I am Set Free from the Weight of Sin
I am open about my struggles with alcohol. I have written about it quite a bit with the goal of helping others caught in the same struggles. I usually talk about Jesus miraculous healing me of my brokenness. I went to my knees in prayer an alcoholic, drinking every day, incapable of even contemplating stopping. I arose a few minutes set free and haven’t drank since. Jesus saving me is always on my mind and I want to give Him all the glory.
I received a really good question, though, about this time. It dealt with a more practical aspect. How did I get to that point after decades of struggling with alcohol? How have I stayed sober? How can others learn from my experience. It is the application portion of the Sunday message.
Repent and Be Healed
My short answer can be applied to just about any sin. It is like many other people’s testimonies. God convicted me of my sin. The Holy Spirit worked on me showing me how lost I was. God allowed me to experience the pain of my own decisions and their consequences. He also brought messengers of hope around me.
After years of ignoring the conviction, I finally stopped running from it. I 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 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. My family is filled with alcoholics who were raised by alcoholic parents. My genealogy is drowning in alcohol. God does not visit the sins of the father on the children. So I could have grown up without being an alcoholic. It was not punishment from God. The problem is the sins involved tend to be passed down by the actions of those involved. David sowed the seeds of the destruction of his sons, or example. His problems with relationships with women and lust were sown in his kids and blossomed in Solomon and his many hundred wives. Kids learn most by watching their parents and grandparents.
I had to be careful about which glass I used as a kid. My grandfather would use milk glasses to drink whiskey. He would then put them back in the cabinet unwashed. I still remember 5 year old me drinking milk mixed with whiskey remnants. This is crazy, I know, but I did not know anything different. I started having sips of my dad’s beer at parties as a toddler. My bonding time with my absent dad from the earliest days was hanging out in bars. He would get drunk while I played pinball until my coins ran out or we got thrown out.
Alcohol was linked to all things that were held up as as good growing up in my family. 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. 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 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 through willpower alone was no fun at all. I remember sitting on my couch shaking back and forth from withdrawal. I was 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. It was only a matter of time until I went back to drinking. A few months in this case.
The Root of the Problem
Alcoholism is not actually the root of the problem with an alcoholic. It is a symptom of an entire life in ruins. The problem is the very messed up person who looks to drinking as the answer. So you can stop drinking by force of will like I did but that just deals with a manifestation. You have to get down to the brokenness in the person that led them to seek affirmation, love, support, relief from anxiety, and all the other things you need in life from a bottle. You then have to deal with the personality that does not readily learn the lesson that drinking more poison does not get you better – it just hurts more.
If you don’t get the person right, at best you will have the same alcoholic personality just without the drinking.
It is similar to the Mosaic Law of the Bible. Sinning is not in itself the problem. It is a painful symptom. The actual issue is the nature 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 – he just did not drink while doing so. He was a “dry drunk” as they call it. It was no surprise when he relapsed. I did too.
Back at the Bottle
I quickly started again with what I felt was moderate drinking. That quickly led back to heavy drinking. Alcoholics rarely can moderate drinking. It s usually given as a justification to allow themselves to get back to their idol – booze. I hit my thirties with several more attempts to stop. They were followed by descents into heavier drinking each time. By the time I actually stopped, I was drinking on a daily basis. I could not sleep at night, otherwise. I spent each day looking forward to my first drink. I kept a job, kept up appearances and looked like I was fine but I was being torn apart by my own choices. 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 kept going. The pain kept piling up for me, my wife, and my family, but I still could not even consider not drinking. A break for a short time to get my life together was my greatest ambition.
It is a funny thing when you are in the grips of a sin stronghold. You have the ability to stop. Your decisions are the very thing that is hurting you. Yet, it is the last thing you want to do. You sacrifice just about anything else on that altar, but the thing that is hurting you. It is so hard to see when you are being consumed by it, though.
God’s Plan at Work
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 said I was a Christian before that time or a Catholic years before, but it was always in name only. I kept God at arms length because I knew He would have me stop drinking. I attended church with my wife. Yet, I walked out of service each week fully intending to go back to the things I was doing. Jesus was a good thing, I knew. I was not about to submit to Him. He had no power to tell me what to do. I certainly was not going to give up the thing that was destroying me for Him. 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!
My reasoning would be silly and ridiculous if it wasn’t so sad. It is the same thinking that has so many stuck today. Life is terrible and I am constantly depressed, but how dare anyone 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 witness to me. A cult also tried to recruit me but made the mistake of using the Bible to do it. My wife had taken off in her faith while I was completely miserable. The Lord used all this to convict me of my rebellion. He showed me all of my sin and the hurt it caused. he then showed me He still loved me and led me to Him. God constantly worked 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. I accepted that it was my fault. They were my decisions and my sins were causing my pain, no matter how bad my family was growing up. I needed to accept my responsibility for my life. I was a terrible sinner in a really bad place.
I was exactly the person Jesus died to redeem. He did not come for the healthy but for the sick.
I came totally clean with God, my wife and myself as a start. This was a new one and was scary as heck. I had been lying about how I was doing for years. Truly owning up to how bad of shape I was in was difficult. It was also necessary. This included admitting to my beloved wife that I had no idea how to stop. I thought she would hate me for what I thought was a shameful secret. She already knew this truth for a long time. It was far from shocking. My years of failing to stop drinking when we both knew there was a problem made it obvious. She loved me anyway.
My wife and I cried it out to the Lord. This was a first for me. I stopped running away from truth and bargaining with God. I just admitted what He also knew was true. I am powerless over this sin. I was exposed and it was not the guilt, shame, and death I expected. It was life! I was free.
I had to be 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 thought was good for me. I associated drinking with joy and happiness. These were lies. It was actually terrible for me and cause me misery. All the evidence was there, I just had to open my eyes. 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.
Raised to New Life in Christ
My life required a complete and total restart. In order for me to be different, I had to start again. Praise Jesus this is where life in Christ begins. He made me a new creation in Christ and I started as if I was just born for the first time. The old life was gone. It was up to me in Christ to decide what the new one would look like.
I essentially factory reset my life, my emotion, my habits, and my expectations. What does this mean? I accepted nothing that I thought, yearned for, or felt as true. They were real enough feelings but they were so covered with the triggers and dysfunctional thinking of the past, I refused to be ruled by them. I then 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 any of the normal relationship and life things you normally learn from parents. I was like a boy who had been raised in the wilderness by wolves. We can then 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. My old alcoholic feelings wanted to respond one way while new creation in Christ me tried to step in. I learned to listen to the new creation and the Holy Spirit rather than cave under the weight of dysfunction.
I also weeded everything out that was bad for me or were potential triggers: No bars, no sporting events for a few years, no hanging with drinking buddies, no compromising with old me. I 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 ourselves with those who were dedicated to the Lord. In the beginning, I was like a baby. 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 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. The Israelites got in trouble when they come out of Egypt because they still craved the things of Egypt. That life was literally enslaving them but when things get tough they craved it. I made sure that there was no going back.
I also 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 anyone ever sees me with a drink of alcohol they know it is huge problem. I also read everything on recovery I could get as well. My rebuilt life has no alcohol anywhere in it. It is centered on Christ. I have only people close to me that would never ever agree to me drinking. I am so much different now. But I know I am still a sinner.
It took a while to get used. Time was needed to build up what I had spent years destroying…but it got better every 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 I do that makes the time enslaved to alcohol seem like a lifetime ago. I 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.
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.
It took Jesus dying for me to get me away from alcohol, why would I go back to prison?
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 faith 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.