The following text is personal testimony of how God has brought inner healing from emotional wounds that were inflicted on me as a child, and set me free from a fear of violence and a deeply entrenched behavior pattern that had caused me to hurt others growing up. My hope and prayer is that if anyone reading this is able to identify with any of it, they will come to understand the deep healing and freedom that can be found through repentance and faith in Our Lord.
My story begins with describing myself as an intelligent child who was happy, confident and secure in my home life. This all changed however when my father suddenly left home around the same time I began to experience bullying by a boy who I used to play football with. The boy was a friend at the time, but took it upon himself to beat me and humiliate me at every given opportunity after wrongly blaming me for losing a football game. The bullying I experienced only stopped after I snapped one day and knocked him down, along with his friend who was with him at the time. Both boys had been trying to humiliate me by hitting me in front of others, but something inside just said enough is enough, and I remember a feeling of intense relief because I finally stood up to him. In retrospect I can now see how this was the beginning of a pattern of behavior that was to stay with me well into my adulthood, as I had learnt that people could not hurt me if I hurt them first.
The bullying by this particular boy did not go on for too long, but it was enough to destroy my confidence and teach me that I needed to toughen up to protect myself from being hurt again by others. Subsequently I began to try and create a tough man image that couldn’t have been further from the truth of what I felt inside. In terms of what this looked like for me, as a child I would fight with other kids in the area and would bully and intimidate others. I also became rebellious at home and school, and eventually fell in with older men who introduced me to drugs and a criminal lifestyle, which caused me to leave school early and enter a very dark period in my life.
Throughout adolescence and early adulthood, I always knew deep down inside I was not really the person I was trying to portray to others. As much as I wanted to try and convince others that I was tough, I knew that there was always someone tougher just waiting around the corner. Inevitably I ended up in a young offender’s institute and I can clearly remember the day I was led away from court in handcuffs and was taken away to spend my first Christmas behind bars. My first sentence was only a few weeks at that point, but whilst incarcerated I was bullied once more by an older guy who took a dislike to me. Despite trying to convince myself I was a somebody, I didn’t really know how to look after myself in an institution, but I quickly learnt that the only way to get by was to make sure that I was able to convince others that I was no pushover. The next time I was sent away for violent disorder, I made sure that I got in with the right crowd and would target certain people to try and establish my reputation even though the fear of violence actually terrified me. This meant that on occasions I would assault someone for no other reason than to try and prove myself. The reality was that I took no pleasure from violence and I always felt sadness for each person I hurt. I knew it was wrong and I wanted to change, but the further I travelled down that road, the harder it became to turn around.
At 21 years old, I was sent away on remand for the first time to an adult prison. I remember walking down some steps and reading a sign that said welcome to Hell. It was made even more chilling by the fact that the prison I had been sent to had been used in a film many years before, and so I actually recognized parts of the building. To make matters worse I was withdrawing from a high amount of opiates and was forced to share a cell with someone who was also coming off drugs. All we had was a small sink and a bucket to use as a toilet and that was one of the lowest moments of my life. We were locked up for 23 hours a day and each morning the door would open for slop out and I would try and get myself together and stick my chest out as I walked down the landing as if I couldn’t care less. The moment I was back in my cell I would sit there in tears wondering how I was ever going to turn my life around.
The fact was that no matter how many times I tried I would always go back to drugs just as a pig goes back to wallow in the mud. I hated life and I hated myself. Other than the drugs I also had been secretly cutting my flesh for years as a way of punishing myself, but also as a way of releasing the anger and pain I felt inside. I would even punch myself at times and hurt myself in other ways, but the more I did this the more confused and fearful I became. I really believed I was becoming insane, because I did not think that anybody else would ever deliberately self-harm. I constantly lived in fear of being found out, but without any obvious way of changing things. I would numb myself with drugs, sex and anything else that would provide temporary relief from the confusion, fear and sadness I felt inside.
Over a number of years, I abused my body to the extreme and it is testimony to God that I am even alive today after having several near-death experiences. Indeed, several times I would experience situations where only the presence of God could account for my being here today to write this, but I will write about them at some point in the future.
