Set Straight

Lisa Fontaine

Jacob Juno only remembers the feeling of instability when he looks back on his childhood. His parents were both alcoholics. Drugs and alcohol were ever-present. Jacob fell into the same patterns; he didn’t know how to live life knowing that life should be lived any differently, he fell into the same patterns at a very young age. Now after a lifelong struggle with addiction, Jacob’s life has been transformed.  

Jacob was born into a broken childhood, surrounded by drugs and drinking. His parents focused on feeding their addictions more than setting a good example for their kids. Although he didn’t know it, he was emotionally fenced in by drug and alcohol usage. Everything and everyone in his life centered around substance abuse—his parents’ jobs, their friends, and even his babysitter.

Jacob first experienced drugs at the age of four when his babysitter encouraged him to smoke pot. “The last thing I remember was eating Lucky Charms™. They were magically delicious,” he jokes. But childhood was anything but comical for Jacob. He witnessed his dad being arrested and sent to jail multiple times for DUI. His parents divorced, and Jacob, his mother, and his two siblings moved into a home with a woman who physically abused all of the kids. “She would beat all three of us with metal rulers, hangers, and wooden spoons. I remember kneeling in a corner on a newspaper topped with rice,” he reveals. After that, his unstable family life turned transitory, taking him to multiple states to live with different relatives. At some points he was homeless and living on the street.

For Jacob, addiction started as a young child. When he would tag along on motorcycle rides with his parents, he would drink wine from a leather pouch and full cans of beer given to him by complete strangers. At the age of 13, his mother was remarried and his family started a Saturday morning tradition: mom would drink and he, his step-dad, and his sister would smoke pot. Because he had been raised to do drugs, he didn’t know this lifestyle was not normal. “It was just like a party,” he says. “I didn’t know any different. I thought that was how life was supposed to be.”

When Jacob was 16, he discovered a bag of meth while breaking into his stepdad’s trunk to steal pot. Curious, he tried it and was instantly hooked. Living solely for his addiction, he dropped out of high school and took a job to financially support his habits. But it wasn’t long before he was on the move again, heading to different states, living with strangers, and even following a band wherever they traveled. Along the way, he met up with a group of hippies and experimented with an even greater variety of drugs that included mushrooms and acid.

Jacob lived his life running from reality. In his heart, he knew he was leading a dishonorable life that needed to change. He longed to be free but felt helpless to break the destructive grasp of addiction. In an attempt to turn his life around, he returned to California and lived with his aunt. During this time he completed his GED and had hope for a new life. But in the battle to stay clean and sober, the drugs won out. When his aunt discovered a bag of meth in his room, he immediately found himself living on the street again. Shortly thereafter, Jacob was arrested for drug possession and was sent to rehab. The treatment was unsuccessful, and he resumed his life of addiction.

Time and again, Jacob attempted to overcome his addiction. “I had the heart to get clean, but I couldn’t stay clean,” he says. He moved into a sober living house in San Clemente, but once again was drawn back into using and was kicked out onto the street. While partying, he got a girl pregnant, and she gave birth to his son, Elijah. He desperately wanted to give his son the life he knew was right, but the strong arm of addiction kept him from being the parent he wanted to be.

Things seemed to take a turn for the better when Jacob took up residence at a local motel. It was here where Saddleback Church’s “Breakfast Together” ministry served a breakfast and held Sunday morning worship. Jacob began attending a Bible study group, was baptized at Doheny Beach, and even completed probation early for staying on the right track. But life was quickly derailed when he decided to celebrate the end of his probation by getting high.

Feeling totally powerless to his addiction, he attempted to buy drugs from what ended up being undercover officers and was ordered to spend six months in jail. Jacob had hit rock bottom. On his second day in prison, he laid on his bunk and cried out to God for help. “I was in this horrible place, but it was where I met God and he answered me,” he explains.

From that day, Jacob’s time in jail was spent focusing on God and growing in the Word. When he was released, he moved back in with his ex-girlfriend and his son. But the relationship turned violent and abusive, and to protect himself, he moved out and again lived on the street.

To Jacob, it seemed like he had come so far, and now found himself having to start over once again. Determined to make a better life for himself, he took a job that paid a little more than minimum wage and was given a room to rent in a friend’s home. While he was living there, he met, started dating, and eventually married his neighbor named Michelle. Although Michelle enjoyed the party life, Jacob held tightly to his sobriety. However, when married life grew too difficult, he found himself emotionally broken and turned to alcohol to mask the pain. Drugs again entered the picture, but they didn’t help him escape reality the way he had hoped. Anger, violence, and destructive behavior prevailed. Following a car accident that could have taken their lives, Jacob made a life-changing decision. “I told Michelle that I was going to be clean and sober and follow God. And if she was not going to join me, then we needed to go our separate ways.”

Michelle chose that path for herself too. She told Jacob about Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback San Clemente and shared details of the program with him. He was captivated by the idea of a recovery program that was Christ-centered, and he immediately wanted to begin attending. From the first visit, he felt right at home. “I was welcomed with open arms and a hug. Nobody judged me, everyone was honest, open, and friendly,” he describes.

Celebrate Recovery became a family program for Jacob. While he and Michelle attended CR, their two sons were involved in the children’s ministry. CR was instrumental in successfully keeping the couple clean and sober. According to Jacob, “It is a Christ-centered program to help you recover from hurts, habits and hang-ups. It’s a safe, non-judgmental place where you can slowly come out of denial and gain tools for making healthier life choices.” Attending as a family has allowed them to grow stronger both individually and together.

Making changes and living a new way is not easy. Jacob found additional support by calling on his sponsor and accountability partner to help in times of trouble and celebrate his victories. He and Michelle also attended Christian marriage counseling to help guide them in their relationship.

A few years after starting CR, Jacob felt God calling him to serve as a leader and sponsor. In these roles God made it clear to Jacob that he is using his life experiences to help others facing similar struggles. In addition to CR, Jacob volunteers at the children’s ministry information table.

Reflecting back on his life, Jacob never anticipated that so much good would come from the darkness in his past. No longer locked to addiction, March 15 will mark three years of clean and sober living. He admits that the journey is difficult, and he is happy to have a home at Saddleback San Clemente and Celebrate Recovery where he finds ongoing hope and support. “We all get muddy sometimes—this is a dirty world. But we have God and Celebrate Recovery to clean us up and set us free.”

Moving forward, a transformed Jacob fills his body with God and the Word in place of the substances that once held him captive. “It is invaluable to know that I can rely on Jesus. He is my rock and my foundation. He leads the way to life, not death.”

Click HERE to learn more about Celebrate Recovery.