“It’s the village” – Jon’s story

Listen as Jon shares his story of addiction and recovery, including his growth in mental health, spiritual renewal, and plans to through-hike the Appalachian Trail.


Jon’s Story // A Shot of Hope

Vic:  Welcome to A Shot of Hope: stories of addiction, recovery, and grace from the campus of Helping Up Mission in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m Vic King, chaplain at Helping Up, and we are back after a long break. It’s great to be back. This is the story of our graduate Jonathon Stob. First time I met John, I was struck by his loquaciousness.

Here’s a man who would pause mid sentence to find the perfect word. It was hard to believe that someone was such a love for learning would, uh, skip college out of spite, but such is the power of unchecked anger. Stir that together with a father wound, add in a restaurant career, and John had the perfect recipe for alcoholism. But over the past two years at HUM, John’s begun to recover his true self.

When I asked him what’s changed. He named three things. His relationship with God has been renewed, with help from a trusted therapist he’s taken responsibility for his mental health, and he’s discovered the pleasures of walking, which is another way of saying he has slowed down. One of John’s favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, wrote about the terrible speed of mercy.

In her stories, God’s mercy comes hurtling into the hardscrabble lives of her characters. In John’s case that mercy comes at about three miles per hour. He loves to walk, he loves to hike, and he’s actually making plans and training right now to hike the full Appalachian Trail next year in 2022. Exciting stuff.

So here, in his own words, Jonathan Stob.

 Jon:  I’m Jonathan Stob and I’m a Marylander.  I’m from just North of Annapolis.  Severna Park, it’s a thriving and affluent community. So I moved up here when I was 15. I moved with my dad. So I lived, my formative years  were all with  my dad. No, no mother figure.   It was an interesting way to grow up.  He’s a great guy but a lot of things that I didn’t know going on were kept very behind the scenes and I watched a man the who I respected my whole life, completely deconstruct through drinking and he hit a wall. He hit a really big wall, sobered up in 97, and things completely turned around for him.

Now, I’m not saying it’s just the booze. But it’s, it’s definitely a very large piece of the puzzle because the fog lifted for him. And things just fell into place  and  he’s a hard worker, so he worked on a lot of things, but it came out for the best.  He ended up getting remarried and then so on and so forth.

So the reason I bring that up is because I’ve always been interested in the dynamic about our parents being our models for life. So put that added pressure on one person, and put that continued added pressure on a person that doesn’t like to open up about things, you’ve imagined where, what kind of situations we got into with that as I got older, because I needed to know these things. 

The flood gate completely opened when I turned 21  I remember buying my first thing of beer and drinking by myself. And at that point, thinking this is, this is a bad idea you know, just kinda let it go. Graduated high school. Plans to go to school, got accepted, applied to one place, got accepted, all kinds of stuff,  scholarship, blah, blah, blah. The path was lined and I took it.  I took it off the table.  I didn’t want to do that. And part of me wanted to broadcast that I did it because I hated my dad so much. So in turn,  I ended up working, now bouncing around  job to job. I just couldn’t find my niche, and then restaurants came into play. So that just  ultimately became gas on the fire.  It’s cash in my pocket.

It’s everybody parties.  There’s good people in the restaurant business. There’s a lot of bad people  the good guy still was kind of following something. And so it was sort of like justified, I was making good friends and I was working. I was able to do things,  but I was robbed of a lot of things too.

I deprived myself of a lot of things.  Primarily  wanting to go back to school  and try and repair my relationship with my dad. So that went on for probably 10 years. And then I sobered up, I took the leap.    

I’ve recognized lately that  I have genuine anger issues,  borderline rage issues.  So I’d stayed up all night. I was living in Annapolis and I was working at a nice place and they’d been really good to me. So I stayed with them for a long  time, but I’d been up all night drinking.

I don’t know why I have no idea why.  It wasn’t anything in particular. And I had to work the next day and it was lunch. So I went into work, no sleep, drunk you know, just kept it under wraps. And it was with a manager that I,  that nobody really particularly got along with. But he got under my skin in particular.

