‘Doing the Next Right Thing:’ John’s Story of Transformation

By: Kristin Mudge

John Romaka was dropped off at The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Houston, TX, when the local hospital refused to treat him after his third attempt to drink himself to death. The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) provide a non-clinical, faith-based rehabilitation program to individuals with a variety of social and spiritual needs who have lost the ability to cope with their problems and provide for themselves.

In John’s case, his problems led to alcohol and substance abuse. John had his first drink of alcohol in high school. He flunked out of college his sophomore year and entered his first rehab at age 21. Staying sober long enough to finish college, he moved to Houston and began a career in financial services. During this period of his life, he went through five different rehabs and two marriages, but couldn’t remain sober.

In the last few months of what he calls his “drinking career” John attempted to drink himself to death three times. He tells us he went to a grocery store, filled a shopping cart with alcohol, drank it all, and passed out in the parking lot. He was taken to the hospital, where he checked himself out against advisement. He then went to another store and did the exact same thing, was taken back to the same hospital, and again left the facility against doctor’s orders. In the third grocery store, he passed out in the home and garden section. “When they picked me up, the hospital would not allow me to go in, so my wife at that time dropped me off at The Salvation Army. So, to say that my life was a disaster would be an understatement.”

He was hooked on painkillers, drinking every day, and spent some time in jail for stealing to support his drug habit. “I was lying to the people I loved the most. My parents had disowned me, my brother hadn’t talked to me, and I wasn’t allowed to see my kids.”

“My life was just broken. I think at the very end I, for the first time in my life, really would have rather been dead than alive. And looking back on that now, what a terrible place to be.”

“Since coming to the [ARC] I have seen God’s grace and mercy and restoration power at its most awesome scale. He has restored my family, my life, and my career. I was fortunate enough to come through the program and be offered a job … And they told me in here to trust the process, and I did. And I worked, and I turned everything over to God. And slowly but surely, on my second sober anniversary, my brother called me and said, ‘John I’m proud of you.’ I hadn’t spoken to him in almost five years.” His wife and son began to visit him, and after about three years of sobriety, his parents welcomed him back into the family.

He now has an active role in the lives of his children, even coaching his son’s soccer team. His daughter composed her college entrance essay on his journey and recovery. She wrote that watching him rebuild his life was inspiring to witness and that his experience changed what she perceived success to be. “I used to think success was having a good job and living the ‘American Dream’,” she writes, “but after watching someone go from rock bottom to helping others who are struggling just like he was shows that success is doing something that makes a difference and brings you happiness.”

When John’s father received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, his family rejoiced that he could still remember that John was sober, and they were glad to have John back during that difficult time. His father passed away on April 27, John’s five-year anniversary of sobriety. “I’ll never dishonor that day,” John declares. “It was his final lesson to me to just continue to trust the process, and it was God’s way of saying, ‘It’s okay, you were here when you needed to be. You were there when your family needed you the most.’”

John says the different roles he’s held during his involvement with The Salvation Army have affected his growth and inspired him. “The mission is to carry God’s restoration power to every end of the earth, and I’m super happy to be a part of that.” Now working as the store supervisor at the Houston ARC Family Store, John says he gets to see miracles every day. Men come into the ARC broken, and God restores them. He tells us he remembers his first day in the program, going through the lunch line wondering what had happened to his life. “I tried to get sober so many other times at 30-day programs going right back into the real world. And it never worked. This place, God’s house, offered me everything I needed to change my life with His help… I know I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

He tells us the men coming into the program have a choice: “Either God is everything, or He’s nothing. And if He’s everything, then everything in your life is exactly the way it’s supposed to be right now.” He tells us his philosophy is, “If I can just focus on doing the next right thing, especially after I do the first wrong thing, it’s impossible for my life to get worse. It can only get better. And that’s how I’ve grown. I focus on putting God first. I trust the process. And I know that if I just focus on doing the next right thing, my life’s going to get better.

“And it has. I’m a great dad today. I love my kids. I’m a good son. I’m a good brother. I hope I’m a really good employee, and I think I am. And that’s all because I turned my will and my life over to Christ, and He changed my life forever.”

When considering his past, John says he doesn’t think he would change a lot. One of his favorite Old Testament stories is that of Joseph going through terrible trials but eventually being brought to a position of leadership right when his family needed him the most. “I think I had to go through what I had to go through to be the man that I am today and the service work that I do. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of regrets. And I wish I could’ve changed things. But I’m really happy with where I ended up.”

“God has transformed my life in some amazing ways. He’s restored it. And that’s His promise to us. He’s always on time. He’s made me the man that I am today… He has transformed my life completely and perfectly.”