Monday, January 27, 2014

Help Me Decimate Stigma and Share Hope

Stigma is a two-edged sword for those who struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, even after they have found recovery. Not only is there the judgment directed at those who are in recovery, but the shame that comes from hiding struggles out of fear of what other people will think and say. Our goal is to help reduce that stigma and educate communities on the fact that addiction treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.

September is National Recovery Month. National Recovery Month highlights individuals who have reclaimed their lives and are living happy and healthy lives in long-term recovery and also honors the prevention, treatment, and recovery service providers who make recovery possible. Together, we can spread the hope of recovery and reduce the stigma in our community. It will take making the community more aware of those in recovery and the successes they are celebrating. We cannot do this unless we cross lines by having multiple agencies and recovery organizations work together so that our voice is so loud it cannot be ignored.

Community awareness will take a joint effort of passionate organizations and individuals working together to hold events and celebrations. The vision is to have multiple events in 2014 where individuals in recovery volunteer and give back in their community, events where they simply go out and have fun as well as events that raise public awareness and educate the community so they are more informed and less judgmental. We will be forming committees to help plan:

·         5K Recovery Run/Walk 10K Run to be held in September
·         2nd Annual Recover the River float trip on the James River to pick up trash on the banks in September
·         2nd Annual Recovery in the Park BBQ and Fun Day for those who are in recovery or work with people in recovery, thanking them for their hard work in September 
·         A multidisciplinary forum at Missouri State to educate students as well as individuals in our community better on substance abuse, mental illnesses and recovery for recovery month
·         Bimonthly Community Service Events giving back to the communities we live in

This past Saturday was the first meeting. I introduced my vision for ways to reduce stigma and celebrate recovery for the year 2014. We discussed Recovery Day at Hammonds Field. It will be on Friday, the 29th of August at the last Cardinal's home game and be a kick off for Recovery Month in September. I am super excited about this event and will need all the help I can get selling tickets. The more tickets we sell the better. It is for people in recovery, their families and friends, people who work with those who struggle with a mental and/or substance use disorder and those who believe in reducing the stigma they face. The tickets will be available for $10 and people can make tax deductible contributions to sponsor families and individuals that might not otherwise be able to come due to finances. Whoever sells the most tickets can either throw out the first pitch or nominate someone to throw the first pitch.

An enthusiastic team formed immediately and stayed after the meeting to discuss the 5K/10K event. This event will require the most planning. The name and date for the run are currently being discussed and the current team members have already been exchanging thoughts and ideas. We will have to wait until the next meeting to hear more about how that event planning is going. We should have a date in the next meeting but it was looking like the first Saturday in September.  

Several other committees are also in the formation stage:
There is a plan for a multidisciplinary forum to be held at Missouri State during National Recovery Month. We have had several professors that have agreed to take the lead on that event. 
The 2nd annual Recovery in the Park BBQ this year and the committee for that event also was started. 
The 2nd annual Recover the River Float and Clean Day committee began formation. There is also a member of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks involved with promoting the event.
 The community service projects were discussed but will need further discussion. Our hope is to have a large scale community service project that will be done every other month throughout the year helping The Kitchen, Victory Mission, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, local schools, OACAC, Convoy of Hope, the Springfield Park and Springfield Greenways to name a few of those discussed. 
We had representatives there from multiple agencies and organizations, including Celebrate Recovery, Living Free, several recovery organizations that prefer to remain anonymous, Alternative Opportunities Treatment Services, Higher Ground, Hand Extended Outreach, Jericho Commission, Ozark Counseling Center, Glendale Christian Church, Ridgecrest Baptist Church, James River Assembly, North Point, DWI Court, Drug Court, the RPG Grant, Better Life in Recovery, Missouri Recovery Network, Missouri State University, Evangel University, an attorney, and several local business owners.

I was also invited to share the presentation with the Recovery Coalition of the Ozarks on February 3rd, which I am super excited to do. I am so ready to start sharing hope and destroying stigma here in Southwest Missouri. I know that other areas are doing it well and I cannot wait until we are getting more positive publicity than negative publicity from the press when it comes to stories on people who struggle with a mental and/or substance use disorder.

We need sponsors, donations, volunteers and other miscellaneous help. Our next meeting is on Saturday, February 22nd from 1-3. If you are interested in filling a need or helping organize or know of someone who is please get a hold of me. If you need me to come and talk about this with your group or organization locally let me know and I am there. Together we can make 2014 a year that encourages and gives hope to those who struggle with mental and/or substance use disorder and begin decimating the stigma they face on a daily basis!

