My husband, Brian, and I moved to a sweet little town one year after we were married. We both grew up in the ’burbs, and the quaint, brick-laid streets and the absence of traffic lights in our new town thrilled us both. What did not thrill me, however, was the prospect of finding a new church. My husband and I are both rather picky.

Brian is an engineer, and he actually created a spreadsheet of local churches in town to help us keep track of our attendance and thoughts. Brian is famous for his spreadsheets. This one made me shudder. My reactions to churches are more visceral than scientific. Choosing a church is an emotionally tense experience for me. I want to bond with a church immediately, but more often than not I feel like turning around and walking right back out within five minutes of entering a new one.

Thankfully, the church we ended up choosing was near the top of Brian’s spreadsheet, and as soon as we entered the doors that first time, I breathed a sigh of relief. Our church is full of people, ideas, and worship that just feel like home. Even the pews seem extra comfy. This is saying a lot, since we hail from churches that don’t even have pews anymore—or anything old, or made of wood. Our little church does not have stage lighting or its own coffee shop. But we both knew upon visiting that it was special, and within a year we decided to become members.

Committing to church membership for us was similar to making our marital commitment. We are in it for the long haul. And we knew that, at times, the union would be rocky, just like any marriage. But our church has been a loving and solid community from the start.

It was me who proved to be the troublemaker in the relationship.

I would have to tell the truth to the two most important relationships in my life: My husband. And my church. Honestly, I figured telling my husband would be easier.

As much as I loved our town, our church, our new friends, and our marriage—behind the doors of our one-hundred-year-old, small-town house, I was imploding. I had come to the horrifying realization that I was an alcoholic. And I had no idea what to do about it. Or, rather, I knew what to do about it, but I couldn’t fathom it. I was a teacher. In a small town. And I knew that, as much as anonymity is important in recovery groups, I would eventually have to tell.

I would have to tell the truth to the two most important relationships in my life: My husband. And my church. Honestly, I figured telling my husband would be easier.

I finally unloaded all my fears to my husband about trying not to drink, on a daily basis, forever. And two things happened:

1. I learned he had already been praying for this issue in my life for a long time.

2. I felt better than I had in a long time.

So then, after two months of this new thing called being sober—on a daily basis, one day at a time—I made an appointment to see my two pastors. I kind of hoped to hear, “Well, they’re totally booked for the next four months, but we can fit you in sometime next year,” but it didn’t go that way.

It’s the kind of church where you go directly up to them after the service and say, “Uh, hey? Could we meet?”

And then they totally freak you out by saying, “Sure. How about this afternoon?”

And so we met. And they prayed. And we talked, a lot. Both pastors were supportive and calm and filled with grace. That conversation—held in a spacious office amidst a messy Lego table, cute family pictures, and a whole lot of Bibles—is one I have never forgotten. Here’s why:

No drama. As an English teacher, I have taught The Crucible for too many years to count. It’s Arthur Miller’s great play about the Salem witch trials, and it is fraught with drama, angst, and tragedy. Teenagers tend to love that stuff. And, since I too tend to be rather dramatic, I kind of figured my meeting with my pastors would end up with me in the same dismal boat as John Proctor. There would be pointing of fingers and slinging of Bible verses and a lot of thees and thous.

Fortunately, I was wrong. In fact, my choked utterance—after so much hemming and hawing that my husband, seated next to me, had to poke me in the ribs to urge me to get to the point—only resulted in silence. There wasn’t even an audible gasp. Then Pastor Darrell asked if he could pray for us again, which made a lot of sense. Brian gripped my hand, and I sat and stared at the tears dripping into my lap. Then Pastor Jeff simply said, “We love you, Dana.”

No interrupting. The meeting had already veered far away from my imagined scaffolds. Pastor Darrell’s prayer was not what I expected. He thanked God for me. He asked God to bless me. He lifted me up and said, “Give her courage.” I don’t remember exactly whether he ever prayed specifically about alcoholism. He might have, but his words at this point were more of a balm. Like, when someone asks to marry you, you don’t just immediately start in on what type of appetizers you’re going to have at your reception after you say yes. You sit and hold hands and just exist together. The prayer was that sort of thing. But much less romantic. And as one who had spent so much time in the past weeks analyzing and learning and trying, this prayer was a deep breath.

And I realized then that we would be in this together—for the long haul.

Pastor Jeff then asked me to tell my story—my whole story, from the very beginning. I dabbed at my sopping face with about seventeen more tissues and quipped, “How long do you have? Where do I start?”

And Jeff said, “Wherever you need.”

I started to share how this whole nightmare had tightened its grip on me so many years ago.

And they just listened. For a long time.

No quick fixes. And then I was all talked out. I sat there, waiting for both pastors to, you know, fix it. That’s what they do, right? There was more of that silence thing (I think Pastor Darrell had been pretty much praying the entire time), and then Jeff said, “You know, Dana. I really don’t know much about alcoholism. Not at all, really. I think I should, but I don’t.”

And I realized then that we would be in this together—for the long haul. They asked some questions, about my recovery meetings and my plan for the next few days and then asked, “What, specifically, can we pray for you?”

I didn’t have much more to tell them, except that I had started going to recovery meetings and that I felt I had met Jesus more often in those rooms than I had in church.

This comment caused Pastor Darrell to raise his head. “Really?” he asked.

“Really. I think it has to do with me, though. The surrender. My . . . desperation.”

We should all be so desperate, really, when we go to Jesus. We need him so.


Continue the story here, where I describe my struggle with starting to attend church again and how my pastor inspired me to begin telling my church family. Stay tuned also for more posts on how to help addicts who are in denial about their addiction.