Elmbrook Stories

Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness

by Travis Stase


It was Thanksgiving Day when 12-year-old Travis came down the steps, straightening his tie and looking forward to celebrating the holiday with his parents and sister. Maniacal laughter piercing the air brought him to the kitchen, where he found his mother talking to the demons in the turkey. His mother’s mental breakdown was more than his father could handle, so he soon retreated into alcoholism.

Life turned upside down and both of his parents drank, did drugs, and became emotionally and physically abusive. “They became demons when they drank,” remembers Travis. He and his family lived in a low income housing and urban development unit where he was surrounded by a culture of constant partying, alcoholism and drug abuse. Soon, it was all he knew and by the age of 13 he was addicted, doing whatever he could get his hands on – “just about anything and everything.”

During his teen years he only lived for his next high. Soon Travis gave up on public school and opted for homeschooling. Neighbors became family to him when his own family abandoned and abused him, but while they gave him the emotional connection he craved, they continued to enable his addiction.

It doesn't matter how far gone you are. It doesn't matter how dark it gets. You are not beyond redemption.

Travis describes a morning when he stumbled home drunk and encountered his neighbor who encouraged him to re-commit himself to doing his homework…as soon as they did a line of cocaine. The dissonance between the life he wanted and the life he was immersed in became too intense for Travis to handle. Over the years he became even more reckless, driving while intoxicated by one substance or several, snorting cocktails of mystery pills and engaging in sexual relationships.

At 16, Travis broke into a neighbor’s medicine cabinet. He found a bottle of Paxil and poured himself a handful. The overdose shocked his body and sent Travis to his knees, where he cried out to God in what he was convinced were his final moments on this earth, begging Him to save his life. He recovered from “the Paxil incident” and he knew something had changed inside him. He was still trapped in a cycle of addiction and shame, but from that moment on he knew what he was doing was wrong. He wavered back and forth between the only lifestyle he understood and what he knew in his heart to be true, but saw no way out. Travis couldn’t function sober because he couldn’t handle what he dealt with in life.

In his 20s, Travis’s addictions pulled him down to an even darker place. When a back injury provided narcotic pain medication, he lost all control. He began to throw stimulants into the mix which caused him to stay awake for several days at a time, allowing his mind to travel to dangerous, cruel places. The emptiness he felt provoked anger and drew him into depression and pornography. After four years of severe addiction to pills, Travis hit rock bottom in 2012. He lost his job, apartment, longtime girlfriend and car in one fell swoop and found himself back on his parents’ couch.

“I hated my life. I hated my family. I hated everything that had happened. I hated who I was,” Travis recounts. With no desire left to live, he contemplated suicide. “I knew if I did that, I’d face God.” Fearing what might await him, he endured, but just kept doing drugs simply because he “didn’t know what else to do.” Travis found roofing work and wound up crashing at a friend’s apartment for a couple weeks for the duration of the job. Travis laughs now as he says, “THEY were starting to go to Elmbrook…but I was drinking.”

One Sunday morning, those friends asked if he wanted to come along to church. Still hung-over from the night before, Travis wanted nothing to do with it. But just as their car was beginning to leave, Travis felt a strong urge to “GET UP” so he raced out the door and jumped into the moving vehicle.

The worship that morning hit him “harder than anything” and caused him to break down emotionally. He tried to think more about what God might want for his life, but he was still locked into in his destructive habits. His parents kicked him out and that same friend allowed Travis to move in, which is when he got serious about getting clean.

While Travis was entrenched in the horrors of the withdrawal process, his friend said he was going to a men’s group at Elmbrook and asked Travis if he would like to come. He agreed to tag along, figuring that he “had nothing better to do.” That group turned out to be a two year discipleship program – the No Regrets Study Series. The first study book, "Following Christ", overwhelmed Travis. He felt so convicted that he finally surrendered everything to God, crying “my life is Yours, just save me.” He continued with the small group, reading the materials, diving hungrily into the Bible, and discovering the healing that happens through repentance and true community.

“Regeneration is not a perfect process,” Travis admits, “You mess up throughout.” In those first months, he found himself having issues with addiction and lust, but has grown to depend on God in moments of weakness. He has now been sober for a year and a half and spends a good deal of his time serving at Hope Street Ministries in Milwaukee, telling his story to other addicts and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has found a brand new life. Travis is quick to point out that it isn’t always easy. “For 25 years there was no pleasure I withheld myself from. It’s a constant fight with the thoughts I have, because I have a good memory. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The pain that used to define him has transformed him. Travis firmly believes that “God uses pain to bring about healing.” His former life still causes heartache and forgiveness has been a difficult process. However, Travis is starting to understand the purposes behind his experiences. “The arrogance is gone. When you’ve ruined your life to the point where you want to take it, you have nothing to be arrogant about. And when you understand who Christ is, you realize you’re just a man and that there’s no part of you that should boast unless it’s in Christ.” Dead to the sin that once controlled him, Travis now “fears no man” and wakes up each day grateful for another chance to point people to the cross.

“It doesn’t matter how far gone you are. It doesn’t matter how dark it gets. You are not beyond redemption.”