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Apologize (A formal apology)

Last night I got out of my car to return a Red Box movie. The car next to me had it's stereo pumping with no driver inside. He/She had gone in to get something, leaving their car running with the windows down and the stereo on full blast. The music coming from the stereo was some old school chopped and screwed remix that I used to listen to back in the day. I heard it, and I was instantly embarrassed for the families pulling up with children due to the language and subject matter of the song. That embarrassment led me to write this apology letter to you today.

You see, pulling up beside you with my stereo blasting while I listened to music was what I did. My music was about drugs, sex and violence. It contained the "f" bomb in a place of importance based on the frequency it was repeated. I would have windows down and sit next to you at a red light, or leave my car running while I ran inside somewhere just so you and your family would have to listen. I could care less about you and yours. I didn't even care about me. This is one of my more minor offenses, but I apologize.

I was not a bad looking kid in school, and I took advantage of it. When we were in a relationship I was always on the look out for the next cute girl. I knew I was up to no good and headed for even worse things in the future and I tried to bring you down with me. I cheated on you, used you, lied to you in order to get what I wanted and treated you as unimportant compared to my friends, my drugs and my drinking. The truth is, when I met you all I saw was a challenge and another notch on my bedpost. For all the times I dumped you for another girl, cheated on you with your friends and sisters, used you as a one night stand and lied to you about anything and everything I apologize.

I was a drug user, drug dealer, alcoholic and all around party guy. I would serve you extra strong drinks to get you drunker quicker so that the money would start rolling freer. I got you high for the first time and encouraged you to try harder drugs so that I could make money. I got you high for free when you were trying to get clean in return for your Narcotic's Anonymous key tag. I only gave you 40 cents on the dollar for food stamps in trade for drugs and I knew that you had a family at home to feed. I was greedy, and the more you got high the more I could get high and still have a pocket full of cash. I ruined your life and for that I am sorry.

I beat you up over money. Just because you owed me cash was no reason to hurt you. That time you tried to short me was no reason to do the damage that I did. I thought that I had to make an example and I went way too far to do it. Finally, just because you were with that cute girl I wanted was no reason to lay in to you, but I did that too. Looking back, all I can say is I should never have been that mean to you.

I mocked you because you believed in God. I used my lack of believe and faith in God to make me feel superior to you and I was never shy, especially as I got older and more bitter, to let you know it. I liked to poke fun at you about your fairy tale belief and blind faith. I took pride in finding you ill equipped to combat my agnosticism and knowledge. I tried to shake your faith and sometimes I did. Unfortunately, that happened often and I do not have the words to express my regret.

As I approach the 5 year anniversary of my recovery, I look at the carnage I left behind. I chased money, power, sex, drugs, pain........anything to escape my past. I prided myself on never hitting you because "I didn't hit girls" yet I would psychologically and emotionally abuse you non-stop, never realizing that my form of abuse was worse than hitting you. I took food stamps from you, never caring about the starving mouths at home because you were laid off and those food stamps were all you had to feed your family. I got you high for the first time, not caring that it led down a road that ended with you going to prison. Sometimes you died, either by your own hand, someone else's, an overdose or a car wreck after you left the party. I guess that makes it pretty hard for me to apologize to you know, but I am sorry.

I always justified my way of living. After all, you chose to be around me. You chose to be my friend. You chose to date me. You chose to be in debt to me. It was never my fault. You should have seen me coming. How could you not know who and what I was? I never pretended to be anything other than what I was, or did I? Besides, you would have done it anyway, or would you? I could read you, I was smart, I talked fast and lived life even faster. I made it look fun and attractive. That allowed me to talk you into doing things you generally never would have. I got you to go further than you wanted to. I helped you graduate from wine coolers to whiskey, alcohol to marijuana, marijuana to methamphetamine and from putting it up your nose to putting it in your veins. For that I beg your forgiveness.

Not to make excuses but just to explain a little about me, I had some problems. I don't know if you know this, but I was sexually abused by my babysitter when I was 4 then 5 and 6 and onward. Then my mom left my dad the first week of 5th grade and I lived with her dad. He abused me. He beat me so bad a couple of times that he called in to school for an entire week and told them I was sick so they would not see the bruises. I became violent. I learned to embrace pain and not show my emotion. I learned how to hide my true feelings and only show people what I wanted them to see, or sometimes what I thought they wanted to see.

Then I found drugs. Marijuana was the first thing I tried, and it made me a little numb and for the first time put me in a crowd that I felt I fit in to. Just like that, I was hooked. It progressed, as it often does, and my use became daily and the experimentation began. I found bigger and badder things to do. Ultimately, I became addicted to more. More money, more drugs, more alcohol, more women, more fighting, more crime, more partying, more, more, more. It didn't matter what it was, as long as I could temporarily escape my life or numb myself to everything around me. I graduated from probation to house arrest to prison, from low self-esteem to self-loathing to hating myself to botched suicides and from drinking to doing drugs to dealing drugs to manufacturing them. Nothing was ever enough.

