Actor’s Struggle with Sobriety Redeemed by Jesus
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SPIRAL OF ADDICTION Jason Umidi grew up in a loving Christian home. While in the third grade, things changed when he was abused by an older male. He didn’t tell anyone until his late 40's. Jason also suffered from undiagnosed depression since middle school. He explains, “At that time, I didn’t realize I was depressed. I just thought that everyone felt that way.” Eventually, he was diagnosed with bipolar depression in his 20s. At times, Jason couldn't afford the drugs to treat his illness and he felt hopeless, suffering from mood swings which included deathly lows and a stay in a psychiatric hospital for suicide plans. For years, it was a struggle for Jason to just get out of bed. It took time but today Jason’s depression is managed well with medication. Never having a light bulb moment where everything in his life was taken from him at once, Jason says his rock bottom was years in the making. While playing high school football, he fractured his back and doctors wanted to fuse his lower spine with screws and rods. Life as he knew it would end—no more sports, surfing, carpentry work, etc. His parents didn't have good enough health insurance, and the surgery was still considered "experimental" so Jason tried to live with his condition. At 16, he began a life of seeing doctors and specialists to try and alleviate his severe pain. During that time, he discovered that alcohol and opioids helped ease both his physical and emotional pain. Taking a break from college, Jason decided to go to NYC in the late 80s to pursue a career as an actor and model. Eventually, this included living abroad, traveling as a model, and following the fashion seasons from Milan to London and back to NYC, with visits to Virginia to see his family and girlfriend. Life was carefree and he did well in the business but still suffered from severe back pain. It was during this time that his girlfriend in Virginia got pregnant and he got the news while he was on his way to Tokyo. Being raised in the church and having a dad who was a pastor, this unplanned pregnancy was not received well. Religion told Jason that shame for his mistake was warranted and to find acceptance from God he needed to marry her. Jason says, “This was 'works-based' faith at its best: Do the right thing and you will find favor with God. No longer was it about a personal relationship with the God of creation who redeems our mistakes and who loves us unconditionally.” Giving up his career and coming down to VA, Jason began married life at the young age of 23. He was a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked during the day. Living off his residual income from TV work and as a result of joining the Screen Actors Guild, he was entitled to great health insurance benefits. He decided that this was perhaps the best time to have his spinal fusion surgery and so in 1993 he underwent a 13-hour surgery to fuse his lower lumbar spine. While in ICU Jason reacted to the morphine and other drugs, went into a code blue, and had an out-of-body experience where he floated above the room and watched the code blue happening. In total peace, he just hovered above as they worked to stabilize him. After two weeks he was out of the hospital and began physical therapy with all the hope in the world that this would be the beginning of the road to recovery. What he didn't know at the time was that the screws and rods in his spine began to come loose. A year later he had to have another spine fusion surgery. During this period Jason was still mixing booze and pills to numb the pain while continuing to be a stay-at-home dad to his 2-year-old daughter, Jessica. He noticed shortly after her 2nd birthday that she was not keeping up with her peers with her normal day-to-day physical abilities. After many tests and surgery, they found out she had a rare neuromuscular degenerative disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It was genetic and it had no cure. Left with many questions about the quality of life and life expectancy and the stress of it all caused him to continue to drink and mix any pill that he could get his hands on. Life was not panning out the way Jason thought it should and he began the process of turning his unhappiness and anger towards God into a deep void of unbelief. He no longer believed that there was a plan for his life and on the heels of his fusion surgery he and his wife separated. This was the beginning of the toll that his drinking and using had on his life and those around him. Already with one DUI and two wrecked cars from drinking and driving, he chose to double down with drinking and using, and as a result, his marriage ended in divorce with an ugly custody battle. Jason had his 3rd spine fusion surgery and was living at home at his parents’ house, on Social Security Disability, and unable to work when he went through bankruptcy for the first time due to the heavy medical debt. Fast forward a few years and he married Aimee, settled the custody agreement, and moved back to NYC to jump-start his life. Jason was able to resume