Sunday, June 25, 2006
PASSAIC -- For most of his life, Steven Sims loved drugs, loved trouble and hated himself.
From his teens through his 40s, Sims drank, shot heroin and smoked crack. He stole. He went to jail. He lied to his family and his employers.
Then, at 43, when it seemed certain that his anger would destroy him, Sims changed.
"After a while, when you finally look back over your life and you see you've lived half your life and you haven't accomplished nothing, you have nothing, you're going nowhere, it changes you," Sims said Saturday.
At 50, he hopes his story can help others to change, as well. He has written a book, "A Desire to Belong: Breaking Free," that recounts his struggle with drugs, his discovery of religion and his recovery.
On Saturday, Sims signed copies of his book at his church, Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Autumn Street, which was holding its annual picnic. He also displayed several of the landscape paintings he has completed over the last four years.
As he accepted congratulations from other members of the congregation who stopped by the table where he signed his book, Sims acknowledged that he is living a life that he never imagined for himself.
"I was to the point where I felt my life wasn't going to change, that this was my destiny, that I was going to suffer," he said.
The Passaic native said he developed that idea at an early age by absorbing the verbal abuse of his adoptive mother.
"From as far back as I can remember, my strongest memory is always being told I'm no good, I'll never be any good, 'I'm sorry I ever laid eyes on you,' " he said.
He became angry, he said, and started hanging around a crowd of other teenagers who would break into stores and steal things. He dropped out of school at 16 and became even more reckless.
"I started shooting heroin when I was 16 years old," he said. That started a pattern of regular drug use that lasted for more than 25 years, he said.
Sims would float from job to job, get arrested for possessing drugs, go to rehab and start all over.
When he was about 41 and fed up with himself, he borrowed a friend's truck and drove to a Hasbrouck Heights supermarket, where he shoplifted a pack of straight razors.
"I remember just getting back to the truck and crying and praying and asking God to forgive me for what I was about to do and for how I lived my life," he said. He cut his wrists a few times and passed out.
He woke up hours later.
"I started crying like a baby, not because I tried to take my life, but because I was still there," Sims said.
He went to a nearby hospital, was bandaged and resumed using drugs, he said.
The turning point came when the adult son of the woman with whom he was living threw him out of the house. Sims went to a homeless shelter in Hackensack and missed curfew one night, because he was out getting high.
The shelter ordered him not to return, and Sims went to the one place he could -- Good Shepherd Mission in Paterson, where he enrolled in a nine-month drug-treatment program.
For reasons he does not entirely understand, the Bible classes he took as part of his rehab transformed him, he said.
"I remember thinking, I can't remember the last time a curse word came out of my mouth," he said.
When he completed the program, he moved home to Passaic and reconnected with his childhood sweetheart, Jeannine. Within months, they married and remain together after seven years.
Jeannine "Penny" Sims said she was shocked when her husband told her how he had spent the roughly 15 years since they last saw each other.
"I said, 'wow!" she recalled. "And then I said, only God knows why. Only he knows why, and everybody deserves a chance."
Sims said his wife encouraged him to paint and helped him by reading the manuscript of his book.
Jeannine Sims smiled as she watched her husband sign copies of the book. Beneath each signature, he wrote "Proverbs 3:5-6." That biblical passage reads, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."