Our 64th spotlight in the FACES OF HOPE: WE DO RECOVER series will focus on Jonathan Hughes’s story, Restored by Grace.
I grew up in church, my grandfather was a preacher, and I knew about God but it was basic knowledge of a seemingly distant God. I thought God was something that you did on Sundays if you wanted people to think that you were a good person, someone that you went to when you needed help. After my Grandmother’s death when I was 11, our family slowly started getting out of church. My search for acceptance continued into my middle and high school years when I was reintroduced to church through my high school sweetheart whom I met in middle school. Still, I knew little of a relationship with God. I continued to attend church with her but it was just that… attending.
Shortly after my senior year I went off to college at U.K. and continued to only do what made me feel good. I sank deeper into depression and self-sorrow. I dropped out and came home a week before finals. I started to hang out with my cousins who also used. I had been using drugs for about a year now. Life was a party and nothing more. I started using to be accepted but ironically I began to want to be by myself more and more as time progressed.
I had used steroids earlier so it wasn’t the needles that made me shy away from shooting up, it was simply the idea of a “junkie”. It’s amazing the amount of paradox in a drug addict’s life: pain and pleasure, love and hate, the lesser of two evils, a requiem to say the least. I lived to die, slowly killing myself everyday with every use. I hated myself and when you don’t like yourself, you don’t care if you go on or not. I was a lost and dying soul. It wasn’t about the partying, it was about not feeling. I loved the numbness.
The first day I shot up, at the time, seemed to be the best day I had ever had, but in all actuality it was the day I was defeated. My soul shriveled that day. From then on my life was centered on my “god”. I was completely infatuated with it. From the time I woke up, until the time I went to bed, I was focused on manipulating, lying, deceiving, stealing, robbing; whatever it took to get what I wanted. That day was the end of me. In one encounter I went from a partier to a full blown junkie. In one second I went from spiritually lost to spiritually dead. In one instance I went from rebellious to apathetic. The day I had felt most alive was the day that I died.
After being home for a couple months from UK I had the great idea to rob a gas station with some “friends” and after we didn’t get caught, we had the next good idea to do it again… we got caught. I was charged with first degree armed robbery and criminal facilitation to commit second degree armed robbery. I was 18 years old. I can remember the feeling when I found out I had a half a million dollar bond and was facing 40 years in prison. I was 18 and my life as I knew it was over. I knew there would be consequences for what I was doing. I didn’t know that my past deserved what I found myself faced with. I was a drug addict, and because of my addiction I had made several bad decisions. These decisions had landed me in jail. I had been ignoring all reality for quite some time. When I awoke from this faded existence, I found myself in one of the coldest, loneliest places I could have ever imagined, Boyd County Detention Center.
I was sent to Hopkins County Detention Center in Madisonville, KY after a while in jails and rehabs. This jail was notorious for housing the “bad seeds” of the jail system. I asked my dad to send me some books on Buddhism. He did and I read them. I was searching for something to fill the void in my life. I knew I had to change, I was seemingly hopeless.
I was referred to S.A.P. after a month in isolation for inciting a riot. S.A.P. was based on the 12 steps of AA. After a little while in the program I was working the 5th step, “We admitted to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” I was working this step with a guy I had become good friends with (in case you are wondering, yes it was the guy that had a Bible on his bed). After I told him my life story he asked me why I got out of church. Before I could finish answering him, the Disciplinary Officer came into our cell. A Great Banquet had been planned by several churches. This Great Banquet was a three day revival inside the jail. The officer said that there were two openings and she figured she would ask our cell first if anyone wanted to attend. Only 60 men were allowed to attend and it was based on perfect attendance to church. I hadn’t been to church since I got to the jail, except once to smuggle cigarettes. There was no reason I should have been accepted. I said yeah that I would go; I knew there was going to be good food there. The next night, on my dad’s birthday, I was baptized.
What took place in my life after that night was incredible. God flipped my world upside down. The change that happened in me was nothing short of supernatural. I craved to know Him, not drugs. I was thirsty for His Love, not a beer. I was hungry for His Word, not a pill. I’m not going to pretend that I never cursed or had unclean thoughts after that, but I felt guilty when I did. Christ proceeded to break the walls down of that jail.
