The Four Most Common Myths Christians Tell Themselves About Why They Can’t Become Alcoholics

I don’t get drunk.

Firstly, what makes an alcoholic an alcoholic is not how much they’re prepared to drink in a sitting. There is a common fallacy that alcoholism is the same thing as alcohol abuse, or binge drinking – but it isn’t. Your average person who gets plastered every Friday and Saturday night to the point of unconsciousness won’t necessarily be an alcoholic. Binge drinking is certainly dangerous, and in fact, the physical and social effects of alcohol abuse may be more impacting than those of alcohol addiction. While someone who has had a drinking session may appear obviously drunk, an alcoholic may actually seldom appear intoxicated. This is one of the reasons alcoholism can go undetected for a long time, even by people close to the person involved.

The Holy Spirit/ my conscience always tells me when it’s time to stop drinking.
In my experience, alcoholics can actually stop drinking any time they like. They do so, over and over. The problem isn’t with listening to the internal cue which says “no more after this one.” Alcoholics say they won’t drink again all the time, and they mean it, very sincerely. The problem isn’t with wanting to stop, it’s with being able to stop themselves from starting up again. An alcoholic can have one drink and then not have any more – several times over the course of a single day, even in the space of an an hour. Alcoholics are simply you are after you start failing to realise starting drinking again very frequently is tantamount to an addiction.
For an alcoholic, stopping isn’t the issue – Holy Spirit prompted or otherwise. It’s the ability to recognise that starting again a lot means you actually didn’t ever stop in the first place. This is why alcoholics cannot ever, ever drink. As my husband says, “One’s too many, and a hundred is never enough.”
I’m way too clever to let that happen to me.
You don’t need to be unintelligent to become an alcoholic. All you need is a) access to alcohol b) a reason to drink c) no reason good enough for you to stop. I bet you have all three of those right now. In fact, I bet you have mounds of supporting evidence to justify c) – some of it even from the Bible.
It’s impossible to be both an alcoholic and an effective Christian. I am an effective Christian, therefore, I can’t be an alcoholic.
Is an effective Christian someone who goes to church and participates in church life? Is an effective Christian someone who is able to maintain their capacity to provide for their family, going to work each day without a problem? Is an effective Christian someone who is not given to violence or abuse, is kind, generous and loving? Is an effective Christian someone who follows Christ, who reads their Bible and believes it? Is an effective Christian able to hold down a position in both the church and the community? Is an effective Christian someone who is repentant when they do something they recognise as being a sin? Do you really think these things are impossible for someone addicted to alcohol?
Many people think they couldn’t possibly know any alcoholics, because alcoholics sleep on park benches, slouch around on bars, beat their wives, neglect their jobs, fall down in gutters, abuse their children and run in constantly with the police. They think alcoholics are unkempt and unshaven. They think they’d know one if they saw one, and they think anyone that wouldn’t is a fool.
My experience is – and statistics bear out the fact –  that there are people addicted to drinking alcohol in every community in this country. And if they are in your community, then they are in your church. Not only that, they may be your neighbour, your pastor, your child, your wife or husband, or your mother or father. And you may not even know it, because they may not even know it themselves.
The fact is that being a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t also be an alcoholic. If you are an alcoholic, and you know it, then please also know this post wasn’t meant for you. It was meant for all the Christians who think they would never let themselves become like you. But you and I both know that you never set out to become an alcoholic, and you didn’t just let yourself turn into one either. In fact, many of us wonder why Jesus  – and everyone else we loved and cared about – wasn’t able to stop us when that addiction was being formed in us. But we know it’s just not that simple, don’t we?
If you are a Christian and you think alcohol isn’t a problem for Christians, then please consider one final point. When my husband was in rehab, he met a lot of other guys with alcohol addictions that ruined their lives. Many of them were Bible-believing Christians, family men with jobs, businesses and careers, and really nice guys. They all came from different walks of life, and had different stories to tell, but one thing they all had in common was the final bastion, the last stronghold they had to overcome before the power of alcohol addiction could be broken forever. It wasn’t the physical addiction. It wasn’t an underdeveloped conscience. It wasn’t even whether they were saved, or not. It was actually the thing that told them that despite the fact they were in rehab, someone like them could never be one of these people. It was what told them I’m not like these other guys – I don’t need to be here. They sure have a problem, but not me.

