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“My scars make me beautiful” – Jeremy’s Story

Listen as Jeremy shares his story of healing from childhood trauma and abuse, and recovery from addiction to alcohol, heroin, and fentanyl.

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Produced by Vic King. ( Music by Blue Dot Sessions. (


Vic: From Helping Up Mission, this is A Shot of Hope.

Before we get started, I have a favor to ask. I’ve been making this podcast for over five years now, and I’m always trying to improve, to make it better. In fact, my goal is to make one of your favorite shows. I’d love to know how that’s going and I put together a little survey. Won’t take long I promise.

But even if this is the first episode of this podcast that you’ve ever listened to, I would love for you to fill it out. The link is in the show notes. It’s It’s a bunch of questions, but they’re almost all multiple choice. Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut. It will help me to make a better podcast. I’ll remind you again about this at the end of this episode, but thanks. And thank you for listening.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Jeremy over the past two years now. He came into the program here at helping up mission, angry and terrified. And he’s living now with more freedom and happiness than I think he ever could have imagined was possible. He also just came on staff at the mission this summer. He’s working as part of our facilities team. So I’m proud to now count him as a colleague in this work.

Jeremy’s story, like all of our stories, starts when he was very young. In fact, the first thing you hear is two of his earliest childhood memories. And they’re not pleasant ones. Jeremy’s life and especially as childhood were marked by trauma and abuse. I don’t know if any episodes of this podcast are what I would call light listening.

But this episode is a particularly tough one. There are some mature themes, including descriptions of abuse. There’s some mature language. So consider this your content advisory warning. I don’t know if I’ve ever given one of those on this podcast before, but like I said, it’s intense. It’s ultimately beautifully redemptive. But can you really have one without the other?

The other thing I should mention is that and a couple of weeks, I’m going to be speaking at the Citygate Network conference, it’s .The national conference of organizations like Helping Up Mission and it’s meeting in Baltimore this year which is kind of fun. I’m giving one session on podcasting. So if you’re going to be there, and you’re listening to this podcast, we should totally talk.

Another one of the seminars that I’m going to be presenting at is about trauma healing. A key part of Jeremy’s process was a group that he participated in called a trauma healing group. And Jeremy is going to be sharing some of his story at that seminar with me as well.

And then one note on the context of this recording. Most of the interviews on this podcast are recorded in my office. This recording was actually in our classroom. Over the course of several classes my colleague Mike and I asked Jeremy to share his story in detail and I stuck a mic on him, with his permission of course, and recorded it. That accounts for both the difference in the audio quality, but also just a little difference in the way he’s speaking. You know, he’s not speaking to one person, he’s speaking to a group. So it almost feels like you’re sitting in on a meeting.

All right. Enough of me talking. Let’s get to Jeremy’s story.

Jeremy: To understand my story you have to understand how it started. So imagine, I lived in Southwest Baltimore in a rowhome. How we ended up with a wood burning stove. I don’t know. We had one. Well, in the summer we would line our yard with wood. and my abuser was my stepdad. He was not just physically abusive. He was mentally abusive. And how he combined the two is the story that I’m about to tell you. In the back of our yard after the wooded season from the summer, we would go chop the wood. You know what a chopping block is. He would put smaller logs on top of that. And at six years old, he’d make me hold the log while he swung the ax at me. Don’t let the wood go, because if you do, I’m going to f*** you up. So imagine at six years old, having someone swing an ax at you, someone that you trust and is supposed to care for you and love, you mentally torture you with the possibility of physical abuse. And then if I did drop the log, I’d get hit. That’s the type of person he was.

I was five years old. And the only reason I remember this is because it was so traumatic. I was in kindergarten and they had two separate classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And I was in the afternoon class. And, my stepdad was asleep on the couch. I’m guessing because he was taking a nap before he had to take me to school. In our kitchen we had this old clock with the analog clocks on it, and it said 11 o’clock and I knew I was supposed to be at school at 11 o’clock. So I saw at 11 o’clock. What I didn’t realize is that that clock was two hours fast. School’s only a couple blocks away. I knew where it was. I knew how to get there. Cause I walked there every day was in my neighborhood. So I didn’t wake my dad, my stepdad up. I walked to school when I got there. The morning class was still in there and I was confused, but the teacher saw me there and she went and called my stepdad.

So my stepdad came in and got me. And, he beat me to the point where I pissed my pants and that was before we got in the car. Then when we got in the car, before he left, he beat me again, then when I stopped at the red light, he put the car in park and he turned around and he beat me again. Then the next red light did the same thing. Third red light, turned around and beat me in my face. Told me to stop crying. How dare you piss yourself. Look at you.