After many years of personal suffering and causing suffering to others, I entered treatment in 1997 to clean myself off the drugs. I knew that to continue on the same path would either lead to death or a life sentence in prison, but deep down I had no real hope that things would change. I had tried to get clean many times before, but always seemed to go back to drugs because I could not deal with the intense emotional pain brought by the shame and guilt that the drugs had been masking. After detoxing from the drugs in treatment, I was left feeling vulnerable and naked before others. I really didn’t know how to deal with this and so I spent months trying to push people away by pretending that I felt better than I actually did. I also suspected that I was going to use again when I left treatment, as I could not stand the reality of having to deal with life without drugs. The truth was I was terrified of life and often contemplated suicide, but instead of being honest and sharing this, I would use anger or lies to keep people at a distance and away from discovering how I really felt inside.
It was whilst I was in treatment that a friend took me to church one evening after I reluctantly agreed to go simply to get out for a night. I had previously believed in God as a child, but somewhere along the line my idea of God turned into imagining some ferocious being that punished me every time I made a mistake. I also had church forced on me as a child and all I saw was hypocrites who judged everybody else, but did the very things they judged others for. I therefore went to church that night with no expectations and spent the first part of the service staring at the women in the hope that I may find a nice girlfriend. At some point however, I heard the preacher talking about addiction. He spoke about a God-shaped hole inside each of us and invited the congregation to step forward and accept Jesus. I could really relate to much of what he was saying, but I remember an intense fear of going forward, as I thought that people would be watching me and I could not stand the thought of people thinking that I was a broken man. Even so I eventually fell to my knees and asked the Lord to rescue me from the personal hell that I was living in before quietly leaving the church and travelling back to the rehab.
That night I could think of nothing else other than what had happened at church. I waited till everyone was in bed before closing my eyes and began to pray. I got down on my knees again and repented of the things I had done in life. Despite going to church as a child and going through the motions of repentance, I was suddenly aware of God listening to my cries and I felt genuinely sorry, because I had hurt so many people in my life up to that point. I can see now how unlike my previous prayers of repentance, I meant it wholeheartedly this time and I remember what felt like a cool breeze come over me. I thought that the wind had come into the room, and so I checked all the doors and windows, but they were closed and the heating was on. I now believe this to be the Holy Spirit.
I went to bed that night with a peace that I had never experienced in my life and so began a journey that would ultimately help me clean myself of the drugs, but would actually involve swapping drugs for religious practice, and going to the other extreme of becoming a Christian doormat afraid of conflict and trying hard to be liked by those I placed on pedestals. Of course, I had no idea that this was the case, but in his grace the Lord was good to me and eventually allowed me to understand how I had only partially surrendered my life to the Jesus that I had heard many stories about, but did not really know personally. I have written some testimony about this also and would encourage you to read it on here if you get the chance. In terms of the testimony I am sharing now, it is only in the freedom I have found in surrendering to the Lord, that I can now share freely why I acted like some kind of gangsta, when the reality was I was simply a frightened, confused and broken man who had grown up physically, but still felt like a small child inside.
I give all the glory to God for the changes that have happened over time. I have made many mistakes along the way, but I have for the most part been willing to allow the Holy Spirit to convict me of the behavior patterns that have subconsciously controlled me even after becoming a Christian. It is only in the confidence I have in God that I can now share this in the hope it may bring encouragement to others. Furthermore, I can do this without fear of what people may think of me, as my reputation amongst men is no longer as important to me as my relationship with God.
This journey has been long and painful and has involved going through periods where I would just cry for no obvious reason. At times, I wondered if I might be having a breakdown, as I could be simply driving the car and a song on the radio would trigger the tears. I could also be watching TV with the children and I would cry at some cartoon character for no apparent reason. To anyone observing I must have looked like a real wimp at times. I have come to understand however that it’s all part of the healing process and that I do not need to stop myself from experiencing my emotions. I grew up believing that crying was a sign of weakness in men, but I realize now that could not have been further from the truth.
In finishing this testimony I want to add that I have reached a point in my life where I am no longer afraid of violence or those who would seek to intimidate, because I am one with Him who bore our sins, was murdered, but rose again so that we may find life.
May these words be a blessing to you. Please feel free to share this testimony if you think you may know anyone who might need to hear this.
May all the glory and praise go to HIM.