Jim Ayer was, for most of his life, a slave to his own dreams—a fisherman of thrills and addictions. From when he was a child, he attached a ball and chain to each ankle, closed himself up in his own world, and threw away the key.

Some people spend their lives in one place doing the same thing. Others go through a perpetual transformation, always putting themselves in new situations. The former dream of being in the situation of the latter, and the latter, in that of the former. In the end, life is hard for all of us when we are the slaves of our own dreams.

The son of active, hard-working, and at the same time fair and loving parents, Jim Ayer learned that he had to work hard for whatever he wanted. So, since elementary school, he would work for his neighbours, mowing lawns, collecting wood, cleaning gardens, anything for an extra dollar. This wouldn’t have been necessarily a bad thing if he hadn’t been convinced that money would bring him happiness. This is how his first addiction was born, that of work—and the second, money, followed directly in its wake.

At the age of 11, Jim was working part-time for the Pepsi-Cola company, sorting cartons, cleaning—basically, whatever was asked of him and much more. Pepsi paid him very well, and Jim could drink as much soda as he wanted. This is how the third addiction was added, that of drinking. If at first this only involved juices (he consumed up to 12 bottles of Pepsi a day), when the company started working with a wine and beer distributor, his addiction diversified.

By age 15, Jim was almost an alcoholic working five hours a day. He maintained his habit with the excuse that it did not affect his behaviour. It was very easy for him to learn. He was even among the honour students of his high school. He was drinking, but he was lucid and was doing his job. He did it well and was earning well. “Money was my god,” says Jim in his book, Second Chance. Despite the loving warnings of his parents, things did not stop there. The older he got, the more he wanted to test freedom.

Addictions, soul sisters

Risky behaviour increases in a controlled, logical, and predictable manner. After the affinity for drinking, the next frontier to cross was drug use. Like any young man confident in his reason and his ability to control himself, Jim followed the principle of “trying everything once.” He was already in his first year of college, he was living with his parents—who wanted to keep him “under observation”—but he had a good job, money, a girlfriend, and a muscle car.

He thought that something was missing in his life and decided to try marijuana. It was quite difficult for him to find a dealer. However, there’s an unwritten rule that, when you want bad things, you don’t have to search too far; the “universe” will bring them to you. As was the case with alcohol, Jim seemed very little affected by the drug. After the feeling of having reached “a higher level of thought and existence” passed (as he describes the effect of the first puffs of weed), he remained a hard worker, a student who was elected class president and became active in student government, travelling all over the state as a representative of his university.

As much as he loved public speaking, he suffered from stage fright. This fear could only be controlled with marijuana. At this point, Jim had ceased to be the exception to the rule, although he still considered himself in control of the drug.

In 1960, a man named Timothy Leary travelled to Mexico, where he tried some “magic” mushrooms, which he claimed helped him—within the first five hours of ingestion— to accumulate more information than in 15 years of human psychology research. Leary would become a writer, psychologist, promoter, and researcher of the psychedelic drug.

His philosophy that drugs in general and LSD in particular are the Way to “a” God led Jim not only to try LSD, but to also become a drug dealer. He didn’t do it for the money. He just wanted to convert as many young people as possible, convinced that he was offering them a superior existence. Being talented at giving speeches, his success rate was high. However, his life quickly deteriorated.

Being a thrill-seeker, he lived his life on a motorcycle, and rode from city to city, looking for menial jobs that would keep him going from one day to the other, joining gangs of dealers or bikers and trying to be “the worst” of them. Only God miraculously saved him from accidents in which not only he but also others could have died. Jim, however, felt no guilt, no remorse. He was living his life to the fullest, to the maximum level of ‘consciousness’. That is, until one day.

Drugs with “miraculous” effects

Jim was running from the police when one day he came across some “friends” (that is, people who also sold drugs), and he took shelter with them, in a cabin in the mountains. In general, they lived by the idea that “we don’t owe society anything, society owes us,” so whatever they needed they took.

When they were hungry, they hunted a deer, dried the meat in the cabin, and ate it. Around this time, the effects of the drugs began to become bizarre. Just as he was about to relax after a joint, Jim began to hallucinate. Instead of being in the cabin, he was on a basketball court, and, at a table, God and Satan were sitting and talking face to face. The discussion was not clear to Jim, but he understood that Satan was bargaining for his soul. Finally, he heard a voice: “Jim, you have a short time to decide.”

When the voice stopped, so did the effect of the drug. Every time he smoked, Jim heard the voice and sobered up. Basically, the drugs had no effect anymore, and that was driving him crazy. The outcome? “I’m going to quit drugs and move back home.”

