A Missionary shares her story of addiction

Laura Andrew is someone I want you to meet. She’s married to Rodney and they have two daughters and a son and they are serving God on the mission field in Costa Rica. I went to the same church with Laura growing up. She was quite a bit younger than me but we knew each other and went on youth group outings, etc. I never knew of her struggle with alcohol until I interviewed another lady about her addiction. Laura shared her story with me and I asked her if I could share it with ya’ll. She agreed to let me interview her as I did Elizabeth a few weeks ago. 

I think this interview and this topic is important because I believe the place of the local church can be a healing tool in the life of an addict. Not a cure all. But a tool. But I think we need to listen to each others stories and ask for God to open our hearts to what he wants us to see. So I pray this interview might help us all in this way.

Do you remember your first drink, how old were you?

Yes – I was a sophomore in high school so probably 15.

If so, where and what was it?

I was at an end of the year party at a friend’s house and an older kid was able to buy beer for us. I remember that I drank until I passed out on my friend’s front lawn. It didn’t take much because I didn’t have much of a tolerance at the time. But my drinking was out of control from the very beginning.

Can you tell us what happened with your drinking after that? (next drink, age, where)

I took a “break” after that first time because I was scared and humiliated. It was later in high school – I think after my junior prom that I drank again. And once again I drank until I blacked out.

Does anyone in your family drink?

I think when you look back at our family tree there were quite a few heavy drinkers especially on my mom’s Irish side. I have a close relative that has struggled for years with alcohol.

Although you take full responsibility for your own choices in your alcohol addiction do you look back on any early contributing factors?

I think one of the biggest contributing factors for me was an overwhelming need for acceptance from my peers. The desire to fit in and be accepted drove me to do whatever everyone else was doing. Although I became a Christian at an early age I lacked the understanding of my identity in Christ.

Were you aware at the time your behavior might have indicated you had a problem?

I think I always knew in the back of my mind that my drinking was not “normal” and that it was problematic. I certainly knew it was a sin issue.

What were your thoughts?

I enjoyed drinking and the partying lifestyle. I liked the feeling of getting that buzz and getting more out-going at parties and places. But always somewhere along the way an imaginary “switch” would be flipped that took me from in-control/having fun drinking to out of control/dangerous drinking. There were very few times in my life that I could “control” my drinking. And once the switch was flipped there was no telling what was going to happen after that. And from there the feelings of shame and guilt overwhelmed me. It was a cycle that I went through week after week after week.

What age and situation was your drinking obviously increasing?

When I went away to college is when things started to decline. Being out from under the watchful eye of my parents, church friends, etc. gave me the “freedom” I thought I wanted to do as I pleased. I got a fake I.D. and started going out to bars and clubs with older people and I got very involved in the hippie music scene. At that time, I started experimenting with other drugs but alcohol was always at the center of it all. I all but failed out of college, couldn’t hold a job (because I couldn’t get up in the morning to make it there), alienated friends and increasingly ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

How did your drinking impact your family?

My parents knew that I was struggling but they never knew the full extent. I missed family gatherings, continually broke my promises to “do better next time”, and left my parents in a continual state of fear and worry.

Did anyone ever mention you might be drinking too much?

At one point, after I missed my sister-in-law’s baby shower, my family had enough and they held an intervention. They actually picked me up at a bar took me home and tried to set me straight. They knew I was out of control. The next day they moved me out of my apartment where I was living and moved me back home with my parents. I did well for a while but didn’t really have the desire within me to change. So, after a while I went back to my old ways.

Were there times you ever wished someone had approached you in a loving, grace-filled way about your drinking?

Yes and no. I mean, I’m not sure it would have mattered because I wasn’t ready until I was ready. I like to think that if someone had come alongside of me in a loving grace-filled way, with no shame, no condemnation, and offered me a way out that I would have taken it. But at the time I felt (like any addict would) that the intervention was an attack. I felt like they didn’t understand me and what I was going thru. I had the desire to get rid of all the negative consequences of drinking but I wasn’t ready to give up the drinking. Because I didn’t know who I would be without it. I didn’t know what I would do, who I would hang out with. My identity was wrapped up in my drinking and partying.

Did you hide your drinking?

Absolutely – but only from my parents and people I knew from church because I was ashamed and afraid of “getting in trouble”. And in a certain way I hid the full extent of my drinking from my friends. But I didn’t sit around drinking in private. I thrived on being out and about in “the scene”.

Did you do drugs?

Yes.

Was your family concerned?

Of course – they were agonizing over the choices I was making. They saw me self-destructing.

What was it like just before your quit?

