My name is Erick Bates, a grateful believer in Christ, and I struggle with codependency and self-worth.
I had everything I really wanted; married for 20 years, a house in the suburbs, two kids, two cars, two cats, two dogs, career of 14 years, a family business, and my wife and I were on a Hawaiian vacation. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit Pearl Harbor and we arrived the week before December 7, 2009. I marveled at the beauty and the price paid on that date in history, but I wondered why it took such an act of atrocity to get America to wake up from its attitude of complacency and denial. What I didn’t realize is that I had the same attitude in my heart, as I stood alone, on the Arizona Memorial that day. You see, there was not one time that she and I walked hand in hand, or simply sat side by side to watch the sunset in paradise.
I grew up as the middle of three sons. My parents both came from solid Christian homes, which instilled in me the values of faith, family and service. I have countless memories of camping, traveling and numerous family gatherings locally and out-state. But we also had some family secrets: The death of my father when I was six years old. My mom brought us to California to see his parents and attend his funeral. I remember touching his cold plastic-like face, with that fragrance of a funeral home that you never forget, along with the most intense pain inside. Afterwards, I remember kids teasing me for crying in school. So I learned to hide the truth, my feelings, and pretend he never existed.
Another family secret: incidents of sexual abuse by an admired adult Christian friend, who promptly left the state once it was revealed that he was abusing another boy. Ashamed and confused, I kept that secret locked tight, denying the year of abuse when my mom asked. Trusting and developing relationships with men would not happen again.
Then I discovered my love for running, and joined the track team, cross country running and ski team. I also found and accepted the joy of Christ and grew up active in our church youth group. The summers I spent traveling with our missions’ team throughout the states at summer camps and Vacation Bible schools. I went to a Christian College where I met my future wife, an extremely intelligent young lady that enjoyed reading psychology and medical journals, just for fun. On her 18th birthday I threw a surprise party and invited many of our college friends, which, to my surprise, was met with venom and cutting words. I remember being driven to tears and telling my mom, “I just wanted to make her happy. I don’t understand.”
Well, I knew she just needed to be shown more gentleness, kindness, and love. So six weeks later we were engaged. Yeah, problem solver, that’s me! You can imagine the red flags our family and friends tried to show us. Her father and his religious parents were so opposed to the marriage; they did not show up to our wedding on August 27, 1989. By the time we were married though, I had already broken the commitment I made to God and myself, to remain pure for my wedding day. I brought to the marriage relationship a foundation cracked by the sin I knew I committed.
After graduating in 1991, we moved to Portland, Oregon the weekend of the Halloween snow storm. Leaving behind all our family, friends and accountability. By the time Camille was born in March 1995, we were headed toward bankruptcy. So in February 1996, with 20 below weather we returned, barely able to afford the gas to make the journey back to Minnesota.
In 1999, we bought the house across the street from where I grew up since fourth grade, and my mom still lives with my step-dad. And NO it was not like the show “Everybody Loves Raymond!” We were over for many dinners, and family gatherings. Camille had the opportunity to visit almost every day and go to church with them, but, this would not last very long.
My wife had a pattern, that if she felt offended, hurt or violated by someone she would use her psychological knowledge from years of reading, and attack their character, motives and conduct. She went after one of my family members, and my mom got caught in the crossfire, finding many reasons to sever ties. The collateral damage caused throughout the family was devastating. I quit talking to her about it, because I did not even want to know, so that way if someone asked me about actions, phone calls or gossip, I could plead ignorance. I was most afraid of the anger and venom being directed towards me, and would do anything I could to avoid that, so I stood by and watched as my family was being torn apart, unable and unwilling to stop it. After that, there were many family gatherings we would not attend, even though we could see everyone, out our front window, just across the street.
I became accustomed to a new normal, with limited interactions with all of my family, devoting time to my job, and keeping my wife and daughter happy. Please understand, I never thought we had a bad marriage, I knew it wasn’t perfect but I thought it was good enough.
