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Program helps with addictions, hurts

A free recovery program in Tuolumne County for people with addictions or other habits is seeking participants and volunteers.

The program, Spiritual Roads, is spiritually based, but participants do not have to be Christian, nor do they have to attend church or even want to attend church, said founder Chris Lytle, of Sonora.

"All you have to do is want to get well," Lytle said.

Meetings are held in neutral, non-denominational settings, like apartment complex clubhouses, etc.

Lytle, 47, is a counselor at Maynord's Recovery Center. He and his wife, Pamela Wheeler-Lytle, of Sonora, lead the program.

The program is designed to help people recover and heal from addictions and other "hurts, habits and hang ups," Lytle said. "It's for everything, not just alcohol."

It is modeled after traditional AA paradigms, but with a more clearly defined spiritual component, Lytle explained.

Lytle said he was addicted to drugs and alcohol for 25 years, and it wasn't until he went to jail that he finally found God and was able to make a clean break. He was living in Modesto at the time and started attending a Christian-based recovery program called Celebrate Recovery.

Lytle has been clean and sober for more than 10 years. He moved to Sonora in 2007 and met and married his wife seven years ago.

Lytle and his wife now lead local Celebrate Recovery meetings. It was while "out on the streets" in Tuolumne County promoting Celebrate Recovery that Lytle discovered the need for a spiritual recovery program not held in a church.

"People would say to me, 'I'm not going to church property; lightning might strike,' " Lytle said.

People would also share with Lytle past negative experiences with ideas of a "punishing God," or feeling intimidated by attending a church program, he said.

"So that's when God gave me the vision that we need to find a way to help these people," Lytle said. "We need to take a program that's less threatening to them, that's more comfortable to them."

That was two years ago. The program now gets about 15 participants "on a good night," Lytle said. The group of volunteer leaders and a governing board has its nonprofit status and is supported through community donations, Lytle said.

The recovery program uses a peer-to-peer model, in which someone who has experience with addiction or hurts and hang-ups mentors someone going through it.

"Which is basically one struggling person helping another," Lytle said.

The meetings are held once a week at various locations and start with a free dinner.

"We feed the body. We kick back and eat and we chat," Lytle said.

Then there is a short reading, which is spiritual in nature.

"It is not a religious program. This is a spiritual program of action. We're here to help people choose a better road," Lytle explained.

After the reading, Lytle likes to play a short inspirational video. Then each person gets a blank index card and is asked to write down something they are struggling with, and they can share it with the group.

"I get them to open up. We get people to share about their struggles. It brings their problems to light. We start to talk and help each other," Lytle said.

The Spiritual Roads program believes that "addiction - and other self-defeating behaviors - are progressive and can be terminal, if left untreated," the program website states.

"We follow a proven, time-tested recovery process and believe that any participant who is willing to follow the program will begin to heal. We believe that as long as a person who suffers from addictions, obsessions or compulsive behaviors is alive, there is hope for healing," Lytle said.

As Tuolumne County continues to offer more and more recovery programs and resources, Lytle's goal is for Spiritual Roads to become a faith-based starting point program for those "seeking freedom from addiction and unhealthy behaviors."

"I really want Spiritual Roads to be a safe place people can go," Lytle said. "There needs to be more recovery services to help people stop using."

Lytle said people can call him to find out where meetings are held, and they can just show up and see if they like it.

"If it works for you, great. If it doesn't work for you, then it doesn't work for you. What I believe the best program is, is the program that works best for you," Lytle said.

So far, the program has had several successful participants - including two families who were able to have their children returned home after being taken by Child Protective Services.

"There's a better way than picking up a drink, a drug, feeding a food addiction, suffering from depression or acting out in anger. We can help you choose a better way," Lytle said.

Lytle said the program is open to anyone, including people who are homeless or have mental health issues or criminal records.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's national survey on drug use and health, 23.5 million people age 12 and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse in 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available).

The National Institute of Health states that substance abuse often co-occurs with mental or emotional disorders and can cause serious, long-lasting, often fatal health problems.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has defined "recovery" as a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.

For more information about Spiritual Roads, call Lytle at 872-9815, email or go online to

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