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Father and Son in Recovery: Carlton & Tyrell’s Story

Listen as Carlton and Tyrell share their father-and-son story of addiction and recovery, from Tyrell’s adoption at a young age to their reunion decades later.

Produced by Vic King. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Transcript

Vic:   This is a shot of hope.  Tyrell was just two years old when his family split apart. Both his parents were struggling with drug addiction, which led to prison time, and Tyrell and his siblings were eventually placed in foster care and then adopted into a new family. The trauma of those early years stayed with Tyrell, and as a teenager, he felt lost, unsure who he was. Some high school experiences with drugs quickly blossomed into full-blown addiction.  But while Tyrell was falling into the hole of addiction, his father, his biological father Carlton, was climbing out. And here’s the crazy part: Tyrell and his brothers reconnected with their biological dad over Facebook and learned about Carlton’s history of addiction and recovery.

Today Carlton’s celebrating 15 years, 15 years of continuous sobriety. He graduated from the spiritual recovery program at Helping Up over 15 years ago. And so when Tyrell called him one day, Carlton was thrilled to bring his son to helping up mission. Tyrell’s now 18 months clean, and not only has he reconnected with his biological father, but he’s reconnected with God as father. This weekend, as we celebrate Juneteenth and father’s day, enjoy this story of liberation from the bondage of addiction and of reunion between father and son. This is a shot of hope.

Carlton: That’s my son Tyrell Helmick.  He’s 28 years old.

Tyrell: And that’s my father, Carlton Cheatham, and he’s 48 years old.

Vic: So since you’re older, we’ll start with you chronology-wise, right? Share just a little bit about  your childhood growing up. And then I want us to  come to  him being born.  Paint me a picture  of what that was like.

Carlton: I grew up in East Baltimore, close to John Hopkins.  I’m the youngest of eight kids. Pretty good raising..  Just my mom raised us, no father.   I mean, I can lead you to how I got to addiction. I had a pretty good childhood, pretty athletic. I witnessed my oldest brother get murdered in 1983 and I was 11 years old and um, that really devastated me. I meant like, I witnessed that. It messed me up.

And I started drinking. The age of 12. I started drinking. That transitioned very fast. started smoking cigarettes, started smoking weed, and I was off to the races. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade and I continue on using.

Tyrell’s mother, we grew up somewhat in the same neighborhood and we went to school together, middle school together. Growing up as a kid, my mom allowed us to have company and play music. And we was sneaking and drinking and smoking weed and all of them things.

And  I met Tyrell’s mom and  we started dating, and  at the age of 17,  Tyrell’s brother was born.  And it was on and popping from there. Like I said, it wasn’t even two years later she was pregnant with Tyrell, and we continue on dating and staying together, doing things.

Both of us was using drugs, our addiction, both  was taking off and the journey then to other things like snorting heroin and  drinking and partying and things of that nature. And it became a real downward spiral  after that.     Managed to survive five years staying with other people, as far as her mom, her stepdad.  We journeyed out on our own in our twenties, and we got our first apartment and it wasn’t long before then, we had,  not lost the apartment, but we had stopped paying the bills due to addiction.

And I left that  house and I took the kids. We were on the run, and not literally on the run, but  you can say on the run, I wasn’t staying there no more. I just decided to up and go. was a lot of things going on around there, and so  my mom, got in contact with my mom. And  she told me that  the social worker was looking for me. And  I ended up taking Tyrell and his older brother out to my mom’s house and I left them there. And  CPS came in and they took the kids. They offered to try to help me again.  But I was caught up in my addiction.

And  I didn’t go to court. I had made a decision that…  and I prayed about it and I said,  even in my addiction, I prayed. And I said, God, they’d be better off being raised by another family other than me.  So I ain’t go to court to fight, to try to get them back.  I wasn’t ready to stop using. And  that continued on for a long time afterwards.  It’s, it’s been like 24 years since I’d seen them. And I had been back and forth to prison myself. I came here to to Helping Up Up Mission in 2006.

