My Biggest Fear!

I have been a bundle of fears since I was a kid. I was convinced for a long time that there were monsters under my bed waiting to grab me by the foot when I got up to get a drink of water. My daddy gave me a flashlight one time on my birthday, but of course the batteries were always dead. I think I kept leaving it on all night under my covers. I just couldn’t handle all the creaking under my bed and the hollowing out my window. We had a lot of trees around our property, and on really windy nights long talons would dance around, reaching for me, trying to take me away.

It was really rough growing up. I was fat and not very good at sports. I usually ducked at a baseball pitch. I cringed whenever I played dodge ball. I couldn’t get the volleyball over the net. Badminton was just plain stupid. I was always last at track. And I never even considered trying out for football. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school. Yeah, a few, but they were like me, and we just ended up getting bullied together. It was a very painful way to go through school. One of my friends, Ronnie Benner, must have had enough. I don’t know the whole story, but one day he went up to the top of the Shikellamy Lookout over the Susquehanna River and jumped.

I managed to remain alive. I avoided most of the bullies. My plate quickly filled up with extra activities such as stringer photographer for high school sports, local radio station announcements, the yearbook staff, and a local history project. I used to hang out in the soundproof booth in the library and record DJ shows and radio plays. I was able to hide in away high school. Tucked away from all my enemies, whether they be fellow students, thugs who dropped out, or family. The worst thing that happened to me one day after school was being chased down by three bullies, one of which was Ron Mull. Ron’s sister, Lynn, was running with them at the time. The guys held me while Lynn beat the shit out of me. It was so humiliating for two reasons: first, a girl was beating me up, and, two, I had a crush on Lynn.

It didn’t take me long to discover marijuana and alcohol. I started hanging out with a whole new breed of friend. Ones who didn’t pick on me or chase me down the street threatening to kill me. These friends were handing me beers and joints and wanted to sit around and talk. We complained about bullies, and girls, and parents, and cops, and teachers, and having to work. We were convinced everyone was crooked and no one cared about the average kid on the street. We concluded it was our job to fight back. We took what we wanted. We skipped school. We threw rocks through the windows of abandoned warehouses and hunks of ice and snow at passing cars. We stood on railroad overpasses and pissed on vehicles going by. We were showing the world what’s what.

My alcohol consumption and pot use grew out of control. I knew I was using more than those around me. I just couldn’t get through a day without it. I took a hit when I got out of bed. I had bottles of Miller High Life stashed under rocks in cool running streams. Then there was grain alcohol and Vodka picked up for me by Russ, my “of age” best friend. He and I drank and smoked pot day and night. I think at one point my reality and my drugged fantasy got turned around, and I wasn’t sure what was real. It got so bad that I committed a series of felonies while high and got caught. Through a plea bargain, I was able to serve three years in a state prison, then seven years on state parole.

Unfortunately, my drug and alcohol use continued to be a problem. I was an addict and an alcoholic with no idea what to do about it. Days ran together. Weeks became months, and months became years. Nothing changed. I’ll quit tomorrow! But tomorrow never came. I lost cars and apartments and two wives. My youngest son stopped talking to me, despite having a baby. I’m a grandpa. I have yet to hold him. Little Skyler. The good thing is I came to realize all of these consequences and situations were my own doing. After a three-week stay at a drug and alcohol rehab, I signed on to the the idea that I am, all the way down to my toes, an alcoholic and a drug addict. I have accepted this as a fact in my life. And I have come to rely on Jesus Christ as my higher power. I have died with Him in His crucifixion, and I have been risen with Him to live again as a new creation.

My biggest fear is that I will one day return to the frame of mind where I feel justified to imbibe. To grab a joint and “relax.” You know, just one. A chance to let go and chill out. I just know where I’ve been, and I fully understand alcoholism and drug addiction. There is no safe situation in which I can use drugs or get drunk. I can only counter this fear by staying plugged in to the true definition of addiction, to remember what it has cost me in my life, and to realize that the only outcome to a lifetime of drug and alcohol addiction is death. And that is my biggest fear.

Is Marijuana a Safe Recreational Drug?

