40-year alcoholic recovers, opens ministry for others

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Addiction spares no mercy when it draws in its next victim. It can tear apart families, destroy lives and bring a world of hurt to all involved.

Addiction is something 64-year-old James Hurst knows very well.

Hurst was an alcoholic for more than 40 years, and his drinking began like many – as a teenager.

“I was 16,” he said. “And it progressed when I entered the Army.”

It escalated after Hurst and his wife, Mary, lost two children.

Hurst said he realized he had a problem for many years, but never changed.

“My wife reminded me all the time that I had a problem,” he said, but it wasn’t until 2002 that he finally realized his alcoholism was “killing him.”

“The doctors had told me, ‘one more beer will kill you,’” he said. “But, I kept right on drinking.”

In 2002, his body essentially shut down. He was later diagnosed with congestive heart failure and fluid leaked from his legs. At one point, his ankles reached 24 inches in diameter.

Hurst spent a long time in the VA hospital, where he made a deal with the Lord while lying in his hospital bed.

“I said, ‘Lord, if you get me out of this hospital, I’ll never drink again,’” he said. “He answered my prayer, and I kept my promise to him.”

The road to recovery wasn’t easy. He didn’t use traditional rehab methods. Instead, with the support of his family, he looked to his Bible.

“I just read my Bible,” he said. “There were several times I wanted to pick (up another beer), but every time that happened, I would read the Bible.”

Hurst often wonders what his life would have been like had he not started drinking.

“There’s no telling what I could have been if I had not drank,” he said. “If only I had of quit earlier, think of the life we could have had.”

Hurst’s alcoholism put a lot of pressure and hurt on his family.

His wife, Mary, who acted as a “sounding board” throughout Hurst’s recovery, said her husband’s drinking had an impact on the entire family.

Their son has struggled with drugs and alcohol, Hurst said.

For Mary, dealing with her husband’s alcoholism was “an embