Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we started to figure this sobriety thing out. We replaced alcohol with Monster Ultra. We replaced going out with video games. We added the off-brand Cheetos to the mix because the off-brand Cheetos are delicious. We started going to bed tired instead of blacking out. We started waking up clearheaded instead of hungover.
As the numbness slipped away, even the smallest pains of life cut deeper. Everything hurt worse. But at the same time, the really beautiful moments glowed with this unworldly awesomeness that we had forgotten existed—or maybe never appreciated before. And those moments were worth everything we’d gone through.
In May, we would have been sober for nine months.
Would have. If today I wasn’t sitting here hungover and hating myself.
When you set out to do something or become something and you screw up, there’s this sense of pointlessness that seeps into everything. I feel like I failed and I’ll keep on failing forever, so what’s the point in fighting it? Why not give up and accept my fate?
I’ve seen people fight their demons and lose. People I loved. People I couldn’t believe the world would keep turning without. And I’ve seen people fight their demons and win. I had a front row seat to my parents’ struggle and victory over alcoholism. But what makes the difference? Why do some people succeed and other people give up?
Some part of me has always been sure—even since I was a little kid—that God was the key. He gives us the strength to overcome any obstacle. He forgives our sins and gives us a clean slate. We cry out to Him and He answers. It only makes sense that if someone struggling with alcoholism came to Him, He would help them overcome their addiction and put their life back together. Miraculous. A testimony of God’s grace, a picture of His love.
But here’s the thing—I’ve got God. I know the peace that passes all understanding. “No guilt in life, no fear in death,” right? And yet I’ve stumbled into church so hungover I was still drunk more times than I can count.
This inconsistency in my beliefs and my practices led me to something I’ve thought a lot about, but never written out or said aloud before: Non-Christians can turn to God and be freed from their shackles. But if you’ve already got God in your life, you can’t suddenly find Him and be miraculously freed. You’re already supposed to be free. So, what do you do?
What do I do?
There’s a song by Alabama 3 called “R.E.H.A.B.” My friend sent it to me a few years ago, during one of my earlier failed attempts to quit drinking, but I didn’t start listening to it until recently. Its refrain?
Sometimes the light don’t shine.
That’s the time we got to open our eyes.
Say what you will about my friends, but never say they aren’t topical.
What do you do when the light doesn’t shine? You open your eyes.
Why do I drink? I can claim that I do it because I’m more sensitive than most people, that I can’t ignore the bad in this world, that even the pain of others cuts me deeper than it does most people, but that’s just an excuse. The truth is, I just like to drink. I like the way it shuts down my brain. I love the moment when I’m so far gone that I stop existing. A buzz isn’t enough. Fall-down drunk isn’t enough. I’m not satisfied until I black out. When I drink, I do it because I want to be gone, to not be able to think. I don’t care about anything but drinking enough to shut off my brain.
Josh and I spent eight months fighting this. The first month was terrible. The second was impossible. The third was incredible. By the fourth, I thought we had won. We felt good, we were healthy, we were learning to deal with life instead of drowning it. I was learning to be okay with existing. I thought we would never drink again.
Our slide down the slippery slope started on a dark and stormy night. It was the first thunderstorm of the year. We got a bottle of wine, pulled the couch over by the window, shut off the lights, and watched the lightning flash and the rain pour. For one night at least, we were a normal couple who just so happened to be drinking wine.
The next dark and stormy night didn’t come for a couple weeks, and it didn’t come as a result of the weather. It came from inside me. I’d been growing steadily more paranoid for days, and with that, angrier and angrier at myself for believing things I knew I shouldn’t. It got to the point where I knew that if I had a gun, I would use it just to shut my brain up.
Finally, I told Josh, “I wish I could Chekhov gun myself.”
“You’re scaring your partner, K,” he said.
We both laughed a little too hard.
“Let’s get some Camo Black,” I said.
So we did.
A week later there was a night when we were exhausted. We’d both worked hard all day, our defenses were down, and the boys were spending the weekend with their grandparents. It seemed like the perfect time to let loose. We got enough Arrogant Bastard and Four Loko to kill a horse and went to work on the hangover to end all hangovers.
Flash forward another week to another blackout drunk, this one for no reason. Flash forward a few more nights to last Wednesday. And then every night after it.
It used to be that every time I said I was going to quit, my friend would joke, “You know, one of the symptoms of alcoholism is repeated failed attempts to stop drinking.”
I thought this time we were done. I thought we had figured it out. Maybe I got cocky. Or maybe it was my black and white way of looking at the problem. My best friend has been trying to tell me for the longest time that black and white is the least healthy way to look at recovery from anything. You can’t assume that if you fall down once, you’ll never get back up. She’s been trying to make me understand that you can’t use that as a reason not to drink because when the day comes that you slip up, you’ll believe it. You won’t get back up.
