Jeff's Story


Before I got here, I was using drugs heavily, committing burglaries, and making excuses to support my habit. But nobody was buying my excuses, and I just ignored the fact that everyone knew.

I’ve been here before, but it’s different this time. It’s more real. My kids are older. They notice I’m gone and back at the same place and they’re asking more questions. My son asks me, “Why are you here again? Why do we have to visit you here again?” So it’s been a hard conversation that I’ve tried to avoid having with him because it’s hard to explain to a nine year old about drug addiction. 

But I did explain to him that I made some mistakes and this is how I have to make up for it. He just asks more specific questions, and I say when you’re older I’ll explain it more. 

How does that feel?

It hurts. After I graduated [from the Life Change Academy], I never expected to relapse until it was too late. When it happened, I was in denial about it. I kept telling myself that this isn’t happening, I can still stop this. But by that time it was out of hand, I was out committing burglaries and doing whatever I had to do to support my addiction. 

It’s brought on more shame this time because a lot of people expected more of me. And I expected more of myself after I graduated. I found it was harder to admit that my problem came back than it was to admit last time that I had a problem in general.

How does being here the second time make you feel about grace, forgiveness, and redemption?

It is a whole lot more prominent. I came in voluntary last time, and this time I’m court mandated. When I came back to ask if I could come back, the staff said yes without hesitation. And I didn’t expect that at all. I don’t know why, but I expected them to say no. Maybe because I had more exceptions of myself, so I thought they’d have higher exceptions of me too.

So this means I have to take this more serious. This is whole lot more life or death this time. My kids are older, thankfully my wife is still sticking with me through this again. I wouldn’t want to ask that of her again. I deal with enough shame over what I’ve done this time and it’s going to take me a long time to get over that and I don’t think I can do this again.

I’m scared. Terrified. I thought after graduating last time that I could do this without help, but I couldn’t. I have to maintain these relationships here, I have to maintain constant contact with God. I have to keep that in the back of my head. 

If the judge hadn’t let me come here, and made me do my time, by the time I got out my kids would be out of high school. I don’t want that. It’s hard enough to have them visit me here, I can only imagine how hard it would be to have them visit me through a video chat. I’ve let myself down enough, let my kids down enough, let my family down enough, I can’t do that anymore. 

I wasn’t raised in a destructive household at all – no physical, verbal, emotional abuse growing up. One of the counselors said I just went to the party and never left –which made a lot of sense to me. Real life scares me. Being in my addiction for so long, I didn’t have to deal with real life. Being clear headed and seeing my life come crashing down around me made me panic. So I went back to the numb ways of not dealing with anything.

I lost everything expect my family when I was in my addiction. I intentionally sabotaged myself so people would feel sorry for me. If they felt sorry for me, they wouldn’t call me out.

I’ve lied to everyone in my family so much. It’s hard to build that trust back up, but there has been so much grace shown to me from my family. No one has turned their back on me. But my shame is what gets me every time. I can’t get out of my own head.

I’m here to fix me, because if I don’t, I’m no good to my family. I didn’t take it as serious last time as I am this time. I didn’t think I could fail before. But recovery is much more work than I thought it would be and what anyone gives it credit for.

Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.