I am a believer in Jesus Christ and am an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I struggle or have struggled with codependency, anger, depression, perfectionism, overspending, alcohol abuse, fear of intimacy and fear of abandonment. Before I even get started I just wanted to say that I have also really struggled with preparing this testimony and deciding to bare my soul to all of you. Up to this point, my mission in life has been to remain anonymous. Or at least to ignore, deny, avoid, or medicate my brokenness and pain. The last thing I would have dreamed of doing a few years ago, would be to stand up here telling you all how much it hurts and how much I need healing. But I am learning that I really am only as sick as my secrets. And that there is real power and healing in bringing light to all of the dark places.
I was born in Redwood City, California at a very young age............
I was the third of 4 boys in an Irish Catholic family. Unbeknownst to me at the time, alcohol shaped my family and my psyche in ways that I am still learning about. My father had a very difficult upbringing where his mother died when he was an infant and his father farmed him off to his grandparents to be raised. My father didn',t receive much love or nurturing and consequently didn,t know how to do that with his sons. I rarely heard words of affirmation and never heard words of tenderness or affection. Physical affection was nonexistent. The only time my father touched us was when we got disciplined. I learned from my mother that my Dad couldn,t even hold his babies. I can count on one hand the number of times my father has hugged me in my life.
My mother was and is the rock of the family. She is the one who kept everything going. She was born the only child in a German Catholic family. So I got stoic legalism coming from both sides of the family. If I have any relationship skills they did come from my mother. She also gave me the gift of music. One of my fondest memories is sitting on the bench next to my mother as she played the organ in the choir loft in church. She was in large part responsible for my initial belief in God and putting my brothers and me through parochial school. I used to think that my mother was an absolute saint. But I am coming to realize that she has her own codependency issues. She was always cleaning cleaning cleaning. You could eat off of our kitchen floor. And to this day she is in denial about the pink elephant of alcoholism in her living room. I want to emphasize before continuing that I do love my mother and father and have forgiven them.
My mother has told me that as a young child I was the most gregarious and loving of all of her sons. I was this happy go-lucky kid up until the age of about 6. Then something changed me and caused me to withdraw and fear the world around me. I suddenly became distant, detached, and extremely shy. At age 6 a friend of mine from the neighborhood approached me and told me he had something he wanted to show me in secret. We went into the orchard behind the house where he showed me a series of black and white Polaroid's he discovered laying in the street. The photos depicted naked men and women doing things that I didn't understand. All I knew was that whatever they were doing was very bad. To this day those images are seared into my brain and I can describe in detail what each photo showed.
A few months later I was in this same friend's house where he showed me a "birds and the bees book" depicting God's gift of life. But instead of understanding sex as a beautiful thing, I immediately connected it in my 6-year-old brain to the dirty pictures I had seen a few months earlier. I vividly remember dropping the book and running home and crawling into my bed. At that moment I was consumed by a Satanic lie that told me that I was not loved and that my parents did something dirty to make me. I felt this black cloud envelope me. I had nowhere to go except inside of my fragile self. I couldn't go to my parents because they were the culprits who did that dirty thing to make me. And of course, my family didn't talk about feelings, fears, emotions, or least of all sex. From that day forward I started to hate my parents and to fear the world around me.
Sure there were plenty of good times growing up. My father taught us to play baseball, ski, sail, pound nails, and work on cars. And we always had a very clean house to live in. But for the most part my father was absent. He spent more and more time away from home as his career took him all over the globe as an engineer, designing and building factories. When he was around, within minutes of getting home from work, he was pouring vodka or whiskey to ease the stress. A little wine with dinner, where my father would pontificate over politics or religion, then more hard stuff afterward until he fell asleep in front of the TV. Weekends working around the house were interspersed with "Steven, go grab me another beer."
I have to admit that my father wasn't an ugly drunk. We never had to pick him up off the floor or clean up vomit. And he always got up and went to work the next day. But in hind sight I realize the alcohol contributed to dramatic mood swings in my father. If he was drinking, he could get all weepy talking about how proud he was of his sons. Then when we said or did something wrong or disrespectful he would explode in a furious rage. Occasionally he would clout his little boys, rapping us on the head with his knuckles. Not enough to cause a bruise, but enough to get our attention. There were also several instances, like when he grabbed a baseball bat and confronted a local teenager who was racing up and down the street in his Mustang.