I hated who I was, I could not stand me and nothing I could do changed that. I hid it, as I always have. I would never let down those walls for you. Sometimes I would tell you I was opening up, but I was lying. I was just telling you what I thought you wanted to hear, just enough to keep you in my life. Then, my dad committed suicide almost 6 years ago. My drinking spiraled even further out of control I raged and struck out at anyone and everyone I could. I broke up with my son's mother. For a while I was not allowed to see my son, then could only see him for a couple of hours at the park a week with his maternal side all standing guard as if I would snatch him and run. The truth is, I probably would have if they wouldn't have been there.

Because of this chaos and turmoil, my whole world shifted in the right direction almost a year after my dad's death. His death and not seeing my son left me raw, hurting and unable to hide behind walls like I had always done before. I had tried everything else and life still sucked, so I decided to give God a chance. It was not intentional, but instead come out of a foxhole prayer I prayed one night. Not going to lie, it was pretty awkward at first. I did not like church because it contained Christians. I hated Christians.  Christians were weak, fake, judgmental hypocrites that lived in fantasy land and there was no way I was going to drink their kool-aid. Then I found a group that changed my mind.

It was called Celebrate Recovery. It allowed me to work through my hurts, habits and hang ups while building relationships with God and the people around me. Through that program I found a relationship with Christ. I began to build real relationships with positive people that cared about me not what they could use me for. I learned to like who I was and realize that if not for my past I would not be the person I am today. Soon, I had hope again. The 31st of January will be the 5 year anniversary of drinking that kool-aid and entering into recovery. I am giving my testimony that week, and I wish you could actually be there to hear it. But I digress.

I hope you know that I truly am sorry. That is why I have put it on paper for anyone and everyone to read. Words cannot accurately express the depth of my apology, as I have damaged you in unfathomable ways. I know words are not enough, especially when put to paper and not spoken. Honestly, you are many and live all over the world. Sometimes I do not know your name, and due to head trauma and lifestyle there are months sometimes years of my life I do not remember so I would have missed some of the ways I had hurt you. I figured that writing it and posting it was the best way to make a blanket apology for all that I have done to you.

This apology is not just to you, though. I realize you were a son, daughter, mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, sister, brother and friend to other people and I apologize to them as well. If it is any consolation my days of being a soldier for Satan are over. I turned traitor and went to the other side.  I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope. Five years ago I decided to make my life a living amends; a dealer of hope reaching out to those who are suffering and struggling and I have been doing it ever since.

I know that does not change what I did in the past. It cannot make the wrongs right, but it is a start. I also know this apology doesn't change everything I did to you and the people you love. Those things all happened and I cannot take them back. But I cannot change the past, only my present and by proxy my future. That may not be enough for you. I understand you may never be able to forgive me after all I did to you and the people you care about. That is fair and those feelings you have are valid. That said, I hope this letter has found you doing well and living your life to the fullest.

It is my desire that some day you find it in your heart to forgive me if you cannot forgive me today. In the widest stretch of my imagination you read this then reach out to me and let me know how you are doing. You let me know this was heard and that you don't hate me. You might even tell me you forgive me. In closing, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Marijuana: Colorado, Nancy Grace and Legalization.....oh my!

