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Joel pauses high-pressure life to recover, reconnect


Both sets of Joel’s grandparents struggled with addiction, so he and his sisters were often warned about the danger of drugs and alcohol. “They all had heavy abuse issues,” Joel said. “It skipped my parents’ generation. They told me not to touch it, not to touch anything.”

The warnings worked for a while. “I didn’t really drink or smoke weed until I was 18,” Joel said. “At that point, there was just an absence of any structure. I did whatever I pleased.”

Joel grew up with his family in Upland. Things were good, he said, until he was 10 or so, and his parents started fighting a lot. “My family started falling apart,” Joel said. “But it wasn’t until I was 16 that they finally got divorced.” Joel had been designing websites since he was 12, and had clients from the time he was 14. He had grown up Christian and went to a private, Christian school until high school. “I was a good, follow-the-rules kid,” Joel said. “I made a lot of friends.”

But after the divorce, Joel started using drugs, and then dropped out of high school after being offered a full time web design job at 18. “I had this career—it had a lot of starts and stop —but I was professional and cared about it. I deeply loved what I did. My achievement addiction was abating my other addictions.”

Joel got a “big break” when he was 21 or 22. He was working for an agency doing web and software design, making $75,000 a year, working 100- plus hours a week. “I was really good at it, but I was completely unstable. I was a train wreck. “I didn’t know how to handle pressure. I basically white-knuckled my way through crazy deadlines. My ego loved it. I would hold it together, and everyone would be proud of me, and I’d be proud of myself, and then I’d self-destruct. I basically had a mental breakdown.”

Joel stayed in his room and smoked weed for three months, and because of his skill set, he wasn’t even fired. “That went round and round for years, and eventually I forced their hand,” he said. “From 24 to 30 I say that I ‘wandered the desert.’” Joel’s addiction worsened. He started using cocaine, and then meth. “I still worked, but I’d self-destruct,” he said. “I couldn’t form any good relationships. My career was my only form of self-worth.”

Joel got involved in a new business venture that went awry. “I dumped all my money into it, and it didn’t pan out,” he said. “I was breaking up with a girlfriend who I loved. I had a heart attack at 31. I was at the hospital, and I realized I needed help. I hadn’t wanted to admit it because I didn’t want to be like my grandparents who were addicts and did terrible things.”

Joel went to a rehabilitation program for 1 ½ years—he relapsed twice. Each time was when he attempted to return to work. That’s when he decided to try the Mission. “I thought that more structure would be the best thing for my sobriety,” said Joel, who got to the Mission last September. “I was full of self-hatred and shame, so it was an amazing place to land.”

Reconnecting with God has been something Joel didn’t see coming. “At 12, I rejected God,” he said. “I was angry at God, and that’s how I came into recovery. Over the course of it though, there’s been lots of spirituality and surrendering. There’s been a lot of me not being my own personal god anymore, and that’s opened space in me for a personal connection with God. This journey has really humbled me.”

Joel is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “I hit a suicidal, dark place,” he said. “I hit the end of my rope. It was all pain, all the time. I was looking for a new way to live. You can live a different life. You can live a better life. I struggle sometimes, but I get glimpses of this new way to live, and it’s wonderful. I’d love to have a life, and a family.

“It’s been a really good experience. They provide so much for you. I really like the leadership here. They really care. I’m grateful that I have this place.”

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