“How GOD Fixes Broken People” My Vietnam Vet’s Struggle With Alcoholism

My story…..is tightly woven into my love story. What a man…what a GOD…and oh what a story of FORGIVENESS.  I am recycling an old post to link up with the precious Suzie Eller for #livefree Thursday.

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The year was 1968.

He was barely 19 by just a few days when he received his mandatory invitation from Uncle Sam.

Life was simple….. but he was far from a simple boy.

Talent, smarts and personality oozed from every pore of his body.

Required to report within 21 days, he left his boyhood behind.

After 12 months of combat training he stepped off the plane in Chu Lai, Vietnam.

All he could see on the tarmac were thousands of body bags laying side by side for three lengths of a football field.

Fear struck his heart….

He told himself he would never make it home.

His boots hit the jungle ground running.

His daily goal was just to survive to see the sun rise.

He once went 3 weeks without taking his boots off.

When I asked why?

He said you didn’t want to get caught with your boots off.

When he finally removed them ….the medic had to strip the socks from his skin.

The nights were sleepless.

The smells were endless.

The noise was miserably deafening.

The sights were horribly unforgettable.

The emotional and physical stress took its toil….

He had his first taste of liquor to cope.

One by one he watched his friends die.

He was one of the lucky three that survived his squad.

The tactical missions occupied his mind…..

Shifting his focus from the prospect of death.

Once after an intense night of battle….

He carried a dead GI on his back until he met up with the medi-vac helicopter.

You never forget that kind of weight….he says….

It’s a weight that lays heavy in the mind….

It’s a weight you still feel 44 years later.

Every 3 weeks his squad would go to the rear, aka command base, for a precious 3 day rest from death and destruction….

That’s where he learned to drink in order to numb the stress.

He tells stories of GI’S who shot themselves in the leg or got food poisoning on purpose…

He laughs about one soldier who actually tried to fake being crazy…..

These were the ones who would suffer being a coward rather than face the alternative.

The gruesome images he saw….are still prominent in his memories.

The desperation of surviving affected him in ways he could never imagine.

There are times he is still in survival mode even today.

The shock of all his senses engrossed in the worst horror story you can imagine….

Is who he is….at the most unexpected recollection.

He was wounded…

They patched him up and sent him back to the jungle a few months later.

Again….he fought to live….

Day in and day out…

Fighting for a people who for the most part….

Didn’t appreciate the effort…

Or the sacrifices.

He managed to survive….

He managed to come home….

But he wasn’t the same simple boy who left at the tender age of 19.

He came home and turned to alcohol more and more.

He worked hard and long hours during the day…..

He partied hard and long hours into the night…..

Every hour of productivity or leisure was occupied with anything to ease the memories.

I met him in 1985.

I didn’t know it then….but he was still broken from the war…. 15 years later.

He was a functioning alcoholic.

A good one too.

He was the life of the party….

But after we married…

The party was getting old to me….

Especially after the first baby came on the scene.

I just wanted to be normal….

But he couldn’t give me normal because he was carrying the weight of an unresolved emotional trauma.

Statistics cite severe drug and alcohol problems for 60-80% of Vietnam veterans.

Divorce rates hover around 90 percent.

Somewhere around 58,000 Vietnam vets died in combat….

Over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended.

Over 500,000 have been arrested or incarcerated.

It is estimated that approximately 100,000 are in prison and over 200,000 are on parole.

These 800,000 men will never get back what they lost.

They will never know normal….

At least in the way it was before it was taken from them.

My veteran gave up so much promise….

So much hope….

So many dreams that have never been reborn.

He lived with years of pain….

Years of functioning dysfunction….

Years of guilt.

Until it all caught up with him….

And the self-destructible behavior cost him everything.

You see that’s what happens when we can’t cope with the pain….

The guilt….

The mistakes….

The horror of the past….

Man self -destructs.

Interceding prayers made the difference in my vets life.

There were numerous….a too many to mention, faithful prayer warriors…..who prayed for him.

Then one day….

When he could bear the burden no longer….

He surrendered to JESUS.

When the bible talks about a new creation being born at salvation…..

My vet instantly became a new creation.

What rehab couldn’t do….

JESUS did….

What an undying love from a faithful young bride couldn’t do…..

JESUS did….

Nothing the world could offer helped him in anyway….

But JESUS did.

Immediately his countenance was different.

Immediately his heart was light…

His smile was bright….

His soul was at peace.

I will never forget the conversation we had a few years back…..

He talked about how the LORD had removed all the guilt of what he had to do to survive the hell hole of Vietnam.

