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The Agony & The Ecstasy of Mike Massey

Story by Mike Geffner

Says Massey, who has recovered from depression and drug abuse: "I feed off bringing joy to people - and to do it with a pure heart."

Mike Massey was dead once. Or at least he thought he was dead. Or maybe he wished he were dead, considering the horrific things he imagined.

This was before Massey's dramatic religious awakening, when he was just in his early 20s, going through the darkest days of his life, when he'd already turned into everything he loathed: a self-absorbed, ego-driven alcoholic, drug abuser, chain smoker, womanizer, compulsive gambler, card cheat and pool hustler.

During those lost "dead" years, Massey often wandered the streets "like a zombie," he says, at all hours of the day and night, mumbling crazy things while hallucinating in psychedelic colors and hearing voices screaming in his head. He felt numb, disconnected from reality, and utterly unable to experience the most common of emotions. There was no joy in him, no love, no heartfelt feelings, only alternating states of paranoia and guilt and emptiness. "There was a time when the entire sins of my life hit me all at once, from killing birds with my BB gun as a kid to the bad things I did hustling on the road," he says. "I reached the point where I was afraid to step on an ant for fear of taking the life of another living creature and committing another sin. At my worse, I was in constant agony, feeling all knotted up all dried up inside. In fact, from the time I was 3 until I was 23, I don't remember laughing."

The streets Massey roamed so aimlessly appeared eerily dark and otherworldly, "as if I were on another plane," he says, with people's faces so distorted they didn't appear human but "like monsters or weird-looking animals." He thought at the time that he must've died and gone to Hell. He believes now that he was gripped by demons. In fact, to free himself at one point, he even underwent an exorcism. He's convinced that this long "bad trip" was induced by both gulping down a strong dose of LSD (which someone had secretly slipped into his drink, he'd find out a year after it happened) and dipping too obsessively, and for too long, into the occult.

He ultimately landed first in jail, then in a psychiatric ward of a hospital, where he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. And years later, during and after a bad first marriage, he sunk into a depression so deep he sometimes disappeared for days at a time, sleeping curled up in the woods.

But at some point along the way came an epiphany. Kneeling at a church altar in his hometown of Loudon, Tenn., pleading with God to help him, praying for a release from all the pain finally, he was suddenly struck by a young woman kneeling - and swaying - next to him. He didn't know the woman, didn't recognize her face, but she was crying out so hysterically, with such anguish, he couldn't help but stare at her. Glued to her every desperate word, he felt flushed with something foreign to him, warm emotions, filling him up like nothing else ever had before. He felt a strange kinship with this perfect stranger. "She was opening up in a way I never could," he recalls. "I felt tremendous compassion for her, for no other reason than she was a fellow human being. And right then and there it dawned on me: That's what life, what Christianity, is all about. I needed to come out of my selfishness, forget about praying only for myself, and care about others."

Over many years, which included a couple of "backslides," the old Mike Massey slowly faded away and a new Mike Massey emerged born again. Bolstered by his strong Christian faith ("believing in my heart that God could heal me and that Jesus died for my sins"), coupled with finding a lasting love, his second wife Francine, to whom he's been married nearly two decades, Massey miraculously transformed from a down-and-dirty pool hustler who "made people mad and miserable" into a clean-and-sober, Christian-living, globetrotting trick-shot artist beloved and recognized around the world, reveling only in "bringing smiles to people's faces."

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Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world's best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love - pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.

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