My life is full of peaks and valleys; I have noticed while there have been great peaks in my life, I have found the greatest lessons in the valleys, and this was where GOD chose to reveal himself to me.
These are some of the formative valleys that seemed to define the way I chose to look at life in general.
Waking up in the backseat of my car just north of the wells st. bridge in downtown Renton was not the way I pictured my life, but it was where I had landed. I was in a tremendous amount of both physical pain and mental anguish. It was a very familiar area to me, with my dad residing a couple houses to the east on Riverside Dr., in a home a couple of friends and I had rented from him in the early to mid 90’s. With bars and taverns I frequented just down the block it was a bit of a comfort zone, and seemed like the perfect place to slip into oblivion.
For years I was a daily user of marijuana, and spent my weekends partying with friends. I would go through jobs almost as fast as I would smoke a carton of cigarettes, that is until I was offered the ultimate job for a person with my lifestyle, a place I had burned most of my free time and money at, the Renton Pub. Now I would at least be paid to be there (although I would still recycle most of my paycheck back to The Pub). At this point I led a life of little responsibility and no accountability. I met a young lady and I eventually became responsible for the birth of a baby girl. At this point my transgressions had not been actualized, and little had changed in my life. A few months later I met another young woman and once again became responsible for another pregnancy.
While I remember arguments among my parents I never thought it was abnormal, or that anything was wrong. With my older brother a senior in high school getting ready to leave home to attend the University of Washington everything seemed good at home. That summer my mom took my younger brother and I to Bellingham to visit my aunt and it soon became clear that we would not be returning home. (The fact that my parents were splitting up did not seem to alarm me as much as not returning to my friends, my football team, and my home.) Before the end of that summer my dad had driven up to Bellingham to visit us and my parents reconciled. We bought a home in our old neighborhood of Renton Hill and things went back to normal, at least for a little while anyway.
I was entering my freshman year at Renton High School and by this point I had already developed a propensity for getting in trouble. It was a very confusing time, I wasn’t grasping the curriculum in class, and how I received passing grades I will never know. By this point I was starting to believe I was incapable of learning. It was about this time I was beginning to experiment a bit more frequently with alcohol and marijuana. At this point it wasn’t the root of my problem, just a minor escape. I was starting to enjoy the unruly reputation that my rebellion was creating and school was becoming increasingly foreign to me. The trouble was piling up and I was falling farther behind in school. And I began to withdraw from school and the sports I was involved in.
While attending Renton Alternative High School, I met people I had things in common with. Most of us had issues or problems of some sort. Almost everyone used alcohol, drugs or both. At this time drugs and alcohol hadn’t developed into anything but a weekend habit. During this year I developed a serious relationship with a young lady that lasted for about two years. This relationship had left me heartbroken and bitter. I had a difficult time finding the strength to totally cut ties with the relationship. I stopped by a friend’s house and smoked some pot. And for the first time in a long time she was not on my mind. (I stopped by my friend’s house almost every day until I moved out on my own about 2 years later.)
My pregnant wife and I, recently married, moved into an apartment in the Renton Highlands. Not having a vehicle it was a very convenient location, close to a grocery store, bus stop, and laundromat. I was working at the pub Monday through Friday nights and would meet my friends there on the weekends. It had become a kind of hub where we would meet and make plans. Needless to say my wife had become increasingly disenchanted with this lifestyle I was living. (Looking back to a conversation I previously had with my dad regarding what happened to his marriage, I remember him saying that my mom had quit drinking and wanted him to quit also. I said something to the affect of, “You being an alcohol salesman, it’s kind of your job to drink. And it seemed that you drank before you guys got married.” So it became my position that my mom had changed and my dad didn’t and no one was really to blame.
I’ve heard the phrase, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That seemed to ring true in my case, especially when I asked my mom a similar question regarding the marriage with my dad. I recall her telling me tales of phone call after phone call to my dad’s favorite watering holes, where my dad would repeatedly promise her he would be home shortly, but it rarely was the case. And this was painfully true in my case also. This is how we spent many weekends until the unthinkable happened; the pub closed for good.
With the pub closed I took a job for a few months working with my friend Greg and it was in this period that my wife gave birth to my son. With my responsibilities increasing I got a job in the warehouse of the beer distributor my dad worked for. It was a very good job; it paid well with excellent benefits. A few months later I received an order from the court to start to pay child support for my daughter who had been born previously. Now I was really going to have to become more responsible. Although I had a pretty serious marijuana habit I was able to stop drinking for short periods of time.
