After several brushes with death, Michael Chadwick was not about to turn away from a ravaging party lifestyle of money, success and drug addiction. Even as a successful homebuilder, Michael’s involvement with drugs and alcohol had filled his life with extremely difficult times. It was through these times that God grabbed hold of Michael’s attention. This is his story.
In 1978…no, I think I’ll go back a little bit further. I had a very good friend, matter of fact he was my best friend. Not just a kind of a buddy, not just sort of a kid I grew up with but like my very, very, very, very best friend. This guy came to my house one day and he said to me, “Hey man, I got something here I think you want to try.” And I said, “Oh yeah, what’s that?” And he said, “Well it’s called reefer.” I said, “Reefer, what’s that?” He said, “You know, pot.” I said, “Pot, what are we going to do with pot? Are we going to cook something? What are you talking about?” He said, “No, man, you know.” So he pulls out his little baggie and it had…I don’t know what it was. He said, “Man, you’re going to love this. This is the most awesome thing.” He says, “They’re really just going to really change you. You won’t believe it.” I said, “Well, ok fine. What do we do with it? We eat it?” He said, “No, fool! We smoke it.” I said, “Ok”. So, I said, “Well look, man, we’re not going to smoke that mess in my parent’s house.” I figured it would smell that way for a month. I didn’t know what this stuff was. I said, “Let’s go out in the back in the shed.”
So, that day my best friend introduced me to something called reefer and he was right— that day changed the course of my life forever. He didn’t know it really at the time that what he was asking me to do would start me down a road that would ultimately within just a very short period of time—at 15 years old, I’d find myself in front of a judge with a gavel in his hand, hitting his desk and saying, “Young man, you’ll never go home again.” He didn’t know that day that when he introduced me to something called marijuana—my very best friend, the guy who I love with all my heart, who is still friends with me today— he didn’t know that they would come and take me away from school one day in handcuffs and be walked in front of the entire student body.
He didn’t know that day that when he came to see me that they would take me to a place called Spring Grove State Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Catonsville, Maryland, where the judge would say, “You’re sentenced to that place” as they took me into their that day at 6:30 that night. The building that was built sometime after the Civil War—it looked like the Civil War, it was probably built after World War II. They took me in shackled down and handcuffs on my hands, shackled to my waist that went down to a chain shackled to my ankles. I had to walk in like this, 15 years old, scared, trembling, saying in my heart, “I want my mommy, I want my mommy. What am I doing here? Can I go home now?”
He didn’t know that day, my very best friend, he just didn’t know that day would change my life. That we would one day walk into a place, that I’d walk into this room—a room about the size of this one—and I would be standing against the wall and there I’d be in a place called Spring Grove Mental State Hospital. All shackled down still in my street clothes and there would be people standing around looking at me, about 75 or 80 men. Some of them watching TV that wasn’t playing, some of them listening to music when the radio wasn’t on, playing chess without chessmen, playing checkers with nobody else sitting at the table, having conversations with nobody else talking. I sat there and took all this in, 15-years old. My best friend didn’t know that day. We were going to do something really fun that day. He didn’t know that he was changing my life forever.
As I stood against that wall, a young kid by the name of Jay came up and stood next to me and he said, “I got them cosmic blues again momma.” I said, “Me too, baby.” He said, “I’m going to kill myself.” I didn’t say anything else to him. I just stood there and looked at him. Jay had a little Halloween clicker in his hand as he sat there and he clicked and he clicked and he clicked and finally he ripped that clicker apart. He jammed it into his wrist and he ripped his arm up. He stuck it in this hand and he ripped his arm up and two pools of blood started to form at his feet. Not one person in that place moved. Not one person batted an eye. I sat there and watched a color come out of this kid’s face that was obvious to me that he was going to bleed to death.