I started smoking marijuana at age eighteen immediately after graduating from high school. I did not drink or get high during my high school years. I did fairly well academically. I tested at an IQ of 127. I was very ambitious, outgoing, creative and focused. I wanted to be a published author, and also enjoyed photography and working in local radio broadcasting. My extracurricular activities included a local history project, sports photography and yearbook. I was on the debate team. I lettered in tennis in j-v. Having some issues with self-worth, and not liking confrontation, I stayed away from things like running for class president.

Marijuana has been in the news a lot lately. It seems every month a new state passes legislation that makes pot legal for medicinal purposes or, sometimes, for recreational use. Interestingly, the possession and sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. With all of this legislative activity, I can’t help but wonder if lawmakers are opening Pandora’s Box. Is marijuana a safe recreational drug? Can it lead to use of other substances? Is it addictive? How hard is it to quit smoking pot if you’ve been smoking it in large quantities or for a long time? Let’s start this discussion by talking about what pot is and what it does to those who use it.

Marijuana is the smokable part of the cannabis plant. It is usually sold in small plastic bags. When the drug comes from a medical marijuana facility, it may be packaged in a pill bottle or a vacuum-sealed package. When the resins of this plant are collected and compressed into blocks of dark brown material, that is called hashish. Most of the world hashish is made in Morocco. It is far stronger than marijuana. Hashish ranges from medium brown to almost black, and may have a sticky or crumbly consistency.

The dark, sticky oil of the resin or marijuana plant may also be sold in small bottles. This is called hash oil. It can be added to a marijuana cigarette to make it more potent, or it can be smoked in a pipe, a piece of aluminum foil or spoon. It can also be added to a tobacco cigarette to make it intoxicating. I smoked marijuana so heavily that when I ran out and needed to get high, I would scrape the pipe or bowl to scoop out concentrated amounts of resin. I would then smear the resin on cigarette paper and smoke it in the pipe. It was very potent, and I would sometime pass out from a big hit of the resin.

So let’s get right to the major question: Is marijuana addictive? Groups that are in favor of medical marijuana or broad legalization sweep this question under the carpet. The fact is that, yes, it is addictive. You are unlikely to hear this fact on the nightly news, in the newspaper or anywhere else. Marijuana is addictive. Of all the people that use marijuana, about one in eleven will become addicted. I was one of those who became addicted. When a young person begins smoking marijuana in his or her teens, that person has a one in six chance of becoming addicted. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2010, more than 360,000 people were admitted to treatment for addiction, with marijuana being listed as the primary drug they were abusing. That is, they went into rehab because of marijuana and its effects on their bodies and minds. Twenty-eight percent, or approximately 103,000, were between twelve and seventeen years old. Forty-three percent were under twenty-one.

Because of greatly increased potency in marijuana, mental distress, panic attacks and other problems have also increased. In 2011, there were nearly half a million visits to the ER related to problems with marijuana use. Common symptoms were severe nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia. According to the 2013 World Drug Report, an estimated one in fifteen high school seniors is a daily or near-daily user of cannabis. For parents who used to smoke pot on the weekend or at parties, they can understand what daily use by a high school student would do to his ability to do his school work or to retain what he hears in a class lecture.

Some people argue that because marijuana does not have dramatic withdrawal symptoms like alcohol or heroin, it is not addictive. I see two errors with this thinking. One is that the pot being smoked today is far more potent than it was twenty or thirty years ago. That makes withdrawal a far different matter. Also, it is simply not true that quitting marijuana does not put you at risk for withdrawal. The most likely withdrawal symptoms include irritability, insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, anger and fluctuating emotions, headaches, depression, loss of appetite, and craving to use the drug. The degree to which the withdrawal symptoms are serious depends on how much pot the person was smoking, for how long they used the drug, and their own unique physical and emotional makeup.

I think a better measure of addiction is whether or not the person experiences harm from the use of the drug but is so compelled to use it and the cravings for it are so strong that he uses it anyway. This was true for me. I used marijuana in large amounts from the age of eighteen until the age of 48. My cravings were so strong that I used the drug despite failing health, difficulty making bill payments while buying the drug, inability to concentrate on the job as a paralegal, strained or broken interpersonal relationships, bounced checks, and an inability to sleep or relax without getting high. An addicted cannabis user will continue to get high despite the occurrence of these types of consequences. It is common for a heavy pot smoker to stop caring about the damage and just focus on staying stoned. This applies to heavy marijuana use, as well as crack cocaine or meth or pain pills.

