- Mental Health
Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
I was born into a Christian home. From as early as I can remember we all went to church on Sunday mornings and evenings, and on Wednesday night we went to prayer meeting, children’s choir and, later when I was old enough, the youth group fellowship. My idea of God was fairly firmly established by the time my faith had its first real test.
I was baptized on an Easter Sunday morning when I was twelve, and the very next year I got drunk for the first time with my older brother, at home while my parents were at work. I have never forgotten that first experience of being intoxicated. I’m not sure how many beers I drank, but my brother had me drink them quickly through a straw from a tall glass. He showed me how to pour down the side of the glass so as not to collect too much froth. I was excited and little scared because we were doing something the parents would forbid. I vaguely remember riding my bicycle in circles around the driveway and jumping up and down on the trampoline in our backyard. I felt happy and carefree. Even though I threw up on the carpet in my room and passed out on the bottom bunk in my room I woke knowing that I was different and grown up. My brother took care to clean up the mess and make an excuse as to why I was asleep in the middle of the day. From that day on I wanted to drink whenever I had the opportunity.
Two years later, my brother was 18 and I could use his ID to buy liquor for myself and my friends. Friday and Saturday nights were our nights to party. I had my driver’s license, my brother’s ID, and plenty of friends who wanted to ride out with someone who could buy booze for them. I still attended church three times a week, and at this point my belief about God began to morph into a loving father-figure in the sky who could get me out of trouble when I was in a jam. If I had done something to feel guilty about all I had to do was pray and ask for forgiveness.
Once I was caught in the backyard smoking pot out of a homemade bong. I was grounded indefinitely. However, at youth camp that summer I rededicated my life to the Lord and regained the trust of my parents and the freedom to take the car out. Before long I had found my old friends again, and was back partying on weekends. My lies and manipulation became more sophisticated, and soon I was the kid who was drinking and smoking pot at the boat docks on Saturday night but praising God in the pew on Sunday morning. My partying friends saw through my good-church-boy facade, but used it to fool their parents, because after all, if little Johnny was hanging with a do-gooder like me he would certainly not get into any trouble.
Alcohol and pot gave me something that I had never had: confidence. I could socialize and make funny jokes. I wasn’t nervous when talking to girls. I had the reputation of being a tough guy that no one wanted to mess with. All of this was part of the partying life that alcohol gave me. Other substances followed. Soon I discovered LSD and mushrooms. I begin to feel that I was expanding my mind. A new world had opened up to me. It was intellectual and dangerous, and I liked that. Looking back I can see that this is when my identity started to become this life of partying and getting high.
On May 22,1996 my life changed forever. I was out with a girlfriend and, as usual, I was drinking. We started fighting and on my way to drop her off I drove through an intersection, heedless of a stop sign, and was broadsided by an oncoming vehicle. The crash left me paralyzed and reduced to using a wheelchair.
I still believed in God and I prayed for him to help me through this crisis. In two months I was done with physical rehabilitation, and even though I had decided not to drink or use drugs ever again, I was back at it. My devotion to religion vanished as soon as a buddy pulled out a joint and asked if wanted to partake. Of course I did, I had no better solution, and just like that I was back off the rails.
Things got worse, and the next eight years of my life are mostly a blur. I can tell you that I began partying much harder, and using much harder drugs. My drinking increased and I was arrested twice for DWI. I can also tell you that I was asked to leave college because of my failing grades, that I was fired from every job that I ever had as the result of my alcohol and drug use. I had friends who overdosed and died, some committed suicide others were killed in car wrecks. I was paralyzed in a car crash due to my drinking, but I never considered that what I was doing to myself was a problem.
My father would sit me down and give me the “What are we going to do?” speech. I would get so angry at him. “WE are not going to do anything!” One evening as I was eating dinner with my parents my step mom said that my father couldn’t sleep because he was afraid he would get a call in the middle of the night that I was in jail, hospitalized, or dead. I was so selfish that I told her it wasn’t fair to put that guilt-trip on me. I had moved out of their house, and they shouldn’t be worried about me anymore. I was so disillusioned. I thought that I was free. I thought I could do whatever I wanted to do as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone. I couldn’t see that every time I did something that hurt me, I was also hurting them.
My DWI’s had already put me in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, and soon my worsening behavior put me in substance abuse treatment. I went to a 90-day treatment facility where they pounded us with 12 step information and psychotherapy. At the end, my fifth step was fake.
Soon I was back at it. I didn’t need meetings or a sponsor. I needed chemicals and escape. What followed was more pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. I began to pray, “God get me out of this.” I finished with, “God, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where you are, and I don’t really like you very much, but I need your help.”
I went to my grandparents three hours away. They said they knew where I could go. One week later, and one last disgusting hoorah and I was off to the shelter. There I stayed for two and a half years. There I found separation from my poison. It was the best move I ever made.
During that time I began an online degree program to become a professional counselor. Two years later I graduated with a master’s degree and moved back to my hometown working at a treatment center as an intern. Later that year I was hired full-time and became an addiction counselor at one of the most well known treatment centers in the country.
My insanity returned, but I didn’t drink. I would share in meetings the crazy thoughts I was thinking. Thoughts like, “Maybe I should kill myself.” The people in the rooms of the 12 step group told me to get a sponsor and work the steps. So, I said, “Why not?” My sponsor took me through the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” and showed me how to work the steps. My first real 5th step changed the way I saw myself, and the way I saw the program. I didn’t have to hide behind my secrets anymore. I became free to be me. The remaining steps have shown me how to ask God for help, forgive and seek forgiveness from others, and practice the daily spiritual disciplines that keep me in a right relationship with God, myself, and others.
In the last ten years, my life has changed drastically. I started taking service commitments. I have gone to conferences and conventions. I had a home group and became a regular at meetings. I led big book studies. I chaired our local annual convention for two years, and I began to like myself as I began to see that it’s ok to hurt, to feel uncomfortable, to be defeated. I have learned that I can grow through suffering, and that pain will bring about a better me if I can accept my part in it.
Recently, I was recruited to a brand new treatment facility where we are working hard to create a new program where young people can be introduced to recovery. The value of living honestly is greater than any profit gained through manipulation or deceit. My recognition of the higher power in everyone I meet and in every part of nature has brought me into a better understanding of “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Before recovery I could only attain clarity and freedom from chemicals. Now I have gained a clean high through right living, and every day is better than the last.
The picture shows Josh at a pool tournament at the APA, where he came in 5th of 48. In his fifth year of sobriety he went skydiving. But for the most part his life became calmer. Josh loves his daily workout, which became a lifestyle, not only a passion, reads often and loves to watch movies.