Many Christians are of the opinion that the longer a person puts off coming to Christ the less likely it becomes of their ever doing so and I'm among them. I also believe that Christians who convert relatively late in life may be required to pay a far higher price for the follies of their pre-Christian existence than more youthful converts, especially if these include alcohol, drugs, fornication, and involvement in the occult. God can and does heal Christians damaged by their pre-conversion sins but He's not obliged to do so as his Grace is sufficient.
A Violent Road to Damascus Conversion
The period embracing the autumn of 1992 and the first few weeks of winter '93 may well have been the most debauched of my entire existence.
As I recall, there'd be mornings I'd get up early, possibly about six, and then prepare myself for a day ahead with a bottle of wine, usually fortified. Then I'd keep my units topped up with spirits, vodka, gin or whatever, taking regular swigs from the miniatures I liked to have with me at all times. Some evenings I'd spend in central London, others with my new friends from the suburban university where I'd recently become a student, and we were a close and pretty wild crowd for a while. There were times in town when I couldn't keep the booze down, so I'd order a king-sized cola from McDonald's, which I'd then lace with spirits before cautiously sipping from it through a straw. I was a euphoric drunk and so almost never unpleasant...but I was unpredictable...a true Dionysian who'd cry out on a British Rail train in the middle of the afternoon, causing passengers to flinch with alarm...or perform a wild disjointed Karate kick into thin air on a crowded London street. One afternoon I savagely tore at my trousers after having arrived too late for an audition and a barman who served me later on in the day asked me if I'd been involved in a fight...and then there was the shameful night at Waterloo station (or was it Liverpool Street?) that I had to be escorted across the concourse to my train by one of the rough sleepers who used to frequent mainline stations back then, bless his restless soul.
However, all these insane incidents came to a head one night in early 1993 in an Indian restaurant in Hampton Court close to the Surrey-London border. I'd been dining there with two female friends when, suddenly feeling like pure death, I asked the one closest to me whether I looked as bad as I felt. She told me I did, so I got up from the table, walked a few paces and then collapsed as if stone dead in the middle of the restaurant. I was then carried bodily out into the fresh night air by two or three Indian waiters, one of whom set about shocking some life back into me by flicking ice cold water in my face. “Don't give up,” he pleaded, his voice betraying true concern...and in time thanks to him some semblance of life returned, and I was well enough to be driven home.
Yet, within two days I was drinking as heavily as before, continuing to do so virtually around the clock until the weekend. I then spent Saturday evening with my close friend from the restaurant. And at some point in what I believe to have been the morning of the 17th of January 1993, I asked her to fill a long glass with neat gin and each sip took me further and further into the desired state of blissful forgetfulness.
I awoke elated as I recall, which was normal for me following a lengthy binge. I'd reserved Sunday for drying out, and so probably spent it writing as well as cleaning up the accumulated chaos of the past week. One thing I definitely did was listen to a radio documentary on the legendary L.A. Rock band the Doors which I'd taped some weeks or perhaps months earlier. I especially savoured When the Music's Over from what was then one of my favourite albums, Strange Days, released in the wake of the Summer of Love on my 12th birthday, 7 October 1967. This apocalyptic epic with its unearthly screams and ecstatically discordant guitar solo seemed to me about living in the shadow of death, beckoning death, mocking death, defying death.
I powerfully identified with the Doors' gifted singer Jim Morrison, who'd been drawn as a very young man to poet-thinkers of a peculiar intensity, such as Blake, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Artaud, whose works have the power to change lives, as they surely did Morrison's. As well as the writers of the Beat Generation, themselves to some degree children of so-called poètes maudits such as Rimbaud. His philosophy of life was clearly informed by Blake, who wrote of “the road of excess” leading to “the palace of wisdom,” while his hell raising persona came to a degree from Rimbaud, who extolled the virtues of “a long, immense and systematic derangement of all the senses” as an angel-faced hooligan in the Paris of the early 1870s. What a price he paid...dead at just 27...like Jones, Hendrix, Joplin before him, and so the '60s dream was revealed as the beguiling chimera it'd been all along.
After having spent the day revelling in my own inane notion of myself as a poet on the edge like my heroes, at some point in the early evening I got what I'd been courting for so long...an intimation of early death, when for pretty well the first time in my life alcohol stopped being my beloved elixir and became a mortal enemy, as my life force seemed to recede at a furious and terrifying rate. In a blind panic, I opened a spare bottle of sparkling wine I had about the house even though I'd hoped not to have to drink that day. Once I'd drained it, I felt better for a while, in fact so much so that I took a few snaps of myself lounging around looking haggard and unshaven, with freshly cropped hair.
Soon after this macabre photo session I set off in search of more alcohol. Arriving at a local delicatessen, the soft-spoken Asian shop keeper nervously told me that the off-license wasn't open for some time yet. There was nothing for me to do but take refuge on a nearby green, where I lay for a while, still dressed I imagine in the shabby white cut-offs I'd been wearing earlier. Finally, the offie opened and I was able to buy more booze. I can't remember what I bought, but I think it may have been a litre of gin, because that's what I was guzzling from the next day. One of the last things I remember doing on Sunday evening was singing hymns in a nearby Methodist church as the tears flowed.
