By: Jana Greene
One of my first memories is trying to squeeze into my toy box. I couldn’t have been quite two years old. My parents were teenagers and were fighting in the living room. I know they did the best they could, as they were kids themselves, and I always sensed that I was kind of a mistake everyone in the family was just trying to make the best of.
Even scared and hiding in my toy box then, I knew I wasn’t alone. I felt a presence with me.
At three years old, I went to live with my grandparents when my parents divorced, where I would stay until I was 7. It was a pretty happy home, in that my grandparents loved me. But there was a dark tension even there. A relative living there was into satanism. Waking up to his chants alone in my bedroom was a common occurrence, and I was just a tiny girl, for shit’s sake.
I cut my teeth in fear.
I learned that the world was a crueler place still when I was four. The father of the kid I played with next door molested me. It happened again by a female babysitter when I was six, and by three other men before I was 12. When I was 9, it was by a family member.
At home, the atmosphere was chaotic and sometimes violent, and I was riddled with anxiety even as a youngster. There was always fighting, and sometimes abuse.
I tried to stuff all of this down and make myself very small. But I didn’t know that when I grew up, I learned how to numb it instead.
At 12, my life changed forever at a Billy Graham crusade. When I walked down the stadium steps to accept Jesus and pray with a volunteer, I felt Jesus was fidgeting with anticipation to meet me, and I thought maybe I was not a mistake after all. I will never forget the song that played as I walked down:
Just as I am and waiting not
To rid myself of one dark blot
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
Oh Lamb of God, I come.
Throughout high school, I managed to make good grades and stay chaste and never drank a drop of alcohol. I carried a Bible to school with me each day. I organized a Bible study with my friends. I was the quintessential ‘good girl,’ on the outside, at least.
I knew scripture, but I didn’t know grace, neither giving nor receiving it.
At 18 and in the middle of my senior year, my family and I moved to North Carolina. I now had a two year old sister and seven year old brother that I helped care for often. They were the lights of my life. A life that – at home – was more chaotic than ever.
I was waiting tables and started tailgating late after each shift, and at 19 I took my first drink. I was just physically, emotionally, spiritually toast by that point. To hell with the ‘good girl,’ I thought.
I just wanted to stop feeling.
From the very first sip, I felt another compilation of emotions. I believe I had eight Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers that night. I remember thinking “If this is what it feels like to be drunk, why isn’t everyone drinking all the time?”
Alcohol was like ‘other than’ potion.
If things were bad at home, I could feel other than afraid.
If I was feeling compulsive and self-destructive, I could drink to feel other than myself.
Other than socially awkward and full of anxiety.
Other than a mistake.
It helped blot out the bad memories.
Thereafter, I drank every day, and heavily. I regularly drove impaired, often getting lost in my own neighborhood. How I never harmed myself or others on the road, I do not know. By the Grace of God, I suppose.
Every ‘good girl’ value I had prided myself in (pride really does come before a fall…) had dissolved and without a moral compass, promiscuity ensued. Blackouts were how I fell asleep. This scared me enough to seek help.
At 20, I first darkened the door of an AA meeting, and it was like I’d arrived on the planet I was meant to have been born on. Other people understood the powerlessness against alcohol! That group loved me when I could not love myself. I attended every day, got a sponsor, and stayed sober three glorious months.
Then I went on a date with a man and he ordered me wine with dinner. I bravely told him that I didn’t drink, and he assured me that there was no way I was an alcoholic and that he was SURE I could moderate.
Ah, a challenge! I do love a challenge.
I allowed a man I’d known for a week take my inventory. Consequently, I drank so much that night that I threw up in his car, passed out, and woke up somewhere unfamiliar. That began another downward spiral.
I soon found myself pregnant and was devastated. I’d always wanted to be a mom, but not like this. This staunchly pro-life girl felt pressure to have an abortion, and I was scared. I had nowhere to go. But by the time I got to the doctor’s office, the baby had no heartbeat detected and after the D & C, I felt like a shell.
I drank constantly after that. I hated myself with a fervor. I lost touch with God again.
Within a year, I married the man. I was just 21.
In two years’ time – in which I drank every day and usually to excess (and often alone) – I started to desperately want a baby.
So the most amazing thing happened – I stopped smoking and drinking cold turkey and it was not that difficult because all of my energies went into creating and nurturing a new life, and not my own. I didn’t think my own life was worth nurturing, but that epiphany wouldn’t surface until much later.
