November 20, 2013 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Eric Anglea was never scared of the drugs. He was scared of himself.
The Lake Orion resident hit rock bottom on the floor of a crack house four years ago.
Last Sunday he delivered his fifth sermon at New Beginnings Baptist Church in Lake Orion.
"We all sin every day of our lives, and if we got what we deserved, we wouldn't be here," he said to the room of "hallelujahs" and "amens."
The new pastor had reason to celebrate. Saturday marked the four-year anniversary of his sobriety, the choice he makes on a day to day basis.
"By the grace of God today I stand before you guys sober and clean," he told church-goers.
"We only got today. That's all we got. That's all anybody's got is today. Tomorrow I don't know what's going to happen. Today I know I'm not going to use," he said.
In 1999, at age 30, a nail gun exploded in his left hand. Air entered his blood stream, damaging nerve endings in his left arm. The pain spread to his legs.
Numerous doctors misdiagnosed his chronic condition, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, telling him he would never work again or never walk again. In the house he was in a wheelchair. When he left the house, he wheeled out.
"It's a hard pill to swallow. I was a union electrician, so I had to change my whole life around," Anglea said.
Therapy, acupuncture, nerve blocks, pain medication, the chiropractor, "snake oils," nothing could relieve the pain.
"If you left your hand on dry ice, that's what my arm and legs felt like, a burning, cold feeling," Aglea said. As a chronic condition, it may never go away.
It was easy, however, to forget about it.
"I went down the heroin road. I went down the crack road. I went down the cocaine road. Then I started dealing it so I didn't have to pay for it," he said.
He went to jail. Got out and got high. Went back. Got drunk. Lied. It was his life.
"Before, I was god. I was all that and a bag of potato chips. Believe me I used to pray to myself. I didn't believe in God," he said.
Eventually he woke up in the crack house.
"I was gone for seven days that time. I had my mom's car. I asked to borrow it to go to the gas station. Seven days later I came home with it. Thank God I still had it," he said.
Looking back, Eric's mother Sue Anglea said everything was a lie.
"You cannot believe a single thing they say. I mean that is the truth. You just can't believe anything," she said.
Now, they live next door to each other in a condominium complex in Lake Orion.
"It was hard to accept because I didn't want to accept it. But then after I accepted it, because he was bad. He was in a bad way, but he finally found his way out and I'm very proud of him. He's worked very hard to get where he's at," she said.
It takes conscious work on his part every day. Everyone has a choice, he said, whether they go to Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous or to jail. Whether they use or they don't. Everyone has a choice.
"When you hit bottom, you hit bottom. When it's time to quit, it's time. You know. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was time to change," he said.
He went to his first AA the last time he was in jail in 2010, begrudgingly, as a chance to get out of his cell.
"I was like, 'ya, these are all a bunch of crocks, ya know whatever.' But it put the seed in me so later on when I actually decided to get sober, I knew what to do," Anglea said.
When he was free, and committed, he started attending AA and NA at the Keep Coming Back Club, an alcohol and substance free environment (which closed in November 2011) in downtown Lake Orion.
"I always say I thank God for the program. And I thank the program for God because I don't know which came first. Did the egg come first or did the chicken come first? If I didn't find the program would I have found God?" Anglea asked.
"It all kind of happened at once, but I don't know really. I know that God saved me, but the program helped a lot, the people in the program. I didn't do it on my own," he said.
Before he joked that God was a "good old drunk." Now he sees God as "good orderly direction."
"AA works, I actually get that question a lot," Anglea said. "But again, you got to want it. I can't tell you you're an alcoholic. You gotta tell yourself you're an alcoholic."
He said everybody finds their own definition of higher power, a main constituent of a 12 step program.
"Your understanding and my understanding will be different. But it is all still the same," he said. "It's still God no matter how you look at it."
Once he began seeing the positive in life, more positivity came his way.
Last year he found his "pain pill," the Precision Spectra, an implantable pulse generator the size of an Oreo cookie surgically placed at the base of his spine. Thin wires called leads are placed above his spine and send pain-masking signals to the spinal cord to replace his painful sensations with a tingly feeling, more or less tricking the brain.
Anglea carries a battery remote daily.
"I couldn't walk before, so I walk now. I can run around the building if you want me to. I couldn't do that before this (holds up remote). So I've come a long way and it keeps getting better," he said.
"I give him so much credit because even with the stimulator he's in pain all the time, but it helps him get around," Sue Anglea said. "Before his pain was a crutch to use the drug, and he has got out of that now and he handles his pain now without drugs," she said.
Anglea is also recently engaged. He proposed to his fiancé at the end of his first sermon after he was ordained on March 5. His first sermon focused on what love is not. He said he was going to show everyone a true act of love and got down on one knee and proposed.
"He's come a long way. It's an amazing story of what God can do in a life," founder of New Beginnings Tim Chappell said.
"He's part of all of our programs, including our food program. He helps people every week as a result of food [donations]. He's just an inspirational story of change and how you can get yourself out of the gutter and make something out of your life," Chappell said.
"Never give into the disease," Anglea said. "But if the person's not ready, they're never gonna quit. If you're ready you'll quit," he said.
Sue Anglea spoke of the power of outside help, especially to see the reality.
"You just can't do it on your own," she said. She said it was very difficult to see beyond the lies and that reaching out to outside assistance was necessary. "You believe what they're (the addict) saying because you want to, and you can't do that," she said.
At the sermon he told his listeners he was scared of offending them, offending people who had been down his path. That in itself, however, is exactly what they need to hear, he said.
"You got to want it," he said. "I'm a pastor. I help people. That's what I wake up to. Before, I woke up to hurt people."
He is currently applying to work as a prison minister, and just waiting on the paperwork.
"You need to deal with chronic pain in one of two ways. You either accept the pain, or fight the pain. And I've accepted that pain. Using drugs, that's fighting the pain," he said. "I like my life now, I like being sober. I can't imagine going back to my old life. I'd rather be in pain that I'm in and help the people that I help and enjoy what I do then to be what I was. The alcohol and drugs don't scare me, I scare me. But the person I used to be and the person I am today are two different people."