From Drug Addict to Drug Counselor: How a $20 Bill Saved His Life
Updated: Jan 31
The most amazing thing about God is that he never, and I mean never, gives up on us. I'm reminded of His unconditional, incomprehensible love when I hear stories like Jeff Leser's.
Jeff's story lets us know that there's nothing that escapes God, and our human minds can't even begin to understand His mysterious ways of how He weaves together the tapestry of our lives. In the moments when nothing makes sense, when we find ourselves confused, lost and feeling as if our life is a chaotic collage of disconnected pieces, God has an indescribable way of showing up in our lives to let us know that there is not a single moment or part of our life that escapes Him.
How I met Jeff was one of those tapestry moments. Some months prior, while praying at the vigil where nine people lost their lives in the Dayton mass shooting I divinely met two other individuals and we decided to start a weekly prayer group to pray for our city. We decided that the location should be somewhere outside and downtown, a place where anyone would feel welcome to join.
It was during one of those meetings we had down by the river that Jeff just happened to be walking by when one of the people from our prayer group grabbed his attention and asked him if he would like to join us for prayer. Jeff graciously welcomed the opportunity and became a part of our weekly prayer group.
It was through these meetings that I got to know Jeff, and I knew his life was one of those hidden stories that needed to be shared.
Oftentimes, when we see people on the streets bound by addiction or mired by homelessness we only see them through the lens of the brokenness. We see the hallowed eyes and marked up skin from needles. We see the dirt under the fingernails and smell the stench of bodies that are long overdue for bathing, and we view these people as less than. We see them as the undesirables. And we make the presumption that they don't deserve our help because their condition is self-made.
And the raw truth of this, is that much of this is true. Many of the "undesirables" we come across on a daily basis are there because of choices they've made to the detriment of themselves. So, we could come to the conclusion that they've made their bed and now they must lie in it.
But, what we often fail to recognize is that many of these people had traumatic things happen to them of which they had no choice, and it was out of this trauma and their lack of skill sets to work their way through, that caused them to make the bad choices that have led them down the path of destruction. And now these choices have entrapped them in a lifestyle that they can't seem to find their way out of.
In my opinion, Jeff is one of those people, and like many of these people his trauma started when he was young. Here's Jeff's story:
Growing up as a child, life was always chaotic with my mom. We never knew what she was going to do. She'd jump out of second story windows, take off running naked down the street, or be up for three or four days at a time hallucinating. She'd dress up as a nun or an Indian woman and come to my school and say, 'He doesn't need school anymore.'
It was humiliating, but nobody seemed to do anything about it. I mean, how could they not see something was wrong with my mom?
Part of this might be what contributed to my issues I had with God. I went to a Catholic school, and the nuns were very hateful. They told me I would never be nothing. Then, when after years of attending there, my dad ran into some financial problems and couldn't pay the tuition for me and my sister, they turned their back on us.
I associated God with how they treated me. This experience combined with the loneliness I felt at home only compounded it.
But the one memory that stands out in my head and was the catapult for sending me down a long road of destruction was when I was 11 years old. In terror I watched as my mom downed three bottles of pills in front of me, then ran into the bathroom and locked the door. My dad was at work and my sister had learned to escape to friend's houses. She'd be there for weeks, sometimes months at a time.
So, there I was alone with my mom again. At 11 years old I had to kick the door in and stick my finger down her throat. That was the moment that started my addiction.
After my dad got there and took my mom to the hospital, I sat there on the steps exhausted as I surveyed the house that had been destroyed by my mother's hands. I hadn't slept for days because my mom was in one of her episodes and I always felt obligated to look after her. It was at that moment that I knew I couldn't take this anymore. I had to find a way out of this chaos and pain or I was going to kill myself.
My anxiety had gone to a whole new level. Because of all the stress and instabiity with my mom, I had developed a series of ticks that would act up in any type of social setting. That made it really hard to talk to anyone, and that's what I needed most - someone to talk to. But my dad had made it clear we weren't to talk to anyone about what was going on with our mother. Besides, I figured no one would understand.
So, I decided the only way I was going to survive this was to start drinking. I figured alcohol would solve my problems. A week later I downed a 6-pack of beer with an older kid in the neighborhood.
I thought I had found the answer to my problems. It seemed to numb me and calm the chaos in my life. But this would open doors that I wouldn't be able to close for a very long time.
Not long after that I began smoking pot. By 13 years old I was smoking pot every day. I had a paper route at the time and so I would use all my money from that on weed and alcohol. By the time I was 15 I was doing cocaine, Quaaludes....everything but heroin. That would come later.
Sometimes I'd be out partying until two or three in the morning. My dad had somewhat checked out. He was so overwhelmed by everything going on with my mom that he couldn't really help me. At the age of 15 my dad finally had enough. He moved out. He was heading to Sacramento.
He offered to let me come live with him, but who was going to look after my mom? I knew there was no one but me, so I stayed. Two weeks later my dad died of a heart attack.
After my father's death I was completely lost. I was devastated. He was the last stable person I had and now he was gone. I was angry about the cards I'd been dealt in life. It felt like I'd been dealt a salty hand, and now I turned my anger towards God.
My mother was in a psych ward, and I was completely on my own. At that point I lost any semblance of self-control that I had left. I didn't care anymore. Clearly, my life didn't matter to God.
I went from being a straight A student when I was younger to now failing classes. All I did was party. I was living there in this house all by myself. Finally, after some time had passed my mom's sisters came to check on me after the truancy officers tracked them down, and I ended up moving in with my 22-year-old cousin.
He worked and took care of me, but living with him was like living in a party house. He didn't care if I drank or what I did as long as I went to school, but eventually with failing so many classes I decided to drop out my senior year.
