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My wife was gone. My kids were gone. My ministry was gone. The problem was mine—all mine.
The first time I got drunk was July 3. The last time I got drunk was December 31. Unfortunately, there were 20 years, not six months, between those two dates.
The first time was the summer after ninth grade. A friend and I sampled booze that night until I threw up and passed out. It took me two days to recover. I should have learned.
But 20 years later I woke up on New Year's Day and had to ask what I had done because I couldn't remember.
It took an hour to get drunk but 20 years to get sober. I lost my wife, my kids, and my calling in the parish ministry.
I grew up in a Christian home. We sat in the same pew each Sunday. We had devotions after supper. We said prayers before bed. I attended Lutheran grade schools and high school. To the best of my knowledge my mother never dropped me on my head when I was a baby.
Off to a running start
It wasn't until I went off to college to begin my studies for the ministry that my alcoholism got off to a running start. Friday nights were spent in the bars. I found myself trying to be one of the "real men" who could survive an annual pilgrimage to all 25 local bars in one night and have a beer at each one. I made a fool of myself on several occasions, but I never recall anyone ever suggesting that I had a problem.
Seminary was the next stop. My use of alcohol continued and even increased. I remember skipping chapel and classes because I was hung over. I'd resolve to quit or cut back, but then I'd do it all over again. I should have talked to someone, but I didn't.
I graduated from the seminary and received a call. For years the problem lay dormant. However, as my parishes and responsibilities grew, the drinking returned.
At one point I could not imagine a day without drinking, especially after the final meeting of the night or the last service on Sunday. I was hung over regularly. I remember Christmas Eve services where the candles weren't the only things that were lit up.
I considered talking to my circuit pastor, but I thought I knew what his answer would be: resign. I feared to admit my problem. I looked for a WELS pastor who had worked through this problem successfully and was willing to talk about it, but I found none.
All this time God had not been stingy with blessings.
Addictions often happen in cycles. Someone who is addicted may:
- have low self-esteem and feel unworthy.
- become delusional or paranoid and may rationalize their thoughts.
- daydream in a trancelike state about what makes them feel good.
- plan how and when they will next fulfill their act.
- complete the act they were fantasizing about. But the good feelings last only a moment and are replaced by the guilt and worry of being discovered.
- believe they are no good and will never be able to quit.
- feel that they need the addiction, both emotionally and physically.
To break the addiction cycle, addicts need to first break the physical habit. Then they can work on the emotional and spiritual challenges.
Struggling with alcohol or drug abuse? Wisconsin Lutheran Family and Child Service offers a variety of counseling services in the Midwest, as well as support groups and educational presentations around the country.
Are you struggling with loneliness, fear, or guilt? Need to talk to someone about death, addictions, or divorce? Contact a WELS pastor in your area.