My brothers and I grew up in the hippie era. I followed in their footsteps, rejecting the church, growing my hair down to my shoulders and experimenting with drugs. From age 18 to 20, I smoked pot just about every day of my life. I also fell madly in love with my first girlfriend. After a couple years of drugs, sex, and rock and roll I was empty and searching. In fact I was devastated upon learning that my girlfriend was cheating on me. After learning of her infidelity, I climbed up onto the top of a water tower only to realize that the tower just wasn't quite high enough.
Fortunately God had other plans for me. I started asking questions, like "Why am I here? What's the meaning of life? Is there a God?" At that time, my best friend had recently become a Christian. I spent a lot of time with him and his Christian friends and realized that they were different. They seemed genuine and like they really cared about one another. I noticed that they didn't have to get stoned to have a good time. Eventually I knew that I wanted whatever they had, and that was Jesus. I found myself on my knees next to my bed weeping and praying the sinners prayer. That night, I asked Jesus into my heart and asked God to show me a sign that He was really real.
After praying that prayer I didn't feel much different. I didn't hear angels singing or bells ringing. But I decided to live my life differently and to obey God as much as I could. I cut my hair and gave up the hippie lifestyle. God miraculously freed me from my pot addiction. I just quit one day. I started to read my Bible and go to church occasionally. I began school at UCSB and God answered my prayer and gave me two powerful signs; events designed specifically for me to show me that He was real and that He cared about me.
After a year of living as a closet Christian I knew that I was supposed to be involved with other Christians. Near the end of the school year I started investigating this group of Christians on campus. I was invited to go to a Bible study at an apartment, Thursday night at 7:30. At 7:15 that evening I was in tears on my knees next to my bed. I was so afraid. Growing up in the Catholic church, where for me God was so abstract and distant and didn't require much from me except a few "Our Fathers" and "Hail Mary's". I didn't know what to expect from going to a "Bible study". I had this misconception that for me to become a Christian I would have to roll around on the floor in front of a church and have all these demons exorcized from me. But I knew that I was supposed to go to the Bible study, so I obeyed God and went.
I sat in this Bible study that night and didn't hardly say a word. I just listened to these people sing to God, study the Bible, and pray to God. As the evening progressed, I had this overwhelming palpable sense that God was in the room. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up and I felt like I had never felt before. When the Bible study ended a guy I knew slightly came over to me and starting chatting. He asked me if I was a Christian. I had to stop and think about that. When I realized that I probably was, I told him "Yes, I think I am a Christian." At that moment I was flooded with an incredible sense of peace and well-being. It felt like a great weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I started crying in this room full of strangers, but the tears were tears of joy. What happened at that moment was pivotal in my life. I admitted to myself, to someone else, and to God that Jesus was Lord of my life. And I know now that at that point in time I was truly saved; Romans 10:9 "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."
Even though my life changed dramatically after being born again, I realize now that God didn't immediately fix me. I still carried around all of my fears of abandonment and intimacy and my perfectionistic and people-pleasing tendencies. Even after being showered with God's grace and forgiveness, I still, to this day, find it hard to convince myself that I don't have to earn God's love and approval.
Following my conversion, I repeatedly experienced verbal abuse from my father regarding my new-found faith. His worst nightmare was for his son to become a missionary. When I would come home from college and share about my faith to my parents, World War III would ensue. I came close to having a fistfight with my father over Jesus Christ.
Jumping ahead to my mid-thirties, I swore that I would never set foot in my parents house again after overhearing my father and older brother Mick laughing about me and my faith during one of their drinking binges on Christmas eve. I spent about 9 months in isolation, avoiding all contact with my family. Ironically I ended up drinking in the evenings after work. During that time I started to experience panic attacks. I would be in a meeting with my boss and suddenly start to lose it. Or I would be sitting in church and start sweating and shaking. Eventually I realized that the panic attacks had to do with my father. I mustered up the courage to confront him about his drunken insults to me from the previous Christmas. He didn't even remember them. I forgave him and the panic attacks subsided.
I have never gotten married, in large part because of my fears of intimacy and abandonment. But about 6 years ago I got engaged to a Christian lady. I thought life was going pretty good. Sure I noted that she had some issues with controlling her anger, but she never got angry with me. And I thought every thing would work itself out after we got married. Then on my way home from church one Sunday morning I got the phone call that my brother Mick had drank himself to death the night before. Prior to that, we all knew that Mick maybe drank a little too much but that was just Mick.
