I’ve come to believe that there are no coincidences in life. People are brought into our lives for a specific reason. It’s all preordained in my honest opinion. When I was given the idea of The Micah Principle I was told that it means “Though I fall I will rise again”, meaning simply that we all fall down in life but that we MUST get back up. I was told that the purpose of it was to gather stories from people who have done just that and to publish them here. The end result of it would be to inspire others and give them hope….to help them understand that if someone else overcame an obstacle or tragedy in their life that they can, too.
Zach’s story is the first one to be shared after my story. I met Zach after seeing a video of him on the Facebook page for a local church where my son attended youth group. I was just scrolling through and happened across his video. I immediately felt compelled to contact him. I messaged him for information on his homeless outreach program called FedUp. We met the next day and I interviewed him for this story. I listened in astonishment to every word he said. My husband and my friend who were there also were left with tears rolling down their faces. It was THAT powerful. Zach’s story is both tragic and amazing. You’ll understand why after reading it.
Zach begins his story here~
“I grew up in California with my older sister and brother and younger brother. My parents divorced when I was 7 and I lived mostly with my mom. My dad eventually remarried a great woman but I couldn’t see that at the time (I do now though). I was your typical all American kid, always trying to fit in. I raced BMX bikes, even winning some championships, placing 2nd in the nation. I eventually started to hang out with the wrong crowd and I think that’s where things started to go wrong. I didn’t want to follow the rules. At 12 or 13 I started to drink and smoke pot. My mom was aware of it and allowed it to continue. She enabled it by giving it to me. From there things progressed very quickly. I started to do mushrooms, Ecstasy, acid and meth. I was searching for some taboo lifestyle….never trying to follow that yellow brick road.
In high school I played baseball, which I was really good at. There were opportunities there but I let it all go because of drugs. By this time my mom was getting tired of everything that was going on with me. She had thought I was mature enough to handle things but I wasn’t. She tried her best with me but it just didn’t work. We argued about it frequently. Addiction was very prevalent in my family; my older sister Katie was into meth and pills. She introduced me to heavier drugs, thinking she was being my “friend” instead of my sister. I went to raves with her which fueled my lifestyle of addiction even further.
I always knew what I was doing was wrong. When I was 17 I called my dad and told him I needed help. I actually asked him to send me to boarding school. I thought the place I was going to in Montana was going to be like a resort. When I got there I quickly realized how wrong that was. It was a heavily disciplined school, nothing like I was accustomed to at all. I was there for three months. I wasn’t anywhere close to getting sober….I just wanted my life to change. I left right after I turned 18.
I sank deeper into the partying lifestyle, delving into hallucinogens. Around that time my older sister was in a bad accident and lost her leg. She was prescribed heavy narcotics for the pain and I had full access to all of her drugs. I started to smoke Oxycontin and took other pills. I was chasing the dragon. This went on for a few years. The FDA eventually made a change to Oxycontin, putting a coating on the outside that prevented it from being smoked. Since I could no longer smoke the Oxycontin I moved on to heroin because it basically gave the same effect. I believe the FDA sent many people straight into heroin addiction with putting that coating onto Oxycontin. The government has NO idea how to deal with addiction. They need to treat addiction as a disease, not a crime.
I started to smoke heroin at first. I always said that I would never shoot it up. But, you get to a point where you say to yourself “Well, why the hell not? What’s the difference…I’m still a junkie”.
When I was around 20 I decided I wanted to get clean. I flew to Virginia to where my dad’s family was. I started doing really well but then began to drink again and got back into partying. I was there for several months and met a girl who I fell in love with. Things were good but my drinking eventually started to drive a wedge between us. One night while we were going into a movie I got a frantic message from my mom that my little brother Tyler was gone. I thought that he had just taken off again, making my mom worry. I had an underlying feeling though that Tyler had died but I was trying to make myself believe that wasn’t the case. I called my mom back but she didn’t answer. I then called my dad but he didn’t answer either. My stepmother then texted me and I asked her if it was true. She said yes, that my dad was in identifying Tyler’s body. I’ll never forget that pain in my stomach. I felt like I threw up a bunch; I was shaking with grief. I had known that Tyler was struggling with his addiction and was giving my mom a fit. I wanted to step in and help but I was struggling with my own addictions. I’ll never forget the last words I spoke to Tyler on the phone; “I don’t want to see you end up in jail or worse…dead.” Shortly after that he went to jail. Less than 24 hours after he was released Tyler was dead. He died in his sleep from cardiac arrest from a combination of six different substances in his system. He was 18 years old.
