I remember the day that I finally admitted to everyone and especially to God that I was an alcoholic. It was something I had known for some time or more correctly said; it was something I feared was true for a long time. August 2nd 2019 apparently was the day that God made sure I could bear it no more on my own and made me realize that I needed help. Help from others but mostly, help from Him. Without His help I would lose everything that I had worked for- everything that I had loved, and most truly, everything God had given me. On that list was my children, my love, my home, my career, my life, and most tragically my soul.
I can’t tell you how much despair I felt that day. The shame that was threatening to devour me was paralyzing. I was embarrassed and ashamed of the woman I had become. I was a negligent mom, a burnt out nurse, a lazy and selfish life-partner, and a dishonest daughter. What was worse was the dishonesty in my life was so heavy that I had fooled myself into believing I had a real and true, mature relationship with God when really I hadn’t had a relationship with Him since I had given up hope that He would ever stop the abuse that I suffered my entire life. I stopped having faith in Him when I slowly overtime chose to believe the devil’s lies; that He had abandoned me and only had plans to destroy me. The walk I portrayed with the Lord from that point on was merely a dance to keep myself believing that I was still okay… that my world was the same. Perhaps what had happened to me hadn’t changed me or maybe hadn’t happened at all. But the truth was it had changed me. Whether I wanted to own it or claim it…all the things that had happened to me; good and bad, formed me into who I was at that very moment. Because of that I had so much fear and despair that I couldn’t imagine what my next breath would feel like…or if I could even take it. I was a sinner and at that moment I didn’t think there was enough grace in the entire world to remake me into someone I would want to be or someone that anyone would want to be with; as a mother, as a friend, as a lover, a partner, or much less a daughter of the King. And it would be a while before I could even face this idea.
If coming to grips with being an alcoholic wasn’t enough of a humbling experience, God brought me to my knees when I got sick last fall. If I didn’t feel dependent enough on Him to get through the early days of constantly choosing sobriety minute by minute, the physical pain I experienced next certainly caused me to be fully reliant on Him. I was in so much pain physically that I remember moments laying in my bed rolled in a ball and asking God to take me home if this was all that was left for me. I remember feeling alone because I would spend hours in my bed not able to tolerate anymore than my own pain let alone the chaos of four boys or 130 elderly patients. I lost 30lbs weathering through this season wondering what relief I could find. Hope was at an all time low. I was almost certain God was punishing me for my alcoholism and for all the choices I had made. As they say hindsight is 20/20, I see now that getting sick; all the pain was a gift. All the food allergies I have acquired, I thought, were just one more way to make me miserable…to rake me across the coals for my neglect on my kids and my relationships. But now, I see them as tools that God equipped me with to get out of the alcoholism.
The truth is that had I not been so sick and in so much pain drinking may have seemed a lot more tempting in those early days. Don’t get me wrong– I was tempted. There were moments I would stand in the store for more than an hour pacing the alcohol aisle arguing with the little angel and devil on each shoulder. But all those moments that I was in bed rolling in pain, or in the hospital or just holding it together enough to spend time with the boys watching a movie on the couch are moments that I didn’t think about alcohol. They were moments that made drinking seem like the furthest thing from my mind. For that I am truly thankful. The food allergies were in some ways ringing true with the method of having to replace old habits with new ones. My old habits of finding the perfect drink for the day or lets be real- ANY drink for the day were now replaced with the search of the new food, new recipe, and new product to fulfill my changing nutritional needs. I became excited to share with others the new kind of gluten-free bread I found instead of finding a new way to hide the shame of how many cans or bottles I had bought and drank.
Being sick was a gift. Hurting was a gift. During my time lying in bed or getting through a shift while the pain ripped me apart I had to find something to distract my mind and give my heart peace. I needed something to be the rungs of the ladder that I clenched to with white knuckles as God pulled me from the pits. I started to listen to sermons and God started to lift the veil in my mind of hurt, and confusion, and abandonment. God brought me the gift of understanding for what I had been through on a primary level. On a primary level I started to understand my need for the escape of alcohol. He showed me that I had been used and abused. He started to bring vocabulary to my experiences that I had always been afraid to use. And on some level this brought healing where there was guilt and self loathing before. But on a profound level God brought me gift of understanding for why I had been going through the years of abuse and where God was during all of the darkest and most vulnerably painful moments of my life. Understanding like this was more than cognitive…it was transformative. It changed the contempt I had for myself. It changed the distance that I insisted on having between myself and God. I won’t say there weren’t set backs. There were segments of time where I took ownership of feelings and actions and situations that were never mine to own. There were times when I didn’t take God at His word. But then like a parent looking for their lost child- with unrelenting love God continued to pursue me and remind me and nudge me with gifts I never knew I needed.
