This is my story of recovery from alcoholism. Because of God's grace and because the Twelve Steps and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery work, I had my last drink of alcohol on September 10, 1995.
Recovery from alcoholism is absolutely possible for anyone who is willing to be honest with themselves and open-minded enough to accept a whole new way of living.
Somewhere in my journey toward recovery, I mustered up enough honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to find some degree of success. That is when God took over in my life! I am living proof that He is still in the business of miracles. This is my recovery testimony.
I drank alcoholically for 20 years, more or less. And before that I was surrounded by the disease of alcoholism in my family. I come from a long line of alcoholics.
My grandfathers on both sides were alcoholic. My grandmother on my father's side was alcoholic. And my mother was alcoholic.
Now you may be picturing me a pitiful child, living is squalor, my mother sitting on a bar stool somewhere while I fended for myself as a child. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I come from a long line of functional alcoholics. In fact, to look at our family in the small Midwestern town where I grew up, you would be reminded of a typical wholesome, happy, all-American family.
I am the youngest of three children. My father and grandfather were both dentists, and I had a somewhat privileged upbringing (beautiful home, nice vacations, lavish Christmases, and so on.) But if any of you are from the Midwest, you know that the booze can flow freely in all levels of society. My grandparents were known to have a few too many at the Country Club, and my father being the dutiful (ACOA) son would often come to their rescue and drive them home because they were too drunk to drive.
My grandfather died in his sixties, no doubt the result of years and years of heavy drinking. My grandmother's drinking escalated out of control after his death. That's a whole other story about the devastating effects of alcoholism that I won't go into here. Suffice to say, it did not have a happy ending. My grandfather on my mother's side was a white collar worker – once a talented minor league baseball player, but he ended up homeless on the streets of Chicago at the end of his life.
And then there was my mother. By all appearances to the outside world, she could have been June Cleaver - the perfect, respectable wife, mother, housekeeper, and community member. She never drank until 5:00, "cocktail hour", but once she got started she rarely stopped before making us all miserable. The next morning, there was an unwritten rule: We don't say a word about Mom's drunken behavior the night before. Life as usual. Don't feel. Don't acknowledge. Don't tell. Our family epitomized the adage, "There's an
in the living room and no one's talking about it." At least for my family, recovery from alcoholism seemed hopeless.
And I fell right in line. On the outside, I was successful in my career in the oil and gas business, college-degreed, a wife and mother – had 2 cars in the garage, the house was clean, the bills were paid. We attended church – not regularly, but when we did, no one would have suspected a thing. I never got a DUI (although many times I deserved one). My employers and neighbors, even sometimes my own husband, were clueless about my excessive drinking.
Like my mother, on the outside everything appeared to be on the up and up. But on the inside, I was a wreck. It was a constant struggle to control my drinking. I was either drinking or thinking about drinking at all times. I lived in darkness, apart from God. I was frightened, anxious, and full of shame and guilt about my behavior, determined not to become to my children what my mother was to me, all the time moving in that same direction.
I had very low self-esteem. I never really grew up, even into my twenties and thirties. I was desperately lonely and depressed. I was cynical and judgmental, full of resentment and self-pity. I was almost always sick and tired.
Translation: Hungover! But I had to pretend that I wasn't hungover. My greatest efforts went into trying to make people believe (and also to make myself believe) that I was okay.
In John 10:10, Jesus says that "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." Satan surely had me in his clutches, but I didn't realize it. His objective was to kill any knowledge I might gain of Jesus Christ, to steal my peace and joy, and to destroy my very life.
I believe that Satan has a heyday with alcoholism and addiction. He uses one of its mains symptoms, denial, to the fullest to keep recovery from alcoholism at bay. For many years, I was tricked into thinking that I had things all under control, that I really didn't have that big of a problem, that lots of people drink, so what's the big deal? All the time, I was dying a slow death, spiritually and physically.
But the good news is that Jesus doesn't leave us without hope. He also says in that same scripture, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." That is what I have found in my recovery from alcoholism and in my new life in Christ: Abundant life.
There is a quote that I clipped once from Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ. It expresses how I always feel when I try to give my testimony. He says, ". . . I was doing a speaking tour, and I told my story and I got to a place where I was trying to explain my old life, and I just stopped and looked people in the eye and said, ‘How can I tell you? How can I describe for you? Because you didn't know me when I was drunk, when I was profane, when I was immoral, living that ungodly lifestyle. You didn't know me, so how can I explain to you the difference that Jesus has made?"
I, too, wish I could adequately explain to you the change that God has made in me. I am truly transformed as a result of my recovery from alcoholism.
I've told my story a handful of times from the podium at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. (I failed to mention that I am a member of AA, and gratefully so because it led me to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.) I could go into lots of detail of what it was like before this miracle happened in my life. Suffice to say, my life before my recovery from alcoholism was clearly unmanageable.
