hurt, like my sister. It took 12 months for her to speak to me. I talk to her regularly now.
It placed me in a great church that is now my home church. Working at the Restoration Café gave me the skills I needed to put on a job application. I can go there any time for a hug or a smile from the staff. I still talk at least once a week with a staff member in the education department. The Mission offered me a lot more than just drug rehabilitation. It is a life recovery facility.
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Sam: I kept saying that Charlie needed a different purpose in life, and the Mission helped him find that. We have watched him learn to take pride in his appearance again, get involved with the Captured By Grace Christian band, succeed as a student at Rock Valley College and find work at Anderson Gardens. He was there to help his dad during two back surgeries, and one of the best rewards was to be together as a family last Christmas, as he and his sister have worked on resolving some of their past issues.
I did not realize that by Charlie living and learning at the Mission, we would have become as involved as we have. I cook and bake for many of our “Mission guys,” to whom we have opened our home and hoped that it brings them the chance at an unexpected moment of happiness.
And this could not have been done without the strength of our Lord. He has pushed us and yet always had hold of us, too.
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Charles: I am now a student at Rock Valley College with a 3.8 grade point average. I work full-time as a cook at the Stockholm Inn. I am in my second year of a five-year discipleship class at church. I play bass for Captured By Grace. We are spreading the good news of salvation. My phone calls are no longer to get help, but to try to give help. I thank the Lord for the Mission, and all the staff for being the instrument to create this new chapter in my life. I am living proof of I Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things are new.”