Saturday, August 10, 2013

Liberty Church Sermon: My Testimony, Addiction to Salvation 8/11/13

Part ONE – My life before I came to Christ.
I guess you could say I was a pretty average middle class kid. My mom was a nurse, my dad a teacher. It all went pretty good until the fights started. My life went from happy to hell. My dad was very controlling and I was starting to lose myself in his manipulations, running everywhere, trying to be the sports star he wanted me to be. I was more interested in writing and music. I wrote thousands of pages in those days, stories and journals and articles and just anything. I read a lot too. I loved bands like the Foo Fighters, Filter, Korn, Poison the Well, Incubus. If offered me respite from all the screaming fights in the hallway. I'd crank up the music to maximum to drown out the noise. I was a very sensitive kid, so naturally the divorce shattered my world completely. Kurt Cobain sourced his misery at the destruction of his family due to divorce. In retrospect I feel the same; you rest on something, a foundation, and when you lose that, everything gets thrown into chaos.

I always thought there was some kind of higher force out there. Being raised Catholic, I learned of a God who wanted me to feel guilty and ashamed all the time. I didn't know anything about Jesus Christ or what he did for me. After my parents divorced, I rebelled against God and I rebelled against the world. I didn't really see it that way at the time, but looking back, that's really what happened.

At age 17, a junior in high school, the bottom fell out of whatever was holding me together. My dad begged me to stay in basketball, offering me $300 to go to the first 3 practices. The coaches wouldn’t let him force me to go anymore. I went to 3 practices, took the $300, and stopped going. He wouldn't speak to me for a year or so, he was so mad. I didn't know how to deal with any of it. I had been fairly insolated against tragedy and insanity until then. I was completely naïve. A doctor gave me some pills because I was so sad and anxious. They made me feel really good, like I didn't care. So I started taking them every day, all the time, and asked for more. He gave me more. I started to be known as the rebel at school. I would skip my classes, yell at teachers, and constantly be in trouble. It came to a head when some students reported me. The principle thought I had overdosed, so they called an ambulance. My mom was there crying, the police, my principles. At that moment I took off running and they chased me down, threw me in the back of an ambulance and in I went to a mental hospital. Later I found out I had mouthed some crazy talk about blowing up the school and found myself expelled. And so it began, my descent.

I felt like darkness and shattering was all life was, so I married it. For several years I turned away from everything and just did drugs and drank. Smoked pot with friends in my basement, as my mother lay in her bedroom just as miserable as me, fearing for me. I was miserable. I knew things were going insane...yet somehow even at the time, I knew it had to happen. I just didn't care. Yet. I did, and I was searching. I was exploring. Yet I was self-destructing. All those parallels and ironies of life.

Part TWO  – How I came to a cognitive knowledge of who Jesus is and what He did for me.
The drugs were out of control. In all this chaos I had several best friends who thought like I did. Deep thinkers. we'd smoke pot or pop Adderall and talk about the universe, life, existence, politics, and the world for hours, constantly. We'd drive for hours at night, go for night walks, sit outside smoking pot and talking deep. I started to look into philosophy and politics. I started to seek out the bigger ideas of life. I enrolled in UWMC and I had some success. All the while my drinking and pot smoking was leading to ecstasy, painkillers, stimulants, and eventually my love affair with dextromethorphan.
The drugs were conquering me and I was their slave. I had no control over anything, but I didn't want to see that. I just didn't care what was happening in my life at age 22; I just wanted to keep blotting it out. I studied the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, a crazed drug-using journalist, writer of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read all his books and sought to find the happy medium he had between drugs, alcohol, and somehow balancing it with great success in political journalism and book writing. It never really connected that he had committed suicide, and that was the lifestyle I was chasing. I was really good at lying to myself about what I believed and thought in those days.

Eventually I was hanging with a big time drug dealer. He kind of adopted me and my friends into his inner circle. I watched helplessly as it later became clear that he was setting them up to be dealers under him, later beginning to sell cocaine. I didn't fall in with that. My best friend Greg and I kind of fell away from that, delving deeper into political conspiracy theories, philosophical thoughts, and constant critiquing of society.

College went on fairly well. I was highly addicted to Adderall, but it helped me a bit in my classes. I made new friends. I started to recognize a love for learning, though I was only taking classes that interested me like philosophy, creative writing, public speaking, and journalism. I fell in with a group of hippies at that time; they were very knowledgeable, wise people. I didn't see that despite all their knowledge and their ability to talk politics, spirituality and philosophy, none of their words were backed up by any actions. Just sitting in the same circles smoking grass every night. I had started a bizarre custom of writing stream of consciousness like accounts of trips I took to cities around the state with these hippies, cataloging our strange drug trips and encounters with fellow vagabonds.

I went to festivals and concerts, had some fun, had more bizarre and deranged experiences. Despair and confusion were my constant companions. My inner growth was always matched or overshadowed by my own inner destruction. I was so very arrogant and willful. I thought I knew it all.

