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Man beats own addiction, now helps others

Staff writer

John Bell enjoys turning out curio cabinets, benches, and other things in the woodworking shop he opened in Lincolnville in March.

Life is good, and a far cry from the turmoil that engulfed him just nine years ago.

A massive drug overdose brought the 43-year-old man to his senses after a lifetime of indulgence in alcohol and drugs. He sought help and has been clean ever since.

Bell was living in Junction City at the time of the overdose. He became paranoid, his heart beat rapidly, his body temperature went sky high, and he was very dehydrated. His body was shutting down.

In the midst of his misery, one thought came to his mind: “My parents did not raise me to be like this.”

That moment was the lowest point in a tumultuous life of drug use and irresponsibility that Bell is thankful to have put behind him.

As an adopted son, he was brought up in a household with well-to-do church-going parents. His father was dean of students at Fresno State University, and his mother was a stenographer. He remembers those years as good years.

They moved to Houston when he was 11 years old, and it was a culture shock. He would come home to an empty house after school and would find companionship by joining others out on the streets.

Alcohol was readily available in his home, and he had begun drinking at age 7 or 8. He had a paper route and sometimes sold his parents’ beer and wine to customers.

Hanging out with street friends in Houston, Bell soon got into trouble with the law.

“I was wild,” he said. “I didn’t like authority. I just never fit in. I had psychological and emotional issues that were not addressed.”

His parents set him up with a psychiatrist, but he refused to talk.

After he hurt someone in a public altercation while drunk, a judge sent him to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch at San Antonio, where he graduated from high school in 1984.

He excelled in academics and athletics, but on weekends he would go into the city with his friends and find adults who would sell alcohol to them.

After graduation, he went back to Houston, found a girl, and got married. His juvenile record had been expunged.

His first job was as a prison guard for Texas Department of Corrections.

To fit in with his friends, he started using drugs, beginning with cocaine, then crystal meth, heroin, and crack cocaine.

He worked in construction the next 30 years, moving from one job to another while engaging in all sorts of illicit behavior.

He was unfaithful to his wife and moved on after having three children with her. He later had four more children with another wife. He was a drifter and moved often.

“I think I’ve lived in every state,” he said. “I was a bum.”

He lost touch with his parents, though at times they tried to find him.

“My children never had a dad,” he said. “I was never around, and I never sent them money.”

He accrued thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes and child support. Collectors cleaned out his bank account.

“At times, I tried to follow the straight and narrow, but trouble always beckoned,” he said.

Then came the overdose that left him in fear for his life and a desire to get clean.

He had no one to call for help but knew of the Circle A Club in Junction City that helped people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“If you want me to help you, you can’t have any reservations,” the counselor told him.

Bell began hanging out with others who were recovering addicts. He got a job at a local radio station.

One day it hit him that life was good. He had a job and was paying his bills.

“I had a moment of profound awareness of my responsibility,” he said. “All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like going out to bars.”

He met Kim, a woman who was recovering from her own problems with drugs and the law. He said she inspired him to accept the grace of God and lead an honorable life. They were married in 2012.

“I got back empathy and compassion, especially for people who think they are stuck,” Bell said. “I tell them this isn’t who they really are.”

He is willing to help anyone on a one-on-one basis who desires to recover from addiction. He is a state-certified peer mentor.

“My ministry is in the streets,” he said. “I think you call it hell. I’ve already been there. I’m just trying to rectify the errors I’ve made. I let myself down.”

Today, Bell is an artisan who excels in creating wood products from scratch. He is thankful to Kim Shields for allowing him to rent her building at a cost he can afford.

The specter of large debts from the past hangs over him like a cloud.

“I’m fearful but not as fearful as I used to be,” he said. “If a federal marshal shows up and asks, ‘Are you John Bell?’, I’ll throw up my hands and say yes.”

God in recovery, helping others, and love keep him going.

“If I’m missing any of those, it’s just a matter of time before I’m back into drugs,” he said.

Those interested in learning more about Bell’s ministry or woodworking business can call him at (785) 512-0478.

Last modified Oct. 5, 2017

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