Their pride.

And if you think Christians can’t become alcoholics, chances are you’ve already got that in spades.
(Please visit the Our Story page to read about how alcohol affected our family, and our journey back.)
I recommend and endorse the following organisations:

 

Alcoholics Anonymous – Australia

Al-Anon Australia, for families and friends of alcoholics

Sherwood Cliffs Christian Rehabilitation Centre (for men and married couples, NSW Australia)

Destiny Haven Christian Rehabilitation Centre (for women, NSW Australia)

Sherwood Glen Christian Rehabilitation Centre (for women, NSW Australia)

Salvation Army Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services in Australia

Love Means Never Having To Say I’m Not The One Who’s The Alcoholic

I don’t drink. Alcohol, that is. I stopped drinking December 2009. Before that, I liked to drink, and did so whenever I liked. No too much, you understand, just a glass of red or two probably five nights a week, and sometimes the whole bottle except for the last half a glass I’d toddle over and tip down the sink swearing not to do it again the next night. I don’t quite know how I ended up with that habit. I think it was medicinal, and probably started around the same time my husbands drinking did. I think I started drinking a lot to cope with the issues which arose from the fact my husband was drinking a lot. And he was drinking a lot. In the end, he had to leave, because his alcoholism was driving me to something resembling it and more besides. He went away to rehab, actually, and to his credit, he sorted it out, with a lot of help. He’s back home now and things are grand.

While he was away at rehab, I used the solace and privacy as an excuse to do a bit of therapeutic drinking. I’m fairly sure this is how I carried on the whole time he was gone. I see now the unfairness and hypocrisy of it, but my excuse was that I was not the alcoholic, he was, and technically, it was true. But if he had a problem with drink, then we had a problem with drink, and not just my drinking or his drinking, but the reasons we thought drinking could help whatever was wrong with us. It was the fact that something was wrong which was the real issue. It wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t even the drinking. There were, as is usually the case in dysfunctional, codependent, enabling relationships, deeper problems we had no capacity to face up to which were the problem. Drinking was just anaesthetic, avoidance, suspension of animation. My husband has no memory of vast sections of the two years when he was drinking heavily; things and events he simply doesn’t recall. Significant events – moving house, holidays, big decisions that were made and conversations that were pivotal. I’d say they were gone from his memory, but I doubt they really ever went in. They came at him and merely rebounded clean off his conciousness like a poorly aimed beer bottle thrown at a bin. We have sections of our married life that he was physically present for, but which he conducted in some kind of mental, emotional and spiritual automatic state; his real self was trapped in a world of pain inside his chest, inside his head. I see I was right when I perceived back then he was not there with me somehow. He was a personality perfectly preserved, pickled for posterity in a brown glass bottle.

The month he came home from rehab, we went to his prospective boss’ Christmas Party. It was a flash do on a charter boat. The bar was open and gratis to all. We talked about it beforehand, and we knew it would be his first real test. But he did great. I’d decided before we went I wouldn’t drink at the party, to show my support, although we hadn’t had a big discussion about the issue of whether I would drink in the future, and if I did, how that was going to work. While we were at the party, my husband bumped into a guy who’d been in the rehab a few months before he had. He was working for the company my husband would be working for, and doing great. He too was finding it hard with the alcohol flowing freely all around us, and no way to get off the boat, but he was holding up manfully. He had his partner with him. She had a beer bottle in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other – both for herself. The pressure on her man to keep up his bargain with God and with himself was his alone to bear. She told me “Well, why not? I’m not the alcoholic, am I?”

It was then I decided I didn’t need to drink any more.

Over the past year, friends have invited me out with them, touting it as my chance to imbibe independent of my ‘dry’ husband, a chance to really enjoy myself, as if going out and not drinking were the equivalent of bathing in public in a vat of cold porridge. I sincerely thank them; I’m not as much offended by the fact they want to sneak me out to drink behind my husbands back as I am disheartened. I guess the fact that we had such a long road to reconcile our marriage just brings this whole element of loyalty to the issue. As hard as it was for me to allow a sneaky, lying drunk back into the house, it must have been just as hard for him to come back to a distrustful, anxiety ridden female. I think my teetotalling is the least I can do to show him 1) I’m not frightened of him anymore and 2) we’re actually doing this whole thing together.

