I recently had the opportunity to share a bare bones version of my testimony at a local Celebrate Recovery anniversary party. I didn’t realize how much of a story I actually had until I tried putting my story on paper. I spent the following week trying to cut it down to the time frame I had been given and it was tough because everything I’ve ever been through seemed pertinent. Anywho, since August brings my 3rd Sober Birthday I thought I would share my bare bones testimony with all of you:
Hi! My name is Jessica and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with alcohol, anxiety, and self-worth.
When I write I like to have angle to work with and my angle for this testimony came from a song called Broken Vessels: “Oh I can see you now, Oh I can see the love in your eyes, Laying yourself down, Raising up the Broken to Life.” Because this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me!
You see I have been switching back and forth between two very different lives since I was nine years old. I grew up in church. I had a good family. I lived in a nice house in a nice part of town. I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday School, I went on mission trips, I led bible studies and I helped make the first Passion Conference happen. I did a lot in a few short and widely separated years of sobriety.
However, the majority of my life went more like a nightmare. I grew up with extreme social anxiety and had a hard time connecting to anyone. BUT, I quickly found that I could do anything and be anyone as long as I had alcohol in my system. My first drink was at nine years old. Nothing special, just a stolen beer shared between two best friends. It would be years later before I would have another alcoholic drink. I was 16 and made a new friend who introduced me to wine coolers. High school quickly became a blur as I routinely opted for spiked coffee in the morning, spiked soda at lunch and whatever I could get my hands on after school. I had a horrible relationship with my parents. I cursed them out daily and was out all hours of the night. My parents had no idea what to do with me. It was normal for me to drink until I blacked out and I did so every night of every weekend. My social anxiety made me dependent on alcohol, which brought a lot of depression so I was also a cutter for most of my teenage years. I hated myself, I hated my life and I only felt free when I was in the oblivion alcohol brought me.
As I mentioned earlier, I had bouts of sobriety that were broken by that lie alcoholics like to tell themselves. “I can control it this time. I just need a little release. Everybody else gets to let loose. One drink won’t kill me.” And down the rabbit hole I went faster than the previous time. Only now I was working and supporting myself. I was in Human Resources of all careers and I had found a new best friend in wine. Most of the time I was sober during the day, but I started drinking the second I was home. I longed for the weekends so I could go on benders and I got increasingly irritated with my co-workers, family members and friends due to my constant craving for oblivion. It got to the point that I was consuming multiple bottles of wine a night, often drinking until I vomited or passed out.
I eventually had another stint of sobriety that lasted about two years. It was all adrenaline and zero anything else and so I fell back into the arms of alcohol and told myself I would change my life once I left Memphis and I did just that – but it was not on my terms.
A few years later, I found myself living in a roach infested rented room in Los Angeles. By this time I was drinking a large bottle of Vodka a day and popping migraine pills to ease the suffering of my vodka based diet. I could barely walk to the mailbox because my muscles were so weak, including my heart, which palpitated non-stop. For the first time in my life, alcohol was not working. I could no longer reach oblivion. I needed something else, something stronger – and considering the state I was in – that something would have killed me.
I was at a very dangerous cross roads when God intervened in my life one last time. I had been seeking His help with a job. During a day of prayer and fasting I had a vision that scared the crap out of me. It turns out that Jesus loves me, but He was ready to let me die if I did not hand over the alcohol once and for all. I cried out – But it’s my Everything. Jesus replied, Exactly. Realizing that I had finally pushed God past His point of no return, I surrendered the one thing I had that made everything else okay and entered into a very reluctant sober state. I entered the rooms of AA in Los Angeles and I found a new home. After about 6 months of screaming into pillows and being afraid to even try going to the grocery store - something just changed. I started feeling more comfortable. Los Angeles taught me a lot. The Recovery out there is top notch and I needed to hear every word that was spoken. My favorite being “you’ve been upside down for so long that you have no idea what right side up feels like. Of course you feel upside down right now – it’s because You’ve finally turned right side up. Give it a minute.” And he was right! I also learned to like myself in Hollywood of all places. I made friends that liked me for who I am. My LA tribe helped me realize that I am funny, pretty, sweet, fun to be around and deserving of the best in life. After I got called to leave LA and found myself in Jacksonville, FL – I felt God nudge me to attend Celebrate Recovery instead of AA. I did not understand this at all. AA had saved my life. I live and breathe the AA logic in my soul. It keeps me from doing stupid things. But, I decided to follow God’s prompting and visited CR and I absolutely hated it. I felt so weird. I was a newbie all over again, but my AA logic quickly spit out the “Shut up and Show Up for 90 days” and so I did.