On the first day of January, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana usage. The voters came to the polls and their voices were heard. They wanted to be able to smoke marijuana.  That is of course their choice. I disagree with that, but there are ways to disagree and ways not to. I hope to disagree with the reasoning by providing arguments later that look at how marijuana legalization is predicated on misinformation. Nancy Grace recently did this the wrong way. 
Nancy Grace said that legalizing pot for recreational use was a bad idea. I agree. She then said that anyone who disagreed with her was, “lethargic, sitting on the sofa eating chips. Pot, it makes you fat and lazy.” She is labeling all people that use marijuana long-term as being fat and lazy. That is a misnomer, as there are skinny people who smoke cannabis. It does have a tendency to make people lose motivation and eat more. But not everybody, so that was a gross stereotype she used.
I personally feel that the voting may have been different in Colorado were it  not for the lack of factual reporting frequently done by organizations such as NORML as well as the grassroots movements that have been instrumental in the legalization of marijuana. They have statements and arguments they make which are based on fallacies and half-truths. Here are some of the more common ones:
Arguments for Legalization and the rational arguments against them
1.       Marijuana is not addictive – This is entirely not true. It may be less addictive than other drugs, but long-term usage of cannabis by people can result in addiction. There are physiological indicators of detoxification in long term users: irritability, sleeplessness, cravings and anxiety. Not to mention the clients I have had personally who would use knowing that they would go to jail for smoking, “but I could not help it. I have to have it.” I have even had a smoker sign their parental rights away because they could not stop smoking. That said, marijuana is not as addictive as some of the other drugs out there, but less addictive does not equate to non-addictive.
2.        Marijuana is just a plant – Yes it is just a plant, but people are not smoking ditch weed that grows wild in the woods. They are instead smoking cannabis from plants that have been genetically engineered to have high Delta 8 and Delta 9 contents. Delta 8 and Delta 9 are the chemicals that cause the “high” experienced by users. In the same way, cocaine and heroin are just plants. But they can be engineered chemically to get people high.
3.       Marijuana never killed anyone – Not directly but people die never the less. Example locally was a teenager who was shot on his porch in 2013 over a ¼ ounce of marijuana ($25-$50).
4.       Would you rather have someone behind the wheel drunk or high – Once again this argument pretends that there is not another choice. I choose a driver under the influence of neither. Just because something is less dangerous than something else does not mean that it is not dangerous.
5.       Marijuana is not dangerous like other drugs – Marijuana has been proven in tests to impact memory and learning. Does this happen in all people? I don’t know. I do know that cigarettes greatly increase the risk of getting cancer but not everyone who smokes cigarettes will get cancer. It just makes it more likely. And speaking of cancer………..
6.       Studies show marijuana cures cancer – Than obviously no one has cancer in Amsterdam, right? And of course no one who smokes marijuana has gotten cancer, right? Wrong to both. Marijuana does not cure cancer. If marijuana cured cancer then the big pharmaceutical companies would be all over it trying to get a patent on a chemical because they would make billions! Not that this is conclusive or well researched at all, but I have friends who are regular marijuana smokers and yet they have developed cancer.
7.       Marijuana is medicine - There are some chemical compounds, such as CMB, that have proven to be effective when working with various maladies. There are medicines already being used that treat various things like nausea and pain that are derived from marijuana. They have been FDA approved because they have medicinal use. Unfortunately most of the chemicals in cannabis don’t have medicinal value that we know of. In fact, some of them are bad for you as we see next. It is also impossible to know the amount of CMB and THC that one is getting when the chemical is smoked, which the FDA would need to know in order to be able to legalize it for medicinal use. Also, when looking at the studies where marijuana is smoked it seems very biased to be positive. I would ask several questions: What was the sample size? Were the findings statistically significant? Were the benefits subjective or objective? Were there groups that used a placebo, current treatment and another using nothing?? After all, when I am smoking marijuana I know it is marijuana and if I want to get high I would say it helped me feel better. 
8.       Marijuana isn’t bad for you like cigarettes – Marijuana contains over 50 carcinogens. A carcinogen is defined as a substance or agent causing cancer. People smoke marijuana unfiltered and hold it in longer than they do when smoking cigarettes so there is more time for the negative chemicals to negatively impact the lining of the lungs. There have been studies done linking cannabis to increased risk of bladder cancer, testicular cancer and lung cancer.  
9.       Marijuana legalization will cut down on crime – Gangs, distributors and the Mexican Mafia will be able to undercut severely the prices of legal, taxed marijuana. Because of this, they will continue to deal and may even increase their business once people who smoke recreationally become regular users and they chronic users. In Colorado people are waiting in 30 minute to 5 hour lines to buy it and it costs on average $64 an 1/8th. That is $512 an ounce and $8,192 a pound. There are some cheap places selling it for $40-50 an 1/8th, which is still $5,120-$6,400 a pound. To break that down, I used to get 10 pounds of marijuana delivered to me from Texas for $5000 -$12,000 depending on quality. That is $500-1,200 a pound. I could go get it myself and it was much cheaper. Tell me that with this type of money to be made the gangs and cartels won’t be all over it? It could possibly increase crime.
10.   It will cut down on the allure of using for youth and they will use less – Yes, as that has worked really well for alcohol and youth not using. Right now prescription pills are the biggest risk for youth, because of their accessibility. People at least keep pills in medicine cabinets or on them. Marijuana will be even easier for them to get because most people I knew who smoked keep it in a Frisbee or on a tray under their couch. We will make it easier for youth to obtain and it being legal will make it more obtainable and more socially acceptable. That sucks because chronic use in youth has proven negative consequences.
This is just a partial list of common arguments that are used and that in my experience and the experience of most in the field I work in that I have talked to have are not either honest or relevant. I hope that if nothing else this opens up some dialogue as I would be interested to hear other’s experiences and thoughts on this. Unfortunately, personal experience is considered anecdotal when it comes to research. Are there people who learn better while tripping acid? There may be, I personally knew one.  One, and that is not statistically significant and the long term consequences were not good.
In closing, thanks for reading and please make any comments, opinions and/or feedback cordial and G-Rated.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Testimony for 2014 Celebrate Recovery

