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Christians believe that Jesus transforms lives, but what happens when we burn beauty into ashes? The story of a worship leader with a dark secret.



#12: Where the Gospel Meets Addiction

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

RACHEL SZABO: This episode contains mature content that may not be suitable for young listeners. Listener discretion is advised. 


RACHEL SZABO: Alright Jesse, I brought you this picture circa 2005. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, okay.

RACHEL SZABO: Do you know who that is?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, my friend Mike, yeah.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, can you describe for me — what was Mike like back then, like in this picture?

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so yeah like in this picture, I mean he looks like a hippie, he’s got like long hair pulled back in a ponytail, big bushy beard that classic mid-2000s post-grunge sort of clothing going on. Always had this really joyful, fun-loving kind of spirit about him. Really genuine and honest with everybody around him. This picture captures a really good moment in time, but one of the next times I saw him, I mean he wasn’t his usual smiling self. He was actually on the floor in the middle of a public area curled up in a ball mumbling to himself. And I remember standing over him and just wondering, ‘Who is this person on the floor, and what has he done with my friend Mike?’


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Each episode we hear stories of social justice and Christian community.

JESSE EUBANKS: Today’s episode is where the gospel meets addiction. 

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so for this episode Jesse, you had actually suggested that I talk to your friend Mike, which I did. And for you, you already know a lot about Mike’s story, right?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah I do, but there’s kinda this one section in Mike’s life that’s kind of a missing piece for me. Y’know, there were several years where Mike kind of went off the grid and I honestly still don’t really know what happened to him.

RACHEL SZABO: Well I think today I can actually clear some of that up for you. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Alright. Let’s do it.

RACHEL SZABO: Alright, and just a note for the listeners, addiction comes in many forms, but for Mike’s story, his addiction involves drug abuse. So that’s the type of addiction we’re gonna focus on today.

JESSE EUBANKS: Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


JESSE EUBANKS: In 2017, our city faced an addiction epidemic involving heroin. 

NEWS CLIP: Louisville is seeing a record number of overdose calls in 2017. At least 75 deaths have been attributed to drug overdoses in the first two and a half months of the year.

JESSE EUBANKS: But this isn’t just an issue here in Louisville. According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, an estimated 21 million Americans struggle with a substance addiction. So chances are that you know someone who is an addict and that this topic hits a little too close to home.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, that’s especially true for you Jesse, you know, in talking about your friend Mike today. But as with all addictions, y’know, this story doesn’t start with addiction. And you know, Mike’s story doesn’t start with addiction. In fact, Mike’s story started a lot like another story.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah so in the gospel of Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells what would become perhaps one of the most well-known parables. And it’s the parable commonly referred to as the prodigal son. Jesus starts the story like this — “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that’s coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.”

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah at this point in the story, this younger son’s got a lot of good things going for him. Y’know, he’s young, so he’s got a long life ahead of him. Now he’s got access to his entire inheritance, so he’s extremely wealthy. Things are going really good for this guy, and in Mike’s life, y’know, things were going pretty good too. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean Mike was a member at my church. He was actually one of the founding members of the church. He led worship on the worship team. We actually would play worship together on a regular basis. We were both singer-songwriters. And, y’know, Mike was really present in my life during that season. Y’know, when I got married, at my wedding reception I remember one of the very first people that ever came up to congratulate me was Mike. 

MIKE: And I remember asking right after, ‘So who’s this?’ He’s like, ‘That’s Lindsay.’ And I was like, ‘No, but who is that?’ And he was like (gasps), ‘That’s my wife!’ I was the first person he said ‘that’s my wife’ to. That means something to me.

RACHEL SZABO: But, y’know, life has seasons, and, so y’know, things for Mike were great, but they were also starting to get really hectic. 

MIKE: I was working overnight shifts at the hospital on the weekends, newly married, going to school full time. I don’t know why, but I decided that I wanted to be the class president of nursing school.

RACHEL SZABO: Y’know, Mike wants a career helping people, so he’s in nursing school full time. He’s trying to also work on top of that. He’s recently gotten married, so now he’s trying to learn, y’know, what does it mean to be a good husband and be a good supporter to his wife. 

MIKE: I was just overwhelmed and started to have nervous breakdowns.

RACHEL SZABO: And then one day Mike’s wife tells him that she’s got great news — she’s pregnant. But for Mike, y’know, instead of being overjoyed at the thought of having a child, Mike gets even more stressed out. Now he’s having to juggle school, work, being a husband, and also try to be a father on top of all of that. And you know of course throughout this whole thing, his church is doing everything that they can to care for him. 

