Unstoppable tears began to flow, tears that wouldn’t dry up for a number of years later. I really don’t recall much after that.
This is the first installment of a new series on a topic that the Lord has put on my heart to write about. I want to talk about my own personal, real-life experiences with and in Alcoholics Anonymous, in the hopes that it will minister to someone who is still out there suffering and wants to come in from the cold, but doesn’t know how to get there. This is my twelfth step work.
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (KJV)
I would like to dedicate this first installment of what I hope to be many more, to my dear friend Kerry. Without whose help, this story may never have been written. Thank you for obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit.
AA and the Bible Part One: My Personal Testimony
Today is December 4, 2018, and I am writing this from St. Augustine, Florida. But my journey began exactly 30 years ago with a phone call that still sends a chill down my spine all these years later. In 1988, I was living the dream in Hollywood, California, and had broken into the acting business while working as a waiter. I know, right? But that’s how it happened.
So on this particular day in December, I had just finished shooting an industrial commercial for the newly-constructed Universal Studios that was about to open in Florida. I worked on it with Michael J. Fox, and was so excited. I was getting larger and larger parts as I progressed in the business, and I was sensing that my ‘big break’ was right around the corner. (It was, just not the kind I was expecting, but what I absolutely needed). After we wrapped, I went home so I could call my mom and share the good news with her. My mom was my biggest fan, and she really support my acting career.
I walk through the door and headed for the phone. I picked it up to make the call, but noticed that the message light was blinking. I hit the button to listen to the message, and in 15 seconds, my whole world collapsed.
“Your brother Rob just died. There is a ticket waiting for you at the airport. Come home immediately”.
He had been sick for the past 18 months with AIDS, his death was only a matter of time. I knew that, we all knew that. It hit me flush in the face like the front end of a semi at full speed anyway. He was my brother. He was my best friend. He was the most amazing person I have ever known. He was gone. If you’ll look at the top photo of this article, that’s how I remember him.
Unstoppable tears began to flow, tears that wouldn’t dry up for a number of years later. I really don’t recall much after that. I flew home, got drunk and stayed drunk. Had plenty of company to do that with. Went to the funeral and cried some more. Searing pain that only seemed to get stronger. A foggy haze settled in.
But penetrating through the haze was a nagging question that began to form in my mind. My brother was dead, I knew that. But where was he now? Did he, as my dad believed, just cease to exist? Or was he, as my mom believed, in purgatory burning off his sins? Was he somewhere in the Universe awaiting reincarnation? I couldn’t come up with an answer.
My four brothers and I were all raised Roman Catholic, but I had been the only one to attend Catholic school for all 12 years. On top of that, I had been an altar boy for a few years as well. I will go to my old priest and ask him, I thought. He should have the answers. Weren’t we always taught in Catholic school that the Catholic Church was the ‘one true church’? It seemed like a no-brainer, and off I went.
Long story short, my old boyhood priest, Father Mike, looked at me quite sympathetically when I laid my burden down on him. He was kind and compassionate, and really wanted to help ease the suffering I was going through about the death of my brother. But when push came to shove, he could not say with any certainty where my brother was. You see, Catholic doctrine does not presume to know if a person is saved, and can only guess based on Catholic sacraments, the Virgin Mary’s intercession, and so on.
As a lifelong Catholic, this came as a little bit of a shock for me. Kinda like when you first realized that Santa Claus was not real, it was a pretty big letdown. The Catholic Church had talked such a big game, and now that I really needed answers they didn’t have any. But now what?
Well, about 10 days later I got back on the plane to LA, and back to my life as an actor. But I had a new resolve. I would go on a spiritual quest, I told myself, and would listen to and talk with anyone and everyone who knew anything about God, and not quit until I found Him. That search led me to some very interesting places.
First stop was on a show called ‘Hunter‘ with Fred Dryer. I played a background stationhouse cop, non-speaking but recurring so I had lots of work. There I made friends with two other actors, and soon they invited me to a spiritual retreat weekend in San Jose with the Muslims. So I went. At the retreat, I nearly snapped my neck trying to do a ‘whirling dervish’. There was lots of long praying, eating weird food, and not much else. I left when it was over sure of two things. I didn’t want to be a Muslim, and I didn’t like Arabic food.
Next up was a work on a very popular show called ‘Dallas‘, where I acted in a variety of background roles including a dinner scene with all the ‘big boys’ like Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy. We started filming early in the AM, but the liquor flowed like water. My drinking continued to increase but I was not paying attention to it. One day on set, I heard Patrick mention that he was giving a class in Buddhism, and would I like to attend? Sure, I would love to! And off I went to meet Buddha.
Flash-forward to praying before a makeshift Buddhist shrine in my bedroom, and nothing to show for it but the ‘6 magic words‘ and a sore back. Disappointed but not discouraged, I trudged forward in my quest for true enlightenment, the real God. I had no idea who He was, but was pretty good and knowing when I was meeting a counterfeit. Even at that time, as an unsaved person, the Holy Spirit was leading me ever close.