My name is David and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who has been blessed with many trials and tribulations to work through. I guess that you could say that I am in recovery from the consequences of living in an imperfect, sinful world. We will get to all of that as we go. My testimony starts off the way far too many testimonies begin.
One of my first memories is being molested by a baby sitter from our church when I was 4. I was ridiculed and made fun of while being molested; laughed at and told how disgusting and bad I was. I remember while my parents were reading an article in the paper they had talked about a boy getting touched by an adult and how disgusting and sick it was. That is why I never told my parents. I didn’t want them to know I was disgusting, too.
Growing up my father was an alcoholic. My mother left him when I was in 5th grade and sent us to MO with her dad. My grandfather was highly abusive. I thought that I deserved it because he had found out about me being disgusting and sick. He would beat me than not let me go to school for a week, calling and telling the school I was helping out on the farm instead of letting me go to school and risk anyone seeing the cuts and bruises. I found out that by laughing at him when he was hitting me he would wear himself out on me and my brother would not get beat so I learned to laugh when I felt pain. I never told because he threatened to hurt my sister if I did.
Going to school, I felt different from other kids. They had not been molested, they were not living with their grandparents and they did not get beat at home. I felt less than, inadequate and afraid that anyone would find out who I was. I found that picking on kids less popular than me made me feel better and accepted. I became a bully in 5th grade. I would get beat at home than would beat up other kids. Because of the physical/sexual abuse and my fighting several things happened: I never felt that I fit in, I learned to hide how I felt and who I was, I saw several counselors, I learned to embrace pain, I lost all hope and became agnostic.
In 7th Grade my dad got custody of me. I moved back to Illinois. He worked overnights. My first weekend I was walking the town and ran into some kids on the square. They asked me if I had ever smoked marijuana, and I told them yes. They passed me a joint and for the first time I could remember, I felt I fit in. The next night I went to a party with them. It was the first time I got drunk, did cocaine, tripped acid, kissed a girl and slept with a girl.
I learned that if I stayed high, slept with the hot girls and beat people up I could numb my emotions, temporarily escape my past and feel like I fit in.  I began smoking marijuana and eating mini-thins daily and drinking, being promiscuous and fighting on the weekends.
I moved back to MO with my mom senior year after getting my stomach pumped due to alcohol poisoning and multiple legal problems chasing me. I was such a knucklehead that I moved to Southwest Missouri to get away from drugs. The problem was that although I changed locales, I had not changed. I brought me with me. I soon found methamphetamine and dropped out of high school because it got in my way of partying. I continued to get into fights and break the law. At 17 I was on probation.
My probation officer tried everything to no avail: probation, community service, scared straight, house arrest, counseling, rehab and county jail. I went on the run for 6 months then turned myself in. At 20 I went to prison. While there I accomplished 3 things: I learned to be better criminal, got my GED and turned 21.
Two hours after I was paroled I was drunk. I used drugs intravenously for the first time the night I was released. Soon after I was dealing drugs and involved in the manufacturing of meth.
At 22 I flew my car 97 feet off of a cliff, getting 32 feet in the air. I died several times in the ambulance and was prescribed opiates for my injuries. By the time the doctor took me off of opiates months later I was addicted to them as well.
At 23 I got married and left a month later due to issues we were having. I found myself back on probation for possession with intent to deliver. At 24 I attempted suicide but my sister happened to come over and find me unconscious in a pool of blood in my bathroom. She called an ambulance. If you can’t tell, I lived. I was trying to find a way out of my addiction and depression and that was the only thing I had not tried. I was so unsuccessful I couldn’t even do that right.
As a side note I have a history of mental illness diagnosis: Bipolar disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety, major depressive episodes with psychotic features and antisocial personality disorder. 
At 28 I went to residential rehab for the first time. It took me a month after I got out before I relapsed. That 2 month period was the longest I had been clean since I had started using at 12. I needed money and only knew one way to get it quickly. The voice in the back of my head told me I could sell and not use. As usual, the voice lied. That voice led me from one disaster to the next by telling me what I wanted to hear. That is one of the things that makes me an addict.
In the 13 months my relapse lasted I overdosed 3 times, left a trail of used people and shot someone at a drug deal gone badly. He lived and that actually made me mad. I was an evil person back then, a soldier for Satan.  I have holes in my body I was not born with. I did not get them being a nice guy or being around nice people. I moved in with my mother in Springfield from Branson to get my life in order, leaving all I owned behind me. As usual, I ran away but brought me with along.
At 30 I started college and was working in restaurants. I was soon drinking every night, shooting steroids, still getting into fights, being promiscuous and living my life by my rules as an Agnostic. If this was all there was I had better party it up and enjoy life now! My best day consisted of waking up to my alarm and not the shakes because I needed a drink. After this life I knew that there was nothing so I became a hedonist and chased the next rush or conquest.