We had an argument and then I went after him and I got fired. They were really good about it. They were like, okay, look.  We can’t give you your job back. We want you back, but  we can’t have that happen. So  the owner sat me down and said, listen, if you sober up, if you come back in a year and you have a chip, and Brittany is going to – my friend, Brittany -she’s going to keep an eye on you.

If you’ve been going to meetings and you turn your life around,  we’ll consider opening the door for you again. Like that’s how good the relationship was, but how bad the situation was. The next day I, I went to an AA meeting and it was,  it just hit, it hit the right spot.

Started going to meetings. And I went to a friend who was the first restaurant that I worked at and asked him if he needed any help.

And within a week, got a job back there. That brought me back to Severna Park. Which Anne Arundel Community College is like right there, literally within like five minutes. So the bus route going from Annapolis to Severna Park went through Anne Arundel Community College. I picked that up as a huge sign.

So I ended up going back to school.  I was sober.  It was working out really well, had a good sponsor, going to meetings, very diligent about it.  I had a place to live. Good neighborhood, good spot. Good roommate. I always had really good roommates. And ended up going back to school. And  that, that drive, that old drive from when I graduated high school.  It was, it’s like, it was sitting right there waiting for me, saying you’re doing the right thing.  This is what you want to do.

So add on top of everything else, a genuine enthusiasm for academia and wanting to succeed. And then  the rest is history in that sense. I  graduated from Anne Arundel, went back and cleaned all my grades up,  got into Maryland, went to Maryland, graduated from Maryland. Being sober made all of that possible, but all the things that went with it are what helped it grow and perpetuate: a connection with a higher power,  understanding what it is to accept people, warts and all.   You know, service work.

All the stuff, responsibility.  Even though it was like work and studying and all that stuff, you’re just grinding. And it’s,  I don’t want to go to a meeting. I don’t want to put up with people. But I have a service commitment. Be congenial, because you don’t know that that new guy’s coming through. You know what I mean? So while I was at Maryland,  actually while I was at, yeah, while I was at Maryland?  I decided to celebrate one night, and celebrating ended up becoming drinking. So I picked drinking back up.  When I graduated, I left there with like a self proposed black cloud, like that black cloud, like came back that I ruined the experience.

This is what I strove for my whole life to graduate from,   from an institution like this, with the degree  that I wanted. And I was hung over and beat up and angry again,  so that’s where this big wave started.  It was, I think, however long with my girlfriend who’d we dated since high school. She had that conversation with me  me, you know, I love you, but I can’t, I can’t watch you do this to yourself again. So she left. She was like  I just, I can’t.   Like  the owner from my restaurant:  you get your stuff together.   It was like one more big sign  that I just wasn’t paying attention to.  Like this was the woman I was going to marry, have a future with. And it was, she didn’t turn her back on me, but she definitely put up a big sign saying, this is not the life that you and I are going to have.

You need to do some work here. That drove me deeper into kind of a funk. And still in the restaurant business, which I was getting kind of upset about that.  Cash was nice and all the flexibility,   I needed to move on, but I didn’t.

So I just got continually frustrated and went deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole. So place I was working, I’d… I ended up blowing up one night and quitting, I went and talked with them and  they’d said  we’re going to suspend you for a week, but we’ll take you back.

And then quitting again and then got another job, ended up quitting that one.  I could have gone back and apologized,    and talked something out and probably had some kind of grace,   but I did that. This is where like pride came in.  Oh, I’m too good for that. But that’s where I started to really go down.

Your life isn’t worth it anymore.  So I cashed in my IRA and for about nine months, I just lived off of that. I was down to my last probably thousand dollars and I started looking into going somewhere and not coming back. And I mean that in a darker way than just being geographically  somewhere else.

