Christmas hope shines brightly for Jose
As Christmas 2021 approaches, Jose shares his journey – from his struggle with addiction, to a passionate commitment to show kindness and care to others. At one stage he says, “I had no hope. Nothing mattered. Nothing made sense.” Today, Jose volunteers in prisons, with The Salvation Army and the Australian Anti Ice Campaign.
When Jose is able to travel – to catch up with family, or to give talks at schools, churches, and prisons – he sometimes looks down at his suitcase and smiles.
This is because, several years ago, in the grip of ‘ice’ (crystal methamphetamine) addiction and on his way to mandatory rehab, Jose looked down at the garbage bag he was carrying through an airport.
It was in that moment, with no home, wearing donated clothes and shoes three sizes too big for him, and with only a garbage bag as a suitcase, that Jose began to look at other happy travellers and realise something was wrong with his life.
He says: “Looking back now, I see that as a spiritual awakening where God really showed me my life as it was. Not the delusion [that had been] in my head.”
Jose says that even after multiple periods in and out of prison, estrangement from his family and loss of everything that had been important to him, this was his first real ‘lightbulb’ moment in addiction.
Slide into addiction
Jose’s mother had migrated to Australia from the Philippines, single-handedly bringing up her three children.
As an adult, Jose went to university, had a successful career in banking, and up to the age of 33, had never used drugs. But then the death of someone close deeply impacted him.
Around the same time, a workmate – another professional – invited Jose to visit and encouraged him to try ‘ice’.
Jose says: “Life deteriorated pretty quickly. I lost everything – it climaxed with the loss of my family.
“I started doing crime to support my habit, then came imprisonment. But when you become an addict, you become delusional. You don’t really see yourself as you are.”
Lost in addiction
“I was in prison and my mum was 64, 65 and she would catch a train to see me and it would take many hours and I would refuse to see her and turn her away because I was so busy chasing drugs inside,” Jose shares.
“Eventually my family gave up and didn’t want to have anything to do with me, but today, I am so thankful, they are again a big part of my life. Most addicts in full addiction don’t know their desperation. It is really the loved ones looking on that have the deepest sense of desperation.”
At the time of Jose’s garbage bag incident, he had been released from prison, then rearrested four weeks later. This time though, instead of going back to prison, he was ordered by a drug court judge to go to a recovery centre in Coffs Harbour (associated with The Salvation Army).
He says: “I was given this garbage bag of donated clothes so I could change and I had shoes and pants three sizes too big and they gave me an airplane ticket to fly to Coffs Harbour.”
At the centre, Jose began attending a Bible study run by the local Salvos. Here he began to understand there was a caring God, though he could still not see any meaning or point to his own life.
“I was [still] an addict, even after I was clean for more than six months. I couldn’t see the point of life. I was still the same person. I had no hope. Nothing mattered. Nothing made sense.”
“Then, one morning, maybe three or four in the morning,” Jose says, “I got up to open the door for a puppy we had at the rehab farm. As I was opening the door, I tripped over my Bible, which opened at the book of Ecclesiastes and I read the words ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.’
“I was just stunned.
“I realised that righteousness, foolishness, none of it matters, unless we are anchored firmly to God. I realised also that I didn’t have to look for God, because God came for us through Jesus. That was really the beginning of the journey. I became a Salvos soldier (member) a couple of years later, and I’m now studying for a Diploma in Ministry.”
As well as working, Jose volunteers at church, in prisons and also with the Australian Anti Ice Campaign.
He says: “I got involved, then started the Coffs Harbour community team of the Australian Anti Ice Campaign. We share our stories at schools and our message to kids about ice is – ‘not even once.’
“The impact is quite amazing. We have parents, teachers, kids crying. Once a month we have a Facebook show called ‘Let’s talk about ice’ and we run it from our Salvation Army church.
Message of hope
“My message to others about recovery, is also really the message of Christmas,” Jose says.
“That message is hope. There is hope through Jesus; hope in someone greater than yourself; hope when you surrender yourself to God and hope that you can really find yourself,” he says.
“Addiction cost me a lot – financially, in terms of health, relationships, family and more, but [also] recovery is not cheap, or easy. It needs a lot of raw honesty and a lot of surrender. And in so many ways I see parallels to my faith. God’s grace is not cheap either. It is free, but it’s not cheap. It is about dying to yourself, surrendering to God and handing your life to Jesus.
“That is the beautiful hope that I have found and [also] the message of Christmas.”