Being a born-again Christian and having to struggle against physical addiction is one of the most paradoxically challenging things I have ever had to endure. It goes against what I was taught in church, it’s embarrassing, and there are few people that will even admit that it’s real. This blog entry will be the culmination of my experience and perspective on what has claimed many days, weeks, even years of my life, and my struggle to rationalize the teachings of Christ with the gritty reality of my weak human flesh.
About me: I have had a propensity towards substance abuse since I was a teenager, which was a good 30 years ago. I used to smoke tobacco, then during my rebellious late teens, I moved on to pot, krystal & speed, cocaine, LSD, and probably some other stuff that I can’t remember. I started drinking when I was 18, and have been on-and-off with the booze ever since. Drinking has been my go-to drug of choice during various rough spots on my life journey. Lately, my big problem came when my daughter ran away to Mexico a few years ago, and then my drinking ratcheted up significantly when my wife went through breast cancer. My daughter has since come home, my wife is in remission, and I am only now getting over those most horrid trials of my life. Over the past few years, my drinking had gotten to the point that I was buying the largest whiskey I could get on Monday, drinking every night, running out around Thursday or Friday and making trips to the corner store for beer, God-awful Four Loco’s and whatever else had a high serum gravity.
I’m married, I have four kids, two grandchildren plus one on the way, I live a fairly quiet life in the suburbs, I have a house, two cars, a decent job, and enough money to pay the bills and buy special things every once in a while. No-one knows I’m an alcoholic; I hid it well. I am still addicted to alcohol, even though I haven’t had any in a while, and I would like nothing better than to buy a whole case of whiskey, quit my job, stay home & get drunk continuously until I die. That, for me, would be wonderful. I choose not to, for the sake of my family, but I selfishly crave the escape that only alcohol can give.
I got saved about 26 years ago, when I met my wife, who had just found out she was pregnant. Her boyfriend, my best friend at the time, dumped her, we fell in love, and I went to church with her. She got saved after taking some Bible classes, and to prove her wrong, I took them too; of course, I couldn’t resist the truth and logic of the scriptures, and after a few weeks, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, trusting Him for my salvation, got baptized and spent many years going to that little church any time it was open. I tithed, I gave, I attended, I played in the church band, and as much as I could, I worked. I even taught a kid’s AWANA class once.
I just celebrated my 25th anniversary to the same wonderful girl, who has patiently endured my drinking problem for years. She is the kindest, most loving and understanding person I have ever met. If anything, she is the reason I stopped drinking. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have never even attempted to conquer this debilitating illness. She and my beautiful children are the only true motivation that I have to stay sober.
So what’s the point? I guess I’m just trying to say, hi, my name is Mark, and I’m a Christian Alcoholic.
Disclaimer: This blog entry is not intended for perfect people. If you have no bad habits, believe that anyone with a drinking problem is not a true Christian, you finish every sentence with Praise the Lord, have never had a sick day in your life and can smile for 18 hours straight, then please go find somewhere else to spend your time; the last thing I want is someone looking down their nose at me as I spill my soul out for the whole world to see. Go judge someone else; believe me, I have already judged myself more harshly than you ever could.
I also use cuss words when the emotions get strong. If you are offended by words like crap, poop, doo-doo, booger, shit, fuck, lesbian furburger… (did they leave yet?) Look, I’m not perfect, I don’t admit to being perfect, in fact I aspire one day to be mediocre; I’m weaker and lazier and stupider than I ever imagined I would be; but God loves me just the way I am. He made me out of dirt, and dirt is dirty. So please just take all of that holier-than-though shit and cram it right up your ass as you follow your stuck up nose out of here. I’m here to be honest, and I need my readers to accept what I say as honesty; there is no ambitious pretention here. If you’re still reading and want to send me some hate mail, please contact me at email@example.com. I’ll read it, get upset, throw things, calm down, and send you a polite reply, I promise.
Is that even possible? Some people would claim that the terms Christian and Alcoholic never belong in the same context. After all, when I got saved, I was freed from the power of sin. I think we can all agree that being habitually drunk is a sin. Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, I think is how the verse goes. But there are a lot of sins; surely we can’t be instantaneously perfect? Why then would God try to encourage us to seek “perfection” (read: maturity)?
