I’m living on a tropical island, surrounded by beautiful people, and I’m constantly treated like a VIP.
That’s all true, but it’s not the whole story.
I’m also a 39-year-old alcoholic who abandoned his wife, 8 kids, church job, and everything else that once mattered to me. My rental is 1,700 miles away from my real home and I can barely speak the local language. This is what many would call a slum, no sewers, water 3 days per week, and sporadic electricity.
This is the story of a prodigal pastor, who ran away from the shame of addiction and landed in a Haitian ghetto.
My drinking reached a crisis last December and I couldn’t see a way out. My long distance girlfriend had just suffered a miscarriage. My marraige was falling apart. Every waking minute I was either drunk or drowning in anxiety. I was too ashamed to ask for help, so I ran – far far away. I literally bought a one way ticket, only calling my wife from the airport. I was a coward and you can guess, I wasn’t sober.
That’s when thing got weird(er). My network of hyper religious friends and family didn’t know how to process my breakdown. Most didn’t reach out. Many who did took a hard-line.
Another Jimmy Swaggart.
You’re under a voodoo zombie spell.
You’re going to hell for this.
You owe the church a public repentance.
Sinner. Lost. But remember JESUS SAVES.
We’re so disappointed.
Stop hiding behind that bipolar bullshit.
Think about your kids.
Aren’t you ashamed.
I thought we were friends.
I hope you die in that slum.
You’re doing this on purpose.
Everyone has problems, be a man and face the music.
That’s just a sample. I’ve saved the messages just in case I’m ever tempted to join another church. Not likely.
It’s not that I disagree with anything they said. My self talk is more negative than they can imagine. I’m just pissed off about everything. Over 10 years, these people never noticed my life was falling apart, now they think insults can woo me back to sanity. I imagine them comparing notes and bragging how they confronted their wayward brother. Some of it progressed to social media shaming. That’s when I deleted Facebook and Instagram.
Of course the story started much earlier.
My family has a convincing history of depression, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism. My parents are both medicated. Growing up, I spent more time in family counseling than playing little league baseball.
Puberty sent me off the deep end. I was huffing gas, shoplifting wine, and passing out on freon. I organized a middle school cartel. We’d shoplift cigarettes and cheap wine, then trade them for weed. The police learned my name early. I was arrested twice for public intoxication and once for assault. At age 14, my parents took me to an inpatient treatment center for oppositional defiant disorder and cutting. I came back to school with serious street credit. That guy’s beyond crazy, don’t fuck with him.
I floated into my freshman year stoned on marijuana. Three things saved me in High School: girls, peer pressure, and finding Jesus. Soon my negative behavior was history. Teachers congratulated me on turning my life around. They didn’t know the real story. My emotional chaos was merely contained by the all-powerful adolescent desire to be accepted.
That need for approval led to church involvement and a deeper religious commitment. Pastors suggested I pursue a career in church ministry. After all, I had a powerful testimony and all my peers looked to me for leadership. I still struggled with depression and drank several times per month, but I had learned to hide my problems. Maybe serving God was the way to finally conquer my demons.
Fast forward – graduation, marriage, two degrees in theology, and finally a job working as an assistant pastor. From the outside I was one of the good guys, while inside I was hiding my addiction, depression, and constant feelings of shame. That’s when I settled on my drug of choice, one approved by the Bible, alcohol in moderation. That’s a tricky word and open to debate, especially when the first bottle of wine didn’t quite get me drunk.
My alcoholism progressed for 8 years, punctuated by bouts of depression and hypomania. I was good at my church job and started an online business that could provide for my growing family. I was unbalanced and drinking became my version of self-care. Soon I was suffering burnout, only aspiring to make more time for alcohol. Nothing seemed to matter. I literally quit working, but nobody noticed. I’d check into the office. Make small talk over coffee. Then escape for an afternoon pub crawl. I imagined I was a functional addict, in the larger narrative I was losing control. Everything was right for my breakdown.
My story doesn’t end here.
I’m woke up in a one room house, surrounded by my 8 members of my girlfriends family. I couldn’t find the door without stepping on kids. My escape to Haiti wasn’t well planned and I didn’t arrive with much cash on hand. December was a shock to the system. For the first time in my drinking career, I was struggling to find beer money.
Losing everything forced me to get honest, especially about my alcohol problem. I wasn’t just a victim of my addiction, I was also alcohol’s chief accomplice. I was in a prison of my own making. Drinking was never a solution to my mental health struggles, it only made them worse.
My problems followed me to this country. My girlfriend was not a lucky lady – she was trying to build a relationship with a married guy trapped by alcoholism and angry at life. We had a rocky few months, but Valentine’s day was the bottom. I was blacked out on rum by noon and running away again. This time on foot with a 11-year-old sidekick. In my drunken mind, we were acting out Huckleberry Finn. I was big Jim trying to find freedom in a Caribbean ghetto. We didn’t make it far before my host family captured me. I woke up that evening with a sprained ankle, random bruises and some very angry friends. I felt completely alone in the world.
Enough was enough.
Today I’m celebrating 5 weeks sober. It feels good to finally escape my 8 year addiction nightmare. I’m looking for help online and building confidence to come back to the USA for treatment. I’m nowhere close to “better” but I’m ready to move forward.
My mind is always racing trying to figure out what comes next. Anxious questions keep me awake at night. For now, I only have one answer – the drinking has to stop. I’m living one day at a time, trying to find out if the real me still exists.
I’m feeling a tailspin of shame just telling this story. Can I ever show my face back home? How can I even attend my son’s graduation next year? Is faking my death really that extreme? Why not lose sight of the shore next time I’m swimming at the beach?
Despite all that’s happened, I’m glad the truth is in the open. People don’t understand, but it’s better than living in secret. My social standing back home was a trap that kept me from seeking help. Now that I’m an outcast, I can finally figure out how to get better.
I hate cliffhangers, but this story isn’t finished. I appreciate the chance to share even though I can’t promise a happy ending. Check back in a few months for chapter two.
TO BE CONTINUED
MY real name is Tony Kummer. I’m just leaving off my last name to keep my kids from googling me. They know the general story, but not old enough to handle all the details.
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