I went back to California with the girl I was dating to attend Tyler’s funeral. I drank heavily while I was there. I took some of my dad’s prescribed pain pills and could barely function. After the funeral I came back to Virginia and continued to drink even more. I was severely depressed and did a fake suicide attempt….it was a call for help. I ended up in the psychiatric ward in the hospital. While I was there my girlfriend broke up with me. I don’t blame her….I was a wreck. I’m still friends with her and her family today–they’re good people.
I moved to Virginia Beach for a summer then went back to California. I worked at a chain grocery store but was still shooting meth and heroin. At one point I was down to 150 pounds (I’m 190 now). I was so thin but I thought I looked good. I knew I had a problem and so did the store I worked for. They allowed me to go on sick leave to go to a 10 day detox. This was the first time I went to rehab. I thought if I got the drugs out of my system with the detox program that I would be good but that wasn’t the case. The whole time I was there all I could think about was the sack of heroin I had hidden back at my house. The moment I got out I went right back and got the heroin…..I was off to the races again. I sunk down lower into my addiction. A friend of mine had left his drum set at my house for months and I pawned it to get money to buy more drugs. I had every intention of getting it back. In my heart I wasn’t stealing it, I was just ‘getting a loan from my friend’. The same day I pawned the drum set God and the universe aligned and my friend came back to get it. He filed charges against me for pawning it.
After Tyler died my mom suffered heavily with feelings of guilt. While he was alive she had given him steroids to help with him playing football. She thought she was doing the right thing. She was into fitness and bodybuilding and felt that steroids were healthy and right. After he died she just sunk lower into her depression, feeling 100% responsible for his death. My aunt tried to help my mom and asked her to come and live with her in Virginia.
I moved back to Virginia Beach to be closer to my mom and moved in with a family member. I had ridden a bus from California and detoxed from heroin on the way. It was a pretty brutal ride. We stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas and I bought a few crack rocks from some guy selling it in the bathroom there. I smoked it right there in that bus station bathroom. I immediately regretted it. How crack works is when you smoke it all the dopamine in your brain is released and you want to keep going but I couldn’t because I was on the bus. It was great for the 20 minutes the effect lasted but I was miserable the rest of the way.
I was drinking heavily again and my family just didn’t know how to help me. My mom had given me a car and I ended up getting a DUI. She took the car back right after that. Mom’s depression over Tyler’s death worsened and she eventually went missing. She sent a text message to us saying she had something important to do and then we didn’t hear back from her again. While I was at work I got a call from my dad. I knew immediately that he was calling to tell me that my mom had died. She was found in a hotel room in Flagstaff, Arizona. She had committed suicide by taking the same combination of drugs that Tyler had overdosed on. I believe she was trying to recreate the pain he had gone through in his own death.
I drank even more after Mom’s death. I was kicked out of the house I was living in. I met a girl who invited me to stay with her. She tried to help me but again it didn’t work. We had a codependent relationship. I stole her Xanax pills. Eventually, I got kicked out of her house, too. I had nowhere to go. I ended up homeless, sleeping under the pier in Virginia Beach where many other homeless people stay. I remember a man coming up and asking me for change. I told him I was homeless too and asked him if he could teach me how to get change from people. He took me under his wing and showed me what to do. For about 2 months I lived under that pier, hiding from the world. So many times I tried to get myself right and so many times I failed myself. I felt like I was pretty good at being a failure so I was just going to continue being one. I knew deep down inside me that there was a better Zach but I just didn’t have the courage or strength to come out of it. I felt no love, hope or faith to help me out of it so I stayed there.
