I grew up in a house with a lot of abuse. I saw my parents get into physical fights, and you know women usually get the brunt of it. My mom was addicted to alcohol and my dad to prescription pills.
It’s almost like my home situation predicted who I would become, like it predicted that I would have to battle to overcome addiction.
Struggle with Identity
I’m not sure if it was the abuse that I witnessed or the environment I grew up in, but I always struggled with the idea of identity. I always felt like I was living between two worlds. In one world I wore dew rags and jerseys down to my knees. I was flaunting the latest Air Force 1s, 2s and Reeboks. In the other — my grandparents’ neighborhood of Crossville, TN — where I spent the summers playing at the youth center, I looked like all the other kids around me, but they didn’t make me feel that way.
Where I grew up, I was in the minority – a white kid in a black neighborhood. In Crossville, I was a white kid among other white kids. Even still, I never felt like I belonged. The people always made me feel like an outsider. My parents and I eventually moved to Crossville, and this feeling of not-quite-fitting-in followed me for the next 7 years.
In my quest to fit in, I kicked it with just about everybody: the rock ‘n’ roll crowd freshman year, the rap crowd later. I could even hang with the guys on the golf course. Through it all, I was trying to find my identity. Later, I learned I could only find my true identity through my relationship with Jesus Christ.
I remember being at a party my junior year of high school. The music was playing, people were laughing and joking. All of a sudden, it got quiet when several friends asked me if I could rap. I felt my mouth open and the words spilled out before I could stop them, “Of course!” I said confidently. I started rapping with another guy at the party. It was okay, but I wasn’t about to get signed to any major label with the performance. More than anything else, that moment opened my mind to the possibility I could be a part of that world. I was hooked!
I formed a rap group called D&T with a friend. After a bit, we cut our first demo CD. Man! We thought we were doing something big! Later, we would go on to record some music with a professional producer.
Why not get in on the game?
Drugs played a major role in my story. By high school, I started smoking marijuana and doing pain pills, like hydrocodone. After a while, I figured, why not get in on the game, and make some money too? So I started selling. Shortly after, I got arrested. My grandfather bailed me out of jail, and I was put on probation. But this didn’t change things for me. After another run-in with the law and graduating to harder drugs, like Roxicodone, I decided I needed to make a change.
I wasn’t searching for God, but I’m sure He was searching for me. At the time, I didn’t know much about Him. I had no idea how to connect with Him so I used what I had. I took a Bible and cautiously put my hand on top. With all sincerity, I swore to God that I would stop smoking marijuana and taking pain pills. Surprisingly, it actually worked for a while.
First, I stopped taking pain pills, then cigarettes and finally marijuana. For a couple of months, I made a few life changes: a job at a fast food restaurant, student at Community College, no longer taking illegal substances. But I soon learned that the Christian life is nothing without Christ. I learned that I could not overcome this addiction without Him. I needed daily prayer, Bible study and sharing my faith to gain strength, and I didn’t have any of that!
Bargaining with God
Wanting to stay true to my word, I started bargaining with God. I said, “God, I told you I wouldn’t smoke this illegal marijuana, but I didn’t say anything about the legal stuff.” After teaching God a lesson or two in logic, I decided it wasn’t about overcoming the addiction, it was about staying within the limits of the law so I started smoking legal marijuana. But I learned, there’s no making deals with God. On top of the legal marijuana, I started partying hard, doing legal ecstasy, small pain pills….then, larger dose pain pills…then, regular marijuana, until finally, I returned to dealing drugs.
What amazes me about my life is that God saw value in me even at my lowest point. Even while I was slinging and using drugs, He continuously reached out to me. He longed to have a relationship with me. He longed to see me gain victory over the addiction. It’s only looking back that I can see that clearly. Throughout my life He put people in my path to pull me closer to Him. Two of those people were Joe (not his real name) and my grandfather.
Joe was a former Seventh-day Adventist, who was addicted to pain pills his doctor prescribed after a car accident. Eventually Joe started using and selling pills. After selling and using together, we became friends. Then, one day, it hit him! He had an epiphany, “I don’t belong out here!” He told me. He wanted to get clean, and he decided to do it in the Chattanooga area.
I want a better life!
I looked at Joe making a change in his life. I turned the idea over in my mind. I wanted a better life! I wanted to be free from my addiction to pain pills! And I was familiar with the Chattanooga area so it wouldn’t be too much of a shift in my life.
While I knew the place he was headed was God-oriented, my primary motivation was to get clean and have a better life. Getting closer to God seemed mildly appealing, but it wasn’t my driver. Sometimes in life we have selfish motives in getting closer to God, but in His wisdom, He’s able to use them.
