“What caused you to drink?”
This was a question that was asked at a recovery meeting that I recently attended. I had to stop and think about the question for awhile, because there wasn’t an answer that immediately popped into my head. I drank because I liked the effect that alcohol had on my body. I relaxed when I drank. The pressures and strains of life seemed to disappear momentarily. I forgot about the pain and regret of the past, even if only for a moment in time.
As I look back through the events that surrounded my drinking career, there were some pretty trauma inducing moments that I can point to as catalysts for jumpstarting my alcohol consumption.
I started ministry fresh out of college in 2007, as a Youth Pastor at a church that I came to love and look back on with great affection. I was a starry eyed, idealistic young man that had no business Pastoring people as a 21 year old kid. I loved every minute of the opportunity that I had as a Youth Pastor, though I failed over and over, and learned so much about myself and others.
In 2013, I found myself as an Executive Pastor in the same local church, having transitioned from Youth Ministry fresh out of college in a Mid Sized church to a position where I was untrained, green as could be, and in over my head. I had very few tools at my disposal to lean on, as I started down the path of “management.” In early 2014, our internal dysfunction as an organization began to make appearances. Our Elder board had a long standing feud between our Lead Pastor and one of the lay elders that had not been resolved and had festered for years. The Lead Pastor was fearful of his job (or authority) and the Lay Elder was fearful that the Lead Pastor was taking our church down a path of destruction. This feud began to play into every decision that was made and became a dark cloud over every meeting, every decision and every debriefing of those events. As an Executive Pastor, I was caught in the middle of the feud, having to defend my boss, against his boss, if I could. The reality is that I brought my own dysfunction to the table in so many ways and only contributed to the chaos that was beginning to swirl.
I was not confident in myself in this period and season of ministry. In fact, I had more self doubt than I can even begin to describe. I was in a job that I didn’t know how to do, encountering situations that I didn’t know how to deal with, finding pain in places that I never thought were possible, and my idealistic reality was crumbling. I loved the church that I had been in for 8 years. I loved the people that were part of the church, the men and women that I was able to work alongside each and every day. In many ways, I was living the dream with my church family. They were some of the closest relationships that I have ever had, and may ever have in this life. But it all came crumbling down in 2015. I resigned.
I didn’t resign because I was forced to. No one was telling me that it would be best to ‘get out.’ I didn’t have a direction from God that I was following. I just knew that my soul couldn’t absorb any more of the pain that I had been absorbing for months on end. My mind couldn’t take the sleepless nights and painful conversations that came in the tiresome days. I was spent emotionally, physically, and I was spiritually bankrupt. I had been dealing with church politics for so long that I legitimately forgot why I was even doing this in the first place. I resigned, and went to a new context, thinking that would alleviate the pain and turmoil that was happening inside of me.
Leaving the church that I loved, invested in, and cared deeply about didn’t fix anything within me. It didn’t calm the stress and anxiety that I was encumbered with. In fact, my inner self now dealt with a different emotion that I was not able to identify at the time, which was crippling. Looking back, I can now see that I was going through the stages of grief. I had lost something that I had loved. Moving on from the first church was as if someone close to me had died. I didn’t see the men and women that had walked with me through my formative years, on a regular basis and I found myself fairly lonely, and without any direction. I stepped into a position that was wrought with dysfunction and only increased the dysfunction when I arrived. I was there only a few months before I was released due to financial constraints as well as leadership decisions that had been made by me alongside of others. I found myself without a job at the end of 2016, with a couple of months of severance, and trying to find the next available spot to land.
Dysfunction is an interesting phenomena to evaluate. How do you measure how much dysfunction is in a context that you are evaluating? Each person brings a certain level of this to the table just from their own lives, and then when you put them all in the same room together, it creates a chaotic rhythm of struggle, sin, and, in my case, carnage. I started drinking during my short stint at the second church, as I found that the alcohol alleviated some of the internal pressure that I was trying to deal with. I wasn’t drinking heavily, but it was enough that I should have realized it was only contributing to the dysfunction. My mind was not right, and my soul was depleted of all things spiritual. I was at rock bottom in these two areas, and no one knew it. I let not one person in to my soul during this season. I had to keep it together.
“What caused you to drink?”
As I think about this question today, I can answer it with confidence. My own inability to see and deal with my personal dysfunction led to a drinking pattern that was unhealthy and damaging. Sure, dealing with emotions was a big part of this. Trying to wade through grief, anger, regret, pain, loneliness, and resentment without alcohol is a difficult maneuver to make, so I tried to do it with alcohol. No one caused me to drink. Not one event was the reason. My cumulative life experience to that point was replete with pain that I didn’t know how to manage. So I managed it the best way I had discovered to date. And that was to consume alcohol.
Today is different. My story didn’t end in this dysfunction, though my life didn’t get any easier or less complex. In fact, some of the hardest, most painful things that I have lived out the past 5 years, I did sober. The difference was is that my soul was no longer bankrupt. I found God. I found life in the people that I love the most. I was able to be honest with myself and with others along the way. I found joy in working out the dysfunctional tendencies of my own heart. It’s a good place to be.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, please reach out. If I can be of encouragement to you or them, in any way, I’m certainly willing. If you are Pastor and you are hiding an addiction from people, today is the day to start a new pattern, a new life, and experience the joy that you preach week in and week out. Let’s chat.