‘Acid from the airbag burned my eyes. My first thought was, ‘Call Mom.’ I climbed out of my window, dripping in blood. ‘Mom, I crashed the car. I see cops coming. I love you.’

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“Since my childhood, raised in the South Jersey area 15 minutes outside of the great city of Philadelphia, my life has been a roller coaster. Plenty of highs, plenty of lows. Since I was a kid who was blessed with athletic ability, charm, charisma, and seemingly unlimited potential, I was ready to go out and conquer the world. My days in high school I thought set me up for a future that was promising. But one year into a football scholarship to Catholic University of America in D.C., my life of potential quickly turned into a life of destruction.

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

After nearly failing out of school, I transferred home to a community college and then afterwards to a university nearby in Glassboro, New Jersey, called Rowan University. Though opportunity for me still seemed to be there, at this point I had developed an incredibly toxic, full-blown drug addiction to OxyContin. Though I can’t figure out the exact catalyst to why I began to use so harshly, I do know that shortly after I started to use drugs, I found it was impossible to stop.

While friends of mine graduated from their schools, got into their careers, settled down in relationships and were doing things like getting married, having children and buying homes, my life looked nothing the same. And the boy everyone thought was going to make something of himself, actually was living in a hell no one was aware of.

I remember talking to a friend who had just gotten married and feeling like I was talking to him from the same mind I had at 16 years old. My life of using drugs kept me from ever really growing up. ‘Bro, I’m so jealous of your ‘adult problems’ of bills, home repairs and things like that. You own a home dude… I can hardly afford a cup of coffee most days if it cuts in to my dope money,’ I shamefully admitted.

Comparing my life to my friends’ just made me more depressed to the point that pills did not suffice anymore and heroin came in to my life. I had no idea that anything could destroy a life as quickly as heroin destroyed mine.

When I totaled my first car, I was 19 years old traveling down the AC Expressway at 2:00 in the morning. This is the very beginning of when I realized the incredibly stupid decisions I would make when I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This night specifically, I was in a blackout when I decided to try to drive a 45-minute long drive down to Atlantic City. Needless to say, I did not make it and before I knew it, I fell asleep behind the wheel and came-to going straight into the trees along the highway. It felt as if I blinked and opened my eyes to my windshield directly at my face, my left window was shattered and my left arm completely covered in blood from a 7-inch cut deep into my shoulder. Acid from the air bag burned my eyes and my first thought was, ‘Call Mom.’

I climbed myself out of my driver side window, my arm now dripping blood from my wrist, and I called my mom. I wanted the first voice she would hear to be mine, and not a state trooper telling her that her son has been involved in an accident at 2:30 in the morning.

‘Mom, I crashed the car. I am on the Expressway, I can’t really talk much but I am okay, I think. I see cop lights coming, so the next voice you hear will probably be theirs. But I am okay, I love you,’ I said to her.

I did not know what to do, my adrenaline was pumping so much from the accident that I did not even feel the cause for why my entire arm was covered in blood. I wondered what else could have been hurt on me that I didn’t feel. I climbed back into the car waiting for the police. When they came, they covered my head with a safety bag and cut the roof of my car off to get me out. They told me even though I told them I got out of the car once already, for safety reasons they can’t let me walk. So I was cut out, put on a gurney, and the next thing I knew, I was in Kennedy Hospital in Washington Township, New Jersey, waking up to my mother in tears standing over my body. I felt like I was dead, and this was the first instance where I wish I was.

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

On February 10th I was released from my 5th in-patient treatment facility. My parents came and picked me up at 10:00 a.m. that Saturday morning, and by 10:00 p.m. that same Saturday, I was behind the wheel of my mom’s totaled car, overdosed again. Yes, it took just 12 hours for me to be released from a rehab full of hope finally for a better future, to overdose for the second time, making my life SO MUCH WORSE THAN IT ALREADY HAD BEEN. Talk about suicidal? I was suicidal. My parents told me just a few hours earlier they were going to dinner but would cancel if I didn’t feel comfortable being left alone, but I knew what I wanted to do. I took my mom’s spare keys, took her car without her knowing to Camden, and bought two bags of fentanyl. I overdosed behind the wheel of my mom’s car before I even made it back to my parent’s house. I woke up to being administered Naloxone by the police in the back of an ambulance and I just remember putting my head in my hands, crying hysterically asking the police, ‘Please! Please tell me I did not hurt anyone, please!’

