Center 4 Life Change: Guidance and Hope for Addiction
The Center 4 Life Change Offers a Different Approach of Guidance and Hope for Individuals and Families of Addiction
Written by Kelli Gillespie
It started with a personal addiction and a passion to help others achieve healthy lives, with an ultimate goal of healing and full restoration. After education, training and running other programs Felicia Durling fulfilled her 15-year vision and founded The Center 4 Life Change. Couple Durling’s extensive background with that of Andrea Salzburn, a parent of sons that struggled with addiction who now overseas not only the Parent Program, but is the Clinical Coordinator as well, and The Center 4 Life Change is a powerful facility transforming both individuals and families. The community resource center offers on site drug and alcohol treatment, marriage and family counseling, parent support groups, education and homeless restoration. They can also help someone find qualified psychiatric evaluations, inpatient treatment and detox placement. Risen sat down with both Durling and Salzburn to learn more about their stories, how the brain works, warning signs for families and the much needed component of faith.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Temecula, California
Risen Magazine: Felicia, you founded The Center 4 Life Change, but first take us back to your upbringing and share why helping others conquer their addictions is a personal passion of yours?
Fellicia Durling: I think it first started back in high school when I started to recognize that I was truly suffering. I was severely depressed, suicidal, and just a broken girl. From the outside everything totally looked fine, I was ASB [Student Body] president, in homecoming court, I had great grades, was involved in the church and was even on the worship team, plus I was headed off to Azusa Pacific University, then transferring to Point Loma Nazarene University however, on the inside where all of this suffering was rooted, there were probably just a couple of teachers that knew I was literally hanging by a thread. I knew something wasn’t right and I didn’t exactly know how to conquer it.
At the age of 14, I started drinking and no one really knew to what degree. I just used it to cope and to make it through the depression and all of that. Only God’s grace kept me afloat all those years. I really attribute that to a couple teachers at the Christian school I went to; they just took notice of me and would make sure I was up and running. When I went college, and then again at 19, I started to just kind of feel like something wasn’t right once again and I think the depression started to increase.
While I was at Point Loma, I was in art school, and I would be driving and would picture myself driving into a tree and I couldn’t get that out of my mind. I knew something wasn’t right and I knew other people around campus were not dealing with that kind of obsessive thought and wanting to escape. That’s when I got a referral to my first therapist. She charged me [a nominal fee] and I would go week after week after week and I pretty much just asked her if there was a chance I could not feel like I was going crazy. I’m sure she had a ton of diagnoses for me, but the bigger thing that she did was she gave me the hope that not only could God can heal me, but that He could give me strategies on how to make it really successfully. We brought Jesus back into my life in a really active way. I started to learn how to manage mental illness and addictive disorders in a way that I thought, “If I have this, everyone should have this. If I have the opportunity get this high quality help, [at such a nominal fee] then everyone should. No one should have to suffer like I did at 14 and 19, especially alone.” No one really knew what to do with me and there was a repetitive lie in my mind that something was really wrong with me and I was going crazy. I think the enemy was just attacking me constantly.
Risen Magazine: Where do you think the depression and suicidal thoughts stemmed from?
Fellicia Durling: I think sometimes trauma can create anxiety disorder and depression and that combination of the two typically leads to some kind of substance use. I was literally using it to cope, to stay alive and to make it. Trauma was present for me and there were things in my life that definitely contributed to this combination. It was God’s grace helping me find the right kind of care.
Risen Magazine: Because you grew up in a Christian home and went to private school, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from challenges or in this case a lot of pain. How did your family respond to your behavior?
Fellicia Durling: I think in some way we [the whole family] were all suffering and I think all of us were trying to stay afloat. We all loved the Lord, but there was just brokenness and I think that is such a common thing – especially in the Christian world. There are families that love Jesus very much and they are suffering because they don’t know how to manage pain. I think generationally, family after family after family in my parent’s family, and their parent’s family, everyone was dealing with so much pain and no one knew how to manage it. It’s been generations of everyone just trying to stay afloat.
I remember just recently my dad and I had lunch and he said to me, “Did you know that this is the first generation that’s not going to suffer like we all suffered for so long?” I kind of look at it like stopping a train. When you get the right care at the right time, it [the cycle] stops and now myself, and my children, don’t have to be suffering anymore. Ending the family story of suffering is totally possible.
When your buddy hands you the first drink remember you come from a family that has struggled with this.
Risen Magazine: Andrea, your passion for changing lives comes through personal experience as well, but from a different angle, as a parent. Walk us through how addiction had a stronghold on both of your sons and what that did to your family, and how you were able to take a destructive situation and find restoration.