Although at the age of seven I had met my Savior, I would have to describe my faith as “Dear Mr. Jesus” faith. It was not the “child-like faith” that the Bible refers to, but more a stunted child’s faith that was never able to grow. I don’t care how much fertilizer and water you give to a plant, if you block out the sun– it will never grow. Even with all the mentoring through the years by great Christian people, or the hours of Bible study or the years of Bible college…no matter how much knowledge I shoved at my faith no matter how many years I spent tending to it or doing things to further God’s kingdom… none of it mattered and none of it progressed my faith or my relationship with Him because the lies that I believed about myself and about my God were thicker than any storm cloud you could find here on Earth. No matter how brightly the SON shone or tried to dodge the storm clouds and pursue me, as long as I continued to believe the lies as truth—there was no penetrating them. This makes the distance I felt from God for so long make so much more sense. What is even better is it made me realize that God had never left me in the storm…He was just waiting for me to come out of the darkness and into His marvelous Son light. So at the age of 37 my “Dear Mr. Jesus” faith was finally able to blossom into “My Jesus” faith.
I can’t say there haven’t been times since clearing away the storm clouds that I haven’t had partly cloudy days. There have been times that the need I feel for a drink is stronger than my urge to breathe. I can also say there are times that I have to be reminded of the gifts of understanding He has given me because I forget or I choose to go back into the storm because it’s where I have lived for so long. And there are times that God brings deeper and deeper understanding to the vocabulary of my pain…because new clouds of lies can form and old ones can return, but great is Thy faithfulness for He always reminds me where I belong.
Somewhere in the bible it says that He brings beauty from ashes and as eloquent as that is, God did so much more for me in my 365 days of sobriety. He gave me hope where I had desperation. He gave me faith instead of despair. In the scariest moments He gave me courage instead of fear. When no matter how confused about who or what value I was to Him He gave me peace. When I hated myself and the level of contempt I held would bring me to the point of hurting myself or thinking of ending my life–He gave me self-respect. I have felt helplessness in the lowest places but God gave me self-confidence.
I don’t have it all together and God and I have a very long road to travel together. Every day I learn to trust Him a little bit more than the day before. Even up until recently God continues to bring deeper and deeper levels of understanding to my wounds and scars which, although painful, are gifts I continue to be thankful for no matter how many tears I shed. But thankfully some of the gifts that God has given me and perhaps some I have always had are much more enjoyable than just understanding old hurts. I can feel and acknowledge the respect of others instead of their pity. I can enjoy feeling proud and the feeling of a clean conscience instead of always feeling guilty. I wasn’t guilty of being dirty or loose but I was raped and hurt and forced. Those are truths I still wrestle with. I am not a drunk hiding from those feelings, but a recovering alcoholic facing and fighting the battles that lay ahead and behind me. This vantage point changes everything.
I am choosing God now…and not myself because God has gifted me with a clean start and I have done away with what felt like a purposeless existence. God has a purpose for me. Unlike what I have always believed, it is not one of only pain and I know now He has a purpose for me without alcohol. There’s a verse in 1 Corinthians that I have always struggled with. The one about God being faithful to not let us be tempted beyond what we can handle. Last year before I chose sobriety I would have told you that this was a lie. Then after I chose sobriety I began to struggle with it because it’s a verse that is so full of grace but merciless at the same time because like most of God’s promises there is a call to action in there too. One does not happen without the other. The verse more specifically says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13. The full of grace part that I am talking about is that God promises to never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle. That should be a breeze, right? No matter how much that margarita appeals to me–I am strong enough to refuse it or I would have to call God a liar. That’s awesome right? Here’s the merciless part… no matter how appealing that margarita is – I am strong enough to refuse it or I am calling God a liar….no excuses. No matter what the circumstances or the sob stories there is no reason on or off this earth that is reason enough to start drinking again. Realizing this made resisting the alcohol easier in a way. No matter how many times I wanted to stomp my feet and scream and throw a tantrum about how unfair it is that I can’t celebrate with tequila or hide from my feelings with vodka– it didn’t matter…it still wasn’t an excuse to give into temptation because there is no temptation in my life I can’t handle– because if I am facing it God promises I can handle it. Period. Choosing to drink again would not only be choosing to not take God at His word but a choice of defiance. I don’t know about you but I have been angry with God a time or two in my life but I am not about to be prideful enough to call him a liar.
Starting out these 365 days I never would have dreamed I would describe the feelings, the turmoil, the change or the roller coaster as a gift but it has been. All of these little gifts like the sickness, and the pain, the new understandings, and the other things I mentioned before are really just pieces of a much larger gift that I needed more than I knew. It was the very thing that I initially said I feared there would never be enough of to transform me from being the person I was to the person I never could have dreamed God wanted me to be . That gift is grace. All these things add up to grace. I never have to wonder if there is enough because God promises there is. “But he said to me. ‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9. His grace is sufficient. That’s all there is to it. I can be a good mother because His grace is sufficient. I can be a good friend because His grace is sufficient. I can be a good lover and partner because His grace is sufficient. Most importantly and probably the most challenging for me to accept is that I can be a good daughter of the King…because His grace is sufficient.
Alcohol is not what I need. It’s never been what I needed. It’s never been what I needed to get through the hauntings of yesterday, or the struggles and hurts of today, or the uncertainty of tomorrow. All I need…all I have ever needed I have always had…His grace and it is sufficient. Selah.