Profile: Brian Elve

Written by Editor in Chief on . Posted in Local

Brian Elve 1Serving as director of Guiding Light's Recovery program, Brian Elve has helped develop and hone an effective long-term program that helps men struggling with addiction learn a different way of life – and a new way of being in relationship with the world.

As an intensive drug and alcohol treatment program, Guiding Light Recovery is designed to give men structure and opportunity to engage in positive and transformative change. With an emphasis on spirituality, staff works with each individual to begin or renew men's journeys to lifelong abstinence and develop caring relationships with people who have traveled a similar path along the way.

Elve is one of those people. Like many of Guiding Light's team, he knows the differences between an effective program and the revolving-door nature of others because he's actually been there himself.

Having struggled with alcoholism for many years, Elve is truly empathetic to the challenges Guiding Light men are going through. Although looking at his background, you would have never guessed it. It's not something he often shares.

Elve was born into a middle-class family, the son of two professionals who was raised in the Nazarene Church. After attending East Grand Rapids High School, he earned a degree in criminal justice from Montana State University. He had the opportunity to play basketball professionally through Athletes in Action, which is a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, and spend time with NBA players who also shared a strong faith in God.


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His career had stops in mortgage work and sales, before becoming a teacher in Grand Rapids for eight years. But throughout much of that time, Elve alternated between sobriety and relapses.

For years, Elve went through rehab programs without success before finding Guiding Light, where he not only came out the other side sober, but secured employment with the organization. He was hired first as an employment counselor, then was promoted to director of the very program that helped him reset his life's compass. Now, he's eight years sober, happily married and the father of a young daughter and newborn son.

"During the program, I talked with one of the spiritual directors and shared that I had always struggled with prayer," Elve said. "I felt like I was not doing it right, that I wasn't heard, that maybe prayer didn't work for me.

"He found out I had been journaling for years and asked to read what I had written. He told me, 'I don't know if you realize this but you have been praying for years.' Even though my behavior didn't look like the Christian I was supposed to be, being a using alcoholic didn't preclude me from having faith. This was very powerful for me to hear.
"This individual helped me to take steps to believe that I just might be OK as I am. It is possible that God even delighted in me, which was a new concept. It shifted my perspective on God."

Through his own journey to sobriety, Elve saw the ins and outs of the program as it was in the early 2010s. Being curious by nature about how things work and operate, he became familiar with the integral workings of the Recovery program and saw an opportunity to improve them.

"I would have never predicted myself doing what I'm doing today," Elve said. "Being able to help men who are struggling to help themselves, especially having been in their shoes, has been incredibly humbling."

As Guiding Light empowers its clients to change their own lives, leadership at Guiding Light empowered Elve to change the Recovery program for the better. He drew inspiration from things that had scared him in the past: having relationships with others, being a part of a community, being vulnerable. He wanted to figure out how to get men to really speak their truths.

Throughout his more than six years as part of the Guiding Light team, Elve has become a certified life coach and evolved the Recovery program with a comprehensive approach to health and wellness. Rather than coming at recovery from a clinical perspective, it's more about what each individual wants to create in his life and who he is as a person.

"Creating a supportive environment starts with the staff and showing the men that we're in this together," Elve said. "One of the things we talk often about is the wisdom of a broken heart. We learn a lot more from mistakes than our successes.

"Whereas before these men might have tried to numb their pain with substances or rough it out through difficult emotions, we've created an atmosphere that allows for vulnerability and healing. We're not afraid to talk about our brokenness, and we celebrate that we're imperfect.

"The men know we struggle with different versions of the same thing – grace, forgiveness, issues of faith. It makes this program different and brings with it a level of authenticity others don't."

The compassionate support Elve and his staff provide coupled with firm expectations of the men have proven to be highly successful, with 76% of the men that complete the program finding work and moving to Iron House, Guiding Light's own sober-living apartments. And 77% of men who move to Iron House achieve one-year sobriety. This is impressive when compared to studies that have found only around 33% of men and women who attempt to get sober are able to maintain it for a year or longer. The transition from close communal living at Guiding Light into sober apartment living at Iron House is unique to the organization.

What also differentiates Guiding Light Recovery is the flexible duration of the program. Elve says one of the gifts Guiding Light really gives is time. The four- to six-month residential program includes a rigorous daily schedule that keeps the men busy and focused on meaningful work. With a holistic approach, Guiding Light Recovery combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and resources to equip men to not only stay sober but also hone important life skills to better transition back into the mainstream of society. The journey is guided by Guiding Light Recovery's seven focus points: willingness, honesty, self-awareness, responsibility, vulnerability, spiritual formation and self-compassion.

"The blending of these focus points with ample time to heal and space to change helps the men realize they are worthy of love and deeply valued as human beings," Elve said. "It is with that understanding that the men are able to begin a lifelong process to live life in a new way. They look after and support each other, practicing community in the best way they can."
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Author: Editor in Chief

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