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How a Former Drinking Buddy Helped His Friend Find the Gospel

by | Jun. 04, 2019

Eric couldn't get up. 

Lying in his son's bed, hands shaking uncontrollably—a prisoner in his own body—Eric prayed to God for relief from another panic attack. 

The worse part? As soon as this hellish nightmare stopped, another would start. And then another. And then another. There was no end to this endless cycle of panic attacks that had become Eric's life. 

There was no doctor, no therapist, no medication that could stop it. But there was alcohol, a double-edged solution that seemed to be the only thing that worked. 

But on this day, April 1, 2017, there was something else. An offer from a high school friend that could change everything.

"Does He Hear Me?"

In high school, religion wasn't exactly the first thing on Chris's mind.

"I wasn't really super strong in the gospel at that time. You know, I was a teenager who was more interested in girls and having fun and less interested in homework and going to church."

And that fit his friend Eric just fine. 

The two met in middle school but quickly became friends in high school. "The feeling that I had was that I knew him before," Chris says. 

And when the two left high school, they became roommates for a time. 

"Me and him were drinking buddies after high school," Eric says. "And when we lived together, you know, we did all the crazy things that kids in high school did together."

For Chris, his life up to that point was a series of short-term decisions, drinking, parties, and girls. Then a very permanent and long-term decision came across Chris's path: marriage. 

There was, however, one problem. He and his fiance had differing views on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Though Chris wasn't a part of the Church, he says that the gospel teachings his parents had instilled in him long ago never completely left him. However, his fiance wanted nothing to do with the Church. Chris knew that even though he loved his fiance, this wedge in their relationship would eventually drive them apart. With that in mind, he ended the engagement. 

But that very night, for the first time in a long time, he saw another path. Chris met his wife, a recently returned missionary, and began his journey back to the gospel. 

As more and more decisions and paths arose for the two friends, they eventually found themselves living roughly an hour and a half apart from each other in Washington state, keeping in touch through occasional phone calls and social media. 

Then, out of the blue, Eric experienced what would be the first of countless panic attacks. 

The claustrophobia, the tremors, the racing heart, the nightmarish loss of control seemed to be a fluke at first. However, it quickly became apparent that the crushing weight of these panic attacks wasn't going away. In fact, there came a point where Eric was afraid to drive his own children to school, terrified that he would pass out while driving his car. Eventually, he didn't dare leave his house. 

As these panic attacks began to increase in length and frequency, Eric sought help from doctors and therapists, but neither seemed to give him medicine or advice that could help. 

"I mean, I literally went through all the science, all the emotional things by going through therapy, and it wasn't working," Eric says. 

There was, however, alcohol. Once the alcohol was in his bloodstream, Eric says the panic attacks would cease for that amount of time. However, once he was sober, the panic attacks would return—this time 10 times worse. But for those precious hours of relief, Eric entered in a cycle of drinking that steadily became alcoholism. 

Faced with only one thing that would make his symptoms worse and better, Eric felt he had no other option but to turn to God. 

"I wasn't a huge spiritual person," Eric says. "I mean, I believed in God but to the extent of: Does He know me? Does He hear me? Does He care about what I'm going through? Maybe He's busy doing God stuff that He doesn't have time for me?"

As Eric began searching for the answers to these questions, he turned to Chris, who by that time was active in the Church. 

"I think he turned to me for help for a couple of reasons," Chris says. "I think one is he was receiving promptings but he didn't know what they were and he didn't recognize them as such. And he also just knew that I wouldn't judge him and that I'd love him no matter what because I think there were a lot of people that would have not given him a chance."

"He was like a brother to me," Eric affirms. "I knew he wouldn't pressure me to talk about his religion if I didn't want to."

But it wasn't a conversation that began Eric's path toward the gospel. It was a Facebook post. 

"I Felt Like He Was Talking Directly to Me"

Chris had begun dreading Eric's phone calls. 

When Eric was sober, sometimes the calls consisted of how he had outsmarted the Latter-day Saint missionaries who had dropped by. When Eric was drunk, Chris could hardly understand what his friend of more than 20 years was saying.

And always it was difficult for Chris to relate to or understand what Eric was going through. 

"Over these weeks and months, he kept telling me through all these conversations, he says, 'Well, you know, I'm struggling. I'm struggling with anxiety.' And that's not anything that I've ever dealt with, with anybody that I've loved or, or not loved. It's just anxiety and depression were something that I had zero exposure to," Chris says. 