MIKE: ‘We need to love on Mike and we need to support him and, y’know, write him notes of encouragement, pray for him…’ 

RACHEL SZABO: Even with all of that support and community, nothing was really easing Mike’s mind. Until one day…

MIKE: So strange thing happened. I took my car to a car wash, like a do-it-yourself car wash. And I got the mats out, you know so I could vacuum under them, vacuum the mats. And as I’m putting the mats on the ground, somebody I think had like dumped their ashtray out on the ground or something like that because there was a change on the ground. 

RACHEL SZABO: So Mike stops for a second and he looks at this change on the ground and suddenly everything starts flashing through his mind — y’know, work, school, wife, now they’re gonna have a baby. And at the time, y’know, Mike and his wife were barely making ends meet as it was. I mean, it was extremely hard for them to pay rent. And now the thought of also having to support a child? Mike didn’t know how they were gonna do it. And so, out of sheer desperation, Mike actually gets down on his knees and starts praying.

MIKE: ‘God, I need you to help me. I need you to take care of me. I don’t know how we’re gonna pay rent. I don’t know how I’m gonna put food on the table. I’ve got a wife. I need you to help me out.

JESSE EUBANKS: And he’s like on his knees like in broad daylight? Like just praying?

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, like he said he had never done anything like that before. But he was that desperate.


RACHEL SZABO: And Mike could never have guessed what would happen next.

MIKE: I open my eyes from this prayer, and there’s this big beautiful — stinky’s a good term for pot  — stinky piece of pot on the ground, like right in front of me.

RACHEL SZABO: Wait, is pot like a piece of marijuana? 

MIKE: Yeah.

RACHEL SZABO: How big was it?

MIKE: You’ve never smoked a bit of pot in your life! (laughs) It wouldn’t matter if it was the size of a baseball or a pin…

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so this stinky piece of pot — which for the record, it was about the size of a quarter, just so you know — but for Mike, this isn’t just some piece of pot. Because Mike had actually been addicted to pot nine years ago.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so actually there’s some recent data that suggests about 30% of folks who use marijuana will actually develop an addiction to it. And if you start using before the age of 18, which Mike had, you are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and not only that, but using marijuana, it can completely alter your perception of reality. I mean, when Mike was using, he was a completely different person. And Mike didn’t want to be that person anymore. He’d been clean for nine years without even thinking about wanting to smoke pot anymore. Until now, on his knees, seeing that piece of pot at the car wash, Mike starts to think to himself that maybe this piece of pot is actually what he needs to relax.

MIKE: I stared that piece of pot down and I thought to myself, ‘I know that either God or Satan placed this piece of pot in front of me. I’m not sure who it is. I’m pretty sure it was Satan, but I’m gonna go with the thought that it was God because I had just prayed.’

RACHEL SZABO: So convincing himself that it’s like an answer to prayer, Mike picks up the piece of pot, finishes vacuuming out the car, and then heads home. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, but like what’s he going to do with it? It’s not like you can just take pot. You need a pipe or something to smoke it with. And I mean, Mike’s been clean for nine years, so what’s he gonna do with this pot that he found? 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, so he doesn’t have something that he can smoke it with, but Mike’s pretty resourceful. And so on the way home, he stops and he buys a can of red bull.

MIKE: I don’t even remember if I drank the red bull, but I remember that I crushed in the red bull to create like a concave section of the can and then poked holes in it with a needle to make a do-it-yourself pipe.

RACHEL SZABO: And so with his homemade pipe and his piece of pot, Mike takes his first smoke in nine years. 

MIKE: I remember I listened to Led Zeppelin and I loved that, but then I started praying and reading Scripture and writing a poem to God and it was this strangely amazing spiritual experience that I had had. I felt like God was confirming like, ‘Yes I gave you that pot Mike and I want you to smoke it and I want you to enjoy it.’

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so let me just chime in for a second to say this. There is a lot of debate around marijuana use in particular, y’know, right now in the United States especially. So there’s a bunch of states that have legalized it, and there’s actually like a growing diversity even among Christians about its usage. And I don’t know — I guess I just want to point out the fact that like our point in this story is not to say whether or not those things are right or wrong. Our point in the story is this — Mike knew that smoking that pot would reactivate his addiction. He just knew better.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and because he knew better, he didn’t want anyone to find out, so he hid all of the evidence. 

MIKE: I put the pot and the pipe up in the attic of our apartment, and you had to like pull down one of those strings to get the ladder down and all that. I bought visine, probably bought air freshener to cover it all up, and something to freshen my breath, and — I went to elaborate lengths.

RACHEL SZABO: Of course, y’know, one piece of pot isn’t going to last Mike forever. And so when Mikes needs more, he actually goes back to the same car wash and looks on the ground again. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Like he’s like hoping that that is the spot where somebody is like dumping their stash?

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, he’s thinking like maybe God will provide me another piece of pot, which of course doesn’t happen. So then Mike makes a new game plan for how to get more pot. 