Then he took me to my grandmother’s house. His mother. Beat me again in front of her. She did nothing. What did he do? Was her response. That’s the type of person he was, that’s the type of torture I lived with every day for 12 years. It wasn’t just enough for him to physically abuse me. He knew if he wanted it to stick, which it seemed like he did, he had to ingrain it mentally, and he knew how to do that. And he did. He had this thing where he would put me up against the wall and he beat negative affirmations into me. You ain’t shit. You ain’t never going to be shit. You’re f***ing worthless. And he’d hit me so hard that it bruised my chest. It’s almost like he knew what he was doing.

That went on until I was 12 years old. Cause I don’t remember a lot of my childhood. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life and remember it, I blocked out so much of my childhood that it’s too traumatic for me even to deal with as an adult. To have somebody tell me that I need to deal with that is, it’s more than scary, it’s life threatening, but that’s what I came here to deal with. That’s why I came to the HUM. Because I know without dealing with that, that trauma, I’m going to stay sick. And I don’t want to be sick anymore.

I’ve always had some basis of faith. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know why it’s instilled in me how I’ve continued to carry it after all that I’ve seen. All that’s been done to me, all that I’ve done to myself. And to still have a belief in God to know that I can pray and he’ll answer my prayers. Where that came from I don’t know, it could have been my mom. My mom and I would watch, while my brothers and sister were watching scary movies downstairs. I hate scary movies. We would go in her bedroom and read the Bible. I didn’t remember any of it. I just remembered that moment being with a loving, caring mom. but then the next day she’d watch my dad beat the f*** out of me. And then she’d take me to church with her to Sunday school. So my that’s where my distortion of God started. How can you do that to an innocent child? That’s just to God. My mom: how could you watch that man do that to me and allow it and then justify it and be okay with it? How insecure are you? I mean, it took me a while to realize, you know, that that was her stuff. It wasn’t anything that I did, even with him, you know, his abuse. That was his stuff. It wasn’t mine. It’s taken me till I got here to realize that, and the spiritual awakening that I had, to see it for what it was.

At 12 years old, I had free reign. Didn’t have to go to school anymore. I could run the streets, stay out late as I want it. I could do whatever I wanted. And what did I do? I did as much drugs as I could do, filled that void inside of me with whatever I could possibly get my hands on. Most of the time I sniffed glue because it made me unconscious to everything in life. My thoughts, my life, how bad it sucked, the abuse that I had been through. It just, it, I didn’t have to deal with reality. My reality was whatever I made it. And I lived like that for, I don’t know, three or four years, until there was a geographical change. that kind of sobered me up for a little bit. It wasn’t long, maybe a year or two. Right off the jump I got, I had abandonment issues. I had trust issues. I didn’t trust anyone.

I was 18. I was at a party. Someone laid out a line of some heroin and said, look, try this. that was it for me. I think I said this in a meeting, that was the warm blanket out of the dryer, wrap it around yourself, lose yourself in it. And I did. Cause it felt too good. I didn’t have to deal with life. I’m an introvert. It made me an extrovert. It made me everything I wanted. Not everything I wanted, everything I thought people wanted me to be. Everybody else’s perception of me. That’s how heroin made me feel. It made me feel like Superman. I could do whatever I wanted. I could accomplish anything, no matter how false that was. Cause it was definitely false. my addiction progressed pretty quickly then, it was just, once a week, every other week, at parties. Then it became, you know, daily and one habit, then it became, I had to cop before work, had to cop after work, maybe once or twice during the day, if I can get away with it. and that was it.

Always had some bit of faith in God. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it was, how it’s been instilled. I don’t know how I’ve kept a hold of it for so long after all that I’ve done to myself and that’s been done to me. At 23, I prayed to God. I’ll never forget it. It was, it was new year’s Eve. I was laying alone. Dope sick in my apartment. and I, for once got honest with God, I asked for help. I asked for a real family. I asked for healing. I asked for serenity. I asked for everything I never had growing up. and I went to sleep. And I woke up the next day and believe it or not, my, my prayer was answered. My uncle called and asked me if I wanted to move to Michigan. A geographical change. Great. Nobody knows me there. My trauma can’t follow me there. Hmm. You know, but look, I know some people hate the cliches, but wherever you go. There you are. I thought moving to Michigan would heal me somehow. My addiction would just disappear. So I moved to Michigan. My uncle offered me a job and I met the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met in my life, who ended up being my wife and the mother of my two children.

