A former addict finds peace and healing in the promises of God’s Word.
Rachel M. Hartman
After drinking with friends on the weekends in high school, Mark Keller* watched alcohol slowly take over his existence. “At one point, it became all that I did,” he says. Now, years later and alcohol-free, he credits his life’s turnaround to Christ. “The passages in the Bible have explained [things to] me and comforted me. There is someone who can save me, and he made me a new person.”
Keller grew up in a Christian setting and went to church on Sundays. He went through catechism classes and was confirmed as a teenager. Despite the religious background, issues related to addiction were prevalent at home. “There were some things going on in the family that were not healthy,” Keller says.
In high school, Keller struggled with anxiety and depression. He discovered that alcohol helped temporarily relieve the lows he was feeling. “I found an extra boost out of it,” he says. “I was operating at an intense level and struggling with social situations. When I got drunk, I think I got a bigger bang for my buck.”
Keller drank with friends during the next years. “Our weekends were focused around who could buy alcohol,” he says. “We weren’t that connected to school and sports.” The pastime soon became a vicious cycle. Alcohol helped ease Keller’s anxiety for a time but when the effect wore off, his body wanted to return to the previous state. The stress caused panic attacks and an urge to drink more.
“What really started to catapult everything was that transition out of high school and into adult life,” Keller says. “Drinking became everything I wanted.” He tried taking college classes and working, but he sometimes showed up inebriated. “I wasn’t sticking to college or holding a job, and I felt miserable about it. The solution was drinking, and then the next day you feel miserable and you’re not moving forward with your life.”
It seemed there was no way out. “Alcohol was preventing me from having a functioning life,” he says. “I turned to alcohol to deal with the shame and embarrassment about it.”
A mountain of shame
With his life so far from where he wanted it, Keller found it hard to interact with others, especially those who weren’t heavy drinkers and the members at church. “You could feel that people could see that you were not okay, that you were dirty,” he says. When asked basic questions about school and jobs, Keller had no answer. “It isolates you from people who are healthy and doing well. It marginalizes you so much.”
Keller tried consoling himself by rationalizing he was involved in the music scene. He liked to visit bars featuring up-and-coming bands. Often, though, he was so drunk that the next day he couldn’t remember who played.
After about 10 years, Keller felt like he had hit an all-time low. “I was blacking out many nights, if not every night,” he says. Friends, counselors, church members, and recovery group leaders tried to help, but the efforts didn’t stick.
To get his life in order, Keller decided to get away from his surroundings and move across the country. He used the change in scenery as a restart button. He drank less and finished college, found a job, and got married. “Drinking wasn’t a huge issue at that point,” he says. “Every time I drank, I got drunk, but it wasn’t interfering with my life.”
From the outside, it seemed like Keller was on the right track. But while he didn’t struggle as much with alcohol, he found his anxiety surfacing in new ways. “I had huge fits of rage,” he says. “I would try to push things back to the way I wanted them.” His rage usually didn’t show itself while he was at work, but rather manifested itself when he was by himself or at home.
In his new location, Keller attended a WELS church regularly and was struck with the power of the gospel. “God’s Word is true and alive and active,” he says. It helped him gain perspective on the different aspects of his life. “I realized how much of my struggle with drinking had stemmed from wanting to always be comfortable and always have things go my way and not to have to tolerate frustration.” The sermon messages struck him in a new way. “I was glad the lights were low because I cried through sermons—sometimes from guilt and shame and other times over the beauty of what Christ has done.”
Keller also learned that the congregation offered a weekly recovery meeting. At the time, he felt like his struggles with alcohol were under control. He also thought his anger was manageable. “There was such a disconnect between my professional life and home life that I didn’t admit to myself that I had a problem with anger and was harming my marriage and kids,” he says. Still, he decided to attend the meetings, thinking he might gain general tips about healthy living.
He soon realized where he could make improvements. “It was through the process of this group that I got clarity with what was happening and how I was trying to control it,” he says. The people in the group listened and offered their support. “I had people I could call or text and talk me through an anger situation.”
Through working with this group at church, Keller experienced positive changes in his life. “Eventually those fits of rage disappeared,” he says. “I also realized that, given my makeup, I couldn’t have highs and lows. Even though I was drinking less I needed to quit completely.”
Peace through Christ
Now, six years later, Keller doesn’t touch alcohol and can’t remember his last fit of rage. He continues to meet regularly with his group at church and attends an annual addiction retreat. Through these connections, he also mentors others on their journey toward recovery.
Keller is quick to explain to them that change stems from Christ’s work and his promises. “I found everything else is just superficial and doesn’t get to the core of it,” he says. “It doesn’t speak to the tremendous need we have.”
Keller also points out to others that God’s message is for all people. “The Bible’s definition of sin describes us as being sick and having a disease, of being in bondage. That’s true for the alcoholic and drug addict in a public way.”
Yet Christ’s death and resurrection are for everyone too. “When you call on God’s promises and you’re forgiven, the passages of the Bible take on a new reality,” he says.
Keller notes verses in Romans 7 that continue to impact him. “Paul says, ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ ”
It is this guidance that can lead the way through recovery. Says Keller, “When we trust in him and his promises, it’s transformative for our lives.”
* Name has been changed.
Lutheran Recovery Ministries offers Resilient Recovery groups and an annual retreat to help WELS members and others who are in recovery, have a loved one in recovery, or struggle with any habitual sin. Its next retreat will be offered Feb. 20–23, 2020. Learn more at lutheranrecoveryministries.com.
Author: Rachel M. Hartman
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019
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