An Associates, 2 bachelors and in the middle of a master’s degree later I was still an alcoholic; running from my problems and reveling in my character defects. I got into fights almost weekly, cussed constantly, slept with anyone, constantly looked at porn on the internet while smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I saw a dominatrix on a regular basis to get beaten because I felt that I deserved the pain. I was working at a substance abuse facility while drinking until I blacked out every night. I always said I hated Christians because they were hypocrites, yet I was the biggest hypocrite I knew. Looking back it makes since, as I hated myself.
I looked into the mirror and did not like the person I saw, but I could always look at others and see I wasn’t as bad as them. I was not where I wanted to be but was happy I was not where I had been. Because of that I thought I was better. After all, it was only alcohol and a few legal addictions.
The month before I turned 36 my father committed suicide. Several months later I broke up with the mother of my son. She would not let me see him at first. I struggled. I was out of hope, and my job was to give hope to my clients. I began to feel that I was a fraud and they were all going to find out. I started to look at the people I knew who were always happy. I looked for people who had the most hope. It turned out to be a Christian couple I knew through work, Nate and Becca.
One day I broke down and told Nate what was going on. He invited me to come to Church with them. I said no. He asked again several weeks later, and I said no. Then the following week his wife invited me to church for BBQ.  I love to eat, so I said okay. The first thing I remember was the music. They played a song by Third Day called “Cry out to Jesus.” It was a Christian song that talked about addiction in the lyrics. For the first time in a church I did not feel judged for who I was or how I was dressed. Then I heard they had a recovery meeting called Celebrate Recovery, and the next week I checked it out.
I came a week or two a month for the next 6 months. I was not drinking the kool-aid. I did not really believe, but I was around positive people and I hoped it would rub off. I also heard several things that stuck in my mind. I really liked Paul became of the things that he said.
Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I was not the only sinner in the church. Instead, it was a church full of people who sinned.
 Romans 7:14,19 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For what I do is not the good I want to do, no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing" I could totally relate to Paul, like he was my long lost twin. He had struggles too and had trouble stopping.
About a year later, I had been drinking heavily. As I pulled out of the bar to go home, I had a police car zoom up behind me. I immediately began to pray. “God, if you let me not get pulled over, I will go to church every Sunday.” I turned and the officer turned with me and I continued to pray, “I promise, if you let me not get pulled over I will go to church every Sunday and I will never drink again.” I turned and the police officer turned with me again. Every time that happened I added something else. By the time I turned onto my street I was going to start going to church every Sunday, quit drinking, drugging, smoking cigarettes, cussing, fighting and having premarital sex.
As I turned onto my street, the police officer continued going straight. I passed out in my car when I got home. I remember waking up in the morning and going to bed. I woke up late that afternoon. I had plans to go to my friend house to watch the Super Bowl. I remember getting up and lying in bed trying to piece together the night before. I would generally black out and not remember the previous night, but this time I remembered. I remembered making the deal as I prayed, and the police car driving by after following me half-way across Springfield. That kept playing over and over in my mind. 
I sat and thought about what I was going to do. Finally, I got into my car to go. I can remember thinking that there was no way I could go to Josh’s house and keep my part of the bargain, because everybody there would be drinking and smoking cigarettes. I headed over there anyway. I knew that I had made a deal with God, and that God had kept his part of the bargain. I also knew that I had smoked cigarettes for almost 26 years and been using drugs and alcohol for 24 years. I could not say no. After all, the voice in my head kept telling me I couldn’t do it. Literally, there was a voice in my head telling me I might as well drink because I was going to fail anyway.
As I was driving to my friend’s house I was flipping through radio stations when I heard a song start that I had never heard before. As it played, I started to cry. I had to pull over due to the tears. As soon as I heard the words, “I wish you could see me know, I wish I could show you how I’m not who I was,” I knew that I would never smoke again. At that moment I knew that I would never drink or do drugs again. The voice in my head changed. God spoke to me, and I heard a voice in my head start repeating over and over again, “You are not who you were yesterday. You are changed. You can do this. You never have to be who you were again.” 
God had kept his part of the bargain, so I have attempted to keep mine. I am blessed to say that I have not gotten into a fight outside of the ring, been promiscuous, drank, drugged or smoked a cigarette since that night. I may have cursed a few times, but no one is perfect. I have become a firm believer in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all through Him who gives me strength." As an Agnostic I tried everything the world had to offer: medication, rehab, probation, prison, psychiatrists, psychologists, anonymous programs all to no avail. One foxhole prayer and my life has never been the same…….in amazing ways.
Do I miss the drugs and the lifestyle sometimes? You bet. I can honestly say that I loved drugs and I loved the way they made me feel. I hate the person they turned me into. I never want to be that person again. I am no longer obsessed with drugs, but the desire is still there on occasion. I have prayed for the desire to be lifted, and it has not happened. I find solace in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, "there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