Vic: When you gave them up, how old were you, Tyrell?

Carlton: Tyrell was two.

Tyrell: Yeah, I was two.  So I don’t really remember much when I was in foster care and I remember like my brother, like really taking care of us a lot.  And then one day we was at a  foster daycare  picnic. And my adopted parents at the time seen my older brother in line, he was getting us food. And  I guess from that moment on, like, God was in it.

So  they ended up adopting us.  And they adopted all three of us. And that’s where my journey takes off, where I moved to Cumberland.  Growing up, like growing up was good.  You know, I had everything that I ever  wanted.  I had  a family. It was good. Like we had clothes and  got new shoes for school and got to go on vacation.

Carlton: And so like they were adopted, and  they were adopted by  a white family. And so he shared with me later on that, like the kids used to tease him and,  you know, he felt a little inadequate. And so he felt a little awkward, he told me.  But I just knew that,  it didn’t matter what race it would be, but I knew they could do a better job than what I could  at the time.

Vic: So when did drugs and alcohol come into the picture for you?

Tyrell: 17. Yeah, I felt inadequate.   And  basically was sneaking.   But a kid on my cross country team, he came over and he said, Hey man, I got some weed, man. And I tried it and you know I, I got hot, sweaty, hopped in the shower, blacked out. And I didn’t really like it, but I felt  cool, you know? Like fitting in and stuff. So I tried it again and  I graduated high school and  I started college and really wasn’t fitting in, really wasn’t what I should be responsibility-wise, and  made it through a year of school and flunked out.

So  I started working.  And I just resorted to drinking and smoking and that led to psychedelics drugs, stuff, that sort. And you know, I just  started like living this party scene, because that’s where I fit in at.  And it spiraled downhill until, you know, I was picking up that pipe to smoke crystal meth. And it didn’t start out as a big deal, you know, I was working to maintain and  but it started as a party on the weekend type ordeal.

Then it started becoming like, all right, I need this in a work week, to where  I just wasn’t taking care of my responsibilities.  I would go out and party on the weekends instead of being home with my daughter, my baby daughter, and you know, enough was enough.  So we ended up splitting up. That really fueled my addiction. And I guess the breaking point was my grandma had passed away.   And you know, it just spiraled downhill.

Vic:  So let’s jump back to your story.   How’d you find out about this place?

Carlton:  I found out this, about this place. My brother, I have a brother Troy Cheatham who was here.  I don’t know how he managed make i t to Helping Up Mission, but at my end, I was sleeping in Bum Park over here on  Fayette and Fallsway behind the main, by the church st. Vincent dePaul. And  I was at my end, I was broken and  I asked God not let me die like that. And I ended up at Bayview hospital. I sat out there on the bus stop, me and a  friend. And  we sat out there for two days getting high on the bus stop, and  it was over for me. I couldn’t even get high. I couldn’t even get high. And  we had plenty of drugs and couldn’t get high. Now I couldn’t get high not one bit. And I was frustrated. I got in March. It was cold. And  he just said, we should go on and tell them we going to commit suicide and they’ll keep us.  cold out here.

So that sounded like the best idea I ever heard. So we did that and they ended up sending me to detox at Bayview. When you’re in detox, you have to find a program to go to on your third day. They had this old catalog book with different programs and numbers. And I ain’t go through that. I knew where I wanted to go, cause my brother Troy was here at the Helping Up Mission. He had asked me to come here on different occasions but I wasn’t ready. And I think he stayed for 11 months. He stayed here 11 months. And I got out of detox,

I came right here and I ended up staying here for,    stayed here for eight years.  Graduated the program. I had a lot of wreckage in my past. And a program member  told his boss about me. And  after for six months, I was able to get a job. And I stayed doing that job and I did what I needed to and I ended up staying for years before I transitioned into another job. But  I stayed, and I asked God, said, God, when’s my turn going to come? When I could be able to leave?

