Filling the Hole in My Soul

Justin Collett

devozine Jail Cell2 TSP 73979720The solid metal door of the jail cell opened briefly and slammed shut. This was not my first time in jail. Only eighteen years old, I had tried to quit drinking and drugging numerous times. I had lost every last bit of hope. The cold concrete bench seemed a fitting end for my miserable life.

How It All Began

Growing up, I had caring parents, two younger sisters, and everything I needed tucked inside a cozy home. On the outside, my life looked spectacular. On the inside, I was shy and afraid. In a room of friends, I still felt alone. Something was missing from my life—as if there were a hole in my soul.

The hole was filled the first time I smoked marijuana. My fears seemed to vanish; my friends and I laughed; and for the first time, I felt good. I felt OK being me.

At first, the payoffs for using drugs were wonderful and the consequences were minimal. I felt that nothing bad could happen to me. I thought I could quit whenever I wanted. Gradually, the payoffs became smaller and the consequences greater. Still, getting high was the only thing that made me feel comfortable in my own skin.


Within three years, I flunked out of public school, completed a two-month wilderness camp for teenage addicts, attended and was expelled from a boarding school, got kicked out of a treatment center, and got in trouble with the law. After every incident, I thought the next time would be different. In retrospect, I was doing the same thing over and over again and, for some reason, expecting different results.

Eventually, drinking and smoking weed weren’t exciting enough. I began to smoke, snort, eat, drink, and drop anything that would keep me from being sober. I stole, lied, and hurt people to support my habit. Getting high was my around-the-clock goal. I was a drug addict and didn’t even know it.

One night, I was snorting cocaine in a little room in the projects. I sat on a bare mattress on the floor. An outside street lamp provided the only light. I felt utterly disgusted with myself. How did my life get to this point? Everything was falling apart.

I knew it was true, but I didn’t know how to stop it.

On June 27, 1999, I passed out while driving my car and hit a telephone pole. I regained consciousness in the wreckage with my airbag deflating and glass all over me. I limped out of my crumpled car. An hour later, I was in jail. I assumed my life was over, and I experienced hopelessness I had never imagined. In that moment, a prayer started within me: “God, I hope you’re up there; and if you can help me, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”


God answers prayers. Upon leaving jail, I entered another treatment center and was finally ready to listen. I did whatever they told me to do. A man named Rick taught me how to pray on my knees in the morning and at night. After treatment, I got involved with a Twelve Step program that changed my life; and today I am blessed to help other men recover from alcoholism and drug addiction.

It has not been easy. Early on, sobriety was extremely difficult. I counted the minutes and hours, trying not to drink or use drugs. I prayed continuously and tried to put one foot in front of the other, slowly moving in the right direction. When I entered college, I found that my experience could help others. After graduation, life led me into youth ministry; and I will enter Duke Divinity School this fall. Eight years later, I am still sober. And I still pray on my knees morning and night.


Addictive behavior “feeds” on the garbage in our lives. One way to fight addiction is to “take out the trash.”

  • Resentment is old anger. Do you still think about that friend who betrayed you or the parent who doesn’t understand? Write about the people who have hurt you. Pray for them, and ask God to help you forgive them.
  • Fear is like corrosion that eats away at our lives. Write about your fears. Pray, asking God to take away your fears and to help you trust in God.
  • Making amends, or putting things right, is a courageous activity that offers us freedom. Who are the people you have harmed? To whom do you need to say “I’m sorry”? Ask God to help you make amends.

Be sure to watch Justin’s GodStory video in which he tells the story of his addiction and the power of God’s grace in his life.

Justin Collett is the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee.

—from devozine (July/August 2007). Copyright © 2007 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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