Being a Christian is simply being born into God’s family. When you’re born on earth, you are a child of Satan, the ruler of this realm, with inherited sin via your fallen bloodline. You have to be born again, of the Spirit, to become God’s (although there is an exemption for infants and small children), and the only way to get there is through faith. Once you have trusted Jesus to take your place on the cross, to pay your price for being a sinner, then you are a Christian. In God’s eyes, all sins, imperfections and vulnerabilities, all are blotted out. When God looks at you, he sees the perfection that only Jesus’ shadow can cast.
It is true, that you should not be the servant of sin, but who among us is without sin? Wasn’t the whole Jewish law’s purpose to bring us to Christ, to show that righteousness is not of the law (works) but by faith? And if the apostle Paul couldn’t overcome sin, if even he, personal prodigy of the Messiah Himself, recipient of oodles of spiritual gifts, even if the mighty, dedicated Paul the Great said in desperation, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death, what makes people think that we can also be free from sin?
The bottom line is, lack of sin doth not a Christian make. A judgmental prick it maketh instead. No, being a Christian is due to your faith and trust in a holy and righteous Saviour, DESPITE your sinful nature. It is divine to forgive, and we, like all of His children, need constant and unconditional forgiveness, because we sin. We will sin constantly, every moment, while on this earth, until the day we die. So it is indeed possible to be a Christian Alcoholic, just like it’s possible to be a Christian thief, liar, adulterer – heck, even my old pastor was an adulterer, stealing another man’s bride and abandoning his own. Nobody’s perfect.
Am I alone? Heck no. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten comments or emails from my blog about people thinking they were all alone, that they were the only ones that had this “secret sin” of alcoholism. To be sure, alcoholism is a sin, it’s bad, and you should stop drinking today, forever. Sounds easy when you say it, but doing so is an immense challenge. It’s like food: why don’t they tell fat people to “just stop eating?” Why is the diet industry raking in billions every year, cashing in on promises to make people skinny? BECAUSE IT’S HARD. Every day of my life, from the time I was able to read billboards or understand commercials, I have been confronted with the idea that beer can make you popular, make you sexy, grow hair on your chest, solve all of your problems. It’s a lie, but it’s so interwoven in our culture that it’s part of our thought processes. It’s no different that gluttony: a lust for food is no different than a lust for drink, and both can kill you and BOTH fail to make you skinny, popular or sexy.
I stopped going to church years ago. There, that’s another sin – forsake not the gathering of yourselves together. But you know what? I can go to church if I’m fat. People might judge me if I overeat, but not much. I can go if I’m an alcoholic too, as long as I’m sober, but what if people there knew that I was an alcoholic? There’s such a stigma attached to alcoholism, such shame in not being able to control your drinking, that people just don’t tell anyone. It’s like a disease, but it’s also your own fault. It doesn’t matter if I never drive or go to work drunk, that I’m never violent, that I hide in my home office and don’t hurt anyone else: it’s just embarrassing, and people just think it’s a problem that you have to solve, much worse than overeating. Have you ever heard of a Food Abuse Intervention? Of course not.
Just because other people don’t share the same sin as you, just because they are weak in different areas, does not mean that they are better than you. Everyone has problems. My problem just happens to be an unpopular one, and truth be told, it does have the potential of being deadly, and not many people eat too much & kill someone on the way home, so I guess the concern is warranted. But church should be a place of undeniable acceptance. Sadly, often it is not.
Will I lose my salvation? Absolutely, positively NO! What did you actually DO to get saved? Did you serve as an altar boy for ten years? Did you donate a kidney to a dying lion at the zoo? Did you sell your belongings, give the money to the poor, fill out an organ donor card and then toss yourself off of an overpass? Irrelevant. Salvation is by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. So if you can’t boast about how your earned your salvation, if there’s no way you could have been good enough to merit eternal life, then what makes you think you could ever be bad enough to lose it?