So I went to Portland.  Portland, Maine in March, celebrated my birthday up there. And when it got to be  time, I extended it for another two, three days, got to time again, extended another two, three days. And eventually I just broke down and said, I can’t do this. This isn’t all right. I couldn’t grasp my dad seeing my body on a slab. That really put a dent in me.  I mean, it, it woke me up,  which was amazing. So on my birthday, I called and said, look  I’m here. This was the plan.

And I don’t, I’m scared to death.  So they said  come home.  Get on a train tomorrow and come home. So I did and I got back and my stepmom had said  listen, we’re gonna suggest a place.  We’ve been aware of it for a while. And we’ve been thinking about asking you to go.  It’s the helping up mission in Baltimore.

And basically our suggestion is we’re going to drive you up there tomorrow. So they pulled a fast one on me.

I was in Boston on St. Patrick’s day, waiting for a train. The next day, March 18th,  I was here. And I walked in the door and was just, I was just frightened because I’d never been. A part of anything like this before went and sat in the chairs.    That scared me.

It shouldn’t say it scared me, be judgmental like that, but it really woke me up.  This is a serious place. Like you’ve got to, you got to buckle down and do this. So I tried one last gasp and I went outside. I was like uh, you know, there’s guys sitting over there, they’re all just slumped over.

And then my step mom’s like, you have no other choice. That’s it. Go. That’s what it was. So I was here from March to October. And old habits die hard. I was being a big baby about things and couldn’t grasp onto that,  and um, I ended up leaving, so went back to Annapolis, bounced around hotels, back at an old restaurant that I’d worked at.

All of that came crashing down cause I was drinking again, like heavily. There’s a funny thing about all of that.  There’s a, there’s an adage  in the rooms about  every time you go out it, it just gets worse. The starting point is where it’s worse and  you’re progressively making it even more worse as you go.

And you don’t realize that  till you’ve bumped into that wall a few times. This was it. Living in hotels. You just walked away from a really good situation that was really helping you. And this is what you’re doing at 43 years old and things went south.

The anger and the rage came back. I took it out on one of my best friends. He ended up calling the Sheriff’s office on me and a warrant went out.  The day that I got the call from the Sheriff’s office was the day that I called Justin Melendy. I was standing outside. It was, December, it was cold. It was, and I was, I was,  that was the most frightened I’d ever been. There is the bottom. That’s it. I walked out of a cruddy hotel, nowhere to go, nothing to do in terms of how to make the situation better.

And then that’s when it was like, why are you not talking to the guys over at the mission? Why are you not doing that?  It was almost like higher power saying, again, you got these people that love you, you know, they’ll help. They’re willing, more than willing to help you out. Get over the fact that you made a mistake.

They’re not thinking of stuff like that. They’re thinking about your wellbeing.  They were like gravity.

They’re like, come on. Just get here. That’s all that matters. Just get here. Stayed in a really, even worse hotel. Talk about fleabag hotel. I mean, this place, this was bad. Up at like two o’clock the next morning and sprint to the bus, which was like three miles away, standing outside, freezing cold.

And right there was the first and only time I think I’m ever really gonna know what it was like to say to God, Hey, please get me out of this please I mean, Help me please. Get me- I wasn’t bargaining- but it was like, help me out of this, please. I need your help. I need your help. And wouldn’t you know, it, two seconds later, the bus shows up, but it’s driving down the center lane of the highway.

It’s not coming to get me. So this is where God’s telling me, you go stand out in front of that bus. This is how dedicated you’re going to be. And that bus saw me and it turned in. So almost got run over by a bus, but it woke me up and I got here. Walked in the door. It was, it was five, five 30 in the morning, sat in the chairs and  yeah  I was back in and graciously back in. 

The seed phase moved really quickly, I think because I paid so much more attention to everything and  really honored it. Tore through a ton of books, but I also tried to do something different, which was, I’d never read biographies before, but I read a lot of biographies. Yeah. So it was cool to get perspective from like good men, good people cause Flannery O’Connor too.  And then blackout was over.  Then became the responsibility of getting your phone and being outside again.  That was a different experience.  Don’t go by bars. Don’t go by that. Don’t go do this. Don’t go do that.