That day the same black cloud seemed to envelope me again. But in the midst of the darkness God showed up. I knew that I was supposed to do something at my brother's memorial service. That was my designated duty as the spiritual one in the family. Beyond that responsibility I knew that God wanted me to do something. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple days before the service knowing that God wanted me to sing. "You have got to be crazy", I told God. "I can't sing at my brother's funeral." As much as I fought it, I still knew I was supposed to sing and planned to sing Amazing Grace.
My mother asked me to read some scripture and to read a eulogy that my father had written. I got through the scripture but broke down sobbing trying to read the eulogy. As I crawled back to my seat I thought there was no way I could possibly sing. But I committed to give it up to God and let Him do whatever He wanted with me. At the end of the service I got up and my fiancée started playing the piano. I sang Amazing Grace. The words came out strong and clear, in fact stronger and clearer than I thought I could even physically sing. Through the song I was truly amazed. I had what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was floating above from the church ceiling looking down at myself singing. When I was truly at my absolute weakest, God was strong.
Three months later I was supposed to get married. Six weeks before the wedding my fiancée and I started arguing about money. She had a lot of it and wanted me to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Via email, she started insulting me and calling me names. I went over to her house to have a face-to-face discussion about it and she started screaming at me. When I confronted her about her anger, she said I just better get used to it, cause that is the way it is in her house. And some times when she gets really mad she throws things. I called off the wedding the next day, 5 weeks before the date. That black cloud seemed to get darker and darker around me.
After calling off the wedding, I often would end up buying a nice bottle of wine to go with my dinner. When my friends would call, I would let the answering machine pick up so they wouldn't hear that I was drunk. This went on for about a year, when one of my closest friends, Jay got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jay was the man I could tell anything to and cry with and not be ashamed. Within 6 months Jay was dead.
Right about now my life was unbearable. I hit bottom and the black cloud consumed me. I started seeing a Christian counselor who specializes in alcoholism, all sorts of other isms, and grief counseling. For the first couple years of counseling he would always ask me. "So how are you feeeeeling Steve?" I would say "What do you mean, how am I feeling, I am not feeeeeling anything." He responded, "Oh so your dad is an alcoholic, your brother drank himself to death, you called off your wedding, and one of your best friends died of cancer, and you're not feeling anything?"
Well 2.5 years ago I quit drinking, and I started feeling. Really feeling maybe for the first time since I was 6 years old. Now I just walk in the door to my counselor's office and start crying. I cry in church in the pews, I cry on stage leading worship, I cry sharing with my friends, and I cry here in front of you guys. I am living out Romans 12:15 "mourn with those who mourn". Initially it was too frightening to feel the pain. I fought and fought not to go there. I avoided, denied, and medicated. The pain instead came out in all sorts of dysfunctional ways and addictions.
Well I can tell you that this hasn,t been very fun. It is extremely painful and it is very humbling, but it is very good. I realize more and more what Jesus did on the cross for me. He submitted and surrendered Himself on the cross for all of my pain, so that I might have hope of resurrection and life eternal, where there will be no more pain and no more tears. There are shafts of light poking through my black cloud now. And I trust that the cloud will blow away someday in a gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit. I am counting on Jesus and His words in Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted".
What I have realized is that the grieving is a requirement for recovery. I believe it is actually like one of God's spiritual laws. When I don't allow myself to grieve, I put all of this energy into defying one of God's laws. I just can't put on a happy face and decide to feel better. God is the only one who can make me feel better. John 11:35 is one of the easiest scriptures to memorize but happens to be one of the hardest to emulate: "Jesus Wept". If I really want to be more like Jesus, maybe I need allow myself to weep like Jesus.
I need to come clean before God and acknowledge the truth of my past. All the ways I have been wounded and all the ways I have sinned against Him and others. James 4:9-10 says "Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." Acknowledging the truth is really painful and really sad and involves grieving. The grieving has to happen in community. I can't just shut myself in my closet and grieve.
I can't say that I am very far along in this recovery process. I really haven't been methodically working the steps. But writing and presenting this testimony is really about working Step 4, making an inventory of my life. And it's about acknowledging James 5:16 "Confess your sins to each another and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
I am encouraged that God isn't through with me yet, and I am determined to take Baby Steps towards whatever He has in store for me. I am so grateful that Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to come clean and be really real. And that it's a place where God can transform lives and heal us if we let Him. "I am confident of this, that He Who began a good work in you (and me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).
Steve Hamilton 12/1/03.
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