Recovery, rebirth, confusion!

braveheart

So, it has been a few weeks since my last post and anyone that knows me knows that I have been going through…well something.

Since I am very well aware that my addiction is not unique, maybe some of you out there are going through or have gone through the same thing and can give me some input.

So, the basic description of what I feel like is that I crashed. Crashed not relapsed! Right on the heels of some major accomplishments in my recovery and right on the heels of some new life revelations and growth. I can’t even give you an accurate word for what it is that I feel. It’s like I have been reborn and have no idea what to do next…where to go…what direction to head. It’s almost as if I woke up on a beautiful beach somewhere, feeling healthy, wearing nice clothes, clean shaven…but at the same time, groggy, displaced, and having no idea who I am or what my name even is.

If you have followed my story, you know that at the end of May I passed my one year sobriety date. Sounds great right? Well, what it did was send me into a complete tailspin. I had put that date out there in my head as “major goal”. It was a box that I wanted desperately to put a “check” in. So that’s what I did. I checked the box. I marked it off, “Complete”. I set a goal, I poured my every effort and focus toward that goal, tightened my chin strap, went into battle and came out victorious. It reminds me of a scene in every “Braveheart”-type movie. The hero enters the battlefield with a rage and intensity that is full of pure adrenaline. He fights and slashes wildly dispatching every foe with ever-increasing intensity, fighting his way through the chaos until he reaches the other side…then, after the battle is over…our hero looks around the field, sees no more enemies…blood soaked and exhausted he falls to his knees and weeps. That’s what it felt like to me anyway. The physical and mental exhaustion of the fight had taken its toll. I just wanted to isolate again, to pull back, to rest. The victory did feel like victory. It felt like a big empty hole. Because I know that there is no rest. Tomorrow is another test, another enemy, another battle. They will just keep coming.

I have also been focusing on the physical part of my recovery. Years of alcoholism had taken its toll on my body and I wanted to take it back. I checked into rehab at 230 pounds and was, as you would expect, very unhealthy. I not only wanted to be sober but I wanted to be healthy and fit again. So, I set a goal of completing a Sprint Triathlon with a side goal of 50 total lbs of weight loss. I set those goals as way to put a period on the end of the sentence. To achieve those goals, for me, would mean that I had not only recovered spiritually (sobriety), but that I had recovered physically. For the past four months, I have trained hard to get my body where I wanted it to be. I exercised or trained at least five days a week, sometimes seven. I monitored my food intake, ate healthy and lived fitness. Again, I did it! Friday I weighed in at 180 pounds and Saturday I completed my first ever Sprint Triathlon. Great right? I guess, but so what really. Now what do I do. This battle continues also. Time to set a new goal. Tonight I packed my gym clothes again, threw some protein powder in my bag, and dusted off my running shoes.

Now, to complicate things even further, my brain doesn’t work the same anymore! I have noticed many changes on this side of sobriety with the way my mind works. Some of those changes are largely predictable. It makes sense that, once you stop putting 750ml to a liter of 80-100 proof through your body everyday for nearly 20 years, some changes are bound to occur. Most of those changes came about pretty rapidly. After a few months in rehab, I noticed that my short-term memory was coming back. I didn’t have to write things down as much. It became easier to retain things that I read and studied. Then old memories started coming back. Things that were long forgotten began to find their way through the fog. This process has continued over the past year and reached a plateau about four months ago. I looked at the world though different eyes. People seemed different to me, less burdensome. I perceived the thoughts and actions of others with more precision and perception. The world itself seemed brighter and more full of life. Revelations about my own faults, flaws, and character defects came in bursts. It was a time of great discovery and change. I thought that process was over.

Then at the end of May and into June, I noticed more changes happening in my brain. I told a friend of mine that it was like my mind was still “waking up” after years of hibernation. These changes were less predictable and actually quite confusing. I described it as being hyper-self-aware. I’m not sure what to do with these new feelings and perceptions of the world around me. Thoughts, ideas, emotions are flooding my mind daily to the point that sometimes it’s hard to focus. “Was all of this here before”, I often wonder.  I have been starved and am so hungry to taste life for the first time. Where do I even start? I feel like I a kid in one of those old-time candy stores who looks around and is amazed by all the colors and choices, eyes wide open, jaw dropped…frozen still by all that he sees.