What followed was six months of building an incredible relationship with God. Those six months in that jail were six of the best months of my life. I studied and when I wasn’t studying I was praying. When I wasn’t praying I was talking with inmates about Christ. I got into His Word and listened. For the first time in my life I listened. It didn’t matter what my earthly father had done, or anyone else for that matter. I had the King of the Universe to call Dad. The Creator came into me and made happiness overflow. I had joy and peace in a place where sorrow and hate ruled. I got an opportunity that not many people get. I had six months to do absolutely nothing other than study, read, and pray. I grew more in those six months than I had in my previous 22 years of life.
I got parole and went home after a total of 39 months in jails and rehabs over a period of three and a half years. I remained sober for almost 10 years after being released from prison. I immediately started to build a support system when I got home. I attended church every time the doors were open. I submersed my life in “positive things and people”. I found a church, started attending, and got connected. The pastor there started to mentor me and help me grow in Christ. My pastor and I started a Celebrate Recovery at our church and I had the opportunity to help start five other groups in and around our community. I was taking Bibles to jails, starting groups, and involved in community action.
After becoming stable in a church I then was hired as a personal trainer and started college. My time became consumed with church, nonprofit work, training, and school. I was constantly on the go bettering my life every step of the way. At first this was a good thing. I didn’t have time to think about drugs or anything else for that matter. I later was hired by the state with social services and continued going to school for my bachelors. I was mentoring families in addiction through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. I loved the job. Through nonprofit work I met Tim Robinson sometime in 2010. Tim and I spoke several times about our vision for growing faith based system to help people in recovery. Tim had a women’s center that he had just started at the time, Karen’s Place. He had a vision to start outpatient clinics and decided to hire me to help him do so in 2013.
The work I was given the opportunity to do with Scott, Tim’s brother, and Tim was amazing. We were starting centers and growing them, helping hundreds of people change the lives of themselves and their families. I engulfed myself in work. Around year seven of my recovery I started to pull away from my support systems. I was constantly working or on the road and lost the motivation to do the things that kept me sober. I erroneously decided that I was “strong enough” and had been sober “long enough”. I stopped going to church, left Celebrate Recovery, and moved away from my family. I was still involved in “godly” things, but also wasn’t called to do all of the things I was doing. I became addicted to success and to status. I wanted the “at-a-boys” and to be the “poster child of recovery”. I had found a new problem, codependency.
This new issue that had decided to show itself in my life had always been there, but never really showed negatively until now, at least not noticeably. When I moved away I started to crave acceptance and relationship again. I had systematically removed myself from everyone that showed me love; most importantly I had disconnected from God. I started to seek people who “needed” me. This started a period of time where, quite literally, every relationship I started, romantically or not, was toxic. In this period of time I started to have a beer on occasion. I was dating a woman that drank all the time so I drank with her. I started to neglect my work and focus on my new relationship. Shortly after starting this relationship I moved my cousin who was in active addiction in with me. I was going to “help him”.
So, just to recap… I had stopped going to church, wasn’t in school, I overworked myself, put myself around toxic people, moved away from family, discontinued support groups, ignored my accountability, and thought I was fine. Also about this time I started having a horrible pain in my lower back. The girl who I was dating said I needed to go to the emergency room so I did. I laid in the waiting room floor of the emergency room vomiting and writhing in pain for eight hours. The pain took my breath away. Finally I was called back and was seen by a doctor. I had a kidney stone and he said he would bring me something for the pain. I hesitated but was reassured by my girlfriend that it was fine because I actually “needed it”.
The nurse came in with the pain shot. She pushed the medicine and I didn’t have any relief. She came back in 15 minutes and gave me another one. She repeated this two more times and sent me home with a prescription. That one hour topped off the systematic undoing of over nine years of recovery. The pain meds were not my relapse. No, that had started before I ever ingested anything, but this sealed the deal. Now the phenomenon of craving was reintroduced into my life, and since my cousin who was actively using was living with me there was no challenge in getting what my body now wanted.