There are certain things I expect from my children. I expect good behavior and school participation and help around the house. But what could they do to not be my children any more? Attempt suicide, huff paint, cut themselves, spend a week in a mental institution, and go to Mexico because their boyfriend was running from the law? (Sorry honey; I know that’s old news, but it makes such a good story…) My children have my total, unconditional, unequivocal forgiveness, based on nothing more than the fact that they were born into my family. I might get mad, but they will always be my kids, and there is nothing they could ever do, or not do, or say, that would negate that fact.
Jesus said My father is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of His Father’s hand. Not even you. You can no more easily reverse your natural birth as you could your spiritual one. It’s just not possible.
Am I a Christian Alcoholic? I started to drink, a lot, and I had excuses. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I rationalized it away at first, blaming it on the stress of raising teenagers in modern America, or the profound horror of finding out my wife had cancer, or even just thinking that drinking was “my portion,” that I was allowed to take pleasure in this life, that God didn’t want me to be miserable all the time; what am I, Amish?
I knew it was getting bad when I started hiding. It was OK to go get a beer or two on a Friday night, or to order a margarita with dinner. But I started to buy it every day, then to save money I started buying it in bulk, and I wouldn’t let my family see me bringing it inside. I hid it in the car, and snuck out later to retrieve it when everyone was asleep. I stopped recycling because I didn’t want the trash men to think I was an alcoholic. I smashed my bottles up and put them in heavy-duty trash bags so no one would know.
But I knew. I was an alcoholic all right. I knew it was getting bad. It used to make me happy for an hour or so, then I’d fall asleep. The buzz started dwindling down to basically nothing, then I’d basically turn into a zombie (lights on and nobody’s home), and the hangovers went from a headache the next morning to an entire day and a half of being basically worthless, unable to do anything. I knew that if I drank on Sunday, I couldn’t drive, much less function, at work on Monday. I used up all of my vacation days staying home to nurse hangovers, and often I felt so bad I was honestly scared that my heart would stop. Of course, a couple of hours after I felt good again, I’d be back on the bottle once more. My life consisted of little more than drinking, passing out, getting hung over, and planning my next binge.
Alcohol was all I ever really thought about. I felt like a bird over water, just waiting until I could land on the next Jim Beam island. And that was it: I was no longer controlling my alcohol intake, but it was controlling me. I was hooked.
Should I tell someone? Yes. And no. For me, I had to be selective. The last thing that I wanted was to tell my mom about it, so every time she saw me she could say, How are you doing with that drinking problem that you’re not supposed to be thinking about? I love my mom a lot, but she can be a little nosy. No, I wouldn’t say pest. Or nag.
I went to a therapist, and the first session she told me all about how wonderful Alcoholics Anonymous was, how it’s the only way to get help, you can’t do this on your own, here’s a list of all the meetings in the area, I want you to do 90 meetings in 90 days. Hmph. I took the book home and burned it in the grill. No, thank you.
I’m extremely shy in person. I can write, I’m OK one-on-one, but put me in front of a group and I will turn white as a ghost and pass out. I leaned heavily on my wife’s support. I confide everything to her, because I can trust her: she won’t judge me, she won’t pester me, and she won’t give up on me. Ever. I never gave up on her, you see, when she was depressed, when she first had kids, isolated in an apartment with two toddlers, spending hours each day playing a mind-numbing video game, in the closet, which was the only place the computer would fit and be out of the kids’ reach. I would come home, step over the discarded diapers and spilled Cheerio’s, see her sleeping on the floor, exhausted, with the baby next to her in a sugar-induced coma, slowly close the door and clean up the kitchen while I waited for her to wake up. And my wife did similarly for me. Occasionally it made her mad, but more often than not, she sympathized, understood I was going through a rough time, and she helped me out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sobbed on her shoulder, spilling my guts out, and she just patiently comforted me as she waited for me to finish complaining. It really helped.
Everybody needs someone to know. I don’t suggest putting a burgundy “A” on your shirt and letting the condescending world at large know your imperfections. But I would suggest you tell someone you trust. Keeping all that bottled up inside, if you’ll forgive the pun, is just like shaking a soda bottle; one day it’s gonna blow, if you don’t let it out, safely, securely, with someone who isn’t going to turn around and rebuke you. It might not even be a Christian, or even a family member. Heck, if it’s your thing, go to AA, I’ve heard it works great for some people. But the sooner you share this secret sin, the sooner you can forgive yourself and move on, and know that you’re not alone.
