On April the 8th, 1993, I woke up a teenage runaway. The last few of years of my life had been a nose-dive. Drugs, arrests, homelessness, violence, they swirled around me. I was a thief, a manipulator, a liar, and a dropout. I had chosen the path of most resistance most of the time and it paid horrible dividends. I woke up on a friends bedroom floor with a horrible headache and a court-date in front of an angry judge and my mother, who I had not spoken to in a couple of months. I had a pair of dirty Levis held up with a shoelace, a stinky t-shirt, and a pair of banged up Vans to wear to court…classy.
I had lost two step-fathers in five years. One, I had always thought was my dad until he bailed and told me the truth, and the other was in the midst of a tragic cycle of addiction and prison that would eventually take his life. My sisters, brother, and I moved from place to place with my mother. There was always a new school to maneuver, a new address to remember, a new place to not fit in, and usually a made-up identity to shield me from the “new-kid” stigma. It seemed like as soon as I made a couple of friends and started to feel comfortable, it was time to move again.
We lived with family members, in duplexes, apartments or rentals houses. One summer, we even lived above a tiny towns’ doctors office in the mountains. We were on welfare at times and other times it felt like we were rich. I spent the entire 8th grade at one school, and it felt like an eternity. I think I eventually attended 20 schools between the 1st and 11th grades. Needless to say, even without my input, life was a little chaotic.
I started using drugs and running away when I was twelve or thirteen. I don’t remember what the fights were about with my mother, but I’m sure it had to do with sneaking out, ditching, getting suspended from another school, or even something mundane like household chores. I would run away, find some dirtbags, and get high. It didn’t matter what the drug was or what we had to do to get it, I was on board . Preppy kids, skaters, punks, gang-bangers, metal-heads, whatever…”let’s steal a car and get loaded”.
I’d appeal to a friends parents with a sad story so I could crash on their couch for a few nights or wrap myself in my coat and climb onto a roof somewhere and hope it didn’t rain. I somehow managed a girlfriend or two, but I eventually ripped them off or they came to their senses and asked me to move along. It was a nightmare.
On April 8th, 1993, I was staying on my friend Billy’s floor. Another friend, Jeff, picked me up and drove me to court that morning. I knew I was in trouble, I had some serious charges and I was a runaway. I was too tired to keep up what I was doing, so I showed up. My mom sat in the back of the courtroom and told the judge that she did not know what to do with me. The judge said that he had an idea and had the bailiff put me in leg-irons and handcuffs. That morning was the beginning of the 14 months I spent locked away. It was also my first day off of drugs. That day, combined with 7,299 others, lands me here today, not having used any illegal drugs for the last 20 years.
I wish I could say that life immediately got better, but it didn’t. For starters, I was locked up, which isn’t fun. I had burned every bridge I had. Even Jeff, who gave me a ride to court, I had stolen his parents checkbook, he just hadn’t found out yet, but he would. It was time to start over…again.
Years of 12-step meetings and off and on therapy followed. Flirtations with Straight Edge and church kept me clean at times, other times it was as simple as not going anywhere or just hanging out in a group who didn’t use. Life was never simple and I continued to make stupid mistakes along the way, but I didn’t die, which is what would have happened had I stayed on the path I was on. I was alive but I was still broken, and my brokenness continued to hurt myself and others.
It wasn’t until about 15 or 16 years in, that I truly found something different. When the Jesus-Way became not just something to toy with or visit, life really changed. It was night and day. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, did become better. Not always easy, but absolutely better. When I surrendered my life to Jesus, everything was redeemed. So often, memories or experiences come flying into whatever I’m doing. I can call on them to move Jesus front-and-center. I’ve been there and done that loaded and I’ve been there and done that clean.
I can relate on a lot of different levels. It is almost like God decided to move me through as many broken and sinful places as possible, knowing that he was going to protect me throughout, so that I could emerge on the other side a redeemed tool in his toolbox. I never saw it at the time and I am glad that I didn’t, because I would have bailed out on the plan long ago, but I was being seasoned. I was getting that fine patina on me that only comes after exposure to the elements.
I am so excited about where God has me go next. I have a ton of war stories, but they’re not important. It’s using the experience and wisdom I’ve been given that counts now. I am not afraid of anything. If trials come they’ll just add character to my vintage. I am being used by my creator daily in a story that is bigger than us all, I would not trade any of it in. Everything is redeemable, everything can be used for good, everything is to His glory. Yes, I have been clean for 20 years, but that isn’t anything compared to what’s coming up next.