So I had an interesting question posed to me by a reader. I am always open about my struggles with alcohol from my past. I have written about it to some extent. When I do, it is often focusing on God saving me from my past in a general sense.
The actual question dealt with a more practical aspect – how it actually happened and what others can learn from my experience. It is the application portion of the message.
Given how many people struggle with alcohol and want to quit, how did I actually stop drinking and how have I remained sober since that time?
My short answer can be applied to just about any sin. It is like many other people’s testimonies about God saving them from sin. God convicted me of my sin through the Holy Spirit’s working on me and through others around me. After years of ignoring that conviction, I finally stopped running from it and accepted God’s truth for what it is, absolute truth. I repented as best as I could for my actions. I turned my heart and face away from the sin and towards God. Then I set out to follow God’s new path for me. This included first trusting in God to lead even when things were hard. It also involved leaving the life and to some extent the people that surrounded me with sin completely behind. My intention was that sin would no longer be my master. To do this, I needed to keep that sin as far from me as possible.
So accept what God says is true, repent and turn away from sin and then follow God.
I come from a long line of alcoholics. I was raised in a house filled with alcoholics who were raised by alcoholic parents. My family history was drowning in alcohol. God does not visit the sins of the father on the children but sometimes family sin is passed down from one generation to the next by the actions of those involved. David sowed the seeds of the destruction of his sons through modeling sinful relationships with women and lust in front of his kids. Kids learn most by watching their parents.
I had to be careful about which glass I used as a kid. My grandfather would use milk glasses to drink his whiskey and then put them back in the cabinet unwashed. Very young me drinking milk mixed with whiskey remnants was a regular occurrence.
I started drinking around the time I hit 12 years of age. This transition occurred after having sips of my dad’s beer at parties and hanging out in bars while my dad got drunk from my earliest days. Playing pinball was fun. Playing pinball as your dad drinks himself silly and then drives you home drunk, not so much.
That age seems absurd to me now. I have two children past 12 now and the damage that alcohol would do to them is so obvious to me. But yearning to do what was bad for you was part of growing up in that type of environment. Alcohol was linked to all things that were viewed as good. If you wanted to have fun, you drank. If you wanted to relate to someone, you drank with them. If you wanted to be an adult, the ultimate sign was to go out and get drunk. My mother provided beer for my friends for my 18th birthday as a rite of passage.
The family stories that were told around the proverbial campfire all involved someone drinking and doing something “funny”. I tell my wife some of these stories now and quickly realize they are really quite sad. My wife braces herself whenever I start a story with “Did I ever tell you about the time I was a kid…”. My drunk grandfather jumping off a cliff with a beach umbrella after betting his friends he could fly down like Mary Poppins is amusing in the abstract. When you realize that he was an adult with two kids and he should have by all accounts died from his drunken stupidity it gets significantly less funny. My mom’s stories about my dad’s drunk driving accidents are particularly less amusing.
I continued drinking from that young age and began to really struggle with alcohol when I was in high school and through college.
It was after college that I really tried to stop drinking for the first time. By the time college ended, I was drinking every day and had barely made it through the last year. Through God’s grace, I had made it into law school and wanted to get myself together to do well there.
Stopping was no fun at all. I remember sitting at home on my couch shaking back and forth watching TV while it felt like my brain was going to explode. I was successful for a short time.
I had not changed at all though so it was only a matter of time until I went back to drinking. A few months in this case.
Alcoholism is a symptom of a problem. The problem is the very messed up person that is drinking not the alcohol itself. If you don’t get the person right, at best you will have the same alcoholic personality that manifests in drunkennes just without the drinking.
It is very similar to the Mosaic Law of the Bible. Violating the Law in sinning is not in itself the problem. It is a painful symptom of the problem. The actual problem is the brokenness of man, his sinful nature and his need for a Savior. Therefore, it is only through Jesus that the actual problem can be addressed. Trying harder to keep the Law will always fail in order to point back to the need for a Savior.