And I could remember hearing that little voice in my head say, you have a lot of wreckage in your past that you have address. And I owed back child  support for Tyrell and his brothers. I think I owed $16,000.  And so I really didn’t have the money to actually get an apartment. And  so I stayed  here at the helping up mission and they allowed me to stay,  and it turned into eight years. But in 2014 I moved out I had gotten a one bedroom apartment.  The guys introduced me to narcotics anonymous.

Being here at the mission, make five meetings a week. that was a great thing for me.  The guys showed me where the outside meetings were started going to meetings. Um I was listening in the meetings. They stay I need to a sponsor and I prayed. And  I got a sponsor and started doing step work and I’m working on blind faith  with the guidance of my sponsor. And told me all I had do is be honest. I did that  as a result, a Sunday, I’ll be celebrating 15 years.

But anyhow,  my youngest son reached out to me.  I ain’t answer the phone, but he texts me. And  uh he told me his biological name. He said, my name is  my biological name is Kelvin Cheatham.  My adopted name is Marcus Helmick. He said I just want to know if you’re my biological  father. And uh they found me on Facebook. And me and my oldest brother, and my two sisters, we drove down to West Virginia and  we got  opportunity to spend time with Tyrell and Marcus, which is the youngest of, my youngest son.

Vic: Well I want to hear, so I wanna hear your perspective of this.

Tyrell: My older brother asked me years back. He said  if I ever found  our biological parents,  would you be interested in meeting them? And back then I told him, I said, you know, I don’t want to meet them.   I was fueled in addiction and wasn’t thinking straight, but when my brother messaged me,  and I was super emotional.  I remember calling  three times,  and just before I could, even before I could even ring for him to answer, I was done, click, crying.   I was really emotional, but  I ended up eventually,  eventually calling and like talking a little bit and  asking him questions and…

Vic: Yeah.

Tyrell: Like when I was in like first or second grade,   I would ask my parents, I would be like,    where’s my father?  I guess you know somewhere down the line, I still remembered  my pop.   But it really, like I really started feeling different when I would see,  like, when I played sports, like track and field,   you know. I’d see an African-American  kid that I ran with, and his parents would come to support him, and his parents would be black and I’d be like,  his parents are black and like my parents are white. Like what’s going on? You know?    Like in college, that first semester college,  they had us do a family tree of our ancestors and like,  what ethnicity you were and stuff. And you know I told my teacher that I was adopted, and she was just like, we ended up  sharing our family tree in the class.

And I told the teacher I didn’t want to share because deep down  I don’t really know where I come from. You know? I can, she said well just use your adopted family. I said, but that’s really not where I come from. So I really don’t feel like the same.

Vic: Yeah I mean if you want to take the tree metaphor, you were transplanted.

Tyrell: And and I felt like I was missing that.  Like I felt like different than everyone else. I really did.  You know? And that  really fueled my addiction too. Cause  I didn’t really know who I was.

Carlton: 12 years later, God answered  my prayers and  I was praying and I kept saying, God, when you gonna let me see my kids? And  I also used to go on Facebook and try to look. I would type in, search their names, their names and nothing would come up. And I would look at pictures. Facebook requests, friend requests to see if people looked like my sons.

Vic: Did you tell him about helping up mission?

Carlton: Yes, I did.  remember them vividly in my head and he called me one day at the job, and he said, Hey, pops, I think I’m ready.  I said, ready for what? He said I want you to  come and get me and take me up to the program  that you were in.  I love my sons. I ain’t never stopped loving them.  I just couldn’t do for them when I was up in my active addiction. So when you said that, I said I’ma come and get you tomorrow.

Tyrell: So I got here on July 12th of 2019. And  you know once I got here, it was rough.   The first, like couple of days. Well I met big John. You know I came from West Virginia and it’s like a totally  different  atmosphere. Yeah.  The city lights and everything. I was bugging you know? Even I couldn’t leave the building.

