• Hazelden Renewal Center

My Recovery Story

Hi, my name is John Tolo.

Here is my recovery story. I grew up in the toughest ghetto in New England outside of New York City. My family was the only white family in a neighborhood that was mostly Black and Hispanic. We moved there in 1972, at a time when racial tensions were high. Many Afro-Americans were angry and some felt pushed to the point of a violent lashing at the systems they believed were abusing them. I was nine when my father became part of an inner-city church and we moved into the middle of the area. It was dangerous and we were subjected to a sort of prejudice that many people don’t experience, we were the minority. A core memory for me was seeing a large black man walk up and strike me in the face as he vented his anger at my skin color. The area was filled with gang violence, heroin, PCP and cocaine addiction, drug dealing, bootlegging, prostitution and all the things you would expect in this kind of area.

As I grew into my teen years my family experienced turmoil from poverty and other issues which eventually resulted in my parents’ marriage falling apart. I began to rebel against my situation and God at about 12. I was cleaning a building when I found a Penthouse forum (XXX) magazine that I hid and began to read. This led me to a point where I began to fantasize about sexual relationships that I thought would fill up all the lonely areas in my life. At 17 I began to smoke cigarettes, drink and I was obsessed with the search for sexual partners. I started smoking pot and as my anger increased I decided that I would try any type of drug as long as it didn’t involve using a needle. My father kicked me out of the house and my life became a time of bouncing from place to place in search of the next great party opportunity and a place to stay for the night.

One night while out with no place to go, I began to curse God proclaiming “God if you won’t give me what I want, then Satan I’ll serve you and you give me what I want.” Within a couple of days, as I was wondering around looking for someone to buy drugs from, I was violently robbed and sexually assaulted by a convict at knife point. I was completely distraught but so lost that I rationalized the experience away in an attempt to deal with the shame and I didn’t tell anyone for years.

In my mid twenties I met a beautiful woman who got pregnant and I selfishly tried to create a family without any foundation in order to deal with my loneliness. I went through phases of trying to get it together. By the time our second child was born, my dysfunctional lifestyle had caused major destruction and pain for her and our children. In my late 20’s everything was falling apart and I was at the end of my rope. It became clear to me that I had no clue how or the strength of character to be a husband, father and even a real man. I became very self-destructive and nearly got killed a number of times.

Finally in desperation, after a terrible night, I cried out to God and begged for mercy, “If you are there please prove it or I will die!”

It was a miracle, within a day I knew He was real. I had a restoration of my relationship with my natural father and a revelation of my Heavenly Father’s love for me all at the same time. Everything began to change and God showed me that He had all the love I needed. He has proved Himself to be perfect and faithful in all things. It has been 17 years now. There has been a lot of healing and painful consequences to walk through because of my past but, by the work of His Son Jesus Christ, God brought me through the sin. He filled me with His spirit and provided me with victory in all areas of my life. He gave me freedom from the chains that have held me captive. Now I am a useful part of His plan and get to see others set free as well. It has been completely and only His work. I am grateful to God for what I have gone through in my life and all He has given me.

If you are feeling lost, pray this prayer and see for yourself what will happen.

God please prove to me that you are real. Jesus please forgive me for how I turned my back on you. Come Holy Spirit, fill me with your power, change my heart, mind, life and give me your obedience. Father please allow me to experience all of your love for me. I want to be your child. Amen


John Tolo. If you would like to connect with me please go to www.godtown.org.  John is director at Emerge GodTown Transformation Training Center.

The article was first published in the May 2008 issue of The Phoenix Spirit.

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