Why New Years Day Is Independence Day For Me…

Last Sunday in our study in 1 Corinthians 1, I made some comments about our testimony as Christians. Each one of us has a story to tell, a story that is uniquely ours. This is mine.

This time of year is the most special to me, it’s a time of introspection and thankfulness as I contemplate what the Lord has done in my life.

New Years Eve 1985 I found myself at a party with friends, drunk, stoned, and incredibly unhappy. My journey with substance abuse was relatively brief by some standards, I began drinking somewhere about 8th grade, secretly of course. Alcohol was always available in my home. I enjoyed the feeling of being buzzed, I enjoyed the escape. I had quite a bit of depression as a young guy, resulting from sickness during my formative years. From about 3rd grade to 9th, I was in and out of the hospital. I had my belly cut open 5 separate times as doctors tried to fix an arterial condition that effected blood flow to my kidneys. I had chronic high blood pressure with frequent hypertensive crisis’ that were life threatening. Doctors at one point told my folks that I might live to 18. During the course of my treatment I lost one of my kidneys, this would figure in to why I couldn’t drink like my buddies could.

This foundation of depression was enhanced by teenage romance that was always a bit out of control. I could probably write a book about that but I will just say that my adolescent understanding of women was pretty messed up from early exposure to hardcore pornography.

So here I was at this party, doing what I did. Drinking until my one kidney said enough. Most weekend nights ended with me passing out. I had so many near misses driving to count. One where I passed out and drove off of the end of an overpass. I recall one morning waking up to a wrecked car in the driveway. I had to retrace my previous nights’ route to figure out what I had hit. I found a chunk of my front end in a guard rail. As with all substance abuse, the cycle seems to be a never ending spiral of depression, guilt, heartache, and moral failure.

I had become pretty good at managing things externally, I kept a decent job, and even graduated from high school. I remember days at school where I couldn’t even open my locker. I remember chugging wine for breakfast before school. Drinking rum and coke before and even during school. I even had a teacher smell my bottle of cola one day, and kinda winking at me. I seemed to get away with everything, never really challenged.
Internally (secretly) I wasn’t getting away with anything. Out of school, things progressed rapidly, fueled by heartache of a relationship that I had trashed, and exposure to increasingly harder drugs,… I would take pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I’ll spare you the list. I will also leave out the series of sexual escapades.

I remember buying a gun. Me and my friend Todd bought these really cool Kassnar semi-auto 22 rifles. I remember when I bought it, thinking that this would be a way out. I had been suicidal for years. I think that started in the hospital, maybe in 6th grade. I wanted to jump out the window when I was on the 7th floor at the U.W. But my lifestyle had only increased those secret thoughts. I thought of many ways to end my life. I never shared this with another soul.

I got into an argument at this party, I was angry… I was angry a lot. I was supposed to be having a good time, it seemed like everyone was having a great time but me. I left the party, I have no idea at what time, but I think it was about 11PM. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember coming home. I remember being at the bottom. I wanted out. I wanted out of this cycle, and I didn’t know a way out. I loaded my rifle. I sat on the edge of my bed, finger on the trigger, muzzle in my mouth. I didn’t really want to die. I wanted help, but I didn’t know how to ask.

As I sat there, my sister walked into my room. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but i remember she asked me if I would go to treatment. It was a freeing question. Finally, someone knew where I was. She made some phone calls and she drove me to a treatment center. We stopped at 7-11 and got a six pack for the drive to Monroe. I spent 28 days there, learning about alcoholism and substance abuse. I learned a lot about myself in that brief month. I learned about how to live. I got out on the 28th of January 1986, a day before my 22nd birthday and the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.

I spent the next 13 months attempting to live without alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. These were tough months, trying to figure out who I was and how to live. I lost pretty much every friend I had. I tried going to a couple of parties to see if I could “hang out” with my friends. That didn’t work. Not too many young people like to hang out with losers who go to A.A. meetings. I had become strange to them, and them to me. I remember how much that hurt. It seemed like all that we had in common was gone. But I was alive, and I was thankful for that.

Then I ran into an old friend. Kathleen was a neighbor of mine, and we had gone to Jr. and Sr. High together. She was jogging and I pulled over to chat with her. I hadn’t seen her in a year or so. She was different. She was the most “alive” person that I had ever met. Over the course of the next few weeks she invited me to do stuff with her. It was all without any romantic interest, that was new to me. We developed a relationship that was fresh to me, she re-introduced me to old friends from high school, who had been “born again.” She invited me to church, christian concerts, and other “gatherings.” I felt loved by her, and by her fiancee Brett, in a way that I had never experienced before. My church experience was Presbyterian and Lutheran, and it was an experience that left a taste in my mouth that Christianity was impotent. I attended a Pres. church during the whole time I was drinking. I never once felt challenged about my lifestyle. I remember hearing about the “born agains” but it was all kinda lumped into a kind of Jimmy Swaggert stereotype.

In Kathleen, Brett, and their friends, I saw something different. I saw lives transformed by Jesus. I had never seen that before. I contend that it is the single most attractive thing in the world. They never preached at me, they just loved me. In the spring of 1987 right before Easter, I remember sitting once again on the edge of my bed. I remember asking Jesus to give me what Kathleen and Brett had. It was not a perfect sinners prayer, i don’t recall “confessing my sin,” I was keenly aware of that and understood my moral depravity. I just simply put faith in Jesus and his ability to change my life. He was alive, and so was I.

As the song says: “no turning back, no turning back.”

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