By Steve Williams


Some people get stuck in a cycle of “get sober→ relapse → get sober → relapse → repeat”. This cycle can go on for many years. It’s incredibly discouraging for the addict and for the family. After a while friends and family begin to quit hoping when their loved one says they are done with their addiction.

They have had their hope crushed too many times to allow themselves to believe again. The addict himself has a similar fear of hoping, asking himself, “Will I ever change? Will sobriety ever stick for me?” Every relapse is like a kid falling off his bike and scraping his knee. How many times before the kid gives up and never learns how to ride?

Every Struggle is Unique

For many addicts, finding Jesus is the answer to end the cycle. But for some, like Matt, they have Jesus and still have a hard time. But they also have more resilience – more ability to get back on the bike and keep trying. I have found there is no one thing that bumps a person out of the relapse cycle. For different people, it’s different things. For Matt Turpin, it was the realization that “No one is going to do it for me, and no one is going to come to my rescue. I have to take responsibility to work on myself.”

Interviewing Matt was a lot of fun for me because I was honestly one of those discouraged friends for many years. Watching Matt relapse over and over after a season of sobriety was like watching your kid fall off his bike – you hurt for him, you feel it in your own body. But talking to Matt about the journey, now that he has had 6 years of sobriety, is worth the disappointments.

October 11, 2011. Matt remembers the day he entered TCAR well. All TCAR students do, and they remember it with mixed emotions. Matt wishes he could do his TCAR journey over again: “It was one of the most amazing experiences. As you get older you wish you could go back and have something like that again – the camaraderie, the closeness of people. It’s a treasure. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity. TCAR taught me a lot of tools when it comes to recovery and dealing with the shame cycle. I learned at Teen Challenge to get back up. It’s not the fall that matters it’s what you do with it.”


When Matt came, he was suppressing a lot of hurt, loss, and trauma and using drugs to cope with it and keep it suppressed. “I grew up never knowing my father. My mother was an alcoholic, but she was loving. Because of her addiction, I was in and out of CPS [child protective services] or my aunt and uncle’s house and then back to mom and her abusive boyfriends. Mom finally lost all custody when I was around 7 or 8 and my aunt and uncle adopted me. Mom passed away from a stroke soon after that. Some of my memories from around that time are still a little blurry. Counseling at TC was helpful, and I worked through some of those things.”

When Matt was still young, he snuck out of his house and saw a movie with friends which glorified drug use. His impressionable young mind wanted to try pot. By freshman year, Matt was regularly using pot, sneaking, lying, and well on his way into the addiction spiral. He began to use ecstasy in his junior year. During his senior year, he was hoping to be picked up by a college for his great soccer skills, but instead, he got caught using and was kicked off the soccer team. Soon after that, his parents found TCAR.

“TCAR was scary at first. You get stripped away from everything you know and sent on a backpacking trip with strangers. But it was good to get away. I was determined to change my life because I lost everything I worked for. Overall, my experience at Teen Challenge was phenomenal. It takes time to unwind all the wrong thoughts. I learned a lot of tools and I got my footing at Teen Challenge. And in the days after, I would always come back to what I learned at the Ranch.”

Matt reminded me of a random runaway attempt he made in his later part of the program. We had been cleaning the Razorback baseball stadium to raise money for the TC mission trips. Matt was a senior student and he had earned trust as he had been changing and growing. So his runaway was a shock and was one of those moments where you watch your kid fall off his bike. It was a big setback for Matt and later I was proud of him for getting back up. “I had turned 18 halfway through the program and it was hard to stay. Another kid wanted to run away, and the next thing I know we are behind a building [in Fayetteville] with cop cars surrounding us.”

 A month before that, Matt had applied for an internship at The Los Angeles Dream Center, where he wanted to continue growing in God while working with the homeless after TC. After the runaway, Matt was struggling to believe in himself or continue to dream for his future.  

“Brother B asked me why I did that, and I told him I felt anxious because I hadn’t heard from the Dream Center and I was doubting my future. He plopped my acceptance letter from the Los Angeles Dream Center in front of me and said, ‘Well how do you feel now?’ That was a turning point moment for me because it was like, ok God didn’t abandon me, I just have to learn to wait.” 

Matt had known that if he was going to stay sober he would need to serve God and continue being discipled in a program that was less insulated than TCAR, but still insulated enough that he wouldn’t be thrown to the wolves. Matt says the Dream Center was an awesome experience.

“We were helping homeless people on skid row, handing out diapers and food in the projects.  In the internship we had a camaraderie similar to TC, and we had chapels like at TC. It was all a really good experience for me. On one of the breaks when I went home I messed up, got drunk, smoked weed, but I came back to the internship and got back on track.”

In his second year at the center, Matt became a leader in the program. He did well for a while but then fell off his bike again. This time it began with doubts stemming from FOMO (fear of missing out). Here he was in active ministry, serving Jesus, making a difference not just in the lives of the homeless and addicts, but also in the students at the internship which he was now helping lead. But despite that, the enemy used the customs of this world, and probably some well-meaning but misguided advisors, to cause Matt to worry that he is missing out on life and that he’s getting behind and won’t measure up. “My friends were in college, and I started to worry I would be 2 years behind everyone else my age.” Just like any Christian who gets their eyes off Jesus and onto the world, Matt began to stray and he strayed into his old coping mechanisms. “I started drinking and using synthetic marijuana and kept it hidden.” When satan knows he can’t get us to cross the line, he will try to get us to dip a toe over the line and say it’s not crossing the line, and before you know it the other side of the line has you. With Matt synthetic felt like it wouldn’t be that bad, but it led to secrecy, and secrecy is the fuel that keeps the engine of addiction running.