Our second daughter Isabella arrived in March 2004 bringing a new joy into my life, as we were fulfilling the American dream. My career was advancing, we began developing a family business. Life was good until I began struggling in my career during a time of corporate change and they finally let me go March 21, 2010. Incredibly painful the first few weeks, but then I thought, “This is a great chance to devote all the extra time to our business.” Also, that would guarantee more time with my wife, to improve our relationship and our marriage.
But during that time Camille had become the third parent to Isabella. The relationship between my wife and I had not improved at all. In fact, it was more strained until January 16, 2011 when I made a sarcastic comment. This ignited an explosion in her, where she announced, “That’s it! This isn’t working!” And she continued on about how the poor relationship and marriage were completely my fault and we couldn’t live together any more.
I felt my heart explode, like the bullet of a sniper tearing it apart. I got the same feeling when I stood at my father’s funeral, and met death the first time. Over the next several days, I could feel it going through my veins, while my heart and lungs were caving in, my mind going numb. There was no one in my life I could turn to. I had let go of all the relationships I had. My brothers and I had not spoken in years. My mom was in Florida for the winter, and even if she was there, I probably would not have gone to her. I never imagined a pain this intense could come from the inside. A nail through my heart would have felt better. I would go to sleep praying for death to take the pain away.
January 31, 2011, I had to figure out how to end this pain forever. So I went downstairs to plan my method of execution and just how long it would take to complete the task, with no chance of revival. Once I got that figured out, I just had to decide when. I just knew I couldn’t last through the weekend.
At that moment, as clear as a whisper in my ear, I heard, “Don’t believe Satan’s lies. Don’t put your girls through what you went through.” As I turned to see where that came from, I realized my Bella was six, the same age I was when my dad took that step of suicide, leaving behind his family in confusion, anger, bitterness, and pain, and filled with questions that have no answers. I could not believe what I had been thinking. So the next day I talked to the only person I felt I could trust. I could not believe the freedom I experienced just from that. Sharing the pain was a starting point; there was still a long road ahead.
Five weeks later, I went to Florida to visit my mom, which was life-changing and God-ordained, by the undeniable coordination of people He had arranged for me to see during that time and the series of events that had to occur to get me there. I reconnected with my mom and her husband, my cousins, and my younger brother and his family were also vacationing there at the same time. It was a time to renew the mind and spirit and begin rebuilding family relationships.
There I met a godly couple, where I saw in her eyes a sparkle, brightness and joy like I had never seen before. I needed that like I needed air… I just did not know how to get it. Now, at the same time my mom had a book, Life’s Healing Choices by John Baker. That book changed my life. If you know someone that is hurting, you need to have a copy of this to share with them to give them hope. If that book had not been there, at best, I would be in jail right now. My life was going downhill fast and I did not know how to stop it, but this outlined the plan on how to get the joy I saw in her eyes. I looked online for a group and was excited to come home and share my findings with my wife. We could work things out now; I saw the plan to repair our relationship.
March 22, 2011, I flew home. When I arrived at the airport, she had different plans, and dropped me off at a hotel with my luggage and some extra clothes. I never spent another night with both my girls again. The next six months were the most intense and costly battles of my life. I have had a taste of what I believe hell to be – where your mind, soul, and every cell in your body, is in pain and crying out for anything to ease the suffering just a little bit. I medicated with alcohol, tobacco and pornography.
The first night walking through the doors of Celebrate Recovery (CR) was terrifying, walking into room full of strangers. I was completely uncertain of my future, my life was a total mess and I was alone to fight my battles (or so I thought). Each week I would continue, wondering, “Will they really accept me, with all the things I have done wrong? I don’t even like me, so how could they?” But they proved themselves week after week, without fail. I finally found people I could trust. Just in time.
September 22 I had Bella for the afternoon and let her mom know that I wanted Bella to spend the night, which was immediately met with resistance. When she showed up to get Bella, I met her outside ready for a verbal and emotional battle, enhanced by liquid courage. Camille was also ready for battle as the third parent. I will never forget the anger and venom unleashed by all sides that night. When the officers finally arrived and heard both sides of our stories, the best advice, the ONLY advice, they could offer was, “It will look better for you in court if you give your daughter up.” I cannot describe the level of anguish I experienced as my Bella was walked out the door and out of my sight.
