Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Out of the Ashes

Today, I woke up and played with my daughter. I chased her around the house, listening to her peals of laughter ringing out as she shrieked with joy. As I walked out of the house I heard the body of 10 year old Hailey Owens had been found and there was a man being charged with first degree murder.  I was instantly overwhelmed with anger and rage. I felt the person I used to be rising up inside of me. I was lost, hurt, enraged and confused all at once.
I was lost because I cannot comprehend how someone could take the life of an innocent 10 year old. The evilness of this act is beyond my scope of understanding. What could possess a 45 year old to take the life of a child? It is an unfathomable act, and one that I can honestly say I am glad I cannot understand for if I could what would that say about me? I cannot fathom the act.
I was hurt because I knew there were parents who loved Hailey that will never get to hear her laughter again. My heart aches because I can not even begin to imagine the depths of the parent’s sorrow. I am emotionally broken because I know the impact a loss like this can have on Hailey’s friends and family and would never wish that upon anyone. No one should have to lose a loved one who is so young in such a malicious way.
I was enraged because I am a father, and as a father I know that there is no justice that will suffice. Nothing that happens to Hailey’s murderer will bring her back. Even the justice that is done will be long and drawn out. Someone will represent this man and try to defend what he did. The parent’s will have to hear testimony and see pictures that no parent should ever have to endure.
I am confused because I believe in a God who loves us all and wants what is best for us. Because of that such a heinous act being allowable bewilders me. At first I could not for the life of me make any sense of how God could allow such a tragedy to play out. Then I remembered a few things. For starters, we have freewill. Do we have a God that loves us all? He loved us enough to give us freedom to make our own choices. Freewill is both our greatest gift and greatest curse. Do we have a God that loves us so much He gave us the ability to control our actions? Yes, he did but not all of us chose to use that control.
Today and everyday we have the power to make choices. We can follow the Golden Rule laid forth by Jesus in the New Testament, or we can act on our own selfish interests. We can listen to what the Holy Spirit whispers in our ear, or we can listen to Satan. The choice is ultimately ours to make. I used to listen to the voice that encouraged me to do wrong. Today, I choose to try to live my life by loving my neighbor. That said, the old me resurfaced today after a long hiatus. I did not feel very friendly and loving. I wanted to come out of retirement.
I stopped because I realized that would solve nothing. It would not be good for me, my family or the family who has lost their daughter. I have done psychological first aid after disasters and I am trained in grief and loss counseling. You give support. You let people know that it is okay to feel how they feel. Their feelings are valid and understandable. You make sure that their basic needs are being met and allow them to grieve. You do not get caught up in the emotions of the event because of the negative impact that can have on those who are mourning and grieving.  
I did give into those emotions for a minute. I allowed myself the luxury of grieving for Hailey, her family and her friends. I cried for a little girl I had never met while I sat in my car. Then I prayed for Hailey’s family and friends to find comfort and strength. Next I went to work and helped other people deal with their own stress, depression and tragedy while my head still swam with unanswered questions.
Will our questions about why this was done ever be answered satisfactorily? I hope not, because there is no excuse or reason that can explain what happened. Will justice be done? No, unless the act itself can be undone. There is no amount of pain this murderer experiences that can quench the pain her parents are experiencing. I have my trust in a much Higher Power that has seen me through so much. I have seen a lot of positives come out of tragedies, but it is far too early for that now.
Instead, I ask that we keep hate and anger to a minimum. It may make you feel better but it does nothing to change what happened or help anyone. It increases the negative impact of an already terrible event. We need to come together and support those who are hurting today in our community. Shower them with prayers, positive thoughts, love and compassion. Today you need to hug and squeeze on your loved ones today. Cherish the people you have in your life today, and action can come tomorrow.
Next we need to identify how to make the system more efficient so time between 911 calls and Amber alerts becomes minimal. Search for ways our community can learn from this tragedy so it is safer for our children and the chance of this happening in the future is reduced. Together we can make our community stronger and safer for those who are most vulnerable and honor the memory of Hailey Owens.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Platinum Rule

Most of us know the Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." That was a quote attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. That sounds great, doesn't it? It sounds so good that you can find it in just about any other religion as well:

  • Judaism, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
  • Confucianism, "Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself." 
  • Hinduism, "One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself." 
  • Islam, "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." 
  • Jainism, "A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated." 
  • Buddhism, "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find harmful."
I have heard this saying multiple times throughout my life. I seldom saw it applied so I never really took the time to think it out. It did not register with me because I knew no one would want to be treated as I thought I should be. As a child who was physically and sexually abused as a child, I always felt less then. I expected to be treated poorly and looked down on by people. I thought that was my penance for the sexual abuse I had undergone. I was dirty and disgusting and I deserved to be whatever I got because of it. I never once doubted the beatings I underwent were not deserved. I thought that I deserved to be hurt. I was an outcast.

