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There is no limit to what God can do in a person’s life, nor an expiration date. I was a fifty-seven-year-old man whose love for alcohol and self, had cost me everything dear, including my driver’s license and wheels due to numerous DUIs. But that didn’t keep God from loving me, choosing me, and then rolling me into places where I could significantly impact people’s lives.
When I fully surrendered my way and will to Him, God set my life on a new path. He’ll do it for anyone willing to follow Him, including you.
For forty years, I lived in the clutches of alcoholism and drug abuse. Programs told me I needed a higher power, something bigger than myself, that could help me channel my thoughts and keep me sober. According to them, my higher power could be anything. So, I set out to find one, but each higher power only led to lower levels of disappointment and shame.
At 38 years old, I reached an all-time low after poor choices cost me my marriage and successful restaurant business in Virginia. Devasted, I traveled to a remote place in the North Carolina mountains with my dog to hide from my life.
I was a hopeless, pitiful sight as I sat with my loyal friend, Bailey, eating a bowl of Purina Puppy Chow soaked in Jack Daniels. I had burned every bridge and put everyone I loved through hell.
I had begun to reach for the bottle at 14 years old after my parents delivered the shocking news that they were getting a divorce. I couldn’t believe my ears!
We were a tight-knit family who ate together nightly and attended church weekly. Mom was loving, and Dad was a great provider. I’d never even seen them disagree. I couldn’t understand why they would do this and didn’t welcome the changes.
Life wasn’t right without Dad. Strange emotions stirred in my heart that I can now label anger, fear, confusion, rejection, and grief.
Mom cried often, and my siblings and I lived in painful confusion. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my footing as our family unit was my security and foundation.
I begged God to help me. Every night, I would curl up on my bed, play a record of The Lord’s Prayer on my record player, and repeatedly pray, “Please, God, fix this. Put my family back together.”
But He didn’t. No matter how hard I prayed, God remained silent. And that angered me. I couldn’t understand why a good and loving God didn’t intervene. If He genuinely cared about me, wouldn’t He improve my life?
I’m unsure if I consciously wrote God off at that moment, but one thing is certain. I didn’t know what to think about God and for the next 40 years I lived my life without Him.
It wasn’t long before my parents remarried. My stepparents didn’t stand a chance of being accepted. It wasn’t because they were unloving; they just didn’t fit into the picture of what I wanted my life to look like.
I imagine my life circumstances pale compared to the childhood traumas many of you reading my story experienced. Some may have never even had a family dinner or met their father and may wonder what’s my deal.
The problem was my world, as I knew it, had been turned upside down, and my heart hurt. My parents’ divorce caused me real pain, and I had no clue how to process it. It didn’t help that my 14-year-old body was raging with hormones, and I was experiencing peer pressure at school. It was a perfect storm.
I quickly sought out people and substances to help me escape my pain. Partying and surfing consumed my life, and I spent much time at the beach near our south Florida home. My grades soon reflected my new hobbies, and I failed my first semester of eleventh grade.
My stepfather, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, suggested military school; and off I went. But the military school did nothing to change me. I didn’t need discipline; I needed a new heart. Mine was broken. It ached, and all I knew to do was keep numbing it with alcohol and drugs.
I somehow made it through school and graduated. Mom warned me if I was going to live at home, I’d better get my act together. But I didn’t listen. I racked up two DUI charges and totaled two cars apart from those instances. And then, I was arrested with the intent to distribute drugs. Mom packed up my stuff and kicked me out, and I moved into my camper van.
I started working at a local restaurant and quickly discovered I had a knack for the food service industry. My dad’s friend offered me an opportunity to work in his high-end Italian restaurant in Virginia. I jumped at the chance. My first geographical cure.
The restaurant world was an ideal match for my love for alcohol, drugs, and party life. And within a couple of years, I met and married a beautiful young waitress. Life was good.
Influential people ate the food I served, many of whom were related to organized crime. They would sit around the tables laughing and carrying on their business, and I took it all in. Soon, I was gambling and helping the bookies collect and pay off.
I liked those guys and the exciting life they lived, and they liked me. It’s a good thing, too, because I witnessed what happened to people who they didn’t like.
I decided to attend Chef School in France and lived there for 6 months in 1982. When I returned, I worked at Maison Blanche in Washington DC across the street from the White House. One of the restaurant owners I had worked for in Virginia suggested we start a restaurant; he put up the money, and I put up the talent. It ended up not being a very good partnership and I needed to get out from under those guys involved in organized crime. My wine distributor suggested I open my own restaurant and loaned me the money. My wife worked hard alongside me, running the front of the restaurant while I ran the back at Dale’s at Chick’s Beach, and it was a success and became the place to be.
But with each passing day, I got more out of control. I had always been a functioning addict, able to balance the party life with my work responsibilities. But not any longer.
There is no need to go through my “drunk log” and recount all the horrible things I did. Suffice it to say, I was an awful husband to my wife who had no respect for our marriage vows. I had also become a terrible businessman, grabbing money from the register, and riding off in the restaurant limo each night to party.
With the restaurant suffering, my financial backer and wife held an intervention. They gave me a choice to either attend a treatment center or lose my marriage and restaurant. I agreed to their terms to save my hide and attended a 30-day program, but I wasn’t ready to change. I even had an affair during my short stay at the recovery center. I was incapable of loving anyone.