MIKE: And then I drove to other car washes, and then I started driving around to like country roads and trying to sense with my “spirit sense radar” where pot was located in fields.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so, so Mike is doing — he’s driving around randomly to fields and like putting his arms out and hoping like his ganja spidey sense is gonna go off and it’s gonna like make him aware of where the Lord has put all of the weed that he needs is, right?

RACHEL SZABO (laughs): Right, yeah. I mean, it’s totally ridiculous right? But I mean like, this is how much Mike is affected by using marijuana. Like he’s becoming slightly insane. 

JESSE EUBANKS (laughs): Oh my gosh. 

RACHEL SZABO: And y’know, just like people with a mental illness, a lot of times that illness will take a religious bent to it — Mike’s altered state of mind, it’s sort of taking its own religious bent.

MIKE: I thought that God had given me that pot, so I wasn’t gonna go looking for a drug dealer.

JESSE EUBANKS: Y’know, that’s not uncommon. A lot of people who do a lot of drugs believe that they’re experiencing life on a spiritual plane, when the rest of us that are not taking drugs are just sort of going, ‘No, I don’t think you’re on a spiritual plane. I just think you’re on something.’

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, so get this. Shockingly, he doesn’t find any pot in any field.

JESSE EUBANKS: That is not, uh, that is not a surprising conclusion to that story. 

RACHEL SZABO: So Mike finds a dealer, and he ends up buying more pot. And then he smokes it. And then he buys more. And then he smokes more. And pretty soon Mike gets to the point where he doesn’t even want to spend time with people, with these friends, with his wife. The only thing he wants to do is smoke more pot.

MIKE: I wanted the chance to smoke pot if I had some or to go get some or whatever.

RACHEL SZABO: Mike stopped going to church. He stopped leading worship at church. He eventually even stopped caring for his pregnant wife.

MIKE: I would just like pretend I was enraged, but honestly I just wanted to smoke pot. And then I would like storm out of the house, and one of those nights I just stayed the whole night somewhere else. And then one of those nights turned into two nights. And then one time I came back, and the apartment was empty. She had moved back in with her parents. She was gone. 

RACHEL SZABO: So now with his wife out of the house, Mike’s not able to make the rent payment on his own and so Mike starts living out of his car. But even that is not enough to break off his relationship with pot.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and that’s how addiction works, right? We need more and more of the thing, and that becomes what our life is about. And so — actually let me jump in here for a second. So I actually sat down with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. His name is Chris Wood. And he actually had something really interesting to say about addiction and relationships.

CHRIS WOOD: I look at substances more so as a person developing in a relationship to. It’s the primary relationship, so all those other things don’t really matter.  

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay so, I really love what Chris is getting at here. He’s getting this idea of primary and secondary groups. So I want you to picture a bullseye, and in the center of this bullseye is you. And then the next ring out, that is the primary group. Those are the primary relationships in your life. So that is a spouse, that is children, that is parents, that’s your closest friends. These are the folks that really know you. The next ring out is the secondary groups. These are folks like acquaintances and coworkers and people that you sort of casually socialize with. And of course that’s how healthy relationships are formed — that outer ring sort of exists in support of that inner ring. For an addict, they fill their primary groups, that first rung out — it doesn’t get filled with people. What goes into that primary group is the addiction itself. They form a relational bond then with the thing that they’re addicted to. It fills a relational role in their life. And then the next ring, where it should be secondary relationships, those are where the primary relationships get pushed. 

CHRIS WOOD: In our minds, a normal person might think, ‘Well why would you want to run the risk of getting a DUI or losing your children or doing this? Why would you wanna do that?’ Well a substance user’s mind is they have a relationship with the substance first and foremost, and they’re willing to forego anything that limits their ability to be in relationship with that substance. 

RACHEL SZABO: Which is exactly what happened with Mike. Y’know, eventually Mike pushed all the people and all the relationships out of his life so that he could keep pot in that primary group.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean the reality is that addiction is no respecter of persons. And so addiction affects all different kinds of people in all different corners of society. And the truth is that probably every single one of us knows somebody that is struggling with addiction, and it just gets really hard and confusing to know exactly how should we even help. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and if you’re one of those people, then you’re actually in pretty good company because that’s exactly how Mike’s mom felt.

MARCIE: I was angry. I was afraid. It was just devastating to be honest.

RACHEL SZABO: We’ll be right back.


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Today’s episode is where the gospel meets addiction. We’re following the story of Mike. Unmanageable stress has led to Mike smoking pot, and smoking pot has led to a full blown addiction, and that includes abandoning his church, abandoning his family, abandoning his wife.

JESSE EUBANKS: And I guess this is where for a lot of us dealing with addiction gets tricky because we wonder, ‘How can we respond in a way that’s loving?’

MARCIE: Denial cushions things for you.

RACHEL SZABO: So this is Mike’s mom. Her name is Marcie.