When my daughter was born, I fell so in love with her that drinking was the last thing on my mind. The motherhood high had cured me! Three years later, I had another daughter – every bit as beautiful and amazing as the first, and the motherhood high doubled that day.
For around six years, I didn’t have a single drink, as I was pregnant or nursing. But around 1997, I decided that when my kids were tucked into bed at night, I would simply have a glass of wine. I had matured now, right?
Instantly, I fell right back into six or seven per evening, picking up right where I’d left off. Wine is the socially acceptable beverage of moms everywhere, I rationalized. (What IS it with moms and WINE?)
Soon after, we moved to the coast and became immersed in the drinking culture of beach living. By 1999, I was drinking heavily every afternoon and evening, and during the day on weekends. I tried moderating over and over, only to wake up angrier and angrier with myself for not managing it better. I sometimes polished of a box of wine every night or two.
The whites of my eyes were yellowing, I began getting sicker. Nobody – including my husband at the time – knew how much I was drinking. Nobody needed to know. But I was not the mother my girls deserved.
I begged God to help me moderate.
By 2000, I was becoming very sick. It was no longer any fun to drink. It no longer made me feel ‘other than’ the bad things and instead amplified them. I started putting alcohol above all else. I wanted to stop, yet ironically, I found I could not. I required it to stop the shaking.
My body knew when to expect it and demanded it on time, yet revolted it when I drank and I was vomiting every day.
The drinking life I’d romanticized turned on me.
A couple of years ago, I came across an old journal from the time. I’d titled the entry “I can touch bottom now.”
Please Jesus, please. That was my prayer last night. Crouched down against an unfamiliar toilet in the home of the hostess of the company Christmas party. How did I let this happen AGAIN?
I tried to pace myself, but by the sixth or seventh drink, I casually wove to the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I told myself to vomit quietly, but I kept forgetting where I was and who was with me in the bathroom. I could FEEL someone in the room but it was hard to focus. I wished they’d leave, seeing me at my worst like this. After a while of retching, I noticed that I’d lost my shoes. Where were they?
GET UP, I told myself. GET UP AND FAKE SOBER….but when I looked in the mirror my eyes held the long, strange gaze. My dead eyes, rimmed in crimson and makeup sloughed off with sweat. Since I work at the school, my coworkers are the teachers and staff at my children’s elementary. They couldn’t know my secret!
After a while, I feel the first twinges of becoming more a tiny bit sober and it is immediately uncomfortable.
When I can stand up without weaving, my thought process is simple:
I am thinking, “I just need one drink, that’s all. That will steady me out.”
Before the night is over, the Art teacher will try to wrestle my keys from my hand, so that I cannot drive home, but I do it anyway.
That’s the crazy thing. I keep doing it anyway.
I’m so tired.
So, that is my ‘bottom story’. I know enough about recovery to know it doesn’t have to STAY my ‘bottom story.’ If I pick up again, I risk a more tragic ending. The good news is that getting into recovery is not the end of the story, but the beginning.
My date of sobriety is January 3, 2001.
On that day, two weeks after that party, God again met me on the bathroom floor. This time, my own. As I lay on the cold tile, I asked God to help me and surrendered my will entirely.
And in this full surrender mode, I asked Jesus to please save my life. And in one crystal clear moment, I knew he was with me, scrunched down on the floor, holding me. Not only with me, but in me.
In this broken vessel.
“Just as you are, remember?” I could feel him say.
I knew without a doubt that it had been he who was with me in the bathroom at the party, and as a child hiding in my toy box, and a million other times of peril.
To be honest, I didn’t expect sobriety to ‘stick.’ I didn’t think I deserved it to.
The first few weeks of sobriety were almost unbearable. God and I had ”words’ on many occasions. I was sick, inside and out. My body screamed for alcohol. I informed Jesus that I COULD NOT DO THIS, and yet I relied on him solely and he carried me through. My detox included hallucinations. The devil constantly reminded me that ONE drink would make them all go away. “You’re a liar,” I told him. “I’ve never had just one drink.”
All of my energies now went into creating and nurturing a new life – mine.
I did meetings and got online support from other women alcoholics. That’s where the healing started. I asked God to restore my children and help me be the mother they deserved. Eventually, my eyes and skin lost the yellow tint.