Should I quit? That’s up to you. If you are truly a Christian, and you are truly an alcoholic, then the obvious answer is yes, it’s a sin and you should get rid of it. It may not be the biggest sin in your life; if you’re a mass-murdering dictator or a methamphetamine drug lord, child molester, or maybe have a collection of frozen body parts stashed under your barn, then maybe those problems over-shadow the need to cut back on the drinking. Also, some people can drink responsibly. I tend to doubt it; it’s a drug, we’re all human, and eventually the drug will take over the willpower, but if that’s you, hey, enjoy it while you can control it. As long as it’s not hurting anybody, a drink here & there, in my opinion, is fine. Jesus drank wine, you know. Some people think it was just fruit juice – an idea that never existed until Prohibition – but why’d they call him a wine-bibber instead of a juice-bibber? Small amounts are good for you, anyway.
But if you’re like me, and the booze is ruining your life, relationships, health and career, then yes please seek help or commit to either cutting back or going cold-turkey. I’ve tried both ways. I did the tapering off, got down to one beer a day, then I went back to two, then one beer and some liquor, then just one little bottle of whiskey, then what the heck just buy the whole top shelf… the all-or-nothing thinking, where I just tell myself NO! seems to work for me. Of course, dropping off cold-turkey has its own perils. Shakes & seizures are the biggest risk, apparently, but fortunately (or not, as it turned out) I was on clonazepam for anti-anxiety, which prevents seizures.
The first five days: The first five days are rough. For me, I had such a bad hangover that I couldn’t drive, my heart was pounding, my eyes hurt from the inside, and I was fervently drinking water bottles in the interest of self-survival. It also happen to be the day my doctor cut off my anti-anxiety prescription clonazepam, so I was suffering drug withdrawal at the same time. I think my odds of staying alive hovered around 50-50, because my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and the drug withdrawal took away my protection from seizures and replaced it with anxiety, brain “zaps” and twitching. My blood pressure went through the roof, I hardly slept, knowing there’s a good chance I wouldn’t wake up. I was constantly doing the relaxation techniques (see below) and it was exhausting. It’s the worry about what might happen, that can cause the anxiety and make me “trip out,” so I just focused on God and His divine ability to control my future. I figured, if He wanted me to come home that night, then He would take me, and there’s little that I could do about it anyway…
Thankfully, I was able to get Dr. Ignoramus to realize that stopping a very dangerous (though surprisingly common) drug like clonazepam was a very, very risky thing to do, and he called in a refill for me. After that, things kind of calmed down. I knew if I could just make it through day 5, I would be out of the woods, or at least, I could lay down at night without feeling guilty that I had never gotten around to writing that will.
Things that help: lots of water. I had bottled water in our storm shelter, and I would drink two of them down, sit in a recliner and meditate, and repeat. Exercise is also very, very good. Alcohol is removed from the bloodstream via the lungs, so aerobic exercise is a wonderful way to detox yourself. Especially with the drug withdrawal going on at the same time, I was conscious of not pushing it too hard, to the point of building up my blood flow and releasing too many stress hormones. I kept my pulse between 130-140 on the elliptical, for maybe 20-30 minutes. And if you’re married, sex is good too for alcohol withdrawal. Heck, sex is always good. Oh, and vitamins are a must. Your body is depleted of everything, especially the B-vitamins. I take a natural supplement called Standard Process Catalyn, plus some “sublingual” B-vitamin drops. It really helps you get back to normal.
Days 6-26: It takes roughly five days for the alcohol to get out of your system. After that, the withdrawal is all in your head; physically, the nausea, the shakes, the dehydration: it’s all gone within five days. Not to say that withdrawal in your head is easier than physical withdrawal. At least with physical distress you can do something about it. Psychological withdrawal is much worse. After day five or so, for a few weeks, all I could think about was how I was NOT drinking. How do you NOT think about something? Try this: don’t think about an elephant. What image just went through your head just now: an elephant, right?
