What I’ve Learned After Two Years of Sobriety
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
*Written May 8th, 2016, the second anniversary of my sobriety.
“BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND…”
“RENEW, MY, MIND…”
This Bible verse, Romans 12:2, had become a chant for me. I wanted so badly for my life to change–I wanted to be transformed! Over the course of my 30+ years, I had chased everything I thought would make me happy and content. I achieved all of it, all of it.
A thriving business.
A custom-built home, with a pool.
Nice vehicles and fun trips.
A beautiful wife.
A “spotless” reputation as a super-nice guy.
I had an envious life but that didn’t matter because I still hadn’t found what I was searching for. Even after years of hard work, dedication, and reaching all of these goals, my life was pointless and empty.
Why? Because I hadn’t yet allowed God to begin renewing my mind. I believe He blessed me in nearly every single way I wanted Him to just to teach me this: “Matthew, none of this stuff will fulfill you, you’ll see. You need to know me on a much deeper level. I’m in you, and I’m not going anywhere, but only knowing me more intimately will give you what you’re looking for.”
But I didn’t want to hear it! Or so I thought. Rather than allow God to start changing my thinking through me humbling myself—I decided to numb my mind with alcohol. Of course, my drinking always started out innocently, “WOO-WHO! Let’s drink!” I never woke up shaking uncontrollably at two in the morning, reaching out for a fifth of vodka like those bad drunks. Oh no, not me! “I’m not like them, look at my life! I’m doing big things!” My selfish arrogance, which is simply denial, was ruining my life as well as the lives of those around me.
The fact of the matter was that after I “enjoyed” myself of an evening, drinking way too much—yet again—the torment I felt all night long as I tried to sleep, was that of a nightmare. I can remember having severe heart palpitations, gut-wrenching nausea, night terrors, and dry-mouth so terrible I’d stumble my way to the bathroom several times during the night just to stick my mouth under the faucet and chug.
“But I’m no drunk! BACK OFF! Who do you think you are?! I’m having myself some beers! Look at yourself!” I was acting so stupid. My mind hadn’t yet been renewed.
Soon enough, I got over my denial and I was ready for change. I just didn’t know how. I wanted it, but I had no skill set to even be able to recover. To make matters worse, I was extremely embarrassed to admit to others that I had a terrible drinking problem (this is a trick of the devil to keep us addicted, by the way—it’s called pride).
To compound my failing recovery efforts, I had learned to become a closet-drinker. Even though I had the desire to quit, this new way of drinking gave me easy access to continue to drink and hide my binging. Sure, I’d get crap-face drunk with you if I knew you drank too much like me, but if you were a proper drinker, I’d drink before we met up, while we were together, and then after–and you would have no clue I drank before and after. Because of drinking so much, so often, my tolerance level was that of an Irish pub owner. I could be 15 drinks in, and you’d think I only had 4.
One of my main problems was that I refused to give up my fake reputation! I was the cool, successful alarm guy, who loves God and talks about Jesus all the time–my Facebook account proved it. Yet, I’d have some beers with you at the end of the day, or at your barbecue, knowing full well that I had no business drinking a single drop. I had succumbed to admitting that I needed to stop, but my ego wouldn’t let me, neither would my social life or my stinking thinking. So I had a conversation with God:
“How am I supposed to stop drinking completely? I don’t know how. Plus, what will people think?”
He replied, “I’ll give you the tools to stop, if you’ll get to know me better. And who cares what people think.”
“No. WHO. CARES. WHAT. PEOPLE. THINK. This is not a question, but a fact.”
He was trying to help me understand that I had become a slave to the opinion of people. He was trying to kick-start my mind renewal, but I was still resistant! He wanted to take our relationship to the next level so He asked me, “Do you want to hang on to your frustrating life? Or do you want me to use your frustrating life for great things? Pick one. I’m not letting you have both.”
“Fine. Take it. Use me.”
WHOOOOOOOSH!!!!…I was done. That was it. The tide had turned.
This is the beautiful part! This is the part where I got set free from incorrect thinking! The part where I no longer cared about anything except for what God wanted from me! This is the part of my life where I knew I would feel extremely uncomfortable, but I was ready for it!
May 8th, 2014, the day I decided to stop taking advantage of God’s grace and begin to live out my spiritual perfection. The day the devil was like, “Oh…crap. Send in reinforcements.”
So here we are! OVER TWO YEARS OF SOBRIETY! It just so happens that this particular year, my sobriety date falls on Mother’s Day. I love my mom! I honor my mom. I’ve forgiven my mom. Forgiven her for what? For the poor choices she made when I was a kid—when she was deep in her own addictions.
