Gratitude Changes Everything
Robbie never really liked who he was.
As one of 10 kids, Robbie grew up poor. His family often slept in their car, and violence and alcohol shaped many of his memories.
Like many families, nobody talked about their issues. Robbie went to school day after day. His dad kept on drinking. His mom continued shielding the kids as well as she could. And outsiders had no idea there was ever an issue.
At 15, Robbie drank alcohol for the first time. Just like he regularly saw his dad do, he went all-in, getting blackout drunk even that first time—and almost every time after that. It seemed like maybe he’d be able to escape his life, or at least forget about it for a time.
Soon, Robbie began adding drugs into his routine.
“The goal was that I could be something,” he remembered. “When I drank or used drugs, I could be something I thought I wanted to be.”
While still a teenager, Robbie let the idea of money and power lure him into the world of gambling. His role models at the time all had gold rings and Cadillacs and women, and he believed the way to get those things was to win money. The main lesson he learned from gambling was that love was a vulnerability he couldn’t afford. That idea made him a good poker player, but a miserable man. Darkness, addiction, and escapism pulled him deeper and deeper into the pit.
Surprisingly, during all of this depravity, Robbie always believed in God. His mother had been a devout Catholic, and he believed God was out there somewhere. But Robbie hated himself too much to think that God would ever want him.
“I always loved Jesus,” Robbie said. “I would always pray in a foxhole, but I never had a relationship. I was trying to walk in the middle. I didn’t want to make the devil mad, and I wanted to stay on God’s good side.”
Robbie got married in 1990 and was living the life he thought he wanted and needed. His wife was pregnant with their son. He was bringing in money through gambling, and he was successfully escaping the parts he didn’t like about himself through drugs and alcohol.
Unsurprisingly, Robbie was in and out of prison for much of his adult life. But rather than it reforming him into an ideal citizen, Robbie found prison to be full of opportunities for everything he knew best. He continued to gamble and take drugs while there. He ended up owing the wrong people a lot of money from the heroin they provided him in prison. Once he was out, he realized what a heavy debt he’d have to pay.
Those years cost Robbie a lot more than money. He wasted time and energy always in pursuit of the next thing that could take him away from himself. He burned bridges, broke relationships, and spent a lot of time feeling empty and alone.
When Robbie got out of prison after a long stint, he reconnected with Trey, the son whose childhood he’d mostly missed. It was like a second chance to be the father he’d never been. When Robbie learned that Trey was diving into some drugs, he couldn’t wait to have some shared experiences. They spent the next two years living together, getting high, and continuing generational cycles.
At one point during their two years together, Trey said, “We’re just the same, Dad.” Robbie had no idea how true that would be. One day, Trey asked Robbie for a specific drug. Robbie didn’t know where to get it, but he told his son he’d ask around. Later that night, Trey overdosed and died.
Love had made Robbie vulnerable. And this time, he’d lost too much.
“I ran out of options,” Robbie said about finding sobriety. “What drugs once did for me, they didn’t do anymore. They deceived me. Each time, I thought I had the perfect drug, but I woke up in the same spot each day, broken.”
Robbie eventually came to Crown Addiction and Recovery Center in Springfield, Kentucky. “I feel like Robbie came in like most of the guys—guarded and skeptical,” said Matt Robison, Southeast’s ARC Connections Ministry Leader. But Robbie wouldn’t stay guarded forever.
He was carrying years of guilt and shame. Haunted by the memories of Trey, he believed if he didn’t talk about things, the memories would go away. But they never did. Robbie was ready to try anything.
One of the first things Matt and the guys at Crown taught Robbie was to trust in a power greater than himself to restore him to sanity. Robbie realized he’d been keeping God at arm’s length.
“I don’t know why I didn’t trust God,” he said. “He’d been the constant in my whole life. I guess because I didn’t trust myself. I was temporary and everything in my life was temporary.”
Through the hard work of the Crown program and the Holy Spirit, Robbie began to experience healing. He found freedom in Christ, clarity about his choices and motivation, and courage to step into a new chapter.
“I would describe Robbie with the word ‘courageous,’” Matt said. “Along his journey at Crown, he came up against hard things, and his willingness and desperation gave him the courage to walk through them. That’s when the magic starts to happen. We see that God can be trusted and then this new way of living becomes more than we ever thought we could have access to.”
One of the promises in the program is, “We’re going to know a new freedom and a new happiness that we will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it.” Though Robbie initially believed that would never be possible for him, he now sees how God is using his testimony to bring healing and connection with others.
He no longer wishes he could shut the door on those memories. Instead, he finds freedom in remembering, in sharing, and in pulling his past darkness into the light. He’s found security and permanence in following Jesus.
God has also restored many of the things that Robbie lost. He’ll never have Trey again, but now he gets to be in a fatherly role to dozens of young men at Crown. His relationship with his family is whole again. He’s had conversations, apologies, forgiveness, and restoration in many areas. He replaced his old ideas about love and what is temporary with the eternal love of Jesus.
“I didn’t know I would see God in other people. I really never thought I needed or wanted anybody. I was trained not to love people, not to let people love me. I believed that you wouldn’t love me if you really knew me. (But now I realize) I’m not temporary. The people in my life are not temporary,” Robbie said.
Now on staff at Crown, Robbie gets to help others find the healing and hope he’s found. He hopes to be involved in the work of recovery for the rest of his life, in whatever capacity God opens for him.
Robbie no longer feels like he needs to run from his life. He wakes up grateful each day, eager to see what God will do that day. He’s not looking for a way to escape his reality; he’s inviting others to join him in joy.
At the end of the day, Robbie just feels grateful. He is thankful for his past and how God is using it to tell a new story. He’s thankful for the role he gets to serve in the Kingdom each day. And he’s thankful for what’s to come.
“Gratitude changes everything for me,” Robbie said. “If I’m grateful, I can’t be double-minded. As soon as I become ungrateful for anything, it’s downhill for me. It’s pretty hard to be grateful and negative at the same time.”
Click here for a video version of Robbie's story.