For years, I remembered little from my childhood, but I began to remember more and more as I grew in my early recovery. I remembered how my mother battled severe depression and mental illness, a battle she eventually lost to suicide. My father was a well-respected organist at church but also he had a secret stash of pornography which, as a young boy, I looked at whenever I could get away with it. My older sister suffered from eating disorders, and I was often in trouble with the neighbors or at school. When I was eight, a family friend from church took an interest in me. He took me fishing, to baseball games, and he began molesting me. Consistent with my family’s pattern of secrets and shame, I never told anyone. I’m not sure which hurt me worse, being molested or thinking of how my father was cheating on my mom through his use of pornography.
By age nine I was exhibiting behavioral problems at school and church. The molestation continued and I continued to keep it secret. I was flunking school, barred from some after school activities, and often too disruptive for many Sunday School teachers. Finally, I was examined by a child psychologist and diagnosed mentally retarded. The doctors prescribed tranquilizers to control my behavior and I was placed in a school for mentally disadvantaged children. My name became “retard.”
The people at the church my family attended said that God loved all the little children — yellow, brown, black and white. Had He forgotten about me? Was I some strange color, different from everyone else? I felt like people just wanted me to go away. Increasingly, I became defensive and competitive, determined to prove my own value. I prayed and pleaded for God to remember me — to help me. I remember sitting on my bed, in my adolescent years, reading The Living Bible and praying that somehow, someway God would give me a life that was useful and worthwhile. Silence.
In my early 20s, I was still attending church, but I had lost hope of ever having a life worth living. I began to drink. It started quite innocently; my first beer was with friends as we shared a pizza. I hated the beer taste but loved the warm feeling, the self-confidence and the sense of freedom the alcohol gave me. It was an answer of sorts. Within two weeks of that first beer, I was drinking everyday — heavily. Years went by, and I began to work weekends in a strip joint where I discovered cocaine, insane promiscuity and, along with the girlfriend I had at the time, I began to work in print and video pornography. Over the next five years, several of my friends were murdered and I saw numerous lives destroyed. I assumed that my life would be short, I feared for my own survival, but I was still unable to find a power that would change the way I felt about life.
In 1989, I moved to the West Coast vowing to start a new life. I started a business, made it successful, and began to religiously attend church once again. I smiled and pretended that life was great. But I was still utterly miserable. I never escaped thoughts of self-hatred and the feeling that everyone would be better off if I just went away. After a few years of abstaining from drugs and alcohol by sheer willpower alone, I periodically began to drink again and soon the drugs followed. Where I had previously been a daily cocaine user of generally small amounts, I now became a binge user of much larger amounts, adding crystal meth and heroin to the list of drugs used. I rationalized my drug use, saying I wasn’t doing it every day. I convinced myself that I was entitled to have a little fun now and then.
In 1999, I went on what was to be my last drug binge. I had planned a little weekend getaway but I ended up traveling around Southern CA for three weeks, smoking $500.00 worth of crack cocaine every day, never eating or sleeping. During this trip, I overdosed three times, and three times I was arrested on felony drug charges. I would quickly bail myself out of jail after each arrest, and head back out on the road for some more of the same. I was not going to go home until I had some fun. I thought of it as recreation.
A few days later, when sitting in a seedy hotel, I called a friend named Bob, who I knew from church. Bob was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who attended Alcoholics Anonymous and was very active at church. For the last few months I had been confiding to him about my drug use and my sense of hopelessness. I trusted him because it was obvious to me that, from his own experience, Bob knew the internal anguish I felt. And he was the only person I knew who seemed to really like being around me. During our phone conversation, Bob convinced me to stop drinking and doping for just that day and get some rest. And then later that night he drove for hours to pick me up and bring me home.
Once home, I got some very bad news. The State of California wanted me to go to prison for my drug crimes. It appeared that I had finally succeeded in destroying my life, even though I never meant to. However, following my attorney’s recommendation I entered a drug and alcohol treatment program that combined counseling and the Twelve Steps as outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous. This program educated me about the reality of my addictions and confronted me regarding the destructive self-obsession behind most everything I thought and did. My drug life had been hell on earth, but this felt worse.
