One year ago last Monday, I stopped drinking.
For the past year, we’ve draw an “X” each day on a special, prominently displayed calendar. I preferred for Nancy, my wife, to draw the mark. Every time she did, she would look at me and smile. I’d give up a lot of things to see that smile anytime.
A Baptist minister drinking is not as duplicitous as it may sound. Many Baptists dunk and drink. They always have.
The problem with some of us ministers is that we often forget what we wish our parishioners would acknowledge — that we are fully human. Moral snags that catch everyone also snag us.
Drinking anywhere can lead to drinking everywhere. The riskiest of those places is alone.
In my case, I have lived with a low-grade but ever-present and sometimes debilitating, even painful, anxiety. It affects everything. Despite its long-term toxicity, alcohol temporarily disconnected the anxiety.
Some might say the anxiety was the nasty side effect of serving as a pastor. However, my anxiety predated my adulthood. Yet, living up to the expectations of scores of church people can and does produce excruciating and mind-numbing, even life-threatening, anxiety.
So do many professions. I can’t fathom the stress of being a public school teacher these days, for example.
Ministers don’t get a pass on unhealthy drinking temptations.
Some might say I should have prayed more or trusted God more. Shouldn’t we all?
Perhaps we’ve failed to notice that we carry our full humanity and our sin into our faith. Ministers don’t get a pass on that, either.
I sometimes envy those who can drink a glass or two of wine with dinner and then walk away. I simply am not one of those people. Combining the highly combustible mixture of unresolved anxiety with a tendency toward unbridled impulsiveness led to some very unhealthy choices on my part.
“I did most of my drinking alone. The boundaries on that way of life are about as strong as wet linguini.”
I did most of my drinking alone. The boundaries on that way of life are about as strong as wet linguini.
It was a trip to the ER with severe stomach pain that was the tipping point. It gave my gastroenterologist a chance to give me pause.
“Your liver numbers are still good, but you’re headed in the wrong direction,” he said. It was humbling and embarrassing and scary to hear that. It did get my attention, though, and those words had their intended effect.
Nearly a year later and upon hearing my celebration and because of my apparent inattention to using the right faith code words, someone recently asked me if I acknowledged God in any of my recovery.
I was deeply troubled by that question. I assumed my confession was clear about God’s working through others.
Although disappointed in my behavior, Nancy encouraged me but never, not once, scolded me. She was here to stay.
Friends and family were the same, listening again and again to the same story.
Good, compassionate, honest, highly skilled doctors, including a psychiatrist, also did their part by nonjudgmentally addressing the psychological and physical roots of the whole thing.
“I deeply empathize with those for whom every single day is a battle.”
The strangest thing is that, in this whole year, I’ve not been tempted once to go back. I promised Nancy I’d love her until I died. I’m keeping that promise. I deeply empathize with those for whom every single day is a battle.
I never have thought of those for whom substance abuse involves constant warfare as less “spiritual.” Never.
I had prayed for years that God would help me.
I’m trying to think of any place in all of the above that God was not involved. God took every step with me, even when I was sloshing a glass of my favorite Pinot Grigio. When, in my walk, my first step leaned toward a better, healthier way, God smiled, held my hand and took that step with me, too.
One year ago Monday, I stopped drinking.
I’ve started a journey into a whole new vista of living that has opened before me.
Thanks be to Nancy, my family and friends and God who is in all of them and in me, too.
Glen Schmucker is a writer, speaker and Baptist pastor who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Follow his blog on Facebook.
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