The Thanksgiving dinner that saved Taylor Richards' life

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On Thanksgiving night in 2008, Taylor Richards of Sandy, Utah sat alone in his dark car a few miles from his parents’ home. He was exhausted, cold, 25 years old and a raging alcoholic.

Soon this wrong kind of Silent Night was interrupted by a phone call from his brother, Spencer. A few minutes later, they sat together in the front seat of his Subaru wagon and ate turkey and stuffing on paper plates.

“I knew I needed to do something,” Richards told me during a recent interview, “but getting and staying sober and happy seemed about as likely building a space shuttle out of the few belongings I had in my car and then orbiting the Earth.”

Perhaps fueled that night by both the warm food and the warmth of his brother’s unconditional love, Richards decided that it was time to turn himself in to jail and to make the kinds of sacrifices he’d always resisted.

Perhaps fueled that night by both the warm food and the warmth of his brother’s unconditional love, Richards decided that it was time to turn himself in to jail and to make the kinds of sacrifices he’d always resisted.

It was time to accept that his destructive journey to that roadside Thanksgiving dinner hadn’t been a sprint, but a marathon.

And he’d been running since the age of 15.

Richards took his first hit of marijuana when he was a sophomore and soon turned to alcohol. Before his 16th birthday, he knew he was alcoholic.

Richards’ parents soon sent him to his first treatment program. “But it wasn’t about recovery, it was about getting out.”

After a year living with extended family, Richards returned home and was arrested for the first time. Unhinged and unafraid, he kicked out the rear window of a police cruiser. He’d been arrested and jailed nearly 20 times since.

Richards would go on to attend and drop out of college. While there, he began using mushrooms and acid and doing the occasional line of cocaine. He also developed a taste for pornography that quickly rose to the level of addiction.

Out of school and living in an apartment, Richards began losing jobs as fast as he could get them. He tried treatment again, and but was still more committed to the disease than the cure. Richards moved frequently and launched cocaine, alcohol and ecstasy benders lasting up to two weeks.

One fresh start after another turned sour and Richards found himself living in his car and racing downhill in a type of misery he never knew existed. There, on the side of the road, a lifetime of addiction came to a pivot point. There was nowhere else to go. Rather than asking God for a sign, it was time to show one of his own.

It was time to demonstrate to heaven and family he was serious. That Thanksgiving night, his brother Spencer returned from their roadside reunion and informed their parents of his brother's plans. Concerned he could suffer another withdrawal seizure in jail, they instead offered one more chance at treatment.

His life has never been the same.

60 days later, Richards left Renaissance Ranch in Bluffdale, Utah a true believer in Alcoholic Anonymous. Yes, his first clean year since middle school was brutal, but Richards survived by leaning on his sponsor and attending two to four A.A. meetings daily.

During this critical time, Richards learned to serve, pray, meditate and finally believe that recovery starts with Christ. “I remember getting on the freeway frustrated after leaving court with probation being extended once again. I remember thinking I can either turn this over to God because there's nothing I can do about it, or I can continue having anxiety and thoughts about the fairness of my situation. Somehow I turned it over and what do you know? Everything worked out.”

Gaining confidence every day, Richards reconnected with Brenda Joyce, a woman he’d met years earlier and never forgotten. Within just a few months of finding her on social media, they were beginning a fresh life together.

In 2014, Richards fed his entrepreneurial dreams by launching IZM Apparel. The company makes and sells upscale hats, shirts and facemasks to athletes at all levels and in all gravity sports.

Richards loves explaining the unusual name. “Alcoholics often refer to the disease as the ‘ism.’ I don’t want to make light of it, but I never want to deny who I am or what I’ve overcome. Sports, which I’m still so passionate about, can be a wonderful kind of treatment in its own way.”

This Thanksgiving, Richards will park his car in the driveway and join his family at the dinner table. He’ll give thanks for the parents and siblings who stood by him, even when they took the necessary and inspired tough-love approach.

He’ll also give thanks for God and for his endless forgiveness.

When the world would have given up on an alcoholic living in his car and wasting away the prime of his life, God offered one more chance and whispered an unmistakable message.

“Real recovery starts with me.”

And if it's true for Richards, it's true for us.