The road to recovery

Washougal couple shares their story of overcoming addictions

Dianne and Darin Van Dyken were married on Nov. 30. They met at a Teen Challenge intern retreat in Spokane. Both successfully completed the program and now work at the Portland Men’s Center in Oregon City. Darin is the program coordinator and Dianne, the office administrator for the faith-based drug and alcohol treatment center.

To Learn More

Teen Challenge was founded by a rural Pennsylvania preacher, David Wilkerson, in 1960. Since its first center opened in New York, Teen Challenge has grown to nearly 250 centers in 48 states and over 1,000 centers in 95 countries. It is a Christian, faith-based approach to treatment of people with drug, alcohol and other life-controlling addictions.

For more information, visit www.teenchallenge... or call Teen Challenge Pacific Northwest at 541-259-6709.

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Dianne spent two weeks in Uganda, Africa helping to establish a Teen Challenge program. It was on that mission trip that she and Darin became closer.

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Dianne and Darin chat with Teen Challenge intern Cooper Evans at the Portland Men’s Center.

"I think about the years I spent just passing through

I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you

But you just smile and take my hand

You’ve been there you understand

It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true.

Every long lost dream led me to where you are

Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms

This much I know is true

That God blessed the broken road

That led me straight to you.”

Like the lyrics to this song by Rascal Flatts, Dianne and Darin Van Dyken traveled some very barren and broken roads before finding their way to recovery, and then each other.

Both struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol, which ultimately led them to Teen Challenge, a Christian, faith-based treatment program.

Today, Darin and Dianne are employed by the same organization that helped them kick their life-consuming habits.

“Never good enough”

By age 22, Dianne was an unsuccessful veteran of four treatment centers. She had what is known as a “dual diagnosis,” an eating disorder and alcohol/drug addiction. Her insurance would not allow her to treat both at the same time. It was one or the other.

“I always struggled with my body image and took drugs and drank to mask the feelings that I was fat and wasn’t good enough,” the now 26-year-old said. “I had this voice in my head that told me I wasn’t worthy of love.”

She began forcing herself to throw up as a way to control her weight. Then high school came. Her mother, Denette Sundby, thought it would be good for Dianne and her brother to attend Mountainview High School in Vancouver, near her employer, instead of Washougal High School. She wanted to give her children increased educational opportunities and get them away from drugs.

But Dianne found it was just the opposite of what her mother expected.

“I went from a small town to a big city school, and I had a lot more access to drugs,” Dianne explained.

She started taking ephedra, which was then legal, for weight control. When that wasn’t enough, she moved on to cocaine and heroin, always chasing the next high.

“I realized that I could be extremely thin without doing any work,” Dianne recalled.

From ‘growing pains’ to addiction

At first, Denette assumed Dianne was going through normal teen growing pains.

“I thought it was the usual high school rebellion and experimenting, but that turned to young adult self-destruction,” she recalled. “From age 18 to 23 she was lost, trapped in her own vision of not worthy, not good enough. Her choice of drugs and alcohol could not make those thoughts diminish.”

By the time she was 19, Dianne had spent 45 days in an inpatient treatment center for eating disorders. When she was released, she switched her drug of choice to alcohol.

“I realized that drugs weren’t as accessible to me as they’d been in high school, and I didn’t like the control they had over me,” she said. “Alcohol was legal, so I justified using it.”

But Dianne didn’t stop with a drink or two. She drank to the point of unconsciousness.

“I would get shakes and tremors if I didn’t drink,” she said.

Her family watched helplessly as the daughter and sister they loved turned into a shell of a person.

“We spent five years spinning through health care,” Denette said. “Mental health providers would not let her talk about her addictions. Addiction medicine providers would not let her talk about her eating disorder. She had an eating disorder, which she drank and took drugs to mask, and to stop the voice inside that told her to continue binging and purging her thoughts of being fat.”

It was July 2010 when Dianne knew something had to give. The 22-year-old had just woken up in the hospital, cited by police for driving under the influence of intoxicants. She hit a freeway barrier on Highway 14, near Camas, and the car flipped. Her blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit of .08, which is considered lethal. Essentially, 40 percent of Dianne’s blood was alcohol-based.

“Thank God no one else was hurt,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Why am I still alive?’”

