How God brought me from painkillers to peace


Neil Woodall Jr. with his wife, Stephanie, and their daughter, Elliot Grace.


     Originally from Mandeville, Louisiana, I grew up in a household that taught me the importance of having a good set of morals and values based on Christian principles. I succeeded in school and athletics and eventually earned multiple scholarship opportunities to play baseball or football. I decided on Millsaps College in Jackson because they gave me the option to play both while attending their prestigious business school.


     After the first semester of my freshman year, I went on an annual hunting trip in Lucedale, Mississippi, with my father and some of his business customers. It’s a trip we had taken every year for over a decade. On the second day into the trip, I was accidentally shot by my dad while quail hunting. I took the brunt of a 12-gauge shotgun blast to the chest and face. I was immediately rushed to the local hospital, where I was given an IV for fluids and an IV with morphine, a powerful narcotic painkiller. That was one of my first experiences with painkillers.


     That led to a slow downward spiral that would steadily consume my life over the course of the next nine years. But if I gave you the bullet-point version of my life over those nine years, that may be hard to believe:


Four-year starter and captain of our two-time conference champion football team

All-conference accolades all four years

Traveled through Europe to finish my undergraduate degree

Received a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from Millsaps College

Received a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Millsaps College

Landed my first sales job in industrial chemical sales

Got engaged

Bought a new car

Started playing rugby

Got married

Went on a honeymoon to the Dominican Republic

Bought a new home

Got a puppy

Adopted a rescue dog

Took a job in pharmaceutical sales that provided salary plus commission, a company car, 401K and great health insurance

Top 10% salesman in the company


     That would be the social media “highlight reel.” I was married with a nice home, a couple of cars in the garage and two dogs. I was making a more-than-healthy salary with commissions. Yet on the inside, I was living in hell. What I didn’t mention in the above list were the following:


My use of pain pills began to increase dramatically

I began spending more and more money on pills

My marriage was crumbling

I lost both of my maternal grandparents in the same year

The guilt and shame I felt began to snowball

I started missing important payments on my mortgage, bills and insurance

I began missing important work appointments and meetings with healthcare professionals

I began receiving foreclosure letters in the mail

I went to a drug rehab center

I got divorced


     Lost, scared and full of self-hatred, here I was a 28-year-old man who had pursued everything that was supposed to bring success and happiness, achieving a lot of it, yet feeling hopeless and full of shame. I became a shell of the person that I once was. Drugs, and more specifically opiate painkillers, had removed any joy or sense of fulfillment.


     After years of trying to quit on my own, I made a decision to ask for help, “earning” myself a spot in a drug rehabilitation center. I spent the next three weeks questioning, pleading and yelling at God: “How did this happen to me? Why did I have to become a drug addict? Where were You through it all?”


     God answered me in a big way one day by filling me with the Holy Spirit. I felt a sense of peace, serenity and calmness I had never felt before. I had tears of joy streaming down my face and heard a voice tell me that my path lay in coaching. To this day, I’ve never experienced anything as real as that moment.


     Through a string of “coincidences” (Godincidences) and decisions guided by the Holy Spirit at work within me, I find myself in my current position as a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach. I am remarried to the most beautiful, amazing woman with a heart of gold. We have a strong-willed, spirited 3-year-old daughter named Elliot Grace. Don’t let the face fool ya — she’s as feisty as they come.


     Asking for help was hands down the strongest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. God guided me through it all. But it required me taking the action. “God will help you to move mountains. But you better bring a shovel!”


Neil Woodall Jr. is a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach who has worked all over Mississippi helping people reach their fitness goals. He lives in Covington, Louisiana with his wife, Stephanie, and their daughter, Elliot Grace.