I’m like, how did I get here? You know? And I remember  that first night,  messaging my adoptive mom. And I was like, I don’t know if this is gonna work.  And the first couple of weeks were rough. Things started changing.  I had to make meetings and I had to go to the classes.   I just started listening. Like listening to other people talk and just, I never really knew of any recovery or anything like that. And I just, I started talking you know? I started talking to people.  Like I started sharing with  Larry and some people that was in class with me, and I made the decision to  keep going.

Vic: How did your relationship start to change?

Carlton:  Quite naturally I wanted to to take him and guide him and protect him and…  but the relationship started building. And I could tell that even now, like with Tyrell, he tends to hold back a little bit with me.  But he’s starting to open up, to understand that I do love him and I want the best for him. And  I just want him to feel like, okay, that’s my pops. He got me, right?  And as he started to come out, I started taking him outside meetings and introducing h toim other people and   trying to help him get an understanding of recovery. And that he’s an addict.  His mom and dad was both an addict.  His mom used with him in active addiction. And so it’s quite natural that he would have them tend to So trying to make him aware of part of who he is as a person. And so he can feel comfortable with himself.

Just like we talk a lot, we do things a lot, we go out to eat and  we talk recovery and do meetings together.  I think our relationship is,    it’s going good   for father and son. We  have some good times together. The other day we were going to a meeting and  he  was smoking a cigarette, right? And I looked at him and I bust out laughing. He said, what you laughing at pops? I said, boy, you look just like me. Smoking that cigarette just like me, man.

And  I’m just telling you, it’s  just good, because hoping we can have a family reunion.      If we can make it through COVID.   Everybody have the opportunity to be able to come together and be able to enjoy each other, you know what I’m saying?

Vic: You mentioned earlier, describing your days of getting high. And as a young man,  as you’re connecting the dots now, like you’re thinking a factor there was not having a strong sense  of identity,  who Tyrell really is. Yeah. Is that an area that you’ve been able to grow in, like over the past couple of years? Who’s Tyrell today?

Tyrell: Tyrell today is…   you know,  he’s working on things.  I guess through the midst of everything I’ve been through, I’ve always just like people please, and we’ll do anything just for attention and love.

And so I’ve been working on that  today   I’m okay being with m   I’ve  found out who I am,  I guess through experiences  and through relationships. Yeah. Like actually   talking to  my father and stuff.

I did the floors here at the mission, I would always be up in the morning dancing. And everyone would be like, man, why are you so happy? And  I definitely get that from my father.

Carlton: He has a lot personality. So he loves his daughter, chats with her every day.

Tyrell: That I can.

Carlton: I mean he sends her money all the time. He left out the part that’s, being here, as a result he got a job working at John Hopkins  environmental services. So    he has a great personality.  A lot of my traits, you know I’m a people person. I love people. And so  he had that trait too. Like  just got a real good personality that he’s working on developing, and addressing some of the  defects and shortcomings of his past, and finding out  who he really is as a person and  addressing them issues.  But he’s fortunate. You know he got three grandmothers, he got three mothers,  he got  two fathers. You  know, he has a lot going for him. I tried to explain that to him. You have the best of both worlds, man.

I love my son and  I want great things for him. I want great things for Tyrell. And I  a want… the opportunity will come. If he stay in position, if he continue to do the right things for the right reason and constantly work on his recovery.

Vic: As we’re talking, I’m just thinking,   one of the primary metaphors that the Bible uses to describe God is father, which is interesting, right? People have had all kinds of experiences, right? Of fatherhood, of their father. And if they’ve been a father. But I guess I’m just curious,  how that lands with you?

Tyrell: I just feel like that he loves me and cares for me and  has never left my side, you know, as a father.  And  I just feel like he’s  continually revealing things to me,  whether it’s with my biological father or just through something throughout my day. Like I know  I was listening to  Hillsong United  and you know just praying.

And I was reminiscing about like older times, like times in my childhood. You know I thought about  going to Sunday school in Cumberland and I ended up reaching out to my Sunday school teacher.  And I talked to her this morning, we talked for like an hour. And  I was able to still have a relationship with her and she’s, she’s helping me out. She gave me  chapters of the Bible where that are easy reads and that aren’t overwhelming. And she said  I don’t have to  rush through the book.

