Tonight, I am giving my testimony again at the Celebrate Recovery group where I serve on the leadership team. Also I’ll be picking up my chip celebrating 2 years of sobriety. It’s a little scary putting all my “junk” out here for all to see, but maybe something in my story of recovery and finding Christ in my life will resonate with someone out there and contribute to their victory.
This was originally written over a year ago, with basic updates as my life and situation have changed. It’s written by me as a script to be read aloud, not as a blog post, so it may not read so smoothly. With that in mind – here’s my CR testimony.
Hi, my name is John, and I AM a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. I am also an addict. I can get addicted to anything. I’ve been addicted to video games. I’m a recovered gambling addict. I am a recovering alcoholic. I am a recovering sex addict. I am a liar and I am a thief. And…I am a murderer. It is only through the grace and salvation of my lord Jesus Christ, who I finally allowed into my life and heart through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery, that I have been able to put all these addictions and habits to rest.
I was born to a 17 year old mother in 1972. She met my father, who was 24 when I was born, when he came back from the Vietnam War. They married and had 2 more children together, and then when I was about 5 years old, they divorced. I really don’t have many memories of this time in my life, just bits & pieces. I remember we went with my mother at first.
Unfortunately, at some point within a year of the divorce (I believe), my mother decided she couldn’t handle being a single mom to three young children, and she gave us back to my father. She moved to Tennessee, and after she took us for a vacation with her to Tennessee when I was 8 years old, I did not see or talk to her again for almost 30 years.
So from that point on, we were raised by my father. He worked about 55 hours a week, had a great work ethic, and would give the shirt off his back to help those around him. Most of the good traits I have I know I got from him. However, I also got some of my negative traits from him, especially my inclination to drink. This is something that took me a long time to really understand, because even 15 years after he passed away, I didn’t believe my father was an alcoholic. Of course, when I considered the fact that he had at least 5 DUI arrests, as well as other encounters where the police of the time did not arrest him, I had to be honest about his alcoholism. I also had to come to grips with the implications of that on my life.
I began early on searching for something that was missing inside of me. Like I said, I can be addicted to anything. All the way back to elementary school, I would spend hours playing video games. ! I would spend hours finding golf balls in the woods around upper Marlboro country club so I could sell them for a quarter a piece so I could dump those quarters into whatever arcade game was currently at the local highs dairy store. I once even stole all change out of my younger brother’s piggy bank and used that to play games at the local Highs dairy store.
I had my first experience with alcohol at about age 14, heading into high school, at a party at my older cousins’ house. I loved the way it made me feel. I was off and running.
My high school life revolved around drinking. Instead of playing sports or joining clubs, I always worked after school. I needed to work to a point, because my family did not have the money for me to have all the things a teenager “needs”. I was just going to have to work for them. But really, most of my money went straight to partying. I made new friends at school who had the same focus as me. It was to drink, and not for the “social lubricant”. We wanted to drink as much as we could, as fast as we could, so we could get as drunk as we could. Everybody in the school knew what we were up to, and warned other kids to “stay away from those boys.”
About this same time, I grew another set of friends as well. My father basically had no curfew or rules for me by this time, and I had some guys I was close to in the neighborhood who would simply stay at my apartment starting Friday and go home Sunday. They drank too, but more than drinking, we were our own crime wave. We would vandalize homes, vandalize cars, empty the change out of soda machines, steal alcohol, and we stole cars regularly. We stole the same ’68 Camaro 5 different times. We once kept a Nissan for months, hidden away on a friend’s farm.
This is the summation of my high school years. No supervision, lots of beer/booze, and habitual criminality. And never a thought of God. Everything was a joke.
The partying continued into college of course, as I decided to commute to College Park every day and continue everything else as is. I still worked the same jobs, hung out with the same friends, and maintained the same habits. Eventually, I did get some consequences out of how I was living my life. Another night of partying and drinking wound up with me being charged underage with DUI, as well as malicious destruction of property. This resulted in me taking a semester off school to deal with the situation, and never going back.
A positive result of this was I finally slowed down my whole party lifestyle. Not altogether mind you, but this did mark the end of me hanging out regularly with the crowds I had been hanging out with. So, at least I was no longer in active participation in felony level crimes.
