It started out small. She would come out with me on the weekends. She gave me the courage to be louder, more bold in my declarations, and even go to the extent of humiliating myself in the presence of my peers. She laughed and cheered alongside me, offering support and courage as I continued in my path of debauchery. I was captivated by her, and she by me. Our relationship was reciprocal. I would show off her potential to be the best motivator in the world; encourager of wiles. I flaunted this new life of freedom, self-abandon and careless speech. She would whisper; “I am with you.” “I love who you are when you are with me.” “Steven, look at what I inspire you to do.” “You’re a complete man with me by your side.” I loved her. I was powerless under her charm. I craved more of her each and every moment. I loved the man I was while she intoxicated me with her smooth words; words of encouragement to continue more into the night. I never stopped to consider who or what I would harm, either physically or with words, all I needed was her word that it was going to be exhilarating and that when the morning came all would be forgotten. I wanted more of her.
Alcohol and I began seeing each other more frequently. What began as weekends of fun turned into five days of fun, with periodic breaks from one another in between. She and I were in many fights, arguments, and even spent a night in jail together. Even so, she remained with me through the toughest times in college, and leading into my twenties, she stuck right by my side almost daily, helping me to navigate through my various pains.
I remember when Alcohol introduced me to her friend: Vicodin. This was her mistake. I ended up falling for Vicodin and shoved Alcohol to the side. Still, whenever I wasn’t constrained to Vicodin, I would call Alcohol, and she would be right there, in the blink of an eye, at my beck and call. She was my faithful friend, my trusted confidant; she was my lover, and I had to have her back. Alcohol quickly forgave the relationship I had with Vicodin, and dove headlong back into our relationship–we became even more intense than before. The near seven months we spent apart didn’t stop her from making a theatrical appearance on my twenty-first birthday. Singing together on stage in front of dozens, we brought the place down with laughter. Later that evening, we even slept outside the door of my house because we were too tired to open it. It was fun when my mom found us the next morning. Oh, what memories we made.
Alcohol had even more of a wild side when she would introduce me to other women. Seducing them with smooth words and laughter, either I would take them home and the next morning not remember who they were, or I would take them to my college dorm where they would leave the next morning, never to be seen again. There were even times when we randomly collided with them by chance, sometimes never obtaining their name. Alcohol showed me just how capable I was of womanizing and she helped me get good at it.
Our relationship remained hot and heavy throughout my teens and early twenties. However, it slowed to a halt when I met Jesus face-to-face. As a response to him, I put my intoxicating relationship with Alcohol on hold for a good many years. Her voice was silenced and Jesus’ was heard. An irritated Alcohol would make attempts to seduce me back into our old ways. The harder I pushed her away, the stronger her next attempt to woo me would be. The harassment continued through my mid-twenties. Whether I was on a mission trip overseas, preaching and distributing food on the streets in Hawaii or living in Sri Lanka as a missionary; it didn’t matter where I was, incessantly she would whisper in my ear, or send me messages. Her obsession knew no bounds.
The move from Sri Lanka to California introduced me to my future wife. Alcohol turned fierce, fiery, relentless and insanely jealous of her. I firmly stated she wasn’t a part of my life anymore, and she reluctantly conceded. I was married on September 30, 2012. As my wife and I grew closer, of course, Alcohol would check in. She would ask questions like: “How is your wife treating you?” “Is she encouraging you enough?” “Can you be vulnerable with her like you were with me?” “Does your wife have the qualities of an intimate lover, a trusted confidant?” I would answer: “My wife and I are in love. Our relationship is strong, in Christ, and with each other.” Nevertheless, Alcohol found a kink in my armor. In a moment of weakness, Alcohol convinced me that my wife wasn’t enough. So, we rekindled our relationship, again. The encounters were one night stands. Nearly every time we met my wife caught us. The affair broke my wife’s heart, breaking mine. I had to put Alcohol in check, establishing a boundary that Jesus, my wife, and my marriage were more important to me. I was setting a new course for my life, one of a hope and a future. An unenthusiastic Alcohol conceded and our relationship ended once again.
Not long ago, Alcohol contacted me asking specific questions regarding intimacy: “Is the sensation as exhilarating as when you and I would live out wiles of youth?” A foolish Steven confided in Alcohol. The intimate confessions resulted in Alcohol coming over July 27, 2015, and the affair resulted in my wife leaving. Consequently, l shattered. I was utterly devastated, broken, humbled, and ashamed of what I had put my wife through. Yet again, I was powerless over Alcohol’s smooth enticements. A relationship that had started out as weekends of fun, lead into weekdays of merrymaking, and ended in co-dependency, and misuse. The abuse had finally caught up with me.
