Robert was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley area with his parents and four siblings. “I lived the American dream growing up,” he said. “White picket fence … everything was hunk-dory until I turned 13 years old. My dad left us.”
Robert’s dad was gone for two years and married someone else, leaving his mom to work and raise five kids on her own. While his father was gone, Robert started getting into trouble at school. Next came the gangs and drugs. He smoked crack for the first time at 13.
“I was hanging in my neighborhood and I saw some guys smoking out of a different kind of pipe. … Something about the way they acted after smoking made me want to try it. Once I smoked it, that was it. I was hooked and there was no going back.
“I would use anything and everything. I would wake up and smoke and drink alcohol before I would even go to school. I was in 11th grade going to school loaded. I thought I couldn’t live life without weed or uppers in my system.”
Robert would save up his lunch money to buy drugs. He also started selling anything that he had or would steal from my parents in order to support his habit. “My family and other people started calling me a dope fiend,” Robert said. “I just wanted more and more—I could never get enough. I had to have it.”
Robert was sober for a year at 25 after finishing a program, but relapsed when he stopped going to church and left his sober living housing. “I went off on my own and I started being prideful of myself. I wanted everyone to look at what Robert did, look at Robert’s success. It was me, me, me. It was never ‘Look at what the Lord did.’”
Years later, now with three children and still couch surfing, Robert got into an argument with his dad. “He knew a chaplain and wanted me to get help. I told him I was a 35-year-old man and that I was going to do what I wanted. I knew my dad just wanted me to live a better life. That night I went to bed bawling because I knew I was never going to get sober if I didn’t go into a program.
“I just knew God had a better calling for me than the one I was living now,” he added. “I got tired of playing Russian roulette with my life. I just got to the point where I was ready to surrender my life to God.”
When Robert got to Renewed Hope, he admits he didn’t want be there. “I felt like I knew better than the people who worked here,” he said. “I wanted to come in and change the Mission and how they did things. I couldn’t run my own life, yet I am telling the program what they are doing wrong. Rick (Chamness, program manager) and the guys lovingly came alongside me and said, ‘This program is not going to work around you. You need to work around the program.’ I had to submit. I learned not to complain so much. I learned just to be happy. The world doesn’t revolve around me.
“I believe it took a community of prayers to bring me here,” Robert added. “It was my parents going to church and asking for everyone to pray for me. People prayed for me behind closed doors—people that I didn’t even know. I had so much of my family praying for me and loving on me.”
Robert has now been in the program for almost four months. “It’s taught me to be open, transparent, and vulnerable,” he said. “I’m letting Rick know when something is bothering me instead of trying to do things on my own. I am learning that I don’t have to put on this big macho-man act. I am learning to surrender. I am finding a lot of growth and I’m learning to be humble.”
Robert said his weekly therapy sessions are very helpful for him. “I love how Rick is always pointing to scripture,” Robert said. “When I am acting a fool, he lovingly points me to scripture. I just love the manner in which he corrects me. The brothers here strengthen me and are here for me.
“Right now I am learning to take Robert out of the equation very fast because it’s not about Robert. Robert can’t do nothing. I am learning to be humble and contribute all my success to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s only through the grace of God that I am still alive right now.”
Robert said after graduation he would like to explore how he can help others. I want to get involved with counseling people with addiction and giving back. I have a servant’s heart and I want to serve. If I can do what I’ve done with a little bit of submission for Christ, then anyone can do it.”
Robert said he can’t believe how much he’s changed in the last few months. “I was spiritually bankrupted before I got here,” he said. “I was lost and so hopeless, I even contemplated suicide. I felt like misery and strife followed me everywhere. I hated life. I was miserable and I wanted everyone else to be miserable too. I would mess up people’s day just to be a jerk. I can’t believe that was me a few months ago. It was my addiction.
“But now, to understand that my Lord and Savior has now planted my feet on a solid rock, I can look into my future with hope. It’s been a long time since I have been able to look at the man in the mirror and be happy with what I see looking back at me.”