ST. GEORGE — Sharon Wills will never forget the day Mandi Gubler and her husband, Court, walked into their first Addiction Recovery Program meeting. She could see a lot of unhappiness and anger in them, especially Court.
“I felt compelled to go over to Court and hug him with all my might,” Wills said. “When I looked in his eyes, I thought, ‘This is a boy that really needs love.’”
Wills, who was then serving as a missionary for the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, played an influencial role in helping Mandi and Court rediscover and recreate themselves — a role the couple now plays for others as they serve as ARP missionaries and share their personal journey on their DIY blog, Vintage Revivals.
After battling for years with Court’s addiction and feeling like “the most broken humans on the planet,” Mandi and her husband were healed by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ: a miracle Mandi Gubler said works because of a willingness to change.
Court Gubler said he knew something was different about him when he was 14 and enjoyed having root canals at the dentist, the feeling of inhaling the nitrous oxide and getting his teeth drilled. Leftover pills from dental treatments kept in his family's cabinent would later become a downfall.
Though a member of the LDS Church, Court said he was “never super strong” and only went to church because his parents made him. At age 18, he started using drugs. In between spurts of sobriety, he was working and in and out of college classes, but his addiction only became worse.
“I knew I was an addict,” the St. George, Utah native said. “I knew from day one I had a problem. I was using (drugs) to deal with every situation in life, which isn’t normal.”
Court Gubler was 22 when he met Mandi. He even had to get high in order to talk to her, he said. But Mandi was smitten, and when she found out about his addiction three months into dating him, she decided she was going to save him — something she would later realize she couldn’t do.
“If you know Mandi, you know she doesn’t see the ugliness in people,” Court said. “She just sees what they can become, and that’s definitely what kept her around. She could see glimpses of what I could be.”
Mandi, who grew up in West Jordan, was also raised in an LDS family but stopped going to church when she moved to St. George to attend Dixie State University. She remembers the feelings she had when she and Court got engaged in 2002: “It was like Heavenly Father was like, ‘OK Mandi, sit down. We’re going to have a little chat. This is not going to be easy, but it will be worth it if you can get through it. It will turn out OK. And you’ll be OK.’”
The pains and heartbreaks of the first seven years of their marriage are described in Mandi's blog post called “My Real Life Story” — including Court’s experiences in and out of jail, drug court and various recovery programs as well as her addiction as a codependent, an addiction she didn’t know she had.
The power of love
Mandi Gubler started Vintage Revivals in summer 2010 when she and Court were living in their first home. It was at another height of Court’s addiction and they didn’t have a lot of money.
“Not being able to buy furniture ... was just another separation from where I perceived happy people to be and where we were because we were dealing with so much with his addiction,” Mandi said. “It was another layer of reasons why we weren’t doing OK.”
Mandi came across All Things Thrifty and was led into the world of DIY blogs. She felt like she, too, could buy old, ugly furniture from the thrift store and spray paint it, so she decided to give it a try. With “fearless” as her motto, she says her creativity and ideas became directly tied to her spirituality.
That same year, Court had hit the point of desperation and wanted help to change. “I was a legitimate drug addict. I was doing everything you could possibly do without dying,” he said.
Years of encouragement from priesthood leaders and several heart-softening experiences, including the death of Mandi’s grandmother and hearing his daughter pray for healing in their home, had touched him. Court Gubler was ready to try attending an ARP meeting, but he worried he wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone there.
“For me, to go to a church’s ARP, would be ‘Mike Smith’ being addicted to Pepsi-Cola who couldn’t get off of caffeine. That was my biggest concern,” he said. But from the first day he and Mandi went to the meeting at a local LDS church building, Court said he felt the spirit.
“When I went to the first meeting, there was a little old missionary lady, and she just loved me from the second I walked in that door,” Court said. “You could just feel the love the Savior has. She had it. And that’s all I wanted. I would keep going back to the meetings so I could feel that spirit.”
That lady was Sharon Wills, who was then serving as an ARP church service missionary with her husband Rick, who has since passed away.
Two days into the program, Court Gubler said, “I told Heavenly Father, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t even care if I’m happy anymore. I don’t care how things fall into place. Just help me stay sober ... And I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’”
Wills watched as Court began to listen and feel more relaxed and accepted as he attended weekly meetings. She encouraged him to stay strong through his withdrawals, feelings she had experienced 30 years ago as a recovering addict herself. She had been addicted to medication after undergoing 17 surgeries.
