The Road to Recovery: A Story of Hope

Written By: Sierra Okoniewski


November 28, 2022

When I look back at my life, I should have ended up in a pit somewhere.”

Sitting across from me in her office, Heather turned slightly in her chair.

It’s an incredible journey,” she said. “And yet, it’s all because of God, not because of me. I have a title that could hide many things, but I am just as broken and imperfect as everyone else.

Heather Cumming is the Executive Coordinator and Assistant Director of Staff Care at Woodside Troy. She attends Woodside Romeo with her husband, Richard, where they teach fourth and fifth graders together every Sunday.

Richard and I are deeply rooted in our church and our faith, but we went a very long way ‘round to get it,” she said. “I look back now, and I see that the valley was where I needed to be. I don’t think I would’ve heard Him if I were anywhere else.”

In 1996, Heather, Richard, and their two children left their home in the United Kingdom due to a recession that cost Richard his job. To support his family, Richard took the first contracted position that became available to him — employment with Chrysler in Michigan.

It was very difficult, as you would imagine, being brought into a strange country,” Heather recalled. “It doesn’t matter that we speak the same language. We left behind all of our family, friends, and belongings — the only things we could bring is what we could carry in suitcases.”

In 2001, five years after the Cummings relocated to the United States, Heather’s father passed away unexpectedly.

It devastated us,” she said. “He was just gone. When I flew home to help my family prepare for the funeral, it all fell on me because they just were in pieces. So, I dealt with all of it, but I didn’t grieve. And when I finally got back to the U.S., it was really a downward spiral — but I couldn’t see it. And it was a terrible strain on the family, on our marriage.

Because Heather didn’t yet have a work visa, she was often home alone for long hours. This catapulted her into a deep depression, although she didn’t recognize it at the time.

My solution, in the end,” she said, “was to not talk about my sadness and to have a drink because it takes away the pain. My husband didn’t know from one day to the next what he would come home to. I was going further and further down, and I think Richard could see it, but he had no idea how to help me.

“One day,” she continued, “Richard came home, and I could tell that he wasn’t himself. And that evening, I said to him, ‘What is wrong? You seem very distant.’ He said, ‘I’ve had enough, and I need to leave.’ And it was that simple — but for me, in my mental state, it absolutely devastated me.”

A friend had offered Richard a place to stay, and he moved out soon afterward.

One weekend, my kids were staying with friends,” Heather said, “And I drank myself almost to death. I don’t remember three days of my life. It’s a very bizarre thing to talk about — three whole days that I don’t know anything about. I ended up in a hospital, in intensive care. And this is where it’s tears of joy because God turned everything around.

As a requirement of the hospital’s recovery program, Heather was sent to a psychiatric ward for 48 hours. At night, staff members would check on the patients in two-hour intervals.

Of course, they shine a flashlight in your face,” she said. “And it was 2 in the morning, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I have two children — what do I tell them? How do I face them coming out of here?’”

I had not picked up a Bible, been in a church, or read anything of Scripture in years by that time. And Matthew 11:28–30 just flooded my head. And it has to have been of God because how else would I have remembered that word-for-word?

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. — Matthew 11:28–30

For the first time in years, I was being offered soul rest,” she said. “And that was where I felt like God was talking to me in the dead of night — in the middle of a psychiatric unit — that I didn’t have to do this on my own anymore. He was there, He’d done it for me at the cross, and I was free.

When Heather was released from the facility, there was a sense of immense peace. She decided to pray continuously — not with a list of requests, but with thanksgiving for whatever came.

And that’s exactly what I did,” she said. “I literally would rise in the morning and just give thanks that I was able to get up and have another day with breath in my lungs — another opportunity that I could make a difference, and that I would trust Him with it.

And when Richard and I started talking and reconnecting again, I remember saying, ‘Whatever happens, I will not do anything without including the Lord.’ And I had no idea what the Lord would do in our lives. Over a period of months, we started to really communicate again. We started dating again.

The couple began attending First Baptist Church of Romeo (now Woodside Romeo) together with their children. There, they gained a church family who prayed and walked with them.

My church family has been, by far, the strongest part of our walk with Jesus,” Heather said. “Those true friends that can tell you when you’re drifting or when they can see dangers. Sometimes we walk through the valley of the shadow, and we think that we don’t belong there, but that’s where God would have us. That’s where we have to be to hear His voice and get back into a relationship with Him — and that’s truly what it took for me.

Heather Cumming now speaks at marriage retreats and other events, and she and Richard both lead in couple’s mentoring.

There’s always hope when you have Jesus,” Heather said. “I didn’t want to live, and He took me from there to this. If anybody needs to know that there is hope in utter brokenness — when you cannot see anything in front of you — He is the answer, and He does not disappoint.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. — John 10:10