I grew up about an hour north of New York City. I went to Catholic Church and completed my first Communion and Confirmation when I was 12. My mom let me decide to quit going to church right after “confirmation” and I did. The next 4 years were filled with increasing bouts of self destruction.
I started to be a party animal in 9th grade when I was still living in NY. Going to parties with upperclassmen, thinking I was cool, drinking a lot. I tried pot, but it didn’t work.
My mom moved us to Florida right before 10th grade. After football finished that fall, the craziness really took off.
Two guys who were two years ahead of me turned me onto some really good pot, it worked and I was hooked. Bad thing was that pot made me paranoid and lethargic. So I quit doing sports, started making my own money and partying whenever possible. Always trying to fill the big hole of emptiness in my soul…which never worked.
Just before my junior year started I crashed my car that I had bought. I passed out after partying late one night after work and crashed into a telephone pole at the end of Thacker Ave (before they opened it up) at Donegan Ave in Kissimmee FL. I’m lucky to have survived that, I seem to remember a light flash (was it an angel or the street lights there on the corner?) and standing on the brakes before wrecking. (Thank God!)
So I was without wheels and had to bike my way to work. I kept giving my mom crap about borrowing money to buy another car but she wouldn’t do it. So I decided to quit my job and then a couple days later, quit school. I was about 3 weeks into my junior year.
After a couple weeks of that, my mom got sick of it. She said, OK so you want some money for a car, right? I’ll give it to you. I’ll give you all your college money on one condition…you leave home. I was shocked and angry. I asked her to let me think about it over the weekend. She said OK.
By Sunday I was so mad, I said OK. So she gave me the money she had saved up for me for college – $5000. And I left. I started living in a cheap motel on the corner of 17-92 and Vine St, also in Kissimmee. I bought a Firebird for $3000 and 3 days later it threw a rod in the engine. So I found a guy who I could trade it to for that van, even trade. I started living in this van…down by the river believe it or not.
I was burning old tires from the tire store for heat (it was October 1982). I ended up spending all $5000 in about 2 weeks. I spent it on drinking, pot, mag wheels, and a car stereo. My mom had said I could come back if I was ever out of $$$. So when I had $80 left I went back and asked if I could come back. She said I could, on one condition….that I obey her in everything she said. I said OK (but didn’t mean it). And I moved back home.
While I was out on my own I was hanging out with a friend whose parent’s went to Church. They invited me and I heard the gospel for the first time. That Jesus died for my sins and rose again. I had always had trouble believing that anyone could come back from the dead.
Also while I was out on my own, my mom had sought counsel from an upstairs neighbor who was going to Bible College (Florida Bible College when it was in Kissimmee). He had given her a Bible. Somehow I got that Bible and started reading it in my van at night. I started at the beginning and kept going.
After I got back home, I was reading the Bible on my bed that first Saturday afternoon. I was into Leviticus and was starting to get really bored. So I thumbed though the Bible and a tract fell out. It was titled “Are you going to heaven?” It had the plan of salvation in it. I read though it and prayed the “sinner’s prayer” at the end.
I was afraid I didn’t mean it sincerely enough, so I started praying the prayer again, trying to pray it as earnestly as I possibly could. About 1/2 way through I decided I couldn’t mean it any more than I did the first time. I believe that’s when I was saved. I looked up from my prayer and my brother Scott was looking at me from across the room (we shared a bedroom). I smiled coyly and looked back down at the Bible.
God’s Hand Experience Number 1
That next month is when my life started turning around. It wasn’t automatic. 2 clear incidents let me know that God was in my life. The first time was when the Sheraton Twin Towers had its grand opening in Orlando. They were having free drinks. About 6 “friends” and I jumped into my van and headed up there.
We had fun. I got a good buzz on, but not real drunk. When we left we decided to take I-4 back. I took this road that I thought would lead to an on ramp. But it turned into a dirt road and then a sandy road. I tried to turn around and got stuck in the sand.
