Tag Archives: jesus

Alan 1961

Masterpiece, Part 2

This month I offer excerpts from my two memoirs, Masterpiece: A Love Story and The Lie Called Cancer. If you want to buy them, you may. If you want a free copy, tell me in the comments.

Read Part One here

Surprisingly, I had a credit card in my pocket (these are very useful for procuring alcohol) and could have chosen the University Inn, a new upscale motel nearby, but my heart was set on the Value Motel, a seedy, rundown complex adjacent to Interstate 5 in a less desirable part of town about five miles away. I was, at that moment, beyond pretence.

It was stiflingly hot when Matt pulled into its gravel entryway, just at dusk. We rolled up under the Value Motel sign pylons. Everyone along the Interstate for a mile in both directions could see its neon glory: VALUE MOTEL. BREAKFAST. ENTER HERE. $21/$23.

He switched off the car, still saying nothing, pulled away the shoulder belt to create some slack, and turned in his seat to face me. As the sunlight faded, we were bathed in the intermittent flash of the directive arrow urging Interstate drivers to EXIT NOW!

Several families, clearly in residence, not on vacation, ignored us as children ran around the parking lot: loud, unruly, violent. The adults were too busy with their own argument to notice, or perhaps care. A pair of men stood off toward the corner of the two story row engaged in what looked like a drug deal or some other hook-up; three more nearby were throwing back some cheap beer. Everyone and everything appeared to have experienced better days, so I knew that it was the right place for me. Nevertheless, I was frightened, but if you had asked, I would have denied that as well.

I mumbled a thanks and started to get out and felt Matt’s hand on my arm as I turned to leave. I looked back at a caring face with a pair of raised eyebrows under curly brown hair.

‘See you at the morning meeting tomorrow?’

‘Yes. No. I doubt it. Probably not.’ It was an involuntary settlement on honesty. Not my default, but why lie? I had no idea what Monday would bring. Besides, the only thing on my mind, it being Sunday night, is that the liquor stores were closed until 9:30 the next morning, and I had to somehow nurse what I had until then.

Matt let me go with an AA cliché. ‘Easy Does It,’ he said.

Matt was experienced enough to know that I was in no shape to have a conversation, or receive any real kindness from him beyond the lift. Redemption would have to wait for another day. It didn’t even occur to me that he would call my family on his way home to let them know where I was, and that I was, presumably, tucked in safely for the night. I didn’t care about that (’Leave me alone!’). My only need was to negotiate the transaction for a safe and private place to continue my liquid self-immolation.

My burden of guilt and sense of valuelessness only gave me enough strength of will to spend $21, for the cheapest room (’I don’t need more than this. I don’t deserve more than this’). There was no room for my personal value at the Value Motel, only my person.

I deserve to be sleeping out in the weeds somewhere,’ I thought, out on the edge, like some of the hard cases who told harrowing stories of ruin and redemption in the thousand-some AA meetings I had attended.

These were guys who rode around the western USA for years in boxcars, or who drank or fought themselves out of one town after another. Guys who lived in dumpsters. Guys who would get tired of a logging or construction job after a while and pick a fistfight with the foreman. One guy who camped out in an empty corn crib and tried to drink himself to death after being fired as a useless farm hand. Another who got sober while living for an entire winter in an open horse trailer, becoming a successful entrepreneur and business owner. Yet another who struck and killed a child while driving in the kind of drunken blackout that was a regular feature of my life.

All true stories, all told by guys I knew and admired. They had made it out of the darkness I was still living in. They had stepped into the other side of life, the side where the sun shone, and the birds sang and there was a spring in their step and life’s equation was factored with joy, fulfilment and peace, rather than depression, restlessness and strife. In their moments of truth, they came to AA and found a relationship with God.

It was the place of my childhood, that relationship. It was what I had had as a boy, but it was now a place I no longer could imagine. My world had long since turned to black and white, all beauty washed out. And God was nowhere to be found.

But these sober guys were all in four-dimensional living color. They showed up in AA after torching their lives. I stood amazed as they grew from the ashes into dependable men, seemingly overnight, while I continued to drag my tired body down the road toward death. I had to acknowledge how they had changed, because seeing was believing. I saw them recover and become men of faith, but didn’t believe I could.

They had results, while I could only muster excuses. God is fine for you’, I thought, but not for me. If God worked for you, good on you, but faith couldn’t work for me. It had failed me long ago. If God was real, He was only real for you, not for me. God answered you, not me. I didn’t deserve anything from God anyway. Not after what I had done, and what I had been, and what I was.

In retrospect, it’s no wonder that I was taken in by such a pack of lies. My worth had long before drained out of me like spent dishwater when the plug is pulled, leaving only a scummy residue. My life needed a good scrub, but instead I chose to protect my freedom to drink. And so it was that I drifted into the Value Motel, knowing it would give what I thought I needed for one more night. (’Leave me alone!’)

Tomorrow could wait. That was my powerless and repetitive excuse to avoid facing the guilt and shame that filled my life.