Not long after this happened I was laid off from ARC. Everything that I had built as a life in the almost ten years of recovery now could not be kept up. I now had a habit, was jobless, and had an addict girlfriend. It was only a matter of time before I had lost everything to addiction, again.
Towards the end of my year in active addiction I was living in my house which the bank now owned. The house did not have electric, heat, water, furniture, or food. My car had been repossessed. I had no money. I had nothing. This was so much worse than the first go around with addiction. I was hopeless.
It’s always amused me a little, if I’m honest, how God seems to always show up when you are at your lowest. I mean really show up. My girlfriend and I had made signs and were standing by the bridge in Ashland begging for money. Teresa Jeter pulled up on the bridge coming back from Ohio. Teresa called Matt and Tim, and sent Matt Hutchinson down to see me. I of course lied to them out of shame and guilt, but this opened up a door. I was back in contact with some of my original support. Teresa found my parents on Facebook and started mentoring and supporting them. This outreach changed my life. My parents stopped enabling me after talking to Teresa. I overdosed, was charged with a PI, and went to jail. I had overdosed seven times in a month already, and had been given Narcan nine times. I was worn out. Scott continued to talk to me when I was released from jail. He gave me hope that I didn’t deserve. Scott, Tim, Teresa, and Matt showed me a grace that I had never seen before, at least not for a while. They pulled me out of the disastrous mess I had created and talked to me about hiring me back. I was still high and they were talking about my future. This blew my mind. I agreed to go to Lake Hills Oasis.
I was terrified to go to treatment in a company that I had basically helped to build. The shame was overwhelming. I didn’t want everyone I had once known to see me like this. I feared that the people I had once worked with would look down on me and look at me differently even though I really knew better. My mind was running rampant with thoughts of what it would be like. I was met with grace and mercy at Lake Hills. The house was oozing with love and understanding. On day four I fell back on my face in front of Him. I worked on my codependency this time in treatment. I sought to learn everything I possibly could about the topic. It was amazing how quickly I returned to the “sober” me. I was refreshed by mercy and renewed by grace.
I graduated Lake Hills and started interning in Louisa. The same grace and mercy followed me there. Tim, Scott, and Matt met with me and worked out a plan to work me back into employment. Today I am sober and am currently Vocational Training Program Manager at ARC. I am beyond blessed and humbled by what God has done through the people within this company. My relationship with Tim started seven years ago. I met Scott, Matt, and Teresa through Tim. Out of those relationships God saved my life again. God used them and they never gave up. They saw past the mess. They restored my purpose and showed me who I was when I had forgotten. God is faithful.
My AHA moment:
My AHA moment was in prison. I was overcome by the Spirit of God. I started seeing God as love and not some higher being that wanted to control me. Love wins.
Feelings and emotions of active addiction:
Despair, hopelessness, dread, anxiousness, lifelessness, apathy, discontent; the constant feeling of being unsatisfied and in need of something unattainable.
The driving force that keeps me going when times get tough:
Grace, mercy, and hope.
Advice for the addict still struggling:
Stop running. Let the ones who love you, love you.
What obstacles or roadblocks have you faced in your recovery?
What is something you want people who never struggled with addiction to know?
People who recover are incredible, passionate, loving, hardworking, loyal people, who work on themselves daily. You won’t find a better person than someone who is in recovery.
What advice do you have for family members of a person in addiction?
If you haven’t already, stop enabling. I know that is vague. Go to a local Celebrate Recovery (CR). CR is not just for people who struggle with substances. Find other people who have had family go through what you are going through. Educate yourself. You are not alone.
I would not be here if it weren’t for a very bad accident. It changed my life for the good. If it weren’t for God saving me I would probably be dead. I can’t forget my family, who have always supported me and never gave up on me. I always want to thank ARC for showing me how to live again.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please call Addiction Recovery Care at 606.638.0938 or visit them on the web at www.arccenters.com.
There is hope. There is help.