Don’t put the powder in your nose,” I said as I looked in the mirror. “Don’t do it.”

I was sure I could talk myself out of snorting cocaine one more time. My words sounded so real, so genuine.

But just like that, I saw my image disappear from the mirror as I bent down and took another hit off the table. It was an awful high. The chemicals of the cocaine laced through my body at the same time they battled against the guilt in my conscience. I would yell at myself, “What are you doing?”

The tragedy of my addiction was that it threatened everything I had worked for. I was a defensive back playing for the San Diego Chargers and living the life I always wanted. I had come up from nearly nothing to get into the league. Since I wasn’t recruited by any of the Division 1 colleges coming out of high school, I ended up playing Division 3 ball at the University of New Haven.

But I wasn’t deterred. I knew I would get to the NFL one way or another. My coach made a flyer about me and sent it to every NFL team each week, inviting their scouts to come watch me play. No one ever showed up, but I didn’t care. Their lack of interest just motivated me to work harder.

Peer Pressure

After my senior year, one season after becoming the school’s first All-American, five teams agreed to watch some of my game film. I got a call from the Los Angeles Rams, who told me they were impressed. “If we have everything we need,” the coach told me, “we’ll take you in the later rounds of the draft—if you’re still available.” Ultimately, I found a spot on the Chargers. (The Rams had drafted me, as promised, but I was cut during the preseason.)

As a rookie arriving at training camp, just trying to establish a foothold in the league, I was in awe of all the veteran players, some of whom I had looked up to for years. I’ll never forget the day I walked into a hotel room occupied by six partying veterans: Immediately, there was a dynamic in place that was nearly impossible to control. The pressure to get along, to fit in, was overwhelming. So when the guys pulled out cocaine and passed it around, I knew I had a decision to make: Take part or be left out.

Everybody was partaking, and they seemed no worse for the wear. Even though I knew it was wrong, I rationalized that it couldn’t be all that bad if these successful guys were doing it. Who could blame them for periodically letting off a little steam while enduring the strain of such a high-pressure job? As long as it only happened every once in a while.

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But, of course, it didn’t.

The cocaine that I consumed that night took me by the lapels and forced me into submission. Soon enough, I was completely under its control. There I was, at the top of the sports world, a member of one of the most exclusive clubs on earth, playing on TV every Sunday and enjoying a nice contract (earning more money, at least, than I had ever made before). And yet, every chance I got, I drove myself down to the seediest neighborhoods of the city and paid good money to a dealer who sold me poison.

At the time, there were several guys on the team who were Christians, and they were very vocal about Jesus. One guy, in particular, was downright aggressive. As great as he was on the gridiron, I got the sense that NFL football was more his mission field than his profession.

One day, on a chartered flight back from a game, I was making my way down the aisle from the bathroom when he got in my face. He knew what I had been doing in there. Staring me down, he asked, “If you were to die today, would you go to heaven? You know Jesus wants your heart. What are you going to do?”

It freaked me out.

One night, one of my teammates drove me down to a ramshackle crack house. As he went inside to smoke crack, I went into the bathroom, where I encountered a shriveled-up skeleton of a soul in a dirty white tank top who was busy making a batch. He had given his life over to the drug, and it was killing him. I looked him up and down. I actually felt sorry for him—until I caught myself in the mirror. God said to me, What’s the difference between you and him?

Just then, my teammate entered the bathroom, and the cook handed him a crack pipe. He stood right in front of me, put that filthy thing in his mouth, and took a hit. I watched his eyes roll back in his head and his body go limp. I thought he was going to die. “You want to try it?” he asked me.

I gulped. “Nah . . .”

“You’re strong,” he said.

“Not strong. Just scared,” I replied.

But even with all of that fear coursing through my body, I still went to the next room by myself and took a hit of cocaine—in a crack house with crackheads all over the place. I had hit rock bottom.

Or so I thought.

I began begging myself not to do it anymore. I was throwing away my dream, the best opportunity I ever could have hoped for. But no matter how furiously I pleaded with the man in the mirror, I just couldn’t stop. It was as if the programming of my neurons had already been set, and I was on autopilot. I would use, again and again and again. “Just one more day,” a voice from the dark side of my soul would say. “Just one more party. The final time is coming soon. But for now, I just need one more.”

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God or Nothing

Finally, one weekend, the moment of truth arrived. I began a cocaine binge in the evening, and when 5 a.m. rolled around, I still hadn’t gone to sleep. I felt the oppression of the drug on my life in a new way. I was shackled by my habit and utterly helpless against it—I fully believed it would kill me. If anything was going to free me, it had to be mightier than my addiction. I recalled what my Christian teammates had said about the power of Jesus. And so I called out to Jesus to save me. Who else was going to do it?

I had already done the pep-talking, the pleading, the cajoling. I had tried to convince myself that I could handle it on my own. But I had essentially given up. I didn’t have any more ideas about how I was going to get myself out of this mess. It was God or nothing.

When I got up off my knees, everything was different. I felt as if I had been delivered—that all the desire to use had fallen away. By God’s grace, from that point forward, I would never do drugs again.

Every day since has been a testimony to the faithfulness of God. My story of the shackled man who gets set free has meant more to people than I could have ever imagined. I have told that story all over the world, at crusades and in prisons, hospitals, rodeos—the list goes on. And I have witnessed thousands of people come to faith in Christ.

In the end, I can see that my life was indeed meant for something good. I thought it was football. But that was only one step in God’s plan to use me for his glory.

Miles McPherson is the senior pastor of Rock Church in San Diego. He is the author of The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation (Howard Books).

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