Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Junkies like You and Me: A Story of Drugs, Abuse, Recovery, and a Calling to Lead

Disclaimer: I don't claim to be part of any specific fellowship or society. I'm simply a pastor in training who has struggled with addiction and overcome that struggle against great odds through the power of God and recovery groups. 

Our saga begins at the old house on Ross ave. Chaos and hell has broken out. Darkness has descended. The family is in full collapse. Dad was living in the basement. Mom upstairs. We were all avoiding each other. My dad had been trying in vain to force me to be a sports star. He had been taking me to practice, bribing me, attempting to keep me in it. I don’t know why. It seemed like madness to me, his obsession with me being a sports star. Everything else was falling apart. The whole family was in collapse, total free fall. I finally stood up to my dad and outright refused to be the sports star anymore. He refused to talk to me for months.

Finally dad left the house. And I was hardly sleeping. I was pretending that everything was OK. The truth is it wasn't. My dad had been taking me to dozens of different therapists, trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I didn't want to be the sports star. Eventually he did find one that told him what he wanted to hear, that I had serious issues. But I was force fed Prozac, sleeping pills, vitamins, my dad was quite insistent that I needed to be on medication. In fact I remember a time that I was on 20 mg of Prozac and he talked me into taking four times the dose, because he thought that’s what I needed. I used to go in the bathroom and shove the pills down the sink drain because they made me feel sick when I took them.

But seeing all those doctors, all those therapists, all those medications, it got into my head that what I needed was a pill or a substance, outside myself to make me ok. The truth is there was nothing wrong with me.

I was bullied a great deal at junior high. I was bullied more at senior high. There wasn't anything wrong with me, aside from depression and anxiety, because my family was collapsing over those years. Of course that’s going to affect a child, drugs aren't the answer, I really believe that. Too bad I didn't know that then.

I don’t know I was so set on not being the bad kid. I tried really hard to be the good kid. The nice kid. In fact most people liked me. Obviously not the students at school though. I would get mocked all day at school, punched, smacked, I seemed to draw that kind of controversy for some reason. Then I would be forced to go to basketball practice, or football, or weight training, or whatever, and I lived in total fear of those practices. I was a huge huge worry wart. I still am to a certain extent. Though not as much obviously as I used to be.

But I would get done with school abuse, go to practice, get some more abuse, players gave me hell as well. Then I would come home to mom and dad screaming at each other in the hallway, fighting, yelling. And then usually how it ended was mom would come hide in my bedroom and cry, and I would hug her. And it was just a huge nightmare. Under those sorts of pressures, eventually I just gave up. I wasn't going to try to be the good kid anymore. I was going to go on a rampage.

I got some dope from the doctor, some ambien, and I fell in love with ambien. A sleep med. It was my junior year of high school, and I became the rebel without a cause. I suddenly became quite popular over night. Typical.

That year was a blur to me. I remember roaming the halls in blurs, my memory of those bizarre days and nights seems quite vanished for large chunks. I would leave my classes and walk about the halls. I’d usually end up in the commons area, causing trouble.

I recall one time I left school and walked to McDonalds. I was loaded up on about 8 ambien. And I was sitting at a booth, and I started talking to two old guys, and apparently I started acting rather bizarrely. I caused such a ruckus in McDonalds, that the police were forced to surround the store. And then they stormed in through all the entrances. I ran for the back door of the McDonalds, but there was a big burly cop coming through that door, so I turned back and charged into the three cops coming through the main door, kicking and screaming and crying.

Apparently I was quite amusing while loaded, at the hospital there were about 20 cops all standing around my bed listening to my tell jokes and jabber on and on about whatever nonsense. But I remember I kept making them laugh.

Things went like that for a few months. But my problem was I could never maintain. My mom picked me up from school one day and we drove over to my aunt Marie's house. My mom went inside to get something from Marie, and I thought it would be funny to steal my moms car. I had no license of course. So I stole the car and started driving around the neighborhood. And I smashed it up on several ditches, before driving back. My mom was flabbergasted. And so was I. I’d never done anything like that before. I had always been the good boy. Not anymore.

So one day I went to school, I had been drinking with a buddy before school, plus I was loaded on the ambien. And apparently I had been telling people around the school that I was going to shoot up the school. That I was going to snipe from the woods behind the school and shot through the glass doors. I had suggested plans for blowing up the school, for using explosives and various other things. I don’t remember doing that. But I probably did say that stuff while I was loaded, I was probably just kidding, but this was 2002. And the school shootings going on were no laughing manner.

So I was loaded up wandering the halls, or I think I was in electronics class or something. And the school cop came to get me and took me to the office. And they searched me, and showed me an empty bottle of pills that I’d tossed in the garbage in the commons. And they asked me if I’d taken the whole bottle, and I said no. But they didn’t believe me. They thought I was overdosing.