I had a beautiful home white picket fence. Every material thing you could have or ask for, I had. Six figure income. Wasn’t enough. My kids weren’t enough. I allowed my addiction to tell me that my kids were better off without me, what do I know about love? All I’ve ever experienced in my life was hatred and abuse. I didn’t want to put that off on them, even though I wasn’t that guy, you know, I coached their softball teams, their soccer teams, their 30 ball games. You know, I was that really good dad. Everybody else saw the good in me, the good person that I was, the honest caring person. The most important person didn’t see it. And that was me. I couldn’t see it. I was blinded to it.

Jeremy: I left my wife and my kids 10 years ago. I left because I was in active addiction. I tried to white knuckle it, I mean, I’m sure like a lot addicts did. I didn’t go to a program. I didn’t try counseling. I didn’t do nothing. I’d thought the geographical change would be enough. Ignoring it is the better option because then I don’t have to deal with any of it. That’s exactly what I did time and time and time again. So, it actually got to the point where. My wife was going to have me physically removed from my own home by the police. The police showed up with a writ for me to go to court to prove why I should be allowed to stay in my own home because I bought my kids Christmas presents and I sold them the day after. and I convinced myself that it was okay because I bought those presents and I’ll replace them sometime later. And I understand why my wife did what she did. She was protecting my kids. And I I love her for it, you know, for having the strength and courage to put someone she loved and wanted to spend the rest of her life out.

She wasn’t even worried about her own welfare. She was worried about my kids and I wasn’t. So I talked myself into to running back to Maryland because the solution is here for some reason. It wasn’t, it wasn’t the solution. I knew what I was doing. I was making it so I can continue to use, at whatever cost. So when I moved back here, It made it easier for me to use because now that guilt and shame that I had from leaving my kids and my wife, I could sit in that and justify why I use. For however much longer. And that was 2009. I hadn’t stopped getting high since then. Many trips to jail, many recovery programs, many outpatients, many therapists. Wasn’t enough, it just, it, it wouldn’t stick.

One time I got arrested, I was at the homeless shelter in Catonsville. On Wade Avenue. I go in the bathroom stall at, after lights out and I put one in me. And I, all I remember are like still images of me Kung Fu fighting some poor dude in the dorm. And I wake up. And I’m handcuffed to the chair in the director’s office and there’s a cop sitting next to me. So he puts me in the back of the police car and I have sweat pants on and I kind of remembered, I put the two pills of dope inside the little draw string holes in my sweat pants. I get the bright idea of to lay out a line of dope on the bench seat of the back of this police car. He’s never going to see me. And he didn’t. So I don’t even know how to, honestly, I don’t even know how I did it with with my arms behind my back. But I managed. An addict to find a way. I found a way to do it. so I sniffed this line of dope and think, all right, great. I’ll be good till they let me out of my own recon. He gets me out of the car and he takes me up to the door to take me inside. And he kind of turns around and looks at me. and he said, the f*** is wrong with you? The pill of dope was stuck to the side of my nose. And he didn’t say it to be smart. He said it like, inside what is wrong with you? Do you see the insanity of what you’re doing?

And that, that hit home. I went to court and the judge asked me, he said, well, mr. Bellows, you’ve already been here for 90 days. Your charges only carry 60 days. What do you want me to do with you? For actually the first time in my life, I was honest. I said, if you let me out, I will kill myself or you’ll see me again in a month with a brand new set of charges. I said, I need help. I said, I can’t do it on my own. He got me into a great program in Owings Mills. I embraced it at first. I started my own business while I was still in this rehab. I got everything back, but one thing I didn’t do is deal with the reason behind my addiction. Wasn’t just using. I didn’t deal with the 85%. So, when I left the last rehab that started the run that brought me here. An eight year run.

For me to be willing to get help this time, I had to get broken. I mean, not just mentally and physically, but spiritually broken. And I’ll tell you how that happened. me and my younger brother, my little brother, after my dad had left and my mom, you know, kinda disappeared, we were all each other had. You know, and we vowed to each other that we’d take care of each other at all costs, no matter what. And we did for the rest of our lives, you know, there was never any judgment. We’d use together. We never got clean together. We lived together. we took care of him, you know, for 35 years. No matter what, whenever one of us picked up the phone, the other would always answer. And, I got in my truck when I lived in Michigan, when I heard he was living in an abandoned warehouse down here in Baltimore, shooting dope and coke.