As I grew up, I became very angry and violent. The saying I heard was, "Do unto others as they would do unto you, but be first." That became my motto. In my addiction, my anger and self-loathing grew. I could only find happiness in chaos and that was fleeting at best. I wanted to die, and tried to put myself in countless situations were that would happen. In fact, I tried to kill myself once and almost succeeded. I wanted people to hurt me. I wanted someone to kill me. So at this point, I am sure you can see how the Golden Rule would have not been very Golden of me to follow.

As I got sober, I still believed that I deserved to hurt. I felt that I deserved pain for all of the people I had hurt. After all, there was a massive trail of broken lives in the wake of the tornado my addiction had created. I was actually going to see a dominatrix when I first sobered up. Then the Golden Rule was reintroduced to me by my sponsor. I still had trouble understanding it.

Next he introduced me to the Silver Rule, thinking I could understand that better. The Silver Rule posits, "One shouldn't treat others in a way they would not like to be treated." This still did not work due to my low self-esteem and disappointment in myself. I knew that I deserved all the bad I had gotten in my life and a lot more. When bad things happened, I chalked them up to karma and me reaping what I had sowed.

As I stepped into recovery, that just did not work for me. I had to become more positive, and making amends as I worked through the steps helped me, but I needed more. What I discovered was, as much as I disliked myself I loved my sister. At the time she was the person I loved the most. I did not ever want to see someone mistreat her. Even in my addiction, I always had her back. This is where I came up with the Platinum Rule:


That was all it took to get me to understand the Golden Rule and apply it to my life in early recovery. When I had my son, he was added as a person I care about the most. Then I got married and my wife was added to the list, then my daughter was added after her birth. That expanded my list and made most situations I would find myself in very easy to come up with the right answer to. How did I apply the Platinum Rule? Here are a few examples:

  1. Would I want someone to gossip about my sister and spread rumors about her? NO! I would want them to come to her with their problem so that it could be worked out. Therefore, I try not gossip about other people behind their backs and come to them when I have problems. 
  2. Would I want someone to beat up my son because they were told that he wronged them? NO! I would want them to be handle the situation like adults instead of hotheaded children. So when I hear someone wrongs me, instead of hurting them as I did in the past I try to talk to them and find out the truth of what is going on. 
  3. Would I want someone to yell at my wife if they had a problem with her? NO! I would want them to treat her with respect. So I don't yell at people when I have a problem with them, instead I calmly talk to them so we can squash the issue. 
  4. Would I want someone to break into my daughter's house and steal from her? NO! By process of elimination I do not steal from other people. 

As you can see, the Platinum Rule works for just about any situation that you find yourself in. This rule has made a ton of difference in my recovery. When used properly it takes you a minute before you act. Trust me, for a lot of us that is not a bad thing. I was very impulsive in my past, and I seldom made the wisest choices when I jumped right into things. In fact, 99.9% of the time I made the absolute worst decision. That all has changed due to me changing my thought process. Now I ask myself, "Is this how I would want someone to treat my son, my daughter, my sister, my wife?" If it isn't, then I have no business treating them that way.

As usual, thanks for reading! I hope that this is something that you can apply to your life. Let me know if it helps!!

As a quick disclaimer, this is not the Platinum Rule that is trademarked. That Platinum Rule says that we are to, "Treat others the way they want to be treated." That is a horrible rule, in my opinion. I work with a lot of people who struggle with addictions and mental illnesses. Take me for example. If you were to have treated me how I wanted to be treated 10 years ago, you would have shot me in the head and put me out of my misery. That, or you would have got me high. Bad idea, in my opinion! I definitely don't want the Platinum Rule I discuss confused with that one!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Celebrate Recovery - Why I Believe CR is for Everyone!

