I squandered the life I cherished by courting Mrs. Hyde. But what I had to gain was my life. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:35-37 NIV). I entered treatment with nothing left. I was a shell of a man. I had lost my marriage, my youth pastor position, my other job that I had held for four and a half years, friends, money, and while in treatment, my home.
After my wife and I separated, I recall sitting outside my usual coffee shop reading the book of Hosea on the recommendation of several friends. (The book of Hosea is about Hosea remaining faithful despite a seemingly hopeless situation, a clear representation of God’s faithfulness to his people, Israel). Rising from my seat, having left my Bible open on the table, I headed inside to use the restroom. There was a line for the restroom, so I turned back to my table only to see a homeless woman approaching the open Bible. She lit a cigarette, peered down, and started reading. As I later headed back from the restroom to my seat in the courtyard, I saw through the window that the woman was now sitting and flipping the page, so I paused a moment, watched, prayed, then made my approach. I thought of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts 8:26-40). I approached her and said: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” She replied: “The Old Testament has always been difficult for me to comprehend.” As a result of that statement I engaged Maria in a heartfelt conversation concerning the book of Hosea and the Old Testament in relation to who Jesus is. Maria and I also compared stories about how we had lost everything dear to us, given it away, willfully neglected those we loved, and she said words I will never forget: “Sometimes you have to lose everything to see everything.”
I am a prideful man. Just when I think I have it all figured out, I realize I’m just beginning. I entered treatment thinking that my problem wasn’t as bad as the other men and women in there. I mean, come on, there were people who had served lengthy prison terms, drug dealers, heroin addicts, and tweakers! Alcoholics aren’t on that level, are they? Am I even an alcoholic? I recall sitting in a group next to my friend Kris. Kris and I had entered treatment the same day, and I had spent many hours next to the fire in the backyard with him, laughing, smoking cigarettes, telling stories, and most of all, weeping profusely. Kris was there for me in my darkest hours. He held me many a time; showing up and shutting up. In those moments I didn’t need a word, I needed to be heard or held. On this particular occasion I had looked over at him in a meeting and said, “I only drink alcohol occasionally and sometimes take pills because of my bulging disc. I am not as bad as a heroin or meth addict.” Kris leaned over, looked at me intently and said “You’re here, aren’t you?” I felt humiliated. His frankness taught me a valuable lesson–as clients of a treatment facility for drugs and alcohol–we are all in the same boat.
In a single statement, Kris had pointed out my glaring pride. He reminded me that I have no right to judge others based on my misconception of the “hierarchy” of drugs and alcohol. He also taught me that while here, I should also “take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth.” A phrase that bears resemblance to the ever so quoted, but often misunderstood, judgement discourse in Matthew 7:3-5. Jesus teaches: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” There is no hierarchy of drug addictions. We are all equally in need of help. Proverbs 19:3 says: “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” And I was angry.
I blamed God, and I desired others to feel my intense pain as well. I drank to hurt others, while it was I who ended up on the bathroom floor. I wanted the guilty parties to suffer for what they had done. I demanded justice. I ordered that my side of the story be valued more than others. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Treatment made me face myself head on. Treatment had me cross-examined. It is through the grace and love of the Lord that one finds solace from the trials and tribulations of this life. I had been searching for my solace, my “relief” in all the wrong places. Rather than choosing to run to Jesus in those moments, I ran to my mistresses Alcohol and Vicodin instead.
Entering treatment saved both my soul and my life. God used the staff, other clients around me, true friends who remained in my life despite the bridges I had burned, therapists, case managers, and pastors to teach me the most important truth: Jesus is the Savior of Steven Butwell (and the world of course) and nothing else can come close to him. And I needed saving.
I laid myself bare before everyone while I was in treatment. I was open. Vulnerable. Exposed. Naked. I had no desire to hide behind anything, any lie, anymore (and continually choose to live this way post-treatment). Though the first few weeks were foggy, I remember that shame and guilt plagued me. I was administered drugs that helped to ease the pain and torment of withdrawals, but they did not ease my feelings of humiliation or remorse. I was required to traverse these feelings, many for the first time. Long buried emotions came bubbling to the surface.