Thus the descent continued. Greg and I thought we were so clever, evading the police when driving around smoking pot and listening to trip techno. It caught up with us, just as my mom said it would. We were smoking in a park down by the lake, I remember; it was so beautiful. The moon and stars were shining down on the rippling water. We were talking about something, and boom, a police flashlight came on in the drivers’ side window. At that moment I realized I'd dreamt about that light popping on a few weeks earlier. I got a possession charge. I was pretty upset about that, so a few weeks later I went out and got a DUI and disorderly conduct. After 6 months on probation, I gave my cousin some pills; he got pulled over on the way home and I had dealing charges. Not to mention I got my probation revoked and had to sit in jail for 24 days. My worst fear had been realized: jail. I was afraid to go in with the general population, so I sat in solitary. Those were long days, with nothing but a Bible. I read the book of Job, equating the great suffering of Job with my own.

The college thing was going pretty good, all things considered, but my drug use constantly increased. I started hanging out with new friends, including a strange computer guy. I mention the computer guy, because we would always smoke pot together. The strange thing was, I would always pass out while smoking with him. When I'd wake up he'd been gone. A few times I remember waking up after passing out, with someone grabbing me and doing things to me. It happened several times, for all I know dozens of times, I was sexually assaulted. Over the years, the memories of it slowly come to light.

This led to a second DUI, disorderly conduct, and destruction of property. My parents came to pick me up after the DUI and I ran from their vehicle when they said they were committing me. I climbed into the attic of an apartment building, crawled around, the ceiling gave way under my weight, and I crashed through the ceiling into a guy’s bathroom.

This time I knew I needed help, so I went in for treatment for two weeks. I had several awakenings at that rehab in Chippewa Falls, and when I came back I got involved with recovery groups. During this time I began diligently seeking a spirituality I could understand. All the study of philosophy, music, writing, art, and society had finally lead to a searching into spirituality. My life started to change for the better. I was once again going to UWMC. I got 2 jobs, got a management position at the school newspaper. I was going to lots of recovery groups weekly. I was making restitution to people I had harmed and I was on probation. I had come to find union with new-age spiritual beliefs. I was starting to feel connected to the universe, and my conception of spiritual life. In retrospect, I kind of see it in relation to Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back. I had some victories, but I was approaching a great darkness. Like Luke Skywalker I was starting my training as a Jedi, but I hadn't really connected to the true God. Unfortunately I left to face Darth Vader—Satan—ill-equipped, and had to take a giant fall to rock bottom. I couldn't face the evil one with a half-assed spirituality and no connection to Jesus Christ. I fell hard. After 10 months of recovery I went insane and started using again.

If there is such a thing as a dark rift, this was it. It was 2008. My girlfriend had left me for my best friend; they had vanished. I had felt alone, lost. But more, it was pride, and a failure to truly connect to God that lead to this great tragedy.

Slowly, one by one, everything I had gained and achieved was stripped away. I lost my job at the newspaper. I quit UWMC altogether in shame. In early 2009 I smashed up my car and totaled it. My hair dye went from blonde to black. One by one every friend of mine faded away. It seems they just couldn't watch me crumble head to toe. They couldn't watch someone they loved so dearly destroy himself as they watched helplessly. The same went for my family. My mother had resigned herself to the fact that I was going to die. She started to talk about me as if I had already died. I think it would have been easier for her that way, if I had died. She saw no hope for recovery for me. And constantly watching me slowly collapse was extremely hard for her. I was her child. She had brought me into the world. Now she had to watch me trying to take myself out of it, one piece at a time. I had become a constant dextromethorphan tripper. My love affair with coricidin, triple c, the robotussin, all over the counter medications which include dextromethorphan, was taking off, blazing off into darkness never-ending. I was starting to become addicted to my own despair. I was taking pleasure in watching myself self-destruct. In retrospect, it was freeing. My best friend and I tripped endlessly in my mom’s house, dad’s house. We thought we were learning and growing, but we were destroying ourselves. We could wrap it up however we wanted, to try and make it ok, but the evidence was clear. It was a slow fall. A train wreck in slow motion.

Several times I tried to kill myself. Several times in the dark of night at my house I would stumble out to Ross Avenue and lay flat on the pavement, hoping a car would stomp my throat and put me out of my misery. But no cars ever came. In those low moments I would call out to God and say “Damn you God, you won't even let me die!” I could see that. No matter how risky I was, no matter how tripped I was when I drove, I couldn't get him to just let me die. It just wouldn't end.

One day I was tripping so hard I thought the world was ending. I walked down the road to a building near my home, stumbled in and scared the workers, yelling about the world ending. I got arrested and my probation officer threw me in jail. This time I sat 40 days. It was 2010. Just as always, at my lowest, I read my Bible. I hugged it to my chest. I read it every day, clinging to any piece of truth I could get to stick. Still I did not change. Still I was not ready or able to give up. In retrospect I thought, how much could I take? My name was Justin. I considered myself incredibly brilliant, and incredibly troubled, and incredibly doomed. I had resigned myself to it.

