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Catholic Vancouver Jul 11, 2017

From the Downtown Eastside to RCIA: an addict's journey to baptism

By Steven Schramm

Steven Schramm embraces his son after Schramm was baptized April 15, 2017. (Kathy Shantz / Special to The B.C. Catholic) 

VANCOUVER—Occupants as well as passersby have described Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as “the devil’s playground” because of the rampant drug use and crime there.

Occupants as well as passersby have described Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as “the devil’s playground” because of the rampant drug use and crime there.

Many of its residents don't make it out alive, so I am grateful to tell my story of how the grace of God, love of Jesus Christ, and power of the Holy Spirit delivered me from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and devastating life of addiction to my new home in the Catholic Church.

I was not raised in a religious family. Growing up, my main perception of God came from movies and TV shows like The Simpsons.

In my first year of high school I was introduced to alcohol and marijuana, and getting high quickly became the focus of my daily existence.

Within a few years, I had experimented with many different drugs, from hallucinogens to stimulants such as cocaine. While my younger brother and sister were getting their driver's licences and building their careers, I was living a drug-fuelled party lifestyle that would lead me down a very dark, lonely, and depressing path.

My priorities were completely out of order. My girlfriend was pregnant, but my addiction was so bad that even knowing I was going to have a child wasn’t enough to set me straight. It didn’t take long before my relationship was in shambles and I was separated from my toddler son.

My family and friends had given up hope that I would ever change.

My family and friends had given up hope that I would ever change. I had lied to, stolen from, and manipulated the people who loved me for so long that they finally said, enough!

I blamed them for my inability to get clean because they never held an intervention for me. Unknown to me, God had a divine intervention in store.

As my life fell apart, I moved on to harder drugs – more addictive drugs, the kind that make you do things you never in a million years thought you would wind up doing.

The next thing I was in the Downtown Eastside, vomiting on the sidewalk at Main and Hastings. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is what my life has become.”

I didn't have a home anymore. Pale, thin, and malnourished, it wasn't long before I blended in to the Downtown Eastside, sleeping outside in the freezing cold.

Going to jail became a regular consequence of my addiction as I shoplifted to support my habit. I spent nights in unfathomable sorrow, crying because of remorse. I missed my mom. I missed my son. I truly yearned to get my life back on track.

And then, while I was in jail for the umpteenth time, a cellmate told me about a recovery house called Luke 15. I called them. Little did I know the woman on the other end of the phone would one day be my godmother.

She explained that Luke 15 was a Christian program, and I told her that although I didn't know much about faith, I was willing to try anything to get clean.

Before hanging up the phone, she did something that would kick-start my coming to Christ. She said, “God bless you.”

I remember thinking, God bless me? Really? For the rest of the day those three words kept ringing in my head. The next day I was granted bail, and before I knew it, I was arriving at Luke 15 House.

There was something different about this place compared with other recovery houses I'd experienced. The clients were happy and friendly, and the staff seemed to care.

Despite a relapse, the streets weren’t the same. Very sick and withdrawing from opiates, I returned home to Luke 15 where I felt I had a chance.

The devil was ever present in my head.

The devil was ever present in my head, telling me, “Steve, just go get high, you’ll feel better.”

I went into the chapel alone, fell to my knees, and cried out to Jesus by name for the first time. As I begged him to heal me, I felt something happen. There, in that chapel, God began changing me from the inside out.

All of a sudden, the Bible made sense, and I spent the summer at Luke 15 House. It was a place where we learned about the love of God. I got involved at St. Mary’s Church in Vancouver, which had informally become a parish to several Luke 15 residents.

I felt welcome at Mass and at the Mission Ablaze prayer group and at Mass. I felt completely connected and at peace in adoration. I became more interested in the sacraments and signed up for RCIA.

Unfortunately, the world sucked me back in. Against the advice of others I decided I was ready to move on and get a job. Within a few weeks I had relapsed and was back on the streets, losing the trust of my family and my son again.

But the Luke 15 staff and the priests and parishioners of St. Mary's never gave up on me with their prayers. It took a lot of humility, but God helped me let go of my shame and continue RCIA at St. Mary’s with six of my Luke 15 brothers.

The night of my baptism was one I will never forget. Not only did a large group of my family and friends attend, but my son was there front and centre to watch as my sins were washed away. Sitting in the pew with my Luke 15 brothers, we listened to Father Pierre tell us that baptism is only the beginning. Now it is up to us to continually get to know the person of Jesus Christ and be brought to ever deeper conversion.

The Lord continues to help me with my shortcomings and get me through my rough patches. I trust him. How could I not? I have gone from being alone, desperate, and miserable in the Downtown Eastside, to having a huge support network of believers and a new family in Christ.

I am part of the Catholic Church. I am home.

Steven Schramm is a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Vancouver. 

Father Pierre Leblond baptizes Steven Schramm April 15, 2017. (Uriel Pena / Special to The B.C. Catholic)