This is the first of several posts.
I’ve gone back and forth in my head as to whether or not to write this post. Honestly, the most convincing argument I have had against doing it has been shame. But I’m going ahead with it. Why? I know for sure that some of you who are reading this post struggle with some sort of addiction–alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, cocaine, pot, sex, gambling, and on and on the list goes. And for those of you who don’t have any personal history with addiction, you definitely know someone (whether you are aware of it or not) who does. Addiction touches all demographics. the poor and the rich, the old and the young, white people and minorities, religious people and atheists, the employed and the unemployed, the homeless guy downtown and the lady sitting next to you in church. One of the most compelling arguments I have for writing this post is that, although addiction is everywhere, it seems like no one is talking about it. And when it does come up, it’s usually discussed in the third person. No one is talking about it in the first person. So instead of telling you about patients I have treated while locked away on a detox unit somewhere, I’m going to tell you about me. Yes, me. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. There. I said it–out loud. The cat is out of the bag. I am an alcoholic and drug addict.
There was never any alcohol in my home growing up. My parents had done some drinking in their earlier years, but by the time I came along, they had stopped drinking completely. I was taught drinking alcohol was a sin, even if all you did was take a sip of it. So I never even considered drinking as a kid. After I left home, I went to a university that had strict policies about drinking, and drinking any alcohol at all would get you expelled. When I graduated I became the pastor of a church who also had a no tolerance policy on alcohol. Drinking never occurred to me as even an option.
Then, I was out of town for a few days for a class I was taking (while pastoring), and I was spending the evenings alone. For some reason, I just got so incredibly curious about what a beer might taste like on one of those evenings. So after much deliberation and arguing with myself, I decided to go to a convenience store to buy one beer to take back to my room. When I cracked open the can, I had a few sips and decided it wasn’t a big deal. I hadn’t been missing anything. But what did happen that night was this. I learned to associate drinking with hiding and concealing. Hiding and concealing weren’t new to me, though. My whole life up to that point I learned not to let people truly know what I was thinking or feeling. It wasn’t safe. Having that one sip of beer exponentially increased my paranoia of being found out to be a fraud and being rejected and abandoned by my family and faith community. Unto this day, I don’t think I’ve actually told a soul about the beer I drank that night.
Well, I left the church I was pastoring because what I allowed people to see and the real me came into sharp contrast. The fear of being found out to be a fraud became all-consuming. I can’t possibly describe the intensity of the fear. I confessed to the church that I didn’t know the Jesus I had been preaching about and that I needed counseling desperately. So I moved my wife and newborn daughter back to the Greenville, South Carolina area where we had first met at Bob Jones University. We had no jobs and no place to stay. After getting through those first months we recovered financially and were now expecting our second child. I was still terrified and the anxiety was anguishing. I was desperately looking for a way to assuage my fears, since living that way was completely unsustainable. The “Biblical counseling” I sought out was completely unhelpful, and I stopped seeking out counsel because nothing seemed to help. It was a waste of time. I was also really angry… at everyone and everything. I had frequent episodes of unadulterated rage. I would scream and yell and break things and slam doors. All the while I tried to keep up appearances despite the fact that inside I was dying.
So, speaking of trying to find relief, I decided to try alcohol again. I wanted an escape, and I had heard people talk about how good they felt after a few drinks. Once again, I proceeded secretly to buy and drink alcohol. Except this time I wasn’t just curious–I was a man on a mission. I was running hard after something to self-medicate my anxiety and fear. This time I bought the strongest bourbon I could find and began drinking heavily immediately. It worked. It provided some relief. I managed to keep the amount of my drinking a secret, although my wife knew I drank some. After she would go to bed, I would drink until nearly unconscious. That was the beginning of 3 years roughly of hard drinking. I was working at a bank, and I kept a Jack and Coke on my desk all the time. I would go to a convenience store early before work and get a 32 oz. cup filled almost full of Coke and then would add the Jack in from my stash I kept in the trunk of my car. On the drive home I would pull into our community and park the car about 1/2 mile from our house so I could drink enough Jack before I got to our driveway to have a buzz on before walking in the door of our house. Seeking out, purchasing, planning to drink, and drinking alcohol monopolized my time, and I was spending a lot of money on alcohol. Emotionally, I was completely unavailable to my wife and kids. I did the bare minimum.. just enough to get me through until I could drink again. During those few years, my wife and I came close to divorcing many times. It was during these 3 years that her father died, and she really needed me. However, I was too busy trying to escape the world to be of any real help or support.
Finally in 2002, my associate pastor told me I needed to get help…. real help this time. He arranged for me to meet with a therapist (Larry Wagner), and almost immediately after meeting him, things started to change. I was exhausted from the drinking and hiding and the anxiety. I was desperate for help, and I knew I wouldn’t find it in the bottom of a bottle. It was that desperation that God used to wake me up and cause me to be willing to make much needed changes… transformational changes. In a few months I was a completely new person. People would comment on how different I was. They couldn’t believe I was the same guy. The changes came after I couldn’t hide anymore. I went to the therapist and was actually honest about all the shameful things I had done… all the inner brokenness that I was previously afraid to let people see. I experienced God’s love for the first time. I was euphoric. I realized I didn’t have to keep up appearances… I could be the real me and still be love by God. I stayed sober for about 3 years after first meeting with Larry.
It was after meeting Larry that I also managed to deal with my addiction to pornography, a problem in my life since I was 15 or so. That was a major source of shame in my life. My family and faith community growing up had no place for sexuality. I remember one time, the word “sex” was said on TV and my parents immediately turned the program off. My dad had the “talk” with me, but that talk came years after I had discovered pornography. I think the pornography served the same purpose as the alcohol. It was an escape… even if that escape was brief. I had no other outlet for what was going on inside of me.
This is the first of several posts on my story through alcoholism and drug addiction. More coming soon. Right now, I need to take a break and come up for air. Telling this part of my story is both freeing and exhausting.