Now, let’s add a little more seasoning to this crazy recovery stew. I have still been working 8-10 hour days at my job, attending meetings, leading a bible study, attending another bible study, reading books, personal devotions and studies,  volunteering at the homeless shelter, and mentoring (for lack of a better term) other people in addiction. (That last part is pretty funny after reading the content of this post, I know. Lately, I seem to have more questions than answers.) All these things helped me get sober. Without God I would be a drunken mess, so it’s not like I can just quit. So you get your bible back out and study for the next class, you schedule your next meeting, you make that next phone call or send that next encouraging text.

You know when I hit that one year date, I used it as a time to reflect on where I was, where I am and where I’m going. What I have discovered is that I don’t even know who I am anymore. Not in a bad way, like I have been someone I’m not. It’s more like, I have never really known who I was to begin with. I feel as if my addiction ran my life and made my choices and now it doesn’t. I am, who I am, and where I am based on choices I made when I was someone else…someone controlled by their surroundings…controlled by approval seeking behavior and the opinions of others…controlled by a very limited world view and lack of purpose and direction. I have simply floated or wandered through life letting the current take me where it wished or where others would have me go. What do you do with all that? You either float back down stream, fight against the current or get the heck out of the river.

So now  I am back on that beach. I am awake. With no idea of who I am. Free to go in any direction and free to create or simply discover who I am, or maybe who I was always supposed to be in the first place before I short-circuited my life with my addiction and the choices that followed. Why is this so hard then? I’m not struggling with re-lapse, I’m struggling with re-birth. Crazy, right!

So this is my new reality. I have accomplished all my short-term goals. I am sober. I am healthy. I am exhausted. My brain is doing crazy things. I have more questions than answers. And I have no idea who I am or who I want to be. Recovery is so awesome…

 

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Birthright of an Alcoholic

Combat

So tonight I was at a Celebrate Recovery (CR) meeting. I love these meetings, especially the small group portion. The group of men at the CR I attend is relatively small and, consequently, we have grown to know each other pretty well. One young man, who is new in recovery, was discussing how he had been tempted to the edge of relapse and had come through the fire of that temptation in victory. This was the first real test of his recovery. Even though he survived it, he generally lamented that he had faced the test at all.

His comments fell familiar on my ears. I have often wondered and asked recovery veterans if the cravings…that powerful pull for one more run, would ever go away. Mostly, I wish I didn’t have them at all. As I stared at the floor and listened to his story, my mind was drawn away…back to my days in the military.

For many men who sign up to serve their country, their potential service has been something they have dreamed of since they were quite young. Certainly this does not apply to all, but, for many, the warrior spirit has been in them since birth. They join, they train, they prepare with one singular focus; to apply their knowledge, their wit, and their natural leadership abilities on the field of battle. Combat to them seems like a birthright. This may be hard to understand, but for them it is almost a tragedy to complete a tour of service and not have been under fire.

I thought to myself how this same concept applies to recovery, especially if your recovery has a strong spiritual basis. A lot of time and effort is put into an individual’s recovery. There are many components to it. An analogy for “bootcamp” is the absolute horror of our lives prior to seeking help; that collection of misery that eventually leaves us so broken and empty that we have no other choice than to seek God. Then we train…we repent,  study scripture, seek accountability, work through our past, go to rehab, attend meetings, pray through, cry, struggle against our flesh, do step work, read books, and generally apply ourselves to Christ and to anything that will help us stay clean and sober.

Wouldn’t it be a tragedy for us also, if we never had the chance to apply our new nature to our addiction.  If we did all that work…suffered through the physical pain, all that blood sweat and tears…and never were given the opportunity to experience victory through the testing of the desires of our flesh. We tend to wish away the opportunity to see God work in our addiction. When we were “reborn” in Christ, we were given a new birthright; to glorify God in our victories on the battlefield of addiction. To never have been tested under fire would leave us feeling as though we somehow failed to fulfill an obligation given to us when we were first set free.

I remember being a young Marine and looking reverently upon the old grizzled veterans in our unit. They had a presence about them that commanded honor. They were weathered, scarred and strong. You could see in their eyes and on their chests all that they had been through and survived. We learned from the wisdom they had gained through the combat they had seen. There is no training that serves as an adequate replacement for those experiences.

Someday, I hope to be that old grizzled veteran of recovery for someone else. There is only one way to get there.

Whether it is addiction, our Christian walk, our role as parents, husbands or wives maybe we should be careful not to wish away our tests. Through them we gain irreplaceable wisdom…through them God is teaching us…through them He is glorified.

Don’t flee the battle…relish in the opportunity to fulfill your new birthright.

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A Beautiful Journey

Image

This weekend is usually a weekend that heralds in the incredible summer to come. This is often our first big camping weekend. For me, it is also usually a weekend that I reflect on my military service…those who didn’t get to come home…and to think of, and pray for, those who are deployed around the world defending freedom. All of those things seemed largely overshadowed to me as the past 3 days rolled along. I don’t want you to think that I no longer care for those things. This weekend…this year… was just different.

I hit my one year sobriety date on May 25th. I guess some would call it a ”milestone” in my recovery. I am looking at it as more of a “mile marker”. In my head as I was looking forward to this date, I pictured fireworks, drums, and maybe a large band to celebrate the day. As I got closer to the day, I realized that one year is not the finish line but the beginning of a beautiful journey.

One year doesn’t seem very long in the span of one’s life, but a year in recovery seems like a lifetime. Maybe it feels like that because my life is so dramatically changed from what it was. I no longer live in the shadows of life. I have stepped out and into the light. I no longer spend my days in deception and isolation, waging a war on my own body, trying to destroy the pain and fill the void by numbing my mind. I now live in hope and purpose, driven by a passion to serve an incredible God who has shown me greater mercy than any man deserves.

Even without the band and the fanfare, this weekend was a celebration. It was a celebration of the power of God and his tendency to reward obedience. What was my reward? My reward was in the laughter of my children, the excitement of each new sunrise, bike rides around the park, campfires with friends, kickball in the grass, and breakfast in our pajamas in the camper as the rain lightly fell on the roof.

Believe me, I understand that I am a babe in Christ and a babe in sobriety. One year is just a mile marker on a long road that leads to where ever God wants me to go. I look forward down that road not in fear of what attacks may come, but in expectation of victory. My mindset has totally changed. I am no longer concerned with circumstances and outcomes. I have realized that I am in control of nothing and that life is completely better that way.

I am still in bondage, but my Master has changed. I emptied out my bottle at the foot of the cross, along with my pain, my shame, my guilt and my pride. When I had nothing left to give…nothing to offer…just a broken shell of a man and a wasted life, He said “Now, I can use you”. I see the amazing things he has done “in” my life and am looking forward to what he is going to do “with” my life.

A good friend once told me, “When you get to the end of yourself, you will find Jesus waiting there for you.” …He’s waiting there for you too…

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Feels so good to feel so bad.

fire

CCEF tweeted a quote from David Powlison-“Self-pity is then a most delicious narcotic: it feels so good to feel so bad, because it all about me.”

When I was in the darkest places of addiction, I lived that quote. I have often thought of that dark place and wondered what it was that kept me there. There’s no short answer to that question. When I read the above quote, my mind was immediately drawn to the original “Red Dawn” movie (yes I grew up in the 80’s). There is a scene where a young fighter is carving notches on his rifle stock to represent those he killed that day. Another character says to him, “All that hate’s gonna burn you up kid.”. He replies, “It keeps me warm.”

Why was it so warm in that miserable place? Somewhere down deep, I knew I belonged to God and that I could only run for so long. I had the keys in my hand the whole time. I knew I had the ability to fall to my knees at any time and turn from my rebellion and be restored. Instead, I chose to be curled up on the couch, shades drawn, doors locked, lights out, with just a remote control, a half-empty bottle of misery, and a pistol…un-showered, broken, hopeless, sleepless, isolated, separated…yet comfortable right where I was at. I was unwilling to let go of that bottle, scared out of my mind to be without my last remaining friend who mocked me with every swallow. Why?

For me, I think I felt somehow in control in that place and afraid of what any other life would look like. I knew what this looked like, felt like, smelled like. I knew what each day would bring. Each day was a new attempt to manipulate the world into believing that I had it all together and that it was all of “them” who were nuts. Here, I had power.  I would pat myself on the back for my cunning, not realizing that they all knew who I really was. I was only lying to myself and even that created reality was slowly slipping through my fingers. Yet I stood firm. Defiant, disobedient, warm, powerful yet powerless…waiting for God to cut my legs from beneath me…and I knew he would…yet I stood.

I wallowed in self-pity, perceived persecution, self-righteous indulgence and justification of a life lived for self. This was just who I was. I was playing the cards I was dealt. I cared not for family, responsibility, duty, commitment or anything that would hinder my ability to live free and “be me”. What does that even mean anyway? Listen, “being me” is just code for doing what I want regardless of the consequences to myself or the price that others pay on my behalf. It just means that I am happy right here, living in addiction with no other goal than getting my next drink and not having anyone bother me about it. It’s a lie straight from hell that is almost as dangerous as “I deserve”.

If you are living in that place my friend, let me tell you that there is another way. There is a place that feels better, warmer, safer.  Whether it be addiction, unforgiveness, anger or any other destructive thing, you have to let go of it. Release your grip; let go of your perceived control; fall to your knees and rest. Aren’t you tired of the battle? Put down your arms and lift your hands. The struggle can be over. Bring all of your brokenness to God and you will find what you have been looking for the whole time. It’s time to come home.

 

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We Happy Few…

Carry wounded

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother”. This is a well-known quote from the St. Crispin’s Day speech. I carried that quote around with me in my wallet on my military travels. It always had a special meaning to me. “Shared misery” has always bonded men in the military in a way that is rather uncommon in civilian life…blood, sweat, tears, pain, death, loss, separation from family, hostile and uncomfortable conditions. Sharing those things with another just draws you close. I am learning that there is a similar bond among those in who are struggling in or have come out of addiction.

One of the most comforting things I found in rehab was that my life and my story is not unique. Addiction is nurtured in a variety of very similar circumstances in the lives of those who are stuck in the cycle of addiction. Most think that nobody understands my pain, my torment, the void in my soul. When you discover that you are not alone in your life experiences it somehow makes it easier to walk out of the darkness. Addicts have experienced their own type of combat…tears, pain, death, loss, absent or addicted parents, divorce, poverty, despair, rape, molestation, physical abuse, loneliness, shame, guilt, rejection, and the various forms of criminal or risky behaviors associated with chasing our drug of choice.

There is a bond there. A recognition that “you know what I’m talking about”. Our boots have some of the same dust on them. There is a bond in knowing that we are not alone in our struggle against our own thoughts and desires to go back for “one more run”. There is a bond that says when my brother falls or relapses, I will be there. Not to criticize wrong choices but to extend an arm, lift them up and help carry their load. Their struggle becomes your struggle. Your hope becomes their hope. Their victories and their failures are shared with equal kinship.

You discover that there is no benefit to fighting your battles alone. There is no benefit in keeping your fight a secret. Come out of the darkness and into the light. You need a fireteam around you with God at the center. We draw strength from eachother…back to back, shoulder to shoulder. We fight the same enemy on the same battlefield with the same source of Hope and strength. ” For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal in nature but mighty in God…” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

This is not unlike our Christian walk. You do not need to struggle alone in your own secret sins. It’s not the way God designed it. Tonight, a group of us gathered with a friend to pray for his family and his marriage. He knelt and we prayed. His struggles became our struggles. His pain was our pain. His tears were our tears. We walked with him and helped him carry his petitions to the throne. In his struggles, we faced our own shortcomings. Because in him, we were able to see ourselves and remember from “what” we have all been rescued. We shed some blood together tonight in that room, and are “all” the better for it.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”

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External Controls…Internal Problem.

barricade

This past year, I have had a lot of opportunities to talk with people struggling with various addictions. I am in no way a counselor. I simply try to come alongside people as an advocate and a friend. My desperate wish is that they find the same hope I have been given; and I am always willing to talk about whatever issues they are struggling with.

Invariably, I hear a recurring theme and it sends up flares and red flags every time. Once they realize that they indeed do have a problem, they decide to institute all of these boundaries and barricades to limit their access to their drug of choice. They decide that if they change cell phones, delete phone numbers, move to a new town, ditch their addicted boyfriend/girlfriend or simply don’t go to certain neighborhoods anymore that they will no longer be able to acquire whatever it is that they can’t break free of. People struggling with pornography get rid of their computers. Alcoholics tell the local bartenders and liquor store owners not to serve them anymore. I have heard all sorts of great ideas. These barriers to access are fine as a first step or as part of an overall strategy, but, for most of them, they believe this, in and of itself, is the solution.

I used this plan often in my own life and eventually failed each and every time. It will not work as a long-term solution. You need heart change…life change…you got to have Jesus in this thing or it’s not going to work. You cannot apply external controls to an internal problem and have success. You must be changed from the inside out. You must replace the desires of your heart and then you will naturally run “from” not “to” that thing that has you bound in slavery.

Satan knows your struggles and will always set a table for you with all of your favorite things. He wants us to fail. If an alcoholic secludes himself on a deserted island, crates of his favorite drink will wash up on shore. If you totally change your environment and your friends, you are going to run into one of your dealers at Wal-Mart or something and he is going to offer you what you can’t resist. If you struggle with opiates and break contact with all of your dealers, a half-full prescription bottle is going to fall out of your Grandma’s medicine cabinet while your washing your hands. That’s just the way it works. The only solution is for Christ to come in and take over your life.