There are multiple arguments I have heard against Celebrate Recovery. I am going to address a couple of the more common ones. In doing this I hope you will see Celebrate Recovery is for everyone. After all, we all fall short of living a perfect life and have all experienced hurts, habits and hang-ups that keep us from living life to the fullest. Celebrate Recovery is a program that allows you to live an abundant life!
Here are the 5 most common reasons I have heard for not attending Celebrate Recovery:
1.       I don’t need Celebrate Recovery because I am not an addict or alcoholic.
2.       I don’t believe in God, and Celebrate Recovery believes in that mythical guy in the sky.
3.       I don’t need a 12 step program to help me. The 12 steps are for junkies and winos.
4.       I am not going to tell a bunch of people my problems.
5.       I don’t need a sponsor to help me live my life.
Here are my responses to the arguments listed above:
1.       So you are not addicted to alcohol or drugs. In fact, you may never have seen drugs or touched a drop of alcohol your entire life. That does not mean recovery isn’t for you. There are many things in this life that we struggle to recover from. That is why Celebrate Recovery addresses more than just addiction. It addresses hurts habits and hang-ups.
HURTS are those feelings elicited from experiencing hurtful situations and other people’s negative behaviors. HABITS are the chronic behaviors and addictions you use to cope with stressors in life. HANG-UPS are negative mental attitudes that keep us from progressing further in life. Everyone struggles with at least one, if not many of these issues.  
2.       Yes, Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program. However, you don’t have to be a Christian to go there. When I first came to Celebrate Recovery, I was an atheist who leaned towards agnosticism. I came because I was depressed and hopeless and the meetings that I had been going to were not working for me. The meetings I went to were overflowing with sobriety but deficient in recovery.  
I needed something different. I needed to be around positive people who did not all refer to themselves as addicts and alcoholics. I found that in Celebrate Recovery. I also found there was a kinship between addicts, codependents, workaholics and people with eating disorders. There was a similarity between my anger, someone else’s depression and someone’s materialism. I had friends that were not addicts and alcoholics but who still struggled with life. That was healing in a way I had never known before. I gained hope and stopped judging myself.
3.       Why don’t you need the 12 steps? Is there a guide you follow to help you live a more satisfying, less chaotic life? If not, there should be and that is what the 12 steps are. They are a game plan for success in life. Who does not need to live a better life? I have yet to meet a perfect person. I know great people who live amazing lives, but they are ALL WORKS IN PROGRESS .  The 12 steps are a guide to making the progress we all need in order to live richer, more fulfilling lives.

4.       I understand why there may be things you don’t want to share with other people. I get that! I was abused as a child both physically and sexually. People knew that I had been abused physically. I was ashamed of being sexually abused, though. I knew I would be judged and criticized if anyone knew, so I kept that secret for over 30 years. I never told anyone. I was speaking at a church when I shared it for the first time. It wasn’t planned, it just happened.
After the sermon, I had someone tell me he had been molested as well and had never told anyone until now. Since I began sharing that part of my life, half a dozen men have thanked me for sharing and told me I was the first person they had ever shared that part of their life with. So my sharing helped others. It also helped me. The burden I once struggled to carry alone has been shared with many others. It no longer feels as heavy and shameful as it once did. I have been met with nothing but love and encouragement since I began sharing that part of my life. In fact, the shame and guilt I carried for over 30 years has vanished!  
5.       The word sponsor here really turns some people off. Instead of sponsor, let’s call this person a mentor. A mentor is an adviser who is both experienced and trusted. Bill Gates, the world’s richest person according to the Forbes 400 in 2013, has a mentor. Bill Gate regularly goes to Warren Buffet for advice. Socrates mentored Plato, Plato mentored Aristotle and Aristotle mentored Alexander the Great. Even in the Bible, we see that Barnabas mentored Paul who in turn mentored Timothy.
If Bill Gates, Aristotle and Paul felt the need for mentors, maybe you should as well. After all, mentors/sponsors are vitally important to making positive changes in our lives. They have a history of making the kind of choices we strive to make in order to have the type of life we desire to live. They have been where we are and have a found a better life for themselves and they share that recipe for success with us!
When I came to Celebrate Recovery I was no longer a proud and angry agnostic who knew it all. I was shattered and hopeless. Life had finally broken me fundamentally and I saw no way out. I had tried everything: Rational Recovery, various anonymous recovery groups, counseling, prescription medication, residential and outpatient treatment, prison, jail, house arrest, probation, parole and finally suicide. Nothing has ever worked for longer than 3 months.
What I found in Celebrate Recovery worked. I have been free from my addictions for over 5 years now. I want to share the hope and happiness I have found with others. That is why I speak in communities and churches. This is the reason I write and post things through my blog. I want to share the strength, experience and hope I found when I experienced Christ’s love and grace with everyone.  Celebrate Recovery works!
If you have any doubts or questions about the efficacy of Celebrate Recovery please share them with me. Send me messages on Facebook or post them in the comments on my blog. That way I can answer them and allay your fears, anxieties and doubts so you give Celebrate Recovery a try. I want you to attend meetings, join a step study group and give it a chance. The only things you have to lose are the hurts habits and hang-ups you struggle with. It worked for me and I truly believe it will work for you!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Day My Earth Stood Still