And I came and made him get in my truck and took him to Michigan with me. I mean, those were the lengths that we went to for each other because we knew we were all, we were the only people that we both could trust that wouldn’t judge one another. So I say we were close, we weren’t just close, we weren’t just best friends, I mean, we were more than friends.

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days. What had happened was, he died, overdosed. They brought him back. They had to hit him like six or seven times and they brought him back. He told me what happened. And then he told me what they diagnosed him with when he was there. His pancreas was bad. He had the early stages of cirrhosis of the liver. And he was diagnosed with HIV. My reply to that was, to him was that, you know, look, it’s not that bad. They have medicine. You can be undetectable. You know, it’s not that bad. His reply to me was, it’s easy for you to say, it ain’t your life, and this is your fault anyway. You gave me the, you gave me Aids. My brother at the end thought that I gave him a dirty needle.

So the last conversation I had with my brother was, you know, him accusing me of being the cause of his, his illness. This was at Christmas. A few days passed after Christmas. January 3rd, 2019, he went home from the hospital. And he grabbed his phone, found the text message I sent it to him, took the two pills of dope and killed himself. And I gave him the dope that he did that with. Somebody I promise to protect. Somebody who I had taken care of my whole life and who had taken care of me. My soul broke that day. When I say that, I mean, I felt something in the core of my body break, and there wasn’t no, at that time there was no coming back for, I decided in that moment that life wasn’t worth living anymore.

I was going to do whatever it took to kill myself. Not by pistol because I’m afraid of pain. If I wasn’t afraid of pain, I wouldn’t be using, but I knew if I used fentanyl long enough. and as much as I could, eventually I’d just go to sleep and wouldn’t wake up anymore. So for the next year, that’s what I did every single day. I wake up in some bando or in some backyard, disappointed that God woke me up. Disappointed that I had to live another day in pain. I can’t even get my death right. Is what I was telling myself. So December 18th, I went and copped 10 pills of dope and I pulled into a gas station across from Mount St. Joseph high school in this little neighborhood up towards Catonsville. And I put two pills of fentanyl in me in the hopes that it would kill me, but it wasn’t enough. I was still conscious. So I loaded three needles up with the rest of the dope that I had. Now what happened next is kind of blurry. All I remember is putting the car in reverse and driving down Frederick Avenue.

And the next thing I remember was waking up with my face in the air bag and the side of my face tore up. My intake picture shows it. and that’s what I said earlier about… I didn’t find this out until I went to court for the charges that I got. but apparently, like I said, I didn’t just nod out. I accelerated before I hit this car because I wasn’t done trying to kill myself. What really hit me is that I wasn’t just trying to kill myself. I could have killed somebody else first. And for what? Because my pain was too much to bear I took, I tried to take somebody else’s life. I woke up on the floor of bookings a few hours later. And you know, this time I didn’t pray to get me out of jail. Get me out of the trouble that I was in. I surrendered. By surrender I mean, I gave up fighting anymore, fighting for my life, fighting for my sobriety. I’m done. My life is yours. Now what? This is my conversation I’m having to God on the floor, surrounded by sweaty meat sandwiches and empty milk cartons. Curled up in the corner.

I get out on my own recon and first thought was go get high. That’s what I did. I went up to Monroe and McHenry street and dope fiended somebody into giving me a well shot and a place to get high. And this guy who sold tools, I didn’t know him from Adam said, you know, I got you. you can go to my place. I’ll hook you up. So I go into this bando and it’s extension cord electric ran from somebody else’s house out, back. I go inside, I can’t think of anything or see anything other than: stop the pain, get high as quick as you can. So that’s what I did. I put what he gave me up in me, and there was no real effect other than a realization. I started looking around at where I, I had. This is where I’m that surrounded by a hundred full piss bottles, a thousand broken and untopped needles. Yellow tops, red tops, purple tops, glass vials everywhere, a pile of clothes that God knows how long they have been there and stinking. And I’m sitting there and this is your life now. This is how you’re going to spend the next 10 years of your life. And in that moment, I was okay with it. I was fine. I was willing to do that. But then something just told me that you’re better than this.

so I called my girlfriend at the time and so she picks me up, and a friend of mine had come through this program twice. and he’s been trying to get me to come here for two years, but I just wasn’t ready and didn’t want to come. But for some reason that night, when she came and picked me up from the city and took me out to her house and said, look, you got to figure out what you’re going to do. My friend called me, messaged me and just asked how I was doing. And I was, again, I was honest and I told him, you know, what had happened and where I was at and that I want to give up. He said, look, he’s like, I’ll make a phone call for you. He was like, but you need to be down at the mission at 6:00 AM. I went to sleep for the first time without having to put another shot at dope in me.

