No failure is too great

There is a lasting solution for alcoholics, says Geraldton chef

John Sutherland
John Sutherland, now nine years sober, can remember the very moment everything changed

Qualified chef John Sutherland no longer believes self-determination is the answer to success since emptiness and alcohol took over his life.

Ever a hard worker, John started as a full-time kitchen hand during high school in a Perth beachside restaurant, where an apprenticeship led to an esteemed position as chef at age 19.

Like many in the cooking industry he was an occasional drinker – until his parents divorced and he turned to alcohol and drugs to quell his growing emptiness.

"After my parents separated I went wild," John admits.

"I drank all the time and at work. All the head chefs, everyone drank. It was accepted 20 years ago. A lot of drugs went around too and I smoked a bit of dope, marijuana.

"I was disowned by my family because they wanted me to take full responsibility for my addiction and the fact I wasn't a very good son."

Rehab was always helpful, John recalls, but he consistently failed to get clean long term.

"The second time in rehab I was clean for a year. I was good at my job but bad at drinking. I usually came to work with black eyes, and once fell down two flights of stairs and did not know why I was still alive."

Even when he was clean, John says he remained empty because "I was still trying to find something to fill the void".

John saw himself as an agnostic, who tend to believe nothing is or can be known of the existence and nature of God, but he came to consider the idea of a good God after brushes with death on his motorbike.

"I was going the wrong way and slammed on the brakes," he says. "I nearly killed myself. I think God saved me that day. Looking back on those times, I became open to talking about God."

After another stumble in sobriety, John began attending a Christian church in Geraldton and went along to the mid-week Bible study.

"I wanted something different, and at church I felt that this is good because the people there didn't want anything from me," he says.

A heavy smoker, John often had a half-hour smoke with other addicts outside the church and would go in late. But the messages were "relevant to me", he says.

"Over time, slowly, I had 'ears to hear', as Jesus said. I thought I was a good person but really I was a liar and a thief and an adulterer at heart.

"Being sober I had the clarity of mind to see that I needed Jesus' forgiveness and power to change my life. There was a call at the church to trust in Jesus and I put my hand up."

As soon as he gave control of his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, John says "everything changed".

"I was a new creation. Jesus says that 'no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the Spirit [of God]', which means they are spiritually 'born again' by God's power.

"I had more clarity. I no longer had to carry these burdens. I could be honest with God."

The last time John had a drink was nine years ago. He stopped smoking seven years ago.

"I want to tell you there is hope for anyone on drugs. In my experience, rehab is helpful but it could not keep me clean of alcohol long term.

"I worked in a rehab centre for seven years. The only people I saw who were happy and long-term sober were born-again Christians. Only Jesus can change you forever."

Now when he is tempted to go back to smoke or drink John says God faithfully helps him choose God's way.

"I now have the Holy Spirit and He is always there to guide me," John says. "If thoughts and circumstances come against me I can pray. You cannot have that without Jesus.

"As Jesus said, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'

"I pray that God reveals Himself to you. Jesus also said, 'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.'"

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