MARCIE: It took me a long time before I realized the extent of his drug use. 

RACHEL SZABO: She told me that, y’know, of course she never envisioned a life for her son where he was addicted to pot. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Y’know, she was very proactive in making sure her kids knew that they did not need to use drugs. 

MARCIE: I remember before I ever had kids reading an article for marijuana use. If you sat together as a family and ate dinner together, you drastically reduced the odds of your kids getting involved in marijuana. That was our pattern. 

JESSE EUBANKS: If you know the story of the prodigal son, then I think you’d agree that the father is loving. But listen to what the father does when the son asks for his part of the inheritance. And he divided his property between them. After that the younger son leaves and he lives this wild, reckless life and the father allows him to. He allows him to go. Sometimes love requires that we draw near, but sometimes love requires that we actually let go.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and so actually for Mike’s mom, trying to tell Mike that he needed to come back to his family, that he needed to stop smoking pot, but Mike wasn’t listening and she realized she was gonna have to let him go.

MARCIE: I was courteous, I wasn’t mean to Mike. But he was gonna do things the way he wanted to, and I didn’t approve of it. He knew, I felt like he knew what he needed to do to get sober if he wanted to, and he didn’t.

RACHEL SZABO: And you know, even the folks at Mike’s church were also trying to help him. They were trying to love him, they were trying to contact him, telling him to come back.

MIKE: They were really trying to convince me to come back to God and to come back to church and set things right and be a good husband and be a good father. And I was a victim in my mind. Like everybody had done me wrong. 

RACHEL SZABO: But, you know, after repeated attempts and no response from Mike, eventually the church decided it was time to let him go. And so they sent Mike an email, which was the only way that they could reach him at this point.

MIKE: They had gone to great lengths to like write out an entire timeline of all of the meetings that we’d had and all of the results of all of those meetings, and they had written up this huge official document, y’know, basically said ‘we followed the Matthew whatever process of one person, multiple people, the elders. You are now considered an unbeliever and not a member of this church.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So a quick note here. The Matthew thing that he’s referring to, it’s Matthew 18 — ‘If your brother sins against you, go to him in private. If he doesn’t listen, bring one other person. If he still doesn’t listen, bring it before the group.’ And since Mike wasn’t listening, he was officially removed from the church.

RACHEL SZABO: So some churches call this church discipline. But Jesse, people can have some mixed feelings about what is it for and is it healthy, so you can kind of just explain church discipline a little bit?

JESSE EUBANKS: Most people, it conjures up feelings of abuse of power, of like overly religious, strict sort of practices. And that’s just not what was going on here. It was a really, really long process. This was not something that happened over a week or two. The goal of church discipline of course is, it’s not healthy for you to believe yourself to be a Christian when everything about your life is showing that you have no interest in following Christ. And the truth was that, repeatedly Mike was just not interested. And because you’re disinterested and turning away from that, then what we want to do is we want to love you enough to regard you as a non-Christian.

MIKE: This was not like in a tone of anger either. This was in a tone of like, ‘I can’t stand doing this to you, Mike. I’m so sad. And please, at any moment, interrupt me with repentance.’

RACHEL SZABO: So Jesse, you were actually at the member meeting where they announced that Mike was being removed.

JESSE EUBANKS: It felt like a living death. To this moment in my life, it was one of the worst days that I’ve ever experienced. Losing Mike that day and in the way that we did and under the circumstances that we did was just awful. And I just remember like all of us just crying and crying — I mean there was not a dry eye in the room. Because Mike was one of us, like Mike was one of the founding members, like we had all this shared history, and it was a huge loss. Like I think that we were supposed to be hopeful, but it did not feel very hopeful in the moment. 

RACHEL SZABO: So Tim Keller writes, ‘What the heart most loves and trusts, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find desirable, and the will finds doable.’ And what Mike’s heart loved most was not his wife or his child, his family, his friends, his church, or even his God. What Mike loved the most was his addiction and the lifestyle that went with it. 

JESSE EUBANKS: But it wasn’t like he loved his addiction because ‘Oh, I love how this addiction is destroying my life.’ Mike loved the addiction because the addiction was the thing that was gonna help him through life the most. I mean at this point, y’know, Mike had done a lot of damage to his relationships in life. Like how do you cope with those? Well, you check out. Well how do you check out? You check out through your addiction. You know, I think the thing that just sucks in this whole thing is like what people need at that situation is they need to run towards people that love them, y’know. But, I mean, Mike didn’t run towards us, so Rachel, tell me, like who did he run to?

RACHEL SZABO: Well, welcome to California.

What did you do out there? Like obviously, did you work?

MIKE: Heavens no. (laughs) That’s not what homeless people do. 

RACHEL SZABO: Like what was a typical day?

