First, I wanted to learn what Joe overcame. When I asked Joe about his addiction story and how drugs impacted his life, it began like this…
“By the grace of God, I have three years clean.
Since I was 17 years old, I’ve not been able to put together three years clean. I had tried on my own. I was introduced to morphine at the age of 11 through T-cell leukemia. In a 8 to 10 months, I had 44 spinal taps, threw up 72 days straight days, wore a hole in my esophagus, had reconstructive surgery on my stomach from throwing up so much.
I had surgery for broviac and catheters and stuff for my chest to do chemo. I went through a lot as a kid, you know.
I was overweight and I gained a lot of insecurities. But my dad was a school teacher and a basketball coach, and he gave me the Rocky Balboa speech. I didn’t look right, and I didn’t feel right, and I felt bad about myself. He handed me a basketball and I fell in love.”
Here is where Joe tells me of the highs and lows of his high school basketball career. As a talented and promising young athlete, he hustled and worked hard to gain opportunities in basketball. That was until he tore his ACL.
Joe says around this time his family also began to struggle and struggle hard. And it all took a serious toll on him. Joe tells me how even though there has been resentment, “All is forgiven.” Joe and his family mended their relationships, and he speaks highly of his father, how his father is “special...a true Christian man.”
But Joe says all of this affected him in pretty serious ways. He said it was like a domino effect...he could never hold onto a positive relationship, he was reintroduced to pain meds due to his injury, he got kicked out of Christian school. And then, started experimenting with drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Joe had a son by 19 and was in a methadone clinic by age 20. And through the years there were a lot of hard times...a lot of bad times with one commonality: drug addiction.
Joe says he eventually reached out to his youth pastor he remembered from his childhood and moved to Greenville. He says through his faith he began to see the world a bit differently and began to experience success. He earned his GED and became a personal trainer.
And when I ask Joe what him brought him back to West Virginia he says this…
“None of that other mid stuff matters. But what matters is I found myself in North Charleston on the Westside. I would work but I was still strung out.
I lived in a one bedroom at the top of this house in the west side of Charleston with drugs actively being used...the guy down in the very basement sold heroin and methamphetamines. I got myself in a terrible spot, you know, and nothing ever worked. I would have six months clean here, a year clean there.”
Joe says to make a long story short, he called his family and told them, “I’m completely done. I don’t know what else to do.”
Joe says he spent six months at Recovery Point where he began to learn and read the Bible. Then, Joe met his mentor on the outside, and when he heard him speak, he says he felt like he needed to be connected to him.
Joe goes on to tell me…
“I left and I went to the Rock Ministries and was there for 14 months. In my spiritual life had started to improved and I started being mentored by this man, and I had a sponsor as well. I started to let people guide me.
The one on one time for me was was better than anything. For people to teach me how to get in the Word, to learn how to get rid of guilt and condemnation, and you know, to start to understand really, who God really is and getting to know him on a personal level instead of what religion has taught me that God is...a lot of love.
I took it back to the streets where I came from, and I started giving back to the street, around the Charleston area, around the homeless population. And it lit a fire inside of me to start helping other people. It landed me a job for Help4WV on the help line. I started ministering to people on the street, and and then started getting people in recovery. So I was I was driving people around and get people in recovery on my own gas money. And since I had this fire that was lit inside of me that I never sensed before. It was a sense of purpose that I've never had before in my life.
Helping people has helped me change my life. It's helped me learn to be selfless.
It's helped me learn to — there's two rules and that's love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. And learning, you know, to love people the way other people love me.”
Needless to say, at this point in my conversation with Joe, I was incredibly moved. I told Joe how encouraging his story was and how I couldn’t wait for him to get in front of a group of high schoolers (who I’ve been teaching cadres of for 14 years). And I told him the question I was most interested in was “How are you consider yourself to be more than addiction?”
Joe says, “I look at it as purpose.”
Today, I'm a father today.
Today, I'm a husband.
I enjoy bodybuilding. I got a class right now where I incorporate devotion with the Union Mission guys through Help4WV. I get to not only go in and help with personal training, but we get in the Word together and talk about what God is doing in our lives.”
Here’s where I cry. And when I ask Joe if there’s anything else he wants to add, he ends by saying, “With the mindset of an addict, if they can get unbound, they were created for more.”
Our hats are off to you, Joe. You are truly #morethanaddiction.
Remember, ONE call can change the trajectory a person’s life. You, your loved ones, your friends and neighbors are worth it.