With so much darkness surrounding us, it’s sometimes hard to see how God is working in the world. Garrett Johnson’s story demonstrates that God is still active, reaching out to even the most fallen who have chosen to embrace darkness and addiction.
It begins with young Garrett, as a six-year-old, being taunted with the words, “You are gay.” Garrett didn’t understand what that meant at the time, and he was certainly not sexualized at age 6; but the taunting persisted throughout his childhood and into adolescence, coming from many different sources.
It happened so often that Garrett began to believe it and to think the easiest path forward was to embrace the title. At one point in his youth, a girl he had a crush on convinced him to put on a wig and a dress. He mistook her laughter for approval and walked home in this attire, which made his father angry.
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Garrett had a good relationship with his father in his early life, but as he approached his teen years, tension developed and their relationship soured because Garrett was so undisciplined. Due to his own difficult upbringing, his father didn’t have the tools to bring Garrett under control. Out of frustration, his father pushed many of those he loved away, including Garrett. He learned from his father’s behavior that the way to deal with people who hurt you is to hurt them back. This hurting included leveraging his mother’s love to hurt his parent’s relationship.
Once, when they were playfully wrestling, he purposely kneed his father in the groin. This opened the rift with his father even more, as you might expect. After this split, Garrett saw only the worst in his father. He saw every act of love as somehow an example of his father’s self-centeredness, and he took every opportunity to harm his father. As his relationship with his dad continued to deteriorate, he grew closer to his mom, who seemed to reflect his tender, kind side. He began to see himself as more like a woman than a man.
During and after high school, Garrett’s relationship with his father became untenable. Soon after graduation, Garrett enrolled in and dropped out of community college. He found that it was too late to get his father’s money refunded. He reenrolled to give it another shot, but he dropped out again, this time fully aware that he was wasting his parents’ money. He deliberately waited to tell his father until it was too late to get a refund.
His father decided that he would not continue to pay for him to go to school because of his bad choices, so he gave him the choice to find a career or to move out of the house. His father had already given Garrett’s older brother the same ultimatum a few years earlier, when his brother was 18, and he had left. So did Garrett. The ultimatum was intended to focus Garrett on the future and to push him to grow up. His parents failed to recognize that school was a hostile environment for him because of the constant taunts of his classmates, which negatively impacted his ability to perform in college.
His parents were inconsistent in putting the rules and structures in place that are needed for children to learn virtue and keep themselves from falling into vice. When he first encountered pornography, his mother and babysitter found out about the Playboy magazine and told him that the human body was good and his urges were natural. Garrett himself knew that what he was doing with the magazine was far from natural, and he commented in retrospect that the two most important women in his life gave him a thumbs up when they could have given him appropriate limits. Once he was sent out to fend for himself after high school, it seemed as though nothing would curb his excesses.
Having no real parental supervision, Garrett predictably ended up with a group of “friends” that hastened his plunge into darkness. He was working part-time at low-level jobs and living in a room he rented in a house that was full of bad examples and was a far cry from the upper-middle-class home he was used to. He hung out with his coworkers after work and began to drink heavily. He was underage, but one of his employers, no doubt thinking he was doing them a favor, would buy liquor for him and his friends.
Garrett and his friends were labelled losers by society; and having no hope, they also had no ambition or inhibitions. Garrett, highly in need of attention and positive feedback, became more and more immersed in the gay lifestyle, frequenting gay clubs where “everyone knew his name.” He had a few sexual encounters but found gay sex “gross” and “unsavory.” He also worried about contracting AIDS.
Something deep inside him, his Christian roots, made his forays into the gay lifestyle an internal conflict, and he developed a series of addictions as coping mechanisms. He continued to get drunk almost every day but slowly supplanted this with smoking marijuana. The two intoxicants served to blunt the internal conflict. He attempted to escape the darkness of his life through fantasy, which for him meant extensive gaming, pornography, masturbation, and shopping for high-end clothes, which he could not afford.
These coping mechanisms simply added to his problems. Garrett thought nothing of stealing from his employers and accepting money from a young woman who practiced witchcraft to keep up this lifestyle. The descent into darkness continued as Garrett and his “crew” vandalized their neighbors’ property, even setting a fire that was so large it gained local media attention.
They valued their lives so little and had so little regard for others that they would drive the wrong way down twisting back roads with their headlights turned off. All of these evil acts had no consequences because they were not caught, much to Garrett’s surprise. Deep down, he knew his behavior was wrong. He felt that his authority figures were doing him a disservice by letting him get away with doing evil uninhibited.
With time, God started reaching out to Garrett in subtle ways that he did not recognize. One day, at the salon Garrett works at as a high-end hair stylist, a seemingly random customer was vigorously complaining about her father. This brought out a defense of the father from Garrett that he had no trouble recognizing as applicable in his own father’s case as well. He realized at that point that his father had also received a poor upbringing and was doing the best he could in a difficult situation. This was the first in a series of blessings that allowed Garrett to reconcile with his family and eventually allowed him to see his path from darkness to light.