I have had to erect boundaries with people I loved in order to maintain sobriety, and knock down other walls to make room for healthy trust to sprout. I’m still always learning.
To this day, I take it one single day at a time.
I would love to say that I’ve been completely delivered – and I know addicts who received instant healing – but my recovery is daily. My default setting is often to want to numb out. Food tends to be my drug of choice these days. That’s a slippery slope for me because I’ve resorted to bulimic behaviors in the past. My program helps me apply the 12 Steps to many areas.
I also struggle with major co-dependency issues. Recovery is truly like peeling an onion; one layer is exposed at a time. But you can deal with one layer at a time with God’s help. I get by with a LOT of help from my friends, too.
Although God can heal us by any mode, I’m grateful that my recovery requires me to willfully surrender to God each and every day. That’s a sheer gift, because it keeps me humble, having to stay in constant contact with Holy Spirit, in and around me.
In 2007, I married the love of my entire life after meeting him in church. He is my best friend and biggest supporter. My precious daughters are 26 and 29 now, and we are very close. They are very proud of their mama’s recovery. They call me a good mom. They call me a strong woman. That’s not getting what I deserve. That’s grace.
We are very open about our struggles. Stigma has no place in our family.
I discovered Celebrate Recovery in 2008, when the pastor of a church I was attending asked myself and another sister in Christ if we would train as CR leaders. We did, and over the course of two years, I was blessed to be a part of launching two CR groups in Wilmington. It was such an honor. I made friends for life there.
Life, as they say, marches on. It is not always easy.
In the past several years, I have had to contend with an incurable and painful chronic disease. The journey through this illness has resurrected that urge to default by numbing. The 12 Steps apply to so many situations. The pain has somewhere to go.
I’ve accepted that I don’t ‘do’ moderation, in any way, shape, or form, but I’m learning. The up side to an addictive personality is that I don’t love with moderation. There is nothing moderate about my love of Jesus. I just have to tell you about it because it saved my life.
God has fulfilled a lifelong goal, in that I have become a writer and penned two books on recovery. Sharing my story is part of what keeps me clean and emotionally healthy. I also write a blog dealing mostly with recovery issues – TheBeggarsBakery.net.
For someone who never expected her sobriety to ‘stick,’ God has opened so many doors.
I the summer of 2016, I became a Certified Recovery Coach and a North Carolina Certified Peer Support Specialist. I’m currently in seminary at a very grace-based college. I love learning about the infinite grace of Jesus and the love of the Triune God.
These days, I rarely crave the feeling of ‘other than,” because I’m more comfortable in my own skin. But when it does happen, I’m equipped with my tools to get through it and the support of friends who GET it, and a God who will meet me wherever I am at any given moment.
Whether you are bruised and beaten by your own compulsions or a victim of somebody else’s, the answer is the same: Love.
God was working in my favor all along. He wanted to clean out all of the childhood and life crud and hurt that has built up. It’s kind of his specialty.
I am celebrating 21 years of alcohol-free living and it’s equal parts beautiful and messy. What a long, strange trip it’s been – and a wonderful one. I would not be alive had I not surrendered my will to God on that bathroom floor all those years ago.
I still have to stay on my toes. Life is often so difficult, and our disease will not be taken for granted. It’s been a lot of hard work. I remember when 24 hours seemed impossible. It was done one single day at a time, and still is.
If you cannot relate to any other aspect of my story, that’s ok.
Just know this: YOU are designed for the good life, full of magic, radical silliness, and deep abiding love.
Thanks for letting me share ❤
My name is Jana and I’m recovering alcoholic and follower of Jesus Christ.
While I was preparing my testimony to share and was feeling super nervous about sharing it, God knew, because he led me to this in the Mirror Bible translation from 1 Corinthians 2:1-4:
“My intention in visiting you was not to engage with you in theological debate or to impress you with clever words guessing about the evidence of God.
The testimony of God is my only persuasion concerning you: Jesus Christ died your death on the cross! I CAN SEE YOU IN NO OTHER LIGHT.
I felt completely inadequate; you now that it was not my eloquent speech that persuaded you. I was so nervous that my whole body was trembling with stage fright!
My message was not with persuasive arguments based on secular wisdom, since my aim was not to point people to me, but rather to the powerful working of the Spirit in them.”
My life verse is Romans 8:1. From the Message translation:
“With the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, the fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous,, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of Life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”