This post is the tenth Grand Edits Guest Feature Story here on Revisions of Grandeur.
We’ve heard from one woman who battled cancer and one who said a premature goodbye to her father. A young man whose life course changed within a second, and another who watched his child struggle for years. A mother whose child received a terrifying diagnosis, and another who had to bury two of her precious babies.
Life unleashes some brutally painful attacks doesn’t it? Most of the time, we never see them coming. There’s no way to prepare. We are subject to our circumstances.
Sometimes, though, the attacks are sneakier. They come from within. The wars we wage are against our own selves. We’re on both sides of the battlefield — and only one side can be victorious.
For my friend Austin Lucas, the attack was a slow advancement –a letting down of his guard. A befriending of the enemy. Before he knew it, he found himself in a full-on raging battle.
It wasn’t until Austin surrendered that he regained his position of strength and fortitude — that he was able to strike back against the forces that had divided himself against himself.
Austin’s story is a compelling reminder that we never have to fight our battles on our own.
We’re never forsaken. We’re never alone. And we’re never too far gone.
In his childhood and young adulthood, Austin Lucas was passionate about technology and the arts. He dreamed of attending Michigan State University or University of Southern California to study Graphic Development and Computer Science. Austin spent countless hours on the family computer practicing website development and graphic design, certain that it would be his future career.
In high school, Austin enrolled in vocational education classes to explore advanced web development and graphic communications. His first job was with Perfect Setting Inc. in Kingsford, where he worked as a graphic designer and typesetter. At just sixteen years old, he felt competent in his ability to jump right into his future profession.
As Austin transitioned into young adulthood and his career in “the real world” became almost tangible, he became nervous about pursuing those goals. With many passions and interests, he felt trapped by committing to one.
He lost his focus, and began seeking affirmation in the wrong places.
Austin had always been a loner. He was quiet and thoughtful. He kept his head down at school, and eagerly anticipated coming home each evening to sit in front of the computer playing video games and working on websites for friends and online friends.
When he decided to participate more actively in the social world of his peers, he used alcohol and partying to fit in, gaining social acceptance at the expense of his priorities. Austin sank deeper into the party scene, often becoming wildly intoxicated at parties, sometimes ending the night in a physical altercation.
The intrinsic motivation that once spurred Austin on toward personal growth was replaced with a desire for instant self-gratification. His visions of success had been trumped by delusions of euphoria.
It was an angry time for Austin. A lonely time.
“I couldn’t comprehend painful emotions, and the lack of satisfaction they brought on had a strong influence on my decision to start using narcotics to soothe pain with synthetic ‘happiness’.”
Austin’s addiction escalated to the point of self-destruction. What began with prescription drug use progressed to heroin and cocaine use.
Austin dropped out of high school at age seventeen, and isolated himself from anyone who wanted to dictate his behavior or encourage him to change his ways. Most of his childhood friends had disassociated with him, and he found himself hanging out with long-time users and addicts who could obtain stronger drugs.
“I spent my days and nights figuring out how I was going to get my next high. I didn’t actually live during those years. I simply existed. Looking back, it had to end with either police intervention or death from overdose.”
Fortunately for Austin, it ended with the former.
In July of 2009, Austin was arrested during a drug transaction that was a police set-up.
“My first thoughts were ones of anger. Someone had betrayed me. Then, when I was placed in handcuffs, it sunk in. I had become a person I never thought I would be: an addict, a dealer, and a criminal.”
When he walked through the doors of the jail carrying a bin of his belongings, he saw friends and family members sitting there, shaking their heads at him.
“I had become just like the people I once resented,” he said.
Following his arrest, Austin fled while on bond, but was caught. He was jailed until May 2010, then court-ordered to attend inpatient rehabilitation and serve eighteen months of probation.
“I had paved a rocky road for myself. I thought I was being marginalized by societal groups. I was a Victim with a capital V — I had clearly assumed the role, and used it as my crutch. I know now that we have very little influence over the actions of those around us; we can’t let the misery of family members, friends, or social groups be the excuse for us to self-sabotage.
“The time in jail and on probation was the best thing for me. I was forced to sober up for an extended period of time — I did a lot of self-reflection.
“I remember the first time I faced my mother from behind glass. I was wearing my striped jump suit. She had stood in that place before, but never with me. I was so scared to see her reaction – it broke my heart thinking about it well before I got to the visitation area. She told me that she had been praying all along for something to happen to straighten me out.
