Lisle man's answer to heroin: Faith in Jesus

  • Doug Stvan of Lisle credits his faith in helping him recover from heroin and stay clean for four years. He now mentors others in a program at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora.

      Doug Stvan of Lisle credits his faith in helping him recover from heroin and stay clean for four years. He now mentors others in a program at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Doug Stvan, 34, of Lisle, mentors Don Pawelko in a program at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. Stvan, right, says his faith helped him stop using heroin four years ago and now he's trying to assist others.

      Doug Stvan, 34, of Lisle, mentors Don Pawelko in a program at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. Stvan, right, says his faith helped him stop using heroin four years ago and now he's trying to assist others. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Doug Stvan, left, of Lisle visits with Randall Tomassi, director of the Master's Touch Ministry at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. Stvan is a mentor at Wayside Cross, where he aims to help others break the heroin habit he kicked four years ago.

      Doug Stvan, left, of Lisle visits with Randall Tomassi, director of the Master's Touch Ministry at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. Stvan is a mentor at Wayside Cross, where he aims to help others break the heroin habit he kicked four years ago. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Doug Stvan, 34, of Lisle, says support from his church, especially from mentor Steve Madawick, has helped him stay clean for four years after using heroin for 12 years.

    Doug Stvan, 34, of Lisle, says support from his church, especially from mentor Steve Madawick, has helped him stay clean for four years after using heroin for 12 years. Courtesy of Doug Stvan

 
 
Posted3/25/2015 5:30 AM

Today, Doug Stvan is a Christian, a student in a certificate program at DePaul, a basketball fan and an employee at his dad's accounting firm.

Four years ago, Stvan was a Christian and a heroin addict coming to the end of the line.

 

Then 30, the Lisle native sneaked out of a drug recovery meeting at his church to get high, then overdosed the next morning and experienced the slow-motion blurriness of being revived.

He went to rehab, where he got high again on Feb. 11, 2011 -- just two days after the overdose. After coming down, he was at rock bottom. He "felt emotionally, physically depleted" and says he started to let God into his heart.

Less than two weeks later, Stvan was picked up on an arrest warrant resulting from the overdose and thrown in DuPage County jail.

Stvan had been using heroin and suffering the consequences for 12 years, but he never lost his faith, never went without his cross necklace.

He says Lisle cops took the necklace when they booked him and he remembers feeling God leave his presence.

"It felt like he was done with me, that he had enough of my sin," Stvan says years later.

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Raised as a Christian, Stvan finally surrendered after that final dose while he was in rehab, finally gave himself completely to what he calls the "amazing mercy" and "amazing grace" of God.

Soon he was in jail on charges of possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. Locked up until March 18, 2011, he prayed and read Scripture, then pleaded with a judge to reduce his bail. The judge did.

Bailed out by family and friends, Stvan pleaded guilty to heroin possession the next month, got probation and completed it seven months later. Then his drug-free life truly began.

"I just felt this awakening. I flashed through all my life, all the times God kept saving my life," Stvan said. "I was ready to prove the world wrong. I knew there were good changes in me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He hasn't done heroin since.

"Heroin is the strongest temptation there is," Stvan said. "I think there's one answer to that and it's Jesus Christ."

Stvan, 34, doesn't think of himself as a former heroin addict anymore. His identity is in Christ, he says, quoting his favorite Bible passage, second Corinthians 5:17. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

Faith, recovery

Faith, Stvan says, helped him forge his new identity, free from the powerful opiate that grasped his life for more than a decade.

Faith, he says, is reverence for God's awesome power. It's a desire to love and serve others and a hatred of sin.

But in the heroin recovery realm, faith can offer even more, Stvan's mentor Steve Madawick says: Faith can create a team.

"There's a lot to say about having a good church family that's accepting and realizes that problems are a natural part of growing your faith," Madawick said.

A former drug addict himself, Madawick, 58, met Stvan 12 years ago at the Hobson campus of The Compass Church in Naperville. Madawick enlisted Stvan's parents to give their son tough love and show him real consequences when he used heroin for another eight years.

"There are many times I yelled at his parents during these last eight years," said Madawick, now pastor of group life at Harvest Bible Chapel in Naperville. "I told them if he breaks a boundary there are consequences. ... In the last series of consequences, they wouldn't let him into the house. He was coming to the end of himself."

Madawick set up communication standards for Stvan and demanded honesty -- not perfection or transcendent willpower to immediately free himself from the grips of the drug, but an expectation that Stvan would speak the truth.

The truth, Stvan began to realize, is that heroin was "the Mount Everest of temptations," the most powerful pull away from a God-centered life, Satan incarnate.

"It says in the Bible: Satan comes to steal and destroy," Stvan said. "And that's what heroin is."

To keep his personal Satan at bay, he and Madawick plan and think ahead as much as possible, anticipating potential triggers every day, such as a trip on the train to DePaul that takes him right through West Side Chicago neighborhoods where he used to buy heroin.

These days, looking out the train window, Stvan says he's spotted some actual signs that tell him he's on the right path: "Drugs is a dead end," one billboard reads. "Jesus is the pathway to life," says another.

Every former addict is "one decision away from relapsing," Madawick says, but Stvan says he avoids those bad decisions by staying humble, praying and looking toward the future, not the past.

"I never had this reverence for God before. That's part of the epiphany," Stvan said about the feeling that helped him stop using four years ago. "Fear of God keeps me away from heroin."

Even before his final overdose, having his cross necklace taken by police and facing time in jail, Stvan was making progress. He got a bachelor's degree in marketing from Northern Illinois University in May 2007. He held some jobs and tried several stints in rehab programs, some of them in the Christian tradition.

Stvan's belief in a higher power remained throughout his addiction, but below the surface.

"It was here," Stvan said, pointing to his head, "but not here," indicating his heart.

Time to help

In the four years since Stvan used heroin, he's found some positive outlets for the temptation he still feels.

He's gotten back into working out at the gym next to his church. He plays basketball. And he's following his mentor and volunteering to help the next wave of heroin addicts break free.

Stvan is mentoring one addict in a men's treatment program at Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora. He's connected with several other young heroin users, offering to help them on a path to recovery. Some aren't ready yet.

"It takes a long time to give it up," Stvan said.

At Harvest Bible Chapel, where Stvan attends services, he has signed up to be a mentor in a program called Restore, a Bible-based recovery program "where people find hope."

He's written long testimonies of his struggles with heroin and his journey to seeing himself not as a former addict, but as a Christian working to bring help and hope to others.

"Every day I'm kind of reminded of where God brought me from," Stvan said. "It brings joy. I'm using my greatest failures, my weakest times to help others. It's just amazing."

• This article is part of our "Heroin in the Suburbs: Through Their Eyes" series. For more see http://bit.ly/DailyHeraldHeroinSeries

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