Descent into Hope: One Father’s Story of Addiction & Recovery

“Lord, You are going to have to take this from me. You’re going to have to blow it all up.  I’m terrified and do not have the courage to do this on my own.”

I prayed those words while exercising at the gym, one of the few places I could find clarity inside a black cloud of severe addiction. I had been hiding a dependence on prescription pills, among other things (there’s always more), and I was reaching, mercifully, the end of my rope. I fought the battle in isolation for over a decade, often flushing pills down the toilet in despair, only to find myself at the doctor a few weeks later, asking him to refill prescriptions. I bargained the pills would help me perform or ease me into a world where I often felt different or “less than.” Sometimes I tossed them back merely to escape, to anesthetize the feelings of inadequacy which lurked under a family belief system of achievement and advancement.

No amount of self-will or good intention pulled me out of the cycle—I used, I stopped, I used again. When I ran out of pills I entered painful spells of withdrawal, which overwhelmed my mind with panicked, obsessive thoughts to obtain more. Often, I would use to get back to “normal.” I always ended up in the same place: despondency. Why couldn’t I ask for help? I could not accept the reality of my condition, and I was terrified of losing everything and being abandoned. Yet even as I was consumed by self, I heard a faint whisper from God: “I’ve got something better for you.”

Addiction and Despair

I was living dual lives. I was a church-attending Christian and committed husband with children. On the other hand, I was mired in habitual sin, popping pills, betraying my wife, and neglecting my two boys. I maintained an image of a successful-enough career, only to take advantage of my position by wasting company resources to feed my addictions. I would cry out to God in shame and fear, “Please help me! I want out of this,” yet I would cling to reservations that I needed these drugs: “Who am I without them?” I kept attempting to manage my addiction, rather than waving the white flag and surrendering to the love of God, who was my only path to freedom. God’s voice was gentle but uncompromising: “You cannot have me and your addictions.” 

That scared me. I didn’t think I could stop using drugs, and if I did stop, I feared my brain was beyond repair. Even if I abstained, obsessive thoughts of using infiltrated every waking moment. I was enslaved. Much as I wanted respite, I denied the healing power of God’s grace. I went to counseling for depression and anxiety but avoided the word “addiction.” I took naps, I exercised, I eliminated gluten. “Maybe I’m bipolar.” I even got a doctor to agree, which I hoped would elicit pity from family members. “See, these episodes are out of my control. It’s just genetics.”  

As I descended further into madness, God’s gentle and lowly voice kept revealing glimpses of reality. A radio commercial would inquire, “If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction…” and I would instantly scramble the channel. I would get a sense of the image of God in my wife and children’s suffering, as they were kept in the dark, struggling to help me recover. My wife would fear she wasn’t enough, and my kids would wonder why daddy was still asleep or sick again. My brother and sisters staged an intervention, where I deliberately muddied the waters: “I wish the problem was as simple as addiction.” I could not be honest. I had carefully constructed an image of having it all together, because if you really knew me, if the reality of my condition were to be exposed, why would you have anything to do with me? Surely, you would abandon me.  

Answered Prayer

“Lord, you’re going to have to blow it all up. I can’t do it on my own.” Two weeks later, God answered my sweat-drenched prayer. As I was rocking my 2-week-old daughter late at night, my car keys spilled out of my pocket into the chair cushions, along with a handful of pills. I didn’t notice. I awoke the next morning and scrambled to take my two boys to school for a pancake breakfast. Figuring I had misplaced my keys, I grabbed a spare set and told my wife to let me know if she found them. 

On the ride, the boys sweetly listened to music from their booster seats, and as we pulled up to the school, I got a phone call. It was my wife, who proclaimed over the Bluetooth-enabled stereo speakers that she had found my car keys… and pills. “Are these drugs?” she frantically asked. Panic flooded my mind, and I attempted to match her surprise, while I assured her I would take a look when I got home.

As I led the boys into the school breakfast, I felt as if the was ground shaking beneath me. In the pancake line, as I filled up our plates, I passed by my sister and her son in a haze. Could they perceive my world was about to be turned upside down? I dropped my plate of pancakes in front of my seated boys and rushed to the bathroom. In the middle of community, I once again sought isolation to sort out my thoughts. I stared at myself in the mirror and saw a ghost. The game was over. It was time to be exposed. 

What I thought were mere seconds spent in that bathroom alone turned out to be much longer. When I rejoined my boys in the cafeteria, I saw them sitting alone, with tears in their eyes and pancakes uneaten. The bell had rung and classes were starting—the world had moved on, and I was shaken by a damning question: “Where have you been?”

