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Exec Doubles as Addiction Chaplain

Gene Rapisardi has traveled along many of life’s metaphoric roads. The corporate road led him to a leadership position at a big insurance company. The family road made him into a husband and a dad. But it was the long road of recovery from addictive behaviors that Rapisardi struggled on before finding his calling: helping others with similar habits. As president and general manager overseeing Cigna Corp.’s Southern California and Nevada markets out of its Glendale office, Rapisardi, 56, also serves as the volunteer chaplain and spiritual counselor at Design for Change Recovery Services, a substance abuse treatment center in Lancaster. Rapisardi advises clients of the facility who are open to adding a spiritual element to their treatment. An ordained Christian minister, he brings God into the center’s 12-step treatment process around the third step. “Step one is to realize you’re powerless to what you’re dealing with,” Rapisardi said. “Step two is you realize there’s a power greater than you that can restore sanity. Step three you realize you must turn your life over to a higher will. My assistance that I give to folks, is to let them know God is there as the higher power.” The Inland Empire resident was ordained in 2009 from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. after deciding in his early 40s to become a minister. But it was a direction Rapisardi said he would never have gone into had he not suffered and recovered from his own addiction to work, a behavior that started in his early 20s and plagued him till he collapsed at 39. At that time, Rapisardi had been working four jobs – his main career as vice president of sales for a health insurance plan, a position handling the finances of a congressional campaign and in sales for two separate startup businesses. He was working 18 to 20 hours a day, he said. “It really become an obsession and my own addiction,” Rapisardi said. “There’s a certain level of insanity to how you’re operating, but you still do it.” After a five-week hospital stay and losing all but the health plan job, Rapisardi had a bout of depression and abused prescription drugs and alcohol. What eventually pulled him out was reading the Bible, he said. He heard “the calling” to earn an undergraduate degree in ministry, and began counseling at Design for Change in 2007 to fulfill the university’s internship requirement to become ordained. Rapisardi became the center’s official chaplain in 2009. Rapisardi lives 90 miles from the center and while he used to hold church services and counsel clients there, he now counsels mostly alumni clients over the phone, or meets with them offsite. This lets him stay focused on his job, completing his divinity degree at Liberty and spending time with his wife and grandchildren – and away from lapsing into his past addiction. “Phone calls will pop up, and my family understands that, but by focusing, by dedicating my focus to what I’m doing, one at a time, I can get it all in,” Rapisardi said. – Carol Lawrence

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