One night, in Orange County, I woke up and realized that I was in my car, alone, in the driver’s seat and the motor was not running. I could not see; everything was fuzzy so I repositioned my contact lenses over my pupils to clear things up. Once I could see, I looked around and saw that it was dark and I was parked at an angle on an island of a 4-lane boulevard. I could see by the scattered street lights that it was an industrial part of the city.
My first thought was “where am I? what time is it? how am I going to get home?" I managed to drive off the island with a bounce off the curb and got to a corner to see a street sign. It must have been pretty late, for there was not much traffic. I fumbled around to find my Thomas Brothers map book to figure out my location and OH crap, I had to get on the freeway to get home and I was still feeling whoozy and shaky from the evening’s escapade, which, I guess didn’t turn out the way I expected, eh?
I started remembering the earlier events of the escapade. I had gotten off of work, went home, had a couple of drinks, drove to a co-worker’s house in Anaheim to meet other co-workers to all go out to a sailor’s bar called “The Starting Gate” in Long Beach. We had drinks before piling up in her car and leaving the house.
I don’t remember the drive to the bar but do remember having drinks, smoking cigarettes and dancing out on the floor with the sailors. I kind of remember shouting out on the dance floor “I’m a virgin (which was true at the time) and my friends had to rush out and usher me back to the table before anything bad would happen. Don’t remember getting back to my friend’s house where my car was, but do remember waking up and reassured them that I was sober enough to drive myself home. Next thing I remembered was where I started with this story, parked in the middle of the street on an island. Yes, I did finally get home at 4 a.m., just in time to take a nap and get to work at 6 a.m.
This is just one example of how my life went from the period of 1989-2014. I could tell more stories, like the time I almost drowned in the Colorado River (my sister told me that I was floating around on my back calling “help me” and my nephew had to swim out to get me and drag me back to shore to lift me up and into the boat - thank God he was a body builder at the time! After the boat ride back to the campsite, my family nicknamed me Bernie from the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.” . . . Or the time I woke up on the ground in the middle of the intersection in Times Square, New York, and my co-worker was lifting me up so that I could stumble along hanging off his arm to get back to the hotel in time to get ready to go to the airport.
These memories will never leave me. Thank God that, with His help and my final surrender to do his will and give myself to Him, today I am 6 1/2 years sober.
Here is my story.
I grew up in a city in Los Angeles County and went to public schools in the 60’s and early 70’s. No religious upbringing is an understatement! My Mother was a sworn Atheist and taught us kids that there was no “God.” I’ll never forget that one day we were in the kitchen cooking dinner she got on her soap box and proclaimed that the Bible was nothing but a bunch of fairy tales and that “religion” was for stupid people and we were too smart to believe it.
When I was 17, my family moved to Lucerne Valley, California. My older sister and I lived in a camper while my Mom and Dad finished up business down the hill. I applied for and got a job at Lucerne Valley Market. It seemed like a normal place to work except for the odd thing about some of the people who “ran” the store. They were different than most people I had met up to that time. They were friendly and seemed to like and appreciate my ability to catch on quickly to checking, stocking, and doing produce. The oddest thing about these people that finally got my attention was that they wore “culottes!” In 1977, the fashion was hiphuggers, bell bottoms and belly tops - nobody wore culottes!! The gal who was training me happened to be one of the “culotte people” so I started asking her questions. She was friendly enough to drive me home from work several times so we had time to talk. I shared with her my struggles at school, home, etc. and she seemed to really care! She started sharing with me about “the Group”, which made me more curious than ever so I pestered her quite a bit with questions and was surprised at her willingness to share.
I was interested, intrigued, challenged, so when she invited me to one of their Sunday meetings, I went to see what was up.
Ut Oh, “Houston, we have a problem” - these people are “religious!” They read the Bible and talked about “God!” I was puzzled more than ever because these were SMART people!! Not the stupid people that my Mother always talked about. I was intrigued enough to listen to them. I finally got to read the Bible and listen to Gommel, a real live “preacher” talk about God. This was not “religion” that my Mom was referring to, this was giving your life to God, serving Him, surrendering your worldly life and possessions, and being a part of a Group (Body) who’s mission is to seek the will of God and do it!
I continued to visit and meet with them and work at the store and really saw, heard, and understood the “Spirit!” So I left home and moved in with the Group. My Mom had a fit! She allowed me to move from home (I was not 18 years old quite yet) but disowned me as her daughter. She said she was very disappointed in me for “joining a church” and would prefer me to join “Geetam” (the New Age hippies compound located in town) than anything having to do with God and the Bible. She didn’t want me to work at the store, she wanted me to go to College with my 4.0 GPA and become a wealthy Lawyer or something like that.