I woke up for the first time not sick. How that’s possible is only by God’s grace. For any addict, heroin or fentanyl addict knows the first thing you think of when you get up is getting that well shot. That’s what I thought every morning, that obsession and that compulsion to just get that one. I didn’t have that that morning for some reason, my only thought was to get here because I needed to be here. When I got here, my girlfriend dropped me off and I come inside the door. And I’m in my pockets and I got my girlfriend’s debit card. And by now I’m starting to get sick and I’m already buying cartons of cigarettes and selling up on the camera streets. So I can go get one more. Because who comes to rehab sober? Nobody I know. I know I never did. I tried to dope fiend my way out the door, but luckily Ben Riggins caught me and said, look man, I don’t think you should go out there by yourself.

After that, I finally get up to where I sleep now. And, at this point starts setting in. Why didn’t I get high one more time? You can’t do this. You know, there’s no way you’re going to withdraw in this bunk for the next, however long it’s going to take. I never withdrew from fentanyl before. Heroin I knew it was like five days, but the horror stories I heard and that I went through when I first got here, my sickness lasted three and a half months. Heavy. I mean, my body weighed a thousand pounds and I had to walk up and down them steps every single day. But I was willing to do it to get better. That first day I couldn’t sit still. the one and only time I’ve ever been in the rec in this building was the first day I got here. There’s no reason for me to be there. I just don’t go there. But that morning something said, go down to the rec. So I’m walking down to the rec and I get right outside of the chapel. And I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what drew me in, but something drew me inside of the chapel and there wasn’t anybody in there.

So I go in there and I sat down and, yeah, I actually, I looked up at the cross and I said, okay, now what? And I heard a voice, not an audible voice, but like, you know how everybody’s got, you got your inner dialogue. How you talk to yourself inside your head? I heard something say, let it go. And when I heard that, I felt, I don’t know what, it was, but I felt my eyes well up. And I sat in that chapel and I cried like a unconsolable child for hour and a half. Letting go of the last 40 years of pain, agony undealt with grief for the passing of my brother, my mother. I mean, just pure sadness. I had never cried in my life like that ever. I mean, I think the only time in my life I ever cried where all my sons were born. And those didn’t even feel as real as the emotion that I felt in that chapel. And that kind of started me on a journey to, you know: all right, what do you want to do while you’re here? What are you going to do? Just getting sober is not going to be enough. Just staying clean is not going to be enough. What’s it going to take to get it this time? So I prayed. For the first time, you know, in a really long time, an honest prayer for help, you know, not to get me out of jail or some bad situation, but for healing, for a relationship, you know, for spiritual healing. Cause I felt broke. I felt really broke when I came. You’ve been here. I’ll tell you all one thing about this building. There isn’t nothing in this building that you can’t accomplish or isn’t readily available for you. Closed mouths aren’t going to get fed. Whatever help you need, find the person who’s got. It might not have to be staff. It could be, you know, one of you guys. I found guys who have what I wanted. In the journey that I started, when I say that I surrendered, I put my life in those guys’ hands. Cause I make horrible decisions with my own life. I made the decision to walk away from my kids. I made the decision to try to kill myself everyday for a year. Those are the decisions I make. I literally told them, look for the next year. I’ll bring all my decisions to you guys and let you guide me on what should be done because I can’t do it. It’s like, with the steps, I can’t, you can. That’s my level of surrender. That’s where I had to be.

And I mean, it’s another cliche, but I had to be willing to be completely honest, open minded and willing. Honest about every aspect of my life and honest to the point where it’s, who are you when nobody’s looking? Who I can be, what type of character that takes, I had to be openminded to want to change and willing to change all my bad habits, willing to change all the things I had been stuck in for years, you know, willing to let go of my shame, guilt, the trauma. Yeah. And willing to pursue a relationship with God, because I knew up until this point that I had been trying to carry all my burdens alone. And they’re heavier than I can bear. I needed help. And there was no one else in my life that was willing to help because I burned every bridge I ever had. You know, I came in this program alone, no family, no friends, no nothing. I knew God was the answer and I didn’t know how to seek him out.

So my TC, he asked me, you know, when I first met him, what it was that I needed to work on. And one of the the biggest thing I needed to work on was the situation with my little brother, my role in his death, and, me not being able to grieve his loss. I wasn’t able to mourn for him at all. I couldn’t face my family. I didn’t go to his viewing because I couldn’t, because I was so trapped in the guilt and the shame that I had for the role that I played. My family blame me to this day for what happened to him. And they don’t know what happens, but you know, even now they still aren’t ready to talk to me.

