Healing power: LDS recovery program points addicts to the Savior

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

His problems began at age 6 when his father, a war veteran, committed suicide at home. Feelings of abandonment, fear, guilt, hurt and embarrassment traumatized him. He fell in with a rough crowd where he was introduced to alcohol, tobacco and other substances.

"Ultimately, I was running from my emotions," Hunt said. "I became a liar and a thief."

Over a 15-year period, Hunt flunked out of school, ruined relationships, floundered opportunities and became "SMEPF." That's Hunt's acronym for "Spiritually, Mentally, Emotionally, Physically and Financially Bankrupt."

"Life had become about drugs of choice and doing what I had to do to get drugs of choice," Hunt said. "SMEPF is how I sum it up for people. Addicts nod and say, 'I hear you.'"

Fighting off thoughts of suicide at age 27, he finally admitted he had a problem. That decision led him to detox, rehab, group therapy and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

For more than two months he fought his inner demons and struggled to believe in a higher power. On the 63rd night of full-time rehab, he said he was crying, begging, pleading and groveling for the Lord's help when he had a powerful spiritual experience.

"In the middle of that prayer, the Spirit entered the room and filled a giant void that then lifted that burden from my shoulders," Hunt said. "It was so pronounced that I quit crying and started smiling. I felt 6-foot-3 again."

The message remained with him: "Continue to do these things and all will be well."

When he walked into his counselor's office the next morning, she knew he was different before a word was even spoken.

"She looked up and said, 'It's over, isn't it?' I asked her how she knew. She replied, 'I felt it before you came in the room."

Both Rod Hunt and Rod Gardner agree that a spiritual component is essential for recovery.

"I have never known anyone who has had a long-term recovery without a strong spiritual component," Hunt said. "There is no such thing as neutral. If you are not continuing the 12 steps and moving up that hill, you are automatically in reverse. I've seen people get complacent and they are right back into it. You've got to keep the spiritual component in your life."

Hunt feels a deep and sacred obligation to share his story whenever it's appropriate.

"It's the sermon of my life," he said. "And the opportunity to serve in so many walks of life is amazing.

"It's amazing when a 6-foot-5 guy covered in tattoos comes up to give me a hug and say thank you. How does it get any better than that?"

Hope for happiness

Back at the Mexican restaurant, Rod Gardner smiled as he finished off the last bite of his quesadilla. He has much to be thankful for.

He regrets putting his family through everything that happened, but each has felt blessed as a result. His wife didn't leave him. He was rebaptized and regained his priesthood blessings in 2006. Three years later he entered the Logan Temple with his family to be sealed to a daughter who was born during his years of addiction.

He was able to retain his dental license and has a new practice in Tremonton. True friends surround him on every side.

"I met some of my best friends through the addiction recovery program," he said.

Almost a decade since taking his last pill, Gardner still attends weekly ARP meetings. Like Hunt, he looks for opportunities to share his story because he wants to help others. It reminds him of experiences he never wants to forget.

"The program has shown me a better way to live," Gardner said. "I was a broken man before I ever got addicted to drugs and that's why I got addicted. My confidence wasn't where a lot of people thought it was, and drugs fixed that, or I thought they did."

He's grateful for his experiences that brought him to "the great doctor, the Savior."

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