For $21, I had a room with no frills, a view of the freeway and no TV. Heavily stained carpet. No air conditioning, but a window with no screen (too close to the ground for an effective suicide attempt). A sink but no towel. A cracked sink. There was a mirror over the sink, to be ignored. A button lock on the door but no deadbolt; a security chain whose missing receiver was marked by four damaged screw holes on the plastic door frame. A door to a shared toilet. The lingering stale smells of cigarettes and urine. The room had been painted white once long ago and superficially cleaned, possibly within the last week.

The evening’s entertainment was liquid, which, as always, produced a bad movie inside my head. It was the same old plot with the same old cast of characters, a seemingly endless string of complaints, resentments, assessments of victimhood, lists of unfair circumstances, people who had turned against me or who simply didn’t understand, angry diatribes, mournful memories and unresolved problems. I was very engaged in mental conversation with people who weren’t there, but who made my life miserable nonetheless.

My victimhood was complete.

At last the bottle was as empty as my heart, and my anger was spent, and I passed out of myself into a restless, dreamless, uneasy sleep. I came to with a start hours later, sweating, vaguely sick but not yet craving more booze, although that would come soon enough. It was maybe sometime shy of five in the morning, the time of day when the body is at its lowest ebb. I had no watch or clock, but as I lay staring at the ceiling the slowly growing light told me the day would begin soon enough. Another long, hard, empty day with no hope beyond the knowledge that the liquor store opened in less than five hours. I didn’t plan to be late.

Alan 1961

Masterpiece, Part 1

This month I offer excerpts from my two memoirs, Masterpiece: A Love Story and The Lie Called Cancer. If you want to buy them, you may. If you want a free copy, tell me in the comments.

“No personal calamity is so crushing that something true and great can’t be made of it.” – Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

It was a day exactly like every other day in recent memory. I woke up and started drinking in secret. Always in secret.

Like every other day, I couldn’t predict what kind of day it would be. Some days I would drink all day and feel unaffected, as though it was only water passing through my system, not hard liquor. Other days all bets were off. As soon as the cycle began I would pass into The Blackout Zone, where I was walled off from the awareness of self, thought, the needs of others, and most important, how I felt about it.

It was a vital daily job – the most vital – because there was a lot to feel, all vastly uncomfortable, and it piled up into a larger mass day upon day, all to be avoided. My life became a landfill where nothing ever decomposed, where everything was saved, and I just couldn’t keep myself from compulsively picking through the trash.

Some days I would drink all day and be able to hide it well enough to keep from being caught out. Other days it was painfully obvious to everyone, despite my denials. My life was out of control.

I had been sober off and on for several years since rehab – mostly off, but I had (I thought) become very skilled at hiding my condition. Months could go by (it seemed to me) before anyone really caught on to the fact that I was drunk. Whatever. It was worth the pain and effort, the incredible hard work and focus of will needed to be slightly squeezed all the time – even if I was caught lying once in a while. That’s the lifestyle of alcoholic bondage, where drinking to kill pain only creates more pain. It was a vicious circle.

A family member told me that coming home to me was like the story about the Lady or the Tiger, and it was never clear which I would be. Frank Stockton’s tale features a courtier who has to choose between two doors for his one chance to win his love’s hand. One door opens to the lady herself and a lifetime of bliss. The other reveals a ferocious tiger, ready to devour without mercy.

On this particular day, August 4, 2003, I had neither what passed for normalcy, nor oblivion, only depression. Or so I thought. Later, when people came home, it was clear to them that I had lied one more time, and had overdone it one more time. There was no hiding. I was more drunk than I thought, and this time they had had enough.

‘Do you remember what we told you the last time you got drunk?’

‘No.’

‘We told you that if you got a bottle, you were going to have to get a room.’

And so the old heave-ho was underway. I quietly gathered a rucksack with a change of shirt, my wallet, my phone, what was left of my bottle (the most indispensable item). Shrugging it on, I headed toward the door, keys in hand. I was reminded not to drive, or a call to the police would follow.

So I took off on foot.

We lived in an exurban area north of Vancouver, Washington – just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Between the subdivisions were main roads with steep ditches and no shoulders. Walking on the road was the only option. Someone called my friend Matt who lived nearby. Matt and I had started attending Alcoholics Anonymous about four years before. Matt had stayed sober and I had not, even though the meetings were still a daily ritual, side-by-side with my secret drinking.

This was the schizophrenic nature of my life, as though I were professionally two-faced. I wanted all the benefits of AA and all the perceived benefits of being drunk. Sometimes I would leave a meeting and use a bottle hidden under the seat to get drunk before I drove out of the parking lot.

Oh yes, I drove drunk a lot, possibly several thousand times. Only the grace of God kept me from the gift of a DUI and all that entails: arrest, fines, court fees, mandatory treatment, jail time, not to mention humiliation and despair. Only the outright mercy of God kept me from hurting or killing someone, either in my car or with my car, including my family.

Life without booze seemed inconceivable, yet I was so sick of it I couldn’t imagine drinking one more drop. It was a daily madness that lied to me about the drink being the only cure for the feeling of hollowness that the drink itself caused. Each morning I would come to consciousness and be hit by the craving.

