Steps to Recovery - Setting the Stage
The steps to recovery were essential to this man's healing. As you read his story, consider how God can bring healing to your life.
I grew up in small suburb outside Detroit, Michigan. My memories of childhood are clouded by visions of violence and feelings of fear, shame, humiliation, and insecurity. My father was an alcoholic and a physical disciplinarian (a nasty combination) and some of his behaviors were very abusive towards me, my two younger brothers, and my mother.
I remember feeling afraid and helpless as I lay in bed, listening to my parents yell and argue. I would curl up in a ball under the covers hoping and praying they would stop! There was physical abuse against me, my brothers, and especially my mother. I witnessed things that children ought not see. Many times I saw the pain and confusion in my mother's eyes. She wept on my shoulders at times. I felt helpless and alone.
My parents divorced when I was 8 years old. I felt shame and guilt because I had actually prayed that they would separate, for my father to go away or even die -- anything that would stop the violence and abuse. Because of those prayers, was I the cause of divorce? Did I do something that had caused my dad’s anger and drinking? When I did see my father, he would tell me in some vulgar ways, what a horrible person my mother was. I felt like I was caught in the middle and being forced to choose sides. All I wanted was a family who loved each other!
I started looking for a friend -- someone I could trust and look up to. When I was 8-years-old I attended a sleep over with a boy a couple of years older than me. It was at his house and there was no supervision. We started playing strip poker; he said it would be fun. I remember getting a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t stop. I wanted this older boy to like me. That night he came up with other sexual games that we played. I remember the musty smell of the basement and the embarrassment, guilt, shame, and dirtiness I felt the next day. I never spoke of it to anyone and I never asked to spend the night at that boy’s house again.
During this time of hopelessness, I reached out to God. At 9 years old I asked the Lord Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I developed an in-depth prayer life. Before I fell asleep each night, I would pray for everyone I knew. I would pray in detail about each person's needs. I felt very close to God at that time -- safe, loved, wrapped in my heavenly father’s arms. I could picture God's loving presence surrounding me and those I prayed for.
When I was 11 years old, my mother and I moved from Michigan to Las Vegas, Nevada. One day, a friend asked if I wanted to smoke some pot. Since I had already smoked cigarettes occasionally, I figured why not? I remember the first time I got stoned -- I liked it! It helped me to ignore my shame, anger, guilt, and insecurities.
Steps to Recovery - Addiction Takes Root
Over the next few years, my need for the step to recovery began to take root. Drugs developed into a daily habit -- smoking pot and doing whatever drugs were available (speed, pcp, angel dust). I still prayed nightly for awhile, although it got harder and harder to stay awake while praying for everyone I knew. By the time I was sixteen, the nightly prayer time slowly faded and disappeared altogether.
When I was 18, I came to the realization that if I didn't stop smoking pot, I wouldn't be able to remember my own name let alone anything else! I noticed that many of my drug buddies didn't have motivation or goals in their lives and I didn't want to end up like them. So I quit pot cold turkey. Unfortunately, that moment of clarity wasn’t followed by a renewed dedication to God and I had no friends to encourage me in my decision. On my own, I was not able to stop my addictive compulsive behaviors or suppress my feelings of shame, anger, and inadequacy for long.
In response, I started drinking alcohol on a regular basis. There were many times when I woke up the next morning after driving others home, with no idea how I got home myself. But I rationalized -- at least I wasn’t smoking pot!
At 22 years old, I started college. I worked hard, miraculously got good grades, and drank alcohol often. During my senior year, I began to work full time and discovered that cocaine would enable me to get four hours of sleep, still function, drink more, and it seemed to make me smarter too! Of course, it was a lie. I could get 4 hours of sleep for a few weeks, but then I would have to crash for a couple days. Yes, I could drink more, but it definitely didn’t make me smarter. Amazingly, I graduated college with honors, but with a cocaine and alcohol addiction in tow.
