You’ve heard the expression, “Leap of faith,” but it isn’t a leap, it’s a nearly bloody battle:
While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper. Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,” and not the four pages, was the important thing…
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:15
On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized. For years I had traveled the road of addiction. Alcohol was the propelling vehicle. At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead. One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end. The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act. Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.
Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands. Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope. But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction. Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father. Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.
But despair was frustrated. Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh. The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness. The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol. They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.” They knew the tune well. I was singing it as they were victimized. For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung. The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas. Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility. Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide. Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree. There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.
At this point a word presented itself to consciousness. The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal. If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it. I give up. God help me!”
This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope. A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator. Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help. Those ghostly manifestations out there need help. They are the problem.” Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded: “You are the problem.” Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.
In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:
“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind. He speaks into your spirit that’s born again. When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”
Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.
Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach. A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor. Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind. After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button. My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!” She grasped the situation immediately. Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number. The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful. Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic. Consciousness ended at this point. During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout. This is not to be confused with passing out. In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.
With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks. Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution. The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment. It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober. The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting. That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire. What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for. He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly. The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time. But false hope was not yet dead. As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated. There was nothing. The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.
When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy. He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death. Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized. Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road. But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude. On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God. This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road. Depression is to doubt His wisdom. Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought. But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.” Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.” A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt. Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence. Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.
With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded. Depression became the sands of an ocean shore. At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.” At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt. As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.” Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought. Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always. My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self. My flow cannot fill a full vessel.” With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope. I opened the door and entered the clinic. I was on a new road.
As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.” Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist. The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room. Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying, “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift. Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.” Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist. He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else. This one is mine.” During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life. Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission. As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression. The lemming was in the water.
With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle. The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross. His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road. The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.” It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection: “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.” At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination. This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross. On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price. The price that He paid gives my sin transparency. The view to the destination is not obscured. At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there. That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back. At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.
So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road? To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance. Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.” In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall; “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination. In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name. Glory be to God!
And then I told you how it played out for me:
Back then I said I inherited two things at his passing: His hooded sweatshirt and his Bible. But I also inherited his love for Jesus, passed on to me by his prayers.
He is one of a great cloud of witnesses, still sharing his testimony, and I’m hoping it speaks to someone today.