My life was good. Everything was on track for a possible career in the NFL, a lifelong dream for my family and me. I’d had a successful college career at Kent State and was invited to the New Orleans Saints’ training camp following the draft. It was a chance of a lifetime—but my addiction to pain pills would destroy any hope of this dream coming true.
I started using drugs in my senior year at Kent State. I’d suffered several injuries, including a torn MCL. With no red-shirt year left, I had no choice but to play through the pain. Doctor-prescribed opioid-based pain pills eased the physical pain and enabled me to play through the discomfort. But they also eased my emotional pain. With football hanging in the balance, I was encountering new emotions, including anxiety about my future and depression over the timing of my injury. I couldn’t handle the very real possibility that the NFL career I had always dreamed of might be over.
I felt hopeless and empty. Football had always been my first love or, as I call it now, my “first drug of choice.” If something was wrong in my world, I’d run to the field and all my problems would disappear. But now, sports were my problem. So I turned to drugs to do the job, eventually trading pain pills for heroin. It was an external solution to an internal problem.
For a while, I played well, then the drugs twisted my thinking into believing I was a better football player than I was. I felt invincible.
It wasn’t long before the drugs invaded and then controlled every part of my life. An opioid addiction knows no boundaries. I began to lie, steal, and sell anything I owned for my next fix. Somehow, I justified it all. My parents knew I was using, but they had no idea to what extent the drugs controlled my life.
Two weeks into the Saints’ training camp, the drug use caught up to me, and I was released. I had lost over 40 pounds and had become a shell of myself. Everyone noticed but me. When you stare at yourself in the mirror every day, you don’t notice what you really look like, and you often don’t see the damage you’re doing to your body.
My life had spiraled out of control, but I refused to ask for help. I had gotten myself into this mess, and I was determined to man-up and get myself out of it. That was the biggest mistake of my life—I had no idea how to help myself. Eventually, I decided the only way to fix my situation would be to end my life. I didn’t want to live controlled by my addiction any longer. I was 24 years old.
I made my plan, but fortunately, God had other ones.
I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. My parents lived five hours away, in Youngstown. That night, something tugged on my father’s heart to come visit me, so he got in the car and drove to where I lived. He had no idea I was planning to end my life that night, nor did he know the extent of my addiction.
He arrived at my door, took one look at me, and extended an opportunity for help. He showed me a brochure on a treatment center in Richmond, Virginia. This time, I grabbed hold of the hope and the help.
Receiving help saved my life. I completed the 30-day program and committed to follow-up treatment at an outpatient facility in south Florida. I still had a long road to recovery.
As I was leaving the Virginia facility, one of the therapists told me to read the story of Esther in the Bible, in particular, Esther 4:14. It says, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV). Mordecai spoke these words regarding the opportunity God had given Esther, as the queen of Persia, to save the Jewish race from annihilation.
This therapist told me that God could use my life experiences to save people. I told her I would read the story. She had risked her position at that center to encourage me. It wasn’t a Christian facility; technically she was out of bounds. I am thankful she obeyed what God had put on her heart, as her words would greatly impact my life.
I read the story and found it interesting, but didn’t think too much more about it. When I got to the outpatient center in Florida, I found a sponsor to keep me accountable and encourage me in my recovery process. My sponsor kept telling me to go check out this local church. I hadn’t been to church in almost nine years, so I decided maybe it was time.
At the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus. I went forward. I am sure it was more for selfish motives than a true surrender to Jesus Christ. I was not in a great place at that point and was looking for anything that could help me.
At the altar, however, something happened. A man spoke the most amazing prayer over me, and then he said, “Luke, perhaps you were made for such a time as this.” These were the same words the therapist had used weeks before.
In that moment, a love washed over me like I’d never known. God’s love transcended all the lies Satan had layered over my mind, lies that had led me to isolate myself from the world. I couldn’t deny God’s presence, nor could I deny the words of both the therapist and this man. It was more than a coincidence that they both referred to Esther 4:14. Suddenly I wanted to go on a journey with God, even if I didn’t understand all that would mean. God had gotten my attention.
Accepting Jesus that night changed everything and brought me to a deeper place in my recovery. Jesus brought purpose back into my life, something far greater than my dream of playing professional football. Since that night, I have been studying the Bible and doing my best to walk in obedience to it.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve never regretted one act of obedience, especially in the area of forgiveness.
From 12-step recovery programs, I knew I needed to release my resentments. It’s Step 4. Then I saw in the Bible that letting go of resentment and hurt is something God desires too. Resentment, unforgiveness, and anger weigh us down and hinder our steps.
I honestly didn’t think I had any resentments at first. I had spent most of my life focused on sports, not being mad at people. But after sitting down and getting real, I had a page full of hurts and resentments.
I knew from previous programs that it’s helpful to read those resentments aloud. So I read them, one by one, to God. I acknowledged my faults, admitted that past situations had a hold on me, and asked God for forgiveness. As I did, He removed the weight of resentment from my shoulders. Since then, I’ve been on a journey of discovering more about myself and about God. It’s an adventure of learning that I hope to be on for the rest of my life.
The love and acceptance I found from God that day was instantaneous, but I’ve learned that to walk in joy, peace, and freedom daily, I have to choose to walk with God and in obedience to His will. I have to choose God every day over the world and the desires of my flesh. I wish I could say I always make the right choice. I don’t, but thankfully, I serve a God of grace who gently picks me up and continues teaching me His ways.
I’m learning now how to recognize Satan’s lies. Satan is always trying to sneak thoughts of guilt and shame back into my mind so I’ll isolate myself again. He wants me bound up in regret over my past and caught in feelings of unworthiness so that I won’t experience the abundant, free life God has for me.
Satan wants all of us to be bound up in his lies. His whole purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy you, me, and our loved ones (John 10:10).
My reason for stepping out with my story is simple. I want to help others seek help, find Jesus, carry a little less shame and guilt, and get a new chance at life. I know from experience and without a doubt that there is an incredible life on the other side of recovery.
Let me say that again: There is an incredible life on the other side of recovery!
I want to help people move past their fear. So many resist letting go of what they know, even if it is destructive, because they fear the unknown of recovery. They fear losing control. Well, if that’s you, I want you to know that on the other side of that fear is fruitfulness that is unimaginable and unsurpassed.
You are loved by a powerful, mighty God—a God of miracles. I am a living testimony of His miracle-working power. No matter what you think and no matter what Satan is telling you, you are never without hope. The God of Hope is ready to meet you right where you are, right now. He will transform your pain into a great purpose.
In God’s hands, your story can be a mighty weapon against the enemy of addiction. Please, ask for help. Don’t wait another day. Your new life is waiting for you.
If you love someone with an addiction, don’t give up on them. Keep praying for them. Keep offering help. Love them. In the meantime, don’t overlook getting support for yourself. Addiction is a family disease. I’ve seen so many cases where the addict recovers, but the family doesn’t. Seek help through a support group. You aren’t alone. Find someone who understands what you’re going through and let them walk this journey with you. Many people understand your pain. Most importantly, let Jesus walk with you.
Finally, to those of you who are watching from the sidelines, blessed to not be personally impacted by America’s greatest epidemic—I ask you to get in the game. There is a dying world all around you that needs help and hope. Please don’t sit by and do nothing. Don’t sit in judgment of something you don’t understand. Get educated, get on the field, and help those who are helpless to help themselves. Our world will be better for it.
We all have a place in this world; we all have a purpose. Maybe it’s for such a time as this. With God, we can see great things come to pass.