The Year of 40: Lessons learned from a recovering alcoholic

by Christie Browning

**Author's note: This blog series is a year-long installment which will chronicle the year that I turn 40 with some comical moments, retrospective insights and empowering calls to action.

Recently a couple happen to be in the office and we struck up a conversation about life experiences. They were a rather chatty pair and the type that loved to share. Since I hardly ever meet a stranger, this couple and I became fast friends and the conversation took a turn a bit more personal.

As it turns out, the husband was a recovering alcoholic and a big advocate for Alcoholics Anonymous. After years of drinking and bringing hardship to his family, his health, and his finances, he knew it was time for a change. Alcoholics Anonymous became the support he needed and his catalyst for transformation. It was hard for me to imagine that this friendly, high-spirited fella could easily be swayed into a drunken demise. He had shared his love for running, racing in marathons galore. He talked of sky-diving and the rush from jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. He relayed his experiences driving fast cars and facing no fear. But alcohol was his kryptonite - it's robbed him of so much and made him a slave to his addiction.

Now a sponsor and example to many in his AA group, he said he lives honestly, openly and with the accountability he needs in order to stay true to his recovery. But there was something so interesting when he described the faith part of his journey. It was profound, actually.  He said that at AA, the beauty is that everyone there is struggling with the same issue and is equally as flawed as the next person. There's comfort in that and there's a trust that allows barriers and walls to come down in order to allow for change.

I know I have been quick to grab those I love and push them into a pew on Sunday morning, hoping that the right message will spark an instantaneous change of the heart. And although I believe God can do such a thing, I know that walking into a church on Sunday, with an addiction on your back or any sin for that matter, can make the sanctuary not a place of peace and rest but of judgment and dread. I know... I've been there and felt that. 

No, I wasn't carrying the weight of addiction but I do remember trying to walk into the sanctuary of my church the Sunday I got home from prison...or the Sunday after I knew my marriage was ending...or the Sunday after I miscarried a baby...or the Sunday after I filed bankruptcy...and so on and so on. These heavy weights made me look at those around me and see perfection. True these other women would quickly tell you that they were far from perfect, but from where I sat, no one was as messed up as I was. It was all I could to keep it together and get out of there before I lost it in the line for communion. I might have been at church those Sundays, but I walled off those portions of my heart that were hurting and raw. I wanted to protect myself and keep a good distance between me and those "perfect" gals I saw. 

Thinking back on my own experiences and the testimony of my AA friend, I can see how easy it is to believe Jesus is the answer, but be afraid to ask the question. No wonder support groups like AA offer a safe place to be real and transparent about what's hard and difficult in life. I wonder what churches would be like on Sunday if the ticket to get in was a label displayed on the chest dictating what made you flawed and imperfect? I think we'd be more quick to love, forgive and help carry one another's burdens ....just as scripture asks. We'd truly see those hurting, lonely, scared, depressed and in need.

And although I believe that church involvement and attendance is important to the growth of our spiritual wellbeing, I think it is equally important to locate those outside resources that speak to us individually. It's OK to find answers Monday through Saturday; it's OK to glean support from others outside of a Sunday school classroom. I think my new friend would agree that God uses all types of community to lovingly grow us up as souls that do better when bound together. 

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