I got a stable job and began working. When I was 19 I met a woman that was 14 years older than me and we ended up getting married. She was the gypsy type, travelling around reading tarot cards to people, offering mystical healings and massages. After about three years together we got divorced.
After a few years I met another woman and about a year later we got married. Up until this point I was able to still hide and manage my addiction. She knew I did drugs cause we did them together, and at the time it all seemed like we were just having fun partying.
But then things took a turn for the worse and after having two kids together we both found ourselves in full blown addiction. We were heroin addicts. I couldn't keep a job, so this meant we were getting kicked out of places with nowhere to live. I'd be out living on the streets and she and the kids would go stay with her parents.
This was a cycle that would play out for the 11 years we were together, until the day I caught a case and ended up in prison. You'd think with living on the streets and everything I'd been through that nothing could faze me, but when I stepped into prison, I was mortified. It was shocking. But I had a cellie that started talking some sense into me. He had been in for a long time, and he began to tell me that this wasn't the road I wanted to travel. He told me I could change and I believed him. After a year and two months behind bars I was ready to get out and start a new life with my wife and kids.
As soon as I got out I called her, but after calling and calling she didn't answer. I was confused. Surely if she had gotten a boyfriend she would have told me before I got out. Finally, I got a hold of her sister and that's when she gave me the news that sent me back to using the very day I got out of prison.
My wife had died from a heart infection caused by IV drug use, and they had just left her funeral. Here I was just getting out of prison, my wife was dead and my son and daughter who were 7 and 11 at the time, were now in the custody of her parents. I went to see my kids and her parents told me, "We don't want anything from you - not a penny. Just get out of their lives."
I understood why they hated me. Their daughter was dead from drugs I'd helped her use, and the addiction had made me a terrible father. I had taken them through hell. I deserved every bit of anger and hatred they felt towards me, but it still hurt.
Once again, I was all alone. I felt like that 11-year-old sitting on the steps all over again. So, I went back to what I knew to numb the excruciating pain I felt inside that had no release - with no one to turn to.
For the next four to five years it was a living hell as I lived on the streets feeding my addiction anyway I could. Sometimes I begged. Sometimes I'd steal. Sometimes I'd rob. Sometimes I'd get robbed. I'd sleep in abandoned houses, parks....wherever I could find a place to lay my head. At one point, me and another addict lived in a temporary outside bathroom for a year.
Even after overdosing seven times I still stayed friends with that demon of addiction. Death seemed to be chasing me. One night in the park a guy pulled a gun on me to rob me, but somehow the gun jammed and I ran.
Finally, after almost 30 years of addiction one day I'd had enough. I called my sister who I hadn't seen in 15 years and pleaded for her to come get me. I had come to a breaking point in life. Either she was going to help me or I was going to end my misery by taking my life.
She came and got me.
I told her I didn't need anything except a room to sleep in and food, and to just let me be for the next two weeks as I went through withdrawal. I was clean for the next nine months, then I got fired from my job at Krogers after they found out I had a record. It just so happened to be on the anniversary of my wife's death. On top of this I was being overwhelmed with legal issues that were catching up with me......and that's when I relapsed.
My sister kicked me out. Once again, I was homeless and back in full blown addiction.
Eight months later I called my sister again and begged her for another chance. She took me back in. I quit cold turkey. The only thing that got me through was prayer. I'd been sober for 90 days when one day I got a text from an old drug pusher. He wanted to know if I wanted to sell some pills for money. I was still living with my sister, but I was flat broke. I needed money.
I decided I would do it just this one time. So, I lied and told my sister I needed to borrow the car for a job interview. As I was on my way to meet the drug pusher I started feeling guilty. Here I was driving my sister's car with no license, breaking her trust and putting her in jeapardy. I didn't want to be this person anymore, but I had been this lying, conniving addict for so long I didn't know how to change.
I knew if I went back to using I wouldn't make it out this time. As I continued driving I cried out to God in a desperate prayer.
"God please provide for me! Otherwise I'm gonna go back using."
Ten seconds after praying this prayer a $20 bill fell out of the sky and landed smack dab in front of me on my windshield. I stopped my car and got out and grabbed the money. All those years I'd been angry towards God He hadn't left me. He was there all the time. I was just too jaded to see it.
God told me, "You won't have everything you want, but if you'll trust Me, I'll provide everything you need." Up until that point I didn't trust God to take care of me.
But this moment was a turning point in my life. It was the day of my sobriety and I've been clean for over nine years. God saved my life that day, but if I look back He saved my life many times. The times I had overdosed, the time the gun jammed....He was always with me, only difference was now I could see it.
I wanted to change...and the best part was I was actually doing it. I stopped all the lying and just started telling people the truth even if it was ugly. After that, opportunities started coming for work. I joined AA and went back to school. I got my degree in mental health substance abuse and I've been counseling people in addiction since 2012.
At times the job is heartbreaking watching what addiction does to people's lives and the ones who love them. I've been to over 150 funerals since working this job. In one day I lost three clients to a bad batch of fentanyl that came through town. I've sat and listened to some of the most horrifying stories of childhood abuse.
But, the best part of my job is watching people's lives come back together. The one thing I let people know is it's never too late to change. When I was on them streets I thought it was over for me. I had lost everything and everybody I ever cared about, but God gave me purpose and meaning, and now I get to do something I love everyday - helping people know they matter, and that they too can change.
Sometimes people just need someone to believe in them. We need people. We can't do this alone. That's how God works....through people. Now I'm just trying to be one of those people.
Story written by Julie Busby who resides in Dayton, Ohio.