“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony,. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of Your unfailing love.” Psalms 6:2-4 New International Version
Reeking of gin, one Sunday morning, I stumbled past the usher with glazed eyes. “If I had to be at church then it’s going to require some ‘liquid courage,”’ I thought. I didn’t care if anyone could tell. A part of me dared them to confront me. I would have thought someone would’ve smelled it on my breath or at least felt something was off and ask, “What in Heaven’s name is going on Liz?” But no one did. Can you believe that? Furthermore, what makes this more ludicrous…
I am the pastor’s wife.
Picture it… the pastor’s wife plastered on the front pew.
Numerous times I’ve showed up for my son or daughter’s high school sport’s games with my “to-go-cup” of wine or tequila and lemonade. Alone, I’d sat in the bleachers and got sauced. My husband was also the principal of the private Christian school they attended. My behavior begged someone…anyone… to care enough to help me by noticing my shocking shenanigans. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I can now.
You’re probably wondering, why would a pastor’s wife behave this way? It can be summed up in one word.
Some people can handle drinking out of pleasure, but I couldn’t. I felt so much pain. I drank to numb it. You heard the old cliché, “when it rains, it pours,” well, I’d change that to when it “pains it pours”. I suffered from childhood sexual abuse, a failing marriage, two miscarriages, and feeling abandoned by God. It left me reeling. While life poured on the pain, I poured another drink.
“Be very careful, then how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:15-18 New International Version.
Crazy thing, I wasn’t a drinker. My early forties introduced me to alcohol. Prior to that, I relieved my pain by doing all the “right things,” to please God. In evangelical circles this is called Legalism. Legalism is following rules to please God without having a “real relationship” with Him. Legalism wrapped its tentacles around my view of God, choking out the truth of His grace. The false doctrine states, it’s up to you whether you’ll receive God’s blessings; it is contingent on your obedience. Those who disobey receive only God’s wrath, leading them to question their own salvation.
I fed the beast with performing, trying hard to be a good Christian girl, by reading and studying my Bible, forgiving the unforgivable, never questioning what the church taught about God, and a whole-hearted trust if I did these things, God would come through for me. I believed God would bless my deeds with my desires and take away my pain. I banked my life on it. Yet, after 15 years of begging God for joy, the pain continued to pour. Over and over, Legalism twisted truth until it enslaved me within its coils. Its constant hissing blocked the voice of Truth and Grace with taunts like, “Aren’t you done trying to please God? God’s not who you think He is. You might as well give up.”
The enemy, Satan, crafted a plan to use pain to steal my joy in living an abundant life, to kill hope that my circumstances would change, and ultimately to destroy my faith in God. None are exempt from Satan’s attempt to deceive and destroy.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)
Yesterday, I called a high school friend named Jason. These days, we keep up on Facebook; but I wanted to talk about his life-long struggle with alcohol and opioid addiction, and I knew he could shed light on the subject. Jason’s parents worked in ministry, so at times he sat plastered in the pew as well. Around 18 years old, he attended a beach getaway that included church friends, and for the first time, drank until he passed out.
“Alcohol was my escape,” he said. “It was like an elixir that made me open up. It fit like a glove, a second skin; and it became like my shadow.” Within the first year of binge drinking, Jason was charged with a DUI. He admitted to using alcohol to numb the pain. “Since middle school, I was bombarded with suicidal thoughts; I hoped that the Lord would take me in the middle of the night. Every night, I would ritually recite the Lord’s prayer just before bed.”
In high school, while playing quarterback on the football team, Jason suffered a back injury requiring a few surgeries. After one surgery failed, he began washing down his opioids with alcohol to relieve himself of the constant physical and emotional pain. While enjoying success as an actor/model in NYC, his hometown girlfriend announced she was pregnant, so he returned home to do the “right thing” and marry her. He hoped that by doing so, it would bring blessings from God. They gave birth to a daughter diagnosed with a rare disease which left her wheelchair bound.
“The constant stress coupled with my addictions became too much for my young wife and I to bear, so we separated and divorced,” he’d said.
Within ten years, Jason suffered five critical back surgeries, a divorce, a bankruptcy, and losing his home. Furthermore, he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, and suicidal ideation. “I felt like I had no purpose anymore, I became completely isolated and very angry with God. My life had fallen apart; If I had died during my addiction, so be it!” Jason heard that same hissing voice as I. The enemy’s message spat doom, failure, enduring pain, and pointed accusations to a God who refused to rescue.
“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, God will not deliver him. But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Psalms 3:1-3 NIV
But as I listened to his story, I had to know what was the last straw that led to his sobriety, so I asked him.
“The last straw was me landing in NYC, so inebriated I couldn’t find my way out of the airport. That night somehow, I managed to get into an Uber and on the ride home texted my Dad and said, ‘I’m an alcoholic. I need help. I’m going to rehab.’”
“The next day I checked myself into detox. Internally, I knew this was it; it’s now or never. My time had come. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Jason has been sober for three years. Through the intensive inpatient program, he gained the tools which enabled him to battle through one full month of rehab, then attended 45 AA meetings in 45 days. For the last three years, he’s been grinding it out every day to stay sober. He shared his source of strength is found in Jesus. A true miracle took place as each new day God gave Jason an attitude of gratitude. Where he used to feel self-condemnation, loathing, shame, and anger over making bad decisions, he now experiences grace and gratefulness.
“I’m thankful to have a job, a roof over my head, a home for my family, a family who stuck by me, for being sober, and for being alive. I’m grateful God did not abandon me, and I can honestly say that I am thankful for the struggle, for where I am today, and for the grace and protection of God. He has given me real joy that is only found in Jesus and it’s a joy that can’t be taken away.” Jason credits the tools and habits he learned through AA and finds peace in reciting the serenity prayer multiple times a day. He feels that he has a new calling on his life, and is in the process of becoming a nationally certified recovery coach.
God had not abandoned Jason. And He never left me alone either.
In fact, God pursued me.
Read part 2 tomorrow to find out how…
Introducing Elizabeth Hammond a contributing writer at The Hallelujah House. Elizabeth’s passion is ministering to others out of her own God-story where He’s rescued her life and continues to restore her family. She desires to fulfill God’s purpose in her life in encouraging women by sharing her own story, through Bible study, and intimate friendships. You can read the rest of her bio at the top of the homepage by clicking the word “Team
Elizabeth can be contacted at email@example.com.
Note: Thank you to Jason Umidi for agreeing to be interviewed for this story. If. you’d like to leave Jason a comment you can find him on Facebook.