“It blew up when I got drunk with a guy from my small group that I was supposed to be leading. I felt very guilty and so I didn’t come back from Winter break. From there I got back into my old life at home – weed, ecstasy, selling weed, etc. This went on for 1 to 2 months. Eventually, I hit a low point, so I emailed the director at the Dream Center, and surprisingly, they let me come back if I agreed to do 30 days in the rehab program that the Dream Center has. The leaders at the Dream Center welcomed me back and they were all cheering me on when I walked in. I have a lot of respect for that place, and I highly recommend the internship for any TCAR students.”


After two and a half years at the Dream Center, Matt came back to TCAR, this time as an intern! “Interning at TC was a great experience, a memory I cherish a lot: leading students, loving them, going on trips with them, and working alongside people like Steve and Max. But yet again, Christmas break back home I relapsed on alcohol and then weed and the shame cycle hit. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t deserve this. How can I help others when I’m so fallen?’ So I didn’t get on the plane to go back and finish the internship. I stayed home this time and went into darkness. I used and sold a lot of marijuana and molly (ecstasy).


A church pastor I knew as a kid was reaching out to me and invited me to Bible study and stuff. I had zero interest, but he offered me gas money and I needed the money to go to Chicago to buy drugs. On the way to Chicago I drove my car, which was full of drugs, into a swamp. Somehow I got off with reckless driving, but it awakened me and I moved into a discipleship/sober living house.” Matt says that went well for a while. He helped start a church and he was expecting to be brought on staff and go into ministry, but when that didn’t happen it brought on that self-doubt again and he fell off his bike again one last time.


“I was very slow to cut off old bad friendships. I felt very bad about cutting people off, but that meant always leaving a door open to my past. I developed a bad cocaine habit. I was lying to people, racked up credit card debt, and I found myself around actual gang members. I ruined a romantic relationship, I lost a lot of trust, I lost all passion for anything. Somehow, I became a loan officer at a bank while doing all this. I remember one day after work I was still wearing my suit when I went to make a drug deal and the drug dealer said, ‘Can I ask you something? I’m a felon and I can’t get good jobs and things, but why do you do this? You have a job. You make money.’  And that really stuck with me.”


When Matt wrestled with self-esteem because of his many relapses, his mom/aunt said something that helped him be patient with himself: “Most people start at ground zero, but you started at negative 15…” Many of my students through the years have had such hard childhoods that I struggle to relate, and I wonder if I would have survived at all if I had been born into the conditions they endured in their developmental years.


Eventually, Matt decided to get away from Michigan, where he always seemed to relapse, and went to live with his brother in Arizona. Matt’s brother was not a Christian, so for the first time in his life, Matt wanted to be right with God but did not have any outside influences to help him keep a Christian lifestyle. Matt started going to church on his own and standing on his own two feet spiritually.  


After 7 months Matt returned to Michigan, returned to an internship in his church, and met a lovely girl there named Kayla who he married a year later. “Our first couple years of marriage were ridiculously rocky. She was also adopted, had her own rough story, and we both brought a lot of baggage into marriage with us. But we stuck with it, and we did marriage counseling. We’ve been married 5 years now and it has been great for the last 3 years!


One thing that helped Matt stabilize was a transition into Christian Orthodoxy. He seems to thrive off the structure, customs, and regularity of a liturgical style of worship and living. While scheduling an interview with him I noticed he is very disciplined about his routine – his bedtime, his date night with his wife, etc. Matt says he does his prayers and liturgy readings in the mornings, then has his mushroom coffee, and goes to his job as a recruiter Monday – Friday, 9 to 5, and then he and Kayla work out. He and his Kayla like to watch movies, be foodies, and play with their Pitbull which they named after my dog, Selah. Matt says, “Coming from a background of chaos, stability is great!” Matt loves his church, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. He says through it God has brought peace, certainty, and structure to his life.

Matt is 31 now, living in Lansing, Michigan. He’s the most content I’ve ever seen him. Matt says the themes of his life story are “keep getting back up,” and “God makes masterpieces out of messes”.  When asked for advice for students, Matt said, “Enjoy every moment at TC and live it fully. Try to trust the process. Don’t get pulled into the shame cycle. Admit it when you’re wrong, get back up, and you’ll eventually get there.”


When I petitioned Matt for advice for TCAR parents, he said, “Don’t baby your kids. Don’t bail them out. Don’t make your kids’ lives too easy. Don’t let them live in your house rent free for long. This is a launching pad, not a landing. Don’t let them be comfortable in their mess because you’re taking care of them. It’s tempting because you think you’re keeping them safe, but it’s doing them more harm than good. Do you think the prodigal’s son would have left the pigsty if he had a big screen TV in there and had home cooked meals brought to him?” Since he started preaching on this point, I got the feeling Matt felt strongly about this. He also has a lot of appreciation for his mom who stuck to these themes during his own journey: “God bless my mom! One day I called my mom and told her I had bad news, that I had blown all my money on cocaine. She said, ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting the news to be that bad. But you’ve made it through hard things before and you’ll make it through this too. I love you.’  When people stopped trying to get all into my mess and fix it for me, I knew my life was my responsibility.


Matt rides his bike confidently now because he has learned to avoid the bumps in the road, like self-doubt and trauma, or at least not let them wreck him when they pop up. There will be more bumps and challenges to overcome, but Matt rides with a strong sense of resilience, faith, and structure. His journey reminds us all that no matter how many times you fall, you can always rise.


The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.

But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked. –Proverbs 24:16