Someone You Love Has a Drinking Problem

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Feb 24 2019

        In the United States  17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.

         Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

      In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,900 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).

    Ten per cent of the children in the U.S. live with a parent with alcohol problems.

    And here is the most staggering statistic of all.  Fifty-three per cent of Americans report that one or more of their relatives has a problem with alcohol.  Yes, that’s half of us.

    My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an alcoholic.  On Sundays after church we would go to Nannie and Pa Pa’s house for Sunday dinner.  Pa Pa would almost always be hung over.  I spent a summer with Nannie and Pa Pa when I was a boy.  I can still vividly recall those terrifying evenings when he would return home from work completely drunk.  The screaming, the threats, the tears.  It was awful.  Back in those days alcoholism was viewed as a moral flaw, not a medical illness. 

    My mother told me that when she married my father that she said to him  if he ever took a drink, she would leave him.  Such was the painful memories she had growing up. 

    And then I grew up, married Barbara, and we had two children.  When our kids became teenagers, both of them abused alcohol. I came to find out some years ago that my younger sister was an alcoholic.  Yes, the demon strikes good families, Christian families, responsible families.  No one is immune.

    In 1988 I was called to be pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, IL.  Lake Forest is the home of the high and mighty, some of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs and business people in the United States.  Adlai Stevenson had been a member of our church.  The lieutenant governor of IL was a member of our church.  I was a small sapling in a forest of tall timber. 

    Now here is what you need to know about me.  I grew up in a small two bedroom home.   There was never enough money.   My father was an insurance agent.  We were one notch above dirt poor.

    So when I moved to Lake Forest I had been reared in very humble backgrounds.  I wasn’t he Lake Forest type  monied and priviledged, that’s for sure.  I wondered how I would do among people who ruled the world.  

    So I arrived in  Lake Forest in 1988 and I began my ministry.  One of the members of the church who reached out to me and became a great friend was Wes Christoperson.  Wes had been the president of Jewel Foods (like Safeway or Frys) and then named CEO of Northern Trust in 1984.  Northern Trust was one of the top 100 banks in the US and 11th most profitable.

    When he retired in 1990 he would call me every Friday, the day I worked on my sermon.  The call would come in about noon.  He would ask, “How’s the sermon coming?” meaning, is it about finished so we can play golf in a few hours.   

    Wes was married to a lovely and gracious woman who befriende Barbara.  One day she came into my office very distraught.  She wanted to talk about Wes’s drinking, which had been a problem for years

    I  referred her to addi etion specialist, who met with her and her family.  Everyone agreed upon an intervention with Wes, a family meeting where each family membeer pleads for their loved one to go into treatment.

    The family asked me if I would be present Unfortunately I had to be away on a trip I couyld not change.  So I wrote a letter to Wes to be read during the intervention. inter

April 21, 1992

My dear Wes:

    The first letter I received from a member of this congregation after my candidating sermon in 1988 came from you.   It was affirming of my sermon and welcomed me as the new pastor of First Presbyterian Church. 

    I read the letter first, then the signature, “Wes Christopherson,” which meant nothing to me at the time.  Then I saw at the top of the letter the Northern Trust letterhead and your position as Chairman of the Board. 

    That letter meant more to me than you could have ever possibly known.  I was insecure and uncertain about how I might do in Lake Forest.  Your letter helped me sense that I could minister to a congregation with many high-powered and capable business people.  At the time, I was like the kid in AAA ball getting a chance to go to the major leagues.  Your letter told me that I should come, because I could “hit the major league pitching” in Lake Forest.

    Then I came, and we had to face our Twenty-First Century Campaign.  You stepped up to chair our major gifts committee, and I figure that you and I together raised at least about half of our total.  You took the initiative in making calls and keeping the committee on track.  In so doing, I consistently felt your support for my ministry and this important undertaking for our beloved church.  That, too, was more important than you know, for the campaign was hard for me personally, and something I was not really crazy about doing.  You were a pillar of strength to me then.

    At some point we started playing golf together.  You are the only person in town who calls me consistently to play golf. What a great thing to get a call about 1:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon with that question, “Is the sermon finished?”  And we’re on the first tee by 3:00! 

    Somewhere along the way as we spent more time together and talked about work and politics (you were still wrong about Lynn Martin!) and family, we crossed the line between pastor and parishioner and became friends. 

    As we have gotten to know each other better and better over these past four years, I began to understand, at least a little bit, what makes you tick, and the things you believe in.  I learned that your countless efforts at fund raising for seminaries, and universities, and schools, and scores of other worthy projects grows out of your deep inner conviction that we are placed on this earth to be good stewards of God’s resources and built a better future for our kids.   In you I have seen embodied the quotation I saw at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something which will outlast it.”

