Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
I came from a good home. My dad was a coal miner and my mom worked in the school system. I was in church every time it was open. My experience with religion was one of rigidity, based on the list of things you do and don’t do. My understanding of God was that He was nothing more than a task master who was recording my rights and wrongs and keeping score, expecting perfection. I’m not sure I was taught this, but that is the way I interpreted it. The people in that religious system weren’t malicious, they were just doing what they thought was right.
In high school I played basketball, made good grades, and was valedictorian of my senior class. I am inquisitive by nature and asked a ton of questions about religion—questions my parents and my church were not comfortable hearing and answering. The gist of their answers was “You just need to believe.” Because questions were not welcomed, I developed a level of skepticism. I was also bullied in school which created a sense of not being sure of my identity and self-worth. I started using marijuana my junior year of high school for two reasons, really—to fill a void because a relationship with God wasn’t a part of my life, and also because it impressed a certain crowd and I wanted to fit in.
The first time I smoked marijuana, a switch flipped and I was immediately psychologically obsessed with getting high and changing my mental state. I wasn’t physically addicted yet, but psychologically the addiction was unleashed the first time I tried it. I do have a history of addiction in my extended family, so I may have been genetically predisposed for addiction.
I had a scholarship to go to college. The only career options that I understood for my life in 1997 were to become a doctor or lawyer. I was only the second person from my family to go to college and I didn’t perceive a big buffet of options. I didn’t like history, so that seemed to eliminate law. I decided to go the pre-med route.
My first night on campus I tried alcohol for the first time. I loved it just as much as marijuana from the first drink. By the end of the semester, I had experimented and fallen in love with every drug available in the area. Somehow, I was still making good grades. A friend from my hometown that grew up going to the same church as I did was at college with me and he also had a lot of questions about God and religion. He had a philosophy class and we started meeting with the professor. He was the first person who had an educated and non-confrontational conversation with us about our questions about God and religion. He identified as atheist/agnostic and I began to identify that way as well. Things started changing in my life. I continued to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, and women, and at some point, I began using prescription medication daily. I began to use OxyContin, as this was a new drug introduced in our area.
It became apparent that I would have to stop my lifestyle in order to pass organic chemistry, so I decided to choose a career that didn’t require organic chemistry. Medical school required organic chemistry but physical therapy did not. I got accepted into physical therapy school. While I was there I was a full-blown prescription medication addict and alcoholic. I graduated from physical therapy school in the top 25% of my class. I moved back home to start working as a physical therapist. I was making good money and the addiction went into overdrive because I had more money. I got married in 2005–2006 but it didn’t last long. In less than three years we were divorced. I lost my house to foreclosure and lost two cars. I was living in a house with no running water, no electricity, and five to six people staying the night—it was a drug den. But I continued to work as a physical therapist. Eventually, I was living in my car, making $107,000 a year with barely enough money to get gas to get to work. I ended up moving home with my parents to try to get some stability. They didn’t fully understand what was going on with me but knew there was a problem.
During this time, I met the woman who is my wife today. We married in 2011. I didn’t tell her about my past and she didn’t know about my drug problem. She just knew I used to be wild. About two years into the marriage, I stopped caring about everything. Anything that wasn’t nailed down would be at the pawn shop for drug money. Finally, my wife said, “I love you but you’ve got to go. You can’t stay here. I can’t help you anymore.” This was the day that she showed me the most love. I was sick and tired of living the life I was living. I constantly thought about killing myself. When my wife said, “You’ve got to leave,” I was actually relieved because it freed me to go get help. I went to my parents and they got me connected to a Christian addiction recovery residential home and when I walked in (still an atheist/agnostic) the people who were Christians weren’t judging my mistakes. They told me they loved me and they were glad I was there and that God had a purpose for my life. This was a new way of thinking about God for me. One of the pastors at the home taught us what prayer was. Up until then I understood prayer to be not much more than a list to Santa Claus. The day he taught me that prayer was two-way communication between the one praying and God, I was immediately frustrated that no one had ever told me this. I was baptized two to three weeks into treatment. My wife began to visit me at the treatment facility. The first Sunday I was in treatment she went to church and asked God for guidance about how to handle it—specifically if she should she stay married to me. In the message that Sunday the preacher talked only about forgiveness, especially about forgiving people who do not deserve it. She decided to give me a chance.
Even though I had my license to practice physical therapy, I decided that God was calling me to stay at the addiction recovery center and be on staff. After I successfully completed the treatment program, I followed God’s calling, and left a six-figure income to become an intern with the addiction recovery center for $75 per week. My pay for two weeks after taxes was $137. I brought the first check home and gave it to my wife and said, “I don’t care what we do with this, but $15 of this is going to a tithe!”
Miracle after miracle occurred to get us through the nine-month internship financially. Every random dollar that came, I attributed to God. When I reached the one-year clean and sober mark, I met with the CEO of the treatment program and he offered me a position at the corporate office. My wife and I prayed about it and I accepted that position as his deputy chief of staff. His chief of staff had had some health problems and wanted to spend more time at home. Within six months, through a series of supernatural events that I can’t really explain, I became the chief of staff of an organization with over 200 employees. I still serve in this position and just celebrated three and half years of being clean and sober.
Recently, my wife and I felt called to leave our home church, even though there was no problem. We told our pastor and asked him to pray for us. I felt like I was called to lead a new church but resisted it. My wife and I met with some families who also felt they were to do something different regarding church. We continued to meet each week just that small group of people, then opened to the public as a new church a few months ago. We are trying to let the love of God flow through us onto others. Public speaking was one of my greatest fears. In the past I would have been terrified and paralyzed in front of a crowd, but now God has helped me to get comfortable with speaking. We meet at a locally owned coffee shop downtown. We purchased a baptismal trough and have already had some baptisms which have occurred in the trough on the sidewalk in our little town. We are seeing God work in wonderful ways in the new church.
My wife is a fifth-grade teacher and she has children in class that have difficulties because of the drugs in their families. She uses what she has experienced with my addiction to help her students. She speaks from a place of deep understanding, empathy, and compassion, and students respond positively to her when they don’t respond well to others.
I have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of bad decisions, but God is using it for good. I have learned about who God really is—that He is not the task master that I thought He was. I have discovered that He is a loving Father who sees us as His sons and daughters and He has a purpose and a plan for our lives. I am thankful for my wife and my family and for second, third, and fourth chances. I am thankful that God led me to a Christian addiction recovery center, a place that allowed me to encounter His true nature. I am most thankful that God is good and that He forgives. He has wiped away my shame and regret.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.