The first CR I went to, wasn’t my cup of tea so I sought a different one and met a super sweet woman and so I came back and I kept coming back here at the Beaches CR every Friday night. I have found that Celebrate Recovery offers me an atmosphere of love and acceptance where I can work on the root issues that cause my insane desire for escape. Thanks to CR I am staying sober while learning how to ground myself in God’s truth. I am learning to see myself the way God see’s me. I am learning how to serve, I am learning how to lead and I am learning how to deal with those unwanted emotions that usually make me bolt in every direction except the right one. I can say that after working the steps, I mean really, honestly working the steps, I no longer feel the need for alcohol. Sometimes I may want it, sometimes I may think about one drink, but I immediately tell myself that it cannot happen. I know where that one drink leads. For me it leads to my death. It really is that simple.
There is no going back, there is only pressing forward to the life that Jesus is calling me to lead and excitement about where He is taking me. He has given me a new vision for my life, which is the old vision I started out with years ago before alcohol took over my life. The good news is that the last 15 years have not phased God one bit. His plans for me have not changed. He still sees me as the same person I was before all of this mess started. This past year He gave me a verse that has been spoken in this room by others – Joel 2:25 - …He will restore the years the locusts ate away… – thanks to AA and Celebrate Recovery I get to live a life of freedom today and I get to be excited about the restoration of all the things the locusts ate away in my life while I was deep in my addiction, my depression and my self-torture.
AA Saved My Life. Celebrate Recovery is teaching me how to live and accept the new life that has been freely given. If you’re new – keep coming back! Keep doing the next right thing! Get a sponsor, get an accountability partner and Work the steps! Make yourself available to others! Surround yourself with the right people – people who have what you want, people that are grounded in God’s truth! Lean into Jesus and you too can sing that song with gratitude knowing that you are one of the broken God has raised to a new and awesome life. Thanks for letting me share.
And I really am excited for all that is to come! The vision God has given me seems so unattainable and so unreachable, but that’s also the fun part – I cannot remember who said this – Louie, Erwin, Russ or maybe they’ve all said it at one time or another – God never gives you something you can do without Him – I just have to be willing and God will take my willingness and make something awesome out of it. Like this blog, for instance, the readership has slowly been rising since the day I started it and I will keep writing until the day people stop reading it.
I am also working on some full-length (main speaker) versions of my testimony as I might soon have the opportunity to share with some other nearby Celebrate Recovery groups. Not to mention that I am delving into the Advanced Leadership training materials as I continue to develop my ministry leadership skills.
Looking back, I believe God had to take me out of LA so I could slow down and figure out where my life was going. My LA life was very hectic and due to the location of my work it made it very hard for me to be involved in after work activities. I MISS LA A LOT, but it is clear God brought me to Jacksonville so I could slow down long enough to truly change direction.
August 26th, I will be celebrating 3 whole years of sobriety: Three whole years of a different way of living; Three whole years of a better way of living; Three whole years of feeling my feelings; Three whole years of facing my fears; Three whole years of being the real Jessica. Three whole years of being someone I am proud of, someone my family is proud of and someone I know Jesus is proud of. Three whole years of better decisions, better relationships and better impact on those around me. Whoever said Sobriety is boring, uneventful and unattractive - doesn’t know Sobriety.
I turned 2 on August 26th. I have officially been clean and sober for two years. While I still have cravings and yearnings of times gone by, I can most certainly say that I do not have any desire to go back to the life I used to live. I cannot even imagine being that person again. When the cravings and yearnings come for that so called simpler time, I am immediately reminded of my inability to control my drinking and who that drinking made me become and the yearnings disappear.
What seems like an easy answer is often times nothing of the sort. More often than not, easy answers lead to even more trouble and don’t actually do anything to help one out. The way I see it, the use of drugs and alcohol is a self-induced mirage. Dude has a bad day, Dude goes to bar to blow off some steam, Dude forgets about how stressed out he is for a few hours, Dude crashes into bed, Dude wakes up and is stressed beyond belief all over again. Another example of this self-induced mirage is a woman getting over a heart break by going to the clubs and getting smashed out of her mind and going home with someone she won’t even remember, she forgets everything for a few hours, but come morning she is sneaking out of an apartment and trying to figure out where she is and how to get home and the heartbreak and loneliness return a few minutes later. Both scenarios are culturally accepted ways to deal with heartbreak and stress; the problem is that neither of them actually solves anything. They are easy, temporary bandages that take us farther down the rabbit hole. Only problem is that we don’t recognize our being in the hole until we find ourselves stuck at the bottom.