MIKE: A typical day involved a lot of walking around. I tried to sleep in like the same place of a park every night, and a lot of the time it was hanging out in the park looking for somebody to like bum pot from or smoke a bowl with. (whispers) That’s a pipe — bowl. And then the occasional journaling —

JESSE EUBANKS: Can I just jump in here and say that I love that he routinely wants to school the homeschool kid on all things associated with drug use.

RACHEL SZABO: Well you know he’s doing that for me.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, totally.

RACHEL SZABO: He didn’t think I knew what it was. He’s like, ‘That’s a pipe.’ I was like, ‘I know what that is.’ Just because I asked you how big the pot was…

JESSE EUBANKS: You’re like, ‘I’m a professional journalist, okay? I’m making a note now that’s a pipe.’


MIKE: Eventually after a month in San Francisco, I jumped in a van with a bunch of hippies and we headed on down the coast. 

RACHEL SZABO: So while he’s in California — this is like a thing for homeless people in California, is they go by nicknames. Nobody goes by their real name. Everybody has a nickname. And so while Mike is there, this group of hippies that he’s jumped in the van with decide to give him a nickname. 

MIKE: I don’t know how, but I ended up with the nickname Jesus. I do kind of resemble the American version of Jesus when I grow my hair and beard out, so I think that might’ve contributed to it. But I think I also kind of loved the idea.

RACHEL SZABO: And in fact, he was actually one of the most spiritual people that these folks in California had ever met. But because they thought, y’know, he was so spiritual, Mike thought, you know, maybe his church back in Louisville had got it wrong, maybe they didn’t know what they were doing, like maybe Mike could be an addict and be this like spiritual person at the same time. 

MIKE: God was somebody that I was kind of maybe trying to like rearrange terms with, y’know, like okay, obviously I’m not the guy I used to be who believes that drugs are bad and this whole lifestyle, you know, that I’m involved in is bad. Y’know, I wasn’t willing to like stop what I was doing, but I thought maybe I could find some sort of a middle ground with God where he was okay with what I was doing.

RACHEL SZABO: And if Mike could find, y’know, like this middle ground, then Mike shouldn’t just smoke marijuana — he should use any kind of drugs that he wanted. Which is exactly what he did.

MIKE: I went from partying is a habit to it’s my life. And it was basically my job every day to get as messed up as possible. A lot of LSD and ecstasy and this one hallucinogen called DMT, dimethyltryptamine, which is the most powerful hallucinogen I’ve ever used.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, well remember Chris Wood, the licensed alcohol and drug counselor I spoke to? I actually asked him to explain what hallucinogens actually do.

CHRIS WOOD: It alters reality, it alters perceptions. It creates visions, people see things, they hear things differently. But what it does is it does kind of limit their ability to be in reality, and sometimes people view that to be more as almost a individual’s having a psychotic episode. But it also does interfere with the serotonin, and that’s what regulates moods. It can also interfere with the brain chemical glutamine, and that’s kind of our pain perception, our responses to our environment, emotions, and memories.

RACHEL SZABO: And at this point, Mike’s been in California now for like six months. And no one knows where he’s at, including his mom. Y’know, his mom had no idea. And so here’s his mom Marcie again. 

MARCIE: It was hard. I was afraid for him. I didn’t know where he was. He didn’t call me or whatever. I had no idea where he was. I went to a retreat out at, uh, Gethsemani. 

RACHEL SZABO: The Abbey of Gethsemani is a monastery that’s just outside of Louisville, and it’s actually a very popular place for people to go to to have like personal retreats and silence and solitude.

MARCIE: …And sat in the cemetery there, and they had this adirondack chair and I was sitting there and I was so stressed and just meditating and I asked God to take care of me. And that curve of the adirondack chair felt exactly like God cradling me, and I was able to find some peace and trust that God would take care of my child.

RACHEL SZABO: Marcie goes home after this retreat, and shortly afterwards somebody called Marcie on the phone. And they said they know where Mike is. 

MARCIE: He posted some things on Facebook and I wasn’t on Facebook and a friend’s daughter saw him. She called me and said ‘he’s in this place with these people.’ 

RACHEL SZABO: So Jesse, you said you also saw Mike on Facebook, right?

JESSE EUBANKS: Very erratically, not very often. And it would say Jesus. Y’know, it didn’t say Mike anymore. He was almost always in the woods. He almost never had a shirt on. He rarely had much clothing on, almost at all. He looked emaciated, like he looked like really malnourished. And he almost always looked inappropriately happy for the surrounding context, like manically happy. I mean, it was just very, very clear that he was really sick.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and I just want to note that at this point in the story, some of the details might get a little disturbing. So Mike continues to use a lot of drugs, most of them being hallucinogens. 

