I took my first drink on a late evening in May, 2002. I was 17 years old. “Don’t think so much about how it’s going to taste, but think about how good it will make you feel,” was the instruction I was given while walking along a set of abandoned train tracks, my cargo shorts stuffed with beer cans.
As of the day this is published, I took my last drink on October 9, 2011. I was 26 years old. I didn’t care what it tasted like, I just knew that it would help me not feel the way I was constantly feeling.
I am an alcoholic. I am also a drug addict. God has blessed me with the opportunity to know Him in a truly personal way through my recovery from alcoholism and addiction, a relationship that I’m not sure I would have if it wasn’t for the dark hole that drugs and alcohol sucked me into and the suffering I put myself through as a result.
I drank or used drugs every day, and my life, in every way possible, was falling apart. As the pieces have come together, God has revealed Himself to me in some very blatant and very subtle ways. He had not given up on me like I had.
I can’t tell you how it all happened because it still remains a miracle that I don’t understand, but I can scratch the surface on telling you what my life was like, what happened, and what it is like now.
Here is my story:
Not long after my first drink I began to find that alcohol (and later, drugs) could do for me what I could not do for myself. It offered me courage, apparent charm, and most importantly, a retreat from my worries and problems. Although I had a thriving social life, I was isolated in all of my fears and angst. Thus, when I found a solution to these helpless feelings I wanted nothing more but to return to the promised relief of these substances.
At the same time, I began to find that I was compromising the things that were once important to me. My close friends were seeing less of me as I spent time with those who preferred a more carefree lifestyle. Relationships with my parents and siblings began to slide as I withdrew from my family and those closest to me, oftentimes lying to them and deceiving them about what was really going on. These tools of manipulation were ones that I used even before I became an alcoholic as a means to evade short-term consequences, but became more prominent and damaging as I began protecting my poor choices.
While I did not grow up with a devout sense of religious obligation, I did have a moral compass that I credit as a gift from God and very loving parents. However, the code that I did my best to live by started deteriorating as I built a muffler to the Voice that was convicting me of doing wrong. Integrity was something of the past, and my selfish and self-centered behavior started affecting more than just myself.
College brought me to New York City where I was given a full-tuition debate scholarship. I was restarting my social life from scratch. Partly because I was a people pleaser and partly because I didn’t really know what I wanted out of life, I began doing all I could to fit in with those around me and to stand out in some way. Alcohol had a great way of making me feel like I was successful in those endeavors, and it also comforted me when reality set in and the truth about where my life was heading was too much to bear.
slipped tanked. Within a year I was hardly ever showing up to class and my devotion to the debate team, my friends and family back home, and anything else that got in the way of me “having a good time” took a back seat to my craving for more alcohol and drugs. The list of extremes I went to in order to secure this lifestyle can not be exhausted in this writing, but included doing some things I swore I would never do and would have never imagined. I was selling drugs out of my dorm room, which found me in some incredibly compromised situations on both ends of those transactions. I was using harder drugs and for quite some time was practically homeless, had it not been for some friends that offered a bed to me. Yet, I was still convinced that I was living “the good life”.
Needless to say, after three semesters the university retracted the scholarship I spent all four years of high school ardently working towards. “How did this all go so wrong, so quickly?” was the question I was trying my best not to answer. For some insane reason I thought I was still in control of my life. A cycle of depression, drinking, and deception was one that I became very familiar with. By the age of 21 I had multiple police citations around alcohol, including two DUIs, and found myself in an inpatient treatment facility where I would prove to myself and everyone else that I was still in control.
I was too young. The party can’t be over yet. Everyone else around me is drinking the same way I am, yet they seem to be doing alright. How am I supposed to swear off alcohol for good? How will I be able to celebrate life? How will I get through life’s difficulties? What about toasting with my future wife and everyone else at my wedding? Life will be meaningless and a bore without alcohol. It’s too hard. I can’t do it. I’m not good enough.
Everyone who got close to me had reasons not to trust me. By all indications, I loved drugs and alcohol more than I loved anyone on this earth. I brought everyone who cared about me along on the ride to hell. The closer they were to me, the darker and more dreadful the experience surely was. Some relationships are still mending from the destruction that my fearful self-centeredness left behind.
I made plenty of promises. I swore off drinking during the week. I tried limiting myself to just two drinks per night. I fell in love, hoping that someone else could change me. I moved across the country to San Diego, hoping that new scenery would offer a new lifestyle and better choices. I offered to take random drug tests to prove my innocence (and failed many). I became more generous. I bought lots of flowers. I wrote songs declaring my new-found faithfulness. I told everyone everything I thought they wanted to hear. I was a fraud.
I lost everything, including hope.
The last thing I wanted, or even thought was possible, became my only option. I stood at the turning point. I recall thinking to myself “I’m 26 years old, recently single, living by the beach, surrounded by beautiful women, and now you’re telling me that the party’s over?!”