Over the next few years my life would take several crazy twists and turns. While working swing shift at the distributor I was involved in an occupational accident that would eventually land me in the operating room to undergo back surgery. Unable to fully recover and perform my duties at work I became a liability and was terminated of my employment. This had left me feeling extremely victimized, bitter and angry. During the period of time that I was trying to recover from surgery some mental health issues arose; I was diagnosed manic depressive bipolar by three different doctors and was prescribed medications for this also. After receiving a small predetermined settlement by labor and industries, I was informed there would be no other restitution and this case was closed. By this point I became increasingly angry; I was not thinking clearly at all and feeling totally robbed and desperate and what little self esteem I had left was gone. With no means to support my family the future looked very dim. I started to self destruct and that’s how I arrived in the back seat of my car just north of the Wells Street Bridge.
By this point I no longer had any pain medication and without it, it was getting increasingly harder to physically function. When I would mix the right cocktail of alcohol and marijuana, I could almost alleviate the pain and almost function normally although I would often irritate my condition. It was difficult to stay ahead of the pain, not only the physical pain, but also the overwhelming feelings of regret of what I was putting my wife and son through. I already felt like a gigantic failure for not being a part of my daughter’s life. I was beginning to be able to see the wake of destruction I was leaving behind. I found it easy to escape into the victim’s role when I was under the influence but this proved much too difficult when sober. In the short time I lived in the car I was usually able to pass out around 3 A.M. I would awake around 8 A.M. to the sound of children marching off to catch the bus. I could hear them giggling and talking amongst themselves on the street corner as they waited, with all their fantastic ideas and dreams. For the first time in my life I reflected back to my childhood and couldn’t comprehend how I could have ended up here. The only way I could avoid the assault on my mind was to numb myself at every waking moment, and by this point I had become quite an expert.
In need of money and my recently retired father within a stone’s throw I made my way down the block to borrow some money, something I had grown accustomed to doing in the past week or so. On this particular day he wasn’t home. So I drove down the street to the bar and grill my dad frequented. Upon entering I saw my friend Greg. He needed a ride home due to the commotion one of his co-workers was causing. I borrowed some money from my dad and gave Greg a ride home. On the way to Greg’s house he informed me about some recent changes in his girlfriend and his life. He informed me that his girlfriend checked into treatment two days ago and he was going to quit drinking and support her in her recovery. This was fairly shocking to me and not at all what I wanted to hear but I obviously ran into Greg for a reason. We arrived at his home and visited briefly. With the need to self-medicate I said goodbye and headed back to the bar.
After consuming enough liquid courage I had worked up the nerve to phone my wife to see if it would be possible for me to visit my son. She informed me that they were going to visit her aunt in eastern Washington and make living arrangements. They would be leaving the following morning, and if it wouldn’t be too traumatic I could visit when they returned in a few days. I would also be welcome to stay there in their absence.
Upon coming to in the back seat of the car the following morning I heard a voice say, “Call the hospital.” This alarmed me a great deal; the fact was I had been giving away some of my possessions – things that I could have pawned when I needed money. But these thoughts were quickly distanced. The pain once again was so intense that I had to go take care of it. The following morning, waking in the condominium I used to share with my wife and son, I heard the voice again and this time it was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of urgency. My thoughts quickly turned to, “Am I going mad? Could I possibly harm myself somehow?” I immediately retrieved the phone-book from the drawer and phoned Highline Hospital. (For some reason I chose Highline; maybe I could relate with the name.) A person told me to come in and talk to a counselor. I smoked some pot and drove to the hospital.
I arrived in the hospital parking lot and was surprisingly calm. I didn’t know the exact reason I was there; I just told myself to answer honestly when asked a question.
Before my previous visit with Greg I would have found it impossible under any circumstance to be remotely interested in what was about to be presented to me. From my late teens on, I had equated most my good times with at least alcohol. I couldn’t conceive having any fun without it.
During my visit with the counselor she concluded I had some pretty severe chemical dependencies and recommended an in-patient treatment center. Having made some calls she informed me that it would be up to six weeks for an opening. Through our conversation she had deemed me homeless and in the meantime I could stay at a halfway house down the street. I kindly refused but told her I would be interested in treatment (other than staying in the condo, I would always decline when offered with a place to stay). She asked how she would be able to reach me and I told her where I would be for the next few days. I gave her the phone number and told her after that I didn’t know where I would be. I took her card, thanked her, and left.
