A YEAR IN THE VALLEY
When I ponder my story of addiction, sickness, and recovery it is difficult to pinpoint a place to begin. It seems natural to place the blame on a specific experience, heartbreak, despair, or geneology. The truth is that everything that happened as a result of alcoholism was my own fault, and I cannot blame anyone else for that.
I have always had a good memory, recalling back to as early as I was four years old specific details that are less than vague. One of the earliest memories that I have as a child is laying in my bed looking at the four corners of the ceiling and contemplating God and eternity. We were living in Section 8 housing in Eden Prairie, having recently moved from the Philippines back to the United States. I would lay in bed circling the square in my mind and imagine what Heaven would be like, who was going to be there, who I was going to meet. It felt like a quiet whisper from a loved one. The imagination of a child is something that I often wish I could have once again, and the idea that life could go on without ending was something that both excited and terrified me; I thirsted for it. From that time I knew that God was after me. The Hound of Heaven was at my tail, though as I child I had not yet come to know the source for what I thirsted. His chasing has been a constant theme throughout my life: His whisper never going silent.
2017 was a year of reflection through the seasons of my life, it seems strange at 29 to be having so deep a contemplation. I often think about the experiences that shape us, and how or why they happened to us. Each one of us has our own personal experiences with joy and grief. Reaching the end of myself early in the year was my grief manifesting itself into an ugly creature that I could no longer control. The truth was, I had been living a double life for years. I had a professed faith in Christ, yet I had been battling a closeted addiction to alcohol. I had developed a reliance on alcohol through years of shallow disappointment. I was the victim in my own mind of experiences that I perhaps did not desire to overcome. I was hard hearted and angry. I would find any excuse possible to get to the bar, often going by myself and chain smoking outside by dim light or fire. I would chance it every time and drive home drunk. This had been going on for a couple of years, and early in 2017 I began to feel myself getting sick. I was walking alongside darkness and enjoying it. The spirals of my mind were moving ever downward. I could sense that God was reaching out to me, but I would turn off His voice. I didn’t believe that I could so easily walk away from addiction. But when He is after us, the unbelievable beings to happen.
The invisible takes shape.
In mid March of last year I began to pray that I would no longer be satisfied with the lifestyle that I was living. Not only was I an alcoholic, but I was smoking uncontrollably and becoming increasingly numb. I hit rock bottom on a family trip to Germany, I had drank so much on the airplane that I was sick most of the trip. I began to have a rapid heart rate that would last for hours at a time, day or night. I had experienced these years before, but this was another level of intensity. I couldn't control it by calming down. I ignored the first time it happened and spent another week binge drinking after work. I remember spending the following Saturday drinking through the morning and early into the afternoon without eating. Another attack hit. I ignored that episode and went to help some friends paint their new house, hoping that there would be more alcohol: bingo. I woke early that Sunday morning to another attack. I was panicking and quickly called my Mom and asked her to pray for me. I said “I need to tell you something that I think you already know...I am an alcoholic and need help”. It took more courage to share that I had been smoking for ten years without them knowing. I had been doing a lot of things without them knowing. With all the love my parents had they prayed with me, and they took me back in to live with them so that I could get sober. I needed a different level of accountability that a friend simply could not provide. I began to relax and feel hopeful that if I could simply get past the withdrawals everything would be fine. None of us knew that it would be a longer process.
I eventually found out that quitting drinking as much as I was without treatment was dangerous, and looking back to those first days going through withdrawals, God was holding me and carrying me through. I was being healed of addiction, but then I needed to be healed of the damage that I did to my body and mind. As March, April, and May passed I wasn’t getting better, and felt my body getting weaker. My anxiety was growing, my appetite decreasing, yet knowing that I was on the right path. I still needed answers to what I was feeling internally. I told my brother that I felt like I was dying. I went through a couple of months of testing at my clinic and they weren’t finding the source of the problem. At first the doctors thought it was my heart, anxiety, lupus, or MS. I had to wear a heart monitor to detect any abnormalities. I went to the emergency room constantly and even had a nurse tell me "if your heart races any faster, you're screwed". I was getting frustrated because I felt myself getting worse and it felt like no one was listening. I had lost 20 lbs., all of my clothes were too big, and my symptoms were getting worse. I remember a morning that my mom was crying in the living room because she was scared that she would lose me. I was scared too.
I woke up on a Monday in mid-July, having a strong sense that I needed to see a new doctor right away. Little did I know at the time that this new doctor (Dr. Santilli) would save my life. We met for my appointment and Dr. Santilli looked at me after going through the basic meet and greet and said “you look like you have a thiamine deficiency, have we checked you for that?” Thiamine Deficiency is funny because it sounded too simple, and at first I was in denial. Well it turns out that Thiamine is a vitamin that helps your nerves, heart, and muscles work properly, and a deficiency is common in alcoholics. We looked up the symptoms in the office and it was everything that I had been experiencing: Peripheral Neuropathy, Rapid Heart Rate, Loss of Muscle and Coordination, Poor Memory. The scary part was that Thiamine deficiency is fatal if not treated and I had been going through it for 4 months. My doctor ordered a blood test and it was going to take a week to get the results back. We began treating it as a positive result that day. I experienced a series of consecutive sleepless nights that week that added insult to injury. Later in the week I got a message from CVS pharmacy: “Special order Thiamine 100 MG”. The result was positive, the invisible took shape.
If you are reading this story, it most likely sounds extremely negative and scary, but this is the point when everything began to change. I began taking the prescribed dosage of Thiamine, but in my own mind I had already accepted that I wasn’t going to survive. I went through my day to day accepting that I was going to die, and that I needed to make everything right before then. I sat down with my parents and shared with them everything in my life that I had lied to them about, I emailed people that I had been dishonest with and settled up with them. It was a strange time, but looking back at it, it was a beautiful experience. As the days went on into August my mind began to get more clear. August progressed into September and I realized that I was still alive, and feeling stronger. The days and weeks continued to progress and I noticed that things were beginning to not only return to “normal”, but I felt better than I did before I quit drinking. I joined the gym to work on getting my heart healthy again. My nerves stopped burning, I could walk normally, and I actually looked healthy. I had a blood test late January of this year that showed what I so desperately longed to hear: I am healed.
This year in the valley is one that has shaped me in many ways. I still find myself in denial that I am better, but I am, and I give all of the glory to God. That while I was at my weakest and darkest moment he reached down and very literally pulled me out. It is now my responsibility and a daily action of faith to walk in this new life. My past has been buried, and something new and beautiful is growing in its place. I have been pondering the image of the Crocus flower lately. The Crocus is an interesting flower because it can grow while there is still snow covering the ground, and its appearance is a sign that Spring is quickly approaching. It is a symbol of faith. We can see that although the snow is still visible, it can be trusted that the warmth of Spring is around the corner. My life was a valley deep with snow, thick with ice, and at exactly the right time the faithful Crocus broke through with the promise of Spring. I almost lost my life in 2017, and I am living a life of freedom this year. That childlike hunger has returned; to God be the glory.
One of the joys of sobriety is the amount of people that have heard my story and write to me about how they can break free. If you are reading this and struggling with addiction, and hearing that voice calling you to freedom, it would be a pleasure to lend a hand and help steer you in the right direction. I also wanted to thank my friends and family that walked with me through this experience. You didn't allow me to give up, or give in when I felt too weak to fight this battle on my own.
As long as hope remains, there is never an end to the story.