I've no further memory of what happened that hellish night, but there were many such nights ahead. At least one of these saw me endlessly pacing up and down corridors and stairs in an attempt to stay conscious and so - as I saw it - not die...and each time I shut my eyes I could have sworn I saw demonic entities beckoning me into a bottomless black abyss. I set about ridding my house of artefacts I somehow knew to be offensive to God from what I think was the night of the 17th/18th onwards.
Many books were destroyed...books on astrology and numerology and other mystical and occult subjects, books on war and crime and atrocity, and books about artists some call accursed for their kinship with drunkenness and madness and death.
I genuinely believe though that for all the horrors I underwent, it was during that first night that I came to accept Christ as my Saviour. Had my violent conversion not come about when it did, I might have been lost forever, depending of course on where a person stands on the issue of Predestination and Free Will, but I'd have surely immersed myself in the new Bohemianism of the 1990s. The adversary values of the sixties had apparently vanished by about 1973, when in fact they'd simply gone back underground, where they set about fertilising new anti-establishment clans such as the Anarcho-Punks and the New Age Travellers who quietly flourished throughout the '80s. Around '92, some kind of amalgam between these tribes and the growing Rave-Dance movement could be said to have produced yet another great counterculture, and I was ready…ready as I'd never been to take my place as a zealot of this New Edge, only to be delivered from its seductive grasp by a violent “Road to Damascus” conversion to Christianity. However, if I'd been reborn against all the odds, I still had to suffer in the physical, if only briefly.
Many Christians are of the opinion that the longer a person puts off coming to Christ the less likely it becomes of their ever doing so and I'm among them. I also believe that Christians who convert relatively late in life may be required to pay a far higher price for the follies of their pre-Christian existence than more youthful converts, especially if these include alcohol, drugs, fornication, and involvement in the occult. God can and does heal Christians damaged by their pre-conversion sins but He's not obliged to do so as his Grace is sufficient, so while I was almost certainly already a Christian by the morning of the 18th, my ordeal was far from over. I somehow made it into New Eltham that Monday morning for classes at the university; but by evening I felt so ill I started swigging from my litre bottle of gin. I also phoned Alcoholics Anonymous at my mother's request, and agreed to give a meeting a shot.
Next day, on the way to Twickenham, I got the feeling my heart was about to explode, not just once but over and over again. Afterwards, I tried walking through the town centre, but my legs felt strangely detached from me; and I was struggling to stay conscious, so I ended up ordering a double brandy from the pub next door to the Police Station. I was shaking so much the landlord thought I was fresh from an interrogation session. Later, I was thrown out of another pub for preaching at the top of my voice, then, walking through Twickenham town centre I started making the sign of the cross to passers-by, telling one poor young guy never to take to drink like some kind of walking advert for temperance and he nodded without saying a word before scurrying away.
Back home, in an effort to calm myself down, I dug out an old capsule of Chlomethiazole, a sedative commonly used in treating and controlling the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal, but dangerous, in fact potentially fatal, when used in conjunction with alcohol. I still had some capsules left over from about 1990 when I'd been prescribed them by my then doctor, which meant they'd long gone beyond their expiry date. For a time I felt better and was able to sleep, but soon after waking I felt worse than ever. Later, at an AA meeting, I kept leaving the room to douse my head in cold water, anything to shock some life back into me, to the dismay of my sponsor who wanted me to stay put, as if doing so would exert a healing effect.
Wednesday morning saw me pacing the office of the first available doctor, and it may have been touch and go as to whether I was going to stay on my feet or overdose on the spot and die on him. It was he who prescribed me the Valium which caused me to fall into a deep, deep sleep which may have saved my life, and from which I awoke to sense that a frontier had been passed and that I was out of danger at long last.
To reiterate an earlier assertion...there is a widely held belief within Christianity that the sooner a person comes to Christ the better when it comes to their immortal soul. The same could be said for their subsequent relationship with God. There may for example be serious health problems resulting from a former self-destructive lifestyle which could damage their effectiveness as Christian witnesses.
On the other hand, one possible advantage of being a late convert is a testimony with the power to cause those normally sceptical of the transforming power of the born again experience to sit up and take notice. Such as that of a rescued Rock and Roll child...raised in an age in which messages of revolt...and defiance of all forms of authority, society, the family, God himself were being spread by an adversary culture led by Rock music. We drank deeply we children of the sixties from the spiritual darkness that was all around from about '65 onwards, and it affected us in ways I believe to be unique to us. That darkness has been a thorn in my flesh ever since my first days as a Christian, when I suffered from panic attacks that at one stage could be triggered simply by venturing beyond my front door, and I've never been able to fully throw it off.
