His trips to the store to pick up something needed around the house were different than most people’s grocery stops.
Instead of just grabbing a bottle of hairspray for his wife, Patrick Rhodes got a box of Klondike bars, too.
He drove around the neighborhood while he ate the whole box before going home.
It was something he hid several times a week for nearly six years – going by the store, picking up some junk food and eating as he drove around. It was a combination of stress, having tough situations that were out of his hands and issues from his past.
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“When things were challenging, I really turned to food as a crutch,” Rhodes said.
And his six-foot, four-inch stature helped him hide his binge eating.
“I played football in college,” he said. “I was an offensive linesmen… I was always a big guy and I never really saw it was a problem,” he said of his eating.
It got serious six years ago when his wife Ashley gave birth to their only child, Jack, who was born with Crouzon syndrome, a genetic disease that prematurely fuses skull bones, affecting the shape of the head and face.
Rhodes was either binge eating alone at lunch or driving around after work, eating whole boxes of junk food three or four times a week. He weighed more than 400 pounds at one point.
“If there was a challenge or problem, I didn’t think I could deal with it,” he said. “With my son’s health, it’s out of my control and in God’s and the doctors’ hands. That has been a very hard thing for me to come to terms with.”
But one year ago, his life changed when he was introduced at a conference to Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step Christian-based program that focuses on helping people deal with life issues like addiction, codependency, grieving the loss of a loved one and divorce.
“I have a food addiction,” he said were his thoughts as he learned about the program.
A friend told him about the program in Pawleys Island at All Saints Church, where he has been going through the 12-step program ever since.
Rhodes, 44, said his self-esteem and life-long dyslexia are underlying problems that contributed to his food addiction.
“I always felt that – for lack of a better term – I’m dumber than other people, despite I have talents in math and science,” he said. “There were kids making fun of me for that,” Rhodes said of his dyslexia. “I was the short, fat kid people picked on.”
Rhodes, who is originally from Dalton, Georgia, went to the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship. He was an all-American football player in high school.
Now Rhodes works as a geographic information systems program project manager. He and his wife have been married for 14 years, and have lived in the Myrtle Beach area for about 10 years. They attend Church of the Resurrection in Surfside.
Though it has been a year since Rhodes started the Celebrate Recovery program, the temptation to “soothe yourself by eating” is still there. He’s lost 50 pounds and can now wear his wedding ring again.
“It’s a constant battle,” he said, adding patience throughout trying to overcome his struggle has been the toughest part. “The growth takes time.”
‘I get to see changed lives’
People come to Celebrate Recovery at their rock bottom, said Beach Church CR Pastor Shawn Norton.
More than 130 people come each week to Beach Church’s program. They have dinner, do praise and worship, listen to a testimony or teaching and then split into gender-specific groups that go through the 12-step recovery process, Norton said.
“We aren’t counselors,” he said. “We share from our own issues.”
Having a group to share with, he said, helps people realize “they aren’t the bad person they think they are” and there are other people struggling as well.
Norton said people have the safety to talk about their issues, and what they share is confidential.
Celebrate Recovery has been at Beach Church for nearly 20 years. Norton said he’s seen marriages, relationships and families restored.
The program even saved his own marriage.
Norton said he became an alcoholic as a teenager. And later went into his marriage with a lot of baggage, he said. He stopped drinking in 1997, but his marriage was still struggling.
“Celebrate Recovery was a last-ditch thing – if it didn’t work, we were done,” Norton said.
He and his wife went through the program and it took about a year to work though issues and strengthen their marriage.
“Now our life is better than it has ever been,” he said. “It’s been a heck of a journey.”
Norton said the program isn’t a “quick fix” for those struggling.
“There are a lot of layers, and you’ve got to get to the root of the real cause,” Norton said. “Their life will change. It won’t happen overnight, but they didn’t get there overnight.”
Norton said broken people who have gone through the program have become leaders in the program – it’s one of the goals he has.
The 27-year-old program started at a California church that was meeting at a high school. It transformed from 43 people visiting at the first ever meeting to having thousands of programs across the country, and in more than 20 other countries. Celebrate Recovery has become one of the top faith-based programs used in prisons.
Moving forward, Norton said Beach Church hopes to expand a program called Welcome Home for veterans. The church now has a program for teenagers and welcomes people of all ages to visit, he said.
“It’d be beautiful if we came to the day where we didn’t have to meet again and broke those cycles,” Norton said.
Celebrate Recovery is offered at dozens of churches around the Carolinas. To find out more about the program or to find a location near you, visit http://www.celebraterecovery.com/.
Hannah Strong: 843-444-1765, @HannahLStrong