Another person I’m sure God specially placed in my life is my grandfather. During the time I was on the road to recovery, my grandfather (my dad’s father) was in his early 80s. He continued driving a truck to help support me, even at the peril of his own health. One day, he even broke down on the side of the road while driving the truck. Despite the stress it must have put on him, he remained supportive of me! So much so that people often asked him, “Why are you still helping that boy after everything he’s done?” He never gave up on me! He later told me that right before I gave my life to God and joined the church, he had a lot of people praying for me. I know there’s power in prayer because his prayers were answered! I praise God for that! I know God put him in my life.
A real encounter with God
While getting clean, I stayed at Wildwood for a bit, but eventually decided to go to M.E.E.T. (Missionary Education & Evangelistic Training) Ministry in Huntingdon, TN to put some distance between me and all of the influences I had in the area. It was there at M.E.E.T. Ministry that I had a real encounter with God!
One day, I was so desperate to get high I told my grandfather to put some money in my account so I could buy some legal marijuana. I told him if he didn’t, I would leave M.E.E.T. Ministry, which meant leaving recovery. Thinking back, it hurts to think how rude I was to him. Longing to see me get better, he put the money in my account.
I got the money, left the bank and headed to the gas station. While driving, my car ran out of gas, and I began to coast down the highway. As I was coasting, the red and blue lights of a cop car pulled up behind me. I steered my car into the gas station parking lot. After explaining the situation to the cop, he let me go. What other roadblocks could God put in my way? No money, no gas, getting stopped by the cops….I bulldozed over them all, determined to have my way!
Battling with Addiction
I got the legal marijuana, smoked a bit and returned to the facility. I lied to the people at M.E.E.T. Ministry when they asked if I had weed on me. After lying to them, I snuck off and went to get high. While smoking, my heart started beating out of control! My mind told me emphatically, “YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE!” I tried to call my mom, but my hand wouldn’t move. In that moment, I could see myself, heading to my grave. I knew in the bottom of my heart that I was not in relationship with God. In that moment, with true sincerity, I called out, “Jesus!” I managed to gasp for breath; my heart eventually slowed beat by beat until it returned to a normal rhythm. For the first time, God had my full attention!
Even after this moment of deliverance, I continued my struggle for identity. I started to question if life was worth living. Depressing thoughts started to taunt me. I wrestled with taking my life, thinking who would miss me any way. In the bottom of my pit of sadness and self-loathing, two friends gave me a book called Steps to Christ. They told me to read the chapter called “The Privilege of Prayer.” I took the book to my room and got on my knees and said, “God, if you are real and if you are there, if you are omnipresent, open your eyes and your ears and speak to me Lord.” The next thing I remember is flipping the Bible open to 2 Chronicles 7:15, which says, “Now my eyes shall be open and my ears attentive to prayers made in this place.” I sincerely feel that God spoke to me in that moment through His word.
Even though I’ve been through this journey, I’m always reminded how human I am. I’m reminded that I’m prone to certain sins and weaknesses. For 10 weeks in the early part of 2014, I had a relapse with drugs and the life I used to live. It reminds me of Adam in the Bible. When he sinned, he ran from God. In that moment, I did the same. However, during those two and a half months, God still had His hand on me! By the end of March, I came to my senses and realized, again, that God’s way is the only way to peace, happiness and eternal rest.
My new identity
I believe God has called me to bring other people to Him with my story and experience. I now know who I am. I have a new identity in Jesus Christ. I know there will be struggles, trials and temptations, but I’m committed to my relationship with God. I’m committed to holding on to God, knowing that He will continue to have his hand on me.
Maybe you’ve had your share of struggles. Through it all, realize that God is with you and that he has not given up on you.
Even though I grew up in a house of abuse, I don’t need to abuse. Even though I grew up surrounded by fighting, I realized “the Lord will fight for you, all you have to do is stand still and watch.” (Exodus 14:14)
My situation tried to predict that I would always be a prisoner to addiction, but God re-wrote the script. God helped me in my journey as I was overcoming addiction. Where there was hopelessness, God replaced it with hope. Where there was addiction, God replaced it with freedom. Where there was longing, God replaced it with fullness. Where there was despair, God replaced it with love.
I have a new identity. I am a new man in Jesus Christ!
If you’re in the process of overcoming addiction, be encouraged about the positive decision you’re taking to take control of your life. You are not alone in your journey to overcome addiction. Life Line focuses on crisis support here in Australia. In the United States, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is a good resource to help you get started on your journey to overcoming addiction.