They pulled up an ambulance in front of the school. I knew one thing I wasn’t going to be hauled out on a stretcher into any ambulance. My mom was there crying, in front of the whole commons, officer Al was there, the principle, and the vice president who we referred to as the Nazi. So I took off running down the hallway, and the cop and Nazi started chasing after me. I burst out the doors of the building running down toward the baseball diamond. I made it through the fence, but officer Al was coming up behind me, and managed to scare me into surrendering. He put me down on my knees and cuffed me. And the ambulance pulled over to where I was, and they hauled me.

But unfortunately for them, they took the handcuffs off once they put me in the ambulance. The ambulance was headed out, and they were beginning to strap me down, but I shoved them both aside. The ambulance stopped, and a police car was following behind us. Before I could even escape the ambulance, the chief of police was there to put me into a bizarre back hold, with his knee on the top of my back, and I was forced back into the ambulance.

I was taken to a mental hospital and left there to rot for two weeks. While I was there, I received the news that I’d been expelled from high school. And I learned that everyone at school was afraid of me now, because they thought I was a psycho killer. My friends wouldn't talk to me anymore. And I was alone.

That series of events really sealed the deal. I was going to give up on life. I don’t know if I ever consciously decided to take that course, but that’s what it became. I was going to do whatever felt good. I was going to be a rebel. I was going to do everything my way. I was done being the good kid, the nice guy. I was going to destroy. And I was going to die.

I was about 19 years old when I started running with a group of guys, most of the losers and vagabonds from school kind of gathered together. My mom was working constantly so she could try to keep the house and have a safe place for me and my sister. So she wasn't home much. So I kind of became the go to place to hang out and smoke dope. I fell in love with the weed early on. I certainly drank during that time as well, but the weed was the love story. We set a hang out area in the basement, and we would go down there and smoke weed and play Xbox, halo, stuff like that.

I remember this as being the happy-go-lucky opening of addiction. It’s fun, it’s lighthearted, overall nothing is too insane yet. Maybe some of you can relate. But it was also a time of sadness. And despair in my life. And I just wanted anything to take the pain away. So naturally the idea was to be on something as often as possible, pills, weed, alcohol, and I started smoking cigarettes then.

My mom would yell at me when she caught me smoking weed with my friends. I didn't want to work any job, because a job seemed like too much work. Several times I had drunken episodes where I yelled at my mom, or got into arguments with friends, or puked or ended up hugging the toilet all night. But overall it was still holding together fairly well.

I suppose I was pushing my luck, and I am not a smooth criminal at all. From 19 to 21 the drink and drugs were fun for the most part. Though despair always hung in the backdrop.

Soon I was twenty-one years old, in the midst of years of surfing the city streets, driving fast, writing for hours on end, staying up late into the morning sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes, and hitting pipes with the good ol' boys behind suburban houses in the summer months of the deep woods. Life was at times a struggle, at times a joy. I was enamored with the various emotions of life, especially the odd ones, of walking down forest roads in the midst of night, listening to the sounds of the wild-life, the humming of the woods, the wind blowing through the trees, and watching the darkness, the shadows upon shadows, and casting my gaze upward to behold the mysterious sky filled with stars.

I was living on the edge, but life still seemed an enjoyable venture. I spent many nights with friends, puffing smoke and telling stories and sharing ideas and thoughts I had. I had several close friends, Greg, Bradley, Jake, Jamie, Patrick, and others. I had girlfriends here and there, but I had never really been in love.

One night Greg and I had parked my old 92' silver Toyota SX muscle car by the water in the park around 11 PM. We lit up a bowl and stared across the water and into the star-filled sky. It was a truly beautiful night. The water was amazingly still, and the stars reflected off the water so as we gazed out it was as if the water and the black sky meshed to become one giant sea of stars. We both felt as if we were floating across a milky heavens. Suddenly a flashlight popped on in the driver side window as I lifted the brass pipe to take another hit. A police officer stood there, and asked me to set the pipe on the ground.

I was arrested, and later sat 30 days in jail. A few weeks later I was arrested again for drunk driving and disorderly conduct. Things were beginning to careen out of control. It was as if the gentle night walk amongst the stars, and the gentle laughter around bon fires toking up was beginning to tumble into a light speed, the spins were coming on, and a cold,vicious, meat hook terror was creeping into the back of my mind.

The Indian summer of the good life of drinking, parties, nature walks, and bonfires was shifting into a cold, sharp winter of fear. New horrors were on the horizon.

I was on probation. Many of my friends were beginning to drift away from me. They must've smelled the scent of death and decay growing in my life. I certainly did sense it. Every high had increasingly gone from a happy go lucky venture through candy land to paranoid, dark, dank, windy, rainy jogs down dark autumn streets. It was as if I could sense the serial killer meandering between the houses, looting and killing, silently, he could not be stopped, I did not know where he was, but he was certainly approaching behind me. I just didn't know when. He wasn't just a man, he was a force and he couldn't be stopped.

The fear was taking over in my life. Though I still sought refuge in the safety and security of altered states of consciousness. It was all I knew. I was sinking deeper and deeper into a labyrinth, one that gives hope of escape through many doors, twists and turns, but itself is the bed of disaster, one working so hard and going so far, only to find the labyrinth has no end and no beginning.

