I love watching Forensic Files. I could keep the Investigation Discovery channel on for the entire day without being bothered by it, which in most cases happens anyway while I am at work. I have learned from these shows that most of the time, if not all of the time, the perpetrators are on the run, eventually get apprehended and then are sentenced based on the severity of their crime. The way these people are caught, however brilliant they believe they are at the time, is by evidence. In my case, there were clues, like footprints, that formed a pile of evidence all pointing to my addiction. In my case, I was on the run since the age of 14 and wasn’t apprehended until I was 31. That is 17 years of evading the truth in my life despite the evidence and a trail of tears and pain from those witnesses I’d hurt along the way.
As many of you know, from previous accounts (See New Identity Magazine articles “Courting Mrs. Hyde” (Issue 31) and “Confronting Dr. Jekyll” (Issue 32)), my history with addiction is fierce and persistent. By God’s grace, I entered treatment nearly 2 years ago. For this, I am eternally grateful. I learned how to live a life of recovery from the wonderful people at the treatment facility I attended, some of which I have fantastic relationships with today. It’s incredible the work that God will do in an individual’s life when they allow him permission to do so. I had to allow God permission to strip me bare. I had to surrender my rights. I had to confess my crimes. I had to own my side of the street and make amends to both God and other human beings. I had to accept that I was an alcoholic. I had to not only admit this to others, in open court, but accept it in my own heart. These are two completely different challenges.
I had to accept what I was, what I had done, and who I had done it to. I had to take a good look in the proverbial mirror with deep introspection, turning the finger that pointed outward for so long in resentment because YOU, “YOU made me do it.” I had to observe, then own, the three fingers pointing back at me in accusation of: “STEVEN made me do it.” Of course, I had the excuse; “I was drunk and/or I took too many addictive painkillers.” But, who made the conscious decision to over do the Percocet or Norco prescription and take more than one? Who made the decision to take more than one drink of the Jameson, the Jack, the Jim, or the Skyy? Well, that was me. I accept that now.
I also had to make a perspective shift, which was tedious work. It took accepting things as they came; “Life on life’s terms” so to speak. Instead of picking up the bottle to numb the challenges and not “feel a certain way” anymore, I faced them. I have learned to confront the issues that come with a clear head, and instead of allowing it to bring out anger or fear, I allow it to teach me. Pain can be a powerful (if not the best) teacher. As can the past. If permitted to do so.
Moving forward I had to make a game plan. What was I to do next? I was fired as a youth pastor and was black out intoxicated when I abruptly quit my job as a server. I lost my house because I was in treatment with no income. My marriage ended. I was left with just me. And while I didn’t have all the answers immediately coming out of treatment – the most important thing I did have was joy.
Inexpressible joy. Joy I had never experienced, dare I say. It felt like true freedom. Freedom from active addiction. Freedom from past guilts and resentments. Forgiveness in my heart, knowing that God forgave me for horrible atrocities committed towards him and others. And if God can forgive me for what I had done, I could boldly forgive those who I felt in my heart had wronged me. “Forgiven to forgive” as it’s said. In substance abuse treatment God taught me about real honesty and introspection, that we are only as sick as our secrets. God taught me about openness, to share my story. That beauty comes from ashes. That you cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion. God had even shown me mercy, so that I could get off the judgement seat that is reserved for only one (Jesus) and show mercy to others rather than blame.
God gave me back my smile, laughter, and ability to not look through others when I spoke face to face, but to look at them. I could not only hear their hurts, but listen and have compassion on an entire new level – a “lived it” level. I was not just sympathetic with phrases like “I am sorry you are going through that.” I also offered more than just empathy in the forms of words like “I know what you’re going through, because I too have endured it.” Instead, I had compassion. Compassion like Jesus had on me. I say to people now; “I know how you hurt because I hurt witnessing you hurt. What do you need me to do for you? How can I help you through this?” Jesus Christ has brought me to a freedom from addiction, and it’s wonderful.