Marijuana is not the harmless, safe substance many might like to think it is, especially for those under age thirty. According to some of the Internet research I conducted, neuroscience has now shown us that the brain continues to develop until the late 20s, and using drugs while the brain is still developing can influence how it develops and result in moderate to potentially significant problems down the line. When adolescents use marijuana, for example, the white matter of their brains can undergo changes that are similar to the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that marijuana smoking in adolescence significantly increases the risk for eventually becoming psychotic and/or developing schizophrenia. This risk is even greater for people who had psychiatric symptoms before their first experience with marijuana and those with schizophrenia in their families. And furthermore, more and more data are confirming the fact that marijuana users are also at increased risk for developing anxiety and depression later in their lives, as well as having memory deficits.

All of this proved true in my own life. I had no idea I was suffering from an underlying psychiatric problem. I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and major depression. The constant use of alcohol and marijuana kept the symptoms hidden. As you’ve probably heard it said, I was self-medicating. Marijuana masked some of my difficulties, and distracted me enough that I didn’t understand what was going on. Not only did my psychiatric problems increase, my cravings for pot greatly increased. I knew no other life. It had become perfectly normal for me to be high. Anything else seemed abnormal. So when I hear people say marijuana is perfectly safe, I strongly disagree. I know what it did to me over the years, and I’ve seen it do the same thing to others. I went to my five-year high school reunion. I ran into people I used to get high with. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that they had not grown in any significant manner, and were still smoking pot.

Back when I went to high school in the mid 1970s, about thirty percent of the students I knew were using marijuana regularly. They called it “partying” or “getting stoned.” It wasn’t hard to recognize when someone started using pot. Almost instantly, their overall attitude changed. Many who had been good students, engaged and talented, started to withdraw, and adopt a passive aggressive viewpoint. Regular pot use by them, from what I observed, caused a kind of lethargy. Activity levels dropped off drastically. They developed a “who cares” attitude, and became non-compliant. The look on the face of most pot users is sort of vacant and dull. Their eyes glaze over and don’t seem to focus. If you’re not also high, conversation with them is particularly difficult.

Typically, marijuana users tend to believe pot is harmless. That there are far more dangerous drugs they could be using. In fact, pot is “all natural,” so it must be okay. Pot users do not see the gradual increase in tolerance and a need for smoking more and more. Once a pot smoker is convinced he or she cannot live without marijuana, this is addiction. When the person uses even though he or she promised themselves they wouldn’t, this is compulsion. It is the nature of addiction that addicts don’t believe they are ill. They do not have a problem. Addiction is a physical, mental and spiritual disease. It doesn’t matter what the substance is.

I remember years ago realizing I was getting high too often, and I told my “dealer” I might need to go to rehab. He laughed, saying I would be bullied in the facility for merely being a marijuana user. I told him I was having a very difficult time stopping, that I was spending all my money on pot, that my interpersonal relationships were suffering, and that I was a wreck when I wasn’t high. This was a sure sign of addiction and compulsion. Not only was I psychologically dependent on pot, I had also become an alcoholic, drinking nearly a fifth of Vodka per day. My behavior became so antisocial that I ended up serving a three year sentence in state prison. It is definitely my opinion, based upon research and my personal experience, that chronic pot smoking leads to many problems. It is not simply a harmless “natural” recreational drug. It has the potential to create emotional, physical and financial problems, and often leads to using other substances once smoking pot becomes boring or doesn’t do the trick anymore. Marijuana is not a safe recreational drug.

The Psychology of Dual Diagnosis

I am  powerless over my mental disorder. I am powerless over my addiction. It has taken me a long time to admit these facts. Before I was able to admit my powerlessness, my life was unmanageable. I was unable to handle life without drugs and alcohol or to take care of my mental health. I thought that drugs and alcohol would make me feel better. They did, at first. I have some fond memories of partying and hanging out. But ultimately, those substances had control over me. Today, I truly accept the fact that I am an alcoholic and a drug addict with an underlying mental disorder. I accept both diagnoses.