The brain is an amazing creation. I’m told that it operates on a roughly 30-day cycle. That’s why they always say it takes 30 days to make a new habit, and why 30 days is a big deal at an AA meeting. Personally, I believe it’s because of the phases of the moon, which used to be 30 days. That’s called a “prophetic year”, twelve 30-day lunar cycles, because back when the prophets were around, the lunar orbit was 30 days, not the 28 or so it is today. Probably changed during the “long day of Joshua” when God tilted the earth to give him a little more time in the sun… but I digress…
My two recent attempts at sobriety failed at days 26 and 30. Right around the lunar cycle, give or take a few days, yes the brain pattern resets, but you’re also vulnerable to relapse. The therapist left out that little detail; I was feeling really down because I couldn’t get past that barrier, but turns out, it wasn’t my fault. It’s a very vulnerable time.
Days 26-34: I was doing much better, relaxed, sufficiently distracted, and starting to feel like I might make it, until Old Man Moon started messing with my head. I was hit by a panicked feeling of desperation: there’s no way I can do this, it’s not worth it, I can’t live like this, I’d rather be drunk and miserable than sober and miserable, fuck this shit, I’m getting something, is the store still open, maybe just a fifth, I better get two just in case… Oh, the bullshit I can come up with when I want to have something I shouldn’t. The good news is that these attacks, these periods of weakness and self-doubt, lasted at most maybe one or two hours. Once I muscled through them, waited them out, they were gone and I could relax until the next one hit me. I drank lots of coffee and ate more Oreo’s that I should have, because that hyped me up, but I was desperate to just put something in my body, try to take the place of the booze-shaped void, fill it up with sugar and caffeine instead.
Days 35+:After struggling through and making it past that critical juncture, I was back to self-control, not letting my mind wander, trying to relax and keep myself busy and distracted from my addiction. I read a book “Kick the Drink” that was pretty good, but it was written by and for sanguines – from the four temperaments, see Tim LaHaye’s Why We Act the Way We Do, an amazing book, should be mandatory reading for all conscious adults – but Kick the Drink is all about this part animal guy that had to enjoy all of his social life without getting drunk. Party animal I am not! I don’t have to worry about drinking at the pub, or at a Bar mitzvah or New Years Eve celebration, because I don’t do any of that stuff! I gave the book away (hey at least I didn’t burn it) but it did help. A little.
That’s all I can really offer at this time. I’m going to list a few more topics below, but basically, I’m a sinner trying to overcome a very common sin, something that snuck up on my while I was thinking I had Christian immunity, but turns out there is nothing that can’t hurt me, there is no pain or trial that I have magical protection from; if God wants me to go through these fires, then I can do nothing to stop them. I can only trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He will give me the strength to persevere, that His intent is to bring me THROUGH the fire, not burn me up. I’ve made it this far, the blaze is behind me, but I walk a path of dry grass and glowing embers; I must be cautions, because re-ignition is far too likely to let my guard down, and I don’t want to start over again.
God bless you, my fellow Christian alcoholic. Be not ashamed, be not high-minded, and do not fear the judgment of man. We’re all in this fallen world together, nobody is immune, everybody goes through trials, but in the end, all it does is get your feet dirty, and with God’s help and unconditional love & forgiveness, not only are we still clean everywhere else, but Jesus is always there, waiting to wash our feet when we’re ready…
Just relax. I absolutely hate that saying. When I was first married, with kids and a job and grown-up responsibilities for the first time, I got stressed out. I had (and still have) chronic migraines, ulcers, acid reflux, a hernia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol – any stress-related illness known to man, is on my medical chart. The doctor’s advice? “Just relax.” It’s like my wife asking me to just tell her how I feel, or what’s wrong. I can’t do that – I’m a guy! It takes me MONTHS to figure that out! To relax, I had to learn how, with techniques.
1. Deep breathing sounds simple enough, and it does really work. Making a conscious effort to inhale deeply, hold it, and exhale slowly, can really slow your thoughts down and make you relax. I do that constantly, whenever I feel my shoulders are bunched up towards my ears, when I can’t think straight and have thoughts racing randomly, aimlessly inside my hollow head, then four or five long, deep breaths really do the trick. Easy for a dummy like me to learn, too. Sometimes I also chant to myself, IN with cool relaxation, OUT with harsh frustration. Not out loud of course; I’ve got enough of a crazy dude reputation as it is.