The anger of being found out by my wife drove me back into Alcohol’s arms the next day, and another to follow. Despite our affair being uncovered, and a loss of employment due to my lack of responsibility, these hiccups didn’t deter me from running back to her for consolation. She was always an incredible comforter, even though frequently her words would leave me with a headache. The headaches didn’t bother me. I was addicted to her, so I endured the pain.
As my actions had culminated at a dreadful place, I had every intention of ending my affair with Alcohol at the end of July 2015. I stayed away from Alcohol for a solid three months, even though she beckoned me each and every day. I was determined to work through the damage that Alcohol and I had done to my marriage and relationships. Even so, after a solid period of sobriety, she again seduced me through the anger I had harbored. I see now (they say hindsight is 20/20) how seething I really was. A man filled with insurmountable anger, resentment, hurt and fear. But Alcohol would always provide solace, comfort, and temporary relief from the pain. Yet again, the relationship between Alcohol and I backfired. Our actions landed me in a pit. Feelings of shame and guilt plagued me. Thoughts kept replaying in my head of what I had done, said, and put my wife and others through. I was full of regret; tired of being sick and tired.
I started the painful process of making amends to those I hurt. Like a battered dog, I crawled back to the people I had put through nights of anxiety, some even fearing that I had taken my own life, and gave them the same sob story: “I won’t do it again,” a lie that had been perpetrated countless times before. I deceived those I claimed to love, again. I hid Alcohol with ease, or at least my twisted mind thought I did. I was good at manipulating people and proud of this. Today, I am appalled at the man I was. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Steven Butwell: a strange case indeed.
I aired my dirty laundry. My affair with Alcohol was now public knowledge. We disclosed the true nature of our business days prior to Christmas 2015 to both friends and family alike. I decided since Alcohol was out of the picture that I would contact an old fling: Vicodin. Some were aware of our history but didn’t realize how intense we had gotten. She and I have much more a history than I ever let on. In fact, she and I concealed our secret so well, no one ever was the wiser. We were together nearly every day I could get my hands on her. Like Alcohol, Vicodin was causing dependency. I would have withdrawals when I wasn’t with her, unlike Alcohol, she made my body shake.
A jovial Vicodin was eager to touch my lips again, and a month of dissipation ensued. Almost as soon as it started, she ran out on me near the end of January 2016. So, I contacted Alcohol again. Little did we know, this would be our last four day stretch of indecency together. Our reignited romance, more intense than before, set off shock waves through family and friends. Like a stone being thrown into a still pond, the ripples started off small and expanded across the scape of my life. I found myself quitting a position I had held for four and a half years, ruining relationships, causing and shedding tears, sleepless nights, threats of violence, and countless moments of anxiety to both myself and others. I was killing myself, and the hearts of others. This toxic relationship had festered long enough. It was time to end the sixteen-year marathon. I was tired of running.
It was time for a change. Sadly, a change I had promised countless times before. The boy who cried wolf; Steven Butwell. Alcohol (and Vicodin), having played a divisive, and predominate role (a choice I equally made) in severely damaging (but not destroying) my witness for Jesus, my marriage, my closeness with Jesus, countless personal relationships, numerous family relationships, loss of two jobs (one of which I was confident was my career), trust, integrity, character, body, mind, personality, spirit, loss of a beloved home I shared with my wife, and much more. In the end, loved ones, a beautiful orchestration by Jesus, and a willing heart to change is what landed me in treatment. The sixteen-year love affair that started out small and became a monster was over.
This decision to call it quits was not without consequence. As they say: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn.” Hell. A hopeless place with descriptions varying from “an unquenchable fire,” “a place of torment,” “a pit, or abyss,” “a gloomy darkness,” and a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for all eternity. All are true. I relate to the weeping and gnashing of teeth; a symptom of my self-inflicted grief.
The moment I made the conscious choice to finally put Alcohol out of my life, my own personal hell and my road to the cross, and death of self, began. The woman scorned unleashed a relentless attack of guilt, shame, condemnation, and failure. Once a trusted friend, now a tenacious adversary. Alcohol had now lifted up her heel against me and brought me to a new low by reminding me of all the times I had lied and cheated others of knowing the truth. The truth that for so long I had hidden this secret love affair.
