A Sobering Success

Nothing was working. Then Jason De Heus found CITC Recovery and Re-entry.

After struggling to break a pattern of alcoholism for years, Jason De Heus found success with CITC’s Recovery and Re-entry Program. Photo by Jason De Heus/SoBur Supply Co.

On January 10, Jason De Heus hit the streets, armed with socks, food, and hope for those in need. His aim was to uplift homeless individuals, but his actions were also a celebration: Jason had achieved sobriety for 365 days.

“Everything I once thought I couldn’t be a part of, I am now, and I owe it all to my recovery,” he reflected. “CITC Recovery and Re-entry pretty much saved my life. It put me in a position where I’m achieving so much, it’s hard to keep up with it all.”

Jason is the kind of guy you simply expect to succeed: smart, entrepreneurial, driven. He had an outstanding career with the Alaska National Guard, raced competitively in dozens of marathons, and started his own photography and video business.

But every time his life seemed on track, he found himself falling back into bad relationships that ended with him seeking solace in alcoholism and drugs, and ultimately returning to yet another treatment program. Nothing could break the pattern.

Until CITC Recovery and Re-entry.

A Pattern Emerges

Jason is a self-motivated, confident guy. But it was that confidence that often got him into trouble with alcohol. After a DUI in 2003 failed to convince him he had a problem, he switched from beer to vodka. He didn’t want another DUI, so he bought alcohol to have at home — and progressed from one small bottle to two large bottles over time.

“My confidence allowed me to stay stuck in my addiction,” he explained. At the time, he was running competitively, and often ran marathons after a night of drinking. “I didn’t feel the impact of my progression, because I was able to still get drunk, then wake up, go to work, go for a run. I once came straight from the bar and did a full marathon on no sleep. I was like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t impede my ability to function, so it’s not a problem.’”

But it was a problem. In 2010, Jason left a fight with his girlfriend, bought three liters of vodka, and lost three weeks of his life to a blackout. “My car had been moved during that time, so that tells me I drove while I was blacked out,” he recalled. “It scared me.”

He checked into his first treatment program and stayed sober for four years. But a pattern began to emerge: Jason would get into a relationship with someone who also struggled with addition, the relationship would sour, and when it ended, he would find himself back where he started, using drugs and alcohol to drown his misery. He tried treatment again and again, often successfully completing 28-day programs and staying sober for months or years, until the next relationship derailed him. Not even a stint in the hospital was enough to hit home.

“I was so naïve about addiction,” he reflected. “I did the Four Directions outpatient treatment with Southcentral Foundation, and I thought I was strong enough to do it on my own. Four Directions was great, but I still wasn’t ready.”

Then came the two-week binge that put him back in the hospital, where a doctor told informed him that he had conditioned his body to deal with an amount of alcohol that would have killed a “normal” person. His blood alcohol level was .52.

The CITC Difference

To celebrate a year of sobriety, Jason handed out socks, toiletries, and other items to homeless individuals in Anchorage this January. Photo by Jason De Heus/SoBur Supply Co.

It was a trip to Anchorage’s Heart of the City Church that turned things around. Jason had always been interested in photography and making videos, so when he discovered that Heart of the City did a lot of video work in conjunction with its services, he wanted to get involved. The first day he attended a service at the church, he heard the pastor say, “If you want to change your position in life, you need to work on your principals.”

Those words, and his desire to get involved with the church, sent Jason searching for real change.

A Four Directions clinician advised him that what he needed was a residential program. He suggested CITC Recovery and Re-entry (formerly the Chanlyut program), a work-training recovery program that emphasizes community, skills development, and peer mentorship and support.

Flash forward to more than a year later, and Jason is not only sober; he is a business owner (SoBur Supply Co.) who is going to film school full time and who now mentors new residents at Recovery and Re-entry who look up to him as a success story.

So how did that happen? Why did Recovery and Re-entry work when no other program did?

“I think that incorporating the treatment component with work therapy and structured living is key,” said CITC Re-entry Manager Venus Woods. “For Jason, because of his military years, work therapy was a huge piece for him. He needed the treatment, but he also needed a regimen and responsibility.”

“You come at a time when your confidence bank account is depleted,” Jason elaborated. “And to have that trust and that kind of nurturing, people taking time to invest in you, that makes small deposits in that confidence bank account, and it starts growing.”

Jason’s confidence “bank account” grew as he worked in the House Department, doing kitchen work and inventory; eventually, he was promoted to department head. He eventually served in every position on the Chanlyut Council, a leadership group that facilitates communication between participants and CITC staff.

Jason and Venus both also single out Recovery and Re-entry’s therapeutic “village of care” model, which provides an extended family environment where peers work together toward recovery through cooperation and teamwork. For Jason, this meant that he could put his energy into helping others — thus helping himself along the way to recovery.

Still Involved

Helping is also a key component to Jason’s continued sobriety. Although he graduated the program, he chose to remain in supportive housing connected to Recovery and Re-entry. From there, he is able to stay close to those going through their own recovery journey. He mentors others in the program, shows up to play music with the Recovery and Re-entry residents, and came up with the idea of doing group hikes in the summertime. Venus often calls upon him to meet up with men who have relapsed and need support. “He’s the best role model we could have possibly picked,” she said.

“Everything I once thought I couldn’t be a part of, I am now, and I owe it all to my recovery. CITC Recovery and Re-entry pretty much saved my life.”
– Jason De Heus

“I still meet with those guys, do the hour-long check in as a family on Mondays and Fridays with them,” Jason said. “I came in here broken, but where I’m at now, I have everything I need. They’re seeing that, and hopefully that provides something they can tap into and work for.”

“It was a good choice to stay with Recovery and Re-entry past his graduate date,” said Wesley Brewington, Peer Support Specialist for CITC. “He didn’t have to. But part of his success is that he’s making decisions that are healthy for him now. To see him do that, unprompted, is incredible. We can have the tools, but it’s up to us to use them. Jason uses them.”

He’s got more than one tool in his arsenal — including his photography and video talents, which he’s using to share the stories of others who have found a new life through recovery on his website, sobursupply.com. But the most powerful story Jason shares is perhaps his own.

“That’s where impact is really made with people — is, ‘How can I relate?’” he said. “Sobriety is totally achievable, and the only way I can stay there is to stay consistent in what I’m doing, and promoting that to others.”