Old Haunts, Old Friends
By Don Umphrey
(scriptural citations from the NIV)
People who are new or fairly new to addiction recovery may find themselves in a difficult transition to a new life that involves staying clean and sober with a focus on God.
Old habits often die hard for both the person in recovery and old friends who may not understand or even be hostile to someone else’s need for change.
I was 27 when I started going through this transition. My old life had consisted of daily drunkenness, strip bars, gambling on horses and cards, promiscuity and adulteress relationships.
With the exception of my best friend, I kept from others the fact that when not under the immediate influence of alcohol, I suffered from increasing anxiety and neurotic fears of impending doom.
I was in denial about the fact that alcohol was the cause of my mental woes.
Finally, I reached a point where the fears of impending doom took over and launched me into the mother of all anxiety attacks. I chugged beer and booze in desperation but got no relief. Alcohol, my false god, had turned its back on me. With nowhere else to turn, suicide seemed like the only way out.
Gratefully, I was able to admit myself to a mental hospital. It was there that I learned from a fellow patient that alcohol was my problem—not the solution as I’d long thought. This was the beginning of the end of my denial.
A New Direction
Following the advice of my mental hospital friend, I started attending a 12-step recovery group after I left the hospital. I learned that as an alcoholic, I would never be able to drink “normally.” In fact, drinking would lead to dire consequences, even death.
I couldn’t imagine facing any more dire consequences than the day I entered the hospital. That is one reason that through the grace of God, I have not returned to alcohol since that day.
Early in my sobriety, however, the rest of my lifestyle stayed the same. I still went to strip joints, gambled heavily, etc.
Everyone in the party-hardy group of people I called friends knew of my two-week stay in the “looney bin.”
With about a month of sobriety, I stopped to see Wayne, a friend of a friend who lived in a house where there were frequent parties. Two young women were also visiting, one of them I pictured as a potential dating prospect.
The four of us played cards. At one point Wayne walked into the kitchen and came back with a couple bottles of beer. He popped off the top of one, placed it on the table and shoved it in front of me. “Have a beer, Don.”
The women looked at me with curiosity as to how I would respond. “No thanks,” I replied.
Wayne insisted, “Oh, come on, Don. Just this one.” I’d already learned from the recovery group that the first drink would lead to the second, ad nauseam, with horrible consequences for me. I pushed the bottle back in his direction and shook my head negatively. Any respect I had for Wayne immediately went down the toilet and has remained there.
My thoughts then were in the same vein as 1 Peter 4:3-4: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do--living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild-living, and they heap abuse on you."
Continued Bar Hopping
I kept attending recovery group meetings and returned to church for the first time in four years. But I still went to bars without imbibing with my best friend, Rich. We’d hunted and fished together, played on the same high school football team, and knew each other’s secrets. As you might suspect, he was the one with whom I had earlier shared my mental miseries.
With about four months of sobriety, I made plans to join Rich and some others at a bar in our home town. Opening the door to enter, I could see that the bar was full of people who were our age. There was a lot of noisy talking and occasionally an outburst of laughter. I saw Rich and the others sitting at a table with two pitchers of beer.
Before joining them, I walked up to the bartender. “A diet cola, please.”
He looked at me with skepticism. “You don’t drink?” he asked in a mocking voice.
“What’s wrong with you?” I shrugged my shoulders.
With diet cola in hand, I joined Rich and the others. As the night went on, Rich kept drinking beer, and got to the point where he was feeling no pain. I drank about a half dozen diet colas.
Leaving the Bar Early
Rich put his leg over mine under the table, had his arm around my shoulder and our faces were about a foot apart. He then said some things that seemed very important to him but made no sense to me. Shortly thereafter, I left the bar and drove home.
Afterward I wondered how I had talked and acted while drunk.
That night turned out to be a turning point for me. I quit going to bars and doubled down on recovery group meetings and church. (Notice that I used gambling lingo in the foregoing sentence.) I was making new friends and my life continued to change for the better.
A Focus on Jesus
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also wth the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4: 1-2).
Rich and I had a lot more in common than drinking. We remained friends, even though I moved to Texas and he remained in Michigan. A few times we met for fishing trips in both Colorado and Florida.
The last time I saw him, Rich told me about a lung disease that caused him to have shortness of breath. This pre-existing condition made him vulnerable to COVID which, sadly, claimed his life about a year ago. At that time I had been clean and sober for 48 years through the grace of God.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
© 2023 by Don Umphrey
“New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.
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