At about this point, Garrett’s parents moved from Maryland to upstate New York. This brought about all kinds of blessings that were unexpected. For one, it increased the marital harmony for his parents. Garrett’s mother really didn’t want to move, but she knew her husband needed to get out of the area they lived in for his own mental health. Garrett’s father saw this for what it was, a sacrifice of love, and it went a long way toward mending the relationship that the younger Garrett had tried to sabotage.
The distance improved Garrett’s relationship with both his parents as well. Garrett was no longer able to drop over without real commitment; this was a six-hour drive, and his stays were elongated. This helped Garrett begin to wean himself off pot because he didn’t smoke as much while he was with his parents. (Although his father had decided to let him smoke in their house in Maryland, it did not feel right in their new home. So, he would only smoke a bit at the end of the day, out in his car.)
Spending extended time with his parents, away from his “friends,” allowed him to see them as people and not caricatures. It also meant that when they argued, Garrett could no longer flee but was forced to discuss it, which did a world of good. Garrett and his father realized that they both were responding to verbal and nonverbal cues (the tone of his father’s voice, as an example) instead of listening to each other. Once they became aware of these, both tried to mitigate their effects and saw each other in a more positive light.
Garrett’s mother was becoming an increasingly faithful Catholic and would share her thoughts with Garrett, although he was still resistant to the Church (but not to Jesus). His father also began to send him mail that Garrett now realizes was to give him direction and support. One day, while Garrett was telling his father on the phone about helping someone, his father uttered the words that Garrett had been longing to hear his whole life: “You are a good man.”
His father repeated these words frequently, and they began to sink in. Garrett began to realize that the labels that had been part of his persona were starting to melt away. Garrett started to view himself as masculine, but the transition was rocky because he had so many labels to jettison. He had been called gay, a pothead, a loser, and a gaming addict. As he gained confidence and the acceptance of both his older brother and his father, he began to realize that none of those labels needed to be true.
He began to see himself as God sees him, and he recognized a new, better role for himself. In the past, he would use his considerable persuasive power to lead people to the gay lifestyle, alcohol, weed, and gaming. Now he would reverse course and tell people about the God who saved him and help them elude the labeling that caused him such pain in his life and the addictions he used to cope with it.
God had put a puppy in Garrett’s life because Garrett was isolated and lonely. The puppy, named Lenny, was loved to the best of Garrett’s ability at the time. But Lenny was also neglected and abused by Garrett; and after eight or nine years of mistreatment, he got cancer and had to have two surgeries. During his recovery from the surgeries, a different part of Garrett emerged: the tender, compassionate, gentle part that had been stifled when he was younger. This emergence brought pain to Garrett but also a desire to get back to the way he used to be rather than the man he had become—a man so filled with hate, apathy, and selfishness that he couldn’t be bothered to see to his dog’s needs for the majority of his life.
During this same time, Garrett started actively looking for ways to stop smoking marijuana. He began by making one day a week smoke-free. He attended a Marijuana Anonymous meeting but quit because a step in the12-step program said that he had to acknowledge that marijuana controlled him.
He refused to accept this removal of personal responsibility and set off to quit cold turkey on his own. He had noticed for some time now that he felt better and performed better when he was sober. This was also a time of recognizing that God did exist and that His plan for Garrett likely did not include getting high, playing video games, and looking at porn while living in a dingy basement apartment at age 36.
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As he smoked less, his head cleared, and he began to see his priorities more clearly. He had much more time for personal contact and began to enjoy speaking to the neighbors, whom he had mostly ignored in the past. Finally, he was ready to quit smoking weed, so he asked God to help him stop, promising that if He did, Garrett would do whatever He wanted him to do with the rest of his life. He went to stay with his parents for a week and, by God’s grace, never smoked weed again after having smoked nonstop for at least ten to fifteen years.
Shortly after quitting, his godmother, his best friend from childhood, and Lenny all died within a two-year period. These deaths made him reflect on how lonely and isolated he was. He begrudgingly recognized and accepted that God did not create him to be alone, so he began to interact more with his family and started attending Mass on a regular basis. He also engaged in volunteer activities with the poor and elderly.
His awareness of Jesus’ love for Him grew rapidly, and he decided to be confirmed into the Catholic Church. During this process, he came to learn more about the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction and was introduced, through his spiritual director, to the Courage apostolate. Through this apostolate, he began to have something he’d never had much of before: close male friends who were focused on growing in their relationship with Jesus and His Church and living chastely.
He also began to see a Catholic therapist who helped him reestablish healthy relationships with all of his family members. These two factors transformed Garrett from a son of the world into a son of God who wanted nothing more than to grow ever closer to Christ and His Body, the Church. Seeing that many people could not find spiritual directors, Garrett enrolled in the Avila Institute for Spiritual Direction, to fill that void. It was there that I first encountered him.
Garrett has now been off of marijuana for more than twelve years and has been a member of Courage, pursuing chastity, for ten years. He uses his free time to work to build up the kingdom of God and help free others from the lies that kept him trapped in a false identity. Garrett shares his story and strives to lead others to Christ through his YouTube channel, website, and unpublished autobiography, Becoming a Good Man.