I scraped whatever change I could get from people to get that bottle of booze to suppress the pain, anguish and desperation I felt. I could not cope with my reality sober. Honestly, I don’t think I would have survived being homeless without drugs and alcohol because I would have killed myself. The drugs and alcohol helped me survive the homelessness. In that way they served their purpose. Every so often the girl who I had lived with allowed me to stay the night but it was nothing permanent. I didn’t blame her. I was dirty. I smelled like a dog. I went to a few outreach programs at the beach for the homeless so I could eat. It was at one of these places, Potter’s House, that I started to feel human again. There was a woman there named Carol who would come out and give us a little speech; a sort of pep talk. She made us feel like we mattered….that we weren’t just some dirty homeless people. I started to feel that there was hope for me. I started to feel like I COULD make it out of this hell.
I decided to call the family of a friend back in California for help. The father is a pastor and he flew me back out there, putting me up in a hotel. I had the court case for the drum set I had pawned to take care of while I was there. While staying at the hotel drugs were easily available. People knocked on the door to let you know what they had for sale. I quickly got back into the drug scene, staying up for days on end. I was back at the races once again. I remember one time while staying there having a gun pointed at my face when I knocked on the wrong door. The whole time I spent at that hotel was just surreal. After stalling numerous times I finally turned myself in to face the charges for the pawned drum set. The charge was lowered to an infraction. I had gotten another drug charge around that time but thankfully it was dropped to a lower offense.
After about a month there I got a call from my dad saying that my sister Katie had been killed. She was struck and killed by a law enforcement vehicle while she was intoxicated. Katie had a young son who then went to live with my dad. One night a few weeks after Katie died cops surrounded my hotel room. I knew without a warrant I didn’t have to let them in. They told me that my sister had called and said that I was in danger and that we needed to come because I was trying to harm myself. My sister was dead so she couldn’t have called them. I never found out what happened or who it was that called. Maybe it was some kind of spiritual thing. Maybe it really was Katie trying to help me.
I decided again that I wanted to get sober. I called the mother of my former girlfriend back in Virginia for help in getting into rehab. She flew me out to North Carolina where I detoxed in a program where you worked for your stay there. I did really well there but each time I went back to visit family I started to drink and take pills again. When I came back it was so hard to lie to the people at the rehab center that I hadn’t used while I was away. I felt so ashamed for telling that lie and pretending that I hadn’t used any drugs. Even though I slipped a few times while I was there I really started to get my act together like I had never done before. I was there for about a year. I took a culinary course based on self empowerment that also taught you life skills. I started to lean towards a more spiritual path during my stay there. I don’t identify with any one particular religion–I take the good, positive parts out of many different ones and apply it to my own spirituality. I don’t put a label on my religion because I think that limits my potential. I did, however, still have it in my head that I was still just a drunk and a drug addict. When I got out of rehab I started drinking again. I ended up in the hospital in less than three months. I had no money to buy alcohol so I drank rubbing alcohol to satisfy the craving. I was in the ICU at the hospital for five days then spent a week in the mental ward.
While there, I contacted my friend I had met at the rehab center in North Carolina. He was in Malibu, California. He had gone to a rehab center there associated with some celebrities. They flew me out there and I entered the rehab center. This is where everything hit me and I finally admitted I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Up to that point I couldn’t accept the fact that I wasn’t normal–that I couldn’t go to a bar and not drink. I played the tape in my head of where I had been and it kept me from wanting to go back there. Sort of like a diabetic who knows if they eat the wrong thing, I knew if I got back into alcohol and drugs where I’d end back up at. I knew I’d eventually die and I didn’t want that. I had a revelation while I was at the rehab center, too. I wanted to get my body in shape. On my way to the gym every day in Santa Monica I’d see a lot of homeless people. I was so thankful and grateful for everything I had but I felt guilty seeing them. I had been right where they were, sleeping on the curb with people walking right past me. Now I was the person walking by not noticing them. I started to pack food and supplies in my gym bag and hand them out to people. Other people caught on to the idea and wanted to help. This really excited me. Someone asked me how this all came about and I told them I was just so fed up with seeing these people living on the streets. It hit me right then. I told myself that if I ever do something with this I’m going to call it FedUp. That’s when it all started. I started a Facebook page for FedUp and a Go Fund Me page for people to donate to for us to buy the food we supply to the homeless. The people in my sober living complex were really instrumental in helping me get things started. They were there and saw my whole transformation. They inspired me to inspire others.