So said, so done. Let’s remember that we are talking about an exception to the rule, about a perfectly rational character, capable and in control of himself. Back home, Jim mended his relationship with his parents, who helped him open a pet shop, where he worked together with his mother. Things were going extremely well. The business of exotic animals was rare and the sales were very high. Funny incidents with various extremely dangerous animals made the family bond. Jim also had a girlfriend, Janene, whom his parents loved.

But how could a man like Jim be at peace when everything was going well? Eventually Jim not only started smoking marijuana again, but he also took up hypnotism. With his amazing rhetorical skills, Jim convinced Janene to let him hypnotise her. Of course, the goals were funny, but this cemented in Janene a very strong trust in Jim. So, when the time came to convince her to smoke weed together, it didn’t take much insistence on Jim’s behalf.

The person Jim had just “converted” to drugs was not only a person he loved, but a girl whose ex-fiancé had died on the day of their wedding. The night before, he had been with his friends in a bar, had gotten drunk, and had gotten into a fight with a person who slammed him against the cement. Janene was left scarred for life. The day Jim asked her to marry him, he said: “Will you get high with me just one last time? […] Because I want to ask you something, and I want you to be high with me when I ask you.” That’s how free and self-controlled he was.

Second chances

Soon, baby Jason was born. Jim hadn’t completely given up marijuana, and consequently neither had Janene. One day they went to visit some friends and Jim spent the whole day smoking with them. When he got home, he lit up another joint. Janene was also taking puffs while changing the little one’s diaper. Suddenly, Jim’s face froze in determination. He took the bag of weed, threw it in the toilet and flushed it. Standing over the toilet, he started crying like a baby. He hadn’t felt so free in a long time.

Janene, who had followed him, was also crying in the bathroom doorway. She had been waiting for this lifestyle to end for a long time. Nothing in their life was right. Even Jason’s crib, which Jim had assembled while being under the influence of drugs, was barely hanging on. The voice had returned: “Jim. Tonight is your last night to decide!” Although he hadn’t had much contact with the church, Jim knew whose voice it was and asked Janene to pray with him. He only said one sentence: “God, I’m sorry it took so long.”

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

This is where the drug story ended and the God story began. At first, they discovered God by reading the Bible. Then they looked for a Bible-based church, and for friends who would do the same. They devoted themselves to God completely, even trying to leave everything and study theology. But that doesn’t mean this is a happy ending. It does not mean that the problems were over or that they remained close to God. Although drugs never returned to their lives, other addictions and other gods did, and not at any ordinary time, but in the moment of their total commitment.

Falls from glory, and backup plans

When Jim took up theology, the study completely took over his communication with God. He was studying about God, but he wasn’t talking to Him at all anymore. He simply stopped praying. Shortly after, he gave up his studies and returned to his business—or rather to his businesses, because together with Janene and other friends he had a number of very successful businesses.

Among other things, Jim got into real estate and even became one of the top real estate brokers in North America. He began day trading in the stock market. In his book, Jim says that “money was no longer a problem for us,” but in reality, it was a very big one. Jim went to church regularly and even preached from time to time, but his sermons had become motivational speeches about how to think positively or how to be a better person.

His sermons and life had been emptied of the Holy Spirit. For Jim and Janene, it was all about money and fun—extreme sports, martial arts, motorcycling, etc. Where can one fit God into such a busy mind and life?

“Jim, the Holy Spirit may be falling all around you, but you will not recognize it or receive it.” The voice came back one Saturday morning when Jim was at church. The voice made him shudder and remember a verse: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

This time, there was no need for a drastic transformation like the first time. The Ayers made a commitment to dedicate the following year to God and got involved in humanitarian actions that took them all over the world. One action after another, Jim began to preach where they went and became an evangelist—which he probably would have ended up doing had he not given up theology. From being a fisherman of addictions, Jim became a fisherman of people.

What a detour he had to make to get back to the original plan of God, who is truly a God who gives multiple chances and has multiple backup plans!

There once was a seed. The sower threw it and it fell among the thorns. Thorns grew and choked it. “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful,” Jesus Christ said. This seed was Jim Ayer.

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The seed was him when he was young, when he went to church, but he was interested in money and drinking. It was him when he grew up, when he went to church, but he was interested in money and adventure. Each of us is undoubtedly this seed at a given moment in life, at least once. Thorns might rise once more around Jim and around us.

Right now, we may not be able to see the sun because of them. We may be stabbed in the heart by things that do not give us the freedom to change our lives. Some may need smaller changes that seem big to them, and others big changes that they can easily make. We are all afraid. However, if we don’t have the courage to change something, we are only left with the option of suffocating in the dark.

Eliza Vladescu is a communication specialist and previously was part of the permanent ST.Network team. She currently works as an online communication consultant.