So paranoid he couldn’t walk into a supermarket, Steve Dutton discovered that God could break the chains of addiction and set him free. As told to Shar Davis
My mum walked out of the family home when I was five years old and never came back. I am the youngest of five children and my three oldest siblings also left home at the same time, leaving my 11-year-old sister and I with our dad. I had no idea where my mum had gone and if she was ever coming home again.If my dad wasn’t working, he was drinking—and he was often angry.
That anger was a big factor in my parents separating. Because dad worked so much, from the age of five I would get myself off to school, and then I would come home to an empty house—that’s just how life was. My sister and I raised ourselves really.
When I was 12 years old I went to a Christian kids’ camp at Kiwi Ranch in Kaitoke, and at that camp there was an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to God. So, I did—even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. Nothing happened and I didn’t feel any different.
I left school at 15 years old, got a job, bought a motorbike and started smoking weed. I got mixed up in all kinds of crazy stuff. By the time I was 28 years old, I had zero social skills—once I started smoking marijuana all the time, my development basically stopped and I became really paranoid. The paranoia was so bad I couldn’t even walk into a supermarket. I didn’t have any real relationships—I had a few mates but they were all drug mates.
I was working to pay for the hooch and then using the hooch because I couldn’t stand my job. I was basically trapped in a vicious cycle. Despite the drugs, paranoia and anxiety, I managed to figure out that something wasn’t quite right, so I went to the doctor. He asked me what I did when I went home each night from work. ‘Well I smoke a lot of weed but that’s not the problem,’ I said.
The doctor suggested I deal with the drugs first and the other stuff later. It was suggested I go to Arawhata, the addictions clinic that The Salvation Army ran in Akatarawa Valley. I thought ‘Really? Please don’t make me sing!’ My perception of the Army was they wore weird uniforms and had flash buildings.
Despite having no interest in God or The Salvation Army, I said ‘yes’ and found myself in a three-month residential programme. I didn’t want to stop using drugs. My plan going into the programme was to stop for a while, clear my head and deal with whatever else was going on in my head, and then get back into the weed. I could see myself smoking marijuana for the rest of my life.
A couple of weeks into the programme I realised this was a chance for some really good stuff to happen. So, I decided to take every opportunity that was presented. There was always a spare seat in the van that went to the Upper Hutt Corps every Sunday morning. One Sunday, I decided to hop in, what’s the worst that could happen? It was an opportunity, so I thought I might as well go for it.
Majors Ivan and Glenda Bezzant were the officers at the time. I turned up at church and it felt like when Ivan was talking on behalf of God, he was talking right at me! I remember thinking, ‘How does he know this about me? How does he do this?’ I decided to go again the next week. The same thing happened again! I thought, ‘This is pretty odd.’ The third week I went again and he gave an altar call. He was speaking and my heart was pounding. I started to think, ‘I really need to do something about this.’ Then Ivan said ‘There’s someone in this room who God is speaking to right now—your heart is pounding in your chest.’ He could have been speaking to anyone but I knew he was speaking to me!
I went forward for the second time in my life, still feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. Ivan said ‘You’re the one, brother.’ God met me there that morning. He said to me, ‘I remember you when you were 12.’ As I’ve reflected back over the years, I know it was God who brought me to that spot at age 28. It wasn’t an instant fix, but I did instantly have a sense of well-being.
I didn’t make a conscious choice not to smoke or drink again, but it’s been 25 years. I know that’s not because of my own will power. If it was just up to my will, I would have failed. It is only because of God’s grace. Whatever he did then, he’s still doing it now. My life has been a journey of redemption, of discovering who God created me to be. Over time, all that dysfunction I was born into is being replaced with a truer sense of being a son of God.
My call to officership was unexpected. I was happy as a corps administrator, helping others to do the upfront ministry stuff. But I kept seeing officers retiring or leaving, and meanwhile there were all these stories of people living in homelessness and sleeping on pieces of cardboard in shop doorways, which were affecting me deeply. The officer force was shrinking and the need was growing! So once again, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I said ‘yes’ to God.
If it wasn’t for God getting hold of my life, I could have been one of those living on the edges of society. When I think about Easter, I cannot help but reflect on the enormity of what God did for me! He saved me from myself and my circumstances—he changed me. As I ponder God’s love, I can’t help but say ‘wow!’ It’s easy to want to get ahead of God and do things in my own strength sometimes. I’m still learning how to change that. The Easter season reminds me that I couldn’t save myself, but that Jesus could!
by Shar Davis (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 24 March 2018, pp10-11 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.