Jeremy Bellos will never forget the moment he laid down the deep wounds and anger that contributed to his decades-long addiction to heroin and fentanyl and true healing could begin.
At that moment he felt God’s sorrow.
He saw God weep.
Just minutes before his encounter with God, Jeremy had been fuming. His counselor at Helping Up Mission (HUM) in Baltimore had introduced a topic he had no intention of addressing during his trauma class. “F*ck forgiveness,” Jeremy thought, his arms crossed. “Some things are just too egregious. I don’t have to forgive anyone.”
Jeremy may have had every reason for his calloused skin and hardened heart. Life had been cruel and merciless growing up in a rowhouse on Stafford Street in southwest Baltimore.
But those things are in the past.
“Everything that happened to me makes me exquisite, unique. My scars make me beautiful,” said Jeremy, who is two years clean and now works as a software administrator for HUM’s facilities department and as a behavioral health tech for Foundations Recovery Center.
Had they not happened, “I wouldn’t have experienced God.”
The Story Begins
I don’t personally know Jeremy. But my niece does. She works at HUM and suggested him as a potential subject because she thought his story of adversity and healing could help someone else. She sent a recording of his storytelling, and his authenticity blew me away.
My niece was right. His story, like those of two women featured here a few weeks ago, could promote healing and inspire hope. I emailed, and he agreed to talk with me. And for two hours I listened as he unloaded the details of his stepfather’s physical and mental torture that laid the foundation for his subsequent addiction.
Jeremy’s story was hard to take.
His Stepfather’s Abuse
He told me about the time his stepfather forced him to hold a log as he swung an ax to chop firewood. If he dropped it, his stepfather threatened to “f*ck” him up. I couldn’t imagine being in Jeremy’s six-year-old shoes, scared his stepfather might miss, dreading the promised punishment if he moved his hand.
He certainly had every reason to be afraid.
Jeremy then told me about another incident. He was only five, worried he would be late for kindergarten. While his stepdad slept on the couch, Jeremy slipped out the door, and walked to school alone, only to discover the analog kitchen clock had been two hours fast. His teacher called his stepfather, and all hell broke loose.
“He beat me to the point I p*ssed my pants, and that’s before we got into the car,” Jeremy told me. “And then, when we got into the car, he beat me again….” The thrashing continued at each stop light until they reached his step-grandmother’s house where she watched another throttling. She did nothing to stop the beating.
“That was the type of person he was. That’s the type of torture I lived with for years. He knew what he was doing. He knew he had to ingrain it mentally.” His stepfather accomplished this by slamming Jeremy against a wall, and with every bruising jab to Jeremy’s chest, his stepfather reinforced negative affirmations:
“You ain’t sh*t. You’re never going to be sh*t. You’re f*cking worthless.”
What did this kid learn? One, it didn’t matter what he did. Right or wrong, he’d still get a pounding. Two, adults wouldn’t protect him, and third, God didn’t care. Certainly, who could’ve blamed him for reaching those conclusions?
I kept wondering why no one had stopped this insane abuse. He was just a little boy.
By Jeremy’s twelfth birthday, the damage was done, and the family trauma continued. His stepfather divorced his mother, who broke down and attempted suicide. His older sister and brother moved out, and his maternal grandmother, an alcoholic, took over.
“My little brother and I had the run of the house,” Jeremy remembered. At the goading of neighborhood teenagers, he started sniffing glue and paint thinner, and within five years he’d met his “mistress”—the only substance that could remove his insecurities.
“Heroin gave me a sense of peace. I didn’t need others’ attentions or love. It made me emotionless, and I didn’t care what anyone thought of me.”
Success and Panic
Somehow he did find love. An uncle offered him a job in Michigan where he met his wife of 10 years. Within a year of his move, his salary hit near six figures affording a beautiful home, lavish Caribbean vacations, and a cover. No one understood the severity of his addiction. The bills were being paid.
“That level of success was hard for me. Everyone saw the good in me, but I was blind to it. I was so afraid of screwing up my two kids. I didn’t have a father, or a mentor and had no gauge for what a good father was supposed to be. All I knew was hatred and abuse.”
He panicked, his stepfather’s words echoing in his mind. “For eight years I heard that stuff and it stuck. I honestly didn’t believe I deserved this life.” So, he sabotaged himself with infidelity, lies and continued heroin use. The day he sold his kids’ Christmas gifts, his wife had had enough.
He moved back to Baltimore and the race to the bottom picked up speed.
Jeremy finally crashed in January 2019 when his younger brother, Deejay, overdosed on two pills Jeremy had left in his backpack, along with a clean needle. “My soul broke that day.”
So consumed with guilt, he spent the next year abusing fentanyl, sometimes inside abandoned houses littered with used needles and human waste. The months-long binge, however, didn’t end his life as intended. Instead Jeremy ended up at HUM, and, more particularly, inside the chapel where he heard a voice say, “Let it go.”
Sitting alone, Jeremy cried inconsolably for more than an hour, praying for help and spiritual healing.
But that healing didn’t come, despite his continued prayers. “I started getting angry, enraged,” he told me. His counselor told him to “sit with it,” assuring Jeremy that God wanted a relationship with him. “What do you mean I have to sit with it?” Jeremy thought. “I may as well be talking to a wall.”
The Healing Vision
Jeremy’s breakthrough happened on a Thursday as he sat with fellow residents during the trauma class. “Are you ready? Here it comes,” said a voice inside his head. After that, Jeremy got cold chills, felt something enter his body, and the visions began.
“I looked up and saw this big bright light with a golden hue that I perceived to be God. I felt God’s sorrow. When I looked down, I saw Jesus being whipped, saw the leather whip, his stripes, the crown, and the blood…The emotion got stronger, and I felt God’s sadness and saw Him crying.
“I turned my head to the right and saw myself crying. My stepdad was hurting me with his belt buckle.” At that moment, Jeremy understood everything.
“I saw my stepdad’s father doing the same thing to him. ‘See, hurt people hurt people,'” the voice said.
Today, Jeremy is a new man, grateful for his experiences. “No one can shake my faith,” he said.
“My receiving and giving forgiveness were my spiritual awakening. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were in that room with me, healing me from the pain. Why those things happened to me doesn’t matter. God has something better for me.”
In a couple of years, he wants to buy a home, reconnect with his sons, and continue his work helping recovering addicts. “My purpose, I believe, is to show people how God uses the story of a desperate heroin addict like me into a story of faith and redemption.”
God be with you, Jeremy.
Today, Jeremy shares his story with HUM residents and hopes to reach recovering addicts living beyond Baltimore. Here is a recording of one such session. WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE!