A Christmas Miracle: Jesus Freed Me From Drinking
The holiday season is the time of year when, 33 years ago, I began my final descent into alcoholism. I quit drinking on January 10, 1990. The weeks leading up to that were a series of blackouts and withdrawal symptoms.
I rarely if ever talk in detail about my bad old days as a drinker (I did write a book about it, which may have been a mistake). There’s a very good reason I don’t go back to those days.
Jesus freed me from my addiction to alcohol. While I may not be the most brilliant guy on planet Earth, I do know one thing for sure: When Jesus Christ frees you of something, you stay free. That is not to say that the devil never pops his head up to try and trip me up. But at this point I’ve admitted to Jesus all the sins that Satan tries to shame me about.
This time of year I do think of the poor addicts and alcoholics who wind up in treatment and 12-Step programs. I try and help the ones I come across, and over the years it has been incredible to see lives changed and transformed.
Alcohol Drowns Creativity
In my own case, I’ve seen my writing, which was starting to suffer and even become pathetic as the booze ravaged soul and body, become coherent and sometimes compelling. In his book, The Thirsty Muse, author Tom Dardis speculates that alcohol hindered the careers of several great American writers, including Ernest Hemingway. Of the seven native-born Americans who were awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, five were alcoholics: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. Dardis lists other great but alcoholic American writers: John Cheever, Truman Capote, James Agee, Dashiell Hammett, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Hart Crane, and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In the book, Dardis profiles Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and O’Neill — four of the all-time greats. His premise is that alcoholism caused a decline in the work of each of these artists except for O’Neil, who stopped drinking when he was 38. Dardis argues that Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner had all completed their best work by around the age of 40. He is particularly brutal on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: “It is a self-conscious work … it is fatally marred by its whimsical, folksy talk about the Indians of Cleveland and the great DiMaggio.” O’Neill, on the other hand, produced the brilliant plays The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night only after he had been sober for several years.
Glorifying Addiction Is Deadly
In sobriety, I rediscovered great Christian authors from my youth, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as becoming immersed in modern Christian geniuses like Gene Wolfe, Singrid Unset and G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton’s genius was so dazzling it made the writers I admired as a young man seem almost childish. And of course, there is book more dynamic, strange (in a good way), joyful, adventurous and just plain wise than the New Testament.
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Christian writers helped me escape the common trap of romanticizing writers and artists to the point where you almost glorify their addiction. I’m thinking of the recently published Sentence: Ten Years and a Thousand Books in Prison by Daniel Genis. The author traces his own dance with addiction to the way he had romanticized some seamy, substance-abusing writers. That romance ended when Genis ended up in prison.
The Grace of God Is Glue
In jail, Genis read to escape, keeping a long list of books on his wall. Among the authors were two great Christian geniuses, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky: “I learned as much about modern prison from Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky as I did when trying to make sense of what I experienced directly,” Genis writes. “Those many books enabled me to understand my fellow man and my own corrupted self … . Reading may have been the very thing that made me return from inside whole.”
Like Genis, these Christian authors have enriched me far beyond any of the madmen whose work I followed as a young man. One quote of O’Neill’s I always have in my heart: “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American Stasi.