I knew my parents were going to be completely heartbroken once again, and I also knew what the police’s response to my question was, could ultimately determine the rest of my life. How easy it could have been to not only kill myself, but kill someone else as result of my decision. This is one of the strongest times I have felt God’s grace working in my life because I so easily could have hurt someone and spent the rest of my life in prison. Having to make that phone call to my parents, handcuffed to the police station, was one of the most difficult phone calls I have ever had to make. I was so scared the news alone was going to send both my mother and my father into a panic attack or some mental breakdown. I really felt in that moment I would have been better off never being revived by the police, because me dead would cause less stress for my parents than me alive does.

After four totaled cars, two overdoses I needed to be revived from, committing crimes and a combined 14 months of inpatient rehab in less than 18 months, I actually wanted to die because it seemed easier than living another day.

But then a miracle happened.

The Sunday after the night I overdosed driving my mom’s car, I was at the lowest point in my entire life. I felt I could never do anything right and I just wanted to end my life. I had suicidal tendencies for a while before this point, but I never really thought I was going to make a plan for it. That morning though, I really wanted to. I was going to take every dollar I had, go down to Camden and buy the same exact fentanyl I overdosed on the night before, and was going to go into a room by myself where I could not be found and intentionally overdose and kill myself. Before I went, I wanted one last experience at my church, so I asked my dad for a ride there. He did not even look at me. He was so hurt at what I did again that he could not even look at me when I asked. So I walked.

I walked to my church, which is 5 miles away in the freezing rain, knowing full well I may have just seen my father and mother for the last time.

I walked in late to service and sat in the fourth row and third seat in. Normally during praise and worship my hands are up and I am singing praise to God, this time however I was so ashamed that I could not even look up. I stared down at the ground, tears still running down my face, and I knew I wanted the last thing I ever heard before I went to Camden was praise music so I could at least apologize to God for what I knew I wanted to do to myself. But something happened. God touched my heart stronger in that moment than He ever had before, and I knew I wanted to be done. I no longer wanted to give up on life, but I wanted to stop wasting my life.

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

I took that lowest point of my life and looked at it objectively. Where did I want to be while in the lowest point of my life? In God’s house, listening to believers singing His praise. I looked at that and let it sink in. In that moment I found Pastor Kyle, he grabbed me and hugged me and told me he loved me, and I knew I was ready to reach out to him for help as I have done so many times before. But this time, actually allow him to help me. I am so glad I did because it was a decision I made at the lowest point in my life, that changed my life.

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

God moved strongly in my life and I started to ask for help. And when people in my life gave me some, I did not run from it like I always used to. I actually ran towards it! I was able to finally realize that although I may not be at the place in life where I hoped I would be, I was able to appreciate the fact I was alive. Which means I still had a chance. If you are alive, you always still have a chance. I looked at how beautiful life is and realized I wanted to help other people see that, too.

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

Today I dedicate my life to helping others realize their life is beautiful, worth living and they have a purpose to fulfill. I want to share my story and my hope in middle schools and high schools all around this country. Teaching kids how to not make the same mistakes I made. I own my truth today. I no longer pretend to be somebody else, out of shame for who I am.

‘Be bold enough to leave your past in the past, so you can begin to live your tomorrow, today.’”

Courtesy of Joseph Owens

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joseph Owens of South Jersey. You can follow his recovery journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more empowering stories of people overcoming their addictions:

‘I went to see my OBGYN, cried over an evil man being the baby’s father, and screamed about my sobriety. She calmly sat next to my hospital bed, and handed me the ultrasound pictures.’

‘I was ABANDONED on my grandma’s front porch with a note that said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ My own mother said those five words about me when I was only 8 months old.’

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