ROSS Gilchrist thought he might have a relaxing retirement in Costa Rica. Instead, the former Californian, recovering alcoholic and active Christian is busier than ever putting together a program to help others like himself – people seeking a way out of the trap of addictions.“Our group isn’t just for alcoholics and drug addicts,” Gilchrist explains. “As our slogan says, it ‘helps people to overcome life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups.’”“We help people with their codependencies,” he says. “From overeating to alcoholism to gambling to anger, we help people who have any major addiction.”GILCHRIST, who lives in the western San José suburb of Escazú, and other volunteers host a “Celebrate Recovery” meeting every Monday evening at 7 p.m. at the International Baptist Church in Guachipelín de Escazú.“We meet for praise and worship and then break into small groups depending on the person’s problem,” Gilchrist explains. “Men and women meet in separate groups.”Participants in the small groups share their problems with each other and explore what they are able to overcome.“God’s healing takes place through sharing with others,” Gilchrist says.“Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to take what’s in your life or heart,” says Texan Peggy Chandler, a resident of Santa Ana, southwest of San José, who leads the women’s discussion group at the Monday evening meetings. “I have found people there who have become lifelong friends, whom I can pick up the phone and call if I’m having a bad day and know they will be praying for me and supporting me.”CHANDLER says there is a strong element of trust among the group’s participants.“They know whatever they say will not be shared outside of the group with friends or even husbands,” she says.Meeting in men’s and women’s groups helps the discussion flow more freely, Chandler says, adding that some moral issues and intimate problems should only be discussed in same-sex groups. Attendees include people struggling with problems other than drug or alcohol dependencies, Chandler says.“They have other issues such as codependency, overeating or divorce problems,” she explains. “Some come just out of curiosity and discover there were problems in their past they haven’t dealt with that God brings to mind. The meetings help them connect with others, and with their problems.”Some of those who attend the Celebrate Recovery meetings are not addicts themselves but people who are married to alcoholics or who deal with parents or children suffering from addictions. These participants often attend for support or insights about addictions.Other people participate because they are looking for a place of service, and find it in helping others through the program.CELEBRATE Recovery is a Christian recovery program with roots in the 12-step programs of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).“It began at the Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, but now has spread around the world,” Gilchrist says.Saddleback is a Southern Baptist church pastored by Rev. Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, “The Purpose-Driven Life.”Gilchrist says that while Celebrate Recovery comes from Christian foundations, it is not an outreach by the church to obtain members, nor is there any pressure for participants to convert or join the church.Explaining that there are approximately 350 different 12-step recovery groups for all different kinds of additions, Gilchrist says that Celebrate Recovery has a high success rate.“The key is that participants turn their will and life over to the will of God,” he says. “At some point God works on us.” GILCHRIST, 56, says he spent many years in California and Hawaii seeking relief from alcohol, drugs and other addictions.While he found help in groups such as AA, he says it was the spiritual dimension of Celebrate Recovery that attracted his interest and had the greatest influence in his life.“AA saved my life, but Celebrate Recovery gave me my life back again,” he affirms.In 2003, Gilchrist had completed a job in California and was wondering what to do next. It was at that point that he came across the Celebrate Recovery program at the Saddleback church and was offered the opportunity to bring the program to Costa Rica.The weekly meetings are open to people of any religious persuasion. There is no cost to attend, but printed material is available for purchase. For now, the meetings are in English, but Gilchrist and others are working to establish similar groups in Spanish in other parts of the country, including the southern suburb of Desamparados; Heredia, north of San José; and Palmares, northwest of the capital. For more information, call Gilchrist at 354-2639.