After my liberation, I started working in a treatment center similar to the one I’d come from. I worked on hand with clients regularly. I gave them medications, prepared food, carried on conversations (sometimes for hours), and helped them to dissect what had brought them to this point in their lives. I provided them a friend, an ear, a hug, or whatever they needed me to be in that moment. That was my role. It was my honor and my privilege. I was working full time in the recovery and addiction treatment field, but I never worked a day. It was a joy to give back in this way. For once, I had the freedom to drive to work, not having it be work and not feel burdened or loathsome. I was a counselor to those who needed advice. A hugger to those who needed a hug. A listener to those who needed to be heard. I was me. A fellow recovering alcoholic and person who had suffered severe loss. I could empathize with others because I was one of them. That’s freedom to me. Acceptance is freedom.
I cleaned house for awhile, both physically for the clients and proverbially. I told myself I would never go back into public speaking, or teaching, preaching, if you will. But that wasn’t Jesus’ plan for me. That was Steven’s plan, spawned from a resentment I held against the church from my past. I kept having these speaking opportunities land in my lap, and I picked them up, as painful as the obedience was, and God showed up, in life changing ways. My ability to meet people where they were and identify with them, to establish rapport, and listen to their hurts, caught the eye of the clinical staff. Soon, I was offered a role as facilitator, a mock counselor if you will. I started to lead groups on a regular basis, that which I do today, at two separate facilities. Both are striving to help people get free from active drug and alcohol addiction. I am able to give hope, strength and encouragement to those in need, and I am paid for it. I honestly don’t even know what to say, I am humbled by God’s grace. I am speaking now, more regularly at a local church, and the faith-based recovery meetings. I am able to share my story. I can relate to those who are just beginning their journey, help them see the milestones they’ve made within it, and provide reminders on why they don’t want to go back.
Alcoholics and drug addicts are not statistics. They are not the scum of the earth, or the outcasts of society. They are not people who have given up on life. They are afraid. They are hurt. They have an extreme sense of loneliness, which can lead to isolation. They feel pain, anger, sadness, and sorrow. They are human beings. They are my neighbor. They are (were) me. They may be you.
These human beings need someone (as I did) to show them they can live a life of abstinence, free from the bondage of drugs or alcohol. And what better way that coming from someone who has lived it, known it. I am one. Admitting that, working on that, making amends, daily inventory (that is looking back on the day and my actions), closing in on my relationship with Jesus, solidifying that, walking with him, not getting ahead of him, but going at God’s pace, allows me to show another human being how I do it, one day at a time, and how they can do it too. Sadly, this doesn’t always work for everyone, the other person must choose for themselves, but I can try, hope, and pray they find and embrace that same freedom.
Jesus was sent for the lost. His focus was on his people who were far away that needed him. As a disciple of Jesus, there are lost people out there who I am meant to reach. I believe I have found them. My people are the addicts and the outcasts. My people are those who feel there is no hope, no way, to find and obtain freedom. God has sent me to help these individuals he so loves, to help them see that their cycle can be broken, lives and relationships can be repaired. To give hope to the hopeless, and bring freedom to the captives. Just as he did. What a privilege to be used by God. I am honored, even more, humbled.
I have enrolled in school, with emphasis in substance abuse counseling, as a credential and career. I have started the journey of ordination, as a recovery pastor and a biblical counselor for crisis intervention and addiction. A path that for all it’s bumps and bruises, I’m surprised by, but God isn’t. Christ called me at the tender age of 19 to preach his message, and while that calling has been full of detours, my roots remain in Christ and I’m on that road once more. It took intense pruning, allowing roots in Christ to grow stronger, deeper, and Jesus has equipped me to support the now weightlessness of my own burdened past, but also has given me the strength to carry the weight of the stories and struggles of those I council. I choose, will, have dedicated my life to the service of others who wrestle with addiction. If Jesus himself brought me back, perhaps he can use me, speak through me, act through me, to intervene in, and save another human who has built up, and believed in false hopes. Jesus is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, man of sorrows, wonderful counselor, Christ who loves molding new things from broken pieces. The struggle never ends for recovering alcoholics. Good news is, neither does Jesus.