As I drove home to face my wife, I found myself stretched between two opposing worlds. I pulled over and threw away a stash of pills, a last-ditch effort to present to my wife a clean and faithful version of myself. It was not to be—by the time I arrived, she had already made calls and presented me with the hard evidence, to which, after many lies and denials, I finally cried out, “I am badly addicted to drugs, and I need help!” Within minutes, family, friends, and our church community coordinated efforts to support my wife and kids and check me into a detox facility, followed by a 30-day residential treatment program. While I was in treatment, over a decade of lies began to unravel, some through disclosure and others through exposure, as my wife attempted to understand who she had married.

Descent Into Hope

Throughout the early days of recovery, as God turned my darkness into light, I feared each revelation might be the final straw, that I would finally get what I deserved and lose my family. It wasn’t just the act of using drugs and hiding, it was the destructive behavior yoked to my using: porn binges, secret spending and financial havoc, neglect, betrayal… It all came gushing out, and I faced an ever-increasing sense of frailty. At the same time, the truth filled me with a new hope; the illusion of control melted away and the walls of denial came crumbling down. 

I awakened to a sense of dependence on God, and in my powerlessness, I met Jesus. Something inside of me was finally being put to death, and for the first time in my life I started to understand, and even feel, my identity as a deeply loved child of God.  My isolation evaporated into Christ’s love, as I came to believe that he suffered and died for me.  I now carry the death of Jesus in my body, and I pray that my recovery reflects the life of Jesus. 

A shift occurred the moment I entered detox and throughout my stay in residential treatment. Moments of victory were still carpeted with acute pain and persistent fears of losing my family, but I began to experience it all as God’s grace, which made for a truly sweet surrender to the love of Christ. I pored over the Book of Psalms, I read Proverbs with new conviction, and I earnestly leaned on the community of support around me.  A close friend told me that I must become radically honest. God was close at hand, even when a fellow addict sneered at my pious undertaking.

I took great satisfaction in him calling me a Bible beater. I felt the Holy Spirit’s protection over my physical being. The long-held fear that I wasn’t enough for God began to fade as I ran into his open arms. In all my filth for the world to see, I was loved and accepted by my holy Father because Jesus died to secure my pardon for these very sins.  In my deepest need, I was met and carried; in my weakness I was made strong. When I stopped looking to the world for solutions, I found my most prized possession in Jesus Christ.

Learning a New and Gracious Kind of Dependence

Christ ignited a fire in my heart, and my recovery journey over the last 6 years has been a wonderful gift filled with joy, tears, triumphs, and failures. My recovery is inseparable from my faith. The work really began when I returned from residential treatment. I submitted to the wisdom and authority of others and became open to their suggestions. I left my career, signed up for random drug testing, underwent intensive personal and marital counseling, attended 12-step groups, learned the pathologies of my addiction, gave up my smartphone, began healthy routines, and even eliminated dairy (for the most part).  Rebuilding a solid foundation with my family has required a growing dependence on God, consistency, humility, and time in his word.   

The inner work continues to expose uncomfortable truths, but in the middle of my discomfort I still experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). My wife and I have never been closer. We enjoy an intimacy I never deemed possible, yet it took years to rebuild the trust I decimated through my active addiction. I am present with my children, cherishing every single hair on their precious heads. Today, they can depend on me. I am a committed and loyal friend, and I endeavor to help others who struggle with addiction.

My flaws and character defects have never loomed larger; I often feel them acutely, yet I witness progress and healing as I turn my gaze toward Jesus. Some days more work is required, although I wonder if much of life is to be endured with patience, a practice I fail continuously.  Recovery has mostly delivered me from the pitfalls of extreme highs and lows. Instead, I look to stay connected to God and community, enduring as a pilgrim on a journey in heart expansion. For that, and for so much more, I am grateful.

Burt Dickinson

Burt left a career in banking to devote himself to his family, and in his spare time he serves as a recovery mentor for individuals suffering from addiction. He has served as an addiction specialist or in a director role for BeFree KC, Artists Helping the Homeless (Kansas City), Men of Nehemiah (Dallas) and Adult Rehabilitation Ministry (Dallas). He advocates a Christ-centered approach to recovery in conjunction with a 12-step program. Burt graduated from Vanderbilt University and received his law degree from the University of Missouri-KC School of Law. He currently resides in Dallas with his wife and 3 children.

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