My parents had moved me home and I was doing pretty well with life. I had changed universities and was going to class and doing well. I also picked up a part-time job at a local store. On the outside I was holding it together pretty well but occasionally I would still go out with friends. One evening after my shift was over at work I went out with some co-workers. The night started out under control and we just had a few drinks together. But then someone suggested we go somewhere else and that “switch” was flipped in me. I often thought about what would have happened if I had just gone straight home after work. But we continued drinking into the night. And on the night of January 11, 2002 I was involved in a one -car DUI accident. I am so thankful that I was not injured and I did not injure anyone else. I was arrested that night and put in jail.

What made you quit?

When my dad came to bail me out we rode in silence on the way home. My mom was waiting there for us. My parents gave me two choices – I could either get help our get out. Faced with the possibility of being out on my own with nowhere to go I chose to get help.

How did you quit?

My mom took me to my first AA meeting the following Tuesday night at a local church. At that meeting I picked up my first white chip. It was a symbol of surrender and being ready to make a change. I continued to go to as many AA meetings as I could. I stayed sober by realizing that my higher power – Jesus Christ – was the only one that could restore me to wholeness, in HIM.

Was it difficult and for how long?

Yes, it was difficult – but I was ready and willing to do whatever it took to stay sober.

What did treatment look like for you? As a program how would you describe it to readers?

I was fortunate enough to not have needed a detox program or in-patient care. I focused on going to as many AA meetings as possible. I found a sponsor that was a wonderful Christian woman, who shared my belief that Jesus Christ is our “higher power” as described in the AA program. I also came to realize that I needed to work on my personal spiritual relationship with the Lord so I started to go to church again with my mom. It was so hard and awkward at first. I felt dirty, ashamed, and embarrassed sitting there. I felt like somehow, everyone was going to find out what a horrible person I had been. I felt like a fake and a hypocrite. And I think most of all I felt like a total disappointment to so many people. I had grown up in the church and had always been such a good girl. I was involved in children’s ministry, choir, youth group, etc. So, how had I come so far from all of that. And to be honest it took years after I got sober to deal with all those feelings. I truly had to reconstruct my identity, in Christ. I had to acknowledge that everything bad I had done, every sin I had committed, had already been forgiven the day I accepted Christ. I had to realize that He knew every sin I would ever commit and loved me (despite them) enough to die for me. I had to realize that there was nothing I could ever do to repay God for those wasted years. And that I didn’t need to DO anything to make him love me more.

It has been a very long road, and to be honest, I was in my 30’s before I really became completely “whole” again. It was when I finally put away the whole performance mentality and accepted the finished work of Jesus.

What do you do today to not drink?

Well, first I try not to put myself in situations where it is a temptation. I constantly remind myself that there is not one thing that alcohol will fix and there is not one positive thing that alcohol can add to my life.

How do you handle going out with friends who drink socially? Do you?

Only occasionally am I around people who drink socially. It doesn’t really bother me anymore. Currently, in my circle of friends, no one drinks socially so it’s not an issue.

Would it help if your Christian friends who normally drink socially withheld from drinking when they go out with you?

In my early years of sobriety yes, it would have helped. The longer it has been the easier it has gotten.

What advice would you give to a Christ follower who is still struggling with an alcohol addiction?

First, they need to really decide whether they are willing to do whatever it takes to get sober. If the true heart-felt desire to change is not there it’s never going to work. It also must be something more than just a desire to avoid the negative consequences. Getting sober is not just about behavior modification. It’s about fully surrendering to the will of God, to allow him to change you from the inside out. I would say to look for a Christ-centered recovery program like Celebrate Recovery, but don’t rule out Alcoholics Anonymous. A great deal can be learned from AA. But always remember at the center of it all, there is a loving Savior, who knows you and is waiting with open arms to restore you and redeem your pain and hurt and suffering.

What advice would you give a Christ follower who does not struggle with an alcohol addiction but wants to help those who do?

Wow. First, pray for the addict as often as you think of them. True change will come from a spiritual awakening so we must invoke the power of the Holy Spirit. I know that sounds a little mystical but I don’t know any other way to put it. The battle over addiction is won in the spiritual realm. Also, I would say be loving and withhold any shame or judgement in your dealing with an addict. Don’t pretend to know what they are going thru. Don’t pretend that you have the answers or solutions for that person. Build them up, love them, speak the truth (in love). And above all, don’t enable them. If you are really interested in helping an addict read up on co-dependency so you can learn what NOT to do as well!