My early twenties were relatively calm (by my standards). Looking back, I was just drifting with no purpose at all around this time. I had a drive by marriage that lasted about 9 months that ended when she decided she would rather be with my “friend” than with me. Shortly after this I met the woman I was meant to spend the rest of my life with, and we were married about 18 months later. She brought stability into my life, and did her best to show the love she knew I had been missing since I was a child. Within a couple years we had 2 kids….then 4. All seemed to be going well, but underneath, I was still the same me. Still the same addictive personality, searching for something that was missing inside me. I still had video games, but at some point in this time I found fantasy sports. I had friends who invited me into their league at work…soon they became almost a part time job for me. I didn’t have 1 or 2 football leagues, I had 5 or 6. Plus 4-5 baseball leagues, 2-4 basketball leagues, hockey leagues, golf leagues, NASCAR leagues. I don’t even like hockey, golf, or NASCAR. Or really the NBA for that matter. But, my fantasy leagues were something that I could focus on constantly. It wasn’t even about money, because most of my leagues were not cash leagues, just free leagues to play. But I would read magazines, and spend hours thinking about these leagues. I would begin every day on the computer checking stats and what happened the night before, always looking for an “edge”.
Eventually, probably about 8-10 years ago, I started playing poker with friends. Soon, I was playing online, for free at first. The fantasy sports soon became secondary to the internet poker. I’m not sure how long it took, but soon enough I was playing for money. Early on, the worst possible thing that could happen happened. At low levels, and for small stakes, I would win. As I moved up to bigger games, I won some, but lost more. I began to use money from an account we used as a Christmas fund instead to fund my poker habit. So, now my addiction had me stealing money from my own wife & kids. And, this was only the beginning. At this point in time I had no idea where this was going to take me.
I kept playing, win some, lose more. I read book after book on the topic. It was what I thought about most of the day. I would begin my day playing about an hour before going to work; I would stop by the library on the way home to sneak some time on their computers. I would get on late at night and play for hours. I downloaded the software on computers in some of my customer’s stores, where I would steal hours away from my job to play cards online.
I was constantly looking for that rush. I really could not get away from it. I was constantly scheming ways to get time playing, without people knowing what I was doing. I had this image of a nice, hardworking, earnest father, but in reality, I was living a lie. I was spending hours of time that I did not have, losing money I couldn’t afford to lose. I was withdrawing further and further into myself, now having a dangerous addiction that at all costs I would try to keep hidden from those around me.
On 2 different occasions, I actually took out loans to cover my losses that were piling up online. My wife never knew I was losing so much, I denied to her that I was even playing for money, then eventually had to acknowledge I was playing with “small amounts”. So, the lies kept getting deeper and deeper.
All the while, my drinking was getting worse and worse. Once I started, everyone around knew that I would need to be watched. I could not control myself. Party after party I would drink myself into oblivion and blackouts. The insanity was I thought I needed to drink to have “fun”. Looking back, what fun was I, or anyone else, really having? My wife always had to worry about me going overboard. Multiple times I would wake up (come to) on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and have to spend hours piecing together what happened the night before. Make apologetic phone calls to friends who would always forgive me, even if they might never look at me the same way again…
At various points, especially when I had bad health reports, I was able to temporarily suspend my drinking for a couple months at I time. I knew it was just temporary. Wanted to lose weight, wanted to rebuild my reputation, but really hadn’t hit the point where I knew I had to change.
However, I did hit the point where I had to give up my gambling habit. Like I said, I had taken loans out twice to cover continuous losses, and finally I hit the point where I knew I couldn’t continue to gamble. So, I made the decision to stop playing, which I did cold turkey.
Romans 7:18-19 says “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Unfortunately….I had gotten myself so adjusted to that rush, that occupation of my time, giving up the gambling just left me with extra time that I had no idea what to do with. I didn’t really even understand that I was missing it so much. But, long story short, I did not find something positive to replace all that time, attention, and thought I had been giving to my addiction. So I wound up heading into my next addiction replacement, something I never saw coming in my wildest dreams.
After about 13-14 years of being married, I had never once been physically unfaithful. Really, had never even come close. I had lied and stolen from my family, but never that. But…I began looking at online dating sites, instead of online gambling sites. I knew about them because they are advertised everywhere, TV, online, everywhere. At first it was just a curiosity, but the temptation was right there. I started making contact with women online. This is the point where I would find out how low I could go.
Everyone ultimately was looking for the same thing. I began to meet some of these women in person. Basically total strangers, people I did not know at all. I had detailed, lewd communication with them, met some in person, and slept with a number of them. I was now risking everything in my life. Self-respect, family, friendships, reputation, and trust. All for some fantasy life. But…I had my replacement for online poker. It was online women instead.