“He could believe me that I was telling him the truth and that he could do it,” she said. “If this little old lady could do it, he could too.”
Between her husband's coaching and her loving, Wills said, Court began to change. "The changes that were taking place were that he was really beginning to believe that the gospel was true. He also believed he could have a miracle in his life.”
A new way of living
Though Court Gubler wanted and believed in the miracle of recovery, going back to church was an uncomfortable process and he had to be patient with himself.
“Everything was out of my comfort zone,” Court said. “I didn’t want to do any of it. I hated it. But as I started to do it, I could see how it was helping me. Other people were kind of like angels, in a sense helping me overcome these fears and moving forward.”
After a year of attending ARP meetings, Court said he didn’t think about using drugs or pills anymore. He began focusing on overcoming his weaknesses and triggers for stress.
“The crazy thing is if you just ask your Heavenly Father what is the one thing you need to be working on in this very moment in order to progress the most in life, he will always help you see what you need to work on and move on to the next thing,” Court Gubler said.
“It’s easy to not take a physical pill. It’s very hard to change your mindset and change who you are and how to react to situations.”
Wills also helped Mandi Gubler recognize her addiction to codependency, which many loved ones of addicts fall victim to. Though Mandi was doing all she could to love and support her husband to “cure him” of his addiction, her efforts in “trying to keep it all together” had been detrimental to their marriage. Through the ARP, Mandi learned she had to turn her will to heal Court over to the Lord.
“That was a really hard concept for me to grasp, but when I finally did, everything changed for me,” Mandi said. “I had to say, “OK, he’s in your hands. I’m not going to try to control or fix him anymore. You are in charge.’”
Mandi said the meetings gave her peace when all she felt was chaos. The ARP was more than just a 12-week course; it was “a completely new way of living.”
Now 15 years into their marriage, Mandi says she wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Neither would Court, who has been sober for eight years. “It’s become such a strength to have that background that I can always say, ‘Hey, this is difficult but look what Christ has helped you overcome before and you can do it again,’” he said.
The husband-and-wife duo make the perfect team as they run Vintage Revivals together: she's the self-described “creative tornado” that comes up with the ideas and he makes them a reality.
“Reality for her is a negative experience,” Court Gubler said about Mandi’s projects around the house. “She’s a dreamer.”
The Gublers and their three children, ages 14, 9 and 2, are working on their latest project: renovating a mercantile store in Santa Clara, Utah, built in 1928 and nicknamed The Merc. In the most recent episode of a five-part YouTube series, Mandi and Court show clips of demolition, framing and sheetrocking the building that will soon be their new home.
For the last six years, Court and Mandi have been serving as ARP church service missionaries in St. George. They run meetings every Wednesday night and try to help everyone who walks in the doors realize “you’re never too far gone for the Atonement to kick in.” It’s the same meeting they started going to eight years ago.
“As ARP missionaries, we just get to go in and love these people that a lot of other people don’t understand how you can love them because they’re so broken,” Court Gubler said.
“That’s the biggest blessing in my life, to see people where I was at, and then to see the Atonement work in their lives to reassure me that, yeah, this stuff is miracles. If you’ve been in an addiction and you know how difficult it is to overcome that one thing, it’s a miracle when it’s just not even a concern in their life anymore.”
Court said the ARP is different from Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery meetings he attended because, with the 12-step program, the focus is spiritual. Rather than talking about how many drugs you used or how bad you were, “it’s more, where am I at today and how can I get closer to my Heavenly Father and deal with this situation?”
Having gone through the ARP manual every 12 weeks for the last eight years, a manual Mandi calls “the Atonement for dummies,” she and her husband know the program backwards and forwards. Going each also week continues to be a strength to them.
“My favorite line in the whole manual says, ‘Because of the love and grace of the Savior, you do not have to be what you have been,’” Mandi said. “I don’t know a soul on earth who doesn’t want to be more like Christ or more at peace or have more insight into life. That’s the whole 12-step program in one sentence.”5 comments on this story
Wills, ‘the little old missionary lady’ who was there as a source of unconditional support when Court and Mandi needed it most, admires the love and cooperation she’s seen between them as they’ve parented their children and renovated their new home — a complete miracle after the unhappiness and poor communication she once saw. A miracle that came because they both really wanted it.
“I see the creativity for both of them coming back," Wills said. "They are both creators again."
Correction: A previous version of this story said The Merc is located in St. George. It is actually located in Santa Clara.