"Hey there! Welcome back! What's it been eight years? Let me pour you a drink!"
I smile, albeit a guarded smile, as the bartender mixes up an old favorite for me.
"So, how have you been?" he asks as he casually slides the drink to me. I don't pick it up, and I casually stir it instead of drinking it, making him nervous.
"I've been excellent," I replied confidently. "Life is pretty full of a lot of really good things. We have three grandsons now; our youngest daughter got married, I wrote a book and started a ministry, just to name a few."
He looked annoyed by my reply, so he decided to try to unearth a little dirt. "Hey, I heard about…" and went on to list every hard thing he could think of that had occurred in my life over the last eight years. It took him a while to go down the list, and when he was done, he added, "I kind of thought I'd see you here through some of those times. Did you get my messages?"
"I did," I replied. "To be honest, I deleted your texts and voice mails without listening to them."
He looked aghast and was about to ask me another question when a woman I used to know sat down next to me.
I tried to mask my shock at her appearance. She looked bloated, worn, tired, and had aged well beyond her years. Sadly, drinking had not done her any favors these past eight years.
"Where ya been," she asked? "Getting work done? You look terrific."
I leveled my gaze with hers and said "I quit drinking. Thus no plastic surgery required," I replied with a little laugh.
She stared at me, stunned. "How long ago did you do that?"
"Eight years," I replied.
She stared at my hand that toyed with my straw; and with hope in her tone she went on, "so your back to celebrate! You took a break, and now you can drink again? Cheers and welcome back!" she said, raising her glass.
The bartender is watching; I know he is willing me to pick up my glass. but as they say, not today Satan. I see him for who he is, and it is making him uncomfortable.
"No, I cannot ever drink again," I said.
Her shoulders fell; she set her glass down with a thud. With her eyes filling with tears, she asked, "How did you do it? Weren't you scared?"
"Short answer? Yes, I was scared to death." I looked her in the eye and said, "Life with alcohol was devastating. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I believed the lie that continuing to drink was still better than the alternative of living a sober life. I stayed there way too long."
I nodded my head towards the bartender. "Make no mistake, fear is one of the most damaging power tools in the devil's possession. I cannot begin to tell you how scared I was of facing a life without alcohol."
"But yet you did it," she whispered quietly.
The bartender is narrowing his eyes in concern and begins mixing up another drink for my friend. His effort backfired though, it did nothing but bolster my confidence to keep speaking truth into her.
I put my hand on hers to keep her from accepting the drink being held out to her. "The biggest lie the evil one told me was that I would never be good enough to be used by God for anything. I would dream of what I could do if I were sober, and he would laugh, stabbing at my self-esteem. Squashing my dreams so quickly, leaving me depleted. Empty."
"He would make me a drink, and I would drown in it, and he kept them coming. Making it alluring, sexy, and irresistible. Leaving me reliant on him for relief."
"Wow," she said. "I have never thought of it that way. Like a spiritual warfare kind of issue."
"To be clear, it is spiritual warfare at its finest," I said firmly. "The battle is raging around you every single day. Why do you think his favorite weapon is addiction? We become totally dependent, and he uses it to keep us in bondage. We want relief, and he makes sure we use the very thing we hate to get it. It is a devastating spiral into a hell of shame, fear, and guilt, and I wanted out.
"How did you get strong enough to fight back? Because this," as she lifted her glass, "keeps us so weak."
"I know it's hard to understand, but it was when I was at my very weakest that I found the strength to look up and saw Jesus was waiting to rescue me."
"Then poof, no more addiction?" She looked very skeptical of my answer. I went on to try and explain.
"If I could give you a visual, it would be this; "I look at the cross, and I see my addiction is nailed to it, and at that moment, I know that it has been taken from me. My heart is breaking as I watch my Savior being tortured for my sins. He did this for you and for me."
"I know all of this," she said. "But alcohol is so powerful. I am so so scared to try again. The thought of failing one more time is so discouraging. Where did you find the strength to quit when you were so weak?"
"I feel that God called, and I answered. He held out his hand to me time after time, but this time I grabbed it. He enveloped mine with his and pulled me close. The visual of how broken I was and the moment I accepted his help brin me to tears every time I think about it."
She looked down at the bar, tears dripping onto the worn edges of the scars of so many who had been there before. "How did you conquer your fear of life without alcohol? I can't imagine it. It is the only thing I know."
My heart is breaking for her, and I desperately want to convey what I now know to be true.
"The fear that kept me in bondage was replaced with a fear that I would not be here to live it any longer. "
We do not serve a God who practices scare tactics, but he did not create our bodies to endure that kind of abuse for long."
"I have found an abundant, full, and rich life in Recovery, and I do not plan on ever going back."
"But how did you get over the shame of what you had become? Don't you regret what addiction took from you? With her voice breaking, she said, "That's my fear; without the curtain of alcohol, the windows of my addicted life will be flung open, and I will have no choice but to feel the pain of what I have done."
I uttered a prayer. Lord, help me to show her your truth.
"That's where you have to trust HIM. The pain that you are afraid of, it doesn't last. I know you might not believe me when I tell you I am grateful for my journey through addiction and into Recovery, but I am."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the bartender is now seething with anger. I was hurting his business, and he wanted me to be quiet, but all his anger did was empower me to speak more truth into her.
"Without it, I would not be who I am today. Alcohol brought me to the bottom of a pit. A bottomless pit, and when I had to climb out, I was so weak. Much to my amazement, while I was climbing, I gained a strength I didn't know I possessed, and I am getting stronger every day."
Desperate for her to understand I continued.
"I am empowered to be battle-ready every single day. Believe me, the devil continually shows up with new strategies to win me back, but I will not lose with God on my side. I just hold on tight to his truth and never let go and when I am weak he is strong."
"Look at me," I said.
She met my eyes, and I said, "you were made for so much more."
With tears running down both of our faces, I took her hand. It was time to leave the bar.
The bartender made one more attempt to keep her in prison with a bottle of vodka and a shot glass. Grabbing her arm, he said, "C'mon! One last hurrah!"
I stood up and faced him square on.
"Not today, Satan."
We walked out the door and never looked back.
Together we are stronger.
November 6, 2013.
This is my truth.
It's a sober anniversary for me. It has been 8 years, 96 months, 2,924 days, and as of this writing, 70,135 hours. I type this number and have to stop and take a breath. There was a day where the thought of life without alcohol left me in a spiral of self-inflicted anxiety. Today, the enormity of what God has done with 70,000 plus hours leaves me standing amazed, speechless. I could not have gotten here without the love and support of God, family, friends, and my community of beautiful women embracing a life of sweet surrender.
If you are struggling, if you are the woman at the bar. Talk to someone. You don't have to do this alone. There are so many resources to help you, and I would love to share them with you.
A life of sobriety is not the end, it is the beginning.
Peace on your weekend