Into the light
Wayne Nelson with Pat Massey
I woke up shaking uncontrollably and looked at the clock. It was only 3:00 am. The same thing had been
happening night after night, but I knew what to do. A quick trip in the darkness to my secret stash in the
garage calmed me down and gave me the courage to face the world. I was in control once again.
Not everyone agreed with me, however. Even though I couldn’t see it, things were starting to fall
apart. Our house had always been a gathering place for friends, but now my children were spending less
and less time at home and never brought anyone over. My unpredictability, outbursts of anger and odd
behavior were embarrassing them and causing my wife Lydia increasing concern. She tried every way she
could to keep her world from falling apart, but reality was rapidly dragging her out of her denial. It was
plain to see that I was on the path to destroying myself and everyone around me.
After resigning my job at Prairie, I commuted back and forth to Calgary where I would often end up in
front of a liquor store, waiting desperately for it to open. One day my wife confronted me.
“I hope you’re not driving drunk,” she said.
I denied it, but the truth was only one of a long list of casualties in my life and Lydia knew that I was
lying. Now that she realized that I might actually kill myself or someone else, it was obvious that an
intervention was necessary, no matter how difficult it would be.
Then the miracle happened. That same weekend I finally hit bottom and recognized that I was
completely and hopelessly addicted. On March 12, 2013, a day I will never forget, I stood before my
family and admitted that I was an alcoholic.
Years before, we had been involved in a church that welcomed drug addicts and alcoholics from local
recovery ministries. As we opened our lives and our home to these men, we saw God meet them and
gained a whole new perspective on spiritual warfare, the power of prayer, and what grace and
forgiveness really looked like. Our children had seen the horrible results of addiction up close. But they
also knew that through hard work and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit there could be healing.
They had had enough of my games and pulled no punches with me.
“Dad,” my daughter said, “you need help. You need to go to a recovery centre.”
How could I? Then everyone would know my secret! In spite of my reluctance, however, I knew there
was nowhere left to hide and my family was not about to let me back down. The next days were filled
with the pain of detox and the humiliation of telling my 90-year-old father, my church, my friends, and
those that I had helped out of addiction that Wayne Nelson had been living a lie. Ten days later my son
drove me to Valiant Recovery Centre in Kelowna, BC, and as I watched him leave for home, the last
shreds of my pride evaporated. After years of telling addicts how to find freedom, now I was the addict.
My life, my family, my reputation, my future—all lay in ruins. How had it come to this?
It seemed like my whole upbringing had been filled with rules for just about everything and I found
the expectations impossible to live up to as I struggled with things like self-worth, depression, substance
abuse and sexual purity. I couldn’t talk about it with my parents and no-one in the church seemed to
understand, so I kept it all to myself and continued to struggle. Over the years I turned to things I
thought would help. After attending Christian schools, I went on to Bible college, married an amazing
woman, and enjoyed business success, money, and involvement in the church, even a job with a
But it made no difference. I just found myself more and more consumed with guilt and shame as I
looked around Sunday after Sunday and wondered how everyone else could have it all together when I
was such a mess. As a teen, I had discovered that alcohol helped to dull the pain and silence the guilt
and it gradually became my refuge. That was ok, though, because I had things in hand and my habit was
well-hidden—or so I thought. I was wrong.
For much of my life I had relied on my own strength to fix the hurt instead of acknowledging that God
is the giver of all things. It wasn’t until he brought me to a place of humility and vulnerability that I finally
understood that my efforts got me nowhere; that every good and perfect gift really is from above. All the
things I had held onto so tightly had been stripped away and while my time in recovery brought me
absolute peace and forgiveness, the consequences were enormous. My family had lost their faith in me
as a husband and father, and I no longer had the crutch of alcohol to get me through a day. It didn’t
seem like restoration would ever be possible.
While I was away, Lydia and the kids began to draw together and share honestly with each other
about what they had been going through. My habit had so beaten them down that love and trust were
in short supply and they had no idea what the future held. In those dark days, Lydia turned to the Word
of God and a trusted friend. It had taken great courage to upset the status quo, but she knew that my
drinking habit was destroying my health, our family, and any possibility of ministry. Her prayer was that
somehow my willingness to admit the addiction and commit to sobriety would stop the downward
When I came home, there was a lot of healing to be done and it has been a slow process that
continues to this day. My eyes were opened to how devastating my addiction had been to my family and
that really broke my heart. I also realized how much they loved me and desperately wanted me to get
well. If I chose not to, I would lose the ones I cared so much about and that was a huge motivation to
stay clean. New healthy habits had to replace the harmful ones. Spending time with God each day, being
accountable to a group of friends, being honest instead of living a lie—all were important steps in my
journey to sobriety. My wife and children are my heroes. I could never have made it through without
them and their intentional decision to choose love and rebuild our family. We are all better people for
deciding to live in truth instead of denial.
After years of telling addicts how to find freedom, now I was the addict.
I was so sure that being open about my struggles would destroy me. But to my surprise I discovered
that it was only when I was willing for the light to reveal my brokenness that healing started to become a
reality. The words of David certainly rang true for me: “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover
up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin”
Even in the darkest, deepest places of my addiction, Jesus let me know that he loved me and was with
me. As I took hesitant steps into a new life, I also began to experience the peace, hope, forgiveness and
joy that come with a life that is surrendered to God. That is a wonderful place to be and I don’t ever
want to lose that.
Out of my experience with addicts, myself included, I now know that problems like mine are not just
“out there.” Statistics for addictions with alcohol, pornography, eating disorders, even prescription drugs,
within the church are staggering and yet we seldom talk about them. I began to wonder how many
others just like me are sitting in church pews, hiding in their woundedness, convinced that they struggle
in isolation. Aloneness leads to helplessness and shame, but God wants to bring us to the light and set us
It’s amazing what happens when we are willing to be vulnerable, and Lydia and I have both been
overwhelmed at how God is opening doors to share that message. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t
come into contact with people in our churches and community who are caught up in the cycle of
How many others just like me were sitting in church pews, hiding in their woundedness, struggling in isolation?
“I love Jesus,” they tell me, often with tears, but because of their wounds they have looked, as I did, to
something else in an effort to numb their pain. In the strength of God’s amazing grace and with honest
effort and friends to walk beside them, many of these individuals are finding hope and lasting healing
and being freed from the shame that has consumed them for so many years. I now have the privilege of
watching the transforming power of God at work in their lives. What a gift!
If there is one thing I would want to say to others who are trapped in addictions, it’s that there is
hope. I have experienced for myself how God can make something very good out of Satan’s efforts to
destroy and I will be forever grateful.
“After years of telling addicts how to find freedom, now I was the addict. “
“How many others just like me were sitting in church pews, hiding in their woundedness, struggling in isolation? “
Used by permission of SERVANT magazine, a ministry of Prairie Bible Institute.