I have discovered over time what I had been doing wrong and why I had failed so many times. As an Agnostic, when I woke up in the morning without a hangover and a cute girl beside me I knew that was the best my life was ever going to get. Through Christ I have something more to look forward to. No matter how bad my day gets, I know that if I continue to live my life guided by the Holy Spirit that I have an eternity of bliss promised to me. Because of that promise, I can make it through everything that this world has to throw at me.
A month after I committed my life to Christ I was first contacted by the woman who is now my wife on E-Harmony, Julie. Christ had to wait until I was ready to place the woman of my dreams in my life. A month after I met Julie I was baptized. These are just a couple of the ways my life has changed.
My life has changed because I see it differently. I see my life as a gift from God, and how I live my life my thank you to Him. I lived years slapping God in the face, and I will never do that again. I have found a purpose for my life that I never knew was possible because there is more to life than just me and my immediate pleasure.   
I once heard it said that going to Church no more makes you a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car. I completely agree with that, and I want to be known for my actions, not my words. The 10 commandments are not multiple choice. My actions today speak of who I am, not who I was. I am a child of Christ, my life a gift from God.  People should be able to see that when they are around me. It starts with doing community service and sharing the gospel with others.
That is why the 12th step is by far my favorite step. It is the pay check at the end of a long and hard work week. Let no one tell you that recovery is easy, but it is worth it. You have to be true to yourself and to Christ, and realize that only by walking the walk can you truly influence others. James 1:27 says that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Because of this I go out and speak at churches, seminars, groups, trainings, schools, colleges and in communities about how addiction begins, how it progresses, the dangers it presents as well as the fact that there is a Better Life In Recovery; which is the name of the non-profit and the documentary I am working on that will reach out to youth and young adults who have struggles with the sole purpose of giving them hope and letting them know they are not alone in their hurts, habits and hang-ups.
I want others to see how accepting Christ is and come to faith in Him. As Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.”   They can only see loving side of Christ if it is displayed by us as Christians and it all starts with me. Christ has given me an amazing son and daughter, a beautiful wife who has always put Christ first her whole life, a job I enjoy and a story that can be shared with others of how rock bottom can be transformed into a life worth living.
I understand why people feel they are not worthy of Christ’s grace. I remember when I went to my pastor and explained to him about this incredible female I had met and how I was not worthy of her because I sinned frequently in my past and was new to Christ while she had lived her entire life for God. I could not understand how this could be, and my pastor told me a story I will relate to you. It is a parable that Christ shared in Matthew about the landowner who hires men in the early morning to go and work his fields for a denarius, which was the common payment for a full day’s work. Three hours later he goes to the marketplace and gets more workers and sends them to his fields. Three hours later he does the same thing, then again three hours later and yet again two hours later. At the end of the day, he paid them all the same and the first hired grumbled about getting paid the same. The landowner told them to take their pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Are you envious because I am generous, he asked them. This parable was not at all about money, but was about God's grace. It means that no matter when in your life you heed God’s call, you will gain Eternal Life. So now, instead of focusing on what God has given others I focus on God's gracious benefits to me and I am thankful for all that have.
I have a life now through Christ that I never had without him. I can finally look in the mirror and love the person staring back at me because I was finally able to deal with my problems instead of trying to stay numb and escape them. Working through the steps actually allowed me to not only forgive others, but to finally forgive myself. After all, that was the person I hurt and hated the most.
I went from a drug addicted felon with no hope and no self-esteem to a Christian who shares with others the grace and hope that was shared with me. I like to say that I went From Dealing Dope to Dealing Hope. I can truly do all through him who strengthens me, and so can you. I would strongly encourage anyone considering Celebrate Recovery to look into it, and remember that it is a lifelong commitment. It worked for me and it will work for you.
It is not a magical cure; it needs to be actively worked on a daily basis. I hear some say they are recovered, and to me that says that they are done. I am in recovery. That means I will continue to work at this program, on myself, and for a better relationship with Christ on a daily basis. You see, I still get frustrated, still get sad, still feel guilty, still feel lonely and I do not always do the right thing, but I strive to be Christ like and try to ensure that each day I live my life will be better than the day before it.
I am no longer a hypocrite; I no longer hate or harbor resentments and anger. Instead I laugh, I cry, I love. I am quick to help and even quicker to forgive. What I once saw as weakness I now often see as strength. Some of those who were once my enemies have become my heroes. It is amazing how your outlook on life changes when you are in recovery.
Thank you for letting me share some of my experiences with you and how God has impacted my life and completely change the way I live it. In all honestly I did very little. I owe a lot to 12 step programs, even more to Celebrate Recovery, and I owe it all to Christ. Trust me, with Him all things are possible