I stayed sober one month after treatment before reaching for the bottle. And with that choice and the stroke of a pen, I lost my marriage and restaurant. That was the event that led me to the pitiful scene with my dog.
One good thing happened while eating that Jack-soaked dog food, though. I finally realized I did indeed need help, which many know, is the first step to recovery. I called my mom and asked for help.
Mom helped fund a stay at another treatment program; Dad helped me find a job and some wheels. But my sobriety was short-lived, and I got into another accident. This time, I hit someone head-on and almost killed them.
The judge graciously gave me five years’ probation, and I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned valuable tools and met kind people. Most excitingly, I met Roberta, who was in recovery from heroin addiction. It was love at first sight.
But there was a problem. I became infatuated with Roberta and made her my higher power. She was everything to me, and my well-being centered on the health of our relationships. And since neither of us were equipped to manage a healthy relationship, I lived on an emotional rollercoaster.
Three days shy of my fifth year of sobriety, Roberta broke off our relationship. I immediately reached for a six-pack of beer, and when that six-pack wasn’t enough, I drove to the store to get more. On the way, I rear-ended a police officer. Three hours of drinking was all it took, and I was in the most serious trouble I had ever had due to my addiction.
On January 2, 1997, I entered a courtroom filled with representatives from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and police officers. They urged the judge to send a strong message to the community that drinking and driving would not be tolerated. I was sentenced to six and a half years in the Florida Department of Corrections.
I felt I’d gotten the wrong end of the deal at the time, as the judge had initially offered me 2 ½ years. But looking back, I see that a longer sentence saved my life. It gave me time to realize I was powerless to change myself, as were my higher powers; and I remembered God.
I became deeply involved with chapel services and started reading my Bible. I used my time wisely in prison working and studying, and I found favor with the officers.
I was released from prison after serving three and a half years and entered a work release program and was hired by Publix Supermarkets. The grocery store deli wasn’t my high-end restaurant, but I was grateful that Publix took a chance on me and gave me a job.
But like a dog who returns to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11), I returned to the bottle. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be sober; I did. I just didn’t know what to do with the pain in my heart. So as soon as uncomfortable emotions surfaced, I reached for the bottle to take those feelings away.
Publix noticed my struggle and sent me to an employee assistance program. There, I was introduced to Celebrate Recovery (CR). This twelve-step program unashamedly pointed people to Jesus Christ as the only Higher Power that can save and transform a life.
Although I had professed to believe in Jesus in prison, I hadn’t truly surrendered my life to Him. I doubted His unconditional love for me. And that doubt made me unstable; I was like “a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:16 NIV).
My faith was anchored after meeting Lonny, my CR sponsor. I met with Lonny at his home at 7 am on Sunday mornings for years. It wasn’t convenient, especially with me riding a bike, but I knew it was necessary if I wanted a different life.
God was so real to Lonnie, and his faith attractive. Slowly, I began to let go of the controls of my life and give the broken pieces of my heart to Jesus. And in Him, I found healing just as Psalm 147:3 says. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (NIV)” In Jesus, I also finally found the power to change (Philippians 2:13; 4:13). I’ll soon celebrate 12 years of sobriety.
Lonny told me early on, “Dale, if you get up, dress up, show up, and do the next right thing, and if you ask God to guide you and surrender your life daily to Him and serve others, God will bless you.” I took his words to heart and proved him right.
Since giving my life to God, He has used my past in unimaginable ways. He’s allowed me to set up and teach Celebrate Recovery programs in prison and establish a transition home for men called The Living Harvest in Tallahassee. He’s given me the opportunity to attend an exclusive executive leadership training in New York City and I was invited to The White House for a convening on Criminal Justice Reform. I was recognized at the Florida Governor’s Mansion for my public service and all of that happened before I could even drive! Our inabilities and shortcomings don’t hinder God.
In March of 2021, Prison Fellowship hired me as a Chaplain Resource Liaison with Angel Tree Again God’s perfect timing as I was able get my driver’s license back after 21 years and able to accept this position. I can now fly anywhere nationwide, rent a car, and drive myself to prisons and meetings.
You must know, there is no way that I, left to my thinking, could have done any of these things. All that I have accomplished has been done with God’s help (Isaiah 26:12). He helps those who seek Him and holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:23–24).
I hope my story encourages you that no matter how old you are, how many times you’ve tried and failed, and no matter how little you have, God can still make a way. It’s never too late.
It’s time to get up, grab hold of Him, and try again.
God has not given up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. It may be that you need a different power source. God is the only Higher Power that will never fail you. And with Him, there are no limits (Matthew 19:26).
Dale White serves as a Chaplain Resource Liaison for Prison Fellowship where he works with Chaplains to provide Angel Tree to incarcerated parents. Dale is a Nationally Certified Reentry Professional, Christian Addictions Recovery Coach, Intervention Professional and Nationally Certified in Case Management.
Dale is the Founder of The Living Harvest in Tallahassee, Florida, a prison post release residential Christian Recovery organization. He has served on an Executive Committee for the Florida Department of Corrections who used to incarcerate him, serves on numerous Boards of Directors. Dale has served as the Celebrate Recovery Team Lead for the SE United States and was Celebrate Recovery Inside State Rep for Florida for over 10 years.