“My mother is a spiritual giant. Despite all of the tragedy and ill circumstance, her faith never waivers. At the lowest point in my life, my mother was brokenhearted, yet she held to her faith in God and in me. Sometimes other peeople have faith in you until you can have faith in yourself.”
Austin’s mom, Valerie, gifted a Bible to him while he was in jail. On the inside cover, she wrote out Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight.
“That verse was the catalyst that helped me get to where I am today.”
Along with Austin’s parents and family, several clergy members and friends believed in him and prayed for him.
“I’m so thankful for them all. I’m thankful to Pastor Jim Danielson (Evangelical Covenant) and Pastor Kevin Sullivan (Family Baptist) for the visits and conversations that helped me focus on my faith. And I’m thankful to Joe and Laura Kriegl for the friendship and devotional materials they extended to me during our visits. All these people helped me to dig deep spiritually.”
While in jail, Austin took advantage of the opportunity to attend Bible studies and church services. Rather than watching television between meals, he read faith-based books by Joyce Meyer, David Jeremiah and Max Lucado, and studied scripture.
One particular verse, Isaiah 48:10, resonated with him: See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Austin believed he was experiencing the purification of his own life through his struggles.
“I may have caused the circumstance,” he said, “but God wasn’t going to let it go to waste.”
He knew it would take discipline, though, to stay on the straight path. 1 Peter 5:8 reminded him of the need to remain focused on fighting off the threats in his life: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.
Austin earnestly and fervently prayed for strength and salvation.
“I vowed never to let my struggle be in vain. I dedicated my mind and soul to live out the plan that God was revealing to me. I am still, to this day, trying to walk that path.”
When faced with challenges, Austin finds solace in knowing how deeply loved he is – how deeply loved we all are, even in our brokenness.
“In this world, we are loved by family members, friends, significant others – but God loved us before they did. He loves us more than they can. I don’t mean this to sound scary, but let it sink in –the King of the universe has such a passionate love for us that He literally was beaten, tortured, and killed to make sure we could be forgiven. He was willing to endure all of that so that we could carry out the purpose of our lives.”
Since Austin’s release from jail, he has worked diligently toward fulfilling his own calling and purpose.
“I’ve been actively engaged in competition archery which really helped me channel my energy. It turned out to be amazing self-care. I went professional in 2013 and travel nationally to competitions.”
“I have been an active motivation speaker and member of Zero Gravity Outreach (extreme sports ministry).”
“During all of these grand transitions I don’t know what happened, but suddenly I found that I LOVED educating myself. I enrolled in Bay College and started school to become a social worker. I had a background in technology, and was able to work for CCI Systems during my education. I graduated with my Associate of Arts, then transferred to Northern Michigan University.”
Several years earlier, during his time in drug rehabilitation in Marquette, Austin had worked with a counselor in who pushed him to succeed. He said, half-jokingly, “Some day I’ll come back and attend your college.”
Austin received his Bachelor in Social Work, with Summa Cum Laude honors, from NMU.
After graduation, Austin accepted a scholarship opportunity to attend the University of South Carolina for his Master of Social Work degree, with a specialization in Health & Mental Health and an additional Certificate of Graduate Studies in Drug Abuse and Addiction Studies.
He currently works as a MSW intern (in acute adult and geriatric psychosis) at Three Rivers Psychiatric Hospital in West Columbia, South Carolina.
His scholarship affords the opportunity to work under Dr. Teri Browne at the University of South Carolina, aiding in research and publications regarding health disparities and renal disease.
Austin feels blessed to be giving back to the family, friends, faith, and now the social work community that helped him through his valley.
“If you are struggling, do not let fear stop you from asking for help,” Austin says. “It’s frightening to admit we cannot control our indulgences, but its also necessary in order to break out of bondage.”
This December 6th marks six years out of bondage, six years of drug-free living for Austin. It is a day to be celebrated — but really, every day of freedom from addiction, every moment of walking in truth, is a celebration.
Austin reflects on John 8:31-32, a scripture passage that holds special meaning for anyone who has struggled with addiction: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching,you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
“I will never fully understand it, but God has revealed that He has a big plan for me. I just keep putting my best foot forward. Wherever that leads me — whatever God has me doing, I’m okay with it.”
Thank you, Austin, for sharing your story of hope.
If you enjoyed this post, read more Grand Edits Feature Stories here.
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