I still live in the sober living complex today. I’ve been sober for nine months. I work two jobs; one at a grocery store and one at a professional boxing gym. I help kids out through the AA program. FedUp is my main focus but I do have to work to make ends meet. When I see a homeless person now I acknowledge them. I smile at them. I let them know that they can get back up on their feet. I let them know that there is hope for them. I can do this on a bigger scale by getting donations to provide them with a 5 star meal down on the beach. When people come through the line for food I give them a short synopsis of my story. They’ll come up afterwards and ask for help. I give them my number and let them know it’s a safe number to call if they need help. They feel comfortable around me because they know I’ve been right where they are. These people keep me sober more than anything. The more homeless people I meet and help the more reason I have to stay sober. They just help my soul. They are the reason I’m here. Now I know why Tyler, Mom and Katie died……I went through all of this so I could be here and share my story and help people through FedUp. I have a bigger mission in life and it’s to not stay high or drunk but to lift others up and to share my story. To let them know that you CAN get up. There’s an end to it AND a beginning.”
I actually said prayers for a few months after I started this website to be sent people who would be willing to share their stories of falling down in life but getting back up. Those prayers were finally answered when I saw Zach’s video post on Facebook. I believe when God doesn’t answer a prayer right away it’s because He’s waiting to send you something amazing. And that’s exactly what happened. He sent someone who had died so many times inside only to be reborn again into the light with a clear vision on what his purpose here is.
When I contacted Zach to ask him if he’d share his story on The Micah Principle’s website he was more than willing to do so. While I was listening to him talk I was amazed at how matter-of-factly he told us everything. I was even more amazed at everything he’s been through and survived in his 28 years on this earth. Most people would have given up their will to live after losing three of their closest family members in the manner that Zach lost his. He may have fallen down in life, quite a few times in fact, but he got back up. Zach took the negativity of his addictions and losing his family and turned it into a positive thing in creating FedUp. He was given a purpose and mission in life and he’s running full ahead with it. I can honestly say that I have never, ever met anyone like Zach in my whole entire life. The mark he left on me goes right to my core and can’t ever be erased.
Zach says he tells people that “Grief is grief. Pain is pain. We all struggle. Some just look worse on paper.” He’s absolutely right. Just because your struggle may be less than that guy’s struggle over there doesn’t mean that your struggle doesn’t weigh just as heavily on your mind as it does for the other guy. This is absolute fact. The mountains we are trying to conquer all look the same to each one of us.
Zach is in a good place now…..mentally, physically, spiritually. He begins each new day while chanting the Buddhist phrase Nam-myoho-renege-kyo. To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to bring forth the pure and fundamental energy of life, honoring the dignity and possibility of our ordinary lives. This sums up Zach’s outlook on life now perfectly. He’s been given the gift of life and a purpose for that life and he’s filling every second of it with love and hope for all those who feel like they aren’t deserving of those things. He’s here to let them know that they DO deserve them.
*Zach Tinnell’s outreach program for the homeless, FedUp, serves the Santa Monica, California and surrounding areas. They provide food and supplies to the homeless. More importantly though, they provide the homeless with a sense of hope that things can get better for them. Zach’s plan is to take FedUp to a much larger scale, being able to help the homeless in areas other than the ones they currently provide service to. You can donate to FedUp through this Go Fund Me page. Your donations are used to provide food and supplies and can mean the difference between someone going hungry or being fed.
*Potter’s House is a homeless outreach program located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They can be reached at 757-428-3015. They provide food and other services to the homeless, working poor and those in crisis situations. Potter’s House relies solely on donations and there is an ever-present need for support. They accept donations as well as food and clothing.