People without addictions do the same thing in their Christian walk. We simply try to avoid those things that trip us up. If we have some pain in our lives that we just can’t get past, we simply don’t talk about it or shut down our minds when the thoughts of that experience come flooding in. If we have trouble spending more money than we make, we cut up credit cards or put ourselves on some sort of allowance instead of asking God to change our hearts and give us a heart for stewardship and self-discipline. If we struggle with gluttony, we stop eating at buffets or all-you-can-eat restaurants instead of begging God to fill us with his Spirit and yield to His leading. It’s all the same.

If you want to have victory over your struggles, whether they be addiction or unforgiveness, you have to let someone else have control of your life. You have to let God in and beg him to change you from the inside out. And I do mean beg. Cry out to God in brokenness and you will receive the healing in your life that you’ve always been looking for.

(more posts on “internal controls” to follow)

Honor all people, Love the Brotherhood, Fear God, Honor the King.

Love to you all.

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Living in my wake.

wake

I have learned this past year that when God sends you the same message from multiple sources in a short period of time, he is probably trying to tell you something or teach you something.

Last week in my reading of the “Resolution for Men” book, I was awakened to the concept that my children “live in my wake”. The book was referring to the concept that we live in the wake of our fathers. Our values, views, etc. are influenced by our fathers. Then today at church I heard a similar message regarding unconfessed sin, hidden sin, and respectable sins. The Pastor was making the point that we often deceive ourselves into accepting or believing that our hidden sin only affects us.

Before God brought me to my knees in brokenness, I had fully convinced myself that my problems were my own and didn’t affect those around me. I was a closet drinker. I hid alcohol in my car, in my shed, in hidden panels in my room, in the duct work of my house and I drank in secret. I became adept at drinking just enough to not appear drunk. I found ways to mask the smell of alcohol on breath. I found ways to hide any record of money spent on alcohol. I often stayed up late and drank in the dark by myself. I drank before church. I drank before bible studies, board meetings, classes, etc. Through all of this deceit, manipulation, lying and leading a double life; I had completely convinced myself that my problem was my own. Nobody needed to know about it and it really didn’t affect anyone else but me. This justification allowed me to lie myself into continued addiction and misery.

In the sermon this morning from Joshua chapter 7, Achan’s hidden sin eventually led to his death and the death of his family. In my life, my addiction led to me leaving my family and trading unconditional love for unrestrained self-destructive addiction. I essentially destroyed my family because I was not willing to face the reality of my secret life and hidden sin. My life was all about me. I most assuredly left a path of destruction “in my wake”.

Likewise, when I left the church, I turned my back on those who had poured their lives into mine trying to save me from myself. Close friendships were severed, bridges were burned…I separated myself from them all and left them the remains of my shattered family and the responsibility for keeping them afloat.

If you are struggling in addiction and have any notion that your problems are your own, please consider my life. Your life touches so many other lives. All those that care about you and love you are crushed under the same weight that you feel pressing in on you from all sides. Your pain, your misery is not your own. Your burdens are their burdens. Your struggle is their struggle.

Even if you are pretty sure no one knows your secrets, be sure that  it affects every relationship you have in one way or another…and I mean every relationship. Who’s living in your wake? It’s time to rise up and consecrate yourself for tomorrow. There is hope to be had and joy to be received. You can have a different life.

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The Journey Begins.

Life wo christ

This is, very obviously, my first post on this blog and the best place to begin is to better explain the focus of this site.

In the near future, I will publish my story in greater detail. Most of you who will visit this page already know my story. I have recently come out of a 20 year addiction to alcohol and all of the pitfalls that come with that lifestyle. I nearly lost everything, but now walk in victory. On May 25, I will reach my one year sobriety date. Wow, what a year!

On this blog, I want to share my experiences, lessons learned and the saving grace of a merciful God. A big focus is to describe in detail what my eyes have been opened to with regard to the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. More importantly, I want to share with as many people as possible how to experience this power in a very practical way in their own lives.

God has reached down and saved me from myself. I am cautious to say that I have been given victory over my addiction. I will say, however, that each day is a “new” victory unto itself. I am on a journey. One that I believe others can draw hope from for their own journeys. I hope you’ll follow this blog, comment, discuss and share. Maybe we can help each other struggle a little less and hope a little more.

 

 

 

 

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