Enabling is the number one enemy of an addict. Loved ones often continue to help (or repeatedly bail out) the addict. My husband and I often describe it as the addict falling towards a bottom (consequences) and the enabler provides a trap door that opens at the bottom. Thus, allowing the addict to escape a consequence that very well could have been a turning point in their lives. Every addict must reach the point where they acknowledge their addiction and realize they, in their own power, are powerless to overcome their addiction. In that moment they have to reach out to a higher Power, in my case, Jesus. If we never feel the full weight of pain and consequences we never reach that point of desperation and brokenness. It sounds awful but people who want to help addicts should pray for them to be broken. That’s where the good stuff begins.

Will you talk about the role of your church in your healing once you shared about your addiction?

I never really revealed anything about my addiction to anyone in the church I attended when I first got sober. The only people that knew were my mom and a couple of the pastors. However, the head pastor of that church supported me and even took me to an AA meeting one night (since I’d lost my license after the DUI). It was a special night and I felt very loved and supported.

However, after I met my husband, we started going to a church that offered a Christ-centered recovery program called Celebrate Recovery. And that was a total game-changer. Celebrate Recovery was a tremendous ministry offered by the church and we were never treated as outsiders or kept hidden. That group became our closest friends and were like family. I learned more in those years participating in and leading small groups, than I have at any other time in my Christian walk.

What advice would you give someone who has a friend or loved one who they believe is drinking to a degree that is impacting their life and family negatively?

Confront them in a loving way and offer help. But know when to back off. Just like the old saying goes “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.

Do you find it hard to attend social gatherings where alcohol is served?

No

How long has it been since you had a drink?

After a short relapse in 2011, it’s been 6 years since I’ve had a drink. Before that it had been almost 10 years.

What do you attribute most of this to?

Understanding who I am in Christ and realizing that I have no need for alcohol in my life.

How do you see God using your past addictions in your life today?

We are currently serving as missionaries in Playa Jaco, Costa Rica. Among our many other ministry responsibilities we offer Celebrate Recovery in a one-on-one format. Our town is FULL of addicts – to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, you name it. We are constantly crossing paths with hopeless, desperate people. To those who are truly ready for a change we offer Celebrate Recovery.

Any other thoughts or input for Christians who are struggling with an addiction?

To that person sitting in the pew (or chair) who is silently suffering…It doesn’t have to be that way forever. There are resources out there to help walk with you through recovery. But at some point you are going to have to acknowledge your need for help and take the first step in surrendering YOUR will to the will of God. It is a scary and painful road at times. However, remaining in addiction will destroy your life: physically, emotionally and spiritually. The God of the universe created you and knows every inch of you. He knows your secrets, your flaws, your addictions and he LOVES you anyways. He loves you so much he died for you. And there is nothing you could have ever done that He can’t forgive if you ask. And I think equally as important, there is nothing you can ever do in the future that could ever separate you from that love. The road to recovery is hard and most addicts will relapse at some point. It’s part of the journey. But we have a loving savior who will carry us through it all!

Thank you so much Laura for sharing with us. The depth of God’s love is evident in your life and in your message. May he keep using you and Rodney to show and speak of his love to others. 

 

How the church can walk beside recovering addicts

I am learning from a new friend who is serving God by showing up weekly and walking beside women recovering from various addictions. Our conversation started with a few questions about how to help those who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. What started as a conversation ended in this blog post. Thank you, Sally, for writing this so that we can all have a better understanding of how to help others. My prayer is that God will keep using you and us to love each other well. 

Those People: How the church can walk beside recovering addicts

If it’s Wednesday, I’m in rehab.

I don’t go alone. A bookkeeper, a housekeeper, a horse trainer, and a nurse go with me. Usually we drive separately, then meet in the dark dirt lot in front of the sun-weary blue flat-roofed building so we can enter together. One of us grabs the clipboard from the nail on the wall to sign all of us in. (For some reason, we sign in, but don’t sign out.)

Inside the room to left  are two sets of  bunk beds. A menagerie of bedding and personal items clutter the space. (But, the rules state to keep personal space clean and tidy, or something like that.) There’s another sleeping room, then on the right is the meeting room, or the Black Sofa Room, as I call it. Six 8-foot long sink-in-deep black pleather (plastic leather) couches surround the room, like they’re guarding the walls. They’re cold in the winter and slippery in the summer.

There’s no carpet.

Sometimes, when we enter the “sofa room”, women are gathered in the room already. Sometimes, we sit alone, waiting to see who will join us. Through the picture frame windows we watch the people traffic pass by and by. Will they come in?

In time, the door will open. One will come in. Another will follow. Another will follow.

Introductions.

Handshakes.

Hugs.

They’re hungry and thirsty, so we start.