Six years ago today my world stopped. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me. I actually laughed at the time, because that is what I do when I am hurting. Then I drank, a lot. I went down to Florida and tried to drown my sorrows. I tried to see what chance I had of escaping the truth. In the end I found I already knew the answer.
You see, no matter how much I drank I could not escape the truth. I could not hide from it, and for the first time I could not escape something for even a minute. I tried to hide it like I had my past traumas, compartmentalizing it and stashing it behind walls I had built over the years. This time it was different. No matter how hard I tried not to think about it, I still did. I could not run from my feelings. I felt something I had never felt before.
In the past I could numb myself with chemicals or other means of creating massive quantities of neurotransmitters and they would destroy my anguish. This time no matter how many people I slept with, how much I drank or how much I physically hurt myself and others the way I felt inside didn’t change. I could not get over what had happened. I was always able to resurface after all of my own defeats, but this time it was different. I thought I was forever changed.
This was the story of my life after my father’s suicide. Six years ago today my father made a decision. He came up with a permanent solution to a temporary problem. He did what he felt was right and left the rest of us behind in shock and pain. He was my superman, my role model, my hero. The last time I saw him I said things to him I never got a chance to take back in a face to face conversation. When he died I thought I had lost the ability to make amends and it made me feel terrible.
Then I was invited to a church by some friends. I fought it for quite some time. I finally gave in because they promised good music and barbecue. I went and found myself having a good time. I was introduced to the woman who ran the Celebrate Recovery group they had there. I tried the group and met a couple of good people. My opinion of Christians started to change. I would visit every other week or so. I started to experience a new feeling.
The more I came the better I felt. A little less than a year later I was saved after a foxhole prayer and a song from Brandon Heath met warmed me. God reached all the way into the emaciated, cold cellar where I had thrown my soul and warmed me.  He transformed me. I went from an Agnostic addicted to more of anything I could get my hands on to a Christian who no longer used. I began to smile again. I discovered a positive outlook on life that I have been told was contagious. Life was looking up. I was reborn.
Today I have an amazing wife and a beautiful daughter. I have my son almost half the time. I have a great relationship with his mother and stepdad. I have a career helping others who struggle with addiction. I am the Assimilation Coach of the Celebrate Recovery I attend. I deal hope and decimate stigma while showing others there is a better life in recovery. I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope. My life has become a living amends and I love it. I see my life differently.
My father’s suicide had a lasting impact on me. I could never have guessed the outcome. In the beginning, I was whipped and defeated. I was weary and burdened, crushed and confused. When I found myself at the bottom I had people who encouraged me to continue moving forward. Thanks to them I survived and found a life that is well beyond anything I had ever hoped for. I have experienced things I once denied.
Out of the ashes of my deepest depression I found victory because people cared. I encourage you to take a little extra time today to talk to someone you have not talked to. Smile at people you do not know. Be the voice of hope when others have none. Be the ray of sunshine in a world that is much too dark. Share your optimism with the world around you.
Out of our darkest pains and deepest hurts our biggest epiphanies are born. Change seldom comes from our successes. It is almost always forged from our defeats. When you walk through the valley know that God holds your hand. He will bring you so much more than you ever expected once you reach that peak! It ain’t but a step for a climber, so keep on keeping on because the view from the top is amazing!