Vic: That’s cool.

Tyrell: Yeah.

Vic: That’s cool. You reconnected with your old Sunday school teacher.  As we wrap up,    anything else that you would like to ask your son or or speak to your son?

Carlton: Yeah Yeah, I do. I just wanted let him know that I love him dearly.  I’ll constantly be there for Tyrell I just want him to know that I love him and that he call me for anything. This whole process,  I could see that God had put this together. I’ve been praying for a long time for this day to come, to be able to spend time with my kids and, and as well as being there for my grandkids. You know I got grandkids, I was super excited about having  three granddaughters and a grandson. I want to get an opportunity to be a part of y’all And  like I still don’t know who my youngest son or my oldest son,  like how they grew up  and how they developed their own identity  as people. I’m learning that with Tyrell right now   Like who he is as a person. And at time I said to him, him I told you I’ma backup.  I’m allow you to make some decisions for yourself.

Cause at first I started out being selfish. Aw come on, you going with me. And he had started to meet friends here and started  playing soccer, running with back on my feet. I was like being selfish. I’m wanting him to be with me all the time, cause I’m going to protect him and I’m going show him how this thing work and all of But I

Vic: You had to give him his space too.

Carlton: I had to give him his space, and that’s something that God dropped in my spirit and then…

Vic: That’s very cool.

Carlton: I shared him.

Vic:  That’s very cool. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to  say to your father  or ask?

Tyrell: I just wanted to say thank you  for, you know, bringing me to the helping up mission and really gave me a chance to get my life together and…   and  I really like our relationship and I’m thankful for that too.  I think that like helped mend a piece of my past.  A piece of who I am.  Just spending time with you and stuff, and just like doing daily inventory on myself.    I’m starting to like find myself, you know, as a person.  And I thank you, and I love you too.    I just look forward to more times, spending  time with you,  you know and   just being thankful.  Working on my relationships with family and with God, and I love you.

Carlton: Love you too. Yeah.

Tyrell: More than words.

Carlton: I tell him all the time, I love him.

Vic: Good stuff, gentlemen. Thank you. This is really special.

“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.


Transcript

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.

MLK National Day of Service – Hope Tote Drive

In partnership with the Presidential Inaugural Committee MLK National Day of Service, we invite you to join us for a virtual community event on Monday, January 18th at 2:30pm to learn about our “Hope Tote” Drive. To register, please click here: Helping Up Mission’s “Hope Tote” Drive Virtual Community Event · Volunteer organized Thank you for your support of the Mission!

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We’re happy to announce that every other Monday starting June 8th, we’re welcoming new applicants to our Spiritual Recovery Program. Our COO Dan Stoltzfus gives the details. For men’s intake, call 410-675-7500 extension 166 or 196. For women’s intake, call 410-244-8414 extension 1003. You can find more info on our Get Help page.

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CEO Conference Call

During our Donor Conference Call on May 19, 2020, CEO Bob Gehman shared updates on HUM’s response to the coronavirus pandemic:   Topics that were discussed included: How we’re protecting the men and women we’re serving, as well as our staff serving them on the front lines of exposure.  How we’re persevering in our lifesaving and transforming programs and services in the decades-long pandemic of addiction  And the biggest challenges we face in the days, weeks and months ahead!   Listeners were also given a chance to ask …

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Johns Hopkins steps in to help shelters, communities ravaged by Covid-19

By Ethan McLeod  – Associate Editor, Baltimore Business Journal May 26, 2020, 6:30am EDT Updated May 26, 2020, 2:19pm EDT … “The Go Team has conducted nearly 700 Covid-19 tests since the pandemic began at Health Care for the Homeless and four other shelters: Helping Up Mission, Kipp School, Marian House and Esther’s Place. Lindamood said Hopkins recognized that “large shelters were like tinder boxes, and if there were a cluster that lingered there, it was gonna spread rapidly.” But “if you respond quickly and …

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