Well, this went on for the better part of a year and a half. By the time it was over, I had moved back to New Jersey from Hollywood, moved back in with my parents, and reconnected with my old friends. The acting roles came on the East coast, and life was good. But my drinking was really increasing and threatening to derail me. Along the way, I dabbled in Mormonism, New Age, and for good measure, went to a few meetings at a local Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall. I was learning a whole lot about other religions, but didn’t seem any closer to finding God.
Then I got my ‘big break’. But like I said, it was not the one I was expecting.
I bumped into an old friend from my Catholic school days, a really good guy, and we caught up on old times. I told him that we should have a beer sometime, and he told me he didn’t drink anymore. When I asked him why not, he shared a tale of woe with me that could put hair on your chest. Whiskey for breakfast, car wrecks, getting fired, you name it. When I remarked that he looked great, and nothing like someone who had been through those things, he shared with me what turned out to be life-saving words. This is what he told me:
“I just got sober in AA, wanna come to a meeting with me?”
Hmm, I thought, Alcoholics Anonymous? I had been just about everyplace else, why not. So off I went to my first AA meeting. This was about February of 1990. I went with an open mind, sat and listened, and came away with two thoughts. One, I was definitely an alcoholic. 100%. And two, there was a lot of talk about a ‘higher power’, and the word ‘God’ was thrown around a lot. This might just be the place, so I did as they suggested, and I kept coming back.
Here’s where this story gets good. I was sitting in a meeting, listening to the speaker talk about Step Three, which is this:
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step 3, AA
Right away, alarm bells went off in my brain. This can’t be right, I thought, God doesn’t exist as we understand Him to be. I didn’t know much about God, but I knew that whoever He was He existed on His level, not on my level. If my pea brain couldn’t figure Him out, then too bad for me. I couldn’t get this thought out of my brain, it ruined the rest of the meeting for me.
Later that night and trying in vain to sleep, my mind raced trying to understand Step 3. “God as I understand Him”? I puzzled till my puzzler was sore, thank you Dr. Seuss, but I need answers! Lying there in the dark on my bed, a seemingly random thought hit me. Wasn’t there an old Bible somewhere in the basement? Yes, I remember, yes there was. Off I went to find it.
After rummaging in the dark with a flashlight I had found my prize. A black, hardback King James Bible courtesy of the Gideons, with a date from the late 1960’s. My dad, on one of his many business trips, had taken it home from a hotel room and here it was. Waiting thirty years for me to come along at midnight with a burning question about God. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
So back to my room with my Bible, and ready to plumb its depths for the answers. Only one problem. It was really big, with lots of small print, and I had no idea where or how to begin. What to do? It was then that another seemingly random thought entered my brain, this time from the NFL. I had watched lots of Monday Night Football with my dad growing up, I loved the Steelers, and something that you always saw after points were scored came back to me.
Back in the 1970’s and I think into the 80’s, whenever a team would score points, the camera would pan the crowd and invariably stop on a person holding a sign that read “John 3:16”. I never gave it a thought then, but years later, it came like a drink of cool water in a dry land. I didn’t know anything about the Bible, but I knew enough to navigate to the third chapter of John and find verse 16. And there, in all its glory, was what I had been searching for.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (KJV)
I said the verse outloud, and like a bolt out of the blue, it nearly knocked my over. At long last, here it was…here He was. God! Yes, this was it. I was so overwhelmed I could hardly speak, tears flowed from my eyes, but this time tears of joy! I felt like someone had literally taken a key and unlocked me from the chains that had weighed me down all this time.
God loved me so much, that He died in my place on the cross. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that I so rightly deserved. All I had to do to be saved was make that Heavenly transaction, my sins for His righteousness. Alone in my room, with no Christian friends, never having been to a Christian church (I was a Catholic), I bowed my head, got on my knees and said this prayer.
“God, thank you! Thank you for letting me find you. Thank you for answering my prayer. If you want the broken pieces of my life, take them, they’re yours. I give my life to you, take it, and do what you want with it. I love you”.
With that, I got into bed and slept sounder than I ever had in my entire life. I felt alive, I felt free, I felt born again. Because even though I didn’t know it yet, I had just become born again according to the Bible. In the days that followed, God wonderfully confirmed my new-found salvation, and I found myself a resident of a brave, new world.
I would scale heights I never thought possible, true spiritual ecstasy that I couldn’t put into words. But in the course of my journey, I would also experience the crushing feeling of failing God time and time again. One reason I believe that God doesn’t show us the future is because if He did, we wouldn’t want it. If I had been shown mine, I would have run screaming out of the room.
But we walk by faith the Bible says, one day at a time.
I will end this ‘part one’ of my story here, on the high note of getting saved and coming face to face with the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There have been many things that I have regretted in my life since that March 14th, 1990 day, but I have never regretted meeting Jesus Christ and becoming born again. The best decision I ever made.
Thirty years ago today, my best friend and brother Rob closed his eyes in death, sparking a spiritual journey that led to my salvation. But what about him? Did I ever get that question answered on where he went when he died? I sure did.
And that is a story for another day…
(If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org All conversations will be kept 100% confidential)