“There is an emptiness that only God can fill.”
This passage from the Bible, Romans, Chapter 7:10, is a powerful statement about emptiness. It comes in many forms-shoppers looking at empty shelves; parents worrying over the empty bellies of their children; people struggling to fill empty pieces within themselves.
Empty bellies, empty lives, or empty dreams can be an unceasing ache that needs to be filled. Some turn to food or bullying. But for some, the void can be so deep that only alcohol and drugs can numb out and fill the emptiness.
That’s what happened to Matt Wright.
“I lost my father when I was 5, and it just left this hole in me,” he begins his story.
From a really young age, Wright sought validation from others since he wasn’t getting it from his family or in his home, often using troublemaking to deflect from dealing with his emptiness.
“I never felt like I measured up. I was always trying to prove myself, to the point I’d get into trouble because I just didn’t want anyone to question my masculinity,” he says.
But his behaviors led to even more problems for him.
“I was getting into trouble at school. I’d been expelled from just about every school I’d been in. It got to the point where I pretty much never went to school and when I was 14, I was just running the streets,” he said.
Wright says his mother, who was an alcoholic herself, let him have free rein and didn’t hold him accountable because she “didn’t want me around the house.”
Having that kind of freedom at a vulnerable age, Wright soon began hanging out with kids he shouldn’t have been with, older kids, kids that also weren’t offering the fulfillment he needed.
“I would be their drug runner, and this was also my way of staying high,” he said.
He did this until he was about 17, when his behavior first caught up with him.
“My stepdad gave my mom an ultimatum. Me or him,” he said. “She chose him and sent me up here to Alaska, the idea being that I’d live with my uncle and be so far off the grid that I would never get in trouble up here.”
Emptiness does not go away until it is filled, and when there is a huge hole within that isn’t being filled, people look for ways to fill the empty spaces, which led Wright back to drugs and alcohol.
“I’m going to find the same kind of people and find drugs and alcohol were the only things that made me feel good about myself,” Wright said.
So the pattern repeated just in a different location.
“I was just a barely functioning addict.”
Wright is careful with the word “functioning” because as he tells it, “I’d would hold down jobs, I would get friends, and girls, and would have kids, but every girl I was ever with would in the end up hating my guts by the time we broke up. I was constantly in and out of jail, constantly switching up jobs. The only consistent job was selling drugs to remain within the “in” crowd.”
That was his life for nearly a decade, becoming addicted to opiates.
“I had this huge opiate problem and I had nowhere to get them. Running around trying to get pills.”
And for Wright, all roads lead to heroin.
“I couldn’t function without heroin, so all the sudden I found myself doing things I never would have thought about doing. I sold my kids’ X-Box. I pawned it for heroin,” Wright said.
Wright says that before heroin came into the picture, he had a house, cars, boats, marriage.
“Heroin almost cost me my marriage, everything.”
Then he picked up a needle.
“That was a big turning point for me. Everything came crashing down around me. I started using meth more than heroin. I was in and out of jail, I didn’t see my kids. I was out of my mind,” Wright said.
Wright admits that the mother of his first child became so frightened, she left the state with their child, not letting him know where they’d gone. His wife also kept him from seeing his children.
“I was a monster. Everything in my path I seemed to ruin.”
Wright says the fighting between he and his wife had reached a breaking point and the state intervened by issuing a protective order between them.
“This seemed like an absolutely horrible thing. I had nowhere to go. But it was a blessing in disguise.”
Sometimes, emptiness is a gift, a blessing. It can drive people to face reality. It allows people to begin to evaluate their lives and situations, though it may take a while for it to show itself.
For the next few years, Wright says he was in and out of jail, which would sometimes offer him a reprieve from his addiction.
“Six months in, I’d get a taste of sobriety, think about changing my ways, then get out and go right back to it,” he says of the never-ending cycle.
But it was during his fourth time doing a turn in jail that things began to change for Wright.
“I finally got to a place where I was just absolutely broken. I knew my wife was going to leave me, knew my kids were better off without me, and I’m just never gonna get out of this life. It felt so hopeless,” he said.
He says that he’d been sober enough times that he could imagine what a sober life looked like, but that there wasn’t the help six years ago that there is today. And a Higher Power.
“Little did I know that it was God doing this, showing me, sending me in to show me what could be, then let me back out. He was waiting for me to get to a place where I was absolutely broken,” he said. “That time in jail I was faced with a couple of choices. I was cellie (cellmates) with a guy I knew from before, and he was reading the Bible. I asked him if I would get anything out of it if I read it.”
