Addictionville: How a Nice Kid Like Him Ended up in a Bad Place Like This
Addictionville: How a Nice Kid Like Him Ended Up in a Bad Place Like This
Forty-six-year-old Shawn Mellis grew up in the picturesque mountain town of McCloud, CA—his feet planted solidly on the terra firma of family. His was an idyllic childhood spent playing in the rivers and woods of “God’s country.” It was as far from Big City problems as one could get.
Shawn was just seven when his father sat him and his sister down and flatly announced, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.” It was the shock of his young life, marking the abrupt end of his childhood and the beginning of a 26-year-long addiction. “We couldn’t understand why our parents were splitting up because everything seemed so perfect,” says Shawn. “We only found out later that they actually fought all the time—they just scheduled their arguments when we weren’t home. But because it was all kept a big secret, we thought it was our fault. We were the trouble in Paradise.”
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To escape, he read books—lots of them. As the imagined hero of countless adventure stories, Shawn could conjure his own happy endings. Never mind what was happening outside his bedroom door—in Shawn’s make-believe world, there was no dragon too big to slay.
Shawn’s fantasy world continued throughout high school, providing a bulwark against the constant peer pressure to drink and do drugs. “To me, reading was far better than partying,” says Shawn. “I’d see my classmates hung over after a weekend binge, talking about how their life sucked—I mean, they weren’t exactly doing a good job of selling me on the idea.”
Curiosity Killed the Construct
In college, however, curiosity got the better of him and he took his first drink. Not being a man of moderation, when Shawn fell, he fell hard. Alcohol made him uncharacteristically bold. Bolder than a 5’ 9” guy ought to be when flirting with the football players’ girlfriends. “Hey little guy,” one strapping jock warned as he loomed over Shawn, “You might want to dial it down a notch.” Shawn, being an obliging sort (or just good at weighing the odds), apologized.
But nice doesn’t necessarily mean harmless. Shawn’s life of addiction caused a great deal of harm to those closest to him—including his three young daughters whom he had fathered with his now ex-wife. Shawn had met his wife, a confessing Christian, when he was 25. While she had her own issues, she would later introduce Shawn to Jesus. Shawn vividly recalls that night.
“I’ll Have What He’s Having”
“I was at this worship event at a local church watching this guy jumping around praising Jesus. And I was like, What’s wrong with this dude? He’s tripping out over there,” recalls Shawn. “Three rows over I see this girl break down sobbing. Then this same dude walks over to her and starts to pray for her…right there on the spot. She looked up at him and her tears just instantly dried up—replaced by a big smile. I’m like, ‘God, I need what they have!’”
Immediately after the concert, Shawn and his girlfriend went home, knelt down and said The Lord’s Prayer together. Shawn accepted Jesus into his heart that night. “Suddenly, I no longer felt the compulsory need to drink,” says Shawn. “In the days and weeks that followed, I didn’t have that driving compunction to feel different because I knew that now I actually was different,” shares Shawn. “All I wanted to do was serve people.”
The Walking Dead
Despite Shawn’s spiritual transformation, old habits die hard. Shawn, a professional chef, worked long hours, on top of which he was carrying the lion’s share of domestic duties. His wife also held a highly stressful job working with crime victims. To cope, he drank heavily.
By the time their third daughter came along, their marriage was in shambles. All this time they were still attending church. Putting on a church face seemed easier than dealing head on with their issues. It appeared that Shawn was unwittingly carrying on the family tradition of keeping secrets.
After his divorce, Shawn’s addiction worsened. He would continually get fired from jobs for showing up to work hammered drunk. It’s a long and sordid story replete with colorful chapters, including destroying his mom and stepfather’s bathroom while high (breaking four ribs in the process) and even walking around the streets of Anderson with a three-inch hole in his head after getting beat up by a heroin addict. He had become one of the walking dead.
But it was the last incident—when he nonchalantly stood in front of a police station putting away his third pint of vodka that morning—that would put Shawn on a life-altering trajectory.
The Prayer of a Desperate Man
“There I am in front of the police station, guzzling down the vodka, and this cop looks me dead in the eye and gives me the ultimate sucker punch to the heart,” recalls Shawn. He said, ‘Shawn, I love you, brother … I’ve arrested you too many times and I don’t want to watch you die.’” (Shawn was never mean or angry during these “lost years.” In fact, he had earned a reputation among the Anderson, CA police department as “the nicest guy we’ve ever arrested.”)
Shawn almost did die that day. After his BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) shot up over .383, another arresting officer told him point blank, “You shouldn’t even be articulately speaking to me. You shouldn’t be awake. Scientifically, you should be dead.”
The next thing he knew, Shawn was in the slammer—on a 72-hour medical deathwatch. By that time his BAC had gone up to .55. “That’s not just dead,” exclaims Shawn. “It’s beyond dead!”