But Chris never gave up on Eric, even though Chris was at a low point himself.  

A lot of close family members and friends had left the Church, leaving Chris feeling like there were some missed opportunities for sharing the gospel. 

"And as I knelt in prayer, I told Heavenly Father, I said, 'Whatever you put in front of me, I'll accept the challenge,'" Chris says. "And I just committed to the Lord. I said, 'I don't care how hard it is; I don't care how nervous I am or how many people are around. If you put me in a place to share the gospel, I'll do it.'"

Though he admits he doesn't use Facebook often, Chris felt prompted to like anything posted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency, something he had never done before. 

"It's for everybody to see and you're putting yourself out there," Chris says. "But then I just realized, what do I care? I would rather have somebody see it and have their life changed."

Then Chris got a call from Eric. During their conversation, Chris felt a strong prompting that this was the "spiritual win" he had been searching for all this time. 

"I was a little surprised by that because one of who it was: the biggest scoundrel that I ever cavorted with, probably one of the worst influences in my life," Chris says with a chuckle. "And the Spirit's telling me this is the person, that this is the opportunity that you asked for."

Eric had seen a talk by Elder Jeffery R. Holland that Chris had liked on Facebook: "Like a Broken Vessel." For Eric, who wondered if God was hearing his prayers or noticing his struggles with mental illness, the talk couldn't have come at a more perfect time. 

"I was absolutely blown away," Eric says. "I was in tears because I felt like he was talking directly to me."

This talk opened the door. Though Eric had previously reached out to Chris with questions about spirituality in general, now the two had a focus on gospel discussions. And soon, both their lives would be changed for it. 


"The Anchor of My Faith"

"The day it was supposed to happen, I was super nervous. I even gave him a way out," Chris shares. 

It was April 1, 2017, and Chris was about to do something that would send ripple effects through his and Eric's lives for generations to come. 

But let's back up a bit. 

One day, as Chris was kneeling in prayer, he received the distinct impression that he should offer Eric a priesthood blessing. Immediately, Chris felt some trepidation. Eric had seen Chris at his worst and now he was about to offer a blessing using the authority to act in God's name. 

The thought was more than a little intimidating. However, by now Chris knew that Eric wasn't leaving the house because of the severity of his panic attacks, and the prompting wasn't going away. 

When Chris approached Eric about the idea, Eric, who had never received a priesthood blessing before, couldn't help but feel a little incredulous about the offer. This was, after all, Eric's former college drinking buddy.

"And I'm like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Backpedal a little bit. So I've known you my whole life and you're trying to tell me you're a priest, right?'" Eric shares. "And so my mind was so like confused on what was going on."

However, as Chris explained what the priesthood was and how a priesthood blessing worked, Eric agreed, hesitantly, to the blessing. 

It also just so happened that Chris would be staying near Eric as he visited family to watch general conference on a Saturday.

But on the morning of the blessing, Eric couldn't get out of bed. He was paralyzed by another panic attack. As his mind raced, he wondered if this blessing was really something God wanted him to do or if this was a sign he should stay home. 

"I remember just praying like, 'Is this what you want me to do Lord? Is this the right thing?'" Eric remembers. "And I said, 'Lord, if you want me to do this, get me there. Just get me there.'"

The next thing Eric knew, he had his keys in his car and he was backing out of his driveway. 

Chris, nervous and worried that having his friend drive while having a panic attack wasn't the best idea, had texted Eric with an out. There was no reason Eric would have to come if he didn't want to. But then, he saw Eric drive up. 

"He got out and walked to the door and I could tell it was everything that he had in him to make that happen," Chris says. "And I think he would recognize now that that was the adversary realizing he was at a crossroads and he was about to head down a pretty important direction, away from where the adversary would have him go."

Still in the throes of a panic attack, Eric says he "just wanted to survive this." But as soon as the blessing began, everything changed. 

"As soon as they both lay their hands on my head, he said my name and he said the authority, I just started bawling," Eric says. "Literally, like waterfalls coming out of my face. I was like the crying emoji. . . . I couldn't help but think that this is real. This is really God speaking to me, relaying the message to me. It has to be that because there's no way he could have known these things. I think that turned out to be the anchor of my faith."

Chris was equally affected. 