The eighty-five days consisted of a daily routine of a variety of classes and nightly meetings. My days would usually include bible studies, therapy, prayer, introspection and meditation, relapse prevention and anger management. After three weeks, I was making progress. My overall demeanor had changed. The content was beginning to sink in, and I started to see the bigger picture. Treatment wasn’t merely a place to get sober, it was where I was going to learn to stay sober. I was taking it all in, and learning a lot about what made me tick, what my true hurts and fears were that drove my anger (fueling my addiction), and how I had used alcohol to bury and conceal it. I learned that I am not a man who carries guilt for his actions. I am a man who holds resentments. Points the finger. Loves the blame game. It’s not my fault, you caused this. The irony is: when I have one finger pointing outward at those I blame…I would not acknowledge the three pointing back at me (point your finger and you’ll see what I am talking about). Anger is a secondary emotion. It comes as a result of fear or hurt. My drunken (and sober) anger frightened so many people whom I love. I discovered my words and actions had a driving force that had been buried deep. Rooted as early as 4 years of age. A low level of self esteem, coupled with bullying, female rejection, betrayal, and abandonment has the capability to cause severe trauma, even fueling addiction and dangerous passivity in the life of a person. I was shocked to learn we are even shaped by memories and emotions we take in while in our mother’s womb.
I resided on top of a mountain with eight other men in a log cabin boasting a panoramic view of Catalina Island, the ocean and Dana Point harbor for the duration of my treatment. These men became my closest friends, my phalanx. These men were invaluable to my recovery (and continue to be to this day). Sharing meals together, cigarettes, coffee, nights of the Walking Dead, movies, the beach, and much more, we shared life together as a band of brothers. Keeping one another in check, making sure that one of us wasn’t on the path to being taken out by the adversary (i:e, alcohol, heroin, meth, Xanax, cocaine, and the author of lies, Satan himself).
At one point in treatment Kris told me of a faith-based recovery ministry and how it had changed his life. He said, “You are going to ball your eyes out.” I decided to attend one of the meetings. Sitting in the second row next to Kris, I heard a loud whisper from the Holy Spirit: “Tap the man on the shoulder in front of you.” I hesitated, leaned over to my friend and said, “I think I am supposed to ask this man to pray for me.” I will never forget him looking back at me and saying, “I heard the same thing.” The man I tapped on the shoulder is now my sponsor. The role of a sponsor for an addict is a person who holds you regularly accountable to your commitment to recovery or treatment goals. Your sponsor is your confidant and the one (in addition to God) that you are answerable to; period. They walk you (sometimes push you) through your treatment program. My sponsor, Frank, doesn’t pull any punches. His words of wisdom both from life experience and the Bible have changed me. His challenges, prayers, wit, and dedication to be bold and blunt have often made me feel as if I am the mortar to his pestle. With Frank’s help (and the Lord’s), the grinding down of my old self allowed a new self to emerge.
I walked through the doors of my treatment center on January 25th, blowing twice the legal limit on a breathalyzer and barely able to sign my own name. I was taken in by those who shared my struggles and pain, and I am grateful. I didn’t realize at the time, but I would not only be learning truths about myself, gaining knowledge and wisdom to remain sober and face many demons long buried, but I also would later be used to provide comfort to those who dealt with the same afflictions. I love the heart of God as communicated through the apostle Paul, as he writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV)
The Lord Jesus has allowed me to have these hardships in life in order that I may use my unique story to impact the lives of others. My journey and treatment process has equipped me with the tools I need to “pay it forward” if you will. I was comforted by those who had gone ahead of me, those who had suffered extreme loss like I had. I praise Papa (the way I address my Father in Heaven) for having walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death, so that I too, could be used as a comforter to walk with those who trudge a similar path as I have.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:24-27, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (ESV).
My house prevailed; but not without damage or casualties. This was my flood. But Steven found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The Lord rescued me. My ark (salvation) was the love and care first of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and utilizing friends who remained, family, and the staff and treatment of rehabilitation. God worked a miracle in my life. I am sober today, with no desire to go back into that way of life. It’s not living. I can say that with a clear conscience to myself. Now, as I “shut up and live my recovery” quoting Frank, rest and restitution will follow. And I look forward to when Jesus is ready to use me again. Here I am Jesus, send me.