Yes, I disobeyed my parents. I joined the Group, committed my time and talents to God and serving people by working at the store. I was filled with God’s Spirit, abandoning all “worldly desires” and seeking God’s will daily and trying to do it. I was alive, energetic, awake, ambitions, and for the first time in my life, spending time with people who were honest, friendly, productive, clean and sincere.
Things went well with the Group and serving God, except for periods of rebellion that are typical of a 20-something year old. I left a few times to go do the “fun” things that I thought I was missing out on in the world, only to find that it was all empty, shallow, and immoral. I would come to my senses and return to the Group, repent, grow in the Spirit, and then let my selfish desires overcome me again and leave and come back and leave and come back several times. They would listen to my confessions and welcome me back with open arms if I would be of God’s Spirit and obey His calling to serve Him.
My last period of rebellion happened when I discovered “drinking.” That is when the arms were reasonably no longer open, so we decided that it would be best for me to leave again. I lived in a little apartment in Lucerne Valley but still worked at the store. It was a very sad and awkward time for everybody, but it didn’t last long because my rebellion and bad attitude finally got me fired from my job at the store for being rude to the customers.
So I left Lucerne Valley “for good” this time. The “for good” lasted 25 years. It turned out to be 25 years of hell for me. I always knew that God wanted me back in Lucerne Valley with the Group but was too caught up in the drinking, selfishness, serving Debbie and her infinite desires. I dug myself deeper into the sin until I felt so guilty that I could no longer even think about going back “again.”
During that 25-year period, I tried to do everything to “join the world and enjoy its gifts and pleasures.” I bounced back and forth between drinking spouts and immoral behavior with “boyfriends,” to spouts of sobriety and diving into reading all the Self-Help stuff that I could. I thought that if I could prove that Gommel was wrong and that the Group were a bunch of religious kooks, I wouldn’t miss them so much. Yes I read enough to “intellectualize” that God and the Bible were the fairy tale that my Mom talked about. I would struggle between the guilt of my sin and nudge by God to go back until I could not stand being sober so I drowned my tears with bottle again and again.
I worked at Print Shops, learning Graphic Design. Even though I drank and had many many hangovers, I always worked and paid my own way. I even paid the way for a couple of looser boyfriends because I was so desperate to do what everybody else did. I changed jobs often, working for small print shops that would either move or go out of business. I finally made it to a job in Riverside that seemed to be pretty permanent until they sold out to a larger company, who kept me on, only to lay me off in 2009 but keep me on as freelance. I moved from place to place, anywhere between a little travel trailer in my Mom and Dad’s back yard to a nice little apartment in Canyon Crest, Riverside. I’ve probably moved 30 times in the last 30 years!
In 2011, I finally got “sick and tired” enough of the booze to join a 12-step program. I got sober, sane, gave up the boyfriend game, and got healthy enough to join the Riverside Bicycle Club and devote my time to cycling and eating healthy and living a clean worldly life.
One day, I did a 50-mile cycling ride in Big Bear and on the way home, drove by the Lucerne Valley Market and had a gumption (A NUDGE FROM GOD) to go in and say Hi. It had been 20 or so years and I didn’t know whether the Group even still was there or not. I went in and saw Bill and Jan!! Oh my, their hair was GRAY!! I don’t remember them looking like that!! Anyway, they invited me to the house the next Sunday morning so I went. I’ll never forget walking up to that door at the house. It was so “oldly” familiar! I walked in and saw Gommel, Linda, Bill and Jan. I looked around the living room and was overwhelmed with the familiarity of the surroundings since nothing had changed since I left in 1989. The kitchen table was the same, even the caddy with the silverware was the same. It was like a moment in “Back to the Future” of time travel to my past.
We visited, talked, Gommel gave his sermon, I said “I’ll keep in touch” and left.
I felt bad and knew that I should stay and never return to my worldly life again. But, I was finally somewhat successful with my life. I was sober, had a successful, pretty well-paid career in Graphic Design, a few thousand dollars in the Bank, and the freedom to do what I pleased.
What does Debbie do when she knows what she SHOULD do but doesn’t want to do it? RUN!!