Then I met a young man named Mike. He was a large guy, obese, with scraggly orange hair and a scraggy orange beard. He wore big glasses. Instantly I had a bad feeling about this character. In the past he had brought marijuana to my girlfriend and I, and smoked bowl after bowl with us. Yet something odd had happened when we smoked with him. My girlfriend began hallucinating, and foaming at the mouth. I didn't know what to think of it then. But we had lost touch after that.

Now I had called Mikey again, and welcomed him into my home several times. Each time he brought a great deal of marijuana and smoked me up every time. This is an odd affair in the world of pot smoking. Most people will expect that you either match their bowl with your own stuff, or that you sort of "switch off" so that one person isn't supporting everyone all the time. Stoners are stingy, is essentially what I'm trying to say. But not Mikey. He smoked bowl after bowl with me.

The truth is I was using him. I didn't really like him, in fact he scared me. But I wanted to get high.

We got together several times at my house and smoked marijuana. But I began to notice, just a little bit, that something odd seemed to happen. He would smoke and smoke with me until I literally passed out. I assumed he just left after I passed out. I didn't pay much attention to it. I used to have a good friend named Anna who would drink me under the table every time we hung out, and she'd leave once I was passed out. No big deal, I suppose.

One morning I was having a terrible dream, though I don't recall what it was. And I was screaming. My sister was shaking me and shaking me, trying to wake me up. But I couldn't be woken. She got so scared that she called my grandmother to come over and try to wake me. This is called a night terror. It can occur when repressed memories are attempting to make their way to the surface.

This happened several times. The dreams I don't recall, but the feelings I do. Terror, anger, fear, confusion. One increasingly loses touch with reality, when repressed memories mix with drug use, and an already philosophical mind begins to search for the truth of the situation. It is as if one has become Dorothy, or become Alice in the wonderland, a dark, sneaking feeling emerges that says "something is wrong here."

One night after Mike left I woke up naked, passed out on the kitchen floor.  But I remembered something terrible happening.

I must've gotten together with Mikey ten more times. One day, we had gotten together and I had passed out in the living room. Suddenly I remembered something, something emerged out of the time fog. I woke up in the midst of something, something painful was happening.  

And I cried out, "What is happening?" And Mikey laughed and replied, "Oh nothing" as he pounded away. Then I lost consciousness again. I won’t share anymore of the gruesome details with all of you, but the truth is he had been drugging and raping me, numerous times it happened. I talked to another guy later who said the same thing happened to him. So apparently this guy was a serial rapist. Scary stuff, but in alcoholism, addiction, those of the kind of people we end up being around.

When I was 23 I had finally realized I had a serious problem with alcohol and drugs. I had gotten another drunk driving. So here’s what happened. I was drinking with my dear friend Anna, who always drank me under the table, and we were combining benzos and some sort of Canadian liquor. She drank me unconscious and left, I woke up and decided it would be a good idea to go for a drive to see some other girls. And so I started driving and I stopped at the local Briq’s ice cream and got a big cone. Apparently from police reports I almost ran over a little girl in the Briq’s parking lot. I made it no more than a block and a half before being pulled over and arrested. 2nd DUI achieved. But it got worse.

After the police got me, my parents came to pick me up and my dad being a genius decided they were going to drive me to the mental hospital. I jumped from the car at a red light and escaped to a random apartment complex. Being a genius and a smooth criminal, of course, I decided to climb a ladder and climb into the attic. So I’m walking around in this attic, hiding, and I can’t seem to find the exit. So I start pushing down on the ceiling to try to break through. I break through the ceiling and fall down into a guys bathroom, nailing my left arm on his shower bar bending it in half. The guy is standing in the hallway watching this all happen and he’s on the phone with the police. So I land on the floor and I say, “I’m so sorry bro.” And I run out of the apartment. So I’m climbing through ditches, through the woods, while cop cars are going by shining their search lights into the woods. I go to a bar, and call my mom and her and my dad turn me in. I’m arrested again, and brought to jail. 2 new charges.

So after this bizarre event, I finally decide to go to treatment. And I went to treatment at LE.Phillips Libertas center in Chippewa Falls, WI. By the way, an awesome facility, they do everything around the twelve steps, and if a treatment center is dual diagnosis or art therapy or music therapy, it might be helpful for others ,but for true alcoholics and addicts, it’s gonna be a big waste of time. So I went there. And I really did learn about addiction, about alcoholism and what it is. I just never knew this stuff. It was really a powerful, eye opening experience for me. I was just amazed, plain and simple. I learned about addiction, and recovery. And I left, and started going to AA meetings.

I stuck around AA for a decent while about a year, it was 2008, and I started going to college, I lost over 100 lbs, I had been super obese as a pothead at about 300 lbs. And I was in college at UWMC, in the dorms, staying clean, going for night walks every night, I got a job at the cafeteria, and I even joined an inter-mural basketball team. I was developing a sincere love for writing and public speaking, I spoke at the acoustic cafes, reading my poetry, and I started writing for my college newspaper and college literary magazine, which I loved to do.