For some unknown reason, Shawn was released before the end of the 72-hours. He was told he needed to take himself to the hospital. Instead, he decided to walk to his mother’s house, experiencing severe withdrawals as he went. That’s when he prayed the prayer of a desperate, if not a reasoned, man: He asked the Lord if He would somehow help him make it to the liquor store so he could get his next fix.
Body Slammed by an Angel
Shawn hadn’t made it very far when he started having a seizure. Then, out of nowhere he heard a male voice saying, “Lie down and rest my son.” Those exact words were repeated several times, but still, Shawn, who most likely hadn’t rested for the last twenty-six years, attempted to keep standing. That’s when something—he doesn’t know what—or who—suddenly grabbed him by his left shoulder, picked him up in the air and body slammed him onto the ground.
To his shock, Shawn had been placed in the road—unto oncoming traffic. “There I was lying in the middle of the road, and I’m thinking, this is it…I’m going to get hit by a freaking car!” recalls Shawn. “Just then I heard the voice tell me for the third time, only this time a lot more emphatically, “I said lay down to rest, my son!” Once again, I was pushed by something or someone—this time not body slammed, but rather gently rolled over—down three feet off the side of the road to safety. Then I passed out.”
Three hours later Shawn, having his supernaturally imposed rest, woke up to the feeling of small objects pelting the side of his face. It was gravel. The culprit was a riding lawnmower. Atop the lawnmower sat a city service worker. He immediately called 911.
Five and a half days later Shawn, who had, to the shock of everyone, lived to see another day, was released from the hospital and into the care of the Rescue Mission.
Out of the Fog
During the first few weeks, Shawn was in a bit of a fog. He doesn’t even remember signing up for the 18-month New Life Recovery program. He does remember that the only thing that deterred him from hightailing it over to the liquor store was money: He had none.
Once enrolled, Shawn was determined to make it through the program. He had three great motivators for doing so: his three young daughters. By the time he had gone into the program, he had lost more than just a string of jobs—he had also had lost custody of his children.
While in New Life, he attended both the Mission chapel service and a local church. And while chapel services were less than exciting for a guy who was used to a bit more pizazz, for Shawn it was the power of “just showing up” that would help give him the stick-to-itiveness he needed to make it through to the end. The Holy Spirit was seeping through.
It Works if You Work It
It was structure that Shawn needed and it was structure he got. While others in recovery might have a problem following rules, for Shawn that wasn’t an issue. “I’m very adaptable,” says Shawn. “I’m also very respectful. If you ask me to do something, I’m more than willing to follow those rules. If you demand something of me, however, I start to twitch. All I need, and this is what they did in the program, is for someone to say, ‘This is what I expect of you. This is how I would like it done. This is how—and why—we do it here.’ Then I’ll do it.”
Shawn graduated from New Life in 2020 with honors. “The program works if you work it,” says Shawn. “I had been to other rehabs and I had failed them all. New Life works for many reasons: First, it’s faith-based—where you know God is on your side. Second, it has structure. Third, it has integrity. It has teachers who care. It has people who want to see you succeed and that means everybody—from the head of the place all the way down to the front desk volunteer. And fifth, it has a staff who’s knowledgeable—they’ve been down this road many times helping others do the hard work of recovery.
From “Bad Dad” to a Good, Good Father : That’s Who He Is.
Today, life is good for Shawn. And his transformation has not gone unnoticed by the policeman who repeatedly tried to get him to stop drinking. He writes, “Shawn went from rock bottom to a life he can, and should be, proud of. When we as police officers hear about stories like Shawn, it truly brightens our day. It renews our resolve to serve the community to the best of our abilities.”
God has provided for Him in more ways than one—including Shawn recently landing a job as the Mission’s Food Services Manager. Best of all, he has his daughters back. He recalls that breakthrough moment. “By the time I had graduated I had sat down with all three of my daughters—apologizing to each one for my destructive behavior…for damaging them, for hurting them…for being the “bad dad” that I was.”
But it’s what his oldest daughter, by then a teenager, told him next that really melted his heart—making him realize, if he didn’t know before, that those 18 months of hard work were worth it all. “My daughter gave me a big hug and said to me, ‘I remember my old dad—those bad, damaging things that he did. But now I see a new dad—and now I know I have my daddy back.’”
It’s clear to even the most casual observer that Shawn is a very different man. “It’s not a secret,” says Shawn. “I am a healed man. I am a loving, caring, father—and a follower of Jesus,” says Shawn. “God has totally changed my heart, my mind, my way of thinking, my heart attitude. I will forever be grateful to the Mission for making that heart transformation possible. If they hadn’t, I’d be dead on the streets for certain. Perhaps even, as that one officer said to me that day, ‘Beyond dead.’” -jenni keast
There’s more to this story! Read about the police officer and what Shawn’s feels is a key to success in recovery.
About the Author:
Jenni Keast is our marketing content coordinator and a lover of jean jackets, the Great Outdoors, photography and all things mid-century. Her favorite authors are Holy Spirit (the Bible) G.K. Chesterson, C.S. Lewis, Leif Enger and Walter Isaacson, to name just a few.