Everyone who hears the word has his or her own set of associations, memories, assumptions, and philosophies. But for those caught in its deadly grip, it can undoubtedly seem like there’s no room for grace.
And then there’s Butch. He’s gregarious, charming, quick-witted. He seems laid back and genuine. He laughs at his own jokes, which he tells frequently. There was no reason to suspect that the good-natured man sitting in front of me had navigated the darkest of trenches.
But Butch is certain that Grace is the only reason he’s still alive.
“Well, I come from a long line of alcohol abusers in my family. I don’t say that as an excuse, I don’t say that as a reason why I inherited the disease. It is what it is. Nobody ever forced or put anything in my system that I didn’t put in myself. That just sets the table. I didn’t think it would happen to me,” Butch said.
Chapter 1 – Addiction
Butch’s story begins like that of so many other addicts – with a determination to be different than those who came before him. But, like so many, his course was set in motion when he was still very young.
“Age 15, took my first drink, and by 18, did my first drug, and it accelerated from there for 17 years until age 35,” Butch remembered. “During that period of time, my father committed suicide in an alcohol state, and I swore that would never happen to me. When my mother called the night they found my dad, I coped with it by calling my fraternity brother and drinking a bottle of whiskey. So, it was my natural state by then.”
It might have been Butch’s natural state, but he seemed charming to those on the outside. You might not have guessed there was even a problem. He put on a good show for the world. He was friendly and likable and seemed to have life together.
But it didn’t take much depth to discover the excruciating consequences of his addiction and selfishness.
There is a Problem Here
“I had one divorce at that time when I bottomed out. I was a bad boy. A horrible husband. A liar and a cheat and a verbal abuser and a number of things. I had been a horrible person. A terrible son, terrible employee, a terrible husband, a terrible brother, whatever else was out there. I was so full of self that it was just a frenetic search for instant gratification with no regard for the consequences,” Butch confessed.
His relationships were suffering. He was drinking more and more. And things were rapidly spinning out of control for him. Several times during the course of those years, Butch recognized that maybe he had a problem.
At this point, Butch’s faith situation was dim.
“I grew up Presbyterian,” Butch recollected, “I had all of the lapel pins for Sunday school records 17 years in a row, whatever it was. On high school day, gave sermons and read Bible verses in front of church. Took up the offering, went to Sunday school. I never felt like that was forced, it was just what we did. As a result, I grew up knowing all the stories, or most of them. And I knew about God, but I never had a personal relationship.”
With a failed marriage, strained relationships, and no faith, Butch struggled to regain control over his tumultuous life. Counselors had suggested to him that if he could just change his thoughts, his actions would follow. He spent a lot of effort trying to make himself feel less crazy – in hopes that somehow if he felt normal, he wouldn’t need his addictions.
Of course, it wasn’t working. He just kept spiraling – and losing more and more in the process. One night, he found himself in his father’s suicidal shoes – exactly where he swore he’d never be.
“I was in a dark basement all by myself, high on drugs and alcohol, and thinking about doing the same thing. It didn’t happen. I know in retrospect that was God saving my life. I didn’t know it at that time. I called my younger brother at 5 o’clock in the morning. We talked, and I went and sought out help and here I am. Come January, 30 years sober,” Butch recalled.
That moment changed the course of Butch’s life. That night that could have ended in a devastating loss – just like his father’s death – instead became the night that the long line of abuse ended. He claimed a different path.
He didn’t even know yet that it was grace that had set him free. But He was about to understand.
The seeds that were planted when he was a child faithfully attending church began to make sense as he began a recovery program. His 12-step program brought back his awareness of God. Later, a church he began attending brought back his love of Jesus. It’s been one day at a time since then.
Butch still had to learn how to stop relying on himself.
“I was still working at that time in the business development area, so I was constantly face to face with clients and some of those meetings were adversarial. When my friend, the sedation of alcohol and drugs, went away, I had to learn to process that fear. I was taught, just take a minute, say a prayer before that situation, and when it goes well, be grateful enough to give God the credit, or give him the praise, and be humble enough to give him the credit. Now that doesn’t mean that I didn’t go into the next situation with fear or doubt. I did – still do sometimes. but I recognized that I couldn’t do that on my own. I didn’t deserve that. That was the beginning of recognizing that God could do for me what I couldn’t do of myself.”
Chapter 2 – Sobriety
With gratitude and humility, Butch admitted, “I’m one of those that deserves justice, and I was given mercy.”
Butch’s sobriety wasn’t his only gift. Six months after he got clean, he met his current wife. She and their three children have ever seen Butch take a drink.
And though his days are filled with much happier thoughts now, that old friend is always lurking nearby.
“The epicenter of any addiction is denial, and it never goes away. It becomes controllable by replacing fear with faith, and turning situations over to God,” Butch said, “It’s all fear-based for me too. That fear usually for me manifests itself in anger. I recognize that all anger comes from fear for me. Fear will rush over me. I have to identify what stimulating the fear, then take care of that so it doesn’t get to the anger point.”
Butch still trusts the program. He still participates, learns, grows, listens, and helps others. He knows that the very fact that he’s here, telling his story, is an act of divine grace. He’s not going to forget that any time soon.
In the spirit of one truly rescued and redeemed through God’s grace, Butch ended our discussion with a humble bit of advice for those ensnared in addiction.
“First step, get on your knees and say, ‘God, help me.’ That’s it. Just make it that simple. Nothing more,” Butch advised, “At some point, every addict, every alcoholic’s going to feel that. Just beyond comprehension, and so even if that person doesn’t want to admit the addiction at that time, just acknowledge you need help. From there, God will bring that help in your life. It may be circuitous in some fashion, but that help’ll be there.”
Two Halves of One Life
Butch has lived two lives. There was Butch before sobriety and Butch after. Each is its own robust story, but neither is the full picture of who he is without the other half. His life could have ended one lonely night in a dark basement. It could have been a sad story about how a son became his father in life and in death. But God’s grace carried him into another story.
His current life – his sober life – is only fully appreciated because of who he used to be. Because he knows what it’s like to walk in the shadows, he can bask in the light. Because he knows the evil thoughts and actions of despair, he can celebrate the glory and hope of life-awakening grace. The two seasons are intrinsically linked. He isn’t Butch without both.
And now, as he enjoys his semi-retirement, prays for his children, and walks with his wife, he can look back and know without a doubt that God has been enough.
Stories of Grace was inspired by Grace is Greater from pastor and author Kyle Idleman. Find the book, video series, and a full line of resources from City on a Hill and Kyle Idleman at GraceisGreaterStudy.com.
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