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Promise of a New Year

Sitting here at 10 minutes after midnight after watching the live streaming New Years Eve Impact concert thinking of what the future might bring. The lyrics to an old Paula Abdul song pop into my, "The promise of a new day." Welcome to 2014, and I can guarantee you there is a promise of a new year this time around. Or not.

What does the new year promise for most of us? What were your resolutions? Lose some weight, make more money, exercise more, eat better, eat less, quit smoking, etc. I have made quite a few of those in the past, and I can say that I have kept a couple of my new years resolutions................for a day, a week and once about a month. Then the excitement wore off and I went back to my old ways.

Why could I never keep a new years resolution? Boil them down and they really meant nothing to me. I was hopeless and depressed most of the time. I hated myself and the only way I could escape that fact was by drinking, drugging, smoking and eating. If I lost weight, then maybe I would like me. I would lose some weight or have more money but when I looked in the mirror all I could think was, "You SUCK JUNKIE! You SUCK DRUNK! You are a FAKE!

That was enough to get me back out there. I saw counselors and psychiatrists. Nothing. I took medication. Useless. I went to college. Nada. I even gave a couple of anonymous programs a shot. Temporary. Nothing worked.

I am smart..........ish. I was in the 150 range when I was younger but I guess that after a couple of decades of drugs/alcohol and multiple head injuries I lost a lot of that. The neuropsychologist told me I had an IQ of 129 now. So I am relatively smart based on standardized testing over the course of 2 days. As a smartish Agnostic I thought that logic and my friends would get me through it. Worthless.

Not saying my friends were worthless, because a couple of them tried to help but they did not succeed. No, I am saying that me using my cognitive abilities was worthless. Logic and the promise of a new day making things better is now a moot point. I know that I tried and failed.

Tomorrow is still going to be filled with disappointments. I will still have bills, people will still let me down, I will be lied to, people will try to use me, people I love will still die, I might get laid off and the engine in my car could blow. That is how life in our world is set up, and nothing my agnostic mind could come up with would allow me to escape that.

If this life was all there was, why work hard? Why not just play? Why help others and volunteer my money and time? Why not just take care of me? Why deal with my problems? Why not continue to use drugs and alcohol to escape them? To quote Queen, "Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters to me."

Then I got saved. I accepted Christ into my life after having a personal experience that convinced me to give God a try. I have never looked back. It has made all of the difference. I did not get promised a new day or a new year to make changes so that my life would be better. No, instead I was promised a new life. I was a new creation and my former self had faded away.

The problems in my past were myriad but the biggest one was that no matter what tomorrow brought it still included me and I was beyond repair. I was broken and there was nothing that could ever fix me. After all, I had tried just about everything secular this world could provide. At the end of the day, I was still me.

In Christ I found that I was perfectly broken, but so was everyone else. Not only that, but my past transgressions that I hated myself for were already forgiven and there was more to my life than just this the shell and this horrible world. The choices I made today mattered for eternity. Big wake up call.

As the fog lifted I began to see there was more to living than just thinking about me. My life changed. When I heard that I was loved and forgiven for all that I had done an attitude of gratitude developed. It is hard to be grateful when the sign of a good day is waking up to an alarm not the shakes next to someone whose name I might or might not know. It is pretty easy when you wake up making a gratitude list after thanking God for another day clean and sober to share his message of hope and salvation.

Gratitude is important, but even more so is hope. If this mundane, evil world is all there is
hope becomes a hard commodity to come by. At least it was for me. Now that I know I am not who I was and there is more to life than just now, I have hope. I have something to look forward to that is eternal and a firm belief that I can share my story with people and impart some of my hope with them.

I went from dealing dope to dealing hope because I found a better life in recovery that was not possible for me as an agnostic. With Christ I have discovered that I truly can do all things, and the things that I want to do now are not about me. I want people to see Christ's amazing grace and abundant love through me.

That is the promise of a new year. I can become more like Christ and be better used as his hands and feet so that more people can hear about the live changing power of the Holy Spirit and gain the hope I have found. Look forward to the New Year and all that we can accomplish for His kingdom and the recovery movement!