So I was going to meetings, three times a week, but pretty soon it became twice a week, then once a week. They had told me about the steps and working with a sponsor but I didn't want to do that. I wish I had though.

At about 11 months sober, I met a girl, I had been desperate to meet any girl, to be in a sexual relationship, you know how guys are in their twenties. And I got this really beautiful girl, we had sex, it was fun, she became my girlfriend. Unfortunately then she decided to hook up with my best friend Kyle. And I got super upset. I felt like I’d lost my girlfriend and my best friend. So in a fit of rage and sadness, I relapsed.

So would begin the final phase of my disaster. From 2009 to 2012 were the darkest years I've ever lived in my life. The sorrow, the depression, the suicide attempts, the drunken binges, the drug binges, were just awful. Less and less joy came out of each experience. It was awful. And it just kept getting worse.

What really stands out is the fact that I knew I needed help, I knew I wanted to change, but I also knew I hadn't reached rock bottom yet. I knew there was too much ego still left in me. Doctors told me this was a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” I don’t think so in retrospect. I really think I did have to reach rock, rock bottom before I would be broken enough to be willing to change.

I call those 3 years of horror the year of no light. I wrote all about it you see. And I also called it my “repeating disaster.” Because the same cycle just kept repeating, over and over.

At this time my mother began attending a baptist church in Mosinee. I wouldn't find out until much later, but at that time she attended Bible study, the people at the Bible study would get together to pray for me and my sister. I deeply believe those prayers were instrumental in my future date of recovery.

So it began, the march downward. More charges, and then Probation. And then jail. So much could be said about those things. Over and over again. The legal system can be a revolving door for cases like mine. And so it went, again and again. There is nothing worse than the constant state of fear and trauma found in that revolving door. I wish to never live such again, in any reality, for any reason, or for any higher or lower cause.

Standing before judges, sitting before judging. Reading the Bible in jail. I don't recall praying in jail. Just reading, a lot of reading. Maybe I did pray. Probably simple prayers; God help me. Get me out of this mess. Pain. Lots of trauma, and pain. I was the ultimate fool, blundering from one terrible mistake to another.

Yet what I recall are the night walks. I used to walk for hours, thinking and thinking. And the beautiful sounds. The crickets, and the deer standing along the road I'd come along in the woods. The bright stars in the sky. Watching the moon. And the thoughts. The mission, the journey, and the endless writing I did in those days.. thousands of pages every year, asking questions like "Why am I here? What is my purpose? What does life mean? What is my destiny? What or who is the supernatural and sense around me?"

It was at this time in 2010 that the esoteric mysticisms became my interest. I had always been quite interested in astrology, numerology, metaphysics, and dream interpretation. They call the bubble encompassing all such interests as "the new age." The straw man I knew as Christianity held no appeal to me. So I went down this path, reading many books on the zodiac, astrology, reincarnation, spirit beings, and such strange things. Unfortunately these things never really led anywhere. And I was legitimately unconvinced of the existence of God.

New pains entered my life. So much could be said. So much has been left out. So much cannot be remembered. 2010 to 2012, well, drinking, tripping, dxm addiction, pills, it had lost it's appeal. It was still fun at times, but not as fun as it used to be. And becoming more and more a chore, and eventually a drudgery.

I kept ending up in detoxes and mental hospitals. Suicide attempts abounded. The questions faded away, and the spiritual journey didn't matter much anymore. What's the solution to this riddle? The addiction, the growing death in my mind? How do I escape this snare of addiction? There was no more time for vague spiritualism, pontificating, making self righteous assumptions about morality and the spiritual energies that impact the universe.. I needed help. Pain and suffering has a powerful way of refining the journey and stripping away the lies, half truths, and false realities made up by ones own desired state of reality. Suddenly I had a very real need to know what truly is, was, and always will be. Who is on the other side of the door?

Nightmares continued. And one by one things fell away in my life. I had gathered many friends at my time at the university of Wisconsin extension, while writing on the university newspaper, from acoustic cafes and dates and random parties. But one by one they left me behind, because they could not bear to watch me destroy myself piece by piece. I really only had one friend left, Kyle. You see when you reach down that low, the only people that stick around are the ones just as despicable as you are.

The journey through the forest had reached a breaking point. I would often have dreams that seemed to metaphor the journey. Dreams of walking through dark forests, getting ever darker. Dreams of swinging from branches in forests, climbing high up. And now the dreams had changed. I would repeatedly dream of walking across a dam, a metal dam on this path across the middle of it. A very shoddy path, and a dam in great disrepair. One of the last dreams I had, I had fallen into the water on the right side, and I was clutching to a rock at the edge of an abyss-like waterfall leading nowhere.

2011 is a blur to me of alcohol and cough syrup. But they were destroying my body. Crushing my body, I was sick often and weak everyday. One day I overdosed, and landed in the ICU at the hospital. My mom was there crying, and the doctor came in, and said to me, “We don’t know if your going to make it through the night.” My body was collapsing. I was so scared. The doctor slammed the door, as if my life didn't matter. And it didn't. After leaving the hospital I overdosed two months later, and this time I was put before a judge, my dad testified against me, thanks dad, and I was declared a danger to myself and society, and locked in a mental hospital. I was there for 3 months before they finally let me out.

