Tony Miltenberger is a husband, father, and follower of Christ. He is currently serving as the lead pastor at Restoration Church Centerville, ohio.

Three Years of Sobriety and I Still Have the Same Problem

Three years ago this week I decided that I would stop drinking alcohol. I wish I could tell you I did this for an overtly noble reason, but the reality is that Jay Meyer asked me to stop drinking while I was serving as the pastor for Next Step. When he asked me I was appalled, I was shocked. Then, I was furious that something as unimportant as alcohol could have such a hold on my life. Really, why couldn’t I just give it up? Why did something that seemed so silly elicit such a reaction?

So, rather than dig deep into those self-reflecting questions, I just decided I was going to give it up out of spite. It was kind of my way of telling alcohol that, “You don’t own me!” (You can hear the arrogance in that statement).

In other words, I gave up drinking out of spite. And here is the thing that no one told me: Giving up drinking wouldn’t really solve my problem. Giving up drinking wouldn’t solve the problem that led me to drink in the first place.

Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner, and it took several months of not drinking for me to realize that my problem isn’t a drinking problem – I have a coping problem.

Why did I have such a hard time putting down alcohol? Because I used alcohol to cope with the stress of life. I used drinking as a way to drown out the noise in my life. This isn’t a new concept; people have been doing it for years. We even have jokes about mom’s wine and box wine, or happy hour after a long week at work. After several months of not drinking, I still had the noise in my life. The only difference was that I didn’t have alcohol to mask the pain. What did I use instead? Food was how it started, and retail therapy paid a brief visit, but it was a series of not so great decisions till I came to one important realization.

I am messy. I am messy and if I don’t cope in healthy ways, the noise in my life will come out in unhealthy ways. I realized that I needed safe ways to cope with the stress in my life. I needed to understand that stress is going to be a part of my life. More than anything, I needed the awareness to know that this is all part of who I am. There is no bad or good in this, it just is. I am a guy who will struggle with coping mechanisms, and if I’m not in tune with what is happening inside of me, it will seep out in the darkest ways possible.

Let’s be honest – I’m a messy person when I’m coping well. When I’m not coping well I am dangerous!

Three years of not drinking and I still wrestle with coping issues. Today, I am better than I was three years ago, but I still have bad days. That is why reading scripture is so important to me, because it is one of the ways I cope. That is why writing is so important to me, because it is another way to cope. That is why it is so critical for me to meet with other people, because having honest people to speak in my life is another way I cope. That is why I talk to someone professionally, because it helps me cope!

What I realized is that if I am willing to surround myself with good coping mechanisms, then the bad ones don’t have nearly as much power in my life. Another thing I learned on this journey of recovery is that I don’t have to be perfect every day for the rest of my life – I just have to deal with today. And if today is too much, then I just need to deal with an hour. In other words, just take it as it comes, don’t try to control the future.

People ask me all the time if I think I will ever drink again, my answer is generally the same: I don’t know about forever, what I do know is I’m not drinking today. I’m just a better person if I don’t.

How do you cope with the stress of life? What strategies do you use? 

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