God’s never knocked a drink out of my hand and he never will.
That’s a standard line at every AA fellowship, even when the speaker has never stepped foot inside of a church. The point is true, don’t blame God for your choices.
I had it all (or so I thought)
Before addiction blew up my life, I was a very religious person. I thought God had my back and not without reason.
Here’s my predisaster resume:
- “Saved” and “sold out” to Jesus at age 17
- 20 years of daily quiet times (usually)
- Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from a Bible College
- 12 years as an ordained Baptist ministry
- Faithfully married for 18 years
- Respected as an “expert” in my ministry area
- Author of published articles and book chapters
- Always ready to repent of my sins and seek forgiveness
- Organized foreign mission trips
I know the Sunday School answer — it’s the relationship not the religion that counts — but that’s not enough to explain my experience. I was pursuing Christ privately and publicly. My faith in Jesus was the most genuine and essential part of my self-identity.
Then something inside me broke
I can remember “the moment.”
I was sitting in my church office, getting ready for a busy day of ministry work. Then I had a sudden conviction that nothing mattered anymore. Everything I had learned, believed, taught, and done in my life was somehow apart from myself.
It didn’t feel sad at first, just utterly bored. I tried to cry, but that didn’t feel right either.
There was nothing in the world …
- that I wanted to do
- that I wanted to become
- that I wanted to know
This was somewhere around 33 years old. Looking back today, I can see the role of burnout, depression, alcohol abuse, and marital disintegration. My problems may have been rooted in spiritual issues, but there is no denying my mental health was in a downward spiral.
I stopped thinking about tomorrow, because I just wanted to get drunk enough to forget today. As Jesus said, “Tomorrow can worry about itself.”
Every Sunday, I would smile and promise that God was on your side. He’s ready, willing, and able to overcome any obstacle to faith in your life. Toward the end, that was often my only 3 hours sober each week.
If God wanted to fix me, why did it keep getting worse?
How it feels to be a lost Christian
With three hours preparation, and zero notice, I left everything in my old life behind. That’s when everything came out into the open.
My wife and kids were left to pick up the pieces, while I disappeared to a different country. I was involved with another woman, but ultimately I was leaving my old life to pursue my addiction.
Many in the church were ready to openly debate the “status of my salvation” and even “hand me over to Satan” so that I could learn my lesson. My ears were burning 1,700 miles away.
The accusations still make me laugh: satanic influence, voodoo magic, or I was another Jimmy Swaggart. I don’t blame the stigma in my Christian community, but I knew immediately I would never be welcomed back except on hands and knees.
To spare my family the embarrassment, I was asked to resign from my volunteer pastoral duties. A dozen emails from concerned friends and a few we-miss-you cards, then the whole situation blew over. My problems were yesterday’s news.
My family, career, community respect, and birth language were simply history. At age 39, nearly everything I’d built was in ruins.
The long road back
My sober date is February 14, 2017. After hitting rock bottom, I started looking for answers in the wreckage. Most of my questions are still open to debate:
“What about all those times we sat around and talked about the Word? Was that all fake? I don’t know who you are anymore?”
That was the not-so-gentle rebuke from a former friend. His question was shared by the other 300 people I’ve hurt, confused, or disappointed.
There are lots of answers, but I’m not sure I need to know why — I need to know how to get better. Here’s the current plan for moving in the right direction:
Stay Sober: Alcohol addiction made everything 10 times worse, even if it wasn’t the root cause. I’m working the AA program – complete with meetings, step work, and a sponsor. Only through recovery can I make progress in putting my life back together.
Get Stable: I’ve learned a lot about mental health. I’m working with a team of medical professionals to get help in this area – this includes my psychiatrist, medicine, and a counselor. The goal is to manage my mood disorder and get stable.
Spiritual Connection: I’m exploring ways to connect with God again, free of the hypocrisy and self-deceit that marked the last 15 years of my walk with Christ. The goal is a new experience, honest even if a little unorthodox, that connects me to the living Jesus.
On Easter morning I walked back into that church, having been gone 5 months with almost zero contact. There were tears, hugs, and my private conviction that it would never be my home again.
I’m still working through some doubts, and I’m learning that FACTS are not enough.
— Sober Tony (@sobertony) May 23, 2017