My “friends” and I tried to dig me out. After several minutes they told me we should hop the fence and hitchhike home on I-4. I said I can’t do that, I don’t know where this is to come back to get my van. So all of them left except for 1. He tried to help me dig out for maybe another 10-15 minutes. But we couldn’t get it.
So he jumped the fence and hitchhiked home. I decided to walk back out to the main road and flag somebody down to help me. When I got back out to the pavement, there weren’t any vehicles going by. The first vehicle I saw was a big truck coming toward where I was. I flagged him down. He stopped. I asked him if he had a chain. He said he did. I said, “there’s a six-pack at the end of this if you can pull me out.”
He said “no I don’t drink, I’m a Christian.” I said, OK well how about 10 bucks then if you can pull me out. He said, no that’s OK, hop in I’ll pull you out for nothing. And that’s just what he did. It took all of about 10 minutes for him to pull me out. A miracle. And he did it for free and I never saw him again. All my “friends” had left me, but this stranger helped me out for nothin! And he was a believer (or was he an angel posing as a believer?).
You know what I did to celebrate? I went to the 7-11 and bought myself some beer and drank. lol (not funny really though). Guess I had some more to learn.
God’s Hand Experience Number 2
The second incident happened after I got a job at Wendy’s. I was partying with some co-workers after work one night. It was right by the Church of Christ and they had these crosses in the front yard. I was sitting in the front seat, facing my friends sitting inside the van. I kept looking over my shoulder at the crosses at the Church next door and having a profound sense of God’s presence and that I couldn’t be doing this anymore.
I quit dope and drinking that night and started going to Church a lot, and reading my Bible a lot and trying to do the right thing. Over the next 7 or so years, the only drink I had was a single Piña Colada one night.
Missions, Education, Marriage and Ministry
Because I had enough credits built up, I was able to go back to school the second semester of my junior year and stay in the same grade. I was able to graduate with my class in 1984. Then I went to Florida Bible College in the fall of 1984 and graduated with a BA in May 1988.
I started drinking again when I went to grad school in Texas in 1988. It was usually pretty light. I did have some heavier drinking in the summer of 1990, my first summer not going home to Florida. I got in an accident one night too, mostly because of the slick roads because of the torrential rain, but alcohol was a factor no doubt.
I met my ex-wife Lynne in the fall of 1990. We were married in Feb 1992 and started our missionary assignment the next year.
My drinking through the 90s seemed very controlled, but usually tied to looser morals in some way. We came back from the mission field at the end of 1995 for counseling. I stopped drinking because the doctor put me on Prozac and I felt like crap when I drank. I stopped taking Prozac after a couple years. But I didn’t start drinking again until 1999. It was pretty light though. So I had about 3.5 years of alcohol sobriety then.
Lynne and I separated in December 2000. I started drinking like crazy after that. It wasn’t hard for me to sit down and watch a game and drink an 18 pack in a couple hours. I started feeling bad about it, so I put myself into treatment the summer of 2001 for about a month.
They told me to go to AA, to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. I started into that when I started the treatment. I went to 45 meetings in 43 days and I figured I had a couple days to work with. I took a day off, but it turned into just over 4 years off.
4 More Empty Years
Those 4 years were filled with increasingly larger bouts with the “four horseman” mentioned in the AA Big Book (p. 151) – terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair.
- I tried dating and crossed line after line of moral boundaries that I had set for myself in my Christian walk. Failed relationships were always followed by feelings of deep emptiness and loneliness.
- When I would leave my kids back home with their mom, I would bring up things in my mind on the way home that I had said to them during my visit with the boys, or things I should have said and felt deep feelings of failure about how bad at being a dad I had been.
- One night it was really cold out – about 20 below zero. I was busy drinking myself to sleep, which somehow had become a daily routine (not sure when…it was after the separation though). My dog wanted to go out so I let her out the front door. I wanted her to go out and come back quick but she caught a scent of something. Austin’s bed was near the front door, so I thought I’d lay down there a second. I passed out. A couple hours later I woke up and the door was wide open, I was FREEZING cold, the heat was blaring. I got up, locked the door and ran by the dog curled up on the couch and JUMPED in bed under the covers trying to warm up.
