Healing power: LDS recovery program points addicts to the Savior

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

The Salt Lake Temple during the General Conference Saturday Morning Session. Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

He was a good Mormon, Rod said as he studied his cheesy quesadilla and poked his fork around the rice and beans. He was a returned missionary with a temple recommend, a devoted husband and father with a thriving dental practice.

He was also addicted to painkillers.

"I was a bum. What else do you call a person who totally abandons his family for personal reasons?" he said. "I was taking 40 to 50 Lortab, four or five Xanax and one or two Soma per day. I should be dead."

Seated in a booth at a Mexican restaurant, Rod paused to observe a cornfield through the window. He smiled.

"I've been clean since April 15, 2003. My last drug was an Oxycontin," said the 45-year-old. "Now I live one day at a time and appreciate the small blessings in life."

Rod's remarkable journey back from addiction and excommunication began in jail with brutal honesty, prayer and the Book of Mormon. Eventually he found the LDS Church's Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) and discovered the healing power of the Savior's Atonement.

ARP, sponsored by LDS Family Services, offers hope and support to anyone struggling with addiction. Benjamin Erwin, an LDS Family Services counseling program manager, says the process is inspiring.

"To watch someone in the depths of pain and the chaos of addiction, who has lost their family, job, maybe freedom, and see them change, to watch them be free from the addiction, to partake of the power of the Atonement, to be healed by the Savior, that is so miraculous," Erwin said.

Rod's story

Rod Gardner took his first painkillers — Percodan — after suffering a football injury in high school in 1983. The pills made him feel euphoric and he knew he should avoid them in the future.

About 10 years later he was immersed in dental school and began using Xanax and Lortab in small doses to quell anxiety and stress.

When his family went on a vacation in 1998, Gardner packed a bottle of Lortab. His justification was, "it's OK while on vacation, but not at home."

By 1999 the Tremonton dentist was taking 10 pills a day, and employees and family members were starting to notice. His wife persuaded him to check into a treatment center. He confessed his problem to the dental board.

But just as he was making progress, his mother died unexpectedly. It was easy to fall back into drugs.

"It was a good excuse," he said. "I told myself if there was ever a time I needed drugs, it was then."

By 2001, Gardner was overwhelmed by his drug addiction. He wrote fraudulent prescriptions to a few close friends and gave them cash to buy pills for him. At one point he was consuming more than 40 pills a day. When his wife realized what he was doing, she took him to a hospital for five days of detoxification lockdown, followed by rehabilitation. His dental practice began to self-destruct. The dentist wasn't there, and townspeople figured out what was happening.

Gardner got a shot in Cache County Drug Court, but failed miserably. He was eventually sent to jail for more than a year on charges of uttering false prescriptions and possession of a controlled substance. He was also excommunicated from the LDS Church.

He hit rock bottom during a three-month stint at the Utah State Penitentiary.

"I got to the point where I felt like my life was over," Gardner said. "I was facing the loss of my practice, my dental license and my family. My wife filled out divorce papers. I prayed a lot."

While in the depths of despair, Gardner prayed for divine help like never before. His pleas were answered with some powerful spiritual experiences. With prayer and increased scripture study, Gardner was filled with renewed hope in the Savior's Atonement.

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