I relapsed again. And it got ugly. Every time I would drink, I would wet myself after passing out. Kyle would come over to see the couch cushions airing out outside time and again. It was pathetic. But my grandpa had given me a bible years earlier, I was carrying it with me, reading it. I had asked for Christian stuff for Christmas that year and my cousin had bought me a copy of a movie called the gospel of John, the movie itself being word for word the gospel of john from the Bible. I suck at reading, so I watched this DVD about a thousand times. Something was changing in me..

And so the moment came. That drizzly dark march downward finally hit rock bottom, not with some giant terrible event, but no just with the slow drizzling pathetic unlivable nature of addiction. In a dark room, on the floor, in the depth of night I called with a full voice, an inner scream, an outer scream, "Jesus Save Me!"

I remember at that moment there was a great rumbling sound, and the ground began to shake in the living room where I lay. I thought I was losing my mind. Inwardly and outwardly I shook as I called out the long call for help, and then I collapsed on the floor. That was how I came to Christ, piss stained, filthy, obese, pathetic, bringing nothing to the table but my own nightmare.

And God told me, not in words really, but somehow it was communicated to me: Go back to 12 step groups. NO not that Lord, anything but that. Please no. I would almost rather die than go back to recovery. Ugh! But I agreed. My friend Kyle started taking me to meetings, I started going several times a week. I was just listening, dirty clothes, shirt soaked wet from sweating out, shoes ripped apart barely holding together. I kept coming, just listening, kept coming, kept coming.

Now several months in I was amazed to find I hadn't drank or drugged. What in the world! I had tried so hard to quit several times, many times to quit, to cut back, to control it, absolutely to no avail whatsoever. But I was sober. 100% sober.

Now I had done this last time, in 2008 by going to meetings. But that had not been enough to keep me sober. I needed to work those steps this time. I had no ego left, no hold out within me to resist, I scooted up to those tables, terrified, disturbed and said, alright guys how do you really do this thing?

There was an old timer who always sat in the back, old Randy O, been sober at that time for 27 years, and he kept talking about those steps. He was mean about it too, he didn't take any BS. But I could tell he really understood the true meaning of the steps. So I walked over to that scary, scary, scary old timer and I asked that SOB to be my sponsor. And he said, “Well what are you willing to do?” And I said, “anything.” And I meant it.

He said, I want you to meet me at my place, at 8 am every day, Monday through Friday. And 3 hours a day, we’re gonna go through the big book, and we’re gonna listen to the Joe and Charlie tapes as a supplement as well. See, Randy’s sponsor was sponsored by one of the original 100 who founded the group. Early on, the steps were worked through very strictly, and there wasn't any meeting once a week to read the book. You met with your sponsor everyday. In fact early on when you took your first step, you did it front of your home group, and your home group then voted on how well you surrendered.

The fact that Randy recognized that I was a desperate case, and that I would not survive if I didn't take serious action, is a miracle in my life. The fact that he met with me five times a week, 3 hours a day saved my life. Otherwise I was screwed.

People today come to recovery and they hang around go to a bunch of meetings a week, and then they relapse at 3 or 4 months or at 1 year or 2 years and they think recovery let them down. If you work the steps, you never have to relapse. I firmly believe that.

So Randy was taking absolutely no BS from me. Thank God for that.

Early on in my recovery I was still smoking cigarettes, I was still struggling with depression, and so many issues. I was a mess. But slowly but surely my life began to improve. It’s amazing what sobriety can do for a train-wrecked life. My family really considered me dead. Straight up dead. Very, very slowly, those relationships began to re-emerge.

This was last ditch, a dear death effort to somehow break the chains, somehow escape this disaster that had totally consumed my life. This was a lost cause, could I somehow survive and break free of addiction! It seemed impossible at first. But I fought so hard, I kept fighting, I clung to the railings despite all the storms of emotion and depression and urges that threaten my soul my life, everything was at stake. And I’m so glad I fought so hard then. I really try not to be prideful, but I’m so glad I tried so hard. I can pat myself on the back for that. Because I was such a mess emotionally, physically, spiritually, a total mess. It was crazy.

Somehow I managed to show up to this guys house week after week and listen and begin to grow.

I knew God had brought me into recovery. I knew that. So I realized that I wanted to join a church. I recalled how mom took me to a church that I really connected to about a year earlier. And I went there. It was pastored by a young guy in his thirties. It was hosted in a high school auditorium, so I didn't feel threatened by the environment, I felt OK walking into that building.

I remember the first time I went, the pastor talked to me after the service and I must’ve been quite a sight because the look on his face was pretty interesting. But I kept showing up, I kept listening and learning from the services they held. And I really connected to it.

I found a meeting that I decided would be my home group, and a home group is one where you do service work, you make coffee, set up chairs, whatever needs to happen there, and I decided to do that at the meeting at the health care center. Because that’s where I was locked up when I declared a danger to myself and society. It was a good reminder, when I walked in that building, of where I’d come from.

