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A Journey from alcoholism to Christ

Tony Shelley tells the story of his coming home when God ‘touched this ordinary man’. 

In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. Job 42:5.

Tucked away in Fox Lane, Leicester, is a café called Brucianni’s. Whenever I’m in the area, I always stop and look at the colourful facade and view the customers coming and going. Sometimes I go inside for coffee and observe the wonderful interplay of life. There’s no better place in Leicester to do just that.

It was within the confines of this popular venue that I met a man who was to change my life forever. It was Valentines day, 1989, and thus began my journey from the depths of alcoholic and drug despair, to the serenity and peace I found in Christ far to the east of England, in the great flatlands of Norfolk.

The road that led me to that momentous occasion in Brucianni’s started at the age of sixteen, when after leaving school and starting work, I began to indulge in everything that panders to life’s worst instincts. Alcohol abuse became the norm for my day to day living. Connection to the real world was by accident, as the binges, and hangovers became more frequent as time went on.

Of course there were periods of what you would call ‘normality’, but most of that time was spent covering up the true extent of my addictions - something which most addicts of one kind or another become quite adept at doing when the urge to ‘use’ grips you like a vice until the pain is taken away. Like all addicts (without exception in my experience), I didn’t accept that I had a problem. It was other people that had the problems. I used to lay blame everywhere and anywhere except the source - myself.

As I grew into manhood, the problems became more acute, as the teenage indulgencies mutated into more adult themes of illicit sex and violence. I lived on a very short fuse and very often innocent comments directed towards me were used as an excuse to hit out at the world and anybody who happened to be there at the time. In my late twenties I began to experience ‘black outs’ (a term used for lost time). To this day, I have no idea how or when I got to some of the places where I woke up in. It was one of the most terrifying periods of my entire life, but had no deterrent effect on me whatsoever. I kept on drinking and using, but catastrophe was to follow.

The reason I remember the Kings Cross fire so well among the bind weed of my alcoholic memory is the fact that on that particular evening I attempted suicide for the first time. Of course it didn’t work, all that happened was that I passed out and awoke several hours later, with a blinding headache and back pain from where I must have fallen off the chair.

Another attempt followed, but in retrospect that was more of a cry for help than a serious intention to end my life. In desperation, I called the Samaritans, and that led to a meeting with James in Brucianni’s. I haven’t touched alcohol or any kind of mind altering substances from that moment on. When I first uttered the words “My name is Tony and I’m an alcoholic” I felt liberated in many ways, but taking responsibility for my own life after years of being propped up by the good nature of others was a daunting prospect. AA meetings became the centre of my world. They had to be, for what I found there was a programme which gave me a firm foundation on which to build a new life. I kept on going, just taking one step at a time, and came to rely on what the programme calls a ‘higher power’ to hand over all your problems to. It was working, but I had to wait many more years, before I found out the identity of that ‘power’. Little did I know what was to come.

It was a Sunday morning in the summer of 2004, when a dear friend of mine, Cathy (a lifelong Christian, who was later to become my wife) asked me if I would like to go to church with her. We were on holiday in the tiny village of Foulsham, situated in deepest Norfolk. Immediately I went into excuse mode, inventing all the reasons why I should leave her to go alone. In the end I relented, and we walked through the quiet village in the direction of the church bells of Holy Innocents, a magnificent medieval structure that dominates the local landscape.

As we entered the gate, without any warning, it happened – a gentle, warm feeling of ‘coming home’. Peaceful, saved, call it what you will, but it’s never left me. The flame that was lit in that blink of any eye still burns bright within me to this day, but with a much higher magnitude.

As a writer, I have never been able to find adequate words equal to that momentous time when God ‘touched’ this ordinary man, and led him into the realm of Christ and his teachings. For the second time in my adult life, I had to concede that life would never be the same again. Some time later, I was baptised and said goodbye to my old existence. Emerging from the water, I felt cleansed of my past and re-born into a world where faith and Christian values would underpin every new day on God’s earth.

Tony Shelley, September 2007

Tony Shelley works as a photographer for ESPO (Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation), and has been there for nearly 12 years. But his passion is writing, and he has just completed Year One of a two-year course at Leicester University. He has been married to Cathy for just over two years. He is at present working hard on his debut novel whose working title is 'Consciousness'.