Jonathon Shaffstall calls himself a “late bloomer” when it comes to drugs. Raised in a Christian home as the son of Salvation Army officers, he didn’t have his first drink until he went away to college at 18.
“I really believe drinking was the start of it all,” he said. “It was the drug that got me going in my unfortunate addiction.”
Shaffstall says he did some drugs at the small Midwestern college he attended from 2004 to 2008, but really went downhill after he moved back to the Northeast and entered the working world.
“It progressed from being just a weekend thing to becoming my passion,” he said. “It was my life. It’s what I dreamt about.”
To buy drugs, Shaffstall once drove from Massachusetts to New York City during a blizzard. A three–hour trip one way took him seven hours, but he was undaunted.
“I was driving 35 mph in a blizzard,” he recalls. “I’m in the only car on the road, sliding everywhere, but I’m driving to New York City because I need to get what I need to get. I was that determined. I really didn’t care about my car or my safety. I was desperate.”
Shaffstall says marijuana was his “drug of choice,” along with “Molly,” a form of ecstasy. Later, he descended into cocaine, mushrooms, and even pain killers.
“Thankfully, I never did heroin or anything like that,” he said.
When he couldn’t afford drugs, he would binge drink.
Shaffstall said he would lie, steal, and hurt family members if it meant getting drugs.
“I didn’t really care as long as it met my addiction,” he said. “It was a lot of bad behaviors.”
“I realized I needed to get away to the intensive rehab that the ARC provides,” he said. “To be quite honest with you, if I hadn’t gone, I don’t think I’d be here today.”
Having grown up in The Salvation Army, he found entering an ARC awkward.
“Initially, I was embarrassed to be there,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there.”
Healing the soul
His plan was to stay for only the initial 30 days when beneficiaries are confined to the building, but something took hold.
“There really started to be some healing after that first month and I decided I should really stick this out,” he said.
Shaffstall said he found structure and routine at the ARC, as well as love. He also rekindled his relationship with God.
“I didn’t have a relationship with God before,” he said. “I grew up in the Church, I knew all about God, but I didn’t really have a serious, personal relationship. I obviously had to reconnect there. To me the root of all this is Jesus. I can only do this with Jesus.”
Shaffstall said he completed 12 workbooks while in the ARC and found them helpful. His mother would share articles from SAConnects magazine about other ARC beneficiaries and he found inspiration in their stories.
Avoiding bad habits
Shaffstall said the message he has for ARC beneficiaries is to “be encouraged.”
“Thankfully there is grace and hope and you’re not a lost cause,” he said. “You can succeed. I felt like I couldn’t succeed anymore. I felt like this disease had me and I was done for and this was essentially going to be my life and that I could not stop.
“But you can stop and you learn that it’s day by day. It’s one day at a time. For me sometimes it’s one minute at a time, it’s one second at a time.”
Shaffstall found that out when he left the ARC. He admits he was nervous, knowing he would be on his own without accountability.
Today, Shaffstall still deals with “triggers.” Colors, quotes, songs, and smells will conjure up memories of the bad old days.
“Even the rattle of pill bottles will trigger me,” he says. “I have to run from that. I have to be very pro–active and very careful. I still struggle to this day. It’s very challenging.
“I’m thankful that I’m sober right now. I’m not planning on drinking or using drugs today, but I can’t guarantee anything. All I can guarantee is that I rely on the Lord and He helps me through it.”
Shaffstall said he has established a system of coping mechanisms he learned at the ARC.
“I’m still a heavy work in progress,” Shaffstall said.
“I’m deepening my personal relationship with Jesus. He’s the reason I’m sober today. The Lord has everything to do with where I’m at in my recovery. I’m really thankful to God for that.”
Shaffstall, who has now been sober for almost two years, began working at the Montclair (Citadel), N.J., Corps in January 2016 and says being surrounded by Christians has helped.
“I pray a lot, but it’s not the ‘close your eyes, bow your head,’ prayer. During the day, I’ll just talk to the Lord.”
Shaffstall said he sometimes reviews his old ARC workbooks, but he also learned to write out the Bible word–for–word. A counselor had him write 31 chapters of Proverbs for each day of the month. He has continued the exercise and is now in Leviticus.
“That’s been therapeutic and obviously a time I can spend in Scripture,” he said. “It’s just a really good tool.”
Sharing his story has also helped. The Montclair Citadel is active in urban mission and operates a shelter, drop–in center, and a daily feeding program. Shaffstall, who often drives the church van to pick up kids in rough neighborhoods, has discussed his recovery with others dealing with substance abuse.
“I’ve been asked a couple of times by people who know my story to interact with those individuals and it’s been great,” he said. “We’ve been doing some of that urban ministry and outreach. I feel blessed to be able to help.
“I don’t try to force those kinds of conversations. If they come up, they come up. I feel I’m getting better at talking about it.”
As for the future, besides continuing his recovery, Shaffstall loves theater and music. He might pursue acting opportunities in New York City or a master’s degree in theater.
“I feel that is my gift and I would like to sharpen it and get better at it,” he said.
“A lot of good things have happened to me in this year of recovery. I’m thankful to be alive and I’m thankful to be sober. I’m just extremely blessed and I give all the glory to God.”
by Robert Mitchell