After that, I thank God for His hand protecting me and others on the road during the times I drove when I knew I should not, and the times I was just walking on the streets, filled with anger and rage, waiting for the wrong person to cross my path. Everything I held of value had finally slipped through my fingers, and I wanted to unleash that pain on someone else.
October 2011 God made it clear to me that I was not going to win this battle on my own, and I needed to commit to Him 100% and grab on to the tools and resources in front of me with CR, the church and His Word. No more double-mindedness. I started applying the same diligence for personal and spiritual growth as I would a job or a college course, which meant working with gusto on Step 11: “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God” and Principle 7: “Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination.” I read the Bible every night and prayed that His Spirit would write His Words on my heart so I could call on them when needed. I started praying for him to change my heart, to take the desire away for alcohol, tobacco and pornography, and that I would seek Him for my comfort instead. I began to journal my experiences as I read the gospels. I started to understand who Christ is and that I can trust Him. He suffered some of the same pain, betrayal and struggles I have. He has compassion because He has experienced the Pain.
Then I started reading the Psalms, but I did something different. I read them out loud so I could hear and speak the words of David as he suffered and also rejoiced thousands of years ago. I can promise you, from my experience, you cannot do that for 30 days straight and not have a transformation of the heart and mind. I did the same thing for the letters of the apostles and could hear the words as Paul spoke them. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
As I began to experience the freedom from alcohol, tobacco, pornography, anger, bitterness, and resentment, while offering forgiveness and making amends, I wanted to repay my friends, family, church, and CR for the grace, hope and healing I had received, but how? October 31, 2012 I saw a Facebook event creating awareness for a woman that needed a kidney. I realized I was asking the wrong question because I cannot repay the gift I had been given; I can only pass it on. I was not a match for her kidney, but I entered the paired exchange program and would wait until God found the right match.
During that time of waiting, I was able to meet with my former wife on Feb 8, 2013, and tell her, “Although, I would not have voluntarily chosen the path of the last two years, God is using it to turn me into the man He wants and needs me to be, so there are no regrets.” For the first time in 20 years, I took her by the hand and prayed that God would give her the courage and faith to step through the doors He wanted her to, and close the ones He did not. Then gave her a hug before we went our separate ways.
I received a call in April 2013 from the transplant clinic that a match was found in Georgia! Peachy, right? I was so excited because this started a chain of exchanges for three recipients and three donors in Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota on July 2, 2013. He truly is a God of miracles. As I was recovering over the July 4th weekend, God put it on my heart that I should go to the West Coast Celebrate Recovery Summit, but I did not want to go because that meant giving up my vacation week with Bella, which I fought REALLY hard for. Why would I need to go to the Summit because I had already been to the most amazing one day I could have imagined just two months ago? I already knew CR was awesome and God inspired! So why go? “And besides God, I don’t have the money anyways.” So I challenged God, “You want me to go, then show me the money!” God is so faithful. Two days later, one step at a time, He began providing the finances and connections to get to Saddleback. (God of provision)
It also gave me the opportunity to return to my father’s grave for the first time, in Pomona, but this time in a position of understanding, love, and healing, and knowing the Bible says, when we accept Christ as our Savior, it never matters what the last sin we commit in our lives, God forgave them all. I know I will see my dad again.
That journey was a stepping stone to join a mission’s team in Feb 2014 where I shared the 12 steps and eight principles of CR with seminary students, and ministered to the people of Chennai, India. Another life changing experience, as my heart was stretched across the globe. That summer, I was invited back to Saddleback, but this time as a State Representative for Celebrate Recovery, serving the Twin Cities and Southern Minnesota. Dec 7, 2011 was my last drink, but what I celebrate the most, is how God has brought me closer to Him since that day years ago. When I thought I stood alone, God was with me, and He had plans for my future.
So how else can I encourage a newcomer, or even someone that has been around for a while? Honestly, I still have doubts and fears. I still struggle with other hurts, habits and hang-ups so I keep working the steps and principles, one day at a time. BUT if your heart is ready, and you are willing to do the work in Recovery, then claim these words from Jeremiah 29 today:
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me, and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
So keep coming back, keep coming back.