Redeemed in Newark
When Cadet Joseph Cantrell was growing up in Howell, N.J., someone told him that, as a child of divorced parents, both of whom were on their second marriage, he was a product of blasphemy, and therefore was unredeemable in the eyes of God.
“I carried that with me for many years, thinking the blood of Christ wasn’t for me,” remembers Cantrell. “So I thought, if that’s the case, I’m living my life however I want.”
During his youth, Cantrell experienced hardships and setbacks that reinforced this erroneous belief. After high school, he experimented with drugs and alcohol. A girlfriend revealed to him that she had aborted their child.
“That night, I tried cocaine for the first time,” said Cantrell. “I needed to mask the pain. I wanted to be a father, and I felt like that had been torn from me.” From there, he began using harder drugs.
Hopes of turning his life around by pursuing a career in the Air Force were dashed when a slip on black ice left him with two herniated discs. Unable to continue in the Air Force and in need of relief from his injury, he developed an addiction to painkillers.
“Through connections with a street doctor, I began using oxycontin in large amounts. My paperwork was all legitimate, so I was able to get as many pills as I wanted. I was taking doses of medication more suited for an old man struggling to walk than for a 25–year–old recovering from a back injury.”
Cantrell began selling his leftover medication. He used the money to buy heroin, which was cheaper and gave him a stronger high than the pills. He was overdosing in public and in private, blacking out and losing his memory for days at a time, only to wake up and continue his compulsion.
“Addiction is a symptom of a much larger inner pain,” says Cantrell. “Every day, I was reliving my parents’ divorce, missing out on starting my own family, and losing a chance for a career. As destroyed as I must have looked on the outside, I felt worse on the inside. You know you’re in a bad place in life when you open your eyes in the morning, and the first thing you think to yourself is, This again? That was me—every day.”
‘Don’t talk, just listen’
While alone and doing laundry in the basement of a friend’s house, the reality of Cantrell’s situation hit him. He fell to his knees and did something he had not done in years—talked to God.
“I wasn’t going to promise Him anything, but I began telling Him about everything that had happened throughout my life, as if He had never heard of me. I finished by telling Him, ‘I don’t know if You care about me. I’m not even sure if You are real. But I need You to show up right now, because when I’m finished talking to You, I’m done with my life.’ It felt good to finally express myself to Him. But when I stood up, I still wasn’t sure of my next step.”
“I know now it was the Holy Spirit,” says Cantrell. “I answered, and my stepfather said, ‘Don’t talk, just listen. Your mother and I are on our way to church, and we just heard a radio ad for The Salvation Army and what they can do for you. You need to call them.’”
Cantrell eventually reached the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Newark, N.J. The next day, he arrived and began his recovery.
Chase your recovery
Today, Cantrell is a graduate of the Newark ARC program. He now considers Newark his hometown, realizing there is nothing left for him in Howell.
“I’m always happy to visit family and friends, but I can’t live there anymore. I know too many wrong people, and I know too many bad places.”
Ironically, Cantrell says, there are plenty of those kind of people and places in Newark. But he also has The Salvation Army, his support group, and the love of Jesus.
“The first step of my recovery was submitting my life to Christ. That’s the first step for any problem in life, addiction or not. Admit that you are powerless and give control to God. Do that, and you’re free. The words I most frequently hear from addicts in recovery right before they go back to using are, ‘I got this.’ That’s their ego talking.”
When Cantrell speaks to beneficiaries, he knows their pain of addiction. “I try to show the welcoming attitude and love that I was shown when I first arrived,” he says. “A ‘hello,’ a ‘thank you for being here,’ or a handshake go a long way in helping someone to realize his or her worth. You may be the first person in years to remind them of their worth.”
At the same time, he speaks truth, reminding them that the path to recovery and conquering addiction begins with a solid foundation in Christ.
“I ask them to remember how hard they chased drugs and sought ways to get them. They need to chase recovery and seek the Lord with that same vigor,” says Cantrell.
In God’s eyes
Cantrell is now studying to be a Salvation Army officer at the College for Officer Training (CFOT). “Even when I first felt the call to officership, I thought, Really, Lord? You know what I’ve done, right? But I’ve seen people I used to run the streets with—die on those streets. I know I could have easily been dead next to them. It’s only through the grace of God that I’m here today. He’s our strength and our shield, and He knows our worth.”
It took Joseph Cantrell years to learn that no one is irredeemable in the eyes of God. “When I open my eyes in the morning, I don’t dread the day ahead of me anymore. I open my eyes and see God’s gifts and His mercies. I wake up and I’m ready to serve.”
by Hugo Bravo