Maybe a woman could fill the holes in my soul? The first time I saw Susan I thought, what a beautiful woman! Since she was having problems with her husband and separated from him, I decided to ask her out. We got drunk and I asked her if she wanted some cocaine so we could stay up late and talk. She told me she didn’t do drugs -- that was a big problem! I lied and told her, "I don’t either...just occasionally and I can stop that anytime I want." Once Susan was divorced from her husband, we moved in together. I continued to lie to her for two years about my cocaine use.
Around a year after we met, I started gambling -- another thing that I thought I would never do. Even though I lived in Las Vegas for years, I never did more then stick a few quarters in a slot machine. I used to look down on people who gambled. I thought they were fools! I knew some of the guys who wrote the software that ran the video poker machines. I had a minor in mathematics. I knew the odds were stacked against me! Within a year, I was broke and only days away from being thrown out on the streets.
Twenty years of drinking, drugging, and one year of gambling got me to a place I never want to be again. I was living in a black bottomless pit, a place I could slide deeper into, but couldn’t climb out of by myself. It was a hopeless, never ending, merry-go-round. Time after time I would say “This time I’ll only take one drink, or do one line, or make one bet...then I’ll stop.” I had good intentions, but continually found myself in the wee hours of the morning, rocking like a baby in a fetal position saying, “Not again. How did I end up this way again?” Time after time I would stay up all night on a drunken, cocaine driven, gambling binge, come home and watch porn videos, while a woman who loved me slept not more than 30 feet away! The pain and confusion I saw in Susan’s eyes cut me to the core and reminded me of what I had seen in my mother's eyes back in that house in Michigan. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop.
I swore off drinking, drugging, gambling and pornography too many times to count, only to relapse and fall further down into that bottomless pit. I never openly talked of suicide, but I started driving around in my red sports car thinking, “If I hit that telephone pole going fast enough maybe I could get a break from all the garbage I was in.” You see I was at the end of my rope. I was living in a state of pitiful, incomprehensible, demoralization. Where were my friends now?
Steps to Recovery - Crying Out for Help
On the morning of March 9, God gave me another moment of clarity. I had enough. I didn’t want to keep living the way I was! I had hit bottom and couldn’t do it by myself anymore. But how was I going to get off the merry go round? I cried out to Jesus! "HELP Me LORD!" I sat there sobbing like a broken man while my mother drove me to a treatment center. I had prided myself on being strong, self sufficient, and able to handle anything life threw my way. Now I felt hopeless, helpless, and worthless. That was surrender for me. I admitted I was powerless over drugs and alcohol, that my life was unmanageable.
Steps to Recovery - A Lifelong Journey
I thank God that my beautiful girlfriend Susan, who became my wife, never left me. She walked the steps to recovery with me. Through all the lies and running I did, she stayed with me. Three years after getting clean and sober, we were married. It was one of the happiest days of my life! The miracles of that night were many. I was unbelievably happy! No drug ever felt this good! Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The night that my wife and I were baptized was a glorious evening! As I was lowered under the water and brought up in the newness of Christ, I knew there was a celebration in heaven. The joy I felt is hard to express in words. It was like swallowing the sun and having the light radiate out from my body.
I wish I could say that since I worked the steps I have never faltered, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The Holy Spirit convicted me of an area of my life that I was not walking in purity the way that God had asked me to. You see I had stopped working steps 10, 11, and 12 on a daily basis. I left the door open. So once again I had to confess I was powerless. I can’t, He can, I think I’ll let Him! I know that recovery will always be a part of my life.
Are you struggling with drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, anger, depression, or not living out the right priorities in your life? What hurts, habits, or hang-ups do you have? If you are struggling and believe you don’t have anyone you can turn to, I challenge you to reach out! Jesus is there! Whether it is a past painful memory: of musty basements, of drug dens, of gambling establishments, of pages from shiny magazines, images on TV or computer screens. Take a step! You will be met! Jesus can heal you!
Are you willing to reach out? Are you willing to accept the power that Jesus offers to break ANY bondage? Know that Jesus has a plan for your life and it is not to live in bondage of any kind!