Monday, February 10, 2014

From Dealing Dope to Dealing Hope - 10 Keys for Positive Growth

There are days when I look back at my addiction with fear; there are days I look back at my addiction with wonder. There are seldom days that I don’t look back, though. I used to think that I should be able to move beyond my past, and that one day I would never have to think about it again. I was wrong.
Gratitude some days comes from me casting a gaze to what was. I need no ghost to take me there. It was not so very long ago that I struggled with the consequences of being born into a world that was teeming with evil. At least, that was how the world appeared to me. I don’t feel that way today, but I certainly did 5 years ago and here is why.
The evil in my life was everywhere. The babysitter who is one of my very first memories but never talked about until my late 30’s. My grandfather, the most malicious people I ever met. Methamphetamine, which escalated from lines on the weekends to intravenous multiple times daily just to function and feel “almost” normal. Alcohol, which I could argue was legal yet it still consumed my life in a very short period of time and led me to many a blacked out misadventure. Mostly it was me; I generated the evil  in my life. 
 I graduated from one level of evil to the next as my experiences drained every last vestige of hope. Once hope is gone, there is no purpose but to pursue that which helps you escape reality and numb your senses. I found succor in more. More drugs, more alcohol, more money, more violence, more power and pathological dating. I went from probation to scared straight to house arrest to prison. I had a life that was about as far down the rabbit hole as you can go and still come back on the other side. In fact, I don’t know if I would call it a life. How I functioned was not living but merely existing, holding onto sanity in spurts.
My hopelessness reached abysmal depths. My depression, anxiety and paranoia culminated in being found unconscious in a pool of blood with both wrists slashed. I overdosed 3 times in one year alone. I have died more times than I can count on one hand. How bad was it really? At times I would stay in jail for a week or two when I had the money to bond out because it was less stressful than my life.
I knew one thing: Live sucked then you died and ceased to exist. People talk about hell like it is something to be afraid of. I have lived through hell and if when I died I went to hell that was a destination. At least hell is something. I was scared of there being nothing. Nothingness is scary. Combine that with knowing that there were no real consequences for my actions and you have a recipe for disaster. As an agnostic, I lived for the now because tomorrow did not matter in the grand scheme of things.
I smacked more bottoms than a high school principal in the 70’s, yet nothing was enough to change how I was living my life.  Then the impossible happened. I reached a bottom that I could not escape. My father’s suicide coupled with not being allowed to see my son led me to talk to a coworker that was always positive no matter what. After several invites to join him and his family at church his wife finally conned me into going with a promise of barbecue after the service.
Over time, various things softened my heart during my time at their church. I heard a song called Cry Out to Jesus by a Christian band called Third Day that talked about addiction in the song. I met Christians who didn’t judge me but loved on me in Celebrate Recovery. I started reading the writings of Paul and saw how much alike we were. Then a foxhole prayer combined with the song I’m Not Who I Was by Brandon Heath resulted in my turning my life to Christ.
That was 5 years ago, and I have found a litany of things that now fill me with hope. Just as evil entered my past in many packages, so has the hope I have today. Hope comes in the form of the Bible, which I found was full of advice that makes my life better if I follow it. I have a relationship with my son’s mother and have my son almost half the time. I have a wife and a daughter that are amazing. I have friends that actually care about me staying clean and sober which they show by supporting and encouraging me.
So, what are the secrets to my success? I found 5 Pillars that changed my life:
1.       God – I found that my God had a name and multiple forms: Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I had tried to use the amorphous higher power and found no hope to live a better life or courage to make complete changes that way. It may work for some, but it did not work for me. I would find periods of sobriety but my character defects were still present. I would dry drunk (dry bag) it for a month or two but always go back. With the Holy Spirit as my guide and Jesus as my aspiration I soon found making the right choices became easier and easier.
2.       The Bible and the 12 Steps – I tried the 12 steps and worked through them several times. Spirituality always evaded me. With this life being all there was, I could never wrap my head around why I would want to hurt and struggle and the motivation for altruism completely escaped me. With the Bible and the promises it contained became real to me, all the pieces fell into place and altruism became second nature.
3.       Sponsor/Mentor – I had a sponsor to work through the 12 steps. He was a great guy and I appreciate the time we had together. The sole reason for his existence was to stay sober and do service work for his group. I outgrew that attitude. I wanted to make an impact in my  community and hopefully the entire country eventually. My life became about so much more than my past addiction and I needed someone who had accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish. I could not find that person at a meeting so I found a mentor instead of a sponsor.
4.       Celebrate Recovery – I had tried other groups, and there is a lot to be said for them. I still attend the groups that will remain anonymous sometimes because you can get positive stuff from them. I needed more. I craved a place that reeked of recovery instead of sobriety. I yearned for less chaos and more structure. I needed to see that we could completely change ourselves. I found that in Celebrate Recovery. Who knew you didn’t have to cuss to be in recovery?
5.       Accountability Partners – I found that I had to surround myself with positive people if I wanted to remain positive and that I could have friends that had never done drugs or committed crimes and still have great relationships with them after they knew about my past. I found these people in Celebrate Recovery at first and now I have expanded that circle. It was a relief to have friends that I was not constantly worried about relapsing or getting me caught up in their still chaos filled worlds. They were able to walk beside me and share their strength, experience and hope with me while I shared mine with them. I learned how to have a give and take relationship instead of give or take relationships.
To my original list I have several addendums:
1.       Prayer/Meditation – There are times when life is kicking my butt. I have found that when that happens I need a time out, so I would pray. I found the more I pray, the less things in life beat me up so I started praying more and it has made my life a lot less complicated and a lot more positive. Instead of praying for myself, I pray for others and only ask God to let me be His hands and feet and that I act a little more like Jesus each day.
2.       Gratitude List – I like to wake up in the morning and think of 3 things that I am grateful for. I wake up with more than enough time to do my morning rituals so I am not rushed and my thoughts are on things I am grateful for.  As I continue on with my morning, making coffee and breakfast, I play those 3 things over and over in my head. I have found that this starts my day of on the right foot and it carries into the rest of my day.
3.       Journaling – I will spend a couple of minutes each night recording my highs and lows for the day. This is helpful because I can vent some of my frustrations and record some of my successes consistently. Then I can look over my journal every few months and see the trends, if I have started any bad habits and the success I am having in reaching my goals. From day to day changes and trends are hard to identify but looking over several months they are much easier to identify.
4.       Community Service – I don’t mean something your judge ordered you to do. This is not setting up chairs for meetings or making coffee. That is service work, which is also important but not what I mean. I mean giving back to the communities we live in. Go and feed the homeless or do a couple shifts ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Take food to families at the Ronald McDonald House or volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Walk, jog or run in charity 5K’s. Altruism is one of the most important acts of recovery. We become a positive cog in the machine we once tried to sabotage.
5.       Extracurricular Activities – I joined a men’s softball league. I started working out at the gym. I went bowling, enjoyed float trips and started taking long bicycle rides. I learned how to have fun clean and sober. I found that I could enjoy myself without drugs and alcohol. I gained more friends and the free time I had which had led to relapse in the past instead led me to building stronger supports, additional interventions and a bolder lifestyle.
I believe that if I can change my life after 20 plus years of addiction and destructive lifestyles, where my hurts habits and hang-ups outweighed my strengths, than so can you. I attempted multiple ways to obtain sobriety to always have it wilt away and never come to fruition. I know that the 10 things I have listed above are vital to a changed lifestyle, and I encourage you to apply them to your life. Give it a month. It will change your life. I know it changed mine!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Testimony I Gave On My 5th Birthday