MIKE: I started thinking there were like aliens in my body and like looking out of my eyes and using my body as like a machine to accomplish whatever it wanted. I thought that I was gonna like become maybe the president or some special forces, highly classified agent. And I would consistently go to parties and be like, ‘Who the heck is that guy that is screaming like his spleen is being removed without any medicine?’ Like I would scream like a newborn child that is screaming bloody murder, but with the strength and volume of a full-grown man. 

RACHEL SZABO: And eventually, the hallucinations Mike was having actually started mixing with reality, the reality of his old life that he had had back in Louisville, where he had a wife and he had a child.

MIKE: Started becoming scary hallucinations of my son. You know, I was hallucinating that I was communicating with him and connecting with him and that he was saying like, ‘Why am I not good enough? Why are you not here? I miss you. I want you in my life. I need a dad.’ Y’know, and so that really started messing with me.

RACHEL SZABO: It actually started messing with him so bad that Mike became suicidal. At this point in the story, things get a little bit tricky. So there’s a lot of moving around for Mike, there’s doctors involved, Mike’s dad gets involved at one point who actually lives in Florida. But basically what happened is this — Mike’s behavior got so bad that he was taken to the doctor, the doctor runs a background check, and it’s found that Mike actually has a warrant out for his arrest because he had not only been taking drugs, he had also been selling drugs on and off this whole time. And Mike forgot he had been busted for selling LSD in Ohio. And so the state ships Mike to the Ohio jail. And from the jail, Mike calls his mom.

MIKE: While I was in jail in Ohio, my mom agreed to let me get out if I went to rehab in Louisville. 

RACHEL SZABO: So Mike reluctantly agrees. So his mom drives from Louisville to Ohio, pays the bond to get him out, but as they’re driving back to Louisville, it becomes very clear that Mike is not the same person.

MARCIE: I picked that kid up at five or whatever and it was snowing and I pulled into a McDonald’s and he hadn’t had a decision to make in a long, long time.

MIKE: It took me like five minutes to decide what to eat at McDonald’s. And it wasn’t like I was even really aware that it was taking me five minutes. I was just like, ‘Um, I’m still looking, I’m still looking, um, I’m just still deciding, I’m just not sure,’ y’know, for like five minutes. 

MARCIE: I did realize he was changed big time, yeah.

RACHEL SZABO: So the agreement was that Mike could get out of jail if he went to rehab. And so while Mike’s waiting to go to rehab, he stays at his mom’s house. But while he’s at his mom’s house, his behavior’s so strange and erratic, it’s almost like he’s severely mentally ill.

MARCIE: And Mike was just half crazy. He had used a lot of drugs, and his brain was pretty much fried.

MIKE: I remember waking my mom up in the middle of the night one time and like dragging her into the living room — it was probably two in the morning or something — and saying like, ‘Watch, watch, watch what’s happening on the TV.’ I was certain that they were literally talking to me specifically. And y’know, she was like, ‘Nothing’s happening Mike. It’s just a TV show.’ And I was like, ‘But they’re talking to me. They’re like trying to get my attention.’

MARCIE: Mike saw things on TV, he thought the doorbell was wired to spy on us. His brain was so, so screwed up.

RACHEL SZABO: Y’know, our physical bodies are temporary. They are sometimes when our physical bodies just do not heal themselves, they just don’t get better. And it was starting to look like for Mike that his addiction had so permanently damaged his brain and his body that he was not going to get better. Was recovery for Mike at this point even possible? 

JESSE: We’ll find out when we return.


JESSE EUBANKS: It’s the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

RACHEL SZABO: And I’m Rachel Szabo. Today’s story is where the gospel meets addiction. We’re following the story of Mike. So Mike’s mom has just gotten him out of jail and he’s staying at her house while he’s waiting to get into rehab. But even though Mike has stopped using drugs at this point, he is a completely different person.

JESSE EUBANKS: Most people know when someone is getting sober that there is a detox phase, where your body really, really wants the substance and you have to fight through it and you are just miserable. But for Mike, he had used so many brain-altering drugs that recovery was going to mean more than just detoxing. So there’s typically two stages that people who are coming off of hallucinogens go through. Stage one is acute, and then stage two is called post-acute. Here’s Chris Wood again.

CHRIS WOOD: The acute stage, which is the initial stage, it’s gonna vary for different things, but y’know, sometimes especially individuals who have taken a lot of hallucinogens, they typically struggle with two things. One is kind of persistent psychosis, which can be there, but then also just kind of flashbacks. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, and one of the worst bouts of psychosis Mike had was actually while he was at his former church. 

So when Mike got back to Louisville, he actually contacted the elders of his former church. And at this point, it’s actually been three years, three years since they’ve even heard from or seen Mike. And he even admitted he didn’t know why he contacted him. It was almost like a reflex reaction.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, well that makes sense. I mean, we’re like the safe place. We’re like the only people he really knows in Louisville that really love him outside of his family, so that makes sense. 

