The Edge of Comfort

by Dave Erickson, Volunteer Storyteller 

For years, Jim struggled with alcoholism, anxiety, and depression. God was working in the background, but he was resistant to change. I remember a pastor saying that “faith is when you look at a chair and believe it will support your weight, and trust is actually sitting in the chair.” I often recall that quote when I’m tempted not to trust God.

I grew up on the border in Southwest Washington. My dad quit drinking when I was about eight years old. I don’t remember spending much time with him before that. He became my best friend and my hero, taking me fishing, canoeing, camping, and shooting guns. I think he was trying to make up for not being there as much for my brother and sister by spending more time with me.

My parents divorced when I was twelve. Dad started a new family with his new wife and her four young kids, and we barely spoke for the next five years. I was left feeling abandoned and worthless. My brother and sister were already out of the house by then, so my mother and I moved in with some friends for a while. We bounced around from place to place for a few months until we ended up in Hillsboro, Oregon. During the seventh and eighth grades, I was bullied constantly. I got punched, kicked, books knocked out of my hands, and insulted constantly. I dreaded going to school and spent most of the year feeling sick to my stomach. For years afterwards, when certain songs came on the radio, they would remind of the bus ride to school and would trigger sharp stomach pain. I developed anxiety, depression, and paralyzing fear that gradually worsened with age.

When I did drag myself to church, it seemed the pastor was always talking right to me, and I would feel deeply convicted

I had my first beer when I was sixteen. I come from a long line of alcoholics on both sides of my family, and when I had that first beer, I thought I had discovered the missing ingredient for my life. It eased the pain I was feeling and made me more extroverted instead of socially awkward. It gave me a sense of peace and comfort that I had not felt anywhere else, and it temporarily made me forget my problems.   

I moved in with my brother for a short time when I was nineteen. He had been following Jesus for a few years by then, and it was while I was living with him that I had my first encounter with God’s presence. I was watching a Bible story cartoon (about the Prodigal Son) with my niece, and I was finding the story hard to believe. I closed my eyes and prayed for God to show me a sign if the story was true. Right when I finished praying, a friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to go to church with her. I said yes, thinking nothing of it, so we went. The pastor said, open your Bibles to a certain chapter and verse, and it practically jumped off the page at me … It was the same story I had been watching with my niece!! The more incredible thing was feeling God’s presence in that moment. I felt like I had been picked up out of my seat and felt comfort, joy, peace, and love like I never had before. That day I told God that I would not doubt His word anymore. I went to church and read the Bible consistently for short periods of time, but drinking was my idol that always came back to get in the way.

Whenever I felt any pain, I would force it down deep and medicate with alcohol. That comforted me and gave me an escape from reality for a moment, but the problems would be waiting for me the next morning, in addition to having a hangover and being filled with guilt.

When I was twenty-five, I got married and we had two amazing children, a son, Kyle, and a daughter, Jenna. I kept the drinking toned down while I was around my family, but when I would get away from the house, I would drink to excess. After the divorce, the reins were off, and I would drink almost every day and all weekends when I didn’t have my kids. I would black out and not remember entire nights. Then I’d quit drinking for short periods, and during those times I would go to church and read the Bible regularly. I would draw close to God and He would draw close to me. I’d fight the cravings until I would give up and give in and would drift away from God and back to my drinking, again and again. When I did drag myself to church, it seemed the pastor was always talking right to me, and I would feel deeply convicted. I would sit in the back row, stay seated through the worship part of the service, but went out of my way not to meet anyone in the church.

In May of 2013, my anxiety spiraled out of control. It was a week of misery that got worse every day. I prayed for it to go away, but then I’d drink to try to do it myself. One day, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked God to take it away from me and told Him that I wouldn’t drink that day and that I would trust him. He instantly answered my prayer, ridding me of anxiety and depression and filling me with the Holy Spirit. It was better than any “high” I’d ever felt. God took alcoholism away from me, the desires, cravings, and all.  I also quit chewing tobacco two weeks later, after having chewed for twenty-two years.

In the last four years of following hard after Jesus, He told me who I really am. It turns out I am not really a drunk construction worker. The real me strengthens the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ and is a light to those who haven’t found Him yet. He reconciled my relationship with my dad, who shared with me what a terrible childhood he had experienced and that he was a thousand times better as a dad than his father was to him. God restored relationships with some friends and took other friendships away. I now turn to God with intense pain instead of to the bottle or people, and He heals me completely and uses me to help others.

Life began for me at the edge of my comfort zone. God doesn’t promise that bad things won’t happen to us, but he does promise if we come to Him, He will heal and transform them for good. If you are struggling with similar issues to mine, remember that “faith is believing that chair will support your weight, and trust is sitting in the chair.” I strongly recommend joining a small group and battling addictions and temptations using accountability to others. As you begin to heal, God can use you to help other people.

 


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