Dianne tried to get sober, but went back to using drugs. A year later, she attempted suicide.

“I woke up and shouted at God, and told him, ‘You won’t let me die, so let me live.’ That’s when I decided it was time to go to Teen Challenge.”

Overcoming addictions

Dianne struggled with the Teen Challenge program at Hannah’s House, the women’s treatment center in Eugene. She made no secret of the fact that she didn’t want to be there. But after a rough six months, which culminated in an incident that almost got her kicked out, Dianne’s attitude began to change.

“I really surrendered and started to care about other people, it wasn’t all about me anymore,” she said.

After completing the year-long program in July 2012, Dianne decided to stay another year as an intern, to help mentor those who were trying to kick drugs and alcohol.

It was shortly after that, during a September retreat in Spokane, that she and Darin met.

“Sparks flew right away,” she said.

Added Darin, as he squeezed her hand, “Neither of us were looking to meet someone. But the more time we spent together, the more we knew we were meant to be serving together.”

Darin, 33, began the Teen Challenge program in January 2011, after more than a decade-long struggle with drugs and alcohol.

The Mount Vernon, Wash., native began partying in high school to fit in with his friends.

“At first, it was just a little here and there,” he recalled. “But gradually, grades and school became a lot less important. I barely graduated.”

He moved to the Yakima Valley, where the partying continued, leading to habitual cocaine and methamphetamine use.

“As friends started maturing out of it, I was still stuck in it,” Darin said.

By the end of 2010, he hit a low point: Unable to work due to his drug use, Darin was couch surfing in a run-down neighborhood and selling drugs.

“One day, I was actually a little sober and I realized that there I was, almost 30 years old and I had done nothing with my life. I missed my family and wondered if I could be better. I yelled at God, and asked why did he create me if I turned out to be such a loser?”

A few weeks later, Darin was startled to hear a knock on his door.

“I was living in the ghetto,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine who would come over.”

He opened the door to Jon Top, an elder in his childhood church.

“All he said was, ‘Get in the car Darin. We’re going for a ride.’”

They drove to a cafe where Darin was shocked to see his father waiting. The two told him about Teen Challenge, and asked if he needed help.

“That was the first time I ever admitted to anyone that I had a problem,” Darin said. “I was raised as a country boy, and when you got yourself into trouble, you got yourself out of it. You didn’t ask for help. I had so much pride, but it was killing me.”

The three traveled to the Teen Challenge Portland Men’s Center. Ironically, his intake coordinator, Bob Cinnamon, now works in the office next to him.

After participating in a year-long treatment program, Darin, like Dianne, decided to pursue an internship.

“I dealt with a lot the year I was in treatment,” he said. “I got to the root of my addiction. I really appreciated the opportunity to continue to heal and become a new person.”

Recovery

In November 2012, Dianne and Darin were selected to go on a missions trip to Uganda, Africa, with staff members from Teen Challenge.

Although the two were living in different cities, Darin in Portland and Dianne in Eugene, their relationship had blossomed, and they looked forward to volunteering together in Uganda.

A few months after their return, Darin left again for Uganda, this time for three months. The two communicated daily using Skype and text messaging. Three days after he returned, Darin asked Dianne to marry him.

“I knew that it was coming but not quite that fast, so it was a little bit of a shock,” she said. “I kept asking him if he was going to purpose because he had made special arrangements at the Portland City Grill, complete with confetti and rose petals on the table, and I even checked his suit pockets for a ring. But he convinced me that he just wanted to take me out and be romantic since we had been apart for so long. When he proposed, I cried tears of joy.”

The two were married Nov. 30, 2013. Now, they commute together from their Washougal home to their jobs at Teen Challenge. Dianne is an administrative assistant and Darin is the newly-minted program coordinator.

“Three years ago, I was so broken inside and angry,” Dianne said. “I couldn’t imagine that my life would ever be this good.”

Added Darin, “I had such a negative outlook on my life. I never thought that I could be someone because of my past. I am not proud of my old life, but I believe God uses people like us to continue this ministry.”

Denette called Dianne and Darin’s story “a miracle.”

“These two show that with faith and hope, changes can happen. I can see it in both their lives with the pure forgiveness, love and happiness.”