The graduate: One man's story of addiction, losing it all and the challenging road to redemption

Saturday, December 24, 2005

On Friday night, Scott Lusby finally had a reason to rejoice.

As a member of the worship band, Lusby strapped on his acoustic guitar and took the stage at the small chapel situated on the 316-acre campus on County Road 621 near Cape Girardeau.

For nearly 15 months, Teen Challenge had been his home. He came here a broken man full of resentments, bitterness and thoughts of suicide. A drug addict with no clue how to defeat his inner demon.

He saw this as his last hope.

But on this night, the night before Christmas Eve -- the anniversary of the event that set those horrific wheels in motion so many years ago -- he was leaving a changed man.

A free man.

With a smile, in front of a packed house of friends he would never forget, he began to sing.


Scott Lusby traces the twisted roots of his addiction to an event that took place 26 years ago today, a tragedy that ripped apart his seemingly perfect, middle-class family -- the death of his 5-year-old brother, John Paul.

When Lusby was a sophomore in high school, John Paul died in his sleep. Lusby, who was just 16, watched helplessly as his loving, Christian parents, who he couldn't remember ever arguing, divorced.

His other younger brother went to live with his mother. Lusby was forced to move away with his father, a retired Marine, out to the country to a new school and a new set of friends.

At his old school, Lusby had never drank or smoked, and he even found swearing distasteful. He had never even been near drugs.

"I was very naive," he said a few days before his Teen Challenge completion ceremony. "I guess I was pretty sheltered."

Lusby had always been an athlete, playing strong safety on the football team. At his old school, the "bad kids" were one group and the "jocks" were in another.

At the new school, there were no such boundaries. Lusby, still reeling, remembers that he was in a "black hole," full of anger, resentment and loneliness.

"It was a grieving period and I was a just a kid," Lusby said. "I blamed my parents, and they blamed each other. My life was just a mess."

Lusby began to hang out with a new circle of friends in what he calls now a "more loose environment." It wasn't long until he was introduced to drugs. One day, as he rode home with some friends after football practice, one of the guys fired up a joint.

"That was the first time I'd even smelled marijuana," he said. "I remember thinking how could my parents turn away from God when you need him the most? But that's what I did, too."

Ignoring what he had been taught and how he had been raised, Lusby said, he smoked the joint. But he's insistent that he wasn't caving to peer pressure.

"I just didn't care," he said. "I just sort of thought, 'I'm on my own now.'"

Soon, Lusby was going to parties, drinking and smoking more and more marijuana. It wasn't long before he was introduced to acid and mushrooms, both powerful hallucinogens.

After that, he said, he let loose.

"I didn't care for anything except getting high and playing sports," he said.

That continued the rest of his time in high school. At the end of his junior year, he was told he was not eligible to play football his senior year because he had moved from another county.

Lusby only needed one credit to graduate. Without football, he didn't see the point, so he quit.

Lusby went to work, lying on his applications, saying that he had graduated high school. Soon, he found a job at a transportation company, Averitt Express, in Cookville, Tenn. The owner of the company was a Christian, and he inspired Lusby to clean up his act.

"I rededicated my life to Christ," he said. "When I quit high school, I knew it was time to get serious and time to earn a living."

Shortly after, he married Jana, a girl he'd dated in high school. Two children followed. He named his son John Paul, for his little brother.

Life seemed to be on the right track. No drinking, no drugs. In his mid-20s, Lusby was making $35,000 a year, which was much more than his other high school friends.

That's when he started lifting weights at a local gym. After he beefed up, the owner of the gym asked Lusby if he would work crowd control at concerts the gym sponsored. Soon, Lusby was working concerts for entertainers like Elton John, Rod Stewart and the Eagles.

That led Lusby back down a familiar path.

Afterward the concert, he would party with the bands. There was drinking, drugs and other women. Soon after, he divorced his wife and left his children for a woman he had met at the gym.

"My priorities were all screwed up," he said. "I was lost. I wasn't focusing on the things I was supposed to be focusing on."

Lusby began power-lifting and said he was the size of a muscular bouncer. But one day, he tore his rotator cuff while lifting. His doctor prescribed the highly addictive painkiller Vicodin.

Lusby, who had never taken pain medication before, said Vicodin gave him a "warm and fuzzy feeling that I had never felt before." Lusby remembers thinking: "This is exactly what I need."


Lusby had quit his job and started working at a car dealership. He said painkillers were a popular pastime among the salesmen there, so when his Vicodin prescription ran out, he started taking any painkilling medication he could find: hydrocodone, Vicodin. Eventually, he was no longer taking them to get high -- he was taking them so he wouldn't get sick.

Then, he came across OxyContin -- a painkiller normally reserved for cancer patients. He began to snort up to 400 milligrams a day, or five 80-milligram tablets.

He cleaned up once, but then got so drunk at a company function that he took painkillers and was hooked all over again.

Lusby realized he'd hit rock bottom.

"I couldn't function anymore unless I snorted an OxyContin in the morning," he said.

Lusby went through about a dozen secular rehabs before he remembered something his mother had told him about -- Teen Challenge.

Fifteen months ago, Lusby went to Mercy House in Mississippi. Mercy House is a Teen Challenge entry station. He stayed there for 35 days before going to a Teen Challenge facility in Hot Springs, Ark., for 3 1/2 months.

Then he came to the Teen Challenge facility in Cape Girardeau. Here, he said, the healing began.

During his time here, he said he has recommitted his life to God. He's gotten his GED at 41. He's been in Christian classes, done Teen Challenge's famous work details -- Lusby was on the lawn detail for 18 months. He's worked on the chain-saw crew and in the kitchen.

"I've learned to put other people before me," he said. "I've learned that the world doesn't revolve around Scott Lusby. I've learned how important family is."

On Wednesday night, Lusby packed his things. It is an emotional time for him. Lusby isn't sure what he plans to do. He wants to spend some time with his children and find a job.

But he knows he can do it now drug free.

On Friday, Lusby completed his Teen Challenge program, along with 10 others. More than 130 people have gone through the program in 2005. Along with the 10 others, Lusby got up and gave a testimony in front of that packed house after he played several songs.

"I had it all," he said, getting choked up. "And I lost it all. But I am here today to proclaim that God changed my life from nothing to something and I give him all the glory."

Today, Christmas Eve, is the anniversary of the death of his brother, that he believes put him on the path to addiction. He plans to make the most of his second chance, thanks to his time at Teen Challenge.

"I'm leaving here with a lot more than I came with," he said. "I'm leaving with so much more."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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