SOURCE: John Taylor/Relevant Magazine
Confessions of a Drunk Worship Leader
One man’s story of overcoming his secret alcohol addiction.
Hungover and leading worship on Easter Sunday, Seth Haines felt a sharp, nauseating pain in his stomach. Two thousand churchgoers sang along, unaware, as he, nervous about hitting high notes, struggled to keep from vomiting. He led the congregation in singing:
He has cheated hell / And seated us above the fall / In desperate places / He paid our wages / One time once and for all
After the service, a couple of friends caught Haines as he exited the stage. “You have a special anointing,” they told him, with their hands placed on the worship leader’s shoulders.
Haines forced a smile before stumbling back to his seat. “Anointed?” he thought. “What are you talking about? I’m hungover. I was probably still drunk when I got here this morning.”
It all began with a Nalgene bottle.
Two years before that Easter Sunday, Haines sat in a hospital waiting room, trying not to think about Titus, his infant son born with a hole in his heart and a rate of respiration that jogged a little faster than most.
“You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”
Friends, family members and strangers visited in rotation. They offered prayers for swift recovery.
Haines and his wife, Amber, watched as doctors squirted blue liquid into Titus’ mouth through a syringe. The 6-month-old gurgled, squirmed and wailed as plastic tubes entered his nose and reached down into his still-developing intestines.
The doctors shook their heads when they found clumps of blood the size of popcorn kernels. The Haineses discussed what songs they would play at Titus’ funeral.
That was when Haines called his sister and said, “I need you to bring me gin to the hospital. Smuggle it in.”
Hours later, a Nalgene bottle arrived, filled to the top with Tanqueray. Haines unscrewed the cap and poured its contents into a plastic cup filled with ice.
In that moment, Haines—the believer, husband, father of four, full-time attorney, worship leader, home group host and editor of the blog “A Deeper Church”—was becoming an alcoholic.
Because, as Haines would say later, “You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”
“I think everyone’s story of belief is pretty complex,” Haines says. “Mine is no exception to that rule.”
About two years ago, in that hospital room, gin and tonic became “more gin than tonic” for Haines.
He started with casual single shots. Then doubles. Then triples. And eventually, regardless of the pour, he consumed as many as 10 drinks daily.
Before long, and almost unwittingly, he found himself hiding his drinking from his wife, Amber.
To keep her from noticing his rapidly growing addiction, Haines says he would store empty bottles in his car, then drive garbage bags of them to the dumpster behind his office.
When he and Amber hung out in their living room—talking and usually listening to worship music—Haines would wait for his wife to go to the bathroom, turn up the stereo volume and run to the kitchen for another drink before Amber could get back.
Despite his efforts, Haines couldn’t hide from his wife.
“Do you think you’re drinking too much?” she asked one afternoon about a year into Haines’ downward spiral. “When’s the last time you went without drinking?”
“I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”
He couldn’t remember. “Last…” he looked away, trying to think of a day Amber would believe.
“Thursday,” he lied.
A few months later, Haines was out-of-town attending a Christian conference and staying with some friends. As usual, on one of his nights away, he’d “had a good bit to drink.”
“It was 3 a.m. and there were these college kids who came across the yard and introduced themselves,” he explains. “I started talking to them about church. Before long, I was pretty much witnessing to them.
“The next morning, when I sobered up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’”
That same weekend, as he describes it, the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to him through a concerned friend. Somehow, she’d guessed that he had a problem. He says their conversation was revealing.
“I would say things like, ‘Yeah, but I’ve never been pulled over for a DWI.’
“And she would say, ‘Well, you know that doesn’t matter, right?’
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve never hit Amber.’
“And she said, ‘You know that doesn’t matter either, right?’”
Later that day, Haines dialed Amber’s number and said, “I think I have a problem, and I don’t really know what to do.”
When he arrived home, the Haineses started a long journey of drying out.
In his first therapy session, Haines tried to answer tough questions: “Were you drinking to pass out?” “Do you have the shakes?” “Have you been drinking and hiding the evidence?” “Is it starting to interfere with your job?” “What are you covering with the alcohol?”
After he admitted his problem, Haines needed to discover the reasons behind it.
Titus wasn’t getting any better, he explained to his therapist. He and his family prayed for Titus’ recovery for months, but those prayers seemingly went unanswered. Haines feared losing both his son and his faith, in that order.
“Sickness, I fear, is the permanent plague of my son’s life,” he said to his therapist. “Of my life.”
A breakthrough came while Haines and his therapist discussed the initial source of the pain that first drove him to that Nalgene bottle.
Throughout his life, Haines has suffered from asthma, and it was particularly severe when he was young. As a child, he regularly spent time in the hospital for it. And it seemed after a while that his parents exhausted their options. In a kind of last-ditch effort, the elder Haineses turned to a faith healer.
Haines remembers the experience vividly. The healer marked a cross on young Haines’ forehead, his finger dipped in olive oil bought from a nearby grocery store.
“With enough faith, all things are possible,” the man said. He prayed so loudly that he was nearly shouting.
It didn’t work, and Haines still struggles with asthma today.
“That moment, more than any other moment in my life, has haunted me,” Haines says. “It was the moment where my faith was put to the test, when my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up. And if my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up, it’s definitely not going to as a 37 year old.”
The experience drove doubts into Haines’ faith, and it continued to “undermine the good seasons” in his life. Off and on during the next three decades, he would question just about everything about God: “Is He really there?” “Does He really intervene?”
“I would have those seasons of intense thoughts,” he says. “But I always seemed to come through them.”
Then Titus got sick. Haines was back in a pediatric ward, this time with his son.
“Today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”
“We were visited by a person who comes to the room and says to me, ‘I know Titus is going to be fine, because you’re a man of great faith. Through your faith, God is going to heal your son’,” he remembers.
That was the last thing Haines wanted to hear.
Cognitively or not, Haines thought God abandoned him. More than fear for his son or any kind of parental stress, that’s what drove him to the bottle.
“For me, it was, ‘If I drink enough, I don’t have to hear the voice of doubt in my head,’” he explains. “I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”
The same friend who identified Haines’ addiction suggested he journal as a part of the recovery process. On one particular night, well into his dry-but-searching phase, Haines read through the passion of Jesus—the suffering Christ endured in the hours leading to His crucifixion.
A familiar story took new life.
“In the Luke account, one of the last things Jesus says to His crucifiers is, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,’” Haines recalls.
That moment became the “touchstone” in Haines’ recovery. He knew what he needed to do. And so he journaled, “Father, teach me to forgive the faith healer.”
This September marked a full year since Haines’ last drink. And, yes, he’s a little nervous.
“I don’t like to think about what this looks like in five years,” he says, “because today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”
The key, he says, is to believe God, and then to lay his anxieties at the Creator’s feet: Titus. The thirst for alcohol. The desire to be a better husband, a better father to his children.
As a part of his daily recovery, Haines says a simple prayer: “Lord, forgive my unbelief.”