The craving was a gnawing, crawling, grabbing, clutching thing that overpowered all inhibition, removed even the thought of inhibition, because of the certain knowledge that the first drink will bring blessed relief from the emptiness – an emptiness that comes from drinking way too much, way too often, for way too long, an emptiness that becomes a self-perpetuating creature with a will of its own.

Alcoholic bondage is an almost seamless life, where the only demarcation is the unconsciousness of sleep. Life’s one desire is that you leave me alone. In the end, it was all I was able to choose: to be away from you and end all relationship, because if you don’t know me, you can’t hurt me. And I didn’t want to be hurt any more.

Why did I hurt so much in the first place? It was a daily question I couldn’t answer, and I was reduced to knowing only one response to make it go away, a long, dulling pull on a bottle of Windsor Canadian Blended Whiskey.

I had stopped using a glass years before. Why pay the middleman? The plastic bottle was a welcome development. It was pliable enough to be squeezed so that the liquor would push out faster through my gullet. That first drink of the day was very important. It had to come as fast as possible so the relief followed as fast as possible. No matter that true relief only lasted about 20 minutes and the rest was maintenance. As July became August of 2003 I knew no other path.

Matt and I shared the same AA sponsor until John fired me for lying to him about my drinking. That was about two years before I found myself lurching down NE 10th Avenue late that hot summer afternoon. I had just gone by a spot I knew well, where a small brush-lined creek passed through a culvert under the road, a place I often went when I needed a safe place to drink outside the house. Matt rolled up alongside in his Camry. A mission of mercy, but not for me – for my family, so they might know that I landed somewhere safe.

He powered down the window. ‘Hey buddy…’

‘Someone called you..?’ It was a statement more than a question.

‘Yep.’ A pause, a once-over. ‘What’s up?’

‘I got kicked out of the house, need to get a room somewhere.’ He motioned. I got in.

‘Where to?’

Good question. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had yet to drink myself out of everything I owned or professed to love. Somewhere in the back of my mind I denied that I was only enjoying house and home on sufferance. I was at the cliff but hadn’t leaned over far enough to fall into the abyss that ends in a life on the street.

Life in The Blackout Zone prevented thinking about that, or making any plan beyond the next drink. Life was reduced to a simple state of need: getting loaded, and being left alone to do it. Eventually, the abyss would come in its own time, of its own accord. But I denied that inevitability as well. Little did I know how close it was.

graffiti

Street Encounters

(A two minute read)

My friend Dominic and I waded through the miasma of this world the other day. We found light in the darkness, and also gave light.

The Bible says we are overcomers.1 We are also overflowers.2

In all our street evangelism, there was nothing dramatic.

No one was saved (that we know of).

No one was healed (that we know of).

But, the gospel of Jesus Christ was shared to many people.

And, the gospel of Jesus Christ was rejected by several people.

Many heard this message: ‘Jesus loves you.’

It’s our prayer that this small phrase is the pebble that begins a mighty avalanche in many lives.

We ministered to Alina, who is trapped on the streets in a nation where she doesn’t speak the language. She is trapped today, but who knows about tomorrow. With God, all things are possible! 3

Just as we began to pray for the Lord to encounter Alina and provide for her, JUST THEN, Maria, appeared out of nowhere and gave Alina food, hope, information about local resources, and prayer. Maria admitted when I asked her, that she was led to Alina by Holy Spirit. This is a miracle and a spotlight on God’s love, mercy and abundance. May this be the first pebble in Alina’s avalanche! How many times in Scripture does God show up, just then?

Dominic had a pair of women highlighted to him and he walked with them down the pavement. They thought that because they were sinners God would not love them. He explained the truth to them, that God loves them and welcomes them to him through Jesus. They were nice to him, and he could see God was on their case!

Our prayer Lord, is that Dominic’s love for them – stopping for the ‘one’ (or in this case, ‘two’) is the pebble that begins the avalanche toward life with Christ.

I saw a teenage girl escorting an elderly lady down the pavement for shopping. We had made eye contact while I was engaged with someone else. I ran along and stopped her and was able to celebrate her love for her Gran. To tell her that God made her that way: full of love. I told her that Jesus loved her for this full expression of her loving identity.

As I was extolling her beautiful heart, JUST THEN I heard a voice behind me thanking me – it was her mum. So, three generations were impacted.

Lord, I did not catch any of their names, but you know them. May this brief encounter in your love be a pebble that begins an avalanche of salvation.

Be encouraged, sisters and brothers. Whenever and wherever you share the love of Christ, he shows up IN POWER. Sometimes that power is soft. Sometimes it is quiet. Sometimes it is invisible.

Even though we only see in part, we thank you, Jesus that you see in full, and let us share in leading people toward your goodness!

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 4

1. Romans 8:37 ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’
2. Ephesians 4:18 ‘Do not be drunk with wine, for that is reckless living, but be filled with the Spirit.’
3. Matthew 19:25-26 ‘When His disciples heard this they were greatly amazed, saying “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”’
4. 2 Corinthians 4:6