his career but the toll of his continued drinking and using strained his second marriage to the point of breaking. Having struggled with severe bipolar depression growing up, it finally got the better of him and under the stress of it all he ended up checking into a psychiatric hospital. This was a band-aid effect, and no real recovery took place. He and Aimee separated, and he went through his 4th fusion surgery. Moving back with his parents in Virginia in the early 2000s with $5000 in his pocket, Jason bought his first investment property and flipped it four months later for a profit. He found that he was good at flipping houses and with a new son, Aimee and Jason got back together and tried to start a life in VA. He continued to struggle with chronic pain and the drinking and using continued with varying degrees of consequences. Jason was also abusing Fentanyl at this stage in his life. The marriage was strained, and they went through foreclosure and lost two rental properties. Jason also went through a 5th back surgery to implant a morphine pump that would deliver high concentration amounts of opioids into his spinal canal to ease the pain. They ended up on Medicaid because he lost his insurance. Depressed and unable to work, Jason found himself back in therapy looking for a way out of his misery. Eventually, Jason got off disability and found sporadic work for a few years and had a good stretch where life was in a groove and yet, he still drank and abused opioids. He traveled for work and spent every week on the road staying in hotels and was home only on weekends. This gave him free rein during the week to drink as much as he wanted with nobody to tell him to stop. Of course, he would lie when Aimee called and asked if he was drunk again. This heavy drinking carried over into the weekends when he got home. He would hide his substantial alcohol abuse and lie to his wife and kids. Jason’s addiction was in control from morning until evening. Eventually, he was let go from work and Jason was on a mission to end his life. He was unable to physically take his own life out of the guilt of leaving his kids without a dad. So, he would drink as much as he could, take as many pills as possible, and hope that one day he wouldn't wake up. Eventually, he went through bankruptcy again and lost everything.
Another hangover, another morning full of regrets, another day of doing the same thing and expecting different results. Insanity. Then one day he woke up and realized that he couldn't continue this way anymore. Jason finally admitted that he was an alcoholic and an addict who needed help. He went to his local psychiatric hospital and entered their detox program on January 10, 2017. Jason says that it was almost anticlimactic, but he went in with a little bit of hope that this final attempt might be successful. The next morning as he was getting coffee, he ran into a friend who'd checked in the night before. This was the first opportunity to be of service to someone other than himself and he welcomed her in with a small hug and an encouraging word. Jason suddenly felt better about himself. There was hope in that small gesture of friendship and throughout his stay, he began to meditate on what it meant to be of service. “Towards the end of the program as some of us were getting ready to exit and go home the group leader asked each of us one simple question. ‘If you could do anything upon leaving here what would you do?’” When it was his turn to share, Jason said he’d like to be a messenger of hope, to speak to others who are lost in their addictions. That simple response became the foundation for his sobriety to take root. For once in his life, it wasn't about him. The first thing Jason did when he got out was going to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He went to 45 meetings in 45 days for accountability and though he was sober, he was miserable. Faced with all the same stresses, dysfunctions, and general unhappiness with life, he began the thorny path of finding an authentic relationship with God. Jason explains, “It took about 2 years of white-knuckling my sobriety, of grinding out my salvation one day at a time before I felt safe with this new relationship with the Creator. I didn't have many answers but what I did know was that I was a changed man. No more regrets. The compulsion to drink and use had been lifted! No longer was I a slave to my addictions. I was even able to quit a 20-year tobacco addiction!” Today, Jason marvels at the goodness of the Lord in his life. He and Aimee are celebrating 25 years of marriage and he wrote the devotional book, Jesus + Seltzer, which includes some of his journey while also encouraging those dealing with addiction to find freedom in Christ. Jason admits that he still sees the consequences of his old life playing out in front of him but says he’s had an intimate encounter with God and his life will never be the same. Guests Jason Umidi
Credits Author, Jesus + Seltzer (The Weight of Ink, 2022) Certified recovery life coach Member of ScreenActors Guild & American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Married, three kids