In my first year, I went to like, 8-12 meetings a week. I went to tons of meetings and I listened, but I also talked. I shared what I was going through, and I kept sharing as I learned from the book.

I remember when a major break through happened. As he was taking me through the book. I realized something and I looked up at him and I said,”You really understand how I feel don’t you?”

And he said, “Yes.” Plain and simple, I finally realized that I was like him.  He understood exactly what I was going through. It wasn't really about alcohol or drugs, it was about the way I felt everyday.  And Randy really, really understood that.

In the doctors opinion in the big book it says “the action of alcohol on chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy. These allergic types can never use alcohol safely in any form.” Randy told me early on that an alcoholic of my type, in his body, has an allergic reaction to alcohol, that once I start drinking the craving is triggered, and my body insists on more. That’s the first aspect of the disease, an allergic reaction of the body. That’s why other people can safely drink 2-4 drinks and not go crazy and end up in jail. My body is different. My body reacts with craving for more. But there’s a second aspect of the illness. It’s that once I’m sober again, I have an obsession of the mind that demands the need for more alcohol. The book says the persistence of this obsession is astonishing. Many follow it into the gates of hell and death. And it’s true. I’d do anything to fulfill that need. Ruin my whole life. Drugs are no different. Same odd reaction, same obsession of the mind that demands more and more and more.

The doctors opinion continues saying, “Alcoholics are restless, irritable and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks- drinks which they see others taking with impunity.” After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over.” Doctor Silkworth wrote that, and it fits me perfectly. I called my life the repeating disaster, because the same pattern kept occurring.

I would use and drink for months, years, whatever, and I’d go to treatment, sit there at the center wondering if this was the time I would finally get sober. I would get out, start going to meetings, my life would begin to improve, I’d start to feel hope again, but then I’d slowly start to drift away from recovery internally. I’d start to go to less meetings. I’d likely begin to re-connect with old friends. That old addict mentality would return, the sense of excitement and wonder at the possibility of a drug. And then I’d go back out. I’d be out for months, things would go to hell very fast, and then eventually I’d go to treatment, start to hope for recovery again, and the cycle repeats.

The doctors opinion really helped me to understand that I have a disease that is treatable with recovery groups. And it’s a two fold illness.

Next Randy took me into Bill’s story. And the whole purpose of Bill’s story is that I would identify with him and realize my alcoholism is in many ways similar to his, not 100% but quite a few similarities.

A few things I noticed in Bill’s Story, page 4 he says “I was to have no real employment for 5 years.” Same with me, I was jobless for huge stretches.

Page 5 Bill asks the question “Am I crazy?” And I asked myself that same question time and again what in the world is wrong with me why do I keep doing this?

Page 6, Bill asks himself “Should I kill myself?” And I can relate to that. I've laid down in roads at night, I've stood in the middle of the high way in day light. I felt the sincere need to die, because I just couldn't stand that repeating loop of addiction another day.

Page 6, Bill shares how he stole from his wife’s purse for money to buy alcohol. I used to steal from my mom’s purse.

And Page 8 Bill writes, Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. Alcohol was my master.” Boy can I relate to that. I did finally come to the moment of surrender when I’d realized that drugs had conquered me. I was the slave, the prostitute, I was the whore on the corner willing to do anything. But it had to break my heart to do it to me. It really did.

Page 11, Bill wrote ‘My human will had failed.” Total lack of power. I had no ability to quit on my own. I tried a thousand times. Could hardly last a few hours.

Chapter 2 talks about the solution to this problem. Which is to have a psychic change, a sort of spiritual awakening that would change who I am. That’s always why I would relapse after 3 months, 4 months, 30 days, 6 months, 9 months, because I had never had the psychic change which can only be brought about by the steps.

Chapter 3 talks more about the illness of alcoholism. See, people are very resistant the suggestion that alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. People want to believe it’s that I’m bad, it’s that I’m evil, it’s that they lack willpower. And why shouldn't we, that’s what everyone kept telling us. But it isn't true. Alcoholism, addiction is an illness of mind and body, treatable with the twelve steps and meeting attendance.

Chapter 4 is specifically written to help those who struggle with the higher power aspect of the program. I believed in God when I first came into the program. I didn't know what that meant or how to connect with God, but I did believe in God. I had called out to Christ and he had delivered me, I knew that. But honestly, these steps helped me to practice my faith in real life.

Pg 45 of We Agnostics says “Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live.” The whole issue of addiction is lack of power. We couldn't find that power internally, so we had to look outside ourselves to a power greater than ourselves.

It says many of us were once violently anti-religious. Pg 46 says that we found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a power greater than human power, we commenced to get results.” So if we could step back and lay aside some of our old ideas, our old prejudices about spirituality, we could then make a beginning, and begin to see results.

That’s probably the hardest part to accept about the program, the last thing a drunk wants to hear about is God, religion, and spirituality. But the truth is the only solution is found in a personal God of our own understanding. Who do you think god is? Loving, caring, friendly, thoughtful, then that’s your conception of God. I don’t get the doorknob or the bedpost stuff though. Because once we come to step 3 we must then turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him. So it has to be a God, of our own understanding, that we believe exists, and is willing to guide us through recovery. Tough for a doorknob to do that.

