Mike Watford knows a thing or two about addiction.
Today, Watford is a chaplain with the Salvation Army in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but his journey to this position was a rocky one.
Watford found himself living on the streets of Bridgeport, Conn., shortly after his father died when he was 15. “The first day I was on the streets was the first day I ever drank a beer or smoked marijuana,” he says. “From that point on, I started using periodically.”
A couple months later, Watford started selling drugs. The more he began selling, the more he began using. “Alcohol was my main drug of choice,” he says. “I would drink and smoke marijuana.” And later, he started using cocaine.
When he was 19 going on 20, Watford was arrested for the first time for possessing a stolen car—one that he had traded for in exchange for drugs. As his drug abuse became more consistent and significant, spending time in jail became a frequent occurrence.
“I went to jail and came out, and it became my lifestyle,” he says. “Jail became my home away from home—in and out, in and out.”
Watford had been raised in a Christian home, and when he was 25, he stopped using and rededicated his life to Christ. He had his first daughter and got married. “That was the first time as an adult that I committed wholeheartedly,” he says. “I was still sort of straddling the fence, so to speak, but nonetheless, God got ahold of me.”
But having been on the streets from a young age, Watford still didn’t feel stable. He and his now ex-wife and their two daughters built a good life, but he was still struggling inside.
“Even though I had a relationship with God and my desire was to serve Him, there were still some unsettled issues I needed to deal with,” he says. “Ultimately, I ended up going back to the streets—back to the drug life.”
After 17 years, Watford’s marriage failed. For a couple years, he was homeless again. For most of this time, he was using drugs but no longer selling. He wasn’t able to keep an apartment for long because of his drug abuse.
“We have to reach out and grab sobriety, because it’s rightfully ours. Lean on the grace and mercy of God, but take [sobriety] by force.” —Mike Watford
He ended up driving to Florida with a guy who promised him a job in Fort Lauderdale, but after he got there, Watford learned his services weren’t needed. So, once again, he found himself unemployed and homeless—this time in an unfamiliar city and without enough money to make it back to Connecticut.