Being honest with myself did not come easy. I wanted to blame others for my dilemma. As I reviewed my past, I saw that I lied, cheated, stole and manipulated people. I was dishonest, self-centered, self-seeking, inconsiderate and frightened. I lived in absolute opposition to the truth. I tortured myself with cocaine, crack, opiates, marijuana, LSD, mushrooms and booze. I found out that I suffered from a mental obsession to use drugs and get drunk, and that once I took a substance into my body I unleashed physical cravings that spiraled out of control. I would lose all touch spiritually and mentally, in full flight from reality.

Drinking and taking drugs frequently made my mental disorder symptoms worse. No words can describe the torture I felt. I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in the mid 1990s. I was a week from being homeless in 2008. I was overrun with despair and self-pity. Drugs, alcohol and my mental illness had mastery over me. I only stopped using drugs and drinking when I was incarcerated or hospitalized. When released, I started all over again.

I really have to focus on my first problem: addiction. At some stage of my drinking and drugging, I reached a point where, as soon as I started using, I would lose control over the amount I would use. Craving became sufficient reason in and of itself to keep using. I was both physically and mentally impaired. I literally could not resist. So I had to be honest with myself that once I put alcohol or drugs in my body, it seemed virtually impossible for me to stop. Accepting that fact is key: once the substance is in my system I lose control and cannot stop. I have to remember that addiction is a disease that tells me I don’t have it.

The process of addiction may be a gradual one. For me, I found over time that I built up a tolerance to various addictive substances. Most recently, it was opiates. I could take a number of Percocet tablets and literally feel only a slight “buzz.” I needed more and more to get the same effect. Not only that, I was becoming dependent on it. Before I knew it, I needed a pill just to relax and not feel any pain. When I tried not to take Percocet, my back pain and overall body aches increased and I became restless and irritable.

I had to be mindful of the second part of this picture. Is my struggle with addiction compounded by a mental disorder? With regard to mental health, it is wise to seek professional help. But we must come to a point where we “own” our particular diagnosis. When we’re told we have a mental disorder, we have to take it seriously. We have to take a look at our life experience and see where our mental health gets us in trouble. Our mind will lie to us — about its own health and about our addictions. We need to search our own experiences and honestly ask ourselves  Am I powerless over alcohol and drugs? Do I have a mental disorder?

We become honest by discovering our own truth. Understanding comes through awareness and acceptance of conditions as they are. We know we have problems. That much is obvious. But the truth is hard to accept. In order to recover, however, the truth must be accepted. We come to know this as a fact in our recovery. Admitting powerlessness is not a sign of weakness. It simply means that when it comes to substance abuse and struggling with mental disorders, we are not in charge. Willpower has no meaning when it comes to controlling our use of drugs and alcohol and our mental processes. We certainly had a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us before we addressed our addiction and mental illness.

Honesty sets us free. Once we accept our powerlessness, many of us experience being freed from active addiction and from the obsession to use again. Here is the paradox of recovery: that in accepting our powerlessness, we become empowered to stop using drugs and alcohol and to work on our mental health. This comes at a great relief. With recognition and acceptance, we are free. We never need to go back to drugs and alcohol again. Instead of being filled with our addictive thoughts of self-destruction, remorse, despair, rage and sadness about our past, we look with great joy and comfort at these precious moments we are now given. Admitting complete defeat is not what we wanted, but it is what we needed. For me, there was a part deep down inside that always wanted to be free. I was so tired of living a life of active addiction. I kept saying I would do something about it tomorrow. Not now. Not today. Obviously, a part of me was still committed to getting drunk and high.

I came to realize that my addiction was greater than my will. It was a monster with an insatiable appetite, and I let it take from me all my self-sufficiency and my will to resist its demands. If you still think you can handle that monster, try this simple test. Go ahead and stop. Now, stay stopped. Do without. If you can do this, there is no addiction. But if you cannot stop and stay stopped, no amount of willpower will change the fact that you’re addicted. You need a program to help you stop. It won’t be easy at first, but it is more than worth the effort.