I sort of sauntered over to the little glass area where the nurses’ station was right outside the room. I said to them, “Folks, there’s a guy in there bleeding to death. You don’t care, I don’t care.” They walked in and they were so angry at this young man for this attempted suicide and for ruining their day and the things that they had planned. They put him in a straightjacket and sewed him up in the middle of day room without Novocain to teach a lesson to the rest of the inmates. That was my first 15 minutes in Spring Grove State Mental Hospital. My best friend had no idea that what he was offering me to do that was something fun would change my life forever. By the way, I never did get to go back home. I never ever, at 15 years old, got to go back home again.
Most of my friends took off and went to college. I somehow managed to get through high school. I really don’t know how I got through high school. As a matter of fact, I finally figured out what they figured out. If they gave me my diploma, I couldn’t come back! I somehow managed to graduate from high school and begin to travel. I traveled all over the United States, up and down the coast and really had a nomadic existence. But not one thing in my life had changed. I became very, very, very involved in drugs, dealing drugs, making money through drugs and it was just part of my life. I mean, it was just kind of the thing I did. I was always a likeable guy. Everybody always liked me. Wherever I went, I made friends, whether it was in Florida or Connecticut. I hitchhiked up to Connecticut one day to see some gal that I met in Miami and stayed two and a half years. Didn’t really matter to me where I was, wherever I was was home.
And then in 1978, I was in Florida and was in very bad shape. One of my old New York dealing buddies found out where I was and he knew how bad, in desperate straights I was at, very close to suicide. I used to never understand how somebody could commit suicide. I used to think, “How in the world could somebody actually get that desperate to commit suicide?” until the day that I realized that I hadn’t eaten in 3 or 4 days. I was so hungry that I crawled in to a dumpster at a Pizza Hut to eat the garbage that somebody else had thrown out.
I went home that night so disgusted with myself. I said, “I’m going to drink this bottle of Tequila, cut my wrist and die.” My friend that night just happened to call me. He was in Orlando. I was in Tampa. He could hear it in my voice. He said, “If you’ll just stay where you are and don’t do anything, I can be there by 1 o’clock.” I said to my friend, “If you’re here by 1:15 it will be too late.”
About ten minutes to one, there was a bang on my door. He showed up. He gave me enough pot, enough money, and packed up my clothes and said, “Son, go back to D.C. Go back to where there’s somebody there who cares about you. There’s nothing left for you here.” And I did.
Shortly after that, I got a job tending bar in 1978. You have a weird lifestyle to start with when you’re tending bar. I mean, your day doesn’t start until about 2 o’clock in the morning, at which point it always starts with breakfast. This particular night, my roommate and I were meeting. We were going out for breakfast. He came home and he had this gal come home with him and this gal shows up at my house. I looked at her and I went, “Uh, I know you and David are going out to breakfast. Can you come back later on? I want to take you to lunch.” She said, “Excuse me?” I said, “I know this sounds a little strange but, just seriously, can I take you to lunch?” She said, “Ok.”
So about 1 o’clock that afternoon, she showed back up. Man, I was so jacked up. She starts walking towards me and I’m walking towards her. It’s like one of these commercials, you know. And I said, “Listen, I’m really excited to see you on account of you and I are getting married!” Well, she turned around and started back this way. And I said, “No, no, no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I..I…I don’t mean to scare you off. Let me restate that, um, would you marry me?” Now, she’s in a full trot. I finally caught up with her at the van. I said, “Listen, I know I’m going too fast and I’ll slow down. Tell me what your name is?”
That was in October. On February 18, 1978, we got married and two weeks ago we celebrated 20 years. Pretty cool, huh? Pretty cool. You know, it’s interesting, I never planned on staying married. I never planned on it. I actually was only going to get married for 5 years and then get out. I had no idea that my wife took this thing seriously. And, I mean, I was a terrible husband. I ran off with her best friend. I didn’t care who knew it. I didn’t want to be married. I was an excellent provider. My children never wanted for anything, except a father. Their mother never wanted for anything, except a husband. But their needs were always met. They always had clothes. They always had food. They always had cars because I always had money.
