The following post was written by a member of Floris UMC’s Celebrate Recovery group and is a testimony of his recovery. For more information on this program, visit FlorisUMC.org/celebraterecovery.
I was born and raised in Northern Virginia. I grew up in a middle class family with my mom, dad and two younger brothers. My dad was an angry, violent alcoholic, and my mom was a classic codependent. As a child, I endured years of physical and emotional abuse by my father. His form of discipline was severe beatings with a belt that lasted 10-15 minutes, usually for typical childhood offenses. He would demand that I quit crying before he stopped the beating. For the next 15 years, I didn’t shed a single tear. I remember looking in the mirror after one of these beatings. From my back down to my knees was solid purple. I remember feeling hated by him and thinking maybe I was adopted, because who would do that to his own son?
I remember as a young teenager confiding in my mother about how much I hated him. She revealed this conversation to him in an attempt to get him to soften his approach to me. That night, after getting drunk, he came into my bedroom with a loaded pistol. He demanded that I just shoot him if I hated him so much. I didn’t, but he placed the gun in my drawer if I ever changed my mind. Later, I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of these childhood experiences.
As I grew physically larger, the physical abuse stopped. But my childhood taught me to suppress emotions and created a lot of anger. At the age of 14, I discovered alcohol. Throughout high school, I experimented with just about every drug available. I lasted three months in college but was asked to leave due to several incidents involving alcohol. A few months later, when I was 18, my father was killed while driving drunk. I never shed a tear, but my mom still loved him and was devastated. Around this time, I met a sweet girl who, five years later, would become my wife. I was getting drunk several times a week, and she didn’t seem to mind. I would go on to get three DUIs before age 21.
By age 24, I was married, my wife was pregnant with our first child and I was a daily blackout drinker. I became deeply concerned at the thought of my new family having to endure the chaos I had experienced as a child, so I decided to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I remained sober for 12 years and used that time to focus on not drinking and being successful. However, I didn’t change as a person. I was selfish, angry and emotionally unavailable for my wife and children. I was dismissive of her opinions and very impatient with her. I didn’t know how to treat my wife and believed I was just keeping my family in order. The marriage suffered, and we became disconnected.
I had a general concept of God, but I didn’t know Christ. Something needed to change, so I turned to a local church. I quickly became a born-again Christian and began a new life! I was excited and became involved in several ministries. My marriage improved and things were “good” again. At this point, I was sober for many years and thought I didn’t need AA meetings. After a year or so, things began to crumble.
I became disillusioned with the church I was attending after witnessing the hypocrisy among its leadership. This greatly affected my faith in a negative way. After 12 years of sobriety, I made the decision to drink again. I saw this as my only way to cope with the fear I felt. I cried for hours as I drank that first night, knowing the pain and suffering that would lie ahead for me and my family. Within a year, I was once again a daily blackout drinker. I didn’t remember any of the conversations I had during the few hours I was awake. This continued 365 days a year for the next nine years. I never woke up with a hangover, but my hands would shake uncontrollably throughout the day. I added another DUI to my resume, was medicated for high blood pressure and cholesterol and was diagnosed with an alcoholic fatty liver. However, the worst damage was what was done to my relationships.
I was emotionally and verbally abusive toward my wife. Let me describe my behavior: angry, degrading, loud, demanding, controlling, name-calling, vulgar, impatient, belittling, dismissive, intimidating, shaming and unsupportive. I also acted inappropriately with other women in my wife’s presence. I embarrassed my family on multiple occasions. I had been emotionally and physically unavailable for many years due to alcohol. At this point in my drinking career, I had given up on any ideas of stopping. I had no idea that God had another plan for me.
On February 22, 2014, my 38-year-old brother died of a heart attack. As with the other deaths in my family, this too was drug-related. I was very close to him, and he loved me despite my many shortcomings. Once again, I was reminded of my own mortality. I also felt a deep sense of regret for the suffering I was causing those around me. Even through the deep dark cloud of alcoholism, God gave me hope that through him I could get sober.
Soon enough, I met with my doctor to discuss treatment options. After describing to him the amount of alcohol I was drinking, he said that I needed to be hospitalized, but he gave me strict instructions to neither quit nor reduce the amount of alcohol I was drinking while I waited for a room to become available. I was consuming one keg of beer and a half-gallon of whiskey on a weekly basis. He explained that my body had become physically dependent on alcohol and that I would have to be medically detoxed in a hospital. In my circumstance, to stop drinking at home would be fatal.
On June 2, 2014, I drove to Arlington Hospital and spent four days there taking medication and coming out of a nine-year fog. I was released from the hospital and checked into a hotel to begin a four-week, prearranged separation from my wife. This was to be a temporary period for her to get a much needed “break” from me. During this time, I began attending Celebrate Recovery (CR) meetings five nights a week. After six weeks at the hotel, my wife of 23 years informed me that our marriage was over and had been for years. She was not interested in counseling and wanted a divorce. I was devastated by this news and was very close to drinking again. I still loved her very much despite the years of mistreatment. Thankfully, she allowed me to return to our house to continue the separation from the basement.
Over the next year, my relationship with Christ was renewed. He taught me that my sobriety was not contingent on the success of my marriage. I continued with CR meetings and began attending a men’s step group. In the step group, I learned a lot about myself and the reasons for some of my behaviors. I’m amazed at how God has worked on this mess of a person. I still have all my character defects but to a much lesser degree. All I have done is show up, and God has done all the heavy lifting to help me. I never did all of the steps perfectly, and some are incomplete to this day. Yet, God has still been faithful!
I rarely have a desire to drink alcohol and have not had a drop in 15 months. With a clear mind, I have been able to double the size of my company over the past year. God has been healing my body as well. My cholesterol and liver function have returned to normal levels, and my blood pressure has vastly improved. It’s still a mystery to me, but somehow, my wife decided to end the separation and try once again to save our marriage. The relationships with my wife and children are improving, but the damage that occurred over decades will not be restored quickly. I have a lot of confidence that the Lord will continue his healing in our family, but I’m not sure these relationships will ever be what they could have been.
Sin has consequences. My three children will have to live with the psychological, emotional and spiritual effects of having been raised by an alcoholic father. I praise God that my wife no longer has to endure emotional or verbal abuse, but the effects have been severe and are long-lasting. They do not disappear simply because the abuse has stopped.
I have deep regrets over my sinful past but have accepted God’s forgiveness. I do not walk in shame because to do so would diminish Christ’s work on the cross. Instead, I want to glorify God with my life. I’m particularly careful to guard my eyes, ears and heart because temptation is always near. I never want to quench the Holy Spirit, which is my strength and is critical for my growth as a believer.
At this point I attend several CR meetings a week and am grateful for the support of my brothers and sisters there. Although I have never returned to AA, I have great respect for that program and its members. I credit AA with keeping me sober for 12 years, and for that I am grateful. I have instead turned my sobriety over to Jesus Christ and this Christ-centered program. I want to be involved where Christ is named and only his power is called upon to change us. Only God can give true victory over our hurts, habits and hang-ups. Only God can provide for our salvation.
Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” I love this verse because it is so clear and so precise. I once heard a preacher say that when we repent of sin we cannot just simply stop doing the bad thing. We must turn 180 degrees around and run in the opposite direction! With God’s strength, guidance and grace, that’s what I plan to do. I’m still new in my sobriety and looking forward to the next chapter of this story. Thanks for letting me share.