The book says a man asked himself this question pg 56: “Who are you to say there is no God?” And that helped him to come to realize that God did indeed exist and was willing to carry Him through recovery. Step 3 is the biggest step in my thought. It makes all the following steps possible. We turned our will (which means how we live) and our lives (our whole world) over to the care of God. Which means when I take that step I’m now deciding to check all my decisions on what God’s will is for me. So I must seek to know God’s will and follow it.

In How It Works, chapter 5, Bill writes that selfishness was the root of all our problems. Pg 62. And regarding step 3 he wrote “First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.” Step 3 is the most important step, is my view.

Step 3 prayer, pg 63, “God I offer myself to thee, to build with me and do with me as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do your will…”

Immediately following step 3, comes step 4 and five. Obviously hugely important. I've sponsored several guys in the past, they've always quit on me during step 4. Doing a full personal inventory is not an easy thing, because it forces us to see the very worst parts of what we've done. Because I know for me, I had a hall of mirrors, smoke and mirrors inside my memory. Where I had rewritten history so that I was the victim and everyone had just done it to me. When I did this 4th and 5th step with Randy I had to clear out the lies, honestly look at the things I’d done, and see the truth. Really the 4th step is all about seeing the truth, telling another person, and by so doing, clearing out the wreckage of the past. All of the terrible things we went through, that we did, all the trauma, the sprees, the jail, the mental hospitals, the treatments, the emotional chaos, broken relationships leaves a pile of debris in our souls. And by doing the 4th and 5th step thoroughly we clear out that wreckage.

I could not stand how I felt while not high or drunk. Being sober was a living nightmare because of this sick mind I have. And all that wreckage in my soul. That was a huge factor that led to me continuing to use, because I felt so terrible sober. The massive, major keystone to surviving in recovery is being humble enough to admit I need to clear that wreckage out. And I can’t leave anything out. The worst stuff needs to come out, or I won’t find healing.

So I did that. It was challenging. My sponsor gave me 3 weeks to write things down. I worked on it and found myself trying to avoid doing it, because it was just rather unpleasant. And I became depressed during that time. But I kept forcing myself to return to the list, and keep writing stuff down. At the end I had 47 pages I think was the total.

Randy and I met one day, in the morning and I went from 8 am until 3pm. We had to meet again the next day, and we went again from 8 am to 1pm. So it took a total of 12 hours to finish doing my fifth step.

Into Action chapter 6 of the big book begins with step 5, then goes into steps 6 and 7. But after step five you’ll notice that there a little list of promises, is what I would call them, which includes pg 75; “We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator.” See those promises are true. I was so ashamed before I did that step, but now I could look people in the eyes. I would be a nervous wreck by myself, now I can sit at peace. And most importantly of all, all that wreckage in my soul had cut me off from God, and now, for the first time ever in my life, I begin to sense the presence of my Creator. Sensing that presence, is what the program means by “serenity.”

But the big promises, the ones we read at meetings, those promises are from the big book, and they are listed right after step 9. When it says “we will be amazed before we are halfway through” it’s talking about before we are halfway through the 9th step.

Step six is about becoming willing to have God remove our defects of character. So in the fifth column of our 4th step we have our list of character defects. And we look at that list and see which of those kept coming up over and over again. For me selfishness kept coming up. Self-seeking kept coming up. Fear kept coming up. Pride, ego, laziness, being inconsiderate of others, being self-absorbed with my little world. In step 7 I had to ask God to remove those character defects.

The 7th step prayer, which I took with my sponsor said, “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character…” Pg 76.

Which is interesting, in the Salvation Army, which I work for today, the founder William Booth gave his life to Christ, but later on in his life, in his 30s, he realized one night and wrote in his diary: “God must have all there is of me.” And I realized the same thing. Similarly the 7th step is about turning everything over to God, the good and the bad, and asking Him to change us. Amazing.

I don’t have the power to remove character defects, but God does. But in my relationship with God is I leave the inner work to him, but I do the footwork. So when I see those defects on my list, I try to practice the opposite in my life. If I’m normally fearful, anxious I try to practice courage. If I’m normally selfish, I try to focus on loving and serving others. If I’m normally self-seeking I try to seek God’s will instead. And slowly over the years God removes our defects of character.

Step 8 and 9 were not my favorite steps. But my sponsor asks me to make four lists. He said grab four pieces of paper at the top of each write, first one, right now, next sheet, later, next sheet maybe, last sheet, never. And he had me take my list of people I’d harmed, which I’d made in the 4th step, and write down their names in each of those categories. My mom, my dad, my sister, grandparents, close friends all went on the right now list. But people I didn't want to see, or really still hated, went on maybe or later or never. And he said work on the right now sheet, and by the time your halfway through you’ll want to work on the later sheet, and the maybe sheet, and someday on the never sheet.

