New Haven couple renew vows 31 years after quitting drug addiction

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NEW HAVEN — They called it a vow renewal ceremony after 31 years of marriage, but when John and Brenda Adkins tied the knot over the weekend, it looked like their first real wedding.

At their initial ceremony in 1992, the two had just come out of drug addiction and married in borrowed clothes, with used earrings as rings and leftover cake from a friend’s wedding on their plates. they stated.

“It was not easy to get where we are. We had so many hurdles,” bride Brenda Adkins said. “It feels like our first marriage because now we’re able to do what we wanted to do the first time around.”

Today, the Adkins are pillars of the community. After a difficult decade with addiction, they have dedicated the past 30 years to helping those most in need and downtrodden.

They had already been together for 10 years when they first got married.

Left to right: Brenda Adkins delivers her renewal vows to her husband of 31 years, John Adkins, as the Reverend James T. Wilkinson presides.

Photo by Walter Bailey

Their friends had married the night before, so in addition to leftover cake and used flowers, the bride borrowed a pink dress and a pair of oversized shoes. The groom borrowed his friend’s tuxedo and shoes. They had only a few close relatives at the wedding.

This time, they celebrated the wedding in style at the Polish-American Club in West Haven, where 80 family and friends helped the Adkins celebrate their love.

“I have all my favorite people here,” Brenda said at the reception.

Martha Weisbart of Orange, a longtime volunteer in the couple’s efforts, said it was an “honor to celebrate with them.”

“They went through a lot together and they embodied what community service is,” Weisbart said.

Saturday’s mood was candlelit with an elegant gold and black motif, a disc jockey, a merry dance, a grand bridal party in tuxedos and dresses, a three-tiered white fondant wedding cake decorated with flowing black roses and a abundant buffet. There were wedding favors, Mr. and Mrs. Adkins embossed napkins, the Garter Toss and a Bouquet Toss. They even had a professional photographer.

The bride wore a sheer dress covered in gold leaf and carried a bouquet made just for her. She had shiny gold barrettes in her hair and the groom wore a tuxedo and shiny black shoes, a buttonhole on his lapel.

Their son Quincy, 35, was a witness; her daughter Candace, 40, was a bridesmaid.

Their vows were pronounced on a nuptial altar adorned with roses. The ceremony was presided over by the Reverend Bishop James T. Wilkinson of Spring Harvest Ministries in Norwalk.

“So many people are apart, it’s good to see a couple wanting to start over,” Wilkinson said.

In personally written vows, John Adkins told his “new” wife that: “Without you I am nothing, you have made me what I am today.”

“I love you and will always cherish you no matter what…I hope to be with you for another 41 years,” he said.

Brenda kept it real, with a hint of their old lifestyle woven into..

“I’m so proud to say that we made it,” said Brenda. “You took care of us even when you were pushing. Even when the police were chasing us…”

The Adkins said they never forgot their past and often used it to connect with the neediest and most troubled in town.

They met in a nightclub

The pair first met in the 1980s at a club on Kimberly Avenue – ironically in a location where they would later open a storefront church.

She was 21, he was 19, and each had two children with other partners. Brenda Adkins said John was known as a “bad boy” on the street – a hustler – and she had no interest in him.

“I didn’t like him,” she said.

Then one Saturday night at another club, she needed a ride home. John Adkins said his friend could take her home, as long as she danced with him first. They cut off Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”.

Once in front of her house, the friend kindly took a walk and the couple talked for three hours. John prophetically announced to Brenda that they would be married one day. She told him he was crazy.

He kissed her at the door.

They didn’t come out for a few more weeks. That’s when the chemistry set in.

The rest is history – but it was far from a smooth ride.

John and Brenda Adkins exchange rings during their vow renewal ceremony.

John and Brenda Adkins exchange rings during their vow renewal ceremony.

Photo by Walter Bailey

“The whole 10 years (of dating) was a nightmare… It was really because of drug use,” Brenda Adkins said, noting that at one point John went to jail for six months. .

Over the years, they separated from time to time, and an addiction to crack and alcohol led to poor decisions and the involvement of the state Department of Children and Families, although they never lost their children, they said. During the 10 years of dating, they had Quincy, now 35.

“We went through hell and came back with drug addiction. He had to be strong for me, I had to be strong for him,” Brenda Adkins said. “We had a lot of problems. He was mad and I was mad. Drugs make you do more because you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Addiction and redemption

It was at the heart of the addiction that the Adkins agreed to go to church with friends on a Sunday after the couple expressed they had had enough of the lifestyle.

“Of course we tried to get by,” Brenda Adkins said, but the friends wouldn’t let them.

Once inside, John and Brenda Adkins – who had no childhood church setting – headed down the aisle, both praying to God to ‘remove addiction’, said Brenda.

“I was crying and asking God to deliver us…Immediately we were set free,” she said. “We never touched drugs again.”

That first drug-free Friday night was surreal, she recalls.

Despite never using drugs again, the couple had to struggle to resist temptation, including asking someone to hold their money for two months so they couldn’t buy drugs .

John and Brenda Adkins renewed their vows on Saturday after 31 years of marriage, 41 of them together.

John and Brenda Adkins renewed their vows on Saturday after 31 years of marriage, 41 of them together.

Pam McLoughlin / Hearst Connecticut Media

The couple’s life quickly changed. John Adkins, who was on welfare, got a well-paying job in the construction industry and both got off welfare. They bought a house and opened it up to anyone who needed food and advice.

The couple took their spiritual message to the streets, and without judgment and without knowing the struggles, cared for drug addicts in the toughest neighborhoods, while distributing food and clothing from the trunk of their car.

“We’ve always had a heart for women and men struggling with addiction,” said Brenda Adkins. “It became clear to us that we had been chosen to go back and help other people.”

They founded their own church, known today as His Divine Will Fellowship, and their community work became more formalized.

“We really worked hard and the church became our safety net,” she said. “You didn’t have to be a scientist to know that was our calling.”

The couple also opened a state-supported, faith-based social service agency that helped prisoners make the transition, they opened a food bank with a particular focus on providing quality products, they organized food, shoe and sneaker drives and walked the city streets handing out condoms in battle. the AIDS epidemic.

For the past decade, they’ve launched “Day of Joy,” a Thanksgiving-time sit-down meal for more than 1,200 people who also receive groceries, toiletries and children’s coats. They also partner with Diaper Bank of Connecticut to distribute formula milk.

Their “Christmas to Remember” event offers Christmas gift cards to teens in need.

They have won numerous awards for their work and have long held a weekly church service from their home as they searched for a storefront.

It’s no surprise that a large portion of their recent wedding gifts go to fund their selfless efforts.

John Adkins said: ‘Love isn’t a big enough word’ for how he feels about his 41-year-old partner.

“We have been through a lot together. She’s my lover, my wife, my best friend,” he said. “It’s an honor to marry her again.”

Getting remarried is “really a beautiful thing,” Brenda said.

“He was always a provider and that’s what made me fall in love with him,” she said. “Even with drugs, he always found a way.”

John Adkins said renewing vows was something he always wanted to do. “How many people do you know that cross the rugged side of the mountain?”

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