Wright had spent his time in jail reading all kinds of books, but for some reason he had never read that book.
“He told me that I would find everything I ever needed out of it.”
It was something that remained with him, for a cellmate who had spent much of his life in prison to say that the Bible was making his life better, it inspired Wright to pick up the Bible and read it for himself.
“I didn’t understand it, but I kept reading through it.”
Wright says he was transferred to a different prison and was still broken within, so he shared his story with anyone willing to listen. And one inmate listened and told Wright to pray. So Wright prayed.
“I was presented with another choice, one which would have left me cellies with this weird guy, and even though it went against my instinct to pick him, I did. And he prayed with me,” Wright said.
Wright says he started really reading the Bible, trying to understand, and praying, and one night had a life-altering experience.
“One night in the chapel that held 200 inmates, I was sitting in the back. Felt out of place, tearing up the whole time. I’d lost everything important in my life,” he reflects. “There was this guy in front just singing and yelling at the top of his lungs, badly. At that moment though, everything just clicked.”
“Realizing this guy didn’t care what hundreds of inmates thought of him because he was crazy into God, it mattered. For some reason, in that moment, I believed.”
Wright says that was the moment that he felt not so empty, he felt a Higher Power.
“I felt it come over me and felt the heat, like a warmth and a light envelop me. From that moment on, I had a heart change. I wanted to live differently.”
But it would still take time to completely fill the empty. Wright says that once released from jail, he stayed sober for a year-and-a-half, all the while telling himself he could still socially drink.
“I was a heroin addict, so I thought I could socially drink and it would be ok. But then I almost lost everything. Again,” he said.
He once again moved out of his house and his wife was on the brink of leaving him.
“I didn’t get into recovery. I just started working, making money, and I still wasn’t happy. Moving out that last time and realizing I was about to lose everything I was wishing for when I was getting sober made me immerse myself in recovery,” Wright said.
Wright self-admitted back into treatment, even remaining in treatment twice as long as needed, built a relationship with his counselor. It was the building of that relationship that led him to being offered a position in a new treatment program as a Peer Support.
“I never even remotely thought I’d want to work in recovery, never even entered my mind,” he says, and while he didn’t get the original job, it sparked something within himself.
He quit his job and surrounded himself with anything about recovery, all with the hopes of getting a job within recovery. Then Wright took a leap of faith.
“I finally got hired at True North, taking a pay cut. I didn’t know how I was going to make it, but I had faith that this was what God wanted me to do. And ever since then, my life’s just blossomed.”
Wright is thankful for recovery, but also points to something even more powerful for filling the emptiness he so often felt when he was younger.
“When you take something out that’s been such a huge part of your life, like drugs and alcohol, you need to fill that hole with something else. For me, for I think everybody, it’s that relationship with your Higher Power.”
“I think that when God made us, He made us with these holes. He made those on purpose,” Wright says, “And some people go the opposite way and fill it with bad things. Now that I’m living the way I should, I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” he beams when he talks.
Today, Wright says he has everything he prayed for all the nights he spent in prison.
“Recovery has given me everything back. I have my wife. I don’t know how. She put up with so much from me. I have my kids, and I’m definitely the favorite. I feel very fortunate.”
Which is why Wright gives back, having been recently accepted as a chaplain to go the very prisons that once housed him, something he believes is entirely because of God.
“Life is just amazing today.”
Wright is attending college, pursing a degree in Human Services, all while acquiring multiple Chemical Dependency Certifications, and is now in charge of Peer Support at TNR.
“Recovery today is better than it has even been. When I went into treatment 6 years ago, it took 4 months to get an assessment. Today you can walk into Day One (TNR’s new detox center) and get an assessment that day. Back then, there was no sober living, no rides, no cab out here. It felt impossible because getting into treatment was so hard. Now it’s so easy.” Wright points to the many support services now available for people wanting and needing treatment. And having peers like him working with others struggling with addiction.
“Walking into your first meeting is terrifying. Being able to do it in recovery that does it as a profession, that’s what is changing in recovery today. That’s what’s helping us win this battle. One addict helping another.”
“My cup runneth over.” Psalm 23:5, another strong message about filling one’s emptiness with a Higher Power, in which He will do everything to provide what you need, when you need it, until your soul feels satisfied.