“My life consisted of lies until I got to the mission….I would have never imagined that I would be where I am today.” I grew up in Knoxville. My addiction started when I began using alcohol when I was 17 years old, after my grandmother passed away. I have no knowledge of my biological father. My mom remarried when I was five and and started working. With nobody at home my grandmother played a big role in raising me.
I was involved in church as a young child, but when my grandmother passed, I was mad at God and wanting to numb my pain. I started smoking marijuana and trying anything. My grades slipped but I still excelled at soccer and got a scholarship to play in college. On graduation night, my best friend was killed in a drinking and driving accident – that’s when I started running and left Knoxville.
“All I cared about was partying…”
[College} was the first time I was away from my family and on my own. I failed out and moved back to TN. All I cared about was partying and soccer. I moved across the country and back again. I got into pills and cocaine. I would pick stuff at jobs quickly and then flame out.
I always had friends and family tell me that I could accomplish whatever I wanted to. But, I wasn’t passionate about anything, other than playing soccer. I was lost. I had accepted that I would be a drug addict the rest of my life, numbing my pain.
I didn’t want to end my addiction.
I moved around a lot. I thought if I started fresh, I would stop using. So, I got the brilliant idea to join the military. I detoxed off of alcohol while I was in boot camp. I ended up choosing the ceremonial guard, where I got injured and was proscribed Percocet. That was the end of it. I met a fellow shipmate who was injured; he introduced me to heroin. I started stealing from my shipmates and that is when it got bad. They put me into Walter Reed pysch unit for 3 weeks and then 28 day rehab in VA. I didn’t want to end my addiction. After everything transpired, I was given an “other than honorable discharge”.
I could have gone home, but I didn’t want to put my parents through that again. I went out to Colorado and lived with a friend and his family. [It didn’t work out] and he bought me a ticket to Santa Cruz, CA. Eventually, I met up with a high school buddy and got a job working on a legal pot farm, making $500 a day. In Santa Cruz I was introduced to black tar heroin and crystal meth; I started getting arrested – 22 times in 3 years.
In his addiction James had no hope, no love, no faith, and no direction
My last arrest was June 22 of last year; my sobriety date is June 28, 2015. I weighed 150 lbs.and I had no hope, no love, no faith, and no direction. I attended church in jail and met a little old lady who reminded me of my grandmother. She told me that God loved me. I asked God to come into my life and guide me. I had my first spiritual experience in a long time. The next day, the withdrawals were gone and I called my mom and told her I was ready to come home [when I left jail]. It was emotional to leave; I had become addicted to the lifestyle.
My first night home was the first time I had seen my parents in 3-4 years. Getting into treatment was part of the deal. I went to the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission (KARM), but I needed a long-term program and they [referred me] to Helping Up Mission.
“I was ready to change.”
Settling in, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but I was ready to change, whatever it took – I knew it was better than jail and it was time to get honest with myself. Eventually, I felt peace and could walk into a place and not be judged. I could lay my head down and fall asleep.
Mental health counseling has been key for my recovery. When I was first assigned to mental health counseling, I had no idea what it was about. Before, I had no feelings, connection; I was a zombie. Mental health counseling was the first time in my life I could be honest about my feelings – my anger, fear, grief. It opened the door to get honest about my pain. This has led me to trusting others, rather than lying about everything and being suspicious of everyone. It’s led to genuine relationships with others, and I know that guys look up to me now. Spiritual Life staff, my sponsors, mental health counselor, parents – are all part of my recovery, opening me up to HOPE, and becoming more whole.
“I’m dealing with my emotions.”
Physical training has helped to create whole life transformation, too. When I was younger, I used exercise as a coping mechanism, running to escape. When I was injured in the military, that coping mechanism was no longer available and I used drugs to escape and numb the pain. Now, exercise and physical fitness still has great benefits, but I’m not using it to escape because I’m dealing with my emotions. I’m training to run the Baltimore Running Festival’s half marathon in October, so that I can bring awareness to men experiencing addiction and contribute to what has benefitted me so much.
My recovery changed last November. I posted my before and after picture on my Facebook page and it went viral.
“I have worked my program.”
I wanted to show my friends and family that I was doing well and change was taking place, not only physical, but mental change as well. I have worked my program. Today, I am honest, open-minded, and willing. I have so much joy and love in my heart today.
I’m going to stay in Baltimore. I love the city and am being blessed on a daily basis. This is where my support is. I want to take care of my financial debt and go back to college to get a business degree.
Even through my addiction, his family has never given up
I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends and family in my life. Even through my addiction, they have never given up on or stopped loving me, even when I stopped loving myself. I never imagined that I would be where I am today. I [am] most thankful for the ability to accept change in my life!