"As soon as I put my hands on his head, I felt like I was having a hard time being able to continue standing," he says. "And I knew that I was just a conduit between him and the Lord. I felt the most overwhelming love his Heavenly Father had for him. And I know he felt it too. It felt like the Lord had all this pent up stuff. There's like a dam ready to burst and I couldn't get it out fast enough."

After the blessing was finished, Eric said he felt a strong sense of calm and began discussing the Book of Mormon with Chris. It was a spiritual moment, one that Chris says was written on his soul forever as he watched his friend leave. 

But once Eric arrived home, another panic attack began, starting another cycle of torment and drinking. Angry, Eric, "took the Book of Mormon and I threw it on the nightstand."

A couple of days went by; Eric didn't even flip a page. 

And then, out of the blue, he had a strong feeling to read what was inside this book his friend felt so strongly about. 

Flipping to the last pages of the book because Eric liked "to read the end of books to see if it's a good ending or a bad ending," Eric came across Moroni's promise. 

He had never heard of any religion offering anything like that, to pray with a sincere heart to know if it was true or not. All of Eric's previous experience with different religions was it was true, no question. But here, in black ink, was a religion saying that he could find out for himself whether or not it was true. 

This opened up all kinds of questions Eric had, as well as an opportunity for Chris to introduce Eric to the missionaries to help answer these questions. 

"At that point I knew that the Lord was pulling me back in," Eric says. "That started kind of just building a little bit of faith. I felt like the Lord was listening to me. For the first time, I saw small changes are starting to happen."

"Eliminate, Eliminate, Eliminate"

Eric says he wasn't quite asleep but wasn't quite awake when he heard three words that would change his life forever. 

"I remember I was laying there and I get this voice in my head and it says, 'Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate,'" Eric says. "It startled me, and I woke up and I remember and I wrote it down on a pad of paper next to me."

Though there was no denying the prompting was a direct and powerful one, Eric didn't have a definite answer about what he was supposed to eliminate until one night he was in his garage, a can of cold beer in his hand, ready to find momentary relief from his neverending panic attacks.  

"I get that same voice in my head, 'Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate,'" Eric says. "And I remember looking up and then the voice said again, 'Eliminate personal behavior.'"

It was not the answer he had been expecting. In fact, at the time, it felt to Eric like the worst possible thing he could do. 

"I was angry," Eric says. "'Well, God, you finally speak to me. You're going to tell me to take away the one thing that is helping me now.' . . . I looked up to God. I tested Him: 'If you're real you prove it to me. You show me that you're real. If you want me to stop drinking, you make it happen. You're all-knowing, all-seeing, all-doing, you do it.'" 

Immediately, a sense of calm settled over Eric. In that moment of clarity, Eric knew he had to face his reality: He had a severe drinking problem and nothing would get better in his life until he addressed it.

After that realization, Eric immediately picked up the phone and began calling all his family and close friends. 

"I told them about everything that was going on with my mental issues about how the drinking was the only thing that I felt that I could get through on a day-to-day basis," Eric says. "But I was tired of it and I was going to get help somehow. And I was gonna beat it or I was going to die trying."

The next day, Eric woke up feeling more relieved than he ever had in his life. 

"I think that's the first time that I ever repented. I repented through pure honesty. So now I'm a man on a mission," Eric says. 

With the support of his wife and family, Eric entered a 30-day rehab program for alcoholism. 

Promises

Every day Eric was in rehab, Chris prayed for him. 

And, as it turns out, Eric's time in rehab became a time to nurture his testimony of the precious truths he had come to learn. He also finally had time to read more of the Book of Mormon. 

"I had my Book of Mormon with me, and I carried it around with me with pride, actually," he says. "And that's the first time that I took the opportunity to read it because I had the time to read the Book of Mormon, to study it. And I read it sincerely. Like I was trying to find something in it and take something out of it. And I walked away out of that facility knowing that that was absolutely the word of God."

But coming home from rehab presented its own challenges. With a "pharmacy on every corner," Eric now had to take the lessons he had learned in rehab and resist his former medication: alcohol. 

"Really, the Church is the last thing that is on my mind," Eric says. "I was scared to death of how I was going to make it. How am I going to stay sober?"

So when Eric found sister missionaries on his doorstep one evening, he wasn't really interested. Even the cookies wouldn't sway him as he told them he would contact them later. 