Andrea Salzburn: It was nothing I ever intended for my life – it’s actually the polar opposite. We had addiction in our family on both my husband’s side as well on my side. My husband and I actually worked hard to make sure that [addiction] wasn’t going to infiltrate our family, our kids, and our life. We felt like we did everything to create something much safer for our kids. I checked all the right boxes; I was the soccer mom, I was the room mom, my husband coached the football team, we were very involved, the kids went to Christian schools, we attended church – we did everything that we thought would create this perfect family.
About the time my youngest son was 15, we stated to see behaviors in him that were very dangerous and risky. The harder we tried, the harder I prayed, the harder I hoped and wished it wasn’t heading to that [destructive] direction, it was. To say that the next couple of years were out of control would be an understatement, it just came so quickly, the behavior and the manifestation of the addictive disorder [now with both sons]. What once was this tight little family was now destroyed with anger. We were at each other all the time because John, my husband, and I, were working hard to contain things while our kids where pushing back; the harder we pushed, the harder they pushed back.
Because of the intensity of it and the depression that set in as we were literally desperate to try to save our kids, coupled with knowing about addictions from our family history, we were fearful that we were going to lose our kids. By the time we got in front of Felicia [for help], my husband and I where literally grieving the death of our kids and they were still very much alive. We had just gotten to a place where we realized our children, that we worked so hard to raise the best we could, and poured our heart and soul into, were using something as dangerous as heroine. Well, you just can’t wrap your brain around that.
We went in [to get help] with the intention of, “Tell us how to fix our kids?” And very quickly it became, “Tell me how I can want to live again, because I don’t want to anymore.” I used to say, just to my husband, “I’m not going to take my own life, but if a bus came in my direction I wouldn’t jump away.” That’s the level of grief we were at.
By the time we sat with Felicia we had truly become convinced that we needed to turn away from our kids, that we needed to shut them out, and let them go. But I couldn’t wrap my brain fully around the idea of telling my kid, “You are out of my life.” So the first time I sat with Felicia I don’t think I said three words the whole time. I just sat and cried while my husband did most of the talking. All I could eek out was something about all I wanted was my kids back. And she said, “You can still have your kids.” And I thought, “Tell me how. How can I keep my kids, because everyone else is telling me I can’t? They are lying, cheating, and stealing from us.” I’m not even talking about what they are doing to other people, I’m their mom and they are lying to me and they are talking to me in a way I would never expect my kids to talk to me. Yet Felicia began to convince me over time that there are strategies, there are ways to keep my kids, keep their heart, and be able to love my kids while also retaining some semblance of myself. She convinced us we can have hope again and that’s where it all started to turn.
Risen Magazine: At this point did just the two of you go to this counseling? Did your kids know that you were seeking help based on the situation?
Andrea Salzburn: Yes and our kids did not know. We were always trying to find outside help so they were used to that, but this was a little different. My youngest son said to me the other day, “I could remember how all of sudden you started to act different, and you were talking differently.” It was a whole different kind of mindset and approach to the entire thing.
Jesus has always been an integral part of my life but something happened and now as I counsel parents, I see it all the time, where people have spent their entire life as Christians and they find themselves saying, “I don’t know that I have faith anymore.” Addiction will rob you of everything, including faith. Felicia reminded us in a subtle way that God is not to blame. And we began to intercede with our kids under a whole different mindset – it was less about action with them and more about action with us. The idea that we could actually separate from our kids, was a new concept.
Risen Magazine: When did your boys realize their addiction was out of control, or did they ever get to that point?
Andrea Salzburn: It’s interesting because maybe that’s why it affected me profoundly. My little brother struggled and actually lost his battle to addiction. So I was so affected by it, and when I look back I can see I was living in fear of that [happening to my sons]. I’d always educated my kids on addiction and told them how evil can show up as the face of your friends and I use to say, “When your buddy hands you the first drink remember you come from a family that has struggled with this.” So it wasn’t that they weren’t educated, but as far as answering about when they realized, I would say they didn’t really realize the depth of it until both of them got clean.
Fellicia Durling: I would also add that there is new education. One thing that really sets The Center 4 Life Change apart from others is the clinical side of care. When parents get the understanding of what’s actually happening in the neuron transmitters in the brain, it helps parents understand how to help their kid get better. So it’s not about a kid being bad, it is about a kid being sick. And then it’s important to have the right strategies to get them better. That approach right there is the game changer. All of a sudden John and Andrea understand that their kids are actually really sick. And in order to get their kids better, here is what mom and dad need to do.
Risen Magazine: How would you advise parents to approach their child if they are worried or suspect an issue developing?
Fellicia Durling: I think it’s important that a family gets the right coaching. Parents need coaching to understand how to manage their kid’s abuse and dependency. This is now the area that Andrea oversees at the center. We get calls constantly from moms and dads that say, “I found Norco in my kid’s bedroom,” or “My kid is smoking weed every day and he is convincing me he should be smoking weed because it’s actually helping with his anxiety.” There is clinical and medical support to help guide parents through that. There are intervention strategies. Because Andrea felt a calling on her life to help other moms and dads that are suffering, she will sit with parents, day after day and teach them strategy, and how to keep their kid’s heart, and have boundaries, and a safe home. Sometimes we’re on the phone daily, helping to coach that parent through this because we are trying to avoid tragedy. Statistically, two-thirds of people with addictive disorders will struggle with it chronically and we teach the parent how to manage a relapse. That’s a really tough statistic.