It’s been a year, and it hasn’t been hard for me – the drinking part at least. For my husband, it’s been harder, and it’s an ongoing journey. God’s grace is all we have going for us, and we see it every day extended toward us in ways we could never have imagined, great and small. We are happy and love each other so much; more than we ever have or had the capacity to in the 22 years before now that we’ve been married. It’s been said that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and both my husband and I appreciate how much the other had to forgive for this present happiness to exist. A great gift, precious, and to be treated with respect and deference. He is a drunk redeemed by mercy….I am a shrew redeemed by giving it.

My husband being an alcoholic, and my potential to follow him, is not as big a deal now, but it certainly was when it was with us. I won’t easily forget finding spirit bottles refilled with cold tea and water, seeing him drive up with our son in the car and a beer bottle between his thighs, or stumbling across secret caches of empty beer bottles…..or finding a wine bottle with one glass left in it at the back of the cupboard, months after he’d gone away to rehab….and realising I must have been the one who hid it.

There but for the grace of God.

Read here about the work of Sherwood Cliffs Christian Community Rehabilitation Centre, where my husband Ben completed his program in 2009.

Do you or someone you love have a problem with alcohol? Click here for Alcoholics Anonymous Australia.

The God Shaped Hole – The Myth Of The Problem Free Life

You know, a lot of people think the whole purpose of human existence is to try get rid of all your problems, and a lot of those people are Christians. If this is what you think life is all about, you’re nailed, because you’ll never do it. I think the best we can hope for is to just exchange the problems we don’t like for other problems we can live with. For most people I know, this is what life consists of; the perpetual, sometimes exhausting, often expensive, pursuit of new, more manageable and socially acceptable problems.

I myself have quite a few problems. At the moment, they relate mostly to money, to my need to maintain the aging and quite weathered body I inhabit, and to having four children ranging in age from twenty two to ten years old to mother. Luckily, a lot of my problems aren’t mine to bear alone. I have a husband to share them with, and I’m pleased to say that right now my marriage is probably the least of my problems. It hasn’t always been so, but we’ve been working pretty hard on it and it’s going well. There have been times when the set of problems associated with our marriage seemed insurmountable, and we lost hope that we would ever be able to make it work, but by the grace of God, and because it’s still illegal to kill your spouse, we’ve been able to see it through. I think marriage works best when you both have the same set of problems to work on, and is even better when those problems don’t include each other.

What are problems anyway? I think they are things someone else is able to convince us we have wrong with us. I know I wouldn’t have half my problems if I didn’t have a television. If you ask me, advertising is just one long, steady stream of information designed to undermine all sense of happiness and wellbeing, a constant reminder of what I haven’t accumulated yet, as if I needed reminding. If television is to be believed, things, and perhaps rock hard abs, are what make us happy. I guess if solving the problems that come with owning lots of stuff is what you enjoy doing, then probably having stuff will make you happy. Not me. Call me lazy, but if it were up to me, I’d live in a caravan and never do housework, and just drive my car into the ground. I don’t really want the problems that come with having lots of new things. I have enough trouble trying to stay in one size of pants and remembering the birthdays of everyone in my family. I hate to think what I’ll be like when I’m eighty.

In my twenties, I thought it was possible to eradicate my problems. I thought I could just choose my way through them and out the other side. For example, I cured my issues with body image by keeping myself pregnant for about a decade. I think my becoming a Christian was probably meant to serve the same purpose. Christianity promised me freedom from the burden of past problems, and freedom from the worry of any new ones. I have wondered since then whether all the things that happened between then and now were as a result of a misunderstanding on my part, or a shortcoming on God’s.

One thing I could not have predicted is that my inability to manage any of my problems, my cancer, my marriage collapse, my husbands alcoholism and breakdown, was actually what ended up bringing God and I together after twenty five years of Christianity. I thought that my being imperfect was what kept me from being close to God, that my problems showed how bereft I was and how far I had to go. I thought my crappy life was evidence of my wrongness, of Gods distance, of my un-Christianness. But if I were as fixed up as I wished I was, I’d never have been able to receive the grace that cost God so much to give me.

