Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Old Self Wants to Party

When I was in college, I spent many weekends out at bars, parties, etc. Mainly drinking, dancing, being loud, hitting on girls, trying not to get in a fight - but feeling ready for one at all times. There was a sense of excitement and adventure leading into a Friday night. Everyone was getting cleaned up and putting on nicer clothes - everyone was in a good mood. You go out and get your buzz going and the night just swept you away. I'm just going to be honest - I loved it. I don't know why really, maybe it was the anticipation of feeling good, the possibility of "romance," and the bravado associated with going out with your friends. But I definitely enjoyed it and did it a LOT.

Fast forward 5 years after I graduated from college. I am still drinking a lot on the weekends, and also pretty much every weeknight too. Except now I am living alone in a different state and I am noticing an ever-increasing rise in the amount I am drinking. I had very little to no self-control. Whatever amount or type of liquor was in the house, as soon as I started drinking I wanted to go until it was all gone, and then some. Thinking back, I was like this in college too. In college there were nights when one friend and myself could drink over 40 beers together. I was once asked by a psychological counselor if I knew that amount of alcohol could have killed me. Oh yeah, I had to see the counselor because I got in trouble numerous times for underage drinking while in college and came within inches from being thrown out of college. I had to see a counselor as part of my punishment. I didn't see back then that I had a problem, only that I was just doing what I wanted to do.

Nice flashback, now back to the future. I was drinking large amounts of beer and also starting to desire hard alcohol more often (stronger buzz). I got married, and she didn't partake hardly at all, but didn't ask me to stop. It was part of who I was when she married me, but I always felt guilty to myself. Maybe because I knew she deserved and expected better but it hadn't caused any real problems yet so it wasn't an issue. I began to realize just how much I was drinking and desired to quit. I started buying smaller amounts, so the opportunity wasn't there. I'd buy a six pack for the whole weekend. But I would also buy another six pack and drink it real quick when I got home (before my wife got home) and then have one from the other pack open when she arrived so if she smelled alcohol on my breath I was covered - but I had 7 when it seemed to her like I had only had 1. I was lying to my wife. I finally stopped buying it altogether because I couldn't even have it in the house, but if we were out somewhere I would have some. Same problem - once I got started I didn't want to quit. I could go for 6 months and not have a drop, and be okay with that. Then we'd go to a work party or something and I'd have one, and another, and 3 more, and - well you get the idea. I couldn't stop.

Finally it all came to a head when I was back in Ohio for a friend's wedding (a Friday night). I was preaching that Sunday at my church. I hadn't had a drink in months, but I decided to just have one with the reception dinner to celebrate. It was over as soon as I had the first drink. I can't tell you how much I had that night, but it was a lot. I was told the next day how obnoxious I had been and also how rude to my wife - I was told this by my wife. I felt...devastated. How was I ever going to get up the next morning and stand before a church and tell them how God wanted them to be living when my life was in shambles. I finally realized I was an alcoholic. I don't know anything technically or officially like to what degree I was one or anything - I only knew that when it has control of you and not vice versa, and when you do things like lie to the people you love in order to get away with it, you have a serious problem. Driving back to Virginia I was a wreck. I cried, I apologized to my wife and to God. I begged Him for forgiveness, to do something to allow me to preach the next day - although I was the most unworthy person ever to do it. On the 6 hour ride, I got a lot straightened out. I received forgiveness and grace, slowly, but it came. I remembered reading something recently about where had all the strong men of the Bible gone - men who would vow things to God and live their lives resolutely. The next day, January 1, 2006, I took a solemn vow to God never to drink again. I knew it was the only thing I could do that I would take serious enough to keep me in check in the future. If I vowed something to God, I could not break that - I wouldn't allow myself to. So I sealed it in Him, and have not had even one sip since.

I have slowly been experiencing healing from my past experiences. That weekend I reconciled with my wife for what I had done, and I reconciled with God. There was one other big thing looming that took more than a year to face - my parents. I had lied to them all the way through college. They had no idea I was drinking and when they asked, I denied it. They never knew I came within inches of being thrown out of college and was on probation for a year. I knew I needed to confess to them, and finally one day I did. It wasn't easy, but a huge weight left me once it was over, and I feel like my relationship with them is better now for having done it. Also, this past January 1, 2009, I had two neat experiences. First, I celebrated being alcohol free for 3 years. Also, on the very same day, my boss (whom I have known for a while now and who I have had many deep talks with) told me that he was giving up alcohol for life, and it had a lot to do with me. I didn't know this, but he went on to tell me he had been having a very similar problem to what I struggled with, and he felt it controlling him. He didn't want this and he knew my story and struggle and how I handled it, and he chose to stop as well. It hasn't always been easy for me, and it hasn't for him either as a lot of what we do as a company is take people out for drinks to celebrate. I just enjoy my never-ending free refills of Diet Coke and the conversations. When people finally realized he wasn't drinking anymore, they were confused and it was hard for him to try to explain, but he's stuck to his guns now for over 5 months. I ask him from time to time how he's doing and we both enjoy sharing the experience of freedom and talking about it.

It wasn't until I was out to dinner last night with my wife that this thought hit me - I struggled with alcohol so I could help someone else who was struggling quit. My struggle had a purpose, and my striving to conquer it and being open and sharing about it with others has made a difference to at least one other person. Actually more than one - we both have a wife and children. The healing continues.

Also when we were out last night, we went to a place that serves good dinner, but after a certain hour is basically a nightclub for young folks. As we were leaving around 9pm, tons of people were beginning to trickle in. They were all dressed nice, coming in with their friends - you could see the sense of adventure in their eyes and the willingness for the night to sweep them away. I still remember that feeling, and for a few moments I longed for it again. That part of me is still there - it's the old self who wants to cast off all responsibility, and go headlong into the night. But instead I walked back outside to the car with my wife and we enjoyed driving around town that evening with the windows down and having a great conversation.

I don't give in to the old self anymore. Since I finally got drinking out of my life and regained control, God has been using me in big ways. He is teaching me and preparing me for big things - as He is you. I know that if I let the old self start partying again, I would head off the path and down a ravine as far as my journey through life. As for me, I'm going to stay on course, and take joy in knowing I'm the person God wants me to be - imperfections and all. I'd much rather be following Him than my old ways. I think this is the first time I have written about my story. Thanks for listening.

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