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Overcoming abuse

After years of abuse, Joe Johnson is turning that energy into something positive -- and he's ready to share his story to benefit others.

"I found a way out, to motivate my life to use that pain I went through and become something great," he said. Not only has he found his way out, he wants to help other young people (or any age for that matter) see that they don't have to turn to a destructive life just because that's what they've known.

Johnson, 26, of Frazee, has set a goal to become a mentor to kids with similar problems. He said being young, kids can relate to him easier than they could an older adult.

Johnson said he has suffered "every form of abuse there is -- physical, mental, sexual, verbal."

Johnson said still has nightmares from the abuse.

He now lives with anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

At age 3, Johnson and his older brother became wards of the state. They lived in five to six foster homes throughout their young lives.

He graduated in 1998 from Frazee High School, and after years of destructive lifestyle, he turned to drugs. He said he tried every drug available except heroin.

"I was opening my wings to do what I wanted," he said of that period of time.

Through it all, though, his then-girlfriend and now wife, Amanda, stuck by him. Her family became a real family to him, and her father a father figure he had needed for so long. He stepped in and told Johnson he either needed to clean himself up or he'd end up living under a bridge.

Within the week, Johnson got sober and found a job.

Now, several years later, Johnson is married, has two children, owns a home and is a manager at the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center.

"My wife was my savior and has been since I met her," he said.

And now he is reliving his childhood -- or what should have been a childhood -- through his son and daughter. He said he's giving them the one thing he longed for all his life, love.

With all he's been through, Johnson said he could give in to depression, but he's determined to become a motivational speaker instead.

"There is a way out of this, and this is how you can do it," he said. "I got to a fork in the road where I realized, I am good."

He wants to help others use their energy to succeed and push themselves to achieve their goals. He thought about it in the past, but had reservations about telling his story. Now he's ready.

"God's kind of kicking me in the butt to get out there and talk," he said. "I don't set goals I don't achieve. I've got the wood stacked up, I just need to start the fire."

One of those goals is to reach others. He said it's hard to express what he's been through, because while he was growing up he was told he was going to end up being a murderer, pedophile and/or in prison. Now he's secure enough to break free.

"God gives a purpose for us all, and this is mine," he said. "I chose the other road, but it's been full of bumps, rocks and mountains."

He knows it's his purpose because there were times in the past he gave into depression and tried to commit suicide.

"I believe I was put through things because He knew I'd make it through it. Now is the time to express that positivity."

Johnson said he understands the transformation isn't easy. People don't change in one day. But if they believe in themselves, they can make it through the tough times and become something so much better.

"You can't be yourself if you're living for everyone else. There's nothing you can't get to. People don't believe in that anymore. They need to."

Rather than continuing the cycle of abuse, he said he would like to start another cycle. If he can help just one person and then that one person can go on to help another person, that's the cycle he's looking to start.

He adds, why would he inflict abuse on anyone when he knows how much pain it brought him.

Johnson acknowledges his head "is like a battlefield" from time to time, but he deals with that battle in several different ways. He writes poetry, spends time with his children and reflects on his accomplishments.

"I had the experience, found a higher power and got out of it. Look what I have today."

Johnson said he has spoken with teens at the Alternative Learning Center in Detroit Lakes, and is eager to speak to more teens. He's willing to talk, whether it's to one kid or 1,000.

Anyone interested in having Johnson speak at any facility or event, he can be contacted through mail at Joe Johnson, 102 North River Drive, Frazee, MN 56544.