PLATTSBURGH — Bobby Tressler knows firsthand how tight the grip of addiction can be.
“I was pretty bad into drugs. I know people who were worse than me, but I was definitely going down a bad path,” he said.
He credits the Teen Challenge program — specifically the encouragement he received at the Johnson, Vt., campus — with helping him overcome substance abuse before falling into the open arms of faith.
Tressler, who was 19 when he sought treatment, said an ultimatum from his parents opened his eyes and helped him realize he needed help.
“I had basically hit rock bottom,” he said. “They told me, ‘You have to go (to Teen Challenge) or you’re going to have to move out.’”
His parents, born-again Christians, heard about the program from another family in their church whose son turned his life around at Teen Challenge.
The Granville native was nervous and uneasy when he arrived at the campus about three hours from his home in New York.
But seeing a large cross hanging on the center’s living-room wall became his inspiration to break free from the cycle of addiction.
“I saw it on the wall, and I just broke down,” he recalled.
But change didn’t come easily for the teenager, who found his new sober life was hard to sink into, at first.
“The first few days were hard. It wasn’t so much the drugs I missed. I really wanted a cigarette,” he said.
The program has restrictions against smoking, drinking coffee and facial hair.
The struggling new student said he simply stuck to his schoolwork, finding faith through reading other addicts’ testimonies and stories of survival.
He soon realized recovery might just become his new reality.
“My faith sparked, and I thought, ‘OK, maybe there’s something to it, and I am going to give this program a shot,’” he said.
NOTICED A CHANGE
Tressler gave it his all, pushing forward in exploring sobriety and his newfound faith.
He worked hard at completing his daily tasks, which included cleaning and doing other chores outlined in a very structured work schedule where everything starts on time.
“Everything still took some getting used to. You get into moods, and people get on each other’s nerves,” he said. “But you just learn to deal with it.”
By the 30-day mark, Tressler was allowed to call his family for the first time.
He invited them to come to the campus for their Thanksgiving festivities because this year, he recalled, he had a lot to be thankful for.
“At this point, I noticed there was a change that started to take place. I realized I was treading into a new life,” he said.
He later became involved with a Teen Challenge drug-awareness program called Making Good Decisions through the help of Admission Coordinator Gilles Gentley.
Tressler said he quickly learned how much he liked meeting new people and sharing his story with others.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
Six months into the 15-month program, students from the all-male Vermont campus travel to Teen Challenge New England’s Brockton, Mass., headquarters where they’re back to completing chores and doing cleanup once again.
“You learn humility. By this point, you have a pretty good foundation, even those people who haven’t accepted Christ or the Christian faith,” Tressler said. “You develop principles that are so general. You develop a good foundation. You learn the discipline principle of faith, if you choose to accept it.”
HIGH SUCCESS RATE
According to a 2009 biennial report on Teen Challenge’s website, thousands of alcoholics and drug addicts have sought help from the organization since it began in 1958.
“Over the past two years, 5,029 students completed a one-year residential recovery program,” the report shows. “In addition, Teen Challenge centers conducted over 18,000 church meetings, 4,214 school meetings, 11,360 prison meetings and over 7,000 other outreach meetings across the country. These meetings reached over 4.5 million people, and 24,498 souls made decisions for Christ.”
The program has received praise from former U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The organization also boasts a high success rate, with 86 percent of graduates remaining drug and crime free after seven years.
At the one-year mark, Tressler viewed himself as a role model for students joining the program to get help with addiction. And, on Jan. 28, 2011, Tressler officially made it through the 15-month program.
Graduates are given the option to stay with the program and work as a staff member, or they are free to leave, with discipline and devotion to Christ in tow.
Two years after arriving in Vermont, Tressler, now 21, finds himself back in New York — no longer living upstate but in the bustling city of Brooklyn, where he is a real-estate agent.
“Teen Challenge played a big role in changing my life,” he said.
Tressler regularly attends Park Slope Christian Center, where he has met others who have completed the program.
He is preparing to speak at Teen Challenge Brooklyn, the site of the program’s first help center.
Tressler still is on contact with his friends from Vermont, even if it’s sharing a message or two on Facebook.
”We keep close. It’s really like an alumni system,” he said. “Since Teen Challenge played such a big role in my life, it would be weird not to be a part of it.”
Email Miranda Orso: firstname.lastname@example.org