Why Does He Drink So Much?

Why do people become alcoholics? Is addiction a sin? Is it a disease? Why can’t alcoholics see their problem and help themselves? Why do family members frequently become as sick as the alcoholic? What about the role of Alcoholics Anonymous, treatment centers, and healing services?

One out of every ten drinkers are alcoholics. These people are from all walks of life. Their level of education, their profession, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual preference, all have nothing to do with whether they cannot control their drinking. Many have jobs, a house, a wife, some degree of normal life. They get promoted, discover new diseases, fight crime as officers, save lives as paramedics, operate on brains as neurosurgeons. Some even teach our children in school or serve as den mothers at girl scouts. A recent news story reported on a chief of police who left a preliminary hearing in full uniform, driving a police cruiser, who was pulled over by state police and booked on DUI charges. He had a blood alcohol level of two times the legal limit.

Only five percent of alcoholics are what we call skid row bums. The rest are our neighbors. Some are born to alcoholic mothers. Alcohol abuse while pregnant is one of the most common causes of birth defects in the United States. Sadly, neither doctors, mental health professionals nor clergy are equipped to handle this growing problem of alcohol addiction. The average physician prescribes medication for anxiety or depression for his alcoholic patients. Psychiatrists and psychologists go to great lengths to uncover childhood traumas and Freudian alibis. Alcoholics gratefully accept any explanation that justifies their need for a drink. Why do some people become alcoholics while others are able to drink socially and not develop a problem? Obviously, not everyone who drinks alcohol is adversely affected. So the blame does not lie with the beverage itself.

Social drinkers, it is said, exercise self-control; alcoholics suffer from weakness of will. The average person will almost always say of an alcoholic, “I would never let myself go that far. What’s wrong with him?”  Well perhaps the explanation lies with how the alcohol abuser was raised. Several factors can contribute to alcoholism. First, if excessive alcohol consumption was the norm in the home during the alcoholic’s formative years, he or she is more likely to abuse alcohol. Second, if the culture in which the alcoholic was raised did not look down on the consumption of alcohol, it is more common that the individual will abuse alcohol. Alcoholics seem more dependent, more anxious, more childish, more oral, more self-centered, and less self-controlled than non alcoholics.

The average social drinker, we have learned, develops a one-in-ten chance of developing an addiction to alcohol. With an alcoholic in the family tree, social drinking takes on a resemblance to Russian roulette. Alcoholism is an unconscious drift toward addiction. By the time the genetically susceptible drinker is aware that he is in trouble, it is too late. He is caught up in an addiction from which he cannot return without help. When we consider the subtle nature of addiction and the infinite value of every human life, uniquely created by God for his special purpose, those of us who drink and have alcoholism in our family tree must ask a sensible question: Is it worth it?

What separates cultures with high rates of alcoholism from those with low rates? The most important factor is intolerance for public drunkenness. When we examine American culture in light of this factor, the news is not encouraging. Americans habitually drink outside of meals and tolerate “party drunkenness” to such a degree that it is difficult to distinguish heavy drinkers from alcoholics. The connection between heavy drinking and addiction has profound implications not just for our society, but for each one of us individually.

The alcoholic is an individual who cannot predict when he will drink or how much he will drink. The alcoholic addict is no longer in control of his own will. His internal center for decision-making and free choice has been captured by alcohol and he is unable to choose not to drink. This fits with the concept in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholics lose the ability to choose. There comes a point when the drink chooses for him. It is tempting to dismiss alcoholism as a problem unique to weak-willed people, but the truth is that strong determination is no defense against addiction. Know this, that strong-willed alcoholics pursue their drinking with more aggressive methods. The euphoria that compels a heavy drinker to risk embarrassment serious accident is only a distant memory for the alcoholic. The constant physical agitation produced by his craving for alcohol combines with a paralyzing guilt and self-hatred to trap the alcoholic into a chronic state of mental anguish. The alcoholic, whether he consciously chooses to drink or not, inevitably finds himself intoxicated.