And I understand because I took something from them that was very important. And you know, it was very important to me too. So I knew that that was the first thing that I needed to get through. The second thing was, I needed a stronger relationship with God because to deal with the third thing, which was the trauma from my childhood and bringing up all those, those feelings and, you know, not wanting to run from them, not wanting to escape all that pain and that agony I needed God first. And I didn’t know how else to do that. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the advice they had because every time I went to them, suggested that I sit with what I was going through. Sit with the sadness, sit with the guilt, sit with it. And I. First I’ve just rebelled against it. I didn’t want to sit with it. Who the hell wants to sit and feel bad constantly all day, every day and not want to run from it. Find some type of relief. And that’s the way I viewed it, but I had to look at it from another aspect that, you know, I had to go through it to get through it.

I sat with it for a long time. And Matt asked me to write a letter. I didn’t know how to process grief. I never had, I mean, I didn’t grieve when my mom died 10 years ago, I was indifferent to it. When she died, I felt no emotion about it. I was, you know, relieved in a sense that, you know, she wasn’t in pain anymore, but I didn’t allow myself to grieve for the loss of my mother. I just avoided it. I put that back to the farthest reaches of my mind, so I didn’t have to deal with it. So Matt said, write a letter to your brother as if he was still here and you wanted to, you know, tell him what your role was in it, how it made you feel, and then, you know, let all your sadness out on paper.

And that was easy for me to do, because to write it down is nothing because it’s just words on paper. And he made me bring it back to him. And I brought it back to him and I thought he was just going to read it and we were going to talk about it, but he made me read it out loud and I couldn’t even get through the first few words without crying unconsolably. Letting all that grief and anger out. And in the moment I was, I was mad that he was making me do it. Because I felt horrible. I felt all that guilt and all that shame. But what I realized now is what I felt was it leaving. I wasn’t holding it in anymore. I was actually letting it go. For me it’s not real until I say it. The words on paper, just that. If I don’t share it with anybody, they just stayed that, just words on paper, but to actually speak that stuff to somebody else, I’m forcing myself. To deal with it, to let it go, to let it out. So I don’t have to keep burying it with drugs or women or money or cars or whatever. I’m actually forcing myself to let it out. And it took quite a while for me to get through that whole letter because I couldn’t stop crying.

I couldn’t really even talk cause it hurt so much. After I was done it, it was a huge release because in reading that letter, I actually was grieving for him leaving, his loss and not being here anymore. And letting go of some of the guilt and shame that I felt for my role in his death. And then I shared it with Rallo and, I didn’t cry as much. You know, it just got easier for me to deal with, the more I shared it, the more I spoke it, the more it became real and the easier it became for me to deal with every time. And not once did I think about running out the door and going and getting high. And that’s usually my first reaction is don’t deal with it. Run from it. Bury it. Who wants to deal with that? I know I sure didn’t.

So we got through that and then the next step was my relationship with God, because I knew I needed him to accomplish the next step. And, what started happening when I started dealing with my relationship with God was I started getting really angry. I mean, not just angry, but rage. When someone would talk to me about God, I grabbed hold of a chair and I, I picture me throwing it out of a window because I had so much anger and resentment inside of me against God for what he allowed to happen to me my entire life. For me I’m a huge believer in predestination. God has a plan from beginning to end. There can’t be any deviation from it because it is at the end, the ending would change and he’s already thought it all the way through from beginning to end. So I think the God thing was one of the hardest for me to deal with, because again, Matt’s suggestion is, sit with it.

And I’m like, what do you mean? And it hurt so much the first time, I got to sit with this too? Because I kept getting blocked. Well, read the Bible? What does the Bible say? Or, you know, talk to God, pray. I might as well have been talking to a wall. Because I wasn’t getting any answers. I wasn’t getting any relief. You know, I’m, I’m actively, trying to seek out a relationship with you. And then I got to thinking about it and you know, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got, because I actually sat in this class over in that chair and Dan, he was sitting in this chair and he said, he said to me that God just wants a relationship with you. He wants nothing more than for you, you and him to have a loving kind relationship with each other. And I raised my hand and I said, how in the hell does God expect me to have a relationship with him when he destroyed my ability to have any relationship with anybody? When I was five years old? And now he wants me to come to him when he allowed all that to happen to me?