RACHEL SZABO: So after meeting with Mike, the elders agree that Mike can come to one of the services. But in the middle of that service, Mike ends up causing a huge scene.

MIKE: I thought that I had become the devil. Interrupted a service, went out in the hallway, and was yelling and screaming about ‘I’m the devil, I’m the devil, I’m Satan,’ kind of like ‘I think you should kill me.’ And it was extremely intense. The pastor that kind of been assigned to deal with the crazy guy, he later told me, ‘If I’ve ever seen someone possessed by a demon, it was you Mike and it was that day.’ And he said it scared him to death.

JESSE EUBANKS: So I walked in shortly after everything had happened, but no one had really told me exactly what happened. All I knew is that I saw Mike and I hadn’t seen him forever and I was immediately, like I was so excited to see him. But then as I walked up to him, immediately I was like ‘something is very wrong here’ because it just did not look like Mike.

MIKE: And that is about the time that Jesse said ‘we need to get you into Louisville Rescue Mission.’

JESSE EUBANKS: So at the time, I was working at Louisville Rescue Mission. And so I suggested ‘Hey Mike, come to the mission, like let us help you through the season.’ And so the very next day I’m downstairs in the day shelter and Mike walks in and Mike starts trying to talk to me and none of his words are making sense. Like it was like nonsensical nothing. Like I would try to talk to him and ask him very, very basic questions like, y’know, ‘Mike, who have you seen since you got home?’ And like he really couldn’t like answer those questions. Or I would say, ‘Are you thinking that you want to come into our program?’ And he couldn’t really answer those questions. And I remember that, yeah, I remember after about a few minutes like, he eventually, like he lays down on the floor and he curls up in the fetal position and he’s mumbling to himself, like it doesn’t even — like he’s not making sense. And um, it was, it was really sad. I was really convinced in that moment that uh, that there was no chance of Mike ever recovering, that all of the drugs that he had done, that his brain was shot.

Okay, so that’s phase one, which is acute. And after a month or so of moving into the rescue mission, the psychosis goes away. And then that moves us into phase two — post-acute. Again here’s Chris Wood describing phase two. 

CHRIS WOOD: There’s also kind of the post-acute stage, and that can last for up to 20 months. Uh, and so a person will experience anxiety, insomnia, moodiness, the inability to regulate emotions well.

RACHEL SZABO: And that pretty much explains most of Mike’s behavior while he’s at the mission. I mean, here’s how Mike remembers it.

MIKE: I was like on the verge of getting kicked out like the whole time. I wouldn’t go to class, or if I went to class I wouldn’t do the assignments. I think it was basically like ‘you aren’t showing us that you’re even interested in being here because you’re just laying in bed all day.’

JESSE EUBANKS: This brings us to I think an important point. A lot of addicts, they’re just in a stage where their brains are just incapable of receiving the amount of theological knowledge that we want to pour onto them. You know, if I sat down with my eight year old, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about eschatology and go into these really, really deep theological conversations. And instead of focusing on very, very simple truths about God’s forgiveness, about God’s presence, about God’s delight in us — instead of focusing on very, very simple gospel truths — Christians come in with our agenda and we’re like, ‘Hey, let me unload all of the theological knowledge that I have into you because the transfer of this knowledge is the thing that’s going to change you.’ And I’m not at all saying that the power of the gospel cannot change people — I fully believe that. But I believe that folks with especially a lot of theological education, they can really inadvertently dump way too much on recovering addicts when the addict is mentally just not capable of retaining all of that quite yet.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, so in Mike’s case, y’know, while he was at the mission, he slowly started to recover and his brain started to heal. And so eventually towards the end of his time at the mission, he was actually getting out of bed, he was actually helping in the day shelter downstairs, he started to play guitar again, his sentences were actually making sense. And at that point, then Mike started to be able to really stop and look at his life and look at how he’d been living and he started to see it a lot differently.

MIKE: Something significant changed while I was there. All of the conversations I had with people that I used drugs with, like there was no substance to it anymore. All of it was just like this empty game of me trying to get more drugs, and that was it. Like that moment in Pinocchio when all the kids on that island turn into donkeys, all my friends and I turned into donkeys in my life in my reality.

RACHEL SZABO: So with this new mindset and this new outlook, then Mike actually began the process of being restored back into his church community. And Jesse, you were actually a part of that process, right?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and you know, if the last time that Mike was discussed at a church member meeting was one of the worst days in the history of our church, Mike’s restoration was perhaps one of the best. At the end of Jesus’ story about the prodigal son, the son returns home just like Mike did. And in this case the father is so overjoyed to see him that he throws this huge celebration and he says ‘This son of mine was dead; now he’s alive. He was lost, and now he’s found.’ And the day that Mike was restored to our church, like that is exactly what it felt like to all of us. Mike was so compromised mentally by the drugs that he had done that I was fairly convinced he was never going to change, and to see Mike stand in front of the church and just so beautifully, eloquently share the story of what God had done in his life, it was one of those experiences that you have and you go ‘There must be a God.’ 