Alcoholism leads to a sickness of the mind and emotions. Very early in the addictive process, the alcoholic moves from anticipation to preoccupation with drinking. He no longer simply looks forward to drinking; he thinks about it all the time. His mental and emotional energies are almost completely directed at protecting his right to drink. He becomes irritable and defensive, and his mood can change from jubilant to euphoric to angry suspicion in a matter of minutes.

This brings me to an interesting point in the discussion. It is tempting to dismiss Christian alcoholics as hypocrites, but the guilt and shame they feel are far removed from the arrogant self-complacency condemned by Jesus. The spiritual anguish of the alcoholic is seldom redemptive. He may have repented from alcohol abuse more times than he can remember, but he cannot imagine life without alcohol. His confession, therefor, never leads to a changed life. His spiritual beliefs only increase his sense of condemnation and compel him to adopt increasingly extreme denial measures. This happened to me. Not only was I professing to be born-again, and therefor set free from the bondage of addiction, l was also teaching Bible study at the county prison. I spoke on deliverance and healing, but continued taking opiates.

There is no known cure for alcohol addiction. Alcoholism, like diabetes, is a progressive chronic disorder which can be controlled or arrested, but seldom cured. The fact that alcoholism is incurable is a stumbling block for some Christians. Members of AA who are Christians will often tell their Christian friends that they are a recovering alcoholic, only to be told that that is a “bad confession.” They try to convince the Christian alcoholic that he is not recovering, rather that he is healed. The Christian alcoholic needs to remember that he has  been healed from the burning compulsion to consume alcohol, but he will always be one drink away from a drunk. Instant healing from addiction is no more common than instant healing from cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Christian alcoholics have no trouble understanding the “Higher Power” as being Jesus Christ. AA will not damage a Christian’s faith. I heard it said once that AA won’t get you in to heaven, nor will it keep you out of hell. But it can keep you sober long enough to make up your own mind. Truly, a person first must be sober before he can hear or practice the Gospel. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were careful to emphasize that they were operating only a “spiritual kindergarten.” Christians in recovery need to make sure they do not mistake the rescue boat for dry land. For the Christian, AA is an effective means to an end, and that end is not merely a program of recovery or fellowship with other alcoholics, but a sober life lived to the glory of God.

Pride Cuts Us Off From God

Some people have difficulty becoming humble enough to admit they need something beyond themselves — a personal savior. That’s one reason I have come to believe that pride ranks high in the hierarchy of sins. Pride leads us to believe we are spiritually self-sufficient, and keeps us from drawing close to God. For years I acted at though I was the god of my universe. My morality compass was broken. I did what I wanted to do, and if confronted about my behavior I became defensive. I was self-righteous and felt I didn’t need God. At times I didn’t know if I even believed in God.

God grabbed my attention in spite of my unbelief. His influence was not apparent to me at first. I just blamed things on bad luck. I lost jobs and wives and apartments and cars. I continued to live the lifestyle of a party animal. I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and was using opiates on a regular basis. Of course, it did not dawn on me that drinking and taking drugs was the root of my problems. I did not see my behavior as being indicative of an underlying spiritual malady. Although I went up to the alter at age thirteen and confessed Jesus as the Son of God and my Savior, I did not accept this fact down in my soul. I think I was looking for a simple solution to my misery. Besides, I wanted people to think I had changed.

I fell into deep depression and started losing my grip on normalcy. I could not stop drinking. I don’t think I wanted to stop quite frankly. I remember admitting to myself that I was an alcoholic, but I wasn’t sure I felt like doing anything about it. I had come to the point where I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it. I have always been interested in writing, and believed I could compose things better when drunk or high. Guess I thought I was the next Ernest Hemingway. But without fail, most of my writings made no sense the next morning. I never finished any of my writing, leaving my hard drive littered with fragmented projects.

