Noel nears a decade of sobriety after life-changing Mission stay

Noel at work at a Santa Barbara car dealership

Noel at work at a Santa Barbara car dealership.

Noel is less than a year away from hitting a major milestone: one decade of sobriety. “The Mission literally saved my life,” he said. “It worked wonders on me.”

Noel started drinking when he was just 10 years old. “We had 37 fruit trees on our property in Washington, and whenever fruit fell to the ground, we were making wine or brandy from it,” he said. “Drinking preceded all my downfalls. It escalated, and the addiction got deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper.”

Noel worked in the automotive industry. “There was always alcohol around, but I was excessive with it. I was a professional drinker. It wasn’t pretty,” said Noel, who got married and had five kids. While his wife was a “partier” when they first got together, she was able to kick the habit. “She quit drinking five or six years before I did,” he said. “She had achieved that goal, but it wasn’t working for me. It was terrible.

“I just wasn’t a guy who could go have a couple beers and then come in for dinner and do the coloring book with the kids.”

Noel came into the Mission’s Life Recovery Program in 2014. “I was getting a divorce, and my oldest daughter told me, ‘Unless you do something about your drinking, I’m not going to have a relationship with you. I found a place in Oxnard that’ll take you for free. Let’s try it for 90 days and take it from there.’”

So Noel did. “Those first three months were agony,” he said. “I had been smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day at that time. I smoked weed and dabbled in other drugs (before I arrived). I was a mess. It wasn’t an easy ride—I was on the edge of getting asked to leave a few times because of my behavior. But through the grace of God and the Mission, I was able to make it. I ended up graduating, and I’m still sober.”

The key to success post-graduation is ensuring that there is a commitment to four outcomes: positive relationships with God, self, and others; healthy lifestyle/continued recovery; employment that provides a livable wage; and stable housing. Noel stayed focused on these goals.

Mission Director Michael Darden said the program’s relapse prevention counseling helps residents learn about themselves and their weaknesses. They are given tools to recognize triggers and help them make better choices.

“Additionally, there is a strong spiritual component that is offered to each resident,” Darden added. “Learning about God and His plan for their lives as well as spiritual resources and instruction such as prayer and Biblical studies and church involvement is encouraged.”

Noel had always believed in the Lord, he said, but his relationship with God grew in the program. “I still have a devotional book I picked up while I was at the Mission. It was inspiring to me and still is. I have my routine to this day: wake up, get dressed, and pull out my devotional. I read my inspiration for the day—it gets me started on the right foot.”

After graduation, Noel moved into the Transitional Living Program and got a job at Lowe’s. After a few years, he went back to work in the auto industry. He works at Bunnin Chevrolet in Santa Barbara, where he now has his own studio apartment.

“Safe housing is also a crucial part of a healthy life,” Darden said. “Staff work with residents to get on a track towards a livable wage. We have financial classes and coaching to help develop budgets and save money for stable housing. Additionally, case managers work with individuals to find programs and other resources in finding safe housing.

“We firmly believe that a strong work ethic, developing skills, and working toward the betterment of self and others provides a sense of purpose and focus that helps maintain a healthy lifestyle and outlook towards the future. As residents overcome their addictions, it is important that they have hope for a bright future once the program is complete.”

Noel said he feels more settled now that he isn’t struggling with addiction. “I have communication with my children, I work, I save my pennies, and I golf when I get the opportunity,” he said. “And I’m sober and have very few triggers to ever want to drink or smoke. I’m a success story. I’m grateful to the Mission every day.”