Giving His Addiction Up to God

Giving His Addiction Up to God

He hated his father’s alcoholism, but as it turned out, he had an addiction of his own.

William Joseph

“Four dozen doughnuts?” the counter guy asked. “Sure thing, Mr. Joseph. Coming right up!” He opened four boxes and began dropping doughnuts inside.

Was it me, or had there been a hint of judgment in his tone? You’re just tired, I told myself. It was 5:30 a.m., and I was the only customer at the Krispy Kreme. I’d planned it that way–I wanted first dibs on the fresh morning batch.

Glazed. Chocolate iced. Cream-filled. I couldn’t choose just one or two, so I’d ordered a few of everything.

I’d need some fuel to get through my busy morning at Straford Memorial Church, where I was the pastor. I had to deliver a sermon for 500 parishioners. Then mingle at coffee hour. Listen to problems and give advice. All with a smile on my face. These doughnuts were a reward for my efforts.

“Here you go,” the guy said. “Your doughnuts.” He held the boxes out toward me, his eyebrows arched.

“For coffee hour at church,” I blurted out, handing over my credit card. The counter guy just nodded. I signed the receipt and scrambled outside. Back to my car, where I’d be safe.

I sat in the driver’s seat and opened the first box. I grabbed a chocolate doughnut and ate it in two bites...then reached for another.

The truth was, it wasn’t likely any of these doughnuts would make it to our coffee hour–I’d be eating them all, right here in my car, right now. Same thing I always did before getting up into the pulpit. Okay, before doing anything stressful.

Between my work at church and my duties as a family man–my wife, Kim, and I had two teenagers, Kristen and Ryan–there was plenty of stress in my life. I didn’t need the doughnuts, but having a special treat helped. Nothing wrong with that.

So why had I lied to the Krispy Kreme guy? That was what alcoholics and druggies did, right? I couldn’t tell him they were all for me. Besides, it wasn’t any of his business.

I knew all about lying from my father–lying and every other trick in the book. He was always slipping out on some pretext at family gatherings to sneak another drink. Disappearing for weeks at a time, dodging phone calls, then acting like he’d been trying to get in touch all along.

Or he’d call me in a panic, confessing that he’d had too much to drink and needed a doctor. How many times had I dropped everything in Chicago so I could drive to Dad’s house in Detroit and nurse him back to health?

Too many times. But no matter how much I prayed for his recovery, every time he got better, he fell off the wagon again. I was devastated and hurt. I felt duped and betrayed. Dad had never been much of a drinker when I was growing up, but in his golden years, he’d become a full-blown alcoholic.

Why, Lord? I wondered. Why can’t he change? On those endless drives to and from Detroit, I’d stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts along the way, treat myself to a doughnut or two. For a moment, my despair and stress would vanish. I didn’t have to think about anything but the simple joy of a sweet snack.

One day, while I led a meeting at church, a nurse at a hospital in Detroit called my cell phone. Dad was in critical condition–again. I didn’t get it. How could he let himself go like this? Wasn’t enough ever enough?

Maybe Dad won’t beat this, I thought. Maybe he can’t. But what could I do? How long would I let his addiction tear me apart?

Dad looked weak and shriveled in the hospital bed when I made it to Detroit the next day. A doctor took me aside. “Your father had so much alcohol in his blood, he’s lucky to be alive right now.”

Dad pulled through. I stuck around just long enough to help him settle back in at home. I didn’t want to hear his empty promises this time. I wasn’t putting myself through that again. I’ve done everything I can, I thought. It’s up to you now, Lord. But I wasn’t holding my breath.

I settled back into my routine as a pastor, but I felt different. Empty. Near my church, I found a supermarket that sold doughnuts by the half dozen. A package of those always perked me up. Temporarily, anyway.

Then I’d have to give a sermon or run a Bible study, and I’d buy another package. One was never enough.

I didn’t want anyone to notice how many doughnuts I ate. It was none of their concern. I scoped out other doughnut shops in town. Before long, I knew where every Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts was and could vary my visits.

Now I needed a whole dozen to feel satisfied. I’d ditch the boxes in a garbage can on the street, not at home or at church, where someone might get suspicious. I felt ashamed, and shame made me want to eat more doughnuts.

Then Dad called me out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him since my last trip to Detroit. I braced myself for whatever story he had to sell. Sure enough, he swore he’d kicked the habit for good this time.

He’d joined an AA group and had gone to daily meetings, admitting that he was an alcoholic and his life was unmanageable. He was praying again, getting right with God. Like I’m supposed to buy that, I thought.

Even if it were true, how long would it last? What was a stint of sobriety compared with his years of willful self-destruction?

At least I’m not like Dad, I thought, sitting in the Krispy Kreme parking lot that morning. I glanced at the four boxes on the passenger seat. I’d done all I could to live an upstanding life. I was married, had kids, a wife I adored. I was a pastor and led a congregation. I was doing God’s work.

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