I later realized it wasn't quite normal to start drinking almost daily as a teenager or to have a mother who encouraged it. I look back and realize that she needed a drinking partner – and I was a willing participant, as was my older brother. I remember drinking rum and Coke and playing cards with my mother when I was only 14 or 15. I still have a charm bracelet from my teenage years that has a little charm of a six pack of beer, given to me by my mother. She thought it was cute that I liked Budweiser and Myers rum!
My mother's rule was we could drink as much as we wanted as long as we were at home. As I was raising my teenagers, I remember realizing just how bizarre that was – but at the time, when I was a teenager, it seemed normal.
So I was the picture of teenage alcoholism. I started very early in life, and I drank all through high school and college.
In college, it was always Julie and the guys. And I could drink any guy under the table – except my brother. We were always neck and neck. I had an enormous capacity for alcohol, yet I rarely lost control or made a fool of myself. I later learned that a high tolerance was a tell-tale sign of escalating alcoholism, and it proved to be a wonderful way for me to stay in denial – because, after all, I wasn't the sloppy drunk. Someone else had the drinking problem, not me.
Yet I always had a beer in my hand. I suspected that I didn't drink like other people – that, for instance, I was a little more anxious than anyone else about the dwindling beers in the refrigerator during a party. Isn't somebody going to go to the beer store??!!
My sneaky drinking started when I was very young, too. I was the ultimate closet alcoholic. I could hide cans and bottles with the best of them – and hide the fact that I'd been drinking (or so I thought).
When I graduated from college, my soon-to-be husband and I moved to Colorado where we married and lived for 5 years. After my daughter was born, my closet drinking escalated even more. I especially didn't want people to know I was alcoholic then – a beer in one hand and a baby in the other. Something is wrong with that picture.
It was during this time that I did try to quit or at least to control my drinking. Countless times I would swear off – but someone would push a beer my way and I was off and running again - asking myself how it happened. What had happened to my great resolve?
And the humiliating incidents were happening more and more. People were starting to notice.
My husband was nagging me continually about my drinking – which made me even sneakier.
We moved to Texas and still my drinking escalated. While pregnant with my son, I somehow stayed sober for those nine months. As was the case with my first pregnancy, soon after my son was born I was off to the races again with my drinking.
It was then that I crashed and burned and made my first trip into Alcoholics Anonymous. It was an eye-opening experience. No one in my family had ever gone for help, so I knew nothing about the 12 Steps or the spiritual aspect of recovery from alcoholism.
I haven't mentioned my relationship with the Lord during all this time. Basically, it was non-existent. My maternal grandmother was a strong Christian who always positively influenced me where my mother couldn't. My father was a very loving, spiritual man. Although we didn't attend church regularly, I remember him praying with us as he tucked us in to bed and reading us Bible stories.
When I was 12, my dad, who was my everything, was killed in a car accident and any Christian upbringing was cut short. My mother was left with three teenagers to raise, and I always say that the only time God's name was spoken in our house was when she used it in vain.
I want to add that I loved my mother very much (even though it may not sound that way), and she loved us. As much pain as she put us through with her drunken scenes, part of my 12 Step work and recovery from alcoholism has been to forgive her and realize she was very ill – doing the best she knew how at the time. I'm no longer angry with her; I'm angry with the disease of alcoholism. She didn't have the benefit of this recovery program. Sadly, she died of pancreatic cancer when she was just 54.
Back to my first trip into AA. I didn't stay long! I wanted to do things my way. I only wanted to go to women's meetings because that was where I felt most comfortable. I didn't want to have a sponsor or get close to anyone. I didn't ask for help in working the Steps. I didn't want to share in meetings about what was going on with me. In fact, I was scared to death to share in meetings!
I rationalized that the group was cliquey, and I didn't fit in. I always felt like life was a private club, and everyone knew the password but me! So there I was again – back to my loneliness and isolation, only dry! I was always looking for that illusive sense of comfort that I thought I could find in a bottle, and being sober in the beginning is NOT comfortable. So naturally, I drank again.
My marriage began to crumble around me, so I self-medicated more and more with the booze. It was also during this time that my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I became extremely bitter and resentful toward my husband, convinced that he did not love or support me in my time of need. I was terrified of losing my mother, after having already lost my dad. In retrospect, I realized I had never really grieved his loss; I just drank away the pain year after year.
I was in such denial about how my alcoholism and codependent ways contributed to the problems in my marriage. All I could see were HIS faults and failings. Now I can see how self-centered and misdirected my thinking was. I was so sure that divorce would solve my problems, but I had no idea what was ahead in terms of a bitter custody battle over my two children.
Those were the worst days of my life.
