by Nathan Warner
“I couldn’t fathom quitting cocaine and it scared me to death to go without for just one day,” 41-year-old Jason Lee of Zimmerman said about his drug and alcohol habit that bound him to dangerous living for 27 years. “I decided I’d rather not live than go one day without it.”
He came to this conclusion after being slapped with a DWI last year.
He was driving for a major local propane company at the time and was going to lose his Class A license as a result. “I needed the job to help support my thousand-dollar-a-week drug habit,” he said, “and I was also selling drugs on the side to make sure ends met.”
A judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, but reduced it to 10 days. Then, Lee failed his drug test.
“My case officer told me I had two choices,” Lee said. “I could serve the 90 days in jail, or I could go to rehab for 45 days. I was looking for the fastest road back to my drugs so I chose the 45 days.”
In the back of his mind he was thinking there’d be a delay until he could get into the program and he could binge on cocaine for a couple of weeks before a bed opened up.
The case officer wanted him back in a couple of days and Lee was furious. He says he decided then that the only way out of the situation was to take his own life.
“Cocaine and alcohol had become my life,” he reflected. “It was what I lived for and if I couldn’t have that anymore, then there was nothing left to live for.”
So in the last week of September last year, he went on a two-day bender filled with cocaine and washed down with alcohol before taking 60 sleeping pills, pulling his ’96 Chevy Beretta into the garage, shutting the door, and turning the engine on.
“For some reason I called my dad before the fumes overcame me,” he said. “Maybe I was calling to say goodbye, but he knew something was wrong, and he drove the five miles down to my house and found me.”
His father, Bob Lee, opened the car door, dragged his 200 pound, unconscious son out of the garage, and drove him to Princeton hospital. Because of the combination of alcohol, cocaine, sleeping pills and carbon monoxide, Jason had to be airlifted and flown to Fairview Southdale for emergency action.
“By this time, I was in a coma,” Jason said, “and I stayed in a coma for a week.”
A long road to this point
It was a long road to this point, Jason recalls, saying that his parents moved from Minneapolis to Zimmerman when he was in junior high and that peer pressure and a desire to be accepted in his new home drove him to hang out with kids using drugs.
“The school was very cliquey then and if you weren’t good enough to hang out with the footballers, you hung out with the rough crowd, which was what I did. After I got my first taste of cocaine, I fell in love with it.”
He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and began living his life for the drug.
For his mother, Nancy Lee, it was a difficult time. “I thought his problem was alcohol,” she told the Star News, “because he was getting into trouble with the law over that as a minor. I didn’t really know how bad his drug habit was then.”
Struggling to fit in at school, Lee became depressed and at one point the family put him in Mercy Hospital on a suicide watch. Nancy says they found a chemical imbalance in his body and prescribed anti-depressants, but her son refused to take them.
“From there on, it was an up and down life for him, but he always kept a job,” Nancy says. “I didn’t think of it then, but I suppose it was to support his drug habit.”
Lee gradually withdrew from the family and his friends told Nancy they were concerned for him. She tried to reach out to her son, catching him at his house and leaving notes on his car if he wouldn’t talk to her.
“He always put on a good show for us,” she says, “and as a parent you really want it to be true because it’s out of your hands — you can’t force your grown children to stop taking drugs or go to treatment, so you believe they really are better and they’re going to be all right.”
Furious that his life was saved
When Jason finally woke from his coma, he was furious that they’d saved his life, refused to believe he’d been in a coma and on his deathbed for a week, so his mother showed him photos she’d taken of him.
“When he was in the coma, I thought, ‘My gosh, I’m sure he’s going to survive this but what kind of damage has it done to him?’” Nancy remembers. “But if he was all right, I knew he wouldn’t believe he’d come this close to death without proof.”
So, she pulled out her cell phone and took pictures of him, sobbing as she looked down at her unconscious son.
“The severity of the problem began to sink in when I saw the photos,” Lee said. “I can’t tell you how much that got across to me. I couldn’t deny it.”
He spent a week in recovery and was discharged for a week before going into treatment. He said he used that week before entering treatment on Oct. 7. His withdrawal was horrendous.
“I’d had enough of it by then,” he said, “and I planned on breaking out … and going back to the drug.”
He said he called a drinking friend and asked to be picked up and taken to a bar just across the lake from the treatment center. At 4 a.m. on Oct. 21, the addict says he was planning his escape with his eyes closed when he had what he has termed a spiritual awakening. He felt three fingers touch his forehead and press him into his pillow.
“I opened my eyes and no one was in the room,” he recalls, “then I felt a bolt of peace and serenity pass through my body like electricity. Something changed in my body and I started bawling like a baby.”
Lee says it was at that moment he gave up his will for the first time in his life. He says he cried for more than an hour and called his mom in the morning to tell her about what had happened.
Nancy said she knew immediately that something had changed.
“The anger and manipulation was gone out of his voice,” she recalls, “He wasn’t on the edge of his seat anymore and he had a calm about him.
“When he told me about the three fingers he felt on his forehead, I got a chill down my spine, and the only thing I could think was, ‘That was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!’”
Her son says he wasn’t sure what it was, but he told her he was sticking with it.
His mother remembers visiting the first time after the phone call. “He wasn’t resisting the counselors anymore,” she said, “and he wanted them to do whatever they thought was best.”
The 12-step program offered at New Beginnings in Elk River was crucial to helping him release the anger and frustration he’d bottled up inside. He says letting go of all the stuff people had done to him through forgiveness has been instrumental to his recovery to date.
“People’s success in recovery is based on how open and honest they are in their program and how willing they are to take the necessary steps,” says Substance Abuse Counselor Kari Aeshliman, B.S., LADC, of New Beginnings at Elk River.
Aeshliman added that sobriety requires surrendering and a lifelong commitment to recovery with the goal of integrating successfully back into society within the framework of the 12-step program — all while utilizing the support network that the program offers within their community.
“When people work through their personal barriers and continue to work all the 12 steps of the program, they do have long-term success,” she said. “There is a lot expected of our clients here at New Beginnings in Elk River; for many of them they are learning a new way of life.”
Ten months after entering treatment, Lee is drug and alcohol free and is now speaking at treatment centers and prisons throughout the state.
He earned his GED and began attending New Life Church in Princeton where he was baptized last month, in what he says was a powerfully cleansing event for him.
“I’ll always be an addict,” he says, “because the cravings don’t go away, but they’re no longer impulses, they’re just floating thoughts now. I can’t tell what will happen in the future, but day by day, I’m free.”
Encouraged to write a book
Since sharing his story, people everywhere have been urging him to write a book about his experiences to help others struggling with addiction, but he’s never written before and didn’t have the money to hire a ghost writer.
That changed a few weeks ago, when he won a 2011 Dodge Durango at Menards in Elk River. After praying about it, Lee said he plans to sell the vehicle and use the money to fund a book on addiction, death and spiritual awakenings. “I’m still trying to figure out what to do, but God is good,” he says, reflecting that, “the only destination drugs offer is death. It’s a violent end one way or the other with suicide, homicide, or just the violent things drugs do to your body, and I want to help people who are stuck on this road of losing their lives slowly like I was.
“It’s a miracle I’m here today and I keep reminding myself that there are millions more like me that need a miracle, too.”