“All that guilt…and worry….the faces I used to dream about…it’s all gone, GOD took all that from me when he saved me, I am FORGIVEN,” he said.

GOD also took his desire for alcohol away.

He has been sober for 23 years.

What GOD has done in his life is nothing short of a miracle.

He is far from a perfect man…..

But he lives a spirit filled life of joy….

Peace….

Hope…..

Freedom….

He has health issues due to his service…

But he has JESUS….

And though life is hard at times….

And never reaches a perfect place……

JESUS helps us endure….

JESUS keeps us going…..

JESUS helps us live daily with love, laughter and vision for the future.

And now JESUS uses my vet for HIS kingdom….

He teaches Sunday school….

He witnesses and helps others struggling with alcohol….

He goes and prays with those who need a touch from JESUS….

He has led several in the sinner’s prayer.

You see…….

GOD doesn’t throw people away….

Because GOD never uses perfect people.

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No matter what emotional trauma you have suffered….

No matter what addiction or stronghold in your life…..

No matter if divorce happens…..

No matter the mistakes you’ve made with life changing repercussions…..

It just doesn’t matter to JESUS

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When you are HIS….

You are a new creation…..

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!            2 Corinthians 5:17

GOD wants to use you…

And your brokenness….

This past summer I heard a quote at a Proverbs 31 Women’s event and it gave me such hope….

“The thing that we think disqualifies us for GOD’S use…is the very thing GOD wants to use.”

Won’t you surrender to JESUS today and you can be FORGIVEN too?

If you have never accepted JESUS as your savior….there is no better day than today to become a new creation!  Please follow this link …..It’s so easy to come to JESUS!

“Really GOD? I can’t do that it’s crazy!”

“He’ll never change,” the lady told me.  “I’ve known him for over 20 years, he is what he is.  He will just break your heart,” she added.  “He will always be a drunk,” my loved one said.  I felt defensive, ashamed.  I started keeping the sordid details of my life to myself even amidst the turmoil in my heart.  What had been an exciting, three month courtship now resulted in a young twenty-two year old disillusioned bride.

I fell hard for this man. He was unlike any I had dated before.  Worldly, successful, funny and 15 years my senior. I felt safe with him, and there was no doubt I loved him.  My friends gossiped and marveled I fell for an older man. My family just about disowned me and did their best to intervene, yet something deep inside made me determined to marry him.

We were married 2 months when I found out I was pregnant.  This was the only child we had planned to have. Three months in I realized what appeared to be social drinking was really an alcohol addiction.  Confrontations led to dismal fights which led to declarations of cutting back or doing better.  We existed in a realm of illusory, he knew I wasn’t happy yet he tried. 

The drinking fractured our family time, our relationship, our outlook.  I started thinking about leaving, my adorable toddler gave me strength to insist we deserved better.  Then I found out I was pregnant, again.  I decided to keep trying but I had to have help.

I went to church but it wasn’t the right fit, I was gossip to those who knew me. It was hard getting myself together with a toddler in tow, to show up and make an appearance with a big smile on my face.  I didn’t see other wives hitting the altar because their husbands had issues.  Yet I had this overwhelming feeling I needed to be in church. 

The addiction continued to take its toll on our family.  In a drunken, angry state my husband quit a job providing a six figure income.  In the 80’s, this was a substantial salary.  Within months we found ourselves losing everything.  He agreed to rehab only after he came face to face with financial ruin. Soon he was offered a job in Louisiana.  It was a new start in a new place. 

He went ahead to find us a place to live.  Weeks later I came with our babies.  We were barely settled into our new home when I realized he was drinking again. I was heart broken, hopeless. 

GOD provided a Christian family next door.  I went to church with them, I felt GOD’S presence.  I saw hurting people on the altar, I let my guard down and shared my painful secret.  They prayed and taught me to pray for GOD’S will.  They shared with me it was GOD’S will for my husband to be a born again Christian and to be set free of his addiction.  I had hope.

We were in Louisiana just less than a year when the job was over.  The owner was selling out.  We were going back to Tennessee.   I was considering going my separate way when we returned home.  It would be an easy transition during the move. In the process of packing, I found out I was pregnant with our third child.  Yea….GOD has a sense of humor. I stayed.

The struggle continued to be heart wrenching, the finances were tight.  My first born was pretty sharp and soon picked up on daddy coming home drunk.  Thank GOD he wasn’t a mean drunk but a sloppy, affectionate, sentimental drunk. My feeble heart literally ached because my child could see the difference in a drunk daddy.