- Along the same lines, it was really cold out one night. It was about 10 below. I let the dog out and forgot I had let her out. I drank myself to sleep. When I woke up for work the next morning, I got ready as usual. I headed out the door to get in my truck. When I opened the door, my dog was sitting on the mat, looking up at me, wagging her tail with icicles dripping from her nose. The shame and anger at myself for doing that to her was deep. But it is definitely a picture of what was to come when I finally decided to go to AA again.
- I didn’t go to Church much during those 4 years. My rationale was that I was hurt by getting terminated by our mission in 1998, and I was hurt by the church we were going to when Lynne and I were separated – because they sided with her and supported her in divorcing me. I stewed in resentment round and round about those two things. I made myself sicker and sicker emotionally. I also stewed in fear and resentment about my boys’ illness – muscular dystrophy. We had found out about that in 1997.
- I remember going into liquor stores several times a week, wondering what I should drink tonight to get me to where I needed to feel. It became tougher and tougher to figure out what I wanted to drink. Do I want beer tonight? No. Do I want wine tonight? No. Do I want gin tonight? No. Do I want vodka tonight? No. Do I want kahlua tonight? No. So sometimes I’d just pick something just because I felt like I had to, but didn’t really want to.
After a failed relationship in January 2005, I started going back to church again. I started feeling some relief from my self-destructive, addictive personality again as I sought God for answers.
I finally followed somebody’s advice to go to AA again on 9/17/05. He told me to do a “90 in 90” (90 meetings in 90 days). He said that even if I didn’t think I was an alcoholic (and he said he thought I was), he thought I should go – even if it was just to open meetings. So I started going. I ended up going to more than 150 meetings in my first 150 days back in. I’m thinking I went to about 200 meetings that first 5 months.
The first night I went there was a woman a little younger than me who told her story. She said she was sober in AA for about 10 years, lost perspective, left AA and stayed sober for another 7 years. Then she started drinking again and later went to counseling for her failing marriage. The counselor asked her, “OK so you are an alcoholic, right? Then why are you drinking?” This was followed by a long pause. She didn’t have a good answer to that. So she came back to AA and got sober again.
I could relate to that because since high school I had often thought of myself as being an alcoholic, but not that bad of an alcoholic. Each time I went back to it however, it kept getting worse and worse. So what that counselor said has often rung through my head. If I’m an alcoholic, why am I drinking?
So that night (9/17/05) I went home and drank what was left in my house. There wasn’t much there, only enough to cop a small buzz. The next day is my current sobriety date.
I love AA now. The fellowship and good friends I have made there have been very fulfilling. There is something about a room full of people being honest about their struggles that is so inspiring and encouraging. It helps me get out of myself and experience some relief from the stress of my life by listening to somebody else talk about their’s. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I used to think AA was only for losers and I could never get that bad. Now I see that the ones who stick with AA are winners. There’s something about the humility that it takes to keep coming back one day at a time and stay sober through rubbing shoulders with other alcoholics that is so powerful, refreshing and exciting.
I can now say that I am grateful to be an alcoholic. I thought that was absurd when I first heard someone say that. But now I get it. Because I am an alcoholic I get to experience God and other people in ways that I only dreamed of before. I experience what Jesus promised in John 10:10 more and more – “I came that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” I have never felt closer to God and others in all my life. I have never felt more sure and secure with who I am. I have never been so happy to be in my own skin.
I was watching a movie one night several years ago (2009). There was an underage girl who was trying to seduce a guy. The guy denied her. She asked him “How does it feel to be so sure of yourself?” He said sheepishly, “Good.” And then she said, “Thanks for saying no.”
That’s what I’m starting to feel in my life. One day at a time.