The tripping continued. I went from party to party, slept around, and stole dextromethorphan bottles from anywhere I could. I didn't have a car, so I would often walk for miles and miles from Target, to Pick N Save to Walgreens with my laptop in my backpack. But during that year-and-a-half a Bible was always riding with me. I was constantly reading it. I was now more intellectually reading it than taking it to heart. I was beginning to understand the fullness of my addiction, and if I can explain it properly to you: coricidin comes in packets of 16 red pills. By 2011 I was tripping about 5 times a week. The only reason it wasn't 7 times a week was because my body was progressively needing more and more time to recover from the trips. To give you a perspective, I would walk several miles, rain or snow, night or day, and steal several boxes of coricidin. I would gather them up and take at least 32 pills per trip. Eventually it was 48, and then 60. 60 pills, I was swallowing down, gagging as I did.
I was walking home from Perkins, a place I commonly tripped at, and I was hallucinating, thinking police officers were following me. So I walked fast, for several miles. Perkins was 8 miles from my house. I lost my feet under me, and fell to the pavement. A few moments later cop cars pulled up. Justin falls for the first time.

I was taken to the hospital, and put in intensive care. I was tachycardic, had serotonin syndrome, and my kidneys were started to collapse. I remember when they brought me in I was holding my laptop case waiting for them to come back. I was digging through the bag and I caught my hand on two more packets of dextromethorphan. Despite knowing my body was shutting down, I took them, right there in the emergency room. Later that night the doctor came in as my mom sat there with me, and told me my organs were shutting down and they didn't know if I'd make it through the night. We both burst into tears. After all of that, all the misery, I still didn't want to die. I remember as we cried together, I was so very, very, very, afraid. So scared. There is nothing like the fear I felt during those moments.

I survived the night, and I slowly got better. But as soon as I got out, I was back to the races. A month or so later, I was once again hospitalized for an overdose. This time the doctors declared me a danger to myself, and locked me up in the health care center. It wasn't anything new. I had been to more than five rehabs, and just as many mental hospitals across the state. They kept me for 3 months, taking me to group therapy, but still I wasn't connecting to it. It was early 2012 and I was released again. It was very dark then. I could do nothing really. I was suffering severe PTSD from everything that had happened. I didn't do much of anything, but lay in a bed at my dad’s house for 4 months crying, eating, and drinking beer.

I had tried everything. I was now living in my mom’s old house, the house I had grown up in. She was living in Rapids with her new husband. I had tried everything, everything. One-on-one counseling, college, philosophy, group therapy, detox, inpatient rehab, recovery groups, and after that, I had tried suicide. None of it had worked or changed anything. I had nothing. I was nothing. One night, and I don't know how this occurred to me because it had never occurred to before, I was laying on a piss-soaked couch, and I cried out, “Jesus help me. God help me” over and over again.. Jesus help me. Jesus help me. God help me. God help me.

It came into my head and stuck: go back to your recovery meetings. Go back, go back. Go back to your recovery meetings. And I did. All I could do was sit there shaking, withdrawing, defeated…and listen. I started to get better. I stopped drinking and I stopped drugging. Then I started going back to New Day, a church near my house. I went in looking insane, but they loved me and welcomed me.

I sought out Jesus Christ because I was miserable and insane. I had to admit that I couldn't control anything, and a higher power could relieve me of my addictions.

Part THREE – Circumstances surrounding your conversion.
I accepted Christ while I was in church, realizing at a moment during the sermon that the reason I was alive was because Jesus Christ had personally saved my life. I remembered calling out to him, and how he had saved me. It was a powerful feeling. It was a peaceful and happy feeling.

Part FOUR – How would you describe your spiritual growth from the time you accepted Christ to today?
The disaster had ceased. Somehow, it had stopped. It was Jesus. He was restoring me. And sometimes today, I'll just sit back in my chair and think, “My God, I'm alive.” And it still doesn't seem totally real. I was baptized by Aaron at New Day. I went to more and more meetings and groups. I started doing the things they told me to do in recovery. I attended church every week. At my mom’s old house I started to be able to clean and make it nice. I started renting out rooms, and with the money I was getting I bought a car. I started to make friends at church and in recovery. I started a blog and wrote about what I was learning from the Bible every week. I got a sponsor; I worked out my past, and started making amends. I started taking online classes on Christianity. Then I started to realize what I was supposed to do with my life. All the writing skills, college, public speaking classes, reading poetry at open mics, writing books, singing with bands and jamming with friends, all the reading and learning. It had been preparing me to become a Pastor. I applied to Liberty University, and was accepted for a major in religious studies. And now I’m helping launch a church, to help people who are a lot like I used to be: lost.

I'm alive today for one reason: because Jesus Christ saved my life. There is still much work to be done. But it can be done today because I'm no longer enslaved, I'm no longer a slave working for Satan. I'm a redeemed chosen one in the army of God. I am now a loved slave of Jesus Christ. And I can still hardly believe that I'm alive and well, and just how loved and blessed I am. My sins, which were many, have been forgiven by Jesus Christ.  Now I can walk into eternal life washed white as snow, even though I continue to sin, Christ has forgiveness for all my sins then, now, and for all time.

Thank you, and God bless.