You see, I had gotten this job with this company after I had gotten married, with a national homebuilder. Not that I was a builder or anything but I answered an ad in the paper. And you have got to remember now, I had hair down to my shoulders, wore sandals, had holes in my jeans. I mean, I’m a hippie. I’m just a 45-year old one. I mean, I was a stone cold, out to lunch kind of guy. And I went to this interview and these guys hired nothing but M.B.A.’s, all out of Northeastern or Northwestern or someplace; I don’t know where they came from. But through a chain of events I ended up getting a job with this national homebuilder. And to the best of my knowledge, and I mean this even today, to the best of my knowledge I’m the only guy that they ever hired that had never gone to college.
So they sent me out the very first day to this job and I went out there and they said, “Hey, can you do punch-out work.” I said, “Man, I’ll punch-out anybody you got.” I didn’t know that they meant carpenter work. I didn’t know, I didn’t know what it meant. They go, “No, no, no man. Can you put a doorknocker on a door?” I said, “Absolutely man, no problem.” So they gave me this doorknocker and I went up and put it on that day, the first day put a doorknocker on. The second day we went up and replaced the door. I didn’t know it was supposed to go this way and not this way. It was on!
But, you know, I found out very quickly that I wasn’t very good with my hands but that I was pretty good at getting other people to do my stuff. As a matter of fact, I became great at it. Oh, I don’t mean good. I mean, I became great. I became one of these guys that was winning national honors and I did not fit any mold anybody had. I mean, I would come to these meetings wearing sandals and cut-offs and t-shirts with holes in them and my eyeballs hanging down to my chin because I’d been out for 3 nights in a row. But I’d build them better, faster, cheaper, stronger, fewer problems than anybody in the history of the company. They had this thing called a walk-through where a person would buy a home. And they would go into this home and they would examine the home and they would make a list of items that were wrong on it. I had a record of 96 in a row with nothing wrong on it. People couldn’t explain it.
And I was so lit up, all the time. I mean, I would spend half my time in the hospital recovering and half the time at work. I was so good at building houses, I could build them in my head from the hospital bed. I knew where every house was, every detail of every house, who the homeowners were, what their phone numbers were, what their options were. I could tell you any of it. Nobody could keep up with me. I could build more houses by myself than the M.B.A.’s could with 10 guys. They would send all these college guys to me to train. They’d come in, you know, and they’d look all prim and proper and I’d be sitting there going, “[mutters something unintelligible]”. And they’d just go, “God, what kind of idiot is this?” But yet, I became a very, very hot commodity. I mean people wanted my services. One national company came back and they said, “Hey, we’d like you to come and work for us. You don’t really look like us but you seem to be pretty good.” All of a sudden, I doubled my salary. All of a sudden, I doubled my salary again. And all of a sudden, I’ve got a big group of people working for me and I’m vice-president of an international organization. I go into this office and there’s a computer and I asked them where the joystick was!
I had all this stuff going on for me and my life was going 150, 000 miles an hour. And every 3 or 4 or 5 weeks I’d have another overdose. Cocaine ruining my life. Alcohol ruining my pancreas. The doctors would say, “You drink one more drop, man, you are going to die.” And I’d say the same thing that I said a million, zillion, trillion times, “God get me out of this jam this time and I’ll be alright.” Oh, God, I know about the night that I was so drunk that I dove 17 feet from a cliff and landed in 6 inches of water and You spared my life. God, I know about the 9 or 10 nights that I rolled automobiles and I was lying in one automobile, a 1964 Ford Galaxy, one I flipped up on top of its hood, gasoline pouring out. Barry White comes on the radio and says, “You know baby, sometimes too much of anything is not good for you.” And I said, man, Barry, do I know that. The police would come and pull me out of the car. God, I’d done all this so many times and so many times and so many times.