RACHEL SZABO: So during that whole restoration process, Mike actually wrote a song that he sang at the restoration ceremony. Here’s actually a clip of that song. 

AUDIO CLIP (guitar playing): ‘You said you make all things anew, the heavens and the earth, and you will. You said you’d take away our tears, our dying, and our hurts, and you will. And as you fully know us Lord, you said that we’ll know you. And what you say, you do… You do…’

RACHEL SZABO: And so the reality is that though, y’know, Mike still had a lot of cleaning up to do. I mean, it wasn’t like, ‘Here’s this great ceremony and now everything’s great.’ Like he messed up his life significantly. I mean, he had maxed out dozens of credit cards, he was in tremendous debt. You know, he finally got in contact with his wife and she wanted a divorce. And so they went through that process, and Mike had to like restore the trust in that relationship so he was actually able to go see his son now. And slowly, God started to put his life back together. Today Mike is remarried, and he and his new wife have twin girls. 


WIFE: Maybe Daddy can blow some bubbles. 

CHILD: Bubbles!

MIKE: Bubbles!

MIKE AND WIFE SINGING: Rock, rock, rock the boat gently to the shore. If you see a lion, don’t forget to roar. 

WIFE: Good roar, JoJo.

RACHEL SZABO: Mike leads a small group at his church and he’s got a great job and he actually has a really good relationship with his mom.

MARCIE: I’d say we have an excellent relationship. Y’know, Mike’s my son, he does things that irritate me sometimes,  but, y’know, we talk two or three times a week usually. I would say that this past that he had that’s been very, very difficult has worked to bring us closer together. He’s a joy to me now.

RACHEL SZABO: But even better than that, Mike would say that the best thing is that he actually has a restored relationship with God.

MIKE: Believing that I’m loved by God feels like it’s not fair with all the crap that I’ve done and created. I totally messed up several relationships and abandoned my pregnant wife and did drugs galore and robbed people that I love and hurt people terribly, and now it’s all good. Yeah, it’s just like, it doesn’t feel right, and I have to like choose to believe that God’s ways are above my ways and that when he says I’m forgiven I’m actually forgiven and when he says I love you it’s not when I’m good.

JESSE EUBANKS: Y’know, throughout this episode, we’ve referred to the story that a lot of Christians call the story of the prodigal son. But in more recent times a lot of Christians have started to call it the story of the two sons or the story of the prodigal God. Because really what it is is a story about a God who is wasteful, being lavish with his love and his grace towards those who are undeserving.

RACHEL SZABO: And I think too, that grace changes us. Like this whole story, this whole episode, started out with Mike was super stressed and overwhelmed, and so to cope with that he started smoking pot. And so I asked Mike, y’know, ‘Do you feel some stress today?’ and he actually said this. 

MIKE: I’m just like overwhelmed right now. I mean I’m exhausted at work and then I come home from work and my girls are in a bad mood and needy and my wife is on the brink of exhaustion, and I just feel like I can’t give any more. I don’t have anything. And then like God reminds me, ‘Good, I’m glad you realize that because I’ve got it.’ Y’know, God’s spirit like reminds me he’s gonna finish what he started. (sighs) It’s such a relief.


JESSE EUBANKS: If you’d like to learn more about Louisville Rescue Mission, you can actually go back to Season 1 Episode 3 of this podcast – Where the Gospel Meets Homelessness. You can find that episode and more at 


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewees for this episode — Mike, his mom Marcie, and Chris Wood.

RACHEL SZABO: Our senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks.

JESSE EUBANKS: Our co-host today is Rachel Szabo, who is also our producer, technical director, editor, and robotic dancer.

RACHEL SZABO: Additional editing by Janelle Dawkins.

JESSE EUBANKS: Music for today’s episode comes from Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions, and The Free Harmonic Orchestra. Our theme song and commercial music is from Murphy DX.

RACHEL SZABO: Apply for your social justice internship supported by Christian community by visiting Serve for a summer or for a year. Grow in your faith and life skills.

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, ‘Go, and do likewise.’


This podcast is only made possible by generous donors like you!


This episode was produced and mixed by Rachel Szabo. Additional editing by Janelle Dawkins. This episode was written by Rachel Szabo with Jesse Eubanks.

Senior Production by Jesse Eubanks.

Hosted by Jesse Eubanks and Rachel Szabo.

Soundtrack music from Murphy DX, Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions and The Free Harmonic Orchestra.

Thank you to our interviewees: Mike, his mom Marcie, and Chris Wood.