Former UFC Fighter Overcomes Depression
By Dory Nissen
The 700 Club
CBN.com-People call him ‘The Viking’. Professional fighter Justin Wren is one of the youngest athletes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC is the largest mixed martial arts organization in the world. And Justin was a leading contestant in the 2009 season of the reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
But the man who had become a fierce warrior was nothing like the awkward and shy teenager he once was. Classmates made fun of Justin and harrassed him. At times, it got physical. “I just remember every part of me feeling like I was broken and crushed; that I wasn't good enough, that I was worthless. I always wanted to be someone different at that age.”
He was afraid to stand up to the bullies until he discovered the TV show The Ultimate Fighter. “They were big. They were strong. They were Olympic wrestlers. They were Olympic boxers. At that moment I said ‘This is how I will learn to stick up for myself, to fight back.’”
In high school he joined wrestling team hoping it would build his self esteem and put an end to the bullying. He grew bigger and stronger and won the national wrestling championship. The bullying stopped.
But it didn’t improve his self esteem; instead, he felt worse and was diagnosed with depression. Justin started drinking and smoking marijuana to battle the sadness. “I just always remember fighting depression; fighting sadness and anger all at the same time. (It was) like these two warring emotions of me being angry that I'm sad, and me being sad because I'm angry. And (I’m) just not being fulfilled, like that's all I wanted. Whatever this hole in my heart was, well, it had to be fulfilled.”
After high school, Justin achieved his dream of becoming a professional fighter when he earned a spot with the UFC. His career soared and he quickly became a fan favorite. But Justin never conquered his battle with depression. The drinking got heavier and the drugs got stronger.
“It didn't matter how many people screamed my name or came to watch me fight or ask for my autograph or took my pictures, I felt all alone. I did such a good job at hiding my depression that absolutely nobody knew. From reporters saying ‘He’s the next big thing,’ to my parents being so proud of me; nobody in this world knew how worthless I felt.”
But Justin was losing his ability to hide his addiction. He started skipping training camp. And his extreme drug use caused him to black out for days. One day he woke up from a stupor and checked his voicemail. His best friend had left him a message.
“He said, ‘I can't believe you missed my wedding. I can't believe you missed being my best man.’ And I remember feeling nauseous. I remember just thinking, ‘I am such a screw-up that I love this guy and I hurt him deeply.’"
Then, days later he was kicked off the Ultimate Fighter for skipping practice and suspicion of drug use. When his mom found out, she went to his house and discovered large amounts of drugs and Justin living in filth. “My drug addiction was no longer able to be hidden and the depression was no longer able to be hidden. And I absolutely wanted and absolutely needed and had to have a change.”
His mom called an old friend of Justin’s that she knew had become a pastor. Pastor Jeff invited Justin to a Christian men’s retreat. “Jeff used these few words, ‘Bro, I'm telling you, real people with real problems really need real answers from a very real God.’ And he goes, ‘Bro, I promise you He's real.’”
Jeff convinced Justin to come, and even paid for his flight to Texas. “I was surrounded by men that absolutely loved God, which freaked me out ‘cause I never met people that I felt really did love God. Jeff started speaking my language, ‘Bro, you can't win this fight alone. He's the ultimate fighter. Jesus went on the cross. He died for your sins. But that is not where the story ends. He was buried in the grave and three days later he arose. He defeated it all…for you! And all you have to do is submit. All you have to do is tap out.’ And to me that was crazy because tapping out means giving up. It means surrendering. You're telling me I'm going to win whenever I surrender. When I wave the white flag, when I give up," He's goes, ‘Bro, I promise you this is the one time that whenever you give everything up, when you give your life over, when you say, 'I can't do this without You, God. I have to have a relationship with You, Jesus.' He said, ‘I promise you're going to be given the greatest victory you've ever won.’"
Justin prayed to accept Jesus as his Savior. “I just remember giving my life to Christ praying. Just saying, ‘God, I cannot do this without You. I am jacked up and I can't save myself and I need You.’ And my heart was finally at rest. And I finally had not a happiness that was temporary, but a joy that I knew was there to stay. That worthlessness was taken away and worth and value in Who God is, Who Jesus is, and Who He made me to be was instantly put there. And Jesus set me free spiritually, set me free emotionally and set me free physically from those drugs. It was all God.”
Justin might rejoin the UFC in the future, but for now, he’s is in full time ministry along with his fiance’ Emily. In fact, they put their wedding on hold for a year while Justin leads a mission trip to the Congo. Justin says his life is filled with self worth all because of Jesus Christ.
“I gave my life to Christ. I submitted. I tapped out. And instantly, I promise, I was given the greatest victory I've ever won."
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