Along that line, James 5:16 suggests that there is something powerful in
confessing our sins one to another. I've experienced that numerous times,
so I know it works. But it requires a willingness to face our own humanness
and frailty and then actually share our real selves with another frail human.
The second reason is a selfish one, since my continuing recovery depends
on my staying acutely aware of the destructive nature of alcoholism. One
of the most effective ways of keeping myself aware is to try to add to the
understanding of others. I may never know if it helps another person, but
I know it helps me.
What was it like coming to see yourself as an alcoholic?
The past 32 months have been the most challenging of my entire life. My
struggle with alcoholism has forced me to confront several personal issues,
which has been very difficult. But now I can see they were issues which
I had to eventually address for the sake of my own spiritual life, my marriage
and my family.
So, while I know it sounds paradoxical, I'm also deeply thankful for the
last 32 months.
After over 20 years of abusing alcohol, my life was totally out of control.
And yet I was a functional alcoholic. That means that I was able to conceal
my excessive drinking and its results from most people. I didn't stagger,
get DUIs [traffic tickets for driving under the influence] or become physically
abusive to my family. But, I was out of control.
In fact, I was eventually dismissed from the ministry as the result of the
serious mistakes I made during the worst of my drinking.
By the way, I claim no personal credit for starting my recovery. I don't
think I would have ever admitted my alcoholism without outside pressure.
That pressure came in the form of an intervention, which means some fellow
ministers confronted me and said, "You're an alcoholic whether you
realize it or not."
At that point I was sick and ready to listen to what they had to say. Once
again, God's timing is best. It wasn't easy, but God offered me help when
I had reached bottom. Thankfully, I accepted it.
I was in a treatment facility for 28 days, during which time I learned volumes
about alcoholism, God and myself.
So what was it like coming to see myself as an alcoholic? Difficult. Reassuring.
All of that and more. But I've gotten my life back. I'm renewing my relationship
with my Father, whom I now understand much more. I'm able to understand
why I did crazy, insane things.
And, despite huge odds against it, my family is still intact. I'm profoundly
thankful for that.
I'm also learning to take full responsibility for my life. I know that being
an alcoholic doesn't justify my blaming somebody else for my problems. I
am an alcoholic. I made terrible mistakes, which is sadly typical of most
alcoholics. But now I'm fervently seeking God's will in my life because
I don't believe He has given up on me.
Could you give our readers your working definition of alcoholism?
That's fairly easy because we talked about it so much while I was in the
hospital. There are several common traits for most alcoholics. One: continued,
increasing consumption despite increasing negative consequences. Two: high
tolerance, can outdrink most. Three: denial. Saying, "I could quit
if I really wanted to." Four: a genetic component.
Most alcoholics I know exhibited most or all of these characteristics.
In retrospect, I can see that the first point was especially obvious in
the latter years of my drinking. In brief moments of partial lucidity, I
realized that I wasn't taking care of my wife, children, pastorate or anything
but myself. But my addiction was strong, and my denial was entrenched.
A quick word about point No. 4, the genetic component. There is alcoholism
in my family, therefore I was predisposed to it in the same way I would
be predisposed to heart disease if my father had died of it. Yet one of
the most-difficult hurdles I've encountered during my recovery has been
to accept that alcoholism is a disease, even though the American Medical
Association recognizes it as such.
I've come to see that my body actually processes alcohol differently from
a nonalcoholic, and that's why I became addicted to it. That's why I was
driven to sacrifice almost everything in the pursuit of alcohol. It provided
me with an escape from life's pressures and problems. It was my best friend,
since it never failed to do what I wanted.
Now, I'm sure there are those who feel that applying the term disease to
alcoholism just provides alcoholics with an escape from personal responsibility
for a simple, moral weakness. In fact, that is not the case. Moral deterioration
always accompanies alcoholism, but that's not the cause of alcoholism.
My recovery program is built on my taking personal responsibility. My recovery
requires that of me. However, I do not have to take responsibility for being
an alcoholic, since that's just part of the hand life dealt me. There is
nothing I can do about that. What I do take responsibility for is all the
mistakes I made, the people I hurt and therefore the amends that requires
Recovering alcoholics realize that alcohol is our mortal enemy, since most
of us end up either dead, in jail or in an institution if we don't achieve
I see how this must be difficult for nonalcoholics to understand, since
for most people alcohol is a means of celebrating and having fun. So, to
a normal person, it seems that the alcoholic should simply stop drinking
because it's bad for them.
But that perception fails to take into consideration the power of addiction.
The disease of alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. It's a killer.
So to suggest that we just quit is seriously oversimplifying a complex problem.
And, most important, it diminishes the importance God's help plays. My recovery
is totally dependent on my staying humble and yielded to God's will in my
What has been the impact of your alcoholism on your family?
One of my greatest regrets is the damage my drinking inflicted on my wife
and two daughters. Coming to realize how much damage I did forced me to
face how out of control my life was.
It also helped me grasp the truth that alcoholism injures more than just
the alcoholic. It drags down everybody into an abyss of deceit, denial and
confusion. That's why I made amends to my family first.
I talked with each of them, admitting and apologizing for the mistakes I
made and the pain I caused each of them. Of course, the most meaningful
gesture of caring I can make to them is to continue to maintain my recovery.
Every alcoholic wreaks havoc on those around him. It's part of the predictable
damage done by the disease. So I urge every person who is close to an alcoholic
to seek a support group.
My wife has been helped enormously by her involvement in a 12-step group
for family members of alcoholics. She's learned that she had fallen into
the trap of dancing the dance of denial with me. Her way of expressing it
is: "I didn't know that alcohol was the problem. I knew Judd could
outdrink most people, but I didn't know that was an indicator of a more-serious
problem. If I had been more knowledgeable about alcoholism, I could have
avoided a lot of pain."
So I'd like to emphasize to those involved with an alcoholic: Please get
yourself some help even if the alcoholic near you doesn't. You can't change
him or her, but you can educate yourself and stop dancing the dance.
What has enabled you to maintain your sobriety?
The simple answer to that question is God. All the changes in my life are
the result of His leadership and strength in me. I was lost, and it was
only His perfect love for me which brought me back. I was hopeless, and
he gave me hope to do what I thought was impossible: live without alcohol.
Sustained recovery requires a profound change, which is only possible through
God's action in our lives.
But there is a huge difference between just being sober and being in recovery.
In fact, it's possible to be a dry drunk. That proves that simply not drinking
doesn't take care of the problem.
Recovery means actually changing the way we think while continuing to not
drink. It has to be a combination of both. I wouldn't understand this if
it weren't for my 12-step program. It has opened broad vistas of understanding
to me. I draw strength and courage from the struggles, successes and failures
of other alcoholics I talk with at meetings. I'm reassured that sobriety
is possible, no matter how difficult the struggle.
I'm reminded that I'm one drink away from relapse. My 12-step program is
an integral part of my recovery.
What thoughts would you like to pass on to any abusers of alcohol who
might read this article?
Get help. For most of us, sobriety requires help from other alcoholics and
some humility on our part. That's very difficult for alcoholics, since we
tend to think of ourselves as being very independent and self-sufficient,
even though we're not. But, for those who are sick of being destroyed by
alcohol, there is hope.
I'm including my postal address and an E-mail address for any who would
like to contact me. Remember, I'm not an authority or a spokesperson. I
can only share what I've learned, and I'd be happy to do it.