I was in quite a bit of pain and mentally withdrawn after riffling through my life with the counselor. I was fairly depressed and all I wanted to do for the immediate future was stop by a store and pick up some beer so I could smoke and drink and feel sorry for myself for a while. Upon entering the condo the telephone was ringing and I was eager to answer it thinking it could possibly be my wife. It was the counselor from Highline. She informed me that a bed had opened up for me at Olalla Guest Lodge and told me I would have to arrive by 2 P.M. or I would lose it. I asked her if I could arrive the following day; she informed me that was not an option and how remarkable it was for this to happen.
Being an alcoholic and an addict I didn’t want to leave while I still had drugs and alcohol I hadn’t used yet. I desperately wanted to have one last hurrah. But I took her words to heart and for the first time in a while I felt a bit of hope.
It was just about noon by this point so I didn’t have a lot of time to put as much of a dent in my stash as I could. In the midst of this I had an epiphany. I knew that at the first sign of trouble I would get my car and leave the facility. This left me with little or no choice but to call my mother and ask for a ride. Luckily she was at home and was happy to help. I left a note on the counter informing my wife what was happening and drove to my mom’s house.
Olalla was a little over an hour’s car ride from Renton, and on the way I remember concluding to myself that I would focus on kicking the marijuana habit. I believed that was my primary problem but I wouldn’t have to quit drinking.
We arrived at Olalla in plenty of time. I was a little nervous but I was still a bit under the influence of the marijuana I had smoked before I had arrived at my mom’s house. She dropped me off at the rear of the administration building and said goodbye.
I entered the rear door as I had previously been instructed. I followed the entrance protocol that consisted of a meeting with the director informing me of the rules. I was assigned a counselor and given a physical by a medical doctor.
During my visit with the doctor a funny thing happened. Although I had grown fond of the Prozac I had been taking, I told the doctor he could throw it away, because I would no longer be needing it. He told me he would lock it in his cabinet in case I would be needing it. And he explained to me that people shouldn’t just stop taking prescriptions like this. I never used Prozac again. After the doctor visit I was taken by an administrator to a small dorm-type building and assigned a bed. My belongings were searched. I put my belongings away and by this time it was dinner. I was escorted to the dining hall; I ate dinner and kept to myself for the remainder of the evening.
After a sleepless night (nothing new) the alarm sounded that alerted us that breakfast was ready. I got dressed and slowly made my way to the dining hall. There was a regimented schedule that we were to follow that included classes, group sessions, meetings, meal-breaks and free time; this varied a bit on weekends.
After lunch there was an hour or so break. During this time I joined some guys that were shooting hoops outdoors. Just shooting around wasn’t much of a problem for me. It didn’t entail any running or jumping. One of the guys recommended that we play a game. Not wanting to reveal any weakness in this environment I decided to play. I thought to myself, “It’s only half-court; I’ll stay down low and play near the hoop and everything will be okay.” This proved to not be the case. Within 10 minutes of trying to play I completely immobilized myself. I was in so much pain it took me several minutes before I could get to my feet and straighten up enough to get to my room where I would lie in pain for the foreseeable future.
I wasn’t very hungry when the alarm sounded for dinner but I thought I better try to make it down to eat. This was an excruciating walk. I was used to pain by this point and could deal with it to a certain degree. Until now at least I had had some vice to help relieve it. And with nothing to take, if I sat down I might just be there for a while. Nevertheless, I made it to the dining hall. It seated about fifty people and was set up in a buffet style. I moved down the line with my orange tray and then continued to take a seat with a group of 8-10 men that I was assigned to previously.
In my adult life I had rejected any type of organized religion. That’s why what happened next was totally out of character. I clasped my hands together, closed my eyes and proceeded to pray. I didn’t even know who I was praying to. I was in pain and scared but yet somehow the prayer was thankful. I was thankful for being there. The prayer concluded and I ate my dinner. After I ate as I sat staring at my tray, trying to muster enough strength to stand up, and I was approached by two men. (If I were to pick two of the most intimidating characters in Olalla they would have fit the bill.) Their names were Joe and Luis. Luis said, “We noticed you were praying. Are you a Christian?”