I was living in a bubble now, cut off from the real world. I was sneaking around meeting people when I was supposed to be working, sneaking around the house so I could check my phone or computer and stay in contact with the latest woman/women I was talking to. Ignoring my wife and children. Lying to my wife when she asked what I was doing, or turning things around on her to make it seem like she was doing something wrong. 1 John 1:8 says If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
I thought I found a way out by changing jobs. I went to work for a different company to put myself in a position where I wouldn’t be able to manipulate my paycheck so easily, plus I would have a company vehicle with GPS, making it more difficult to sneak away for my illicit trysts. But…at the new job, I still squirreled away a smaller amount each week into my “secret” account, leaving the door open for me to continue my selfish ways, which I did.
At first I slowed down a little. Problem was I had a new job that was pretty much the same as the old job, and I was still the same old me. So I was still seeking out contact with these women, and even though I had to be a bit more careful now, I continued on the same way.
I was living in isolation, cut off from the world around me. My habitual dishonesty had given me years of practice for this point. I told myself I had it under control. I told myself that I could “manage” it. The truth was I was digging a deeper and deeper hole, all behind walls that were getting higher and higher. I wound up in an extended affair that would bring me to my knees where I would finally have to choose which path I was going to take in life.
Shortly after New Year’s, the woman I was having an affair with came up pregnant. She insisted that it was mine, even though I had had a vasectomy 8 years prior. If I’d had somebody I could allow far enough into my life that I could’ve talked to about this, I’m sure they would have smacked me in the face and told me how stupid I was. But I didn’t….and I was incapable of thinking rationally or honestly about the situation. Or maybe just unwilling…
So I asked her what she was going to do. She said she was not going to keep the baby. Even though I thought abortion was wrong, I was relieved. It meant I would be able to avoid taking responsibility for my actions. Again. So, one day instead of going to work, I parked my van, got in her car, and drove her to Annapolis to have the abortion. When it was done I went in to work about 5 hours late. It wasn’t me being a nice guy that prompted me to take the time to go with her. I did it to make sure it was done. That baby, mine or not, was only going to cause me grief, get in the way of my plans and what I wanted to do. I was not going to allow it to expose me to getting caught in all my lies.
Luke chapter 8 verse 17 says “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” One day at the soccer field, my wife asked me if she could have my phone for music to listen to. I of course was messaging and emailing people I shouldn’t have been. I tried to erase everything, but she saw some of the messages in the phone. I could not hide my infidelity any more. I was caught, and my walls were soon to come crumbling down altogether.
I thought my marriage was certainly over. I moved in with a cousin who had a spare bedroom. I was really kind of stunned at this point. Godless, with no faith in myself or anyone around me, I had no idea where to turn or what to do.
Lucky for me, the God I had no understanding of did. My cousin asked me what I was planning on doing, and I told him I didn’t know. I am so fortunate God put him in my life at this point. He advised me to take a step back for a few days, let my head settle down before I made any more of my wise decisions.
A few days later, we had a heart to heart conversation. He asked me what I wanted to do. I admitted I had given up on my marriage in my mind because I didn’t think it was an option for my life now that this truth was known. So, he gave me a piece of advice that would change the direction of my life and my family’s destiny forever. He had been married for about 20 years to someone who had left him for another man. And, he told me that if she had come back to try to reconcile, he probably would have taken her back. His point was, if what I wanted was my wife, I should not assume that wasn’t an option. Tell her how I feel, lay the cards on the table, and let her make that decision, don’t just run and hide. Face what I’d done and let things fall where they may. In other words, he was telling to take responsibility for my actions!!
I have no doubt now that God was using my cousin to speak to me. He (God) had been trying for years to bring me to him, but I had never listened. Finally, I was at a point where I didn’t have any more of my own ideas. I listened to my cousins’ advice. I decided to try to reconcile my marriage. My wife, while not enthusiastic about the idea, was at least willing to talk. So began my journey of rebuilding myself, my life and my family.
My wife and I both sought counsel from people we trusted. After all the things I had done, nobody was telling her to welcome me back with open arms!! And, nobody was advising me to try to rush things towards that end in any way. I did get some advice from a trusted older friend after sharing my story honestly with him. He told me about a program in his church called Celebrate Recovery. They met on Friday nights, and he had a friend who was a leader there.
So I showed up that first Friday night… I don’t remember much of that night really, just how happy and excited some of the guys there seemed to be. Luke chapter 2 verse 17 says “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not on those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” I certainly knew I was a sinner, and the program of Celebrate Recovery was there that night for a very sick man. I was sick in the heart and spirit, but felt that night I had found a point to restart my life from. They told me to at least come 3 times before making my mind up about the program. That kind of puzzled me because my mind was made up – I thought the place was great.