We as a society love self-induced mirages. We are all about distraction instead of answers. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to take a break from life and get into a good movie or go out and dance the night away. The question at large is the intent behind these and other distraction actions. Are you desperate for a distraction from feelings and thoughts you don’t want to feel or think or are you just allowing yourself a needed break? There is a giant difference and unfortunately, you often need a clear heart and a clear mind to tell the difference between the two.
The real answers to our unwanted thoughts and feelings involve facing them head on, sitting with them, getting comfortable with them and learning how to accept them as a part of life. Once we are no longer afraid of these feelings, their power lessens and we are able to navigate around them in a healthier way. Many of the greats say that if you feel lonely – you should do something for someone else; if you feel alone – you should become a part of something of significance; if you feel not worthy – you should lift someone else up; if you feel heartbroken – you should find a way to help mend someone else’s heart. The only distraction God has ordained is our focus on Him, his Goodness and His fierce love for each of us. For it is by focusing on Him and the giving of ourselves to causes that provoke positive change in our world that we receive healing. It all starts with a relationship with Jesus and a few good friends who are speaking truth into your life. If you don’t have either of these, then I suggest starting that relationship and getting involved in a good church or faith-based community. After this, I encourage finding a few more ways to connect. If you like hiking – join a hiking group. If you like painting – go to some painting classes to find others who enjoy your craft. If you love animals – volunteer for a local shelter or rescue group. In other words, get a grounding group of people around you, belong to a community and make sure you are involved in something that makes you come alive. And lastly, when those unwanted thoughts and feelings rear their ugly heads, share them with your grounding group of friends and be willing to let them carry you through when needed.
Happy Labor Day from a quiet cove in Malibu:
Last month I shared my inability to create a community around me here in Los Angeles. I also shared how this inability to create a community was eating away at my soul. As it turns out, this simple longing in my soul led me to cling to the only person available to me, My Lord, Jesus.
As everyone and everything appeared to be taken from me, it became clear that I needed to cling to Jesus, that I needed to spend time with Him and ask Him what He wants from me and for me. He did not hesitate to respond.
His main priorities concern the proper care of my spiritual body through spending time in His Word and in prayer, the proper care of my physical body through moderate exercise and healthy eating (something I’ve been struggling with as of late) and of course, my writing.
It was through spending time in His Word, that He has slowly revealed to me what I believe to be a portion of His plan for me. His plan starts with my growing up. He gently told me that I have been an infant Christian for over 15 years and that it is time for some growth. I have found myself back at the very first church I crossed off my list when I started church hunting a few months back. I started going to this church for the sole purpose of spending time with a spiritual friend who happens to attend this church. My intent was to spend time with my friend and endure this church, but this church is where my growth appears to be beginning. To be frankly honest, the plan God has laid before me starts with taking part in several learning and growth opportunities available through this church, which means I will be remaining in LA for quite some time.
This plan also laid out a new career track and I have begun the exhausting work of job hunting. I know I would like to work in a non-profit or ministry related non-profit, but I do not have any further definite direction. I feel like God is taking me all the way back to my beginning. I thought I had already come full circle, but it turns out I wasn’t quite there yet. As each month of sobriety passes, I get a little more clarity on who I am and an equal amount of clarity on how much confusion alcohol brought into my life.
In August, I will be celebrating my second year of sobriety and with this celebration; I am recommitting myself to the AA program. I have to admit that I have not been to a meeting in months. I had to leave my home group due to a bleeding deacon and some issues relating to the male variety. While I have been searching for a new meeting that easily fits into my schedule, there are semi-convenient meetings available and I am just going to have to make one of them my new AA home.
On a recent hike, a friend and I planned on following a local hiking group to a southern Cali waterfall that actually had water. We kept a decent distance until we got lost in our cameras and completely lost sight of the group. Since we were following a group, we did not bother looking at the map at the park entrance so we had to pick a trail and hope for the best. And so we hiked and hiked and hiked until we found a stream. It was easy to tell which way the current was running so we stayed close to this stream and headed up towards its source. We had no idea where we were, but we knew we were headed in the right direction. We followed the stream for over an hour and were about to give up when we heard the sound of rushing water and laughter. We pressed forward and found this stream’s source, a beautiful and somewhat rare, southern California waterfall.
Sometimes, God only reveals which way His current is flowing and leaves it up to us to take on the adventure of following His stream wherever it may lead. It’s what I am doing right now and if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I hope you will choose to follow the stream because if you don’t – you just might miss the beauty and wonder of a magnificent waterfall.