My name is Ben Armstrong. I am currently the Executive Director at Three Dimensional Life in Gainesville, GA. We are a 10-month residential recovery program for teenage boys with addiction. My job is great and I love showing the love of Jesus to the boys in our program. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. How I got this job, though, is a completely different story. I was not always the type of person I am today.
I grew up in a Christian home and attended church regularly throughout my early teen years. However, I always had a propensity for trouble. Countless times in my school years I was marched to the principal’s office for offenses such as talking too much, fighting, disrespect, and everything in between. As the years passed, my offenses got worse and worse and so did my behavior. At the age of 17, I started using drugs and my life promptly began rolling downhill.
Many teenagers experiment with drugs or alcohol in a variety of ways, but most do not end up with a full blown addiction. According to many addiction experts there are plenty of stages in between the experimental stage and the addiction stage. For me, there was only one stage. I never “experimented” with drugs. From the first day I smoked marijuana, I smoked it every day thereafter. Within a few months I added cocaine, ecstasy, & L.S.D. into my regular rotation of drug use. Then about 6 months after I began smoking marijuana, I finally found the drug that topped them all: methamphetamines.
They gave me a feeling I had never felt before. I felt empowered. Whenever I would snort a line I felt like I could conquer the world. Most importantly, whatever problems I had going on in my life seemed to temporarily disappear and while I was high I could be whoever I wanted to be. What started out as a club drug I did on the weekends quickly became a way of life for me. For most of the next seven years I would use meth every day. With each passing day I lost more and more of myself until I no longer had an identity away from drugs.
On Sunday July 29th, 2007 my life would change forever. I had been up for 5 days straight using meth, cocaine, and marijuana. Once I added 7 hits of L.S.D. to the mixture my world started to crumble around me until I no longer knew what was real and what was fantasy. I lost grip of my sanity and decided I needed to kill myself by running into oncoming traffic. I then ran into vehicles on foot that were going about 45 miles per hour. Miraculously, my adrenaline was pumping so hard I would bounce off of each car without little more than a few scratches. When police arrived at the scene I quickly attacked them. After a long physical scuffle with the police I found myself laying on the pavement while handcuffed, with 3 police officers literally sitting on top of me. At that point, I passed out and slipped into a coma.
The doctors were very fuzzy with me about whether or not I actually flat-lined, but it was touch-and-go at very best. The doctors had told my mother to expect a phone call that I was going to die at any moment and even if I made it out alive that I could have permanent brain damage.
As I tell you this next part, it is very important for you to understand that I don’t know if I actually “died”. However, I can tell you that at the very least God gave me a vision of Hell; if I was really not there myself. Either way I can tell you that I definitely “experienced” Hell.
I don’t tell most people this part of the story, mostly because I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. I was in a place of total darkness & total absence of God. I did not realize at the time though that it was the absence of God, but I recognized it as the absence of hope. Have you heard the phrase “even atheists pray as a plane is going down”? I believe on earth that is definitely true. In my experience, though, there was not even a thought I could be saved from the torment I was experiencing.
Nothing about my experience was cliché. There were no pitchforks, men with horns, no fire. Only complete & total isolation. However, there was a thirst. It was the kind of thirst that could not be quenched. With each passing moment the thirst doubled. The only “joy” I could take was the joy in knowing that as bad as each moment was, it was only going to get worse so I should revel in the current moment. There was also an understanding that this would never end and would continue to get worse for eternity.
After a long period of time I was given two visions. One thing I would like to say about these visions is that these are not visions that I have interpreted since it happened. The moment I saw these visions I understood what they meant. The first was a vision of the skull of a jackal. This was something I recognized from an encyclopedia I had as a very young child. It scared me to death as a boy and it gave me nightmares. When I would open that page of the encyclopedia I would flip the page as quickly as I could. I had not seen or thought about that jackal skull in over 15 years at that time. Yet, as soon as I saw it I recognized it. Immediately I understood that was Satan. It was the depiction of evil. It was clear that Satan was watching me and reminding me what pure evil was.
The second vision is much more significant and has permanently affected my life. The vision was a white dog that was chasing its tail. This dog seemed to endlessly chase its tail in circle after circle after circle. It became a backdrop of my experience. Then out of nowhere the dog caught its tail by biting down on it. The dog was running so fast that the force of chomping down on its tail jerked the dogs neck. This broke the neck of the dog and it fell down to the ground dead. I immediately understood that this was my life.
What is getting high? Like what is the purpose? I would argue that the purpose of getting high is not just trying to change your feelings, but trying to escape reality all together. This vision showed me that ever since the first day I started using drugs I was trying to escape reality. The ultimate form of escaping reality is death. I inherently knew that I had died by my own hands. I finally had found what I was looking for. I had been living in so much pain that all I was looking for was death.
Three days later I awoke in a hospital bed. I will never forget those first few moments as I came back into reality. The sun was shining through the window of the ICU room I was placed in. I had a breathing tube down my throat and was restrained in the bed by handcuffs. I had a different set on both of my hands and feet. For some crazy reason I always thought drugs set me free, but I was living in my own personal prison. Laying in that bed that day I realized this more than ever.
I was very unsure that day of what the rest of my life would look like. I didn’t know if I would be going to prison or what kind of charges I was facing. One thing was for sure though: For the first time I knew I needed help and I was incapable of changing my life on my own. I called out to God for Him to help me and to get my life back. A few weeks later I was out of the hospital and out of jail with my eyes set on rehab. On August 23rd, 2007 I went to a drug recovery program called No Longer Bound in Cumming, GA. I completed the 10-month program they offered and my life has never been the same.
At No Longer Bound I found God’s love for me and I learned to live in Christ. All of the pieces of myself that I lost during my addiction began to come back to me. I could feel my mind becoming renewed and my zeal for life returned. When a person is in the midst of an addiction it seems like life can never be as good as it is when that person is on drugs. Addicts believe that in order to become a “normal” person living in sobriety that some value of life must be sacrificed. There is a thought that a sober life is a boring life. Ironically, I have never met one successful person in recovery who believes that to be true. No one ever says, “Getting sober was the worst decision of my life” and yet that is the thought every addict believes. That is why it is so difficult to get off of drugs. They take a hold on you that defies logic. Everyone around you can see it but your addiction remains a blind spot for you only.
This July, I will celebrate 10 years of sobriety. Since my addiction I have worked in recovery, graduated college, started several businesses, gotten married, had three children, & now find myself as the Executive Director of an incredible recovery organization. I have discovered who I am and my purpose in life. The Lord used my addiction as the catalyst that would propel me to heights I would not have believed during the darkest days of my life. I’m a living example of God’s redemption and reconciliation. I thank Him every day for the decision He made to let me live because not everyone is so lucky.
Today I live my life in Christ & for Christ instead of for myself (which doesn’t work, believe me I’m living proof that it’s a dead end…)