How lessons from past mistakes can be used to help others
Ever since I was a young I always thought and felt that I had a purpose in life. I would day dream often about all of these great things I could and would become. Would I be a lawyer? Doctor? Professional athlete? What was I going to do that would be so great? Those were my thoughts around the age of 8 or 9. With my young mind, I not only had no clue as to how to search for that purpose, I never dreamed of what eventually happened—that God would someday enable me to grasp my purpose and destiny! After I almost destroyed my life!
But that was also around the age my parents got a divorce. My life after that became pretty challenging and I soon was going in the wrong direction.
Feelings of insecurity and fear distressed and paralyzed me. I can remember complaining all the time about having stomach pains and drinking bottles of Pepto Bismol to try to get rid of the pain. Drinking that medicine momentarily relieved my symptoms but did nothing to cure my real problems.
By the time I was 10 years old I can remember drinking beer. I was the nice kid that when drinking was going on I would offer to throw away the beers and get a person a new one, bringing it back opened less a sip or two. When I was in an environment where alcohol was plentiful I remember stealing and hiding the beers so I could drink them. Aaahhh, what a soothing feeling it was when I drank. The feelings of insecurity and fear dissipated for a while and I felt much better! I could laugh! While the alcohol was in my system, everything seemed alright.
Because alcohol would temporarily take away the pain, I continually went back to it. Alcohol became my god and controlled all my decision-making. Is there a birthday party or funeral? I need alcohol for that. Did the day end with the letter “Y”? Definitely could drink because of that. I was regularly looking for a “reason” to drink.
Some lessons I’ve learned from two sources
I became powerless over alcohol and sunk into an unmanageable life, but that is not my main point with this article. I want to share some of the many lessons I’ve learned from two sources—Alcoholics Anonymous and the Bible.
Each and every one of us can relate to a person who is starving because all of us have been hungry, and our hearts go out to them. Well I can relate to alcoholics because I am a recovering alcoholic. I’m sensitive to their thoughts, confusion, suffering and challenges to overcome. I also readily spot denials and excuses because I used to make them all. Since I’ve “broken free” from my slavery to alcohol, I naturally have compassion for others who are enslaved and have a passion to help liberate them.
That passion was greatly reinforced when I began attending AA meetings because AA greatly emphasizes alcoholics helping alcoholics. That’s for two major reasons. When Person A helps person B, not only does Person B get help, the commitment and character of Person A is reinforced at the same time.
Following are quotes from the handbook of Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as “the big book”:
“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us" (page 77).
"Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics” (page 89).
"Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have—the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them" (page 124).
The Bible teaches the give way of life
In 1999, I quit drinking and read the Bible quite intensively until 2005. That gave me a foundation of understanding, but in 2005 I went back to drinking and largely abandoned efforts at leading a Christ-like life.
Finally, in 2010, I began attending AA meetings, which not only enabled me to quit drinking but also helped me to get serious about God again. In the summer of 2011, I began attending the church services of United Church of God. I then realized how blessed I was that God had opened my mind to spiritually understand the Bible.
The Bible is God’s Book of love—emphasizing love for God and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). And Galatians 6:1-2 says: “My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ” (Good News Bible). The Bible teaches us to repent of selfishness and self-centeredness and to focus on serving others.
It became more and more clear to me to focus my time and attention on those who need encouragement, guidance and support. Jesus Christ was the most unselfish person the world has ever known. He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). When I’m trying to help someone to sober up or maintain sobriety, that is also an opportunity to point him to the Great Physician, and tell him that God has healed me and can heal him also. It is not of my own power that I am sober, it is by His power and His grace. That generally gives the person more hope as well as the greatest resource.
In United Church of God, we celebrate the annual biblical festivals. The annual Passover service reinforces our understanding and gratitude for God’s amazing grace. Grace is God’s unmerited forgiveness, favor and gracious blessings. Our loving, merciful heavenly Father gave me a gift!! The gift of His Spirit and an opportunity for eternal salvation! Do I deserve that? Absolutely not. God’s mercy and generosity toward me helps me to deeply and personally appreciate God’s abounding grace.
The annual Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us to examine ourselves to look for sin that is still in our lives. Some of the sin can be obvious, while other sin is not so obvious. The emphasis of these feast days is somewhat parallel to what’s done in AA’s fourth step where we take a fearless and moral “inventory” of our lives.
God’s grace and my debt to help others
For all of the wrong I have done in my life, not only to God but other people, I’ve suffered some consequences, but not nearly the punishment that I deserved. God has been very merciful to me. I know my life is not my own, but belongs to God. Why? Simply put there have been more than a couple of times when I should have died. The car accident I wrote about in part one was not the worst of them. When I reflect back on my life I can see His hand in it the whole time. So what can I do and what should I do with the gift of life that I have been given? Try my best to pass it on to other people.
I love the opportunity to help people gain sobriety and to maintain sobriety. But in the process of doing that, I often have the opportunity to pass along a knowledge and vision that is even more valuable. I try to plant seeds in their minds of God’s plan for mankind—His soon coming kingdom when Christ returns to earth. That knowledge is the “pearl of great price” and the “hidden treasure” (Matthew 13:44-46). It’s the very least I can do. I can plant seeds of biblical understanding when I go to meetings and treatment centers, sometimes speaking to the group and sharing my story. So I’m active in AA and, at the same time, I’m active with a mission. The mission is to tell whoever who has ears to hear about the power of God and His kingdom.
To the reader of this article, if you think you may have a problem with alcohol, don’t delay in seeking help. If you are serious about getting help, there are excellent resources to turn to and some of them, like AA, are free of charge. Not only will you get help but you will be able to help others as well, and serving others brings satisfaction and joy. That’s how AA works, one alcoholic helping another. If you think no one will understand you and what you’re going through, you’re definitely mistaken. The way for you to find out is to go talk to people who have the same challenge.
As I wrote at the beginning of this article, I always thought I had a purpose in life. That intuitive thought as a younger person was correct. God has a great purpose and destiny for mankind. He is paving the way right now for that purpose to be fulfilled! God has a purpose for you and is eager to bring you into His Family.