But, first we open in a thanksgiving prayer to Jesus for making a way for my friends and I to bring a study of God’s Word into this house, to nourish those who come to be fed.

I Don’t Know What to Do Either

Wednesday night is Bible Study Night in this home to women residing here temporarily while they work to overcome their addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. Some come here from jail. Some are brought here. Some walk many miles to get here. All are here by choice. They have a lot on the line: their lives, their children, their marriages, their jobs, their homes….That perspective makes it pretty easy for my ministry partners and I to give an hour or two of our time each week to bring hope to those who are searching for it. What we do is not a big deal, really. But, I’ve learned some people (Christians, mostly) think it is.

My ears have caught cast-out comments like:

“I wouldn’t know what to do,”

“That’s quite a ministry you have” and

“I’m glad you are reaching out to those people,”

Is there an invisible barrier between “us and them”? I wonder, is there a wall that separates “Christians” from “those people”?

Those People

Those people? Naively, I never considered the women (and young children) living at the home as different from me. I never considered that stepping into their lives would draw attention–or not. All I knew when I joined 3 other women was that those struggling to overcome addictions are

Someone’s daughter

Someone’s mother

Someone’s wife

Someone’s sister

Someone’s granddaughter

Someone’s friend

They’re hurting

They’re lonely

They’re scared

They’re lost

That’s about all we know when we show up on Wednesday night. That’s really all I need to know because God knows and He says He equips us for what He calls us to. I believe that. Do you?

My only hope in writing this post is that I am able to give you just enough courage to reach out to women just like you who got hurt, then got lost. This is not a how-to post; it’s more about bringing some understanding to who “those people” are so you can ask God what, if anything, He asks of you.

Let me share insights I’ve gleaned over the years of walking beside women in recovery, working to overcome addictions:

Be A Safe Person

Trust is earned and addicts trust slowly because they’ve been burned by so many. Remember we’re all wounded; some of us just show it more than others. Maybe you can relate. But, you do not need to know what to do or say in every situation. Just let them know (by showing not telling) that you’re a safe person so they can be honest with you.

Practice listening and reserve judgement.

Be Available.

This doesn’t mean you need to meet every single request yourself. (Read ahead to the part about boundaries.) A little goes a long way. There are several little things you can do to help women in recovery build a bridge back into mainstream life:

  • Invite her to church, if she doesn’t have transportation or doesn’t want to go alone. Encourage her into a safe body of believers where she can enter into a supportive community and find fellowship. (We all need that.)
  • Invite her to an event.
  • Ask casually if she needs anything. (Anything practical!)
  • Always pray with her and for her.

Walk with Her

Bringing a new friend with you to church or an event attracts attention. Trust me. People are curious and they want to know who’s with you. When asked, I try to help her protect her privacy by simply saying “this is my friend so-and-so (first name only).” I think it’s important that each woman is seen as my “friend” and not labeled as a resident of the local drug and alcohol recovery facility. If they want to volunteer that information, they can.

Keep Clearly Defined Boundaries

Just so you know, addicts usually don’t have clear boundaries, particularly if they were born into a family of addicts where there were no boundaries. So you need to establish a few, in love. There’s nothing fancy needed here, simply “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Keep roles and responsibilities defined. You’re the grown up in the relationship. It’s OK to say no.

One word of caution: If you’re a people-pleaser, rescuer, co-dependent or enabler personality, you may want to support a recovering addict from a distance. The path in and out of addiction is often writhe with lies and manipulation. If you have trouble with boundaries you might get tangled in a web of manipulation while thinking you’re just being helpful. Know thyself.

Speak the Truth in Love

No matter the conversation or situation, love conquerors all. Speak the truth in love. Addicts have lived a life of lies. They need Truth and they need Love. Just like all of us. Bring strength, not pity. Bring encouragement, not condemnation. Be supportive, not enabling.

Keep It Simple

Our human nature is to complicate things. But, God’s way is simple

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)]

I know God cares deeply for the the lost and hurting and He rejoices when we care too. So, as you’re praying about what God is calling you to do, please pray about:

Who is God to you?

How does God see “those people”?

Then you will know what to do.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your friends.

Disclaimer: I am a layperson. I do not have a formal theological degree or training, I’m not a counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or ‘ologist of any kind. I am not a specialist or have any formal training about drug and alcohol addiction. This post is written from my personal experience and insights. Nothing more.

Sally Olson is a writer, blogger, wife, and battle-­proven homeschooling mom to sons. God, good words, good coffee and honest country living refresh her soul. She blogs about apples and country life at Garden Valley Homestead.