From Garbage or Grace & Glory
Edited David Partington
My name is Penny and I am an alcoholic. Alcohol controlled my life for a long time and I didn’t know it and once I did know it, I practiced denying it for as long as I could. I didn’t have the tools to overcome.
Stories of ways in which God helped you both during and after your problem.
Now that I am in recovery I look back over my life and see that God was always there and he had a plan to deliver me from this slavery just as surely as he had a plan to deliver his people from their slavery in Egypt and just as he had a plan to deliver the children of Adam from their slavery to sin.
I discovered Alcohol could remove my feelings temporarily in my teens. I loved the feeling of escape from that which I didn’t know how to process. The more I used alcohol to remove feelings the less likely I was to learn how to process feelings any other way. So I quickly learnt the powerful message: have feelings/remove them with substance.
By the time I left High School having achieved in the top 10% of our state I knew I was in trouble. I went to a church and sat quietly amongst the wooden pews and begged God for relief. I didn’t hear his answer. I didn’t have the tools to listen. So I took up smoking as a way of slowing down my drinking. Bad idea. I than had two addictions. I found I was capable at Uni and in the workplace and found some relief from achievement. So I went on to achieve in life at all costs – another addiction.
All these behaviors made relating to others difficult. Yet God in his kindness brought me friends and a husband. I can see in hindsight that God planned for me to marry this man although in my will I spent the first ten years trying to leave him but each time found myself pregnant! What a joy to know that 20 years later, God holds our marriage together because it is HIS will.
How did your ‘problem’ begin?
It all seemed manageable at first. After the birth of my first baby I bought a case of champagne for the baptism. By the time the baptism came around I had found I’d drunk the case. It was so subtle. After my second child I found it increasingly difficult to cope emotionally with the demands of motherhood. My own mother dismissed these feelings and with a drink in my hand, I found I could also dismiss these feelings. After my third child who was not an easy sleeper, I found the feelings of being overwhelmed were almost unbearable except when drinking. Increasingly I drank till I passed out each night. My husband worked long hours building up his career and I was lonely with 3 little children. I lost the ability to relate to other adults. I drank to function as an adult.
When and how did you realise your ‘problem’ was out of control?
There were signposts along the way but as the kids got older and more manageable and the youngest one went to school, I found if I started drinking at lunchtime I was rarely able to stop. I went to church to find solace again as I’d done at 19 and discovered the bible. I had a little plaque as a little girl that said “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the bible tell me so’ – I read the bible asking the question ‘How do I know Jesus loves me’ in this book. I discovered the cross – that on that cross Jesus had died in my place, which I would not die but have eternal life with him – but there was also the warning against drunkenness and there was much evidence in my life of drunkenness.
I was now passing out most nights to get to sleep. It was 2001. I was able to stop for a period but once I started again at the end of that year, I could not stop again. I spent every day in 2002 saying I wouldn’t do that again and every night I passed out. I drank against my will until I passed out. I was terrified of what was happening to me. It did not make sense. My external life was the best it had ever been. My internal life was suicidal. The gap widened at an exponential rate.
When and how did you realise that God was there and wanted to help you?
I could hear God’s voice in my life. I was taken to AA at the beginning of 2003 and begged God not to leave me there but I could clearly hear him say this is where I ‘m planting you. I have a mission for you here.
I realized addiction was a disease and you either had it or you didn’t – I either was a ‘real’ alcoholic or I was a problem drinker. I identified as a ‘real alcoholic’. I asked God for a sign. I got very drunk one afternoon and drove to pick up a child from his piano lesson, driving home; I took a short cut and narrowly missed a row of parked cars. My first thought was, God give me another sign. The verse from Luke came into my heart, ‘you have Moses and the Prophets, even if someone comes back from the dead, you won’t believe’. The frightening thought was that I did honestly believe Jesus had come back from the dead and here I was faced with the truth that I was an alcoholic and from that point on I had a choice – to continue drinking and die a drunk or to get help.
God provided the way out for me through AA and the 12 steps. 1 Cor 10:13 was my guide to the 12 steps as the way out that God had provided for millions of alcoholics since 1935
In what way(s) did you respond to God?
My response to God was much like a caught crocodile – he had a rope around my giant mouth and the more I struggled and snapped, the tighter the rope. I was yoked with Christ and the more I struggled the more the yoke rubbed my neck. Eventually I surrendered to God’s will and learnt his goodness to me from his yoke. It is a daily surrender that I now live knowing that God’s will is always the best for me. I pray daily for my daily bread of dependence on the Lord. My life depends on it. It is not an optional extra as I see for many Christians. I depend on God to continue to lift the scales from my eyes.
What have been the three most important spiritual lessons that you have learned in relation to your ‘problem’?
There are consequences to our sin. My brain patterns are now altered to serve myself and I have to consciously surrender my will to serve others in God’s name. I don’t default to this. It is a daily dependence on God’s grace. If I bring my suffering to the Lord as an offering, he brings good from it as I serve others – the deepening of my faith and the peace in my heart and the self-value I know are gifts that God has given to me as I’ve offered to him my suffering.
Resentments and unforgiveness in my heart will block me from God’s power. Blocked from God’s power I will die in the darkness. Cut off from the vine there can be no fruit.
What has been the most important method that you have found to fight temptation?
Group therapy. The power of the spirit in the group reminds me that isolated I struggle. There is strength in the gathering. The fundamental spiritual principles which make recovery possible are social disciplines. I learned how to be the way I am in relationships and I learn to be a new and different kind of person, in new and healthier relationships.
I have to invest in relationships – this is after all God’s will for us. The principles the 12 steps encourage to apply to healthy relationships is confession, testimony and making amends. These are no activities that can be done in isolation.
Recovery has to take place in community, in relationships.
Treating the disease on all three levels is crucial – spiritually through prayer and the power of God’s word, mentally through connecting with others in groups and physically eating, sleeping and exercising in balance.
Who was the person who helped you most and in what way?
Jesus Christ my brother, friend and Lord who is risen indeed.
Christian sponsors who taught me the steps from the Big Book with biblical insight.
Ministers and Christians friends who loved me with the love of Christ and who didn’t judge me, as I grew and changed. Those who held the faith that I would recover and serve God from my brokenness, no matter how disastrously I behaved in the early days.
Is reading the Bible and praying helpful and if so, in what way?
Helpful! It’s absolutely crucial. It is the foundation of the steps. Without the Bible’s sure promises what foundation would I have had to climb out of the pit of darkness addiction locks one into. Knowing God was faithful meant I could rely on HIM when all else failed. I trusted his promise that I would not be given more than I could bear and that there was a way out.
Still to this day seven years later, it is the promise of the scriptures’ message of eternal life that encourages me to serve others – by carrying the message of the 12 steps – so that others in addiction have a chance of hearing Jesus’ voice and spending eternity with us. Doing it just for this life is too hard!