I struggled on with the course, partly in Twickenham, partly in New Eltham, while Attending occasional drugs and alcohol counselling sessions at a church in nearby Greenwich with a lovely blonde woman of about 45 with a soft and soothing London accent and the gentlest pale blue eyes imaginable.
The only time I ever knew her to lose her composure was when I announced over the phone that a matter of hours after deciding of my own volition to stop taking Diazepam, I'd switched to Chlomethiazole...unaware at the time that when it interacts with Valium, it can be fatal. However, enough time had passed between my taking the capsule and calling her for me to be out of acute danger, and I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.
Towards the end of '94 I started suffering from deep tormenting spiritual problems for which I'd ultimately seek a solution in the shape of what is known as Deliverance Ministry. This came first through a venerable evangelist who laid hands on me after lunch at his home deep in the heart of the Devonshire countryside…but there were further sessions...one of these taking place at night in a beautiful old Anglican church with just myself, the vicar, and the vicar's wife in attendance.
Also, I badly missed the relaxation alcohol once provided me with following my work on stage, and the revels extending deep into the night during which I'd throw my youth and affections about me like some kind of maniacal gambler. I'd boxed myself into the position of no longer being able to enjoy social situations as others do, nor to relax. This may have been something to do with what the state of my endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals, there being a theory doing the rounds today that these can be permanently depleted by long-term abuse of alcohol and other narcotics...but I'm in no position to either endorse nor dismiss it myself.
Release from what had become a torturous dungeon of sobriety came when a guy I'd only just met offered to buy me a drink and I asked for a glass of wine. Apart from the time at my parents' house a few weeks earlier when I took a swig of what I thought was water but which turned out to be vodka or gin, this was the first alcohol to pass my lips since January '93.
This single glass of wine made me feel amazing, doubly so given the purity of my system. I cycled home that night in a state of total rapture, feeling for the first time in months that I could do anything. Over the next few week my drinking increased, reaching a climax in a pub in Twickenham where I met an old university friend who'd just completed a course at a college in nearby Strawberry Hill, and where I drank and smoked myself into a stupor.
Cycling home afterwards, I took a bend near Hampton Wick and came off my bike, striking my head against a bus shelter. I stayed flat on my back for a while abject and stinking of drink - I could've sworn I saw a shadowy figure running towards me as I lay there in the dark - but before long I was shakily resuming my journey home. However, weeks of controlled drinking and one massive binge, possibly combined with the ill effects of a violent blow to the head, resulted in my becoming ill and virtually incapacitated for what might have been as long as a fortnight. Time and again during this awful period I can recall awakening from a feverish semi-sleep, as if a single further second of consciousness was beyond me; and yet each time I did, it's as if the Lord breathed life back into me...and the faintness and terror of dying subsided. All I could do was lie around, waiting, praying for a return to normality...and when this came, I determined never to drink again as long as I lived. And despite further lesser relapses, I'm now a hundred per cent sober.
Many might be forgiven for suggesting that my walk with God has not been an easy one, and I'd be forced to agree with them. This may be at least partly attributable to the fact that I came to faith relatively late. The Bible warns that each person who rejects the sovereignty of the fleshly realm for Jesus' sake will undergo much tribulation and persecution. Perhaps this is especially true of repentant Christians who accept Christ following a relatively long period of time within the decadent heart of the world as avid flunkies of the Flesh. However, as comfort these late converts possess a true and infinitely worthwhile purpose in life. This was something that ever eluded me in my youth, for all the fierce, flaming fanaticism I lent my ideals, whether artistic, intellectual, political or whatever and yet which amounted in the end to precisely nothing.
There are those who might look at me and see an individual who treated some of the most precious gifts a person can be blessed with during the prime of their young life with a nonchalance so utterly cavalier as amount to blatant contempt. In terms of natural endowment, these would include the kind of intelligence that produced an articulate speaker at just two years old, as well as health so robust that all serious childhood sicknesses were kept at bay until I was 13, when I caught meningitis following a spell as a foreign exchange student in St Malo off the Brittany coast.
These theoretical critics of mine might make mention of the fact that for all my lavish good fortune, I've finished up haunted by the past, and tormented in the present by unfathomable regret. That is far, far from the way I view my situation. While I won't deny that I'm inclined to the occasional remorseful mood, the fact remains that my soul has been salvaged not lost which means that one day all my tears will be wiped away for all eternity. At least, that is my hope.
As for my supposed melancholia, this particular thorn in the flesh has been afflicting Christians for centuries. To cite some examples for the sceptical…Martin Luther suffered for much of his life from a tendency towards dejection of spirits which he attributed to a variety of causes including spiritual oppression in the realm of the mind, founder of the Quaker movement George Fox was a “man of sorrows” by his own admission in the early days of his walk with God, poet and hymnodist William Cowper was a lifelong depressive who endlessly doubted his own eternal salvation, Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon was prone to inexplicable anguish accompanied by lengthy bouts of solitary weeping and so on and so on. What though are the tears and trials of this brief life when compared to the fathomless joy that awaits the true Believer in Heaven?
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW
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