2. Progressive relaxation is when you lie down in a quiet place, close your eyes, and starting at your toes, you tighten them up, hold them for ten seconds, then release. It teaches you what relaxing actually feels like. You do that progressively, focusing on one muscle group at a time, going up from your feet, ankles, calf muscles, etc., until you reach the top of your head, thinking of nothing more that turning off your muscles, letting them rest, allowing your whole body to eventually just sink into the floor or mattress and lie perfectly serene and at peace. I often fall asleep, or enter a self-aware, self-hypnotized state, where there’s nothing in my mind at all, just me, the air, and the hum of my window air conditioner. It’s nice.
3. The therapist also taught me about visualization. The idea is to imagine a place where you are at peace. It can be anywhere – a meadow, the woods, a beach, waiting in line for your turn at the drag strip – but the goal is to imagine it with all five senses. What do you see? Clouds, sunset, birds, green leaves. You hear the wind, the ocean, the growl of a nitro-infused race engine. What can you smell? The salty beach air, the fresh flowers, burned rubber. OK, maybe the drag strip thing isn’t the best idea, but you get the picture. If you can use all five senses, and see/feel/smell/taste/hear everything around you, then you’re there. In that moment, at that serene, safe place, you are at peace. Once you do that a few times, you can close your eyes when you’re stressed out, and flash back to it in an instant.
Distraction, distraction, distraction: One of the problems with quitting doing something, is you need something to take its place. It’s extremely hard to quit drinking when you’re sitting in a chair with nothing to do or think about except how damn thirsty you are. So indulge yourself in a new hobby, something you’ve been wanting to buy or do. You’re going through a tough time, you’ve taken on a huge challenge, and you deserve a little something. I bought myself a fancy grill and started cooking some amazing new recipes. You can buy a new TV, or rent movies, get a chocolate fondue fountain and fresh strawberries, get a mountain bike & see if your teeth can stay in while your body gets jarred around on a steep single-track.
Everybody’s different, and everybody’s got different needs and desires. I used alcohol to quell the disappointment inside of me; I’m old, I’m fat, I’m lazy, and there are dozens of well-intentioned, unfinished projects all over the house. I have to accept that I can’t do it all, I can’t fix everything, but you know what? I can smoke a turkey that makes my mom’s bird taste like roadkill. I never had such a fancy grill before; it’s something completely new to me, and it’s fun, and since it takes several hours to slow-cook meat in it, it keeps me busy and my mind off of drinking. Plus, it tastes good and provides healthy food for the family. Being successful at something small, completing a puzzle, cleaning out a cluttered drawer, getting laid – whatever keeps your mind occupied, is worth it. It’s OK to treat yourself: get a puppy, adopt a rabbit, get that assault rifle you’ve been eying at the gun store: something, anything is better than being drunk and feeling sorry for yourself.
Good is a relative term: If we all agree that generic, imitation, low-quality, 190-proof fake Everclear is the worst of the worst when it comes to alcohol, then anything less than that, by comparison, is good. I know. I tried some. Nearly choked to death on that shit. But the point is, don’t beat yourself up if you trip up & fall. If you have a shot of tequila in a moment of weakness, that’s OK – it’s a slip, just get up & try again. If you absolutely can’t stand it any more, and you have a beer, hey that’s better than the tequila, isn’t it? It’s OK to make a mistake, to change your mind, to give up, mess up, screw up – we’re all human. God knows this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to kick this nasty habit. It’s not easy, and any improvement is good.
If you’ve got cancer, you needn’t worry about your toenail polish, right? So if you’ve got alcoholism, then stressing over your hairdo or your diet or changing your oil on time is just silly. You’re sick. You have a disease. And no matter what anyone says, it’s NOT YOUR FAULT. It doesn’t matter how you got here; you’re here now, you’re improving, you’re trying, and if it takes a full package of Fig Newton’s to stop you from guzzling booze, that’s OK. You have a cancer, remember? Fig Newton’s are toenail polish. You can worry about your waistline later.
And in the words of Forest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.