The process of recognizing that you have a problem and then coming to the point where you actually do something about it is like a journey. I think that very often the journey is not a pleasant one.
I have shared before here at CS, to some extent, how I recovered from a drinking problem, one that stuck with me for about 30 years. My journey to recovery was long and slow and filled with pitfalls. And most of the pitfalls were of my own making.
I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that not too many people are willing to admit that they have some kind of problem or weakness. In my case I believed I could solve all my own problems and overcome any weaknesses myself.
I felt as though asking for help would not be necessary, as if asking for help was like admitting a weakness. Besides, I did not have to get help for a problem that I did not believe existed in the first place. But one of the best ways to see a problem go unresolved is by refusing to acknowledge it.
I’ve seen people get help for drinking problems and overcome them by reaching out to others for help, but I felt I didn’t need to reach out for help. Even when I finally admitted to myself that I did have a problem, I still felt I could overcome my problem all by myself.
Proverbs 1:32 says “For the straying of the naive kills them, the smugness of fools destroys them.”
It is not always easy to face the truth. But if you don’t, it can lead to denial. And denial only provides a temporary sense of comfort that all is well or that all is going to be okay. So the longer I delayed in asking for help, the longer the situation went unfixed.
My Problem isn’t that bad
Continuing to deny that nothing was wrong was simply just not working anymore. So I finally acknowledged that I had a problem, but I told myself it was not that serious.
When I got arrested a second time for drunk driving, my first response was to promise myself that I would be more careful next time and just not drink and drive. Or, if I had to recover in a detox hospital from alcohol withdrawal, I would swear to myself that I would not make myself that sick again.
Proverbs 26:11 says “As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” And that pretty much sums up my attempts to solve and fix things on my own. I kept focusing on my behavior instead of the person that I was. I thought I needed to change my actions, not myself.
Seeking Help But not Accepting Help
I kept fooling myself. I would reach out for help and was satisfied with that alone. It’s kind of like going to confession and not having a real purpose of amendment. The guilt is removed temporarily, but little more.
It was the same with my drinking. I would reach out to a counselor or an outpatient program and feel that by doing that alone, everything was going to get back to normal. I never felt as though I had to put any real work into my own recovery. But this was just wishful thinking. It says in Proverbs 22:3 “The astute see an evil and hide, while the naive continue on and pay the penalty.”
This continued on for years as I stubbornly resisted any direction that would lead toward real change. I felt bad over how I was living. Things like missing mass or not having any money to put in the collection plate in church would bother me. But changing my habits and changing myself were two different things.
Trying to Save Face
I finally got involved in AA. After a few meetings, it became obvious that some participants were taking things seriously and some were not. I was one who was not.
Eventually someone asked me if I had a sponsor and I had to admit that I did not. When asked why I did not have a sponsor, I didn’t have much of an answer.
I decided that for appearances sake I would get a sponsor and at least make it look as though I was serious. Deep down inside, I still felt uncomfortable surrendering control of my will and my desires to someone else, but I tried to make things look as good as I could. I had no problem with someone trying to help, as long as they did it my way.
Proverbs 1:30-31 says “They ignored my counsel, they spurned all my reproof; Well, then, they shall eat the fruit* of their own way, and with their own devices be glutted.”
Doing it For Real
Eventually, I reached a fork in the road of life. In recovery, they call it ‘hitting bottom.’ After all of the trials and troubles of trying to juggle drinking and living a manageable life, choosing between one way or the other seemed the only choice I had left. It was just like they say in recovery, ‘nothing changes if nothing changes.’
So I turned to prayer. I prayed that God’s will would be done His way, not my way. And by now God’s will was obvious – alcohol had to go or I would not improve, and neither would my relationship with God.
Letting go was not easy. Getting to know myself as someone who does not drink anymore was foreign and scary. So I asked God’s guidance in finding another sponsor, and I promised God I would take things seriously this time.
One night at an AA meeting I raised a topic for discussion and as people were sharing, one guy said to me, ‘You know what your problem is? You have to grow up.’ It did not feel good hearing those words, especially in front of everyone, because they had a ring of truth in them. I eventually asked that guy to be my sponsor, and he agreed.
They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. I believe that is true. My new sponsor was a man who graduated from high school in 1966. His biggest fear at the time was getting drafted and being sent to Vietnam. Instead he ended up at the famous Woodstock concert in Bethel, NY in 1969, high on LSD. Some years later he went through a bitter divorce, and contemplated suicide. Through God’s grace he ended up in recovery, and became a born again Christian. He has now been clean and sober for 29 years.
Whatever kind of denial or excuse I was using in my life my new sponsor had already been there and done that. He was just the kind of person that I needed in my life to get me to take my life more seriously. God used him to help me to see that if I kept wasting time, eventually time would run out. I finally understood that if I did what was necessary to really change, then just like him, real change would be possible. It says in Job 22:23 “If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.”
Reaping the Rewards
An old saying is ‘doing the right thing is its own reward.’ And I’ve seen that come true in my life. By putting my needs in front of my wants, and becoming humble and teachable, the part of me that needed to grow up did just that.
Alcohol changed from a beverage to a chemical. I saw booze for what it was, an intoxicant that I had no control over. I learned lessons that are, on one hand, profound, yet also very simple. For instance, I learned that I cannot control something that is out of control, that I cannot drink myself sober and that I will never moderate something that I am a glutton for.
Most importantly, I learned to stop believing that I am all better and no longer need to do anything to help myself. My sponsor taught me that getting sober was one thing, but staying sober is quite another. James 1:12 says “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation.”
Living in Freedom
Today I rarely think about consuming alcohol. But not one day goes by without scripture, prayer, the rosary and other devotions. I begin each day by telling God I love Him and pray for His will for this one day. I end the day by telling God I love Him and thanking Him for another sober day of life. It is simple but effective.
But most of all, the one thing that fulfills me more than anything else is knowing that I am at peace with God and that I remain in a state of grace. I have come to know the true meaning of the scripture that says, “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” [John 8:36]
Through God’s grace, I have grown from someone who was ignoring my problems to someone who has overcome them. I went from someone who thought he did not need help to someone just like my sponsor – a person who is being used by God to help others.
God is constantly showing me people that need prayer. When I was sick, others would pray for me. Now I do the same in return. And just as it made a real difference for me, I believe it makes a real difference for others as well.
Growing in the Spirit
I was finally able to see my drinking for what it really was; idolatry. Something I loved more than God. Today, I am free to grow in the Spirit according to God’s will. As the Baltimore Catechism says, I was made ‘To know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.’
To get to know and like myself as a sober person is a true blessing. It has helped me to grow in love for God and become more aware of His presence in my life and His love for me. My prayer life has also grown in ways I would have never imagined on my own.
Asking for help is not easy. Receiving it can be even harder. It is so easy to try to find shortcuts and easier, softer ways. But doing what is necessary and reaping the rewards is worth it.
Luke 9:62 says “Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
I have left alcohol behind and I am now working for what is ahead – the Kingdom of God