So I bought a house in Colorado and moved as far away as I could from Group and family. While I was in Colorado, I was still bugged by God who was telling me that I was doing the wrong thing. So I returned to reading everything I could that was anti-God, and anti-Bible on the Internet. I still wanted to prove that Gommel was wrong and that the Group life was stupid. I happened to pick up a book by David Icke called “Remember Who You Are” (thinking it was another New Age self-help book) and oh boy, there I went, deep into the world of Conspiracy Theories. I listened to, read about, and watched anything and everything, including and having to do with Progressive Liberalism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Secret Societies, the Occult, Aliens, Alex Jones and the Truthers Movement, etc. etc. I was pretty convinced that I had finally found the answer to life and knew more than Gommel did by this time and thought I could even enlighten him on a thing or two! And, since I was now so “enlightened” I could start drinking again, what the hell? who would care?
In 2014, I moved back to California to live with my sister and brother-in-law because I had failed at having the self-discipline of money management and lost the house in Colorado. I tried to share all of my new knowledge with my blood family and impress them with my new-found wisdom but when I started talking about the Aliens that were living among us and were going to take over the planet, they just thought I was kooky. I continued drinking and they were getting pretty sick of my behavior and attitude and pretty much humiliated me into quitting or at least cutting way back on the booze again.
Then something happened that proved that God was still bugging me. I had a dream that I was talking to Gommel (who, by this time, had gone to be with the Lord) and telling him that he was right. He was the one who had the real truth and I finally saw with my own heart and mind that he was on the right and true path and all that I tried to prove him wrong only ended up proving he was right. I had learned enough of the world to see the darkness, the evil, the emptiness, the immorality for myself. Gommel told me to go back to Lucerne Valley to be with my true Spirit family - Linda, Bill, and Jan.
But how could I? I had sinned, I had done so many things that I couldn’t even confess to them. I had lived an immoral life with boyfriends, drinking, partying, cursing God, putting Christians down, car repossessions, bankruptcy, debt resolutions, living with a married man, having sex with a guy from Match dot com just to see what it was like, and last but not least, there was the abortion. Yes, I even went that far into the realm of sin and evil so how in the world would the Group ever accept me back AGAIN!!!
I was desperate. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of the worldly muck and mire and ready to repent and do what God wanted me to do all this time so I e-mailed Bill to see if they were still meeting on Sunday mornings and if I could come over. That night before I wrote that e-mail was the last drink. I realized that if I really wanted to turn my life around and go back to serving God, the booze had to go. (Thank God, I have not had a drink since!!) I was so afraid that they would say NO, NOT AGAIN, YOU’VE BURNED YOUR BRIDGES! But Bill e-mailed me back and said “yes, you can come over.”
So I drove to Lucerne Valley, walked up to that door that still hadn’t changed since the last time I was there and was welcomed into the house. When I walked through the threshold of that door I was overwhelmed with a feeling to relief, joy, forgiveness, and acceptance all at once. They were understandably cautious and I was afraid, but God was there to guide us all as to what to do. I asked to come back, to move back to Lucerne Valley to be with and around them again. I knew that I had done many nasty things and was willing to pay the price of rejection but was desperate enough to seek God and at least ask. I told them that I was ready to surrender all my life, possessions, talent and soul to God and seek His will and do it. They said they would talk to God and let me know the next week.
Next week, Bill said that they had prayed about it and decided it would be OK to proceed with the move but would not tolerate any drinking. I agreed and moved into the Terry trailer in the back yard of the house. I continued with my Graphic Design to earn my keep. After about a month we decided it was time to apply for work at Lucerne Valley Market so I did and had an interview. The Interviewer, (who happened to be the one who fired me back in 1989) said that I was not ready to come back to the store because I was still filled with the “I am worldly wise now and know it all” attitude toward the store and that I needed to have at least 6 months sobriety to be considered for hire and then could apply again. I was devastated, felt the rejection that I knew I deserved. The Group understood the store's position. Thank God they put up with me and let me stay with them during that time!
I did repent, I did change, because of the love, forgiveness and acceptance from Linda, Bill, and Jan. I re-applied at the store after 6 months (to the day) and was accepted. Thank God.
So here I am. The following song is dear to my heart. It was written by Barb Gommel. We sang it when I came to the house that Sunday morning after Bill’s email saying it was OK to come.
I want you to read it and consider it for your own life. I came back to the Group because I saw enough evil in the world to scare me shitless and I hope you do too, but remember that no matter what dark paths you may have traveled in your lifetime, there is God’s love waiting for you if you repent and serve Him.