Risen Magazine: Talk to me more about The Center 4 Life Change. It opened its doors in 2012, but the vision, education, and experience started a decade before that. Andrea became a part after working with you in her own family and then feeling a calling to help other moms and dads. What is the mission and hope for the center?
Fellicia Durling: When I got recovery, at 19 years old, I started running free community groups for about ten years. My poor husband would watch our kids from the back room [in our home] and I would have community group. Then a decade later someone said, “You know you can do this as a job.” My husband was like, “Yay!”
I was actually in Oregon when I got the first taste of this world. I volunteered at a men’s crisis center and that was a life changer. It was an organization called, The Shepherd House, in Bend. I just volunteered for a few weeks and then all out of sudden I was program director. It [the program] was for 32 men coming out of Pendleton [correctional institution in Oregon] as high felons and I loved every minute of that. We created a drug and alcohol program and at that point I started to get certified. I thought, “This is the real deal. There is something going on here, these are beautiful people who have committed a high-rate crime, so what happened? Why the alcohol? Why the drugs?” I started the certification and from there went into managed care and was the clinical director for about 20 staff members and more than 100 patients, yet through all of that I had this life goal, a 15-year vision of having a place that people could go to as a resource center. That’s where The Center 4 Life Change was officially born. I wanted a place where families can come in and get that first touch of Jesus, without even knowing it was Jesus. Every call, every person, we want them to experience Jesus mixed with that clinical counseling background.
This is the real deal. There is something going on here, these are beautiful people who have committed a high-rate crime, so what happened? Why the alcohol? Why the drugs?
Risen Magazine: You talk about how the brain gets “hijacked” when someone has an addictive disorder. What does this mean and what effects do drugs actually have on how the brain functions and ultimately a person’s behavior?
Fellicia Durling: More than anyone can imagine. What we teach clients and families coming in is about the front and the back part of the brain. It’s much more complicated than that, but it’s a way to explain it to people so they can understand. The front part of the brain is where the logical and rational ideas form – I care about God, I care about my family, if I see a red traffic light it means stop – all the basics. And the back part of the brain is where God created all pleasure and good stuff. But it is also the part of the brain that 7-10 percent of people, and 25 percent if you have a parent who is an addict, will find themselves. You throw a controlled substance in the back part of the brain and all of sudden the wrong part of the brain is now running the show. Just that simple explanation and most of the time our clients say, “Oh, so I don’t have to sit in guilty shame and I can actually retrain my brain to think differently.” There is neurotransmitter in the back part of the brain that has ended messages.
Risen Magazine: Your treatment involves clinical care and counseling so how does faith factor into recovery and ultimately become a key to full healing?
Fellicia Durling: I’m limited. I can work on changing my thinking, I can come to treatment, I can get a sponsor, I can go to meetings, I can do all my part, but at the end of the day I always say, “I’m just a girl so I can do my part, but I really need God to step in, in a very supernatural way to make this exponential.” It is similar to the loaves and fishes story in the Bible; the Lord can take what I have and provide total healing. We want every client totally healed and that is a unique strategy in the clinical world of drug and alcohol treatment. So until Jesus comes in and completely heals the addiction in every client, then these strategies we can put into place keep us going healthy and strong.
Risen Magazine: How are faith and the God-factor introduced to the patients that don’t have any background, or interest, in God and His love?
Fellicia Durling: We have clients coming in that have never been in treatment before, and clients that have spent over $300 thousand dollars on treatment, so the level definitely ranges. Some clients are ready to bring the faith component in and some have been walking with such guilt and shame that they need God to stay way over there because they are not even ready to face Him yet. We really try to make sure the individual care for the client is matched. Some of our clients want us to pray over them every day, and other clients are going to need a few months.
We have this model of recovery where we say we don’t go head on, we go all the way around and we slowly come in. We just start saying, “I know you don’t want me to mention God, but I’m on my face for you [praying] before I go to bed.” They don’t really know what to do with that sometimes. But it’s contagious. Our clients always say, “I wish we could come more days and stay more, because there is an atmosphere of the unconditional love of God in the building.” All of sudden clients start saying, “I prayed yesterday and I haven’t prayed in more than five years.” We will write that in their treatment plan. We have a spirituality part in our treatment plan. It is part of our mission to work closely with the faith-based community so they know we are here for them; just getting those partnerships together. Our heart is to be the place where churches that are filled with families who need help can refer them to The Center 4 Life Change.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2014
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