JOLIET – Bill Pucel wants people to know Celebrate Recovery is not another 12-step program, and it’s not only for alcoholics.
The Christ-centered recovery group helped Pucel beat his drinking problems when other methods failed. When Pucel put down the bottle, he also picked up the Bible.
“It brought me to church and to have a relationship with Christ,” said Pucel, 55, of Joliet. “I wanted Christ in my recovery.”
Pucel sees Celebrate Recovery as a partnership between God and the person seeking help. Each has a role to play.
“You’ve got to do everything you can do,” Pucel said, “and God will do everything you can’t do.”
Today, Pucel attends the Celebrate Recovery group at Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Joliet and shares his story with anyone who will listen. Several times a year, he also shares it with residents at MorningStar Mission in Joliet.
The Rev. Gregory Thompson, a minster, preacher and teacher at The Way Church of Joliet – formerly called The Church at Joliet – said he met Pucel at the Bolingbrook church Pucel formerly attended.
Thompson said Pucel occasionally speaks about his recovery at The Way Church of Joliet’s service it holds at MorningStar Mission on the fourth Sunday of each month.
He called Pucel “a man of faith” and one of “God’s trophies,” living proof it’s possible to stand tall after falling far.
“Even though he’s years into this [recovery] lifestyle, he still has exuberance and enthusiasm,” Thompson said. “He’s a very kindhearted, humble guy, not flashy, just down-to-earth and excited about what God is doing in his life.”
Thompson said Celebrate Recovery did more for Pucel than “deliver him from alcoholism.”
“He also learned a different way to worship God and a different way to study the Bible, to open it up and study it for himself,” Thompson said.
Pucel is happy to help by sharing his story.
“If the story saves or helps one person better their lives or get rid of their addiction, the story is so much worth it,” Pucel said.
Make no mistake. Pucel was no casual drinker.
“I was so dependent on alcohol, I had to drink it many times a day to feel normal,” Pucel said. “It wasn’t to get drunk. It was to get to how I feel now.”
By the time he found Celebrate Recovery, he was drinking half a gallon of vodka a day. And he was employed.
“I didn’t have my license back then, so I took cabs and buses,” Pucel said. “I used to bring my vodka to the bus to take the edge off. I used to drink out of a water bottle of straight vodka.”
Eventually, Pucel’s employer learned he was drinking on the job. Pucel recalled that day, sitting in his boss’ office next to an empty chair. Pucel said his boss had the empty vodka bottle in front of him. And Pucel said he felt the presence of Jesus in the empty chair.
“He had to fire me,” Pucel said. “And I walked out of there and talked to my cousin, a minister at Celebrate Recovery.”
Pucel said he started attending a Celebrate Recovery group at a Bolingbrook church. The group’s facilitator had been a recovering alcoholic for 26 years.
Pucel said he had attended Alcoholics Anonymous in the past after receiving DUIs. But this group was different.
“When I walked in, I felt no judgment, and it felt warm and welcoming,” Pucel said. “My face was beet red and puffy from alcohol. I only drank once after that and haven’t drank since.”
Turns out, not drinking was easy for Pucel.
“Once I accepted Christ, he took my desire and withdrawals away from me, which is miraculous and physically impossible,” Pucel said.
Pucel, who now works two jobs – one at a grocery store and one at a gas station – said Celebrate Recovery addresses addictions other than alcohol, including gambling.
Or, as Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in California, says on the Celebrate Recovery website, Celebrate Recovery “addresses all types of habits, hurts and hang-ups.”
“It’s for anything that’s holding you back from being the person God wants you to be,” Pucel said. “Low self-esteem, abuse, gambling addiction, drug addictions, co-dependency – anything like that.”
According to its website, Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered recovery program that uses the 12 steps combined with Biblical scripture along with eight principles based on the Beatitudes.