Hi, my name is David and I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who’s in recovery and I have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, pornography and sex, childhood physical and sexual abuse, anger, depression, anxiety and codependency. I still struggle with comfort eating, as you can tell by looking at me. The story of how I got to where I am today is a 41 year odyssey and we don’t have that much time. I hope you like cliff notes. My testimony starts out the same way far too many testimonies do.

One of my first memories is being molested by a baby sitter from our church. I was ridiculed and made fun of while being molested; laughed at and told how disgusting and bad I was. That is why I never told my parents. I didn’t want them to know how disgusting I was. Growing up, my mother was physically abusive and my father was an alcoholic. The first week of 5th grade my mother left my dad and sent my siblings and I to live with her father. He was highly abusive. On several occasions he beat me so badly he called into school for the week and told them I was helping on the farm or I was sick. After the bruises and cuts healed he would send me back to school. In my mind, I thought the beatings were because my grandpa knew what I had done with my baby sitter.
I grew to hate myself and lost all hope. Because of that I became angry and violent. I learned to embrace pain and built walls. I learned to hide my true feelings and only show people what I wanted them to see, or what I thought they wanted to see. I also lost my faith. Growing up, my parents were Christians and I saw them live different lives at home than they did out in public. My parents were hypocrites, and I associated that with Christians. Combine that with the physical and sexual abuse I went through and in the 5th grade I became agnostic. If there was a God it was not the one I had heard about. He could care less about me, so I could care less about Him.
The summer before 7th grade I discovered marijuana. Instantly, two things happened. For the first time I felt accepted by a group, and for the first time I forgot about my past. The same weekend I found marijuana I also found cocaine, alcohol, vandalism and sex. What I found was that the harder the drugs, the number I became. I didn’t have to fake not hurting, because drugs made me forget the pain. If I stayed high and drunk, I did not hurt. As worthless as I felt, if I had a cute girl next to me and was getting high or drunk I felt a little better, a little more popular, a little less worthless. I instantly 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 scared straight to house arrest to prison, from low self-esteem to self-loathing to hating myself to botched suicides and from doing drugs to dealing drugs to manufacturing them. Nothing was ever enough. Nothing ever made me happy so I destroyed lives. I hated myself and that hate led me to no longer caring for anyone or anything. I was a soldier for Satan.
My rock bottom occurred multiple times, but I would grab a shovel and dig more. I got alcohol poisoning and my stomach pumped as a teen-ager. I turned 21 in prison. I died 3 times in a car accident drinking and driving at 22. I attempted suicide and was found unconscious in a pool of blood at 23. In a one year period when I was 28 I overdosed 3 times. I have died more times than I can count on one hand, but it was never enough to get me to stop using.
Not that I didn’t try, however. I have been on probation and parole for over a decade, jail and prison for about 2 years, seen psychologists and psychiatrists, been prescribed medication, gone to rehab both outpatient and inpatient and did my 90 meetings in 90 days in one of the anonymous programs then completed the 12 steps with a sponsor 2 or 3 times. But I always went back out. The longest I stayed clean and sober was for 3 months.
Then, my dad committed suicide 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 mother’s family standing guard as if I would snatch him and run. They were right; I probably would have if they had not been there.
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 I was still drinking, angry, depressed and hopeless, so I decided to give God a chance. Not going to lie, it was pretty awkward at first. I was lured into church with the promise of good BBQ so I came. After all, I love to eat. I did not like church because it contained Christians. I hated Christians. Christians were weak, fake, judgmental hypocrites that lived in fantasy land. I continued living my life my way. There was no way I was going to drink their kool-aid. I was wrong.
After denying God for over 20 years I finally turned to Him. It was a foxhole prayer nine months after I stepped foot into church for BBQ. One night I pulled out of the bar drunk. A police car zoomed up behind me. I knew if he pulled me over I would get a DWI. If I got a DWI I would lose my job and get kicked out of my graduate program in college. I immediately began to pray. “God, if I don’t get pulled over, I will go to church every Sunday.” I turned and the officer turned with me. I continued to pray, “I promise, if I don’t get pulled over I will go to church every Sunday and will never drink again.” I turned and the police officer turned with me again. Every time I turned he turned and I added something to my prayer. 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 car went straight. I passed out in my car in the driveway. Passing out in my car was not unheard of for me, but the next morning was a little different. I actually remembered the night before. I had not blacked out like every other time I woke up in my car. I remembered praying to God on the way home and making a deal with Him. I also knew that I had plans to go to my friend Josh’s house to watch the Superbowl and everyone there drank and smoked cigarettes. The voice I always called my addiction that I now realize is the devil started talking to me. “You’ve been using drugs and drinking for over 20 years,” and “You’ve been smoking cigarettes for a quarter of a century,” played over and over in my head. “You’ll never quit. You have tried many times and failed. Why fail again? Go have fun.”
