Hope Is Born: Celebrating His Birthday -- and Mine
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Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s. The holiday season is here! And soon, for me, there will be one more reason to celebrate and give thanks. My “birthday” is approaching.
On January 2nd, 2005, I will celebrate the day I got sober. This was in many ways the most important day of my life, at least as far as my new life is concerned. I remember little about it, actually. I had been a fifth-and-a-half a day alcoholic and drug addict for a number of years, and during that time had managed to destroy nearly everything around me. I had no job, no car, and no place of my own to live. My existence had become one of darkness and fear and shame, and I was so toxic in body and spirit that I can now recall few details about that cold day I discovered a place of hope and healing.
In my memoir entitled Prodigal Song, I did my best to describe the bondage of addiction:
I had tried to stop. The only thing more terrifying than intentionally trying to kill yourself with drink and drugs is that hopeless, helpless moment when you come face to face with the true demon of addiction, that fear-frozen instant of realization when after an endless stream of days and nights you cry out to the useless gods surrounding you and beg them to help you quit, but still you can’t. This is a road not on any map of the non-addicted mind, a land of fear and panic and the utter hopelessness of life without faith. This is where we live, lifelessly—embracing the unique misery that comes from the overpowering compulsion to continue the torture, even as the sound of our own screams for mercy bounce off the walls and ring down the hall.
And so, having been so lost in this emptiness, I am for the most part at a loss as to this miracle of my recovery. I know that one night I encountered an Old Friend, one from whom I had been running most of my adult life. He found me, and killed the death within me, and planted in my destitute heart a new beginning…a new hope. Again, from Prodigal Song:
And on this night, in the unfurnished back bedroom of someone’s house, lying on an old mattress on the floor surrounded by unpacked boxes, something changed…I felt myself being crushed. The truth of death slammed into me like a train, and I burst into wrenching, agonizing sobs, as if my soul were being torn from my chest, as if there was blood in my tears. On my knees, curled over the mattress like a broken bird, my face pressed into the sheets by a weight threatening to smother me, the futility and longing and utter despair of my life weighing down on me until the breath was forced from my body…and the tears began pouring out of me like rain…until whatever had been haunting me came rushing out with a shudder and a gasp and helpless hollow howling, and then died…and though it seemed to me that many lifetimes had passed since I last called out His name, I suddenly realized…He had not changed…lying there in the afterglow of resurrection, I knew that in His eyes I was again a little boy, once more a child. His child.
I was crazy, and I was still very sick in body and spirit. But something had happened that night, and I would never be the same. God only knows how it came to be. And I don’t know how many blurred days passed before that cold and rainy afternoon when I somehow found my way to the downtown mission, to a meeting in the basement of an old stone church. I don’t remember much about that first visit, or even exactly how I got there. But one moment will remain in my mind as long as I live—my hands shaking badly as I tried to pour a cup of coffee, the stuff spilling all over the table, and a withered hand reaching in to gently steady the cup and pour it full. And I remember those eyes, the eyes of this seventy-three year old woman, and I saw peace in them.
“Looks like you could use some help,” she said.
And so, the healing began. There was much hard work ahead for me, of course. But should God grant me the gift, I will have been clean and sober for sixteen years on January 2, 2005. Pausing here at this time of Christmas, New Year’s, and my “sobriety birthday,” I can’t help wondering how all this came to be—a new career, a family, a sense of belonging and wholeness. Why me? Why not so many others, those hurting souls I work with in my counseling office, or sing to in churches, or visit and teach in treatment facilities and prisons? There is much mystery in it all. But within the mystery hovers a hope that is stronger than our fear, a Love that runs deeper than our wounds.
As we approach the day when Christians everywhere rejoice at the Savior’s birth, I can look back at my own life and rejoice for my rebirth…the old life made new in Christ. And so, ultimately, I simply pause to give thanks to the loving Christ who chose, for His reasons, to reach out to this prodigal and draw him back Home.
This is a special time of year. Despite the commercialization of the holiday season, we as Christians can know the true meaning, and overcome the world by embracing the living Savior. This is, for us, a time of unspeakable joy.
For others, though, this season can amplify the loneliness…even as we stand in a room full of people. Addiction is a disease of shame, loss, fear…but most of all loneliness. But we are not alone. Christ is born. Hope is alive.
I am thankful indeed. Because I know healing can come, not only for me, but also for others. We call His name, and He comes. Certainly there is hard work ahead for every recovering person (and recovery is about a lot more than just substance abuse). But ours is a God who gladly joins us on our knees each morning, and walks with us through each day.
Thank you, Lord Jesus. For saving me from myself. For breathing new life into my weary spirit. For never leaving me. Because this I now know: No matter how far from You I ran, You were ever near. And every time I turned my back, You were always facing me.
Would you like to know this same peace that Jim received? Pray this prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus,
I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God so now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus' name. Amen.
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