These early months in the program were preparing me for the greatest day of my life. That greatest day started with my attorney calling me in the morning to let me know things were not going well for me in the legal issues and that I should begin putting my affairs in order to serve my time in prison. Then that same afternoon, my counselor at the treatment program asked me to tell him about my personal belief in God. In response to his question, I recited to him by heart everything I knew about God from growing up in church and Sunday School. He listened for quite a while as I droned on and on, but then, with obvious frustration, he told me that he didn’t want to hear any more. Surprised, I asked him why, and then he proceeded to tell me that I needed to find a real God and I needed to find a real Jesus. As you can imagine this offended me greatly and when I asked him why, he continued by saying, “Well, David, it is pretty obvious that the God and the Jesus that you think you have now hasn’t done you much good. Has it?” When what he said finally sunk in to me, I sat stunned in silence facing the reality that whatever religious professions I had claimed had left me morally and spiritually bankrupt — void of the necessary power to live life successfully. I was more empty than empty.
Later that evening I was to meet my friend Bob, the one who picked me up and brought me home. He and I were going to discuss what needed to be done before I went to prison. It was dark and cold as I stood in an empty parking lot, alone and waiting for Bob to arrive. Looking up at the stars, I pondered the failure of my life and I began to pray. This was my life — I was $100,000 in debt, my family would not speak to me, my friends and business associates would barely tolerate me, I had overdosed on several occasions, and come close to being killed a few times. I was in a drug rehab and worst of all, all I really wanted at that very moment in time was more cocaine.
Standing there alone, I looked up at the stars and said, “Oh God! I am a drug addict and I don’t even know who You are. I need help and I have nowhere else to turn. I am willing to call You by any name You want me to, but if You don’t help me I am going to die.” At that moment, and for the first time in my life, I found a degree of personal honesty, the beginning of humility, and I accepted myself for who and what I was — a child in need. At that point, suddenly, everything in life seemed unimportant except for one thing — God. Either He would help me, or I was as good as dead. God was no longer just a “religious” belief; God was a life or death issue for me.
Standing there in the cold alone with nothing but my desperate prayer, I heard what seemed like a voice say, “Alright David, now I can go to work.” Startled, I whirled all around looking for who had spoken to me. I looked behind the bushes next to the building to my left, and I looked under the cars which were to the right. I even looked inside the dumpster that was a few yards away. I looked all over that parking lot and there was no one there. It felt like I was going crazy, but I also sensed something big had just happened. Whatever had just happened, I knew my prayer had been heard and answered. I felt deep within me that things could be different for me in the future, that a new experience of life had begun. I had a sense that the battle for my life had been joined with power adequate to change what needed to be changed — me! For the first time I could remember, I knew I didn’t have to be alone, and best of all, I had a real desire to live. By admitting that I was the problem, God gave me a solution. The solution was Him. That night in an instant, I became unconcerned about prison, unconcerned about what had happened to me in childhood; I was excited about life and I became ready to do all I could to fully experience the life God would make possible for me.
Ultimately, the court system had mercy on me, giving me the opportunity of long-term rehabilitation and probation. Motivated by a spiritual power deep within me, I continue to seek my Savior and He continues to do the work He promised to do — changing me from the inside out, guiding me and teaching me to surrender my will to His. As a result of His power, I have discovered wonderful gifts such as mercy, courage, love for myself and others, and hope. These gifts have enabled me to do things I have never dreamed of doing. I was baptized while attending my church’s men’s retreat, where I learned that for two years prior to my arrest a group of men had been praying for me. In God’s world, I was loved even before I thought it was possible for me to be loved at all.
Today, many years later, I am still receiving new and wonderful gifts today. My favorite one is gratitude for life — both past and present. My childhood misfortune and my addictions to alcohol, drugs and sex have become an important, and sometimes still difficult, part of what I believe to be a well scripted plan for my life. With the simple surrender of my will and life, which I don’t always do, I continue to discover God in a loving and personal way. He is always willing to reveal Himself to me and to you as well. I now see that the story of my life has really very little to do with me. It has everything to do with God, and everything to do with you. For you see, it is my passion to tell others about the One who gives mercy and grace to addicted sinners like me. Because, if He gives mercy and grace to someone like me, then He will most certainly give it to anyone who sincerely asks for it. Any tragedy I have suffered and all comfort I receive is for the purpose of sharing with those who suffer so they can find comfort too. I have more blessing than I need.
~ David Zailer
as printed in WHEN LOST MEN COME HOME – NOT FOR MEN ONLY
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can
comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.- 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 TNIV
You can learn more about David at http://www.operationintegrity.org
To purchase David’s books visit http://www.amazon.com/David-Zailer/e/B004NQUTUI