My father stopped drinking for years at one point but never went any deeper. He stopped out of sheer willpower but never tried to change anything. He stayed the same alcoholic that he had always been during that time but he did not drink while doing so. He was a “dry drunk” as they call it. It was no surprise when he relapsed.
I quickly started again with what I felt was moderate drinking. That quickly lead back to cycles of heavy drinking. I hit my thirties with several more attempts to stop followed by descents into heavier drinking each time. By the time I actually stopped, I was drinking on a daily basis in order to get myself to be able to sleep at night. I spent the day looking forward to the night time when I could start drinking. I kept a job, kept up appearances and looked like I was fine but I was being torn down drink by drink in the process.
My wife begged me to stop drinking and stop bring alcohol into the house. I ignored her and kept going. God showed me that I needed to stop drinking. I ignored Him and kept going. Drinking caused all of the problems that you would expect, but I was adept in my own mind at rationalizing and lying to excuse my own conduct. The pain kept piling up for me and my wife, but I continued.
It is a funny thing when you are in the grips of sin. You have the ability to stop the thing that is hurting you at any time yet it is the last thing you want to do. You sacrifice just about anything else on the altar of your sin but the thing that is killing you. It is truly messed up but when you are in the midst of it, it is hard to see past the norm.
Then a number of things happened at the same time. The most important was that I became a Christian. I truly gave my life to Christ in a way that I had never done. I would have said I was a Christian before that time or a Catholic years before but it was always in name only or a limited version of the faith. I would attend church with my wife and would like certain parts of it but would walk out fully intending to go back to the things I was doing. Jesus was a good thing, I knew, but He was just a stained glass picture in some ways and had no power to tell me what to do. I certainly was not going to give up the things I loved for Him. I was sitting on a fence refusing to make a decision.
My life was mine and it would stay that way. I was miserable, I was empty, I was killing myself but no one would make me change – my life is mine to destroy.
It would be silly and ridiculous if it wasn’t true for many today. Sure, life is terrible and I am constantly depressed, but how dare you suggest I do anything different.
Through a series of interesting events, the Lord convicted me of my sins and I surrendered. I had a friend at work witnessing, a cult trying to recruit me and the Lord convicting me and leading me to Him. God was constantly working on me first from the outside and then from the inside after I became a Christian.
The death knell for my alcohol addiction tolled when I gave up running from it. I gave up arguing and rationalizing. My decisions, my sins were causing my pain and I needed to accept my responsibility for my life. I was a terrible sinner whose decision had lead him to a really bad place.
Coming totally clean with God, my wife and myself was the start. I had been justifying, arguing and lying about how I was doing for years. Truly owning up to how lost I was and how much harm I was causing to my family and myself was difficult. Then admitting to me beloved wife that I really had no idea how to stop drinking was even harder. She was not surprised. She had felt the pain and witnessed my failure for years prior.
My wife and I cried it out. For the first time I stopped running away and was willingly exposed – scared me to death but it was freeing.
Previously, I had tried to stop or moderate my drinking. This was part of the lying. Others can possibly have a healthy relationship with alcohol but that would never work for me. I was honest that alcohol completely mastered me. It had a hold on me that I could not break. I had made it my idol, my god and I served it. I stopped pretending it would be ok if I just drank in moderation. The truth was it was killing me drop by drop just as it had my dad, his dad and my extended family. Now it wanted my wife and kids too. I wanted to break that chain.
I honestly acknowledged what I thought was good for me and associated with joy and happiness was actually terrible for me and cause me misery. All the evidence was there, I just had to open my eyes.
As an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA) as well, I also accepted that I was so up to my eyes in dysfunction that it tainted everything. My mind was so drenched in sin that I needed to be born again in all that I did.
I hard restarted my life and went about testing everything I did, thought and felt against the standard of whether this was good and healthy for me…or was simply a product of the taint of alcohol. Did it honor God and follow His Word or was I just accepting a modified version of my parent’s dysfunction and passing it on to my kids.
