'Who are you and what have you done with Bob?'
Meet Bob, the first in a new series following stories of transformation.
My lasting childhood memory was - 'I don’t belong here.'
I was born in Edinburgh in 1953 into a Christian home and spent most of the time feeling like a square peg in a round hole. Life was full of don’ts and can’ts and should nots and 'grace' was not a word heard very often.
By the time I reached my late teens I had committed pretty much every sin in the book. It wasn't until my twenties that I finally found the courage to move away from the church. This swung the pendulum of my life from one extreme to the other. I was now free to do whatever I liked and believe me, I did.
I was still a young man when I first discovered alcohol. I found that it gave me much needed confidence and the ability to ignore my conscience. Drink was a big part of the culture of the company I worked for and the speed of my progress up the corporate ladder was matched by my descent into alcoholism.
At the age of 25 I was 3 years into marriage and very aware that my behaviour was ruining my life. I tried to turn things around and moved from Scotland to Bristol.
My son was born and I felt the need for change and the weight of responsibility for a time, but the old patterns soon crept back. I came to the sad realisation that my bad habits had come with me.
My marriage gradually deteriorated until there was nothing left in the tank. Jeanette and I decided to remain together to provide some kind of stability for our 5 year old son, but the future looked bleak.
I went into rehab for 6 weeks and returned with the hope that I could live without drink. I regularly attended AA and life gradually got better. Unfortunately I still hadn't grasped that I wasn't the only person featuring in my life. Humility had been long lost by then.
In my late thirties the company I worked for was sold and I took the opportunity to start my own business. I wanted to keep busy and I wanted to do 'good'. I wanted to plug the gaping hole in my life. The first business was delivering meals to the elderly in their homes. A 'good' business. The second was to provide accommodation for people recovering from drink and drug problems. Another 'good' business. I then agreed to manage a bakery for a friend who was terminally ill. More 'good' business.
It wasn't enough.
I was constantly monitoring my finances with a view to retiring as soon as possible so I could see the world with my wife. I hadn't discussed any of this with her and when I did finish work at 55, I soon realised that Jeanette had no intention of sharing my dream.
Self pity crept in and I secretly started to drink.
I was soon drinking so much I could no longer conceal it and my domestic situation deteriorated rapidly. It got so bad that my son, who by now was a director of the first business, had to rescue me from running deliveries one day and put me to bed because I was unfit to drive. I can only imagine how he felt having to tell his father not to come to work again and then his colleagues what had happened.
My wife told me she'd had enough. I moved out to our home in France and carried on drinking myself into a stupor, broken by self pity. My sister finally persuaded me to come back and move into her home where I continued drinking in secret, or so I thought. She soon found out and told me to stop, or move out.
My sister invited the pastor of a local church to visit. I hadn’t darkened the doorstep of a church since my youth but at the age of 56, at 10.30 on a Friday morning, I broke down and told this Christian everything. He prayed a simple prayer asking for the obsession to be lifted, I thanked him and he left.
That evening I went to bed at 10pm and realised that not only had I not had a drink that day, I hadn’t even thought about one. I began to attend church regularly and stayed dry for 2 months. Although I'd found temporary release in sharing my problems, I still hadn't addressed the real issue.
I decided to return to the family home, but I was unable to handle the toxic environment. I started drinking again and this time I wasn't messing around. I was soon drinking large quantities of spirits on a daily basis and quickly reached the stage where, quite frankly, I didn’t care if I woke up the next day or not.
Thankfully, I had a friend who was able to persuade me to attend a treatment centre where I stayed for 5 months. I am firmly persuaded that the Lord uses the most unlikely of circumstances to bring about that 'road to Damascus' experience for some of us and that proved to be part of mine.
Over many years I had built up a harvest of resentment, particularly to my wife and also to others around me, which fed my addiction. One day my son and wife visited and were able to tell me how my behaviour had affected them. My wife was rightly very angry and unforgiving. My son said that he'd had the utmost respect for me all his life, but now felt that he had to assume the father role in our relationship.
For the first time in my life I apologised to both unreservedly for my behaviour. I had apologised many times before to get out of a tricky situation, but this was different.
I also began to pray again.
I asked for forgiveness and humility and to my amazement, by the end of the day I felt totally released. That huge ball of resentment and unforgiveness had been removed and has never returned since.
I felt such a sense of freedom and knew instantly that it could only be God who had delivered me. It was unlike anything I had ever known before.
Even though I had this new feeling, I returned home in March 2008 very frightened that if I remained in that unhealthy environment, I would again yield to my old lifestyle. The only escape I could see was to move out of the family home and live alone.
I had recommitted my life to Jesus and attended church regularly, developing new friendships and a new identity. I thought all my problems were now behind me, this was not to be the case.
I had begun to re-visit my wife on a regular basis and slowly but surely the relationship began to improve. I distinctly remember taking my courage in both hands one day and giving her a hug. The first time in 20 years. The next time we saw each other she responded by hugging me. These were the first tentative steps to rebuilding.
I was living in Portishead, 10 miles from Bristol and feeling quite isolated as I had few friends willing to make the journey to see me. I woke up one day immersed again in self pity, drank a large quantity of spirits and decided to drive for some food.
I was detained by the police and subsequently banned from driving for 18 months. I had forgotten that I couldn't run on self will, but that I had to trust in God’s.
I returned to church life with great humility and enthusiasm. My knowledge and understanding of God’s will grew and my desire to follow Bob’s will began to shrink. He was faithful to me and has until this day kept me under His grace and protection.
I would love to say that I’m free from the temptations of the past, but I'm not. Every now and then the old thoughts re-appear and have to be snuffed out by engaging with the Holy Spirit and praying for release. The blessing is that I now know with certainty that the Lord will, and does, give me all I need to make it through the day.
Today I have a blessed life. I am heavily involved in all areas of church which I love, I have a wealth of Christian friends who are very dear to me and I have a very good relationship with my wife and son who both constantly ask "Who are you and what have you done with Bob?".
I reply the same way every time by telling them that's one of the nicest things they have ever said to me and that they know the answer. I have been restored and blessed by the grace of God and nothing else. Trying to fix my life myself didn't work. Trying to do good didn't work. I pray that one day, the Lord will speak into my family's hearts as He did into mine and show them that road well travelled which will lead to their salvation and eternal life.
I have recently come to a place where I am moved to be Baptised. I have made a commitment to follow Jesus as an adult and I want to make that commitment before my brothers and sisters in my church, my friends and my family. The same pastor who prayed for me all those years ago will stand with me in the water. It will be in September this year, come along, all are welcome.
P.S My wife, son and family have all agreed to come to my baptism.
P.P.S My wife and I are off to tour Italy next week for 5 weeks.
All things come to those who wait on The Lord.