The party had ended long before that. I had to stop drinking and doing drugs.
In a moment of “weakness” (and after getting caught in another lie), I knew I needed to make a plea for help. I was alone and miserable as I took a bike ride down to a nearby San Diego bay. Pushing my bike tires through the heavy sand, I found a spot where I could collapse. I cried alone for quite some time before mustering the courage to call some very close friends, my mom, and my dad to tell them how bad things had gotten for me. The voices on the other end of each phone call were not shocked by the news as they had an idea of where my life had been going. I had no vision how positive change was going to wedge its way into my life, but I found that this moment of honesty wasn’t as terrible as I thought it might be. I was told that I was loved and that there were people in my life who were still willing to do whatever they could to help me. They told me that they would help me stay accountable.
In many failed previous attempts at quitting drinking and drugging I had come across a few people who claimed to actually have some long-term sobriety, and they seemed genuinely happy. Begrudgingly and full of shame, I reached out to someone. He introduced me to a fellowship of others who were recovering from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Because everything else that I tried failed, I would give this a shot. I was told that recovery was not possible on my own and that I would need the help of others and the grace of God to overcome my disease. One man, whom I was not expecting to encounter warmth from, said he would give me as much of his time as was necessary for me to not drink that day. He continued to do so, day after day.
“You and I are going to be a taking a journey together, Scott, and neither one of us is coming back,” were the Providential words shared by this man. He was right. I have not had a drink since.
I don’t know how I got through those first few days without a drink. It was truly a miracle. I was conditioned to drink, and now I was asked to uncover the honest and painful truth about myself without the only comfort that I knew. Whatever was left of me was abandoned to God. This was done not of my strength, but on the guidance of a Higher Power and the strength of others who were supposedly staying sober by helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
My day-to-day life did not become easier, but slowly I was handed tools to handle life on life’s terms. The first was the shortened Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
I said this prayer hundreds of times per day as I limped through the first couple days and weeks of sobriety. For about the first ninety days my friends and parents were subjected to daily phone calls to let them know that I didn’t drink yet that day and that I didn’t drink the night before. One day it dawned on me that the craving for alcohol and the mental obsession that accompanied it had ceased. God was doing for me what I could not do for myself, and life began taking on a new meaning.
Upon starting this new life of sobriety I also found a community of young adults at the local Catholic church that I stumbled upon several months prior while fulfilling a half-hearted promise. One man in particular, armed with a stern handshake and an embracing passion for what he was doing, led the group and showed a friendly interest in my well-being. With mixed intentions, I got involved in a weekly bible study and other spiritual and social opportunities around the church.
With my friend as a Christian mentor to guide me, challenge me, and encourage me through this new way of life I began opening up with him and others about what I was going through. I was terrified to share my story at first, fearful of the judgement that would be placed on me and the resulting rejection. Continuing to pray for courage, I started being more honest with myself, with others, and with God. And how exhilarating it was! Not only were my fears of dismissal proved wrong, but I found that honesty about what I was going through helped me get to know myself better, strengthened my relationship with God, and kept me sober one day at a time.
A great deal of guidance was offered to me as I started taking an inventory of my resentments, fears, and other general misconducts. I began sharing what I found with those very close to me, and slowly I began to see where I was responsible for the way life was mistreating me. I prayed for willingness, and I asked God to remove those defects of character which kept me from being the man I knew I was capable of. There were many challenges throughout this process, many of which I handled very imperfectly, but the one thing that I successfully did each day was not take a drink or do a drug. At the very least, that has made each day a success and continues to be the foundation of my life’s meaning.
Early in sobriety it was suggested to me that my healing must never be just “something on my plate”, but rather recovery must be the plate upon which everything in my life rests. I have a disease that wants me to believe that I don’t have a disease, which means that I must make daily efforts to continue to do the things that got me sober. Literature vital to the twelve-step program describes, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities.”
Constant interactions with other alcoholics seeking to turn their life around has been one way I’ve maintained that spiritual condition. Prayer and various efforts to form a personal relationship with my Creator has been another.
I have found that the dark past that I was forever ashamed of and weighed down by has become my greatest asset. Understanding how my experience can benefit others has made some sense of the years of turmoil I had been through. Recalling the darkness and loneliness that existed in my life and comparing it to the opportunities that God makes available for me each day as a sober man reminds me of the glory He has planned, all along, for myself and all those who seek Him.
I am not healed of my disease, nor will I ever be. By the grace of God I have been relieved of the obsession and craving to drink and do drugs, for today. I honestly thought that would never be possible. I was a hopeless alcoholic. Somehow, God still found me lovable in all of my brokenness and at my lowest. His pursuit of me changed my life.
Photo Credit: Elissa Anne Photography