Because of the terrible things she did as a young mother in the 80’s and 90’s, my upbringing was that of a child’s life from an episode of Intervention—unfair, horrendous, abusive, and very sad. The word heartbreaking comes to mind, as every child deserves to feel secure and loved. Because of Mom’s selfish decisions, I didn’t get that. So as a grown man, I had a choice to make:
- Choose to be bitter, unforgiving, and hate her–which does not match up with my true spiritual identity.
- Choose to forgive her completely, once and for all, like Jesus did me. This choice matches up with my spirit, where God resides, just right.
Of course I chose number two! Who the heck am I to hold grudges?! Not only do grudges not mesh at all with who I really am–but grudges are not fair! The same God who made me, made Mom—and He made her first, just so that He could have the ingredients to make me! So this years’ sobriety celebration is also a day of honor, love, and respect for my mom. I hope she understands that she is completely forgiven.
My friend, I learned these amazing truths from God only after I got sober. There is so much freedom that comes from allowing God’s Spirit to renew your mind! If I had continued to drink and ignore the Holy Spirit each day, I’d still be in a miserable place of unforgiveness, stress, and torment. God wants better for us.
The Spirit of Jesus has also taught me that forgiveness is instant and free–but trust is not instant or free. Trust is something which must be earned over time. He has taught me the difference between unconditional forgiveness and trust. I am grateful.
Over the course of the past two years, I’ve learned from Him that the only way I could ever overcome any level of bitterness and resentment is to give away unconditional forgiveness, just like a Christmas present. No strings attached. “Here, I forgive you, take this.” So now, I’ve got my mind made up to forgive people even before they hurt me.
To get to this healthy mental state, God has educated me on what boundaries are. Boundaries are very important for our own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. When we establish boundaries, we hammer stakes into the ground around us, creating protective barriers. These are not walls, these are fences, so people can come and go as we allow them to–key word: allow.
These boundaries are for our own protection and they teach us to say, “This is as far as you go. Stop.” “That is not okay, it needs to change immediately.” “NO. That is your responsibility.” “Sure, come on in.” “No. That won’t work for me.” “Go, get out. That is not healthy.” “Your actions are impacting my life negatively. Change it, now. That is no longer allowed here.”
By learning how to establish healthy boundaries, God has taught me that I don’t have to put up with any crap from anyone any longer, period. And I don’t have to drink to cover up my feelings about being mistreated or taken advantage of. I MATTER. MY FEELINGS MATTER. MY NEEDS MATTER. MY WELL-BEING MATTERS. These are boundaries.
In order to be able to establish boundaries you must understand your value to God. My mind renewal has brought to the skyline just how important I am to God! The grace-confused people want you to turn into a door-mat, overlooking the severe mistreatment of others. Churches are rampant with this type of boundary-crossing abuse, as manipulating folk twist the gospel for their own personal gain.
Jesus, however, wants you to live out who you really are in your spirit! Who are you?! You are a confident, loving, respectful person, who holds your chin up high and protects yourself from harm! You are an infinitely loved child of God who deserves to be cherished! YES! YOU REALLY ARE!
I didn’t know these truths when I was depending on drinking to make me feel happy, important, and confident. Instead, I was blind to all of the devil’s tactics…I hadn’t yet allowed my mind to be renewed…those days are over.
So today, my friends, know this: God has an amazing plan for your life! This plan is knowing Jesus deeply! This plan is full of heartbreak, tears, and humility–but it’s also full of love, grace, and peace! Step into this plan today! It’s a really nice life, with Jesus!
A prayer for you: Well hello Heavenly Father! My goodness, look what we’ve done! Over two years without any booze in me! Thank you for giving me such strength! On my own, I could not do this. You and I both know I tried to quit for years, but all along, you didn’t want me to quit—you wanted me to BEGIN! You wanted me to begin living OUT my real life with you! I know that if I had died back then I would have gone to heaven, but you had so much more for me to do here. Thank you for empowering me to talk about my former addictions and my past life with such shame-free courage!
Right now, I lift up all who are reading this directly to you, who want the same. For those who are afraid to take that step–or have tried a thousand times and failed–let them know I was just like them! STRENGTHEN THEM THROUGH THEIR WEAKNESS! STRENGTHEN THEM THROUGH HUMBLENESS! Teach them that you show unlimited grace to the humble, and that ALL of their strength comes directly from Jesus! Give them a glance of what the sober life is like–just how amazing it is! And please let them know you love them JUST as they are, RIGHT NOW, today, no matter what addiction they are struggling with. But most of all, show them that you have a great plan for their life, with them only having one addiction…YOU. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 1. Get your copy here!