I quit drinking in 2008, but unfortunately I began abusing Ativan and opiates. For some reason, I thought I was sober. I figured pills were different. It didn’t take long until I was once again living in a fog. My life became unmanageable all over again. I started living a lie. I was teaching Bible study at the county jail, speaking on deliverance, but was popping pills. This continued for several years, getting worse with the passing of every month. I was not able to control how many pills I took, nor could I resist the temptation to take medication belonging to other people. Ultimately, my family confronted me in an intervention. I spent twenty-one days in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Today in church we skipped the sermon and continued to worship and pray. A man came to services that had been getting food from our food bank. He had the odor of alcohol on his breath today and wanted us to pray for him. Our congregation surrounded him and laid hands on him. We prayed for release of the bondage of alcohol. Then our pastor asked church members to come up front and stand in the gap for loved ones struggling with addiction. The congregation also prayed for me. I felt the presence of God. It was very moving. I am grateful that I was able to put my pride aside and recognize the need for spiritual healing. For the need of a personal savior. I have said before that my higher power is Jesus Christ. He delivers the captive from bondage. He heals the sick. He is my Lord and Master.

Higher Power

Step Two of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous states we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Step Three says we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him. There is no mention of a specific concept of God.

The Oxford Group, which existed before the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, was based solidly upon Christian principles. Jesus was at the center of the program. This was also true for the earliest groups of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Steps are rooted in basic Christian principles. The message has been watered down over the years. Today, sharing about a Christian God is frowned upon. In fact, naming Jesus Christ as your higher power will likely draw strong comments. I think it is no coincidence that fewer than twenty percent of those who start attending AA meetings today remain sober one year later. The rate of success was as high as fifty percent in the early years.

Although it is often difficult to share Jesus in AA, I am convinced that he is the one true God. He is the highest of higher powers. The 53rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah tells us that Christ was bruised for our iniquities. It states that by his stripes we are healed. The Gospels indicate that Jesus became a sacrifice for our sins. Christ wants us to have life, and to have it more abundantly. He sets the captives free. This is good news indeed for the alcoholic and the addict. In the grips of active addiction, we are certainly not happy, joyous and free. We are living in the flesh while in the grips of active addiction. We find ourselves doing things we do not want to do, and we find it difficult to do the things we want to do. The Apostle Paul discusses this in detail in the Book of Romans.

For me, the answer is Jesus Christ. I long to share the message of Christ in AA meetings, but I cannot. Instead, I make sure to share him with alcoholics on a one-on-one basis. I give my testimony and explain how I have been set free. I also tell people that I am capable of falling out of grace and taking my will back. When I do so, I take definite steps toward relapse. That is why I start my day on my knees asking Jesus to walk with me and to reveal his will for me throughout the day. I ask that he deliver me from the bondage of self. That he keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next twenty-four hours. I pray that God’s will, not mine, be done. When I get ready for bed at night, I once again get on my knees. I thank Jesus for delivering me from the bondage of addiction. For keeping me sober throughout the day. I take a look at my behavior during the past twenty-four hours, and I ask forgiveness for my shortcomings and my offenses.

I veered away from turning to Christ. The result was relapse. I started lying to myself and to others. I took my will back. Once again, I was the god of my own universe. My emotions were raw. My anxiety was through the roof. I experienced increased back and neck pain, and was negative about my life. The more miserable I became, the further I slipped back into active addiction. When I couldn’t get enough opiates on my own, I started stealing pills from family members. It got so bad that I lost track of how many pills I was taking. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was trapped in active addiction with no sense of hope.

It took an intervention by my family in order to get my attention. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that cares. One that takes a stand and confronts you. I am most certainly blessed in this regard. It’s clear to me that God works through the actions of those around us. I will be forever grateful to God that he saw something in me worth saving. I am a cat who has used up eight of his nine lives. It reminds me of a video game where your life force is down so low that just one more brush with the bad guy will knock you out of the competition. You run around looking for “health” icons, trying to stay alive for one more minute. It’s a lot like running on empty in active addiction. I’m so lucky to still be breathing. It’s as though I have been saved for something special.

I realize now that God’s will for me is to be clean and sober, and to reach out to others caught in addiction. He wants me to be a conduit through which his power can move. Although I cannot “preach” during AA meetings, I can get together one-on-one with addicts and alcoholics and share Jesus Christ with them. I look at it this way: They’ve literally tried everything else, what have they got to lose? I just pray that God keeps me clean and sober today, and that he helps me keep my head above water. Thank you Jesus.