Leaving Alcohol meant exposing my true hurts and fears to myself and to others. I had used her as I had used countless others, but in her case, I had used her to bury and push away those issues that so desperately needed to be dealt with. The secrets were killing me, and simultaneously, I was allowing my love affair with Alcohol to kill me. The amount of energy spent on covering up the lies was draining. She used the words, the actions of friends, co-workers, my marriage (and pending divorce), and family members against me in an attempt to lure me back. She used my deep hurts against me, my worst fears, my actions, and thoughts. The fear of abandonment and rejection, all used as tools to chisel away at my very soul.
Dumping Vicodin was no different. She attempted to offer solace and reminded me that she was right around the corner if I wanted to pick her up. Vicodin reminded me of how many times she had seemingly refueled me with fleeting comfort. I wanted so badly to take her up on the offer. So many times before she had taken away the hurt and fear, but in reality all she did was make it worse and force me to perpetuate an even bigger lie, to myself, and to others.
I knew the only way to escape their continual nagging was to surround myself with, openly confess to and be brutally vulnerable with people of like mind who had experienced similar love affairs. It didn’t matter if their affair was with Alcohol, Heroin, Meth, Xanax, Marijuana, or Vicodin. All our affairs brought us to the same place: treatment. People from all different walks of life, who were spinning themselves an intricate web of lies that even if they wanted to find the origin of their lies, it would be an effort made in vain. Much like them, I myself didn’t necessarily know what was true anymore. The only truth I knew was that I needed help to break this vicious cycle of addiction that had accrued a number of casualties, myself included.
In detoxification, Alcohol’s attempts to draw me back into the poisonous relationship were relentless. Vicodin was shameless. Awful sleepless night of loud whispers returned: anxiety over all the loved ones we had hurt, withdrawals from their intoxicating effects, memories of our escapades. Working together, these mistresses of mine reminded me of the countless failures I had incurred, and taunted me with the question “How could you have ended up here?” “You’re not an addict, are you?” The constant outpour of shame, guilt, and condemnation nearly crippled me. The two sporadically taunt me with soft whispers to return to their side to this very day.
A healthy relationship with Alcohol is suitable for many. A toxic abuse of that relationship is another story. I personally abused alcohol and it took a toll on my life. This doesn’t mean all people will. Jesus doesn’t condemn the use of alcohol (see John 2:1-11, 1 Timothy 5:23). He does condemn the impairment alcohol can and will cause if overly abused — drunkenness, debauchery, and the like (see Ephesians 5:18, Romans 13:13, Luke 21:34, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Peter 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8) — all of which I lived and experienced. I allowed Alcohol to provide me relief from life’s sorrows, temporary relief from my hurts and my pains. I drank up her words to bury what I myself didn’t want to face. I used her (and Vicodin) to run from my fears. I have never had a healthy relationship with either Alcohol or Vicodin.
Jesus died to abolish sinful repetition. God the Father desires us to be dependent upon him, and him alone. I put Alcohol and Vicodin in the place of God; who gave all for me. They were what I drew encouragement from. They gave me solace, strength, courage, and relief from life’s trials and tribulations. Jesus said; “In me you have peace” (John 16:33). I had made Alcohol and Vicodin idols, and God loves me too much to leave me worshipping false gods. I now place him at the forefront of my life, giving him all the praise, glory and honor due him.
Alcohol or Vicodin are just things. They have no inherent value. Jesus graciously gave them to us to be used in a responsible manner, whether enjoying a celebration, treating certain ailments, or improving our overall health. Drunkenness and abuse are the issues: dependance upon them to get you through the day. The good news is, we have Christ to lead, guide, and give us the strength that has always been obtainable through him and his promises. The strength that I relied on Alcohol and Vicodin to provide for so many years.
I willingly entered rehabilitation to purge Alcohol and Vicodin from my life. I reflect on this daily: the resurrection couldn’t happen without the crucifixion. The crucifixion was ugly and torturous. It was also necessary. Necessary to offer freedom. Freedom for those whom have been held captive for so long in their vices, their secret love affairs, their addictions, their sin. Jesus set the captives free by becoming a captive for us and dying on the cross. Because Jesus lives, I can live (John 14:19). Steven needed to die in order to live. Jesus told his disciples (as he does today) “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:24-26)?
Entering treatment was humbling. It meant denying myself. Taking up my cross. Following Jesus. Saving my life. Finding life. So, what have I got to lose?