I actually quit drinking for a two year period (with only a few slips). I was terrified of losing my children. Fear can indeed be a motivator temporarily for the alcoholic. We might stop drinking because of fear of losing family, our health, a job, a driver's license, or fear of going to jail. But for the "dry" alcoholic, in other words, someone not working a 12 step recovery program, it is only a matter of time before the next drunk.
My soon-to-be ex-husband began dating and ultimately married his female attorney. (Yes - You read it right!!) I ran out of lawyers and money, and after much wrangling and some horrible choices I made during this period of my life [I won't elaborate...], I eventually lost custody of my children. I became the weekend parent. I was never so ashamed of myself, I hated my ex-husband and his new wife with a passion, and I hurt deeply for my children. My motto became, "Poor me, poor me; pour me another drink."
During all this time, I managed to advance in my career. I wish I could say the same for my relationship with men. Immediately after my divorce, without giving myself time to heal, I jumped head first into the first unhealthy relationship that came along! Did I mention I also struggle with co-dependency?!
I ignored all the signs of a second failed-marriage in the making and married this man who had two children of his own. So there I was, increasingly sick in my alcoholism, missing my children desperately when they were away, and poorly equipped to handle a difficult relationship and blended family situation.
Now I am able to look back on that time of my life with gratitude because it is what brought me to my knees before the Lord – begging for His help. Now I realize that was the best possible place for me to be! God is indeed at His best when we are at our worst.
It was as if the Lord said, "Okay, are you finally through? Can we start now??"
I prayed that simple yet profound prayer of desperation that starts many of us on the road to recovery from alcoholism: "God, please help me."
That was September 10, 1995, and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since that day.
Soon after that, I separated from my second husband. I joined a wonderful church and became an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I clung to my new-found sobriety and relationship with the Lord. I learned so much from the teachings of my pastor. I grew spiritually and healed emotionally through working the 12 Steps with a sponsor. I read and studied the Bible, especially my Life Recovery Bible.
At about two years sober, I answered a call for volunteers to help start a new program at the church called Celebrate Recovery. But best of all, both of my children came to live with me, and we were able to rebuild a wonderful life together, which we still enjoy today.
Not that life in sobriety is always easy. There have been trials and heartaches because that is just the way life is, I guess.
The biggest blow was in 1998 when I got a call that my brother had died suddenly. As I mentioned earlier, we were two peas in a pod. His alcoholism, just like mine, had spun out of control. Only he never could get sober, and he died at just 43 years old. An autopsy determined he died from an enlarged heart: alcoholic cardiomyopathy. I still struggle with questions as to why I was given this gift of recovery from alcoholism, yet my sweet brother had to die. After all this time, I still miss him very, very much.
But time does indeed heal, acceptance comes, and life goes on; and I often discover that I'm having a heck of a lot of fun these days. I used to think it was impossible to have fun without drinking. I couldn't have been more wrong. Examples: I am now certified to scuba dive and learning to play golf! I live in a brand new neighborhood, and I don't have to hide from my neighbors! They only know the "new Julie"!
Life is so good right now, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember my old life before my recovery from alcoholism.
NOT ONLY THAT! I now have two incredibly bright and handsome grandsons who bring me more joy than I ever could have imagined. Just think. They will never know the old me. They will only know the Grammy who has a heart for Jesus and who loves them almost as much as He does!
I have one rule when they come to my house: Whatever they want, the answer is YES. (I'm kidding; however, I often apply that rule!)
Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
The key for me was to first learn to love and trust God, and to accept that He loves me unconditionally. I slowly began to love and trust myself; then to my surprise, I found I genuinely wanted to help others, especially other recovering women. The same principle has worked in my relationships with friends and family. I wasn't ready to accept their love for me or to reciprocate, to be in healthy relationships, until I first learned to love the Lord and in turn love myself.
Let me leave you with this: If you have landed on my website because you are struggling with an addiction, I understand. If you are an adult child of an alcoholic, I understand. If you have been told that you are "co-dependent" and don't quite know what that means, I understand that, too!
Finally, I hope you will take advantage of the gift of recovery and work through the 12 Steps. They provide a wonderful structure for recovery from alcoholism and for just living life. They are not just for hard-core alcoholics or addicts, nor are they some new-age path to enlightenment. As I researched the early history of AA, I learned that the 12 Steps are based on spiritual principles with deep roots in the Bible and the Christian community. They are age-old biblical principles such as:
HUMILITY BEFORE GOD
LOVE FOR OTHERS
Remember that recovery from alcoholism is a "we-deal". We cannot do this alone. We need each other. Recovering alcoholics need struggling alcoholics, and vice versa.
Remember also that we are 100% hopeless without God's help. Surrender to the process of recovery and don't quit before the miracle happens!
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