“My mother and father were Irish Catholic immigrants in New York City. They married there and had five children, and opened an Irish bar. I learned to play pool in that bar. It was fascinating for a child. Catholicism was also ingrained in us from an early age. I remember sitting on my knees and sincerely praying to God.
Then we migrated to Australia at the age of nine. By this time, both my parents had developed alcohol addictions. There was a lot of unrest in the house. Alcohol destroys families, relationships, jobs, and everything. It’s a disease.
But when I was ten, they were both sobered by Alcoholics Anonymous. It was crazy. It is challenging to get one person in a family to go through the recovery process, let alone two. But they did it. They became sober, and their lives changed.
In many ways, however, the damage was already done. As a teenager, I went off the rails – alcohol, parties, girls, to the limit. My youngest brother had the same. He was 15 or 16, and it was clear that his path was getting worse. We were all worried about him. But at the time, there was a program for the teenage children of Alcoholics Anonymous. So we all went there and got help and support. At one of the events, a Christian worker stood next to my youngest brother and invited him to Church. He went.
To everyone’s surprise, he really, drastically changed! It was so dramatic that Mom and Dad thought they better investigate the Church. Amazingly, God chose all seven of us over four years—first, my youngest brother, then my parents, and then my other siblings. I was the penultimate. I was 21 at the time. The change in me was so drastic. Before that, I dealt with bad company. I would have been in serious trouble if I hadn’t been rescued. But I knew I couldn’t argue with the change I’d seen in my family. None of us could. I went to a Christian weekend camp and wanted a relationship with Jesus. I had heard the gospel and went forward to pray. After that, the alcohol just fell off me. I got a job as an electrician, got married, and had children.
But it wasn’t all easy. Later I had another wilderness experience. It took 17 years. The alcohol never completely left me. If I had a few drinks, I’d have too many. And it wasn’t going well for my wife and me. We were both guilty. I was not innocent. In the end, it all came out – a very messy story. I was in the wilderness, and there was no plan B. I didn’t fit in the Church anymore. I was ashamed and convicted. And I didn’t work in the bars and clubs where I used to belong. On Sunday night, I fell apart and turned to alcohol. At the same time, I had a job, but it went on for years.
In the meantime, my parents had started a Christian recovery group called Regeneration. It was based on the same 12 steps as AA, except outwardly Christian and open to all. They ran it for 30 years until they both died. They helped thousands of alcoholics recover. I also got involved several years later. It’s a long story, but I went to rehab and sobered up again. I have now been sober for seven years and have returned to Church.
I loved Bible school – all that history and learning. But I’ve seen the vulnerability of people, all of us, including Christian leaders. We are all weak. And there is a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. I am the main character, wired for intellectual knowledge. My favorite verse is Romans 12:2: “Do not follow the pattern of this world but be transformed by renewing your mind. Then you can test and approve God’s will—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
But it is much more difficult to transfer all that head knowledge to the heart—to truly experience the love, forgiveness, and relationship of Jesus. That’s what I need. That’s what helps. Now I sing daily nursery rhymes: ‘He walks with me, he talks with me…’ Otherwise, I would think about everything without the songs. I need to develop a relationship with Jesus. He wants to be my friend – involved in every aspect of my daily life. That’s what helps me. I need a relationship with Jesus, not just knowing about it. I have to experience it, experience it, feel it….”
Bill’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, curated by Naomi Reed. Click here for more faith stories.