Blackout: Rising Above the Darkness12/26/2013
Dave Gonzales was living a life most people dream about. But when divorce sent him into a depression, Dave turned to drinking to cope with the pain and loss. Now looking back on the decade that he spent as an alcoholic, he is grateful that, despite the odds, he didn’t end up at the bottom of a grave.
Without a family to go home to, Dave began frequenting local bars and restaurants. What began as a few harmless drinks after work developed into a much greater problem. When the bars would close, Dave would head home to spend the balance of his night drinking and gambling online. Shooting whiskey, drinking beer, and playing cards into the early morning hours became a regular occurrence.
Things grew worse for Dave when the economic crisis set in and his income dropped. Now dependent on alcohol, Dave made cuts everywhere in his life except his bar tab. He lost his apartment and car, and with no place to go, his only option was to sleep on his mom’s couch. Things had spiraled out of control—alcohol controlled Dave’s life. As time went on, his consumption continued to climb. Six beers per night became 12, 18, and then 30. “When it comes to addiction, the more you do it, the more you need it,” he explains. He began drinking in the morning before work and periodically would rent a hotel room to stay up all night and drink in private. On occasion, he would call in sick to work just to stay home and drink.
There were countless blackout nights of drinking when Dave had no recollection of how he’d gotten home. He incurred numerous injuries from blacking out and falling down, sustained damage to his car from driving while intoxicated, and one night “came to” while laying face down in the middle of a busy street with cars stopping and honking at him. Despite the severity of the situation, nothing was bad enough to slow his addiction. Dave had been taken to the emergency room twice for excessive drinking, leaving both times against recommendation. He knew there was a problem, but he didn’t know how to get help and found it easiest to turn a blind eye to reality. “I knew everything was failing—my health, my family, my job—but I didn’t know how to stop drinking,” he recalls. Dave had every reason to give up, but God had not given up on him.
One spring morning after three straight days of non-stop drinking, Dave showed up for a weekly 8:30 a.m. sales meeting at work. In and out of a blackout, he was physically present but was so ill that he was otherwise absent. “It was like watching TV with no sound,” he describes. “Everything was surreal and I couldn’t make out what was going on around me.” After the meeting, Dave picked up his paycheck and could think about nothing but spending it on beer. To secure another day off for drinking, he lied to his boss about leaving work to check himself into the hospital. Now with an open schedule for the day, Dave cashed his paycheck, stopped to buy beer, and headed home to start drinking. Sitting slumped over in a chair in the backyard and barely able to lift his head, Dave continued to drink beer after beer. He began physically shaking with illness and feared that this could be the end of life for him. Completely defeated and frightened, Dave closed his eyes and prayed for help. “God, whatever you want me to do, I’m going to do it.”
In the moments that followed, Dave publicly admitted his addiction to alcohol on Facebook. In a post to his friends, he said that he couldn’t stop drinking and pleaded for help. Within hours, his friend Tracy picked him up and took him to the emergency room at Laguna Beach Hospital. In the ER, the whispers of temptation to flee and return to the life he so desperately wanted to leave behind swarmed Dave’s mind. “I was scared and wanted to run, but I felt God pushing me to stay. I was questioning myself as to whether I really wanted to stop drinking and wondered if I could live my life without alcohol.” But Dave chose to ignore the whispers and instead clung to the promise he had made to God. Dave had completely surrendered his life to God, and in spite of his fears, he knew without a doubt that he was exactly where God wanted him to be.
Dave spent the next month in the rehabilitation and recovery program at Laguna Beach Hospital. After the first week, in an unforeseen turn of events, he found himself taking on an unanticipated role. Coming from a place of complete weakness just days before, Dave felt God giving him strength and guidance to reach out and support other patients. Only God knew the plans He had for Dave. During a time that is typically spent focusing on self-healing, Dave found strength in taking his eyes off of himself and shifting his attention toward helping others. The time he spent in the hospital was a foundational period for his future. Not only did he begin his new life of sobriety, but he discovered his purpose: helping others.
Immediately following rehab, Dave transitioned into a sober living residence where he spent three months learning how to continue to live sober outside of the hospital. Just as he did in rehab, Dave found himself in a role where he was encouraging and helping others in the program.
Once he had completed the sober living program, Dave was on his own back in the real world with a whole new life ahead of him. He knew that in order to maintain his momentum for sobriety, he would need ongoing support. Dave’s teenage son Nick was a member of Saddleback Church and encouraged his dad to try Celebrate Recovery. Dave had heard about Celebrate Recovery but thought it was mostly a social program for the local community. He never expected to find growth, acceptance, and support from so many people who faced the same difficulties he did. “There were times early on in my sobriety that I felt like I was the only one who struggled with alcohol and that I was “less-than” because of my past. Celebrate Recovery helped me realize that I was not alone and was not a bad person,” he explains.
At Celebrate Recovery, Dave also discovered scripture that related directly to the issues he was facing. According to Dave, who recently finished reading the Bible from cover to cover, there is no problem too great or small for God, and the Bible holds the keys to life. He says that spirituality helps cure addiction better than any medicine, and Celebrate Recovery engages biblical scripture and a relationship with Christ to give healing and hope to those struggling with any type of addiction.
Today, a proud, happy, peaceful Dave is just a few days away from being 20 months sober. He lives every day by walking in faith and letting God lead the way. “There’s no other way for me to live,” he reveals. “Every day, I pray and remind God that whatever He wants me to do, I will do it.” Coming from a life of physical and emotional enslavement where he lived solely for his addiction, Dave has found hope, freedom, and purpose in living the life God has planned for him. He is overwhelmed by God’s grace in giving him another chance at life. Dave is thankful for the miracles God has produced in his life, including some things that most people take for granted. Having a car to drive and an affordable place to live with a family that places the highest values on sobriety and Christ are things in his life that he says could only have been orchestrated by God.
Dave realizes that he is still early in his journey of sobriety, but he wakes up every morning excited for the possibilities that God has in store for him. Whether it’s at work, home, or around town, he is always looking for opportunities to help others. He knows that God protected him during his years as an alcoholic and brought him through his addiction for a reason. Someday, he hopes that God will use the pain and darkness he survived to bring light and hope to someone struggling with addiction. With a smile on his face, he confidently shares, “That’s what life is all about. We are not here to judge or walk alone. We are here to help each other.”
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