In 2012, Sean O'Brien, a then 18-year-old college freshman from Sparta, New York, was living a life that many college students dream of. He was attending Daemon College in New York and was involved in throwing shot put for track and field. Just like every college student, Sean was on his way to success. However, he had second life that he kept from the limelight.
Sean grew up with his parents and three siblings on their family horse farm in Sparta, New York: a small town with a population of about 1,600 people. Sean was born a natural athlete, with a witty sense of humor and an outgoing personality. During his high school years, he was a star football player and gave 110% to every challenge he faced.
That all changed during his junior year of high school.
Halfway to graduation, Sean turned to alcohol to cope with the crippling loss of a vital relationship. Sean's impulse to drink became a gateway to the realm of addiction.
Sean's alcohol problem soon escalated to other substances. After months of feeding his addictions, Sean graduated high school. When his freshman year of college began, Sean was spending time with a group of people he hardly knew, and was offered the most addictive substance on the face of the earth: heroin.
Heroin and other opiates make up four out of ever five deaths caused by drug overdose. The number of deaths from heroin overdose has quadrupled since 2002, and the rates continue to rise by thousands each year.
Sean was so badly trapped inside the web of heroin that he was not sober for a single day in six straight months. While his friends and family were aware of his odd behavior, they had no idea to his addiction had escalated so severely.
Sean became violent, angry, and his usual upbeat personality disappeared. After some major mishaps with the law and a close call with a heroin overdose, Sean looked in the mirror and was frightened by what he saw. In an interview with FamilyShare, Sean shared the following:
"I had turned into someone I barely recognized. I knew that if I didn't change, I was going to die. I needed help but I didn't know what direction to take," Sean said. He had neglected to tell his family of his struggles out of fear of disappointing them. His friends were blissfully unaware of how deep of a hole he was in.
He felt entirely alone.
In a moment of deep despair and confusion, Sean began his journey of faith. For years he had blamed God for the horrific events in his life. However, after some contemplation, Sean called his aunt who he knew to be a Christian for some guidance. In October 2012, after speaking with his aunt, Sean met with Christian missionaries to learn more about God's plan for him. Sean was completely astounded when he was taught about God's unwavering love for his children, but more specifically, about the atonement of Jesus Christ.
"I finally realized how much I was worth in the sight of God. When I realized I could be forgiven after continuously choosing the wrong path, a feeling of love unlike anything I had previously felt before [came over me]. If God could love me unconditionally despite my countless mistakes, then he was the type of father I wanted a lasting relationship with."
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In order to fully embrace his new identity as a Christian, Sean decided to take the journey into sobriety for the first time in 18 months. He had never felt worse in his entire life. He decided to quit cold turkey with no professional rehab programs or therapy, something that most professionals say is impossible to do with heroin addiction. The symptoms that came with his heroin withdrawal were almost unbearable for Sean. He was violently ill both mentally and physically every single day. When he felt like quitting and giving in to the tantalizing drug, he would pray to God for the strength to endure through the pain that lasted for six torturous months.
Now, Sean has completely transformed his life. He went on to play college football at Southern Virginia Universit, and he is now is living in Utah and on his way to attend the Law Enforcement Academy at Weber State University with a goal to become a police officer. When asked about his goals for the future, Sean shared: "If I can be a good Christian and a good cop, I hope I can make a difference in the lives of those who lose themselves in addiction."
Sean's journey of courage, strength, and deep faith in God and Jesus Christ continues to inspire everyone he meets. "If I had never turned to God and relied on him to overcome my addiction, I would not be alive today," the now 22-year-old said.
As a final word of advice, Sean stated how "addiction is tearing apart families and so many young people are losing their lives to heroin every day. But I am proof that addiction does not have to end in tragedy. It is never too late to change. And although I know I will never be able to stop drug abuse [completely], if my story is able to give hope to a single person...that is all that really matters to me."
Chakell Wardleigh has a Bachelor of Arts in English. She spends her days silently (mostly) correcting others' grammar. She adores all things nerd, such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare, and anything else that whisks her away from reality. She currently works as an editor for the FamilyShare team. You can usually find her with her nose in a book, laughing too loudly, or belting out songs from Hamilton.