And yet, you know, none of it seemed to matter to me. None of it seemed to make any difference to me whatsoever. My wife would beg me and beg me and beg me, saying, “Oh honey, please.” My little daughter Kelly, at the time, fortunately she’s the only one that remembers the night that the ambulances came. I’d had a complete overdose. My heart had stopped. They were sitting there beating on me, beating on me, beating on me, saying, “we’re losing him, we’re losing him, we’re losing him.” Little girl standing in the corner watching her daddy, crying and saying, “Dear God, please don’t let me daddy die.” Hauling him off to the hospital. Waking up with a tube coming out of everything I had, only to be in that same despicable condition a few weeks later.
But, you know what? Everybody looked past it because, by the world’s standards, nobody could touch me. I was bulletproof on what I did for a living. And then one day, as my success became known and we became more wealthy and had more things and bigger houses and bigger cars and bigger things, physically I was just deteriorating. I had a couple of things happen to me in a very short period of time and I said, “God, I can’t believe this.”
One night, while we were building this new home, a bungee cord broke and hit me point blank in my left eye. I’m legally blind in my right eye. And as they rushed me back to the hospital again for the 18 hundredth time, I’m laying on this hospital gurney. Let me tell you, I was in the hospital so many times, I knew every person on every shift. When I would come in, they would just know who I was and they’d go, “Oh, we’ve just got to dry him out again.” And they said, “No, man. He’s hurt. He’s hurt.” And I couldn’t see them but I could sense them working over top of my face and I could hear them whispering. And they finally just said, “Mr. Chadwick, we just don’t know if you’re going to ever see again.” They took me back to my room later. It was on a Sunday. My family was at church; I wasn’t there. They took me back to the room and I said, “God, I’ll make a deal with you. If you get me out of this jam this time, I’ll do right and be right.” You go back and check the records, 7 days later I walked out of that hospital without a scratch on my left eye. God somehow mercifully gave me back my vision.
Two weeks later I was right back doing the same old thing. It was a Saturday. It was a beautiful, clear Saturday. I mean, a crystal-clear Saturday. And I watched a 22-inch oak tree blow over as I was just driving down the road. This tree blows over out of nowhere and crushes my truck from bumper to bumper. The limb of the tree went right through the hood, right through the seat, and right through the floorboard where my daughter Kelly would have been. On a Saturday morning she always went to work with me. Had she been in that car, she surely would have died. They came and cut me out of the car and got me out. I walked back and I looked at that truck and I thought, “Michael, God is trying to get your attention.” And I would hear that song (singing)”He’ll do whatever it takes.” And I’m thinking, “God, unbelievable.”
Shortly thereafter, nothing changed in my life. I’d escaped again. This particular night I had a dream. Now gang, this was only a dream. I promise you, it was nothing more than a dream, nothing less than a dream; it was just a dream. But in my dream, I dreamt I had leukemia and that I was going to die and I’d never wake up. And I said, “God,” the same thing I’d said a hundred thousand times, “God, if you’ll get me out of this jam, this time I’ll do right. I’ll be right. I’ll be the kind of guy you want me to be. I’ll be the husband you want me to be. God just give me one more chance.” And in my dream, God said “No.” I said, “Excuse me God? You’ve never said no.” I said, “Excuse me God?” He said, “No. I’m through with you. Every time I give you a chance, you just throw it in my face.”
I woke up that night and I couldn’t tell if I had leukemia or not. I didn’t think I did. I was in a cold sweat. My wife was lying in the bed next to me. I reached for my Marlboro cigarettes and I said, “God, I’ll not touch these cigarettes.” I got on my knees and I said, “Well, God, I’ll tell you what. I don’t think I have leukemia but I really do think you used that dream. And God, I’ll make you one more deal. If you’ll forgive me of my sins—I am sober. I am not in a hospital bed. I really don’t think there is anything wrong with me but I really do think this is my last chance—I’ll give you my life tonight.
The next morning, my wife woke up. I shared with her what had happened. I said, “Janice, I’ve had this awful dream. Something’s happened. I’ve given my life to God. I’m a different husband.” The wicked, wicked woman that I’m married to looked at me and she went, “That’s nice.” She’d heard it so many times before. I said, “No, honey, I’m telling you.” The next Sunday I went to church with my family for the first time and every Sunday thereafter we went.