I took a shower and hopped into my car to go to my friend Josh’s. I had given up before I even started trying. Those voices kept talking to me, supporting my choice to go drink. As I was driving to my friend’s house a song came on the radio I didn’t like so I flipped channels. I came to a dead spot and waited to see what song was next. The first word’s I heard were, “I wish you could see me know, I wish I could show you how I’m not who I was.” The voice in my head changed. It was no longer the voice I had always heard talking to me but a voice I had never heard before yelling at me, saying, “You are not who you were yesterday. You are changed. You can do this. You never have to be who you were again.” 
I started crying and pulled over to the side of the road. I knew that I would never drink or do drugs again. God used a Christian radio station called the Wind I had never listened to before and a song by Brandon Heath called, “I’m Now Who I Was” I had never heard before to change me. In that instant I  knew God had kept his part of the bargain, so I have attempted to keep mine. I am blessed enough to say I have not drank, drugged, gotten into a fight outside of the ring, been promiscuous or smoked a cigarette since then. I may have cursed a few times, but it is about progress not perfection.
God was leading me in the right direction. That same night I started reading the Bible and discovered Paul. He was like my twin brother. I could totally relate to what he was saying, 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,and “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” My attitude towards God was changing, but my attitude towards Christians was not.
I still could not stand Christians because of my experiences with them. Then I met a group that changed all of that. It was called Celebrate Recovery. It allowed me to work through my hurts, habits and hang ups while building relationships with God and people. Through Celebrate Recovery I found a relationship with Christ. I discovered he was not the judgmental, vindictive God I knew from my youth, but instead a God who loved me so much He died so my sins could be forgiven. I began to build real relationships with positive people that cared about me.
I realized that my past relationships were built on drugs, fear and dishonesty. In my addiction I had friends that would have taken a bullet for me, but would have put one in me for the right price. In my recovery I was surrounded by Christians who cared about me and wanted to help me become a better person. They did not use me, look down on me or judge me. In Romans 3:23 Paul says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I came to realize that I was not the black sheep in the church. Instead, the church was filled with black sheep and going there just introduced me to my flock.
Then came the step study. Through the 12 steps in Celebrate Recovery I learned to forgive myself. I learned to like who I was and realized that if not for my past I would not be the person I am today. Step 1 showed me how my inability to work through my problems had caused me to lose hope. Step 1 showed me why I had lost faith in God. I had started worshipping and focusing on my addictions; they were at the center of everything I did.  I had made them my God.
Step 2 was the step that impacted me the most. It reintroduced me to the hope I had lost when I was a child. My hope was abused out of me by the people who should have loved me and protected me then kept out by my Agnosticism and unwillingness to talk about my past and work through. I had nothing to look forward to. In my addiction, if I woke up without a hangover or withdrawals with a cute girl beside who whose name I might or might not know, that was the best my life was ever going to get. I believed at the end of my life I would turn to dust and there would be nothing else. That was the end. No wonder I was so depressed and hopeless all of the time.
Step 2 asked me to begin believing in a Higher Power who had a name. Instead of being told that my Higher Power could be anything I wanted it to be, I was told it was Jesus Christ. I was encouraged to build a relationship with Jesus Christ and be ready for change, for Christ had the power to make changes in me that I didn’t have myself. So I gave God a chance. After all, I had tried everything secular and spiritual and failed.
Through Step 2 I was able to regain hope. InChrist I have something more to look forward to than complete nonexistence when I die. What I do today matters. How I treat people matters. If life sucks today and for the rest of my life, I know what I have coming to me in my next life will be amazing. 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. When I get knocked down, I have a reason to get back up.
While working through step 2 I really began to understand how the Holy Spirit worked through me. I learned to pray, meditate and listen for the voice of God to guide me on my journey of recovery and in life. I also first heard my favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13. It says, “I can do all through Him who gives me strength.” I learned that I could have a new life if I trusted in God and followed where the Holy Spirit led me.
Part of that journey was God softening my heart and giving me the humility needed to make apologies and amends to all of the people I had hurt and used or who loved people I had hurt and used in my past. In doing that I learned how to forgive myself. That was hardest. After all, I was the person I hurt and hated the most. Over time I stopped seeing a junkie, felon and victim every time I looked in the mirror. I overcame my shame and self-loathing. Through Celebrate Recovery I learned people could know everything about me, from what I had done to what had been done to me, and still love me and want to be friends even though they had not done the same things I had done or experienced the same things I had experienced.
In Celebrate Recovery I learned that people who struggle with codependency, eating disorders, gambling, shopping, alcoholism, drugs, anger, depression and a whole lot of other things all shared some if not all of the same issues I had went through in my past. The only difference between us was the coping mechanisms we used to escape and numb ourselves from them. That was an amazing thing for me to learn. As I became more accepting of other people’s struggles, I became more accepting of my own. God was working in me!
God has made powerful changes and given me incredible gifts. I cannot begin to touch on them all, but I will list a few. A month after I accepted Christ I was first contacted by my wife on E-Harmony. She was a 35 year old lady who had never drank, did drugs, committed a crime and had lived her entire life putting God first. We had nothing in common and I tried to talk her out of dating me. God had a different plan. She is my perfect compliment. Christ had to wait until I was ready to place the woman of my dreams in my life. A year and a half ago my wife gave birth to our daughter, Addison Grace. But that is not all that God has done to build my family.
When my son’s mother and I were together, we never went to church. After we split up, my ex was invited to a single mom’s group at her grandma’s church. After hearing the horror stories there, she began to appreciate me more. Through this program I have been able to forgive her and make amends for hurting her. She has learned to forgive me. Last year, my wife, daughter, son, my ex, her husband and his two kids went to white water and silver dollar city together as one big family. By putting God first in our lives we have been able to build an amazing relationship with each other.
My interaction with others has also changed drastically. I used to believe that people were only placed in my path so that I could use them and staying high was all that mattered. With God that has changed. I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope. I now spend my time trying to help others instead of using them. Today I am a counselor for Greene County DWI and Drug court clients. I get to share my experience and hope with them and advocate for them to the judge. It makes me a lot less nervous when I stand in front of a judge today then in the past, I can tell you that much.
I understand why you might feel they are not worthy of forgiveness, that you don’t deserve 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 a 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.
Realizing that I was worthy of Christ’s grace really helped me. I was beyond hope, or so I was told by many probation officers and counselors and I believed them. If this is how you feel I want you to know that if I can find recovery through Celebrate Recovery, so can you. It is never too late to start a new life, either, as Jesus just explained above but it is something that we can’t do alone. Celebrate Recovery gave me the tools I needed. I had a game plan to follow called the 12 steps. I had a coach to teach me how to play the game called a sponsor. I had teammates who had the same goal I did, recovery. I found them in Celebrate Recovery. They became my accountability partners. Most importantly, I found a relationship with Christ and that has made all the difference in my life.  
In my recovery I have been able to share my testimony with thousands of people. What I used to hate about myself are the same things that people invite me to come and talk about today. I have led chapel and shared my testimony at Assembly of God Theological Seminary and Global University. I have been asked to preach in several churches and I have been a ministry leader for 2 Celebrate Recovery groups. I speak occasionally at Missouri State University and College of the Ozarks. I was the closing speaker at the last Missouri Association of Drug Court Professional’s conference. God has placed me in some amazing places to share the changes He has brought about in my life and keeps leading me to do more.
Better Life in Recovery is the name of the non-profit I am starting and the documentary I have been shooting together with my wife. Through it I have been able to hold events in communities and speak to youth groups about the dangers of addiction and the power of recovery. The purpose is to reach out to those who are struggling and let them know that there is hope and they are not alone in their hurts, habits and hang-ups.
That is what I do today as part of my 12th step. Speaking and sharing the wonderful life I have found through Christ is my living amends. Thanks for letting me share some of my experiences with you on the 5th anniversary of my recovery. I hope hearing it helps you as much as sharing it helps me. In all honesty, I owe a lot to the 12 steps, even more to Celebrate Recovery and I owe it all to Christ. With Him all things truly are possible.