Which makes it a little limiting,  but it actually  got me to start exercising too. uh, So going outside  was with a purpose.  You know, you were held accountable, but there was enough room there for you to say, am I doing the right thing? And when free time comes around, am I doing the right thing with my free time? That was helpful to have that space. I guess the equanimity was probably a big deal.  A big part of it was filled with class  and meetings and stuff like that.

But free time also, it’s like you, you have to be an adult about this stuff.  Can’t lay around,  just have to do some things that are different.  The hardest part became,  how do you not get bumped off course?  Especially with my history, which is  just like at the drop of a hat, people just like annoying me, so that meant  that was something I had to work on, which in large part meant, you know what, you’re going to have to let a lot of stuff go. Because everybody’s on top of everybody. You’re not the only one. You’re not on an Island. And that’s still hard. But patience is, hey  you can meditate.

You can pray. You can go outside.  You can write, you can read, you can do all these things that are constructive, that completely take you out of that situation. Or at least that stressor situation  It’s like turning the hardest part into  a learning situation. 

High point: there was a mountain biking expedition that we did, which was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun on that mountain biking trip. What that in turn taught me was, the walking that I’d been doing diligently on the treadmill, I wanted to parlay that into hiking.

So that opened a huge door. Even though the excruciating parts  our work, I get a lot out of that work.  The sweat, the toil. There’s a lot of catharsis. There’s a lot of self-discovery. Cause I need that time.  I need that break away. What that ultimately has become is the larger goal is to uh, hike the Appalachian Trail.  And that is a daunting task. It is a genuinely daunting task. And yeah, there’s a lot of fearful things, but every speed bump exists for a reason.

It’s like how bad do you really want to do this? So again with the sweat and toil and work,  it manifests itself into, what are the challenges for the trail? Like, how are you going to get this together? So I’ve given myself a timeframe, and I’ve taken walking to be training now.

So I lug a huge 40 pound backpack. And I get looks from people like, what’s it like on Mars?  You’re such an alien with all this stuff. But at the same time, I get a lot of cool stuff too. You know, there’s a lot of guys that approach me and say, why are you doing this?

What are you doing?  And then I get a lot of pushback too. That’s so stupid to do stuff like that. It’s  but I spent it, it’s like, ugh, but that’s what I wanted. That’s what I wanna do. That’s me striving for something, and what’s even cooler is to hear guys come up to me and say, you know a guy said to me the other day, that that’s the weirdest thing.

That guy is such a, dah dah dah. And  they turn around and say, but hey man, that’s that guy’s dream. Do you have a dream?  And  that’s the magic of this place. Yeah, that’s it right there. And it gets guys to think. So it’s understanding how to turn that into fuel. Good fuel.  

This is a sign that maybe you should reach out to a few guys a bit more. Cause I do get a lot of questions and they’ve become teaching moments. And they turn into talking about books, talking about their girlfriend, talking about life.  And  it turns into catharsis for them. These are guys that are new in the program that are coming to me and asking these things. It’s become a profound experience.  I’d never would have dreamt this.  Wow. The Appalachian trail.  So there’s no grandeur to it. It’s not like me celebrating it.  It’s just, that’s the way that it is.

And  it’s become large, it’s become larger than me,  which is cool. 

It all starts with saying with every fiber of my being that my relationship with God has been one where it’s two old friends coming back together.  He’s there, he knows what’s up. But he’s, he waits for me. You know what I mean?

There’s  that distance we’ve got to cover, there’s that fence we’ve got to mend. He’s patient.  He knows how everything’s going to go. And it’s, he knows it’s my journey. So there’s been  a groundswell, of it feels like genuine faith and diligence and turning it over. 

The mental health thing has been really,  it’s been huge. Let’s put it that way. I’ve known for a long time that I had mental health issues. That  I know there’s depression in my family.  I know there’s alcoholism in my family  and so on and so on. So I surrender to that and I said, listen, I need to talk to somebody.

