Searching for freedom

At the age of 46, Randy Makinson was living a charmed life.

The Winnipeg resident had just celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife, his two children were on the cusp of adulthood, and he had a fulfilling career rebuilding racecar engines.

Then his wife left him.

The news came as a huge shock to Makinson.  It was a surprise he didn’t take well.

“I ended up lost and lonely in the streets of Winnipeg, going to bars, drinking and partying for four years in a deep, dark, depression,” Makinson remembers.  “Eventually it led to drugs one night.”

He had never before smoked crack-cocaine, but he did that night and it only hasted his race to the bottom.  For the next two years drugs consumed his life.

“(Addiction) took me to the streets of Winnipeg, seeking stuff from food banks … in and out of short term detoxes and 21-day programs,” Makinson explains.

Eventually, he thought about committing suicide.  His sister intervened and suggested a faith-based recovery program operating in Allen, Sask. called Teen Challenge.

Makinson was skeptical, but he went anyway.  He was in for another shock.

“I arrived at Teen Challenge on January 17, 2007 and did the 12-month program,” he explained.  “It changed my life.”

Makinson has been sober and drug-free since he completed the program.  Instead of heading back to his old career in Winnipeg, he stayed on as an employee.

However, on Sunday he was standing in Prince Albert Apostolic Church, promoting a drug and alcohol recovery program called Teen Challenge.

He works as the intake and student life co-ordinator, where he explains the intricacies of the program to church groups, who occasionally wonder why there are no teens in Teen Challenge.

“It was for teenagers stuck in drugs and alcohol, but eventually it would turn into, basically, an adult program for anyone 18 and over,” Makinson says.

Founded in 1959 by pastor David Wilkerson and former gang leader turned evangelist Nicky Cruz, Teen Challenge offers a drug and alcohol recovery program based on Christian teaching to men and women over the age of 18, and it’s been successful in helping former addicts beat their addictions.  After five years, roughly 70 per cent of program graduates are still clean.

Makinson calls it Saskatchewan’s best-kept secret.

“There are very few people that even know that Teen Challenge exists in the province of Saskatchewan.”

Completing the program is not easy.  Makinson says many of the men who enter are dealing with mental health issues on top of their addictions, and it’s almost impossible to separate the two issues.

“They’re not a separate problem usually.  They’re combined.  The mental health issues usually are crises in their life that they haven’t been able to deal with, so they go to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of life.”

Loneliness is a big problem, and some find it difficult to trust the people around them.  Many think about quitting all together.

“They’ve had so many losses in their addictions over their years or decades.  A lot of the families have broken, their wives have left them, or separated, or divorced,” Makinson says.  “They’re children have seen the destruction of their father year after year, decade after decade, and have given up on wanting to be in their father’s life, so these guys go through many, many trials when they’re in the program.”

It costs Teen Challenge $40,000 to put one person through their program.  People who enter the program pay $1,000 each.  The organization covers the rest, and they’re looking for even more funding now that they’re trying to open a 24-bed women’s recovery centre in Saskatchewan.

That’s why Makinson and a group of soon-to-be graduates are in Prince Albert.  To show that change is possible, and that there is a place to find freedom from the issues that are consuming their lives.