I replied simply, “No, I don’t know why I was praying.” Both men sat across the table from me and asked if I would like to pray with them. I was reluctant, but I said, “Sure.” I had a preconceived notion that prayer was a sign of weakness; that notion was clearly blown out of the water by the appearance of these two men. They grasped my hands in theirs then Joe informed me that we would be praying a prayer of salvation and to repeat after him. I repeated word after word, trying to focus on what he was saying. During the prayer I felt a warmth slowly travel down my body. At this point I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. And Joe started to speak to me about my relationship with my wife and how my wife and I were not equally yoked. And he went into some greater detail of what he was speaking about. He asked me if I understood. I replied, “Yes.” I asked Joe how he knew I was married since my wedding ring was not on my finger; it was residing in the pawn shop. At the time it didn’t occur to me to ask him how he knew my wife was a Christian. But I’m sure the answer would have been the same. He proceeded to tell me that he believed he was a prophet. And that I was the one that God had put him here to help. And it was no accident that we were here at the same time. All this really shook me to my foundation; it occupied my thoughts so fully that I had little memory of the following events of that evening. It still amazes me to this day that of all the problems that I had, he focused on the relationship I had with my wife.
The next morning I was awakened by the alarm that sounded for breakfast. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that I had slept through the night. I got dressed and went to eat. After I ate, as I got up from my seat, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I got up from my chair without pain or effort; I slept without the aid of drugs or alcohol. I was ecstatic. I didn’t know what to do, so I walked outside and tried a quick sprint. I jumped up and down a few times. I was healed. Having my body function normal again after two years had me invigorated. But still I remained cautious, having a firm memory of the sharp-stabbing pain. So I remained cautious for a week or so. And as I increased my activities, the pain never returned.
I remembered that Joe and Luis recommended as soon as possible that I get a Bible and get to know the Word. I went to an admin and she said that she doubted that they had a Bible there but she would look. That afternoon she brought me a Bible. I remember the feeling of excitement that I had, knowing that this book contained the Jesus that gave me my health and hope. The same Jesus that previously I so boldly rejected.
It was some time in ’98, our rent was being increased on our apartment, and the condo that my mom owned on Sunset Blvd. was being vacated. It was a good time for us to better our living arrangement(s). Upstairs, living with her mother, was a young lady named Shannon and her nine year old son Aaron. Shannon, at some point, had given Rachelle a study Bible. Rachelle, being a baby Christian, would often have conversations about the Bible with Shannon. While none of this was bothersome to me, I wouldn’t let her engage me in any type of conversation dealing with an organized religion. I would rebut her with things like: the Bible contradicts itself, religion is a crutch for weak people, society uses it to control anarchism, and religious people are hypocrites . . . things along those lines. Not ever looking into the Bible for myself, I had let the culture dictate my system of beliefs. Being a critical thinker, I was always cynical and skeptical of the intangible and things that weren’t explained to my satisfaction. Also, it seemed Christianity had been dealt a heavy blow on the evening news, with a preacher tearfully apologizing for his acts of adultery and actions with a prostitute and another convicted for embezzling millions of dollars from his ministry. Through my own system of checks and balances, I had boxed Jesus into a bunch of southern T.V. evangelists that exploited the old, sick, faithful and needy in the guise of Christianity.
It was the following afternoon’s visit with my counselor. I informed him I had no doubt in my mind that I could leave Olalla right now and have no need for drugs and alcohol again. I told him that Jesus had come into my life and how different I felt. He replied that there were a lot of good things I would learn about drugs and alcohol and possibly myself and that I really should complete the program. I agreed with him and asked if I could call my wife. It was her birthday and I needed to tell her the recent news. He informed me that there was a no contact period for the first week but under the circumstances he could look the other way for a few minutes. I made the call and luckily my wife had arrived home from Eastern Washington earlier that day. I wished her a happy birthday and quickly told her that I’d accepted Jesus as my Savior. With a large degree of excitement in her voice she thanked God and proceeded to tell me that late one night during my absence, in total desperation, she felt compelled to dial the number of a prayer request line she’d come across on television. She relayed how happy she was that God had chosen to answer her prayer for me, but she wasn’t sure at this point if this changed anything between us. She shared with me that she was amazed with the speed and the proficiency that she had filled out the divorce paperwork that had previously been so overwhelming to her. She’d finally thought she had come to terms with the situation at hand. I confidently replied to her that I felt in my heart that this had indeed changed things from my perspective and given the chance I’d like to try and prove this to her.
In June of 2000, my dad picked me up from Olalla. In a way I was sad to leave a place where so much had happened. A place so special, a place God chose to reveal Himself to me. On the other hand, I missed my loved ones tremendously. With a new appreciation for life I arrived at the condo at 1:30 P.M. and was greeted by Rachelle with open arms.