I remember crying out to GOD…..”I don’t know what to do, you have got to help me GOD.”  Our third baby was born and amazingly GOD led me to a new friend named Debby.  A vivacious, GOD fearing, spit fire full of faith.  What a friend.  She led me to a church with a pastor named Jerry.  An evangelistic, friendly, soul winner man of GOD. What a pastor. Jerry shepherded a loving, non-judging church family with real problems too. What a church. 

I started praying one night a week with Debby and another friend.  I learned to pray specific, I remembered the precious family from Louisiana who taught me it was GOD’S will for all to find salvation.  I believed and claimed this promise for my husband.  

We prayed it would rain on Sunday’s so he couldn’t golf and maybe go to church with me.  We prayed he would get hangovers….something he never did.  We prayed GOD would wrap his spirit so tight around my husband’s heart he would suffocate in conviction.  It rained 6 weeks in a roll and he attended church some.  He started puking his guts out after he drank and I so enjoyed listening to his gut wrenching bathroom sessions. I specifically remember thanking GOD for hangovers.

One night he sat down and watched a Billy Graham crusade on television.  I sat next to him on the couch as tears streamed down his face and he wiped them with his hand.  For 7 months, we prayed, we prayed specific, we prayed expectantly, we prayed in faith. 

Three days after we watched the crusade on television he was in his favorite local pub with all his golf buddies. It was a Sunday evening and my babies were loaded in their car seats as we headed to church.  The pub was on the way….GOD spoke clearly and said….”Stop and send Matthew in.”

“Send my baby in a bar Lord?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from GOD.  I literally sat in the parking lot for 20 minutes wrestling with whether to send my three and a half year old into a bar. Finally with a heavy heart, I stood at the door as my baby went in and asked his daddy to go to church with us. 

We settled into our seats near the front, liquor on his breath.  He wasn’t drunk but he had knocked down a few.  I remember thinking, I hope no one smells the alcohol on his breath.  The pastor brought a powerful salvation message directed at my husband.  I knew he was under conviction when the invitation started.  I looked at his knuckles white from griping the pew so tight.

The pastor offered one more verse, I was about to give up.  Then all of a sudden he turned to me and said, “I’ve got to go Mel, he’s calling me.”  He shot out into the aisle and hit the altar.  The pastor went and counseled him.  I waited and prayed but made it to the altar just in time to hear him pray the sinner’s prayer.

I remember my husband holding me on the altar after he asked Christ into his heart.  I remember the taste of my salty tears as we embraced each other for what seemed like forever.  I cried into his chest, he cried on my shoulder.  The entire church was rejoicing and praising GOD.  

GOD was so faithful to my family that precious night.  I relive it often.  He has brought us so far, replenished us financially, restored relationships, restored hope.  What the devil took….GOD replaced.

We will be married 30 years in January 2015.  He has been sober since giving his heart to JESUS on March 17th, 1990.  What rehab and a devoted, young bride’s love couldn’t do…GOD did. 

I have often thought about what would have happened had I not sent my innocent little boy into the pub that night? Crazy isn’t it?  GOD told me to send my baby into a bar?  I still scratch my head about doing so and I have never shared this detail of our story till now. 

We’ve read countless stories of GOD telling our bible heroes to do crazy things haven’t we?  So it stands to reason….why would he not tell us to do crazy things too?  Remember the leper, Naaman? Elisha told him through a servant, go wash in the muddy Jordan seven times and you will be clean. Naaman was angry Elisha did not come out to meet him and call on the Lord. He questioned the choice of waters stating there were cleaner rivers around. He went away in rage. If not for his servants convincing him to go to the Jordan and obey Elisha’s directives, Naaman would not have been healed. (2 Kings 5)

Its a beautiful story of stubborn obedience, similar to mine. I have learned through my 49 plus years, GOD’S ways are certainly not my ways. (Isaiah 55:8) He doesn’t do things the way my flawed mindset would do them.

If I had been the one who went into the pub that spring night in 1990, I don’t know if my husband would have responded with a yes. It probably would have angered him I showed up….especially in front of his buddies. The little wife had come to fetch her husband could have been his embarrassment….but seeing those sweet, little, expressive eyes with arms reaching up…speaking a tender, innocent plea…. I believe GOD used our baby to move my husband.

This reminds me of the scripture in Corinthians….

“But GOD has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and GOD has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

We don’t have a clue what GOD wants to use in our lives to bring him glory. Our ways are not HIS ways and HIS infinite wisdom will never be matched. It could be foolish things, the weak, it could be sickness, an addiction, a baby in a bar….but whatever he chooses to use…. we have got to be willing to do the things not making sense…. the crazy things…. if he asks us to.
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