I joked with my wife that I should be treated like I was raised by wolves. Assume that I don’t know anything like a boy who had been raised in the wilderness by wolves and throw everything out the door. Then we can work through how to make a good version for our family through studying God’s version.
I set out to create a life where drama, dysfunction and alcohol were not at its center – Jesus owns that position by right. Putting anything or anyone there is sinful. If anything got in the way of the new life in Christ, it had to go.
It may sound harsh, but growing up as an ACOA and then as an alcoholic myself, everything was centered around alcohol. I even chose friends who were broken just like I was. It is just what we do. So if I had an emotion I would check and see – is this because of dysfunction or do I really feel this way.
My wife would have to wait for a response from me sometimes while I wrestled with my mind – old alcoholic self responding one way while new creation in Christ me tried to say stop that is silly.
And I weeded everything out that was bad for me. No bars, no sporting events for a few years, no hanging with drinking buddies, just got rid of everything that would cause me to stumble. Jesus talked about bringing a sword to separate His people from the rest of the world. I took that to heart and I leaned into the things of God. We still loved and cared about people, but surrounded oursleves with those who were dedicated to the Lord.
In the beginning, I was desperately weak and I needed all the protection that I could get. Going to a Jesus loving church where people sought Jesus above all provided that protection. Choosing to separate from the things of the past helped as well. I still don’t hang around alcohol and my friends know my history and respect it. I could go to a bar now and be fine but really, why play with fire? There is nothing for me there.
If you notice, the Israelites get in trouble when they come out of Egypt because they still crave the things of Egypt. That life was literally enslaving them but when things get tough they seek it out. I made sure that the alcohol related fall back activities and friends were no longer available to me.
Then I made sure that I had accountability. My wife is my first line of defense but others around me as well. I am open about my past partly so everyone knows it is a huge problem if they ever see me with a drink of alcohol. I testify that Jesus saved me from alcohol, it would be shocking to see me with a drink in my hands.
I also did lots of counseling before that time, had been involved with recovery groups and read everything on recovery I could get as well. God did not waste my previous efforts at self-help either. When I was ready to repent and turn to Him, I was armed with all of the information that I had learned over the years and was ready to go.
So my rebuilt life has no alcohol anywhere in it to tempt me and only people in it who love me too much to ever want me to go back. My friends are those people who seek to honor God in all that they do – not perfectly but deliberately.
It took a while to get used to and to build up what I had spent years destroying, but each day it got better. Each day I made the choice that I would not choose what was killing me and would follow the One who gave me new life. Every hour doing that made the time enslaved to alcohol seem like a lifetime ago.
I also know that God saved me when I was totally unable to do so. I am grateful for every day since the moment I got on my knees with my wife and begged God to forgive me. I have resolved that the chain of alcoholism in my family ends with me.
Jesus broke my chains and I will never turn around put the same shackles on my kids. The new heart Jesus gave me is disgusted with the thought and prevents me from turning around.
So God was my salvation when I could do nothing to save myself. He gave me the conviction to see what I was doing was wrong. He made me see how my choices were hurting myself and my family. Then He gave me the courage to follow Him and choose differently…one day at a time. Then He gave me an abundant life in Jesus that makes turning back seem like madness.
Are you in chains of any kind today?
Are you bound in a prison of your own making through sin?
Are you dead in your sin and trespasses?
Are you choosing alcohol, drugs, pornography or other sinful materials as the god of your life and suffering under their rule?
If so, no matter how bad it is or how far you have gone, it is not too late. No one is out of the reach of Jesus. He can pull you off of the empty, dark and painful road you are on and lead you into new abundant awesome life. He can set you free.
But it starts with a choice – real life or real death.
The bad news to those trapped in sin is often that you have done this to yourself. This is where your choices lead.
The good news is that changing it is also within your control by making a different choice.
I pray you make it today – His name is Jesus.