Maybe that’s why it feels like I’m circling the drain right now. Like this is the latest in a never-ending line of failed attempts. I don’t know how to fix that switch in my brain that wants to be gone. Today I’m so far away from the light that I can’t even remember what it looked like. So, what do I do?
Well, duh. I wouldn’t have brought up the song if it wasn’t a recurring theme.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why I drink. What matters is why I need to stop.
The proverbial wake up call came a year ago as Josh, me, and the boys were driving through town one evening. From the backseat, Oak said, “Wait! Don’t we need to go there to get you guys something?”
He was pointing at the liquor store.
It felt like someone had kicked me in the lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to breathe. My four-year-old wanted to know why we weren’t stopping at the liquor store. Even worse, the answer was because by some fluke WE ALREADY HAD BOOZE AT HOME. It was unreal. Josh and I gave each other the look. You know the one—where you’re both about to laugh because something is so wrong that if you start crying, you’ll never stop? Yeah, that one.
I have a friend who likes to say that if he can’t be a role model, he’ll settle for being a cautionary tale. The day I became a parent, I lost that luxury. Maybe even before that. The day my parents decided that they wanted more than one child, I became a role model by default. Up to now, I’ve been a poor example for my siblings. But I still have the chance to be a good one for my sons.
“Wait! Don’t we need to go there to get you guys something?” Oak asked, pointing his tiny finger at the liquor store.
Josh and I gave each other The Look.
“Uh…no,” Josh said. “We’re not going there anymore.”
“Why not?” Oak asked.
“Because it’s bad,” I said. “The drinks we got there are bad.”
“Then why do you always get them?” Oak has never been one to leave it at the simple answer.
“We thought they would make us happy,” I said. “But they never do. They just make us feel worse.”
“What makes us happy?” This kid, I swear.
I thought about it. “God’s the only thing that will make us happy.”
“Why didn’t you know that before?”
Because your mom is an idiot, son. Please stop asking questions that force her to search her soul. “Some people don’t know better. We didn’t. But then we learned.”
“Oh,” Oak said, finally satisfied. He sat back in his seat. “If I was a grownup, I would tell all those people at that place that it was bad.”
That was the night we started fighting in earnest to quit. We had slip-ups, and it was still months before we started to get it right, but we finally had a reason, a real reason to quit. Not our health, not our faith, not our finances. Our kids.
I’m the kind of person who rebels against the slightest hint of authority. I hate being told what to do, even by my own body. I don’t want my babies chained to alcohol, too. I don’t want them to think they need to drink. I want them to be free. I want to be free.
So, what do I do? Jesus has been my constant companion since I was six or seven and here I am, twenty-eight years old, stronger in my faith than I’ve ever felt before, and I’m still struggling with alcoholism. I don’t have the benefit of that miraculous discovery. I can’t get Saved and turn my life around.
It turns out I’ve been guilty of a logical fallacy this whole time. I’ve believed that because I have God in my life, because I know that through Him I can overcome anything, He will overcome anything for me. Somewhere along the way, I started to equate His help, support, and love with the promise of an Easy Button. But here’s the thing: the Bible never says, “Hey, if you love Me and walk with Me, I’ll do everything for you. Just kick your seat back and put it on autopilot, bro. I got this.” Not even if you paraphrase really egregiously.
What it does say is, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” (Ps. 144:1 ESV)
Do I really think it was easy for my dad to quit? I was there. I got to see the pain in his face, the realization that all his friends were turning their backs on him, the anger, the shame. I went from being afraid of him and hoping Mom would get a divorce to knowing that he was the best dad who ever lived.
Do I think it was simple for my mom? After all the nights I prayed with her while she cried? After all the times I watched her stand up to a man twice her size and lay down the law? I’ve never met a stronger human being than her.
“I’m your hero, e,” Dad tells me sometimes. And he’s right. He and Mom are my heroes because it was never easy for either of them, but they never gave up. They kept fighting.
That’s the difference. That’s why some people beat their demons while other people lose to them. Through failures, through screw-ups, through hard times, through months of victory followed by a sudden downward spiral—no matter what happens, they never, ever stop fighting.
Sounds exhausting. Sounds like I’m going to be fighting for the rest of my life. But when I open my eyes and look at things for what they really are, I can see that God prepared me for this war. My parents are my example. Oak and Bear’s freedom, their future, is my motivation. Joshua is my partner. We can fight this together, like we did before. When one of us is weak, the other can protect them. When one of us falls, the other can pull them back up. God helped us do it once. He’ll help us do it again. He trained us for this battle and gave us everything we needed to fight it, all we have to do is not give up. And when the light don’t shine, remember to open our eyes.