When I was a little girl, the greatest compliment someone could pay my parents after they had minded me was “Oh, she was no trouble.” And that’s what I still want in my heart so much to be seen as…no trouble. I am not too much. I am not a pest. I can be good and well-behaved and low-maintainance. You don’t need to fix me, keep me, mend me God. I am worth keeping. I’m worth not leaving. But God is not a man that He would leave, or leave me, or lie. He is God, and He knows I can’t do this on my own, that it can’t be done. And doing it right isn’t about doing it right, getting it right, making it all perfect…it’s about doing it together. It’s about needing Him and being able to be content with myself as someone who needs Him. It’s about accepting that problems are part of my life, and because they are, He is.

My self-sufficiency may impress my friends, relieve my parents and irritate my enemies, but it pretty much renders God’s grace toward me void. And it’s not that I make problems in order to validate God’s grace; I don’t need to. Problems are coming whether I want them or not. As my friends and I say, everyone’s got the stuff. But the thing is, if you’ve got the stuff, you’ve also got God’s grace. If you’ve solved all your shortcomings, you don’t need it. And He wants to give it. Two weeks ago, I saw God move to bring two people together with something uncommon in common who needed each other desperately and didn’t know how to find each other…and neither of them are Christians, but everyone who watched it unfold sat back in awe of what was happening. The only other believer in the room and I whispered the same thing in each others ears  – that, right there, is Gods grace…extended to people who don’t even know Him, who don’t even acknowledge He exists. I’ve seen with my own two eyes God reach out to bless a needy sinner, and I’ve also seen Him take a wide berth around a self-sufficient, self-congratulatory Christian.

I’m done being embarrassed about my problems. I often make errors of judgement that take me places I don’t want to be, and I’m working on that. But I don’t care what people think as much as I once did. Everyone’s got the stuff, you know? If it’s a toss up between keeping up appearances, pretending I don’t need God’s grace because I’m so worked out, and looking like a loser because I need his grace like I need oxygen, it’s the latter I choose. With the problems, comes the grace. With the grace comes Him. With me, I just get…me. The problem free life is a myth, and can’t be organised or even purchased. What you really need the most has already been paid for.

Why It’s So Hard To Love Others

I used to think alcoholics lay around on park benches in trench coats with brown paper bags clutched to their wheezing chests. Or that they teetered on bar stools until closing time while their wives, vacantly clutching a cigarette and staring at an empty dining chair, explained to the children daddy is working late again. I saw all this on TV, so it must be true. Alcoholics were not us; they were others. That was until my husband became an alcoholic.

My husband didn’t frequent bars or park benches. My husband did not even think he could have been an alcoholic before he went to an AA meeting. There he met people who were not park bench dwellers or bar stool teeterers. They were secretaries, real estate agents and builders with careers, families and home loans. They were not others. They were just like him.

We would all like to think we are not one of those “others”. But we are all others to someone. We all are good and bad, strangers and friends, aliens and natives. And because we all are others, when we judge others, we judge ourselves.

Jesus told us to love other people in the same way we love ourselves. When we do this, they stop being others, and start being one anothers. This phrase “one another” appears 43 times in the New Testament. One anothers are not the same thing as others. The very word “other” denotes difference. “One another” means simply another one of what ourselves are. If we can see everyone else as we ourselves are, in fact, as God sees us all, then it becomes much harder to judge who is worthy of our preference and regard and who is not.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to love people. It’s that we have this others mentality in the first place. Others has come not to mean other people, it has come to mean other sexual preferences, other religions, other genders, other ways of seeing and being which are different from our own. We look around us and see not one hundred people who need love and regard, but one hundred reasons not to love or regard people.

Why wait until people change to be more like you to love and regard them? Why wait until they put more on or take more away? Why wait until they walk your way or talk your way?

Jesus didn’t say “love others as I loved you”. He said “love one another as I have loved you”. In Jesus eyes, there were no others, only people, just like himself – one anothers.

Who are the others? In fact, we see people as we are, not as they are. When there is a mote in the eye, it makes the seer think the problem is a beam floating out there in space. No wonder the world looks like such a mess.

From Burial to Banqueting Table.

I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.

Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.

As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?

You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.

Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.

What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.

The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.

When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.

In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.

I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation, and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about the people God brings across his path makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust, and fill him with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.

Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.

Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.

You can read Ben’s own account of his journey through alcoholism and recovery here.