"And so they started walking away and it was about 15 seconds later, again a knock on the door," Eric says. "And there they are. And like, 'Well, we were just thinking want to come to church with us on Wednesday? There'll be nobody in the church and we can just give you a tour.'"

Having played church basketball, Eric was familiar with the interior of Latter-day Saint meetinghouses but agreed. 

And maybe that decision was destiny. 

While sitting in the Relief Society room with the sister missionaries, Eric couldn't help but feel he had met them before. 

"I knew both of these sisters and that somehow we were fulfilling a promise that we made to one another," Eric says. 'That, 'When [you] go on [your] mission to Mill Creek, Washington, make sure you look out for me because I'll be there.' And that's at the moment that I felt that. I knew that I'd been a member of this church before. That I'd been prepared for this before. This was the moment."

With that, Eric agreed to be baptized. But there were still more challenges ahead before Eric could join the Church in this life. 

The Fog and the Light

All this time, after the blessing, through rehab, and after meeting with the sister missionaries, Eric continued to struggle with panic attacks. 

Then one day his father suggested he meet with a world-renowned psychiatrist who had a nearby practice. 

It wasn't the first time Eric had met with a health professional in search of relief from his panic attacks, but it would be the last. 

"I tell him all my symptoms, what's happening," Eric says. "Within like five minutes of me sitting down, he goes, 'I know exactly what you have. I know exactly what's going on with you. And I guarantee you I can fix it.'"

This psychiatrist told Eric his panic attacks were a reaction his body was having to built up adrenaline caused by stimulants. His recommendation? No caffeine. No marijuana. No alcohol. No nicotine. A prescription eerily similar to the Word of Wisdom, and the irony was not lost on Eric. 

However, while Eric had already given up alcohol, giving up smoking proved even more difficult, especially as he prepared for baptism. 

"Watching Eric struggle to give up smoking was really hard," Chris says. "I cried with him, you know, because he says, 'I want to get baptized. I can see a light. And right now, there's fog between me and the light and I want that gone and this is it. And I don't know what to do with that.'"

To help, Eric's ward held a ward fast and Chris and his family put Eric's name on various temple prayer rolls. But as Eric pushed back his baptism date, he began to wonder if now just wasn't the time to join the Church. 

However, while Eric was thinking about this, he had an extremely profound spiritual experience. 

"I felt the Holy Spirit so strong that it literally dropped me to my knees," Eric says. "I felt every prayer, every fast, every blessing, everything that everybody's ever done for me on my behalf, felt like it was hand-delivered to me and this dropped at my feet."

After offering, "the most sincere, heartfelt prayer that I ever felt in my life," Eric knew Heavenly Father wanted him to join the Church and not put off his baptism. 

"I had the Holy Ghost tell me that I had done everything that was asked of me and that I'm not perfect, but it is my time to be baptized," he says. "And that's the power of the gospel. It changes people's lives, even someone like me."

"There's Always a Way Back"

Eric was baptized by Chris, who says the experience was one he'll never forget. 

"I know I was able to see with my, not with my eyes, but with my, my soul how many people were praying for him on the other side and all those people that love him and were praying for him and were counting on him, all had the opportunity to be there for that. I felt that," he says. 

There were also many people there physically as well, to the point where there was hardly any room in the stake Relief Society room. 

But the ripple effect of Eric's conversion has lasted long beyond his baptism. 

During Eric's patriarchal blessing, Chris heard something that changed his perspective on eternity. 

"One of the things that it said was that he shouldn't consider himself a convert to the Church and that he's been on the Lord's path the whole time," Chris says. "And that has changed my whole perspective on the world and my life and everyone's life. I've had a lot of opportunities to use my agency in my life, and you might say that I've used my agency wrong. Who's to say? Who's to say the Lord just keeps putting parts in front of us that lead us back to Him? Sometimes we don't choose the right path. But then there's another one right in front of us, another opportunity." 

Today, Eric is no longer debilitated by panic attacks. He hasn't had a drop of alcohol and he serves as a ward missionary. Through it all, he's also learned that God works with us, no matter where we are, and continually beckons us to come back to Him. 

"A lot of times in my life, I tell people who are less active or anybody who really wants to listen that there's always a way back," Eric says. "There's more than one way back. There's several ways knowing that, then what are you doing today to plant those seeds for something 30 years from now in the future."

Lead image courtesy Chris
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