An Alcoholic’s Redemption
By the time I was ten years old, I had already acquired a taste for alcohol. Born in El Paso, Texas, to parents who consumed drinks nightly—Mom, usually a beer, and Dad, a tonic—I grew up familiar with the sight and smell of alcoholic beverages. As a child, I was allowed to sip my mother’s beers, and the aroma was tantalizing! To this day, the smell of beer has an intoxicating effect on my senses.
As I grew older, my parents allowed me to drink with them, believing to do so would keep me from going out to drink elsewhere. But by my early teens, I was hanging out with older guys making trips into Juarez, Mexico, where we could buy alcohol below age. We’d also make regular trips to the local liquor stores. With access to automobiles, my friends and I would sit in front of a liquor store waiting for someone to drive up who was willing to go in and buy liquor for us—provided we’d also pay for theirs. By this time, I was often drinking to the point of intoxication. Frequently, on weekends, a gang of my friends and I would ice down cases of beer, drive to the desert outside El Paso, and consume our stash before climbing into our bedrolls and passing out.
Into Heavy Stuff
After high school and for the next 15 years, my drinking took me into what I now call the “dark years” of my life. When I look at family pictures taken during those years, I see myself in the photos but have little memory of the special occasions we were celebrating. I was usually drunk.
My wife, Pauletta, like me, grew up in a drinking family. When we married, she knew the effects that alcohol had on people and accepted it. It was the way of life she was familiar with. Two beautiful daughters were born into our home, but due to my heavy drinking, most of the responsibility for care of our daughters fell to Pauletta.
Beer was always my beverage of choice—that is, until one Christmas when a neighbor invited us to a party where hard liquor was served. To fit in on this festive evening, I felt I should accept the drinks offered, even though I was not fond of hard liquor. The trick of the devil was to get me to take those first sips, and before long I had switched from drinking beer to hard liquor.
Once on an elk hunting trip in Colorado, a friend and I started doing marijuana runs from El Paso to Colorado. We worked together for two years delivering a few kilos, which paid enough to cover our hunting costs and our drugs. Amazingly, during my years of heavy drinking, I was able to keep my job. I never drank on the job but would start drinking the moment I arrived home. I would sit at the bar in our kitchen and enjoy one glass of liquor after another—sometimes passing out in the evening. On business trips associated with my job, I sometimes played around with recreational drugs such as acid and meth, but alcohol was legal, and I would always come back to it.
A Real Shiner!
As the years rolled on and my drinking grew worse, Pauletta became less willing to accept a husband who—although home on the sofa—would be in a drunken stupor and not really there! She knew I needed help and began to understand that her acceptance of my drinking as normal was actually enabling me—not helping me. She wanted me to change and was ready to demand it!
I, however, would not admit that I had a problem—not even after my brother died from an overdose of cocaine, an act which filled me with anger and drove me to drink even more. Clearly my life was a mess, but I was incapable of doing anything about it. The devil, however, had tricked me into thinking that the comfort of another woman was what I needed. Pauletta—who had endured life as the wife of an alcoholic for years—learned of my escapades, confronted me, and became violent. She was fighting mad at her alcoholic husband and the woman who threatened her marriage and home. In the brawl that took place between us, I ended up with a black eye! At work the next day, my excuse was that I’d had an accident while working in the garage the night before.
My company bosses and co-workers, though they knew I drank, were unaware that I had a drinking problem. But I knew! My drinking had reached a stage that was detrimental not only to my own well-being but also to my job performance. At my request—and through a benefit program called the EAP (Employee Assistance Program)—my company offered me the opportunity to get treatment at a premier inpatient drug and alcohol center in Wickenburg, Arizona. I entered for a four-week treatment, but ended up staying seven.
Sober and Saved
When entering treatment, my attitude had been to get enough help to control my drinking. I never dreamed that the help I needed would require giving up alcohol altogether. The various therapies I received at the rehab center did help. I gained an understanding of myself and learned that I have a need to control, and alcohol provided the power to do so. But the most beneficial part of the program for me was participating in an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12-Step Program. At AA meetings, I could be honest about myself. With encouragement from the group, I grasped a new concept: I could change!
I began to envision a different way forward for my life! I began to really want to quit drinking! Before I left the center, alone by the swimming pool one afternoon, I got on my knees and acknowledged my powerlessness over alcohol. I prayed, “God, please help me! I don’t want to be me anymore!”
When I returned home, I got my job back, and my family was going to stay with me—a miracle! Within a year, my wife, two daughters, and I had all been baptized and become active members of a neighborhood church. I had been baptized twice before in my life—once as a child when I wanted to do what my friends were doing, and again when I was 17 to impress a girl whose church required baptism for membership. But a pastor helped me understand that what I needed was not another religious rite—I needed to be saved! He helped me understand Who Jesus is and that He loved me enough to die for my sins! I understood that I have access to this personal Savior every moment of my day. So a new journey began for me. I began walking daily with God and keeping check on my need to control others—accepting that there are things I can’t control and then relinquishing those things to God.
A Clean Start
Free of alcohol, I now had a clean body and a clear mind. I had time, energy, and a desire to do something with my life. I looked for direction from God. My church offered me the opportunity to work with children, and I began teaching a Sunday school class of eight-year-olds. Our church also had a prison ministry which worked with the Bill Glass Prison Ministry, the oldest and largest prison ministry in the U.S. On my first visit to a prison, I connected with men whose drug and alcohol use had led them into a life of crime, and I realized—but for God’s mercies—it could be me behind those bars! I knew those men needed the message I had: the way to beat addiction is through Christ and His power!
Thus began a 19-year ministry—one that has taken me into 161 prisons, including prisons in the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and Chile. What a blessing this had been! I have met men in prison with horrible pasts who have turned to Christ and experienced the joy of having their sins forgiven. Some have chosen to study theology in prison, preach the gospel in their cell block, and start churches among their inmates. The rate of recidivism is lowest among prisoners who experience the saving power of the Lord while in prison. The gospel truly is the power for salvation!
And there are special blessings related to prison ministry. Jesus taught that to visit those in prison—the “least of these”—is the same as doing it for Him (Matthew 25:34-45). Our visits to prisons show men and women who are incarcerated that we care, that they are not forgotten, and that there is hope in Christ! When a life is changed by the gospel, a family’s legacy is changed, and society becomes a better place for all.
Many people ask me if—after all those years of drinking—I have ever relapsed. I never have! I know it would be suicide for me. After rehab, I continued going to post-rehabilitation meetings for several years. But the fellowship in my church, the love and prayers of fellow believers, and keeping the Word of God foremost in my mind eventually took the place of regular AA meetings. I still check in from time to time with the person who acted as my “sponsor,” and we rejoice together in what God continues to do in both our lives. Sponsorship has been an important part of AA from the beginning, and it remains strong in the 12-Step program. The one-on-one relationship between sponsor and addict benefits both parties.
Alcohol and drugs stole my life for many years. There’s no denying the power they have! But Christ is the Greatest Power! His love freed me from a totally profligate life and blessed me with a life of abundant joy and meaning. “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10, HCSB).