Bill and Tammy Carlson: “One step at a time”

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by Major Glen DossShe is a most beautiful bride and he, in Salvation Army uniform, a most handsome groom. Their faces aglow with the excitement and joy which accompany such a grand occasion, Anaheim ARC graduates Bill and Tammy Carlson hold hands tightly as they stride down the chapel aisle together, praising God!

For they know–oh, how they know!–how far they have come, how much they have for which to thank God!

This climactic moment, they believe, can be traced directly back to a seed planted in August 1998, when, still active in their drug addictions, they entered a church in Van Nuys, Calif., to get a free meal only to hear a preacher’s voice ring out: “I know there are people here who are done–who are stealing and tired of using drugs but want to change their lives! This is where it has to happen!”


MAJOR MOSES REYES (L) officiates at the marriage of Tammy and Bill Carlson.

“We got goose bumps,” recalls Bill, 42, “and Tammy started crying. I felt the Holy Spirit enter me as if I were being doused with cold water. I felt Christ come into my life–bam!–And from that point on, it was just a matter of one step at a time. Three days later we were arrested–we had hit rock bottom!”

For Tammy, 30, the journey to sobriety has been especially arduous. Because her parents were separated at the time she was born, she spent much of her childhood with a grandmother in Sacramento, Calif. “My mother did not have the means of support and my dad chose liquor and his women over me.” At age 11, however, she moved in with her father and his girlfriend–afterwards, she ran away from home several times.

At 15 she finally moved in with her mother who, unfortunately, died soon afterwards. This time Tammy ran away from home for good.

Bill, the second of two boys, from “a good family” in Van Nuys, Calif., became “hooked on pot” at age 12, he says. One day in 1985 at a party, after a stint in the Marine Corps, he tried methamphetamines. “I literally just snorted it; it blew the top of my head right off.” Shortly thereafter speed replaced marijuana as his drug of choice.

Bill and Tammy met through a mutual friend when, in 1993, Bill remembers, he was “bouncing around trying to survive in Sacramento, homeless.” He notes, “We became friends naturally. We had a genuine fondness for one another.”

At the time, Tammy was raising three small children. “He was very good to my kids,” she relates. “He has always been my best friend.” When they reunited in 1995, however, Tammy, too, became addicted to speed.

“We were involved with a number of illegal activities,” Bill observes, “stealing just to pay for our habit and food. When things were going well, we stayed in our apartment and tweeked (used drugs) together.” It was soon after this that the father was awarded custody of Tammy’s children.

After their unmistakable encounter with the Lord in 1998, they knew he was calling them to change their lifestyle, but they were unsure how. Recalls Tammy: “God would let us get away with our misbehavior for so long, and then he’d zap us. I’d pray to get out of a situation I was in, and then I’d go to jail or something.”

In 2000, upon being released from police custody one more time, they found themselves in a homeless shelter. Tammy soon found accommodations through a friend. Recalls Bill: “She had a place to go, and so she did. I was crushed…I was heartbroken…I said, ‘I can’t live like this; I need to change my life.’ I had another (legal) violation, and I knew that I had to turn myself in, do the time. So I got down on my knees, and I said, ‘God, please help me; this has to change.’ ”

Upon release from jail two months later, Bill checked into the Anaheim ARC. When Tammy caught up with him after another four months, she remembers how impressed she was by the change she saw in him. “He was doing good in his life. He stopped cussing; he’s an entirely different man.”

By the time Bill graduated in November 2000, Tammy had gotten wind of the impending construction of a women’s residence. “I saw what the program did for Bill’s life, and I wanted the same thing for me,” she says. Anxiously she watched the building’s construction, and in May 2001, she was one of 200 people who looked on during the formal dedication. On June 11, 2001, Tammy was the first person to check into the budding women’s program, and, on December 12, 2001, she became its first graduate.

Bill and Tammy were married on August 28, 2002. Today, this victorious couple, both soldiers of the Anaheim ARC Corps, begin their day with prayer. Bill, a drummer in the corps band, also teaches a weekly Overcomers’ Outreach class at the ARC. He observes, “Every morning Tammy and I pray Step 11 (of Narcotics Anonymous)–to improve our conscious contact with God in prayer and meditation. When you begin being blessed by the Lord, it’s time to start obeying him.”

Notes Tammy, “Today God is my everything. In the past when I had a big worry I would go out and use (drugs). Now, instead, I pray to the Lord, and he helps me through it. Today I trust the Lord will lead me in the way I should go–to regain custody of my kids, to get a car, to get a house. One step at a time.”

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