Friday, December 9, 2016

Overcoming Drugs and Depression: Believe in Hope, Persevere through Obstacles

Keynote Address at Salvation Army/NTC Graduation Ceremony

Good evening graduates, distinguished leaders, and faculty of the college. It’s an honor to be here today. As many of you already know I am the son of the infamous Stan Steckbauer. I recall when I was a kid, and I’d be at my dads program, wandering around the building probably in some area I wasn’t suppose to be in, invariably someone would walk over and say, “hey what are you doing here young man?” And I would simply reply,”Hey, I’m Stan’s son Justin.” And then they would apologize.

Stan Steckbauer has served with distinction for the past 23 years at the NTC Learning Center, a program that he pioneered. The legacy of Stan Steckbauer, NTC staff, and Salvation Army personnel is right before us today, found in the faces of those lives they’ve touched.

I can certainly say that it’s of God what is happening here today. For a great deal of time I’ve been around the goal lab program, as a child, as a teen and young adult, and then later fate would have it that I began working at the Salvation Army transitional living center just down the road from here. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been asked to shared my story, which is a story of struggle, depression, and addiction. But also one of hope and triumph.

I’ve learned something very simple in my struggles and trials, and it’s this: There are two ways to deal with a bad situation. One, I can allow it to define me. I can play the victim. I can use it as an excuse to drink and use drugs. Second, I can overcome that struggle. I can learn from that struggle. I can refuse to allow that struggle to define me. I can get to work on myself, my life and my future to build something better.

My story begins at age 16 when I was in a dark place in my life. I was bullied a great deal in school. I had few friends. And my parents were going through a difficult divorce. I felt the strain at school, at home, and in sports. I made the mistake of turning to prescription drugs to make the pain go away. I was expelled from high school after a string of events, involving police, mental hospitals, and fears of a school shooting. I woke up in the mental hospital with no memory of what I’d done, to find that I’d been expelled, all the students thought I wanted to shoot up the school, no one would even talk to me, and I was alone.

I fell in with the wrong crowd, a group of guys who got together and smoked marijuana and drank a great deal. I started smoking cigarettes. I gained a great deal of weight.

In 2005 I was arrested for drunk driving, disorderly conduct, and possession of thc. I went to jail for a month, and came out a real mess of a person.

Again I ended up in jail and revoked from probation in 2006, and I got more charges in 2007. My life was starting crash down around me. I was making all kinds of bad choices, and getting bitter, resentful, and entitled. I was playing the victim.

For many, including myself, this becomes a way of life. They feel sad inside, so they see sadness all around them. They feel bitterness within, so they project a bitter attitude onto the world. They feel hopeless, so when they look around them they see a dark, hopeless world. Hope for freedom finally disappears. And there is no other world, just the drug, the alcohol, and the fast paced lifestyle. The mind itself adapts over years and decades to know nothing other than the drug, to know nothing other than the addiction.

I was literally just doing my best to destroy myself. Maybe some of you here can relate to that. Just destroying. With a “who cares” attitude about everything. I didn’t have any goals. But it was around 2008 and 2009 that I started realizing that I had a serious drug problem. During that time I attended probably 6-10 different rehab, detox, and mental hospital programs designed to help people get clean and sober. None of it worked. And I really did try. But I would always go back to the old world.

That is one of the worst feelings, when you can’t seem to break out of that cycle. You know what I’m cycle I’m referring to, many of you: You use drugs for a period, the realize you want it to end, you go into treatment, you get clean, you start attending 12 step meetings, your enthusiasm fades, the fear and discontent starts growing, and bang, you relapse, use drugs for a period, realize you want it to end, go to treatment, over and over and over. For years I was in that repeating loop that I affectionately called “my repeating disaster.”

Several times I attempted suicide, laying down in a road at night hoping a car would hit me. But I couldn’t even get dying right.

To break free, for me, after 12 years of addiction, self destruction, hatred, bitterness, and suicidal desire was not only a long shot, but it had become impossible.

What I needed was a turning point, a vital awakening, but not only that, I needed a miracle, but I had stopped believing one was possible. Have you ever lost hope completely? And cast it aside?

So escape seemed hopeless. Yet there were people in my life, who were praying for me. There were people in my life encouraging me. And there was my grandfather, who handed me my first Bible. As I meandered the streets, a pariah and hated vagabond, I read from this Bible, this ancient text that some said was the very word of God. Did I believe that? No, not really. But I knew I needed something. And something was drawing me to that message. I read about Jesus Christ and how he said to his disciples, to those who doubted him, to those who needed help, he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No comes to the Father except through me.” And he said to the downtrodden, the broken, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.”

Having given up all hope, one night, sick and tired, of being sick and tired, of living the same awful life day in and day out, I fell down on the ground in front of the fireplace, and I cried out to one name: Jesus Christ the son of God, crying out Jesus help me, Jesus save me. And I believed that this epic, ancient living savior could do just that. I dared to believe. And the impossible, became possible.

When I decided that enough was enough, and realized my need for something greater, I set out on a new journey. Everything changed in my life.

So I mapped out a plan of action, for the future, finding myself with new strength to tackle the challenges ahead. I started attending recovery groups 8 to 10 times a week. I got a good sponsor to help me grow in recovery. I tackled my issues head on, with addiction, anxiety, self destruction and depression. I read dozens of books and did workbooks on healing from mental health issues. I was on a mission. I took the credits I’d scraped together at the UW and NTC and transferred to Liberty University, where in 2015 I graduated magna cum laude with an associates degree in interdisciplinary studies and a bachelors of religion with an emphasis in Christian Counseling. I knew I wanted to be a minister, to dedicate my life to serving those in need. And a door opened to the Salvation Army, and I started working at the TLC just down the road.

I worked there for over a year, and for that reason I know many of you who are here. I know Ed Wilson, I know Lts Jacob and Melinda Tripp, I know the staff at NTC, the Goal Lab, and I know many of you from the shelter. What you have here with my dad, with the Tripps, and the shelter staff is something very very special. This connection between the Salvation Army and NTC is a blessed one, a union between education and faith to help those with great struggles to rise above and achieve their dreams.

Outposts of hope like the NTC Learning Center are where people like you and me find hope. The hope we had left behind in our younger years bursts to life once again. In a little classroom, hopes and dreams are born anew in the fires of hard work, determination and perseverance.

We find those special people in our lives, people like my dad, who refuse to put us down, but take the radical action of believing in us. And when they believe in us, and encourage us, we find that we can come to believe in ourselves. We find turning points in our lives, thanks to North Central Technical College, and the Salvation Army. As we build our new lives, having escaped addiction, freed up from sorrow and self destruction, there will be many difficulties along the way, but if believe in a better tomorrow, if we allow hope to be birthed in our souls, then we can choose to persevere through every struggle, overcome every obstacle, and see ourselves become the hero of our own stories once again.

Graduates my message to you is this: Believe that there is hope, persevere through every obstacle, hit the ground running in your new lives, and never forget those that blessed you as the turning points in your life took shape.

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