I also remember someone taking the time to talk to me that night. He approached me after that first small group and asked me how long it had been since I had a drink. I think I kind of laughed and told him that’s not what I was there for. I just wanted to beat my gambling, sexual addictions, and save my family!! Drinking wasn’t my problem!! He strongly suggested I give up drinking (not sure if I had shared that in group or not), and gave me his phone number.
So…I really don’t remember the time lapse or how much time passed between my first coming into CR and me finally admitting defeat on the drinking front, but I do know it happened on Memorial Day 2014. I went to work, went to a pool party after work where my wife kids were, stayed much later than I should have (long after the family left), and did my usual binge drinking I had sworn to all involved I wasn’t going to do. I wound up having an intoxicated conversation with the hosts of the party about my whole situation, and when I left to go “home” for the night, I called my wife. I don’t remember the details, just that we had a bad fight while I was drunk driving home and threatened suicide. She freaked out and called my cousin and told him what was going on, so he was waiting up for me. He has lots of guns and was clearly concerned about the threats I had made. I told him I was fine and not going to do anything stupid, and went to bed. The next morning I called my future sponsor and told him that yes, maybe my drinking was a problem, and I now wanted to address that too. I asked him where there was an AA meeting I could find that night, and I added drinking to my list of issues I was now dealing with.
It is from this bottom that I stopped digging and started climbing. Climbing for me meant (and still means) working steps one at a time to get myself out of the hole I had dug. I’ve now been sober for 2 years. That for me means sobriety from a wide variety of issues. I have replaced these with bible study, Celebrate Recovery Friday night and Tuesday night step studies, reading and volunteering in CR and church as much as I can. I now actually share my daily bible readings and thoughts with about 30 friends and family members who, through some strange miracle of God, feel as though I have something worthwhile to say. I even have my own website I have started to share my readings and thoughts on stories of the bible.
Through my step work I have begun to clean up the messes of my past. The first step, admitting the unmanageability of my life….no brainer! What part of my life could have seemed manageable?? Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. I could see enough sobriety and even joy around me to at least believe that it COULD. It was at this point that I began praying every morning and every night at the suggestion of my sponsor. I prayed, and continue to pray, for God to keep me from drinking, cheating, lying, stealing, and gambling on a daily basis. I began to look for God in my life, and for the first time ever, actually believed I felt him working in me.
My sponsor had me begin my fourth step, inventory. It was about this time that I had a life changing weekend in the middle of my life changing recovery process. I encountered the living God down by the river at a men’s ministry called Credo. It was here that I finally really accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord & savior. This completely solidified my third step; I was now completely ready to turn my will over to God.
I found after this that the fourth step was very important for me also. It made me really look at myself and my relationships, as well as forced me to let go of certain things I had been holding onto for years. And the fifth step was freeing for me….sitting down with my sponsor, telling him all about who I really am. I was no longer hiding myself. It helped me get to know myself, so that I could do the 6th & 7th steps, and know that I had multiple character defects. I ask God every morning and every night now to work on my defects, and it works. Sometimes better than others, but it does work!! After step 4, I already had an amends list, and started making amends, starting with my family. It’s a miracle what has happened for my family! My wife has followed me into Emmanuel Church, when most would have run for the hills. We have come through this together, and I know it is God making that happen. Like I said before, it is a miracle of Christ that we have been able to stay close enough through this to even have a chance at saving our marriage.
Since working the 10th and 11th steps, I am able to say that I no longer have walls up to hide myself from the world around me. My life is pretty much an open book. Some of the results of this are –
1). I am a much better husband
2). Better father – on both of these fronts, I am able to actually be “present” when I am home. My brain is not racing, looking for some rush, some distraction to swallow up my attention. When I am home with my wife and children, it is not just a physical presence. I am there mentally, focused on the things a husband and daddy are there for. I am there to support them in all they want to do, not just race past as I sneak off to look at my latest obsession…
3). Job promotion….I had been offered before, but I was always scared. Rightly so, I knew I was doing things and living in a way that would be exposed if I was to have actual responsibility on my plate.
4). On the CR leadership team. They let me get up here and talk to you guys on a regular basis!!
5). I now actually sponsor people and am able to use my experiences to help others in their recoveries, as well as their (hopefully) growing walk with Christ.
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. (Ephesians 4:21-25 NLT)
This is where Celebrate Recovery has brought me, to a point now where I now know about Jesus Christ, and have thrown off that old sinful nature, the way I used to live. I am part of a community of believers now, and know that I don’t have to lie or put up walls to keep myself separated. I am now part of the body of Christ, useful to my brothers, and at the same time dependent on them for my own salvation.
Thanks for letting me share!