Slowly but surely I made those amends, going to the people in person, talking to them. Many people outright refused to even meet with me. To this day, many will never agree to meet with me and listen to my apology. They can’t stand me, they know how manipulative and cunning I can be, so they wont even put themselves in that situation. So be it. I made amends to my grandpa at his grave site, with my dad and grandpa there with me.

And you’ll wonder how do I find these people. I asked myself the same question. But it’s interesting God will cause us to encounter these people. It’ll be our choice if we want to be brave enough to walk up to them and make amends. But I've had that happen time and again, there they are, and I go talk to them.

Step 10 is essentially steps 4 through 9 rolled together, as a daily practice to continue to grow. Step 10 is that we realize that the steps are spiritual tools for daily use, and we keep using them. I do mini 4th and 5th steps all the time, and in prayer I do 7th steps, and I still make amends from time to time. That’s step 10. Step 11 is growing spiritually. So I've got this concept of God. Am I continuing to grow toward God. Am I building that relationship through prayer and study and meditation on his truths. For me that meant attending a good small group, volunteering at my church, getting to church services every Sunday, not just once or twice a week, to really practice my faith.

Step 12 is super important. Now having been taking through the steps by Randy, am I willing to offer this incredible wisdom I’ve received to other alcoholics and addicts? The answer is yes, I am, and I try to carry the message at meetings. And sponsor people. If anyone in this room needs a sponsor, come talk to me, I’m always willing, I’m leaving in 2 months, but I will meet with you. Your part, in that, is mustering the courage to walk up to me, or someone else, and ask. Get active in service work, it’ll change your life. Chapter 7 then, is all about how to do that, how to work with others effectively.

Step 1, I surrendered to the fact that I’m an alcoholic addict, with the two fold malady, of mind and body, it sound simple, it isn’t. I have a mind that fights the disease, telling me I don’t have it, but a final surrender had to be made. Step 2, coming to believe in God, step 3, turning everything over to Him. It’s a radical program of action.

So my life totally changed. I became active at my protestant church, I got more and more involved, and fell in love with Jesus and the 12 steps. And once turning my life over to God, I was baptized, me a junkie, can you believe that? At my one year anniversary I quit smoking cigarettes, because I knew it wasn't God’s will for me to smoke.

Then something radical happened. I had always wondered what I was suppose to be in life. You know “what do you want to be when you grow up?” No idea. As I attended meetings, spoke, helped others, shared my story, volunteered at church, read the bible non-stop this gift came to me from God: Your calling is to be a pastor Justin. Floored me completely.

I applied to Liberty University, astonishingly I was accepted. Transferred my credits from the UW.  Two years later I graduated magna cum laude with an associates degree and a bachelors degree in the study of Religion.

I asked God where he wanted me to lead, and by fate, I finally got a job, at a Salvation Army homeless shelter. At the shelter it was chaos. I held on for dear life in recovery, while trying to hold this super tough job. But through a lot of suffering God grew me. I started a recovery group for the people at the shelter. I did case-working with people. I handed out Bibles and prayed for people.

The old Justin that had died inside, that had crumbled, lost all hope, become a hollowed out shell was slowly coming back to life. And once I found that hope it grew like a garden in my heart. I wanted to help, I wanted to grow I wanted to reach others, I wanted to be like Jesus, I wanted to change the world.

I began attending the Salvation Army church, I started going to their camps and conferences and I fell in love with the mission of the Salvation Army to really meet people where they are and help them recover and be healed and know Jesus. So I applied for a ministry internship, and fate would again have it that I would get that internship, and be assigned to the TSA corps in Escanaba, Mi. 

I came terrified. Scared out of my wits. But I went because God was with me. I got into recovery, scared stiff, but clinging to recovery and clinging to God. I was so naive when I first got here about the demands of ministry. But thanks to the support I had in the area, people caring for me, sharing with me, supporting me, being there at meetings, I kept moving forward. I started a bible study at bishop noa nursing home, I started doing home visits with the elderly at our church, I learned how to preach the gospel, and do social services and distribute food. What an amazing journey.

So here I am today, about 4 and a half years clean and sober. And my new life is just beginning. And you can have that too, if you’re here in your first few months, in your first few years, your whole life can become a testament to the love and guidance of God. But you have to do the footwork, you have got to work those 12 steps thoroughly, and practice them in your life. You can do it, not by your own strength and resolve, but by the power of God.

4 and half years, my friends, is not that long. I’m just starting in recovery. In 2 months I head to Chicago for two years of seminary. And if I were to go to Chicago and stop attending recovery groups, in a few short weeks, maybe a few months, I would relapse, and die on the streets of the big city. That’s a fact. I can’t let my guard down. But I believe, that I will continue in recovery, and hopefully continue to stay sober, one day at a time.

Ultimately I've found that recovery, through the twelve steps is a gift and instruction provided to the least of these, the debilitated junkies, addicts, and alcoholics by non-other than Jesus Christ the timeless savior of the world.  He makes himself known in recovery groups just as well as churches.  Many are not immediately willing to accept that reality of the twelve steps, but it's written all over them: Jesus Christ is Lord and His instructions on living set junkies free.  Junkies just like you and me. 

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