So I met Jim Blucher,  who’s been with me, we’ve been talking for a year now and he’s been, that’s my guy.  It’s been really cool working with him. And then eventually it got to be  working with Dr. Antoine about, about things, and how things can be treated. And he’s just been a wealth of information and again, super cool guy, and it’s made a, it’s made a tremendous difference.  Are the behavioral things still there? Of course. That’s going to happen with time.  But okay. Let’s put it this way. Sitting down to dinner two, three nights ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about,

and this isn’t rocket science,  but how after a period of time without the substance. You really do know that you have to face what the core issue is. Okay. My core issue is mental health. Facing it is one thing, asking for help and doing something about it is completely different.  That’s what this year has been.

I mean, there’s been a lot of tremendous things, but that’s what this year has been is,  you have this opportunity it’s presented to you. This is a gift.   You have to take care of this. So all the barriers came… finally, this is not going to work until you surrender,  you can speak up about these things.

This is what they’re here for.  That’s what’s going on right now.  In terms of career,  so work therapy’s a really interesting concept here   I’ve done housekeeping.  I immediately went to the kitchen. I did treatment office.

And then back down to the pantry. Okay. So pantry is basically  a conduit for what goes on upstairs, to what’s getting stored downstairs, to what can be brought over  from Lenny’s.

As a matter of fact, we should change the work therapy to logistical midwife of the kitchen. It’s the walk-in, it’s the freezer. It’s now all dry storage 

tying all those things together. Okay. Being in charge, really, I’m not really in charge, but I’m the go-to guy for all of that. I’m the pantry guy. Yeah. So the future being  something that’s really interesting. Cause now I can see that as, I’ve always been deathly afraid of not doing a job that wasn’t like moving,  just sitting still.  

But the treatment office taught me that I could do that that I could handle those things like that.      So that. Helped me to discover that there was some maturity that had  developed  and responsibility, just be there, faithfully do the job that’s asked of you and move on.

 So now thinking about what would be for the future, what would be a good job?  I can’t say specifically what I know what it is, but I have a lot more faith in the ability to do be a multitude of things.  I can live with that.

And what I thought about was so there’s, there’s through hikes, which, so it starts in Georgia ends up in Maine. So  the traditional route is to go down to Georgia and hike up to Maine. Okay. So I thought  since I’m here, giving this idea a try, which is leaving here in May, going up to Maine,

and then coming back to Baltimore,  regrouping and then going down to Georgia and coming back to Baltimore. But yeah, I think that’s, it feels solid. I’m still trying it on, but  it feels solid.  Like a wise man once said, the great thing about beards is that they grow on you. 

There’s a lot of really good people here and they’re very accessible. I said that in my graduation speech all the TCS, because they’ve been in the trenches  Dave Pope, cause his door’s always open.

Vic King cause his door’s always open.  Mike Rallo,  Brian Vincer, or I can go on and on and on. Accessibility is you can approach people here and they’ll give it to you straight, and they’ll help you out as best they can. So there’s, there’s a huge debt of gratitude for that, there’s so many things I could say that we’ve talked about here. I would have never told you that three years ago.  It’s it’s it’s the village    It’s really been a tremendous help to have people around that are really good. Yeah.  

Vic: And that’s John. Thanks for listening to his story. 

Before we wrap up, I’ve got an update on Ramon, who was featured in our last podcast episode and also in the Road To Hope video that you can see at helpingupmission.org/roadtohope or our YouTube channel. Ramon just came on staff as our newest treatment coordinator and as our Hispanic outreach coordinator, strengthening our ties with the Hispanic community in Baltimore. Super excited to have him as a part of the team here at Helping Up. 

This podcast was produced by me, Vic King, with music by Blue Dot Sessions. Of course, if you haven’t subscribed, you can always do that in the podcast player of your choice.

And if you want, you can even leave a review or rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen that lets you rate things. Not all platforms do, but yeah. Thank you for sharing this time with us out of your day. Until next time, peace.