Stealing, prostitution and military drug rings fed Michael Thornton's addictions until death threats brought about a radical change in his life.
"I went through cars, bonds, tools, and jewellery at my mom and dad's home. I became so bad and so wrapped up in drug addiction that I reached a point in my life where I had to sell myself," says Michael.
"I became a prostitute on the streets. I began to engage in homosexuality with other men so that I could get high and keep doing drugs. This is how bad the addiction was but, I couldn't stop."
It all started with smoking a joint to fit in and find acceptance with friends at age 15.
After experiencing his first high Michael began smoking Marijuana which led to cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, ecstasy, Xanax and all kinds of prescription drugs.
"I had no sense of direction. I had no sense of purpose. I really wanted a change in my life because I knew everything was falling apart," he says.
"I thought joining the military would be the most honorable thing to do, to get out of the environment I was in. I could start over and rebuild my life," he thought.
Ironically, Michael was stationed in his home town in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for four years and his old buddies and way of life came back into the picture.
"In the Marine Corps I was the local boy. I knew where all the drugs were. I knew where I could get stuff for other marines," he admits.
He took the opportunity to set up his own drug ring, dealing drugs to feed his own habit while organizing for other marines to take his urinalysis tests to avoid being caught.
Then one night, Michael's drill instructor gave him a surprise urinalysis test and he was taken into custody immediately.
"My first sergeant read me my rights and then he looked at me and said, 'Thornton, I don't know how you're alive today. We have found so much cocaine in your system you should be clinically dead'," he recalls.
“I had no sense of direction. I had no sense of purpose”
They thought Michael was suicidal due to the amount of drugs in his system and he was put straight into a mental asylum for three weeks.
Despite this, Michael was determined to "go deeper" and was already organizing to collect more drugs the day before his release.
He snuck off base one night to collect his order but was caught up in a drug raid and put straight into custody. This resulted in him being kicked out of the military.
"At this point in my life, I became pretty much homeless," he says.
"I was addicted to crack cocaine, so naturally I went into the crack houses and I got hooked up with drug dealers."
All the while he kept thinking "I've got to get out of this life" and foolishly decided to rob the drug dealer he was staying with before escaping town to start over.
His plan failed when the drug dealer found him and demanded his money back within the hour or be killed.
"At this time I didn't know who to call. I had done everybody wrong in my life, from my family to my friends," Michael says.
Michael eventually made a call to his dad and begged for help.
"My dad said, 'Mike there's got to be a change.
"And if you'll agree to get help, we're going to get you help. I'll pay the drug dealer off so tell him not to kill you, if you promise me that you'll go with me to get help'," Michael recalls.
After agreeing to seek help with his dad, he found himself walking up the path on the way to church on a bright Sunday morning.
"I began to remember all the things that I did in my life. I began to remember all the sin, all the guilt, all the shame, all the things that I had been carrying for so long," he recalls of that day.
"They weighed down on me like a ton of bricks. I remember getting to the point where I couldn't even breathe and I just began to cry tear after tear after tear.
"It was that moment that I looked up to heaven and I said, 'God, if you are real, I want you to answer me. I want you to fix my life; I want you in my life. If you are real, save me right here and right now'."
In that moment Michael says his life began to change and, for the first time, he felt he was not alone.
"I heard three little words whispered into my ear, 'I love you'.
"I had been waiting a long time to hear those words. I searched for love through alcohol, through drug addiction, through sex, through pornography, through all kinds of relationships and I never found it until the day when I surrendered my heart to this man named Jesus.
"That love filled my heart and transformed me."
After accepting Jesus' forgiveness and committing to a program at a Christian Recovery Centre, Michael's addictions were finally broken and he went on to marry and graduate from Bible College with his wife in 2007.
He finished a Masters degree in Public Administration/Non-profit Organizations in 2012 and passionately shares his story with others to encourage them to turn to Jesus.
"If Jesus can change my life ... He can change yours," Michael concludes with a smile. •