I Am the Son of an Alcoholic Preacher
The relationship my father had with religion was filled with many contradictions.
Growing up, my father was a man of the cloth. He was an amazing minister, and when he was at the pulpit, my lord, he could preach the word of God. I remember sitting in the sanctuary and seeing the nods of parishioners as he spoke to their hearts. After church, I would watch him talk with the parishioners, giving them undivided attention, patience, humor and kindness, and I just remember thinking: Why don’t I get this man?
You see, when I was young, my father was an extremely functional alcoholic. He was addicted to prescription pain medication, and he got through his life of service by drinking. All day. Meanwhile, my mother struggled with her own codependency and depression while raising three boys. My mom got through her life by sleeping. All day.
However, to the outside world, we were the “preacher’s family.” Whether you like it or not, you have a title in the community. Especially in the South, there was this unsaid understanding and expectation that we represented the church. We kept the facade up for some time, sitting in the back of the church so no one would see us but making it known we were there.
I remember as a child going with my father to visit people in the hospital or the nursing home. I loved it. I loved seeing him pray with them. I remember fondly giving Communion with him to this elderly woman one time at a nursing home. It was as much Communion for me as it was for her. It was time with my dad, and he was centered and focused.
My Family Has Suffered Pain and Experienced Crises of Faith
These moments usually coincided with a stop at the gas station, picking up a tallboy six-pack and drinking it before getting home. At some point, my mom would catch on, a huge fight would break out and it would usually last for weeks. We were a family in crisis, and we fit the box of the classic alcoholic family system. Sadly, the God I heard my father preach about was not doing anything for me at home. In fact, it felt like God was this annoying afterthought in our household. One night, I remember sitting around the dinner table and asking if we could pray. My father said no. Even though he knew religion, he fought the idea of religiosity over spirituality.
After my dad got sober, I remember him telling me that he made more money in the church—and was assigned to larger churches—when he was drinking. When he got sober, he just didn’t have the energy to put on a preacher’s face anymore. Truthfully, the bullshit that goes into the politics of the church is very separate from the spirituality we strive to find while attending church. The people with money have influence because they contribute the most to the church. Each day, I saw my dad struggle between doing what was right for the church and what parishioners thought was best. It was a crisis of faith for my father on so many levels, and it broke my heart to see him struggle.
Over the years, I have suffered from my own addictions. I have been in recovery from morbid obesity, binge-eating disorders and pornography, sex and love addictions. Through my recovery, our family has suffered much loss and pain. My older brother has struggled with addiction, and five years ago, I lost my younger brother to suicide. He also struggled with addiction and had bipolar disorder.
Watching a father officiating his own son’s funeral is an experience like no other.
Many People Like Me Have Been Hurt by Organized Religion
I share all these dramas because the contradiction of growing up a preacher’s kid and the reality of my life exemplifies how complex and how simple it really can be. You might ask, “Where is God, and what does God mean to you?” “How do you separate your experience with the church and your father without bitterness toward God?” I’m not here to get you to believe in God.
But here’s what I want you to know: Embrace the contradictions in your life. Contradictions are the greatest source of inspiration—they help define what you want and how to experience a higher power in your life. I held so much resentment in my life toward my father and the church. But as I grew into an adult, I had to own my life experiences. I had to admit that in my resentment, I was killing myself because deep down, I wanted to prove that God and everyone else really fucked my life up.
I reached a point where I had to ask myself what I really wanted. I can easily prove to you how fucked up the church and its politics are. I can prove how deeply the church hurt my father, but at some point, I have to make a decision to choose my narrative. Sadly, so many of us have been hurt by organized religion, and we’ve stayed tied to the trauma of it because we still give it power.
It’s Important to Decide the Kind of Relationship You Want With God
The church is just a building. The robe my dad wore was just cloth. The people in the church are just people. And communion is just bread and wine. These things have the meaning I choose to give them. This article may offend people, but it’s not meant to offend one’s relationship with religion. I just want to remind you that you, first and foremost, have a relationship with yourself, and in that, you decide the relationship you want with God or a higher power.
At this point in my life, I don’t know if I identify as a Christian. I take what I like from so much, and I leave the rest that doesn’t work. Regardless, I want to share with you these verses from 1 Corinthians 13:11-13:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”