     I have grieved privately more than I could tell you over your two cancer surgeries, because I felt the possibility not of losing a parishioner, but losing a dear friend–someone who has been a constant source of strength for me, someone for whom my admiration and respect is boundless. 

    Two days ago I learned through Myrna that your friends and family are planning to talk with you on Sunday, April 26 and encourage you to go into treatment for alcoholism.

    I will be in Oregon for a board meeting this weekend, but had I been in town, I would have been present, and would have joined my voice with theirs in saying, “Go into treatment, Wes.  Go into treatment.  Do it not just for Myrna and the girls, but do it for yourself.”

     You deserve to live in these retirement years as a whole person, spiritually, physically and emotionally whole.  I saw a saying just this week:

It’s not just the length of life

That counts.

But also its width,

And breadth.

     For however many years God will grant you ahead, whether one or ten or twenty, you should live those years fully, and healthily and helpfully. 

    And you cannot do that while drinking.

    I know of what I speak.

    My entire family has been grievously wounded by alcoholism.  My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an alcoholic.  My mother, as the child of an alcoholic, carries scars from that to this day, and she is now 67.

    Our daughter and son both abused alcohol as teenagers.   Barbara and I spent three years in Al Anon.  So I understand alcoholism.  I also understand that there is help and hope and healing for alcoholics.  I could tell you story after story of people who got treatment for their alcoholism and now are sober and happy.

    I know you have heard many times that alcoholism is a disease.  But now it’s absolutely vital that you understand “the disease concept” for yourself.  No one wakes up one morning and decides to become an alcoholic.  It is a slow process that usually takes years.  So insidious is the disease of alcoholism that people become addicted without realizing what is happening.  A variety of factors play a role in alcoholism–genetic predisposition, family background, personality, social environment, and, of course, using alcohol. 


     When you learned you had cancer, you did what any sensible person what do.  You got treatment for the disease.  I remember how anxious you were to have a certain surgeon operate on you before he returned to Europe, because you wanted the best treatment in the world.

    So now you have another disease, a disease which can be successfully treated. 

    I know Myrna wants you to get treatment for this disease, and become well and whole again.

    I know the girls want you to get treatment for this disease, and become well and whole again.

    I know your friends want it.

    And I want you to get treatment for this disease and become well and whole again.   I’m looking forward to many more years of calls on Friday afternoon. 

    And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I KNOW God wants you to get treatment for this disease and become well and whole again.

    Wes, there is no one in the world I respect more than you.  I have always known you to be a person who does the right thing, whatever the circumstances. 

    I know you will do the right thing now, enter treatment, and by the grace of God become sober and lead a long, wide and broad life.

    I will be praying for you on Sunday while I am in Oregon, and I will call you when I get back to town.

                                      Your friend always,


                                      Terry V. Swicegood


     On the afternoon of April 26, 1992, Wes’s wife, his three daughters, three sons-in-law and an interventionist therapist met with Wes.  They each told him how much they loved him, how worried they were about his drinking, and urged him to go into treatment.  He read my letter.  He agreed without any argument  to go into treatment.  Myrna had his suitcase already packed; they drove to O Hare airport and flew to Tucson, where he spent a month in treatment.    He said that he used to sit in our church each Sunday praying that the Lord would help him.  The interventionist, a former nun, told me that women go into tretament kicking and screaming, men go as quietly as lambs.

    He never drank again.  His prayers in church were answered.  And for the rest of his days he became the new creation I read about from II Corinthians a bit earlier.

    I have said all this today because I know in every congregation there is at least one person struggling with alcohol abuse themselves or who has a close friend or family member who is struggling.

    I want to say a couple of things about that.  If you yourself are struggling I would be happy to talk with you in stricktest confidence.  I can point you to help.  That help involves intensive treatment and becoming involved in A.A., Alcholics Anonymous.  You can’t do italone. 

    If you have a close friend or loved one who has alcohol problems you yourself cannot save or cure them.  Your best course is to find an Al Anon meeting and start attending regularly. Al Anon is an organization of friends and family members of alcoholics.  Barbara and I, as I said in my letter to Wes, attended Al Anon for three years.  It saved my sanity

 You can google “AA in Phoenix” and find out where there are AA meetings and Al Anon Meetings.

    The heart of AA and Al Anon iss the 12 stepo program, Working the steps, with the hlp of a sponsor and fellow strugglers, is the key to sobriety and a new creation.

12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

    We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

    Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.


Categories: Weekly Sermon

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