This is where in the back of my mind, forgiveness started playing a role in all this. At that point… he did this to me, all that pain, all that suffering, that’s God’s fault. That’s his plan. What’s the pain in that suffering. How do you justify destroying a child’s innocence at such a young age and why wasn’t there someone to protect him? Mainly you? Me talking to God. Why didn’t you step in? Why didn’t you stop it? So I was angry for, I mean, I think I sat with this for, I don’t know, a month, two months, a long time. The more I sought out God, the angrier I became and the more I wanted to rebel against what was happening. But what I didn’t realize that I realize now is that I was praying more. I was talking to God more. I was trying to find answers that I couldn’t, I couldn’t get, but yet I still wasn’t getting any answers. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

So the only thing I could do was flee. I thought about what’s your role in this, Jeremy? Why are you so mad? What’s going on? So I went out to the smoke pit over in 17 and I sat out there and I’m like, God help me. I’m tired of carrying these chains. been weighing me down for so long and I can’t do it by myself anymore. I’m tired of being mad. I’m tired of being upset. And I left it there. I left it in God’s hands to deal with however he saw fit. And I don’t know how, I just let it go in that moment. But I did. There have been three recurring songs that I’ve found since I’ve been here. if anybody knows who Lauren Daigle is, I strongly suggest listening to some of her music. It’s changed my life. It’s a song called You Say, Rescue, and, Look Up Child. And when I went down into the laundry room, I heard, you know, I got down to my desk and I heard this, the song Rescue playing in the back of my mind and specifically where it says, I will send you an army, to find you. And again, it’s like that little inner voice that I heard in the chapel that said, let it go. And like a couple minutes later, God sent me an army of guys to help. The guy, Kevin, he said, look, he said, I found something that might help you.

And it was two chapters, random chapters and verses out of the Bible. And, you know, we sat down and we read them and they had absolutely nothing to do with forgiveness or what I was struggling with. And, I go through the day with no answers and we get up into the trauma healing group and we start talking about, what else but forgiveness again? I started this trauma healing group that they have in here. And I’m like, you gotta be kidding me. F*** forgiveness is where I was at. Just too egregious, too bad. My stepfather don’t deserve my forgiveness. Neither does God. Why should I forgive them for what they did to me? Because in that moment, forgiveness was them saying sorry and me accepting it. That was my understanding of forgiveness at the time. So again, I’m angry, I’m full of rage and I don’t want to hear what any of them have to say about me forgiving my stepfather or me forgiving God or forgiving anybody else who had harmed me in my life. Some people just don’t deserve forgiveness.

Fast forward to the next day. I’m still mad. And I, I, again, no relief, none. Where’s my relief. Where are you? The Bible says you, you walk with us. You’re always here. Why are you not here? Why are you not helping? I’m tired of dealing with this. Please help me let it go. The next day I’m tired and I’m mad. I went to bed and somebody knocked on my bunk and I’m like, who’s waking me up. And it was God knocking on my bunk, just happened to be John Winchester that he sent to do it. So, hey man, you gotta get up and go to trauma class. So I got up, you know, pissed off that I was getting up and had to go. And I went and, again, I didn’t want to hear it. And, for a third time, the topic of the day is forgiveness again. And I’m like, look, I’ve had enough of this forgiveness for a day. It’s not worth my time. I ain’t trying to hear it. So I sat down and I don’t remember what we were talking about, but we were talking about… says in the Bible where God is sorry for sending man to earth and for all the things that we’ve done. When they said the word sorry, something piqued my attention. Sorry is not right. Sorry implies a mistake. There can’t be any mistakes with God, none, so that word’s not right. And for some reason, sorrowful struck in my mind.

And when I translated sorrowful, I saw something. I saw emotion from God, not like I looked at a person and saw him crying or anything, but I saw what emotion looked like. You know, what, what sorrow looked like, sadness, I guess, is a better way to put it. And this is kind of where this whole spiritual awakening, I guess you can call it started when I saw God’s sadness. I started thinking about, you know, whether God had the ability to have emotion. And I thought I knew right off, he has to, God can’t give us anything that he didn’t experience first. How would he even know what that looked like unless he had the ability to feel it and just share it.

And that’s when I saw, you know, the emotion of what sorrow was. After that, we started talking about kids and how, we teach our kids certain things, how we discipline our children, Laura Scott did. And when she said kids, something immediately clicked inside of me that became relatable. And it was, think of it like, When you punish your kids and you make them cry for you guys who have kids, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, was the first thing that popped into my mind. I heard God saying that to me, this is going to hurt me more than it hurt you. And I said that. That immediately became relatable to me. I immediately understood what he meant. I took that personally, the trauma that I went through, it’s going to hurt me more because I had to put you through it. But in the end, it’s going to make you stronger, more character. And I saw these things.

So we got to talking about that. And we, we split up in these four groups. The next moment, what they do is they give us these chapters and verses and they split them up and give them to everybody random, completely random. I sat down in the group and Matt handed us ours. And when he gave me the chapters, the two chapters and the verses, they were the exact same two that that guy gave me five o’clock that morning, exact same two. Again, I heard this inner voice say, are you ready? Here it comes.

And it gave me cold chills. And I got to thinking, okay, what? I felt a physical feeling. I don’t know what it was. I thought it was just, I don’t know how to explain it other than the Holy Spirit came into me to give me insight, knowledge, to be able to see what I needed to see. But it wasn’t just that, it was my soul being mended. Because I remember when I told you how I came here, my soul was broken from what happened. I felt healed in that moment. And I think the only reason that happened was because I was able to experience the Holy Spirit inside of my body. I stayed with that feeling and I’m sitting and trying to process all, everything that’s happening. Cause it happened pretty quick and, we start talking.

I don’t even remember what they were talking about, but I was, I was stuck inside of like a movie. I started to see visions. Like you recall certain memories in your head. They’re just pictures, they’re not constant movies. But I’m sitting there trying to think of what was going on inside of me and what I felt, what I saw as I looked up to God. And I saw God. Not looking directly at him. I saw something that I perceived to be God. And I saw him crying. I saw that sorrow in his eyes for the trauma that he put me through, then I looked down to my right and I saw Jesus being crucified on the cross.

I saw his back being opened by them, beating him. And then on my right on my left, I looked over and I saw my dad beating me and I felt the same pain. I just looked back to Jesus and I see him getting hit harder. And I look up to God and I see God crying harder. I saw more than just sadness, more than just sorrow. I saw true pain and I looked at Jesus and I saw him taking it like a champ. And I looked at me crying as a little kid with my back being broken open by my father. And I looked forward and I looked at my dad, my stepdad, my abuser, and I was able to look forward a little further. And I saw his dad doing it to him.

And again, I heard a voice inside of me say hurt people, hurt people. And I realized what that meant, what it was. That I don’t think he knew what he was doing. And when that happened, I forgave him for what he did to me. Not only did I forgive him, I thanked him in that moment. Because without what happened to me and what was done to me, I wouldn’t have seen what I saw. I wouldn’t have a solid foundation in my faith. I know God exists. God was with me in that moment. God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, all three were in that room with me, helping heal me from all that pain, all that torture, all that trauma.

So for that, I was thankful and I forgave him. I mean, the forgiveness is just a small piece of it, but to be able to thank your abuser for doing what he did? That was what I needed. That was what I needed to get past all that. I’ll read this last thing what I found. After I left that class after I left the trauma healing group, right after that, I do individual sessions with Laura Scott cause you know, two hours of trauma healing is not enough. I need three. I always go down there and I’d look out the window, and next to her window, I found this little poem.

I’ve always liked my people a bit damaged, a bit rough around the edges, a bit difficult to stereotype, a bit stranger than the normal crowd. I like people whose eyes tell stories and whose smiles have fought through wars. If you’re perfect, chances are we aren’t going to get on. If you’re one of the cool kids, chances are you won’t like me. You see what I want is authentic. What I want to see is your purity. I want to see the way you wear your scars. I want to see how brave you are with your vulnerability. How emotionally naked do you let the world see you? Your damage may not be beautiful, but it has made you exquisite. It makes you original. Different. And one of my kind of people. Because people like you are the most incredible thing about this world.

That was God sending that to me, telling me that my scars make me beautiful, everything that I’ve been through makes me unique and exquisite.

And I think that’s pretty much it.

Vic: And that is Jeremy’s story. Thanks so much for listening and just a reminder, even if this is the only episode of A Shot of Hope you’ve ever listened to, could you fill out the survey? It’s a few questions to help me make this podcast better. My goal is to make one of your favorite shows. And the only way I can do that is if you share your thoughts. So the link is It’s in the show notes as well. I really appreciate it. All questions on that survey are courtesy of the brilliant team at Edison Research and the form, the Google form, is adapted from one created by the inimitable Evo Terra. Thanks to Evo and the Edison research folks for that. This episode was produced and hosted by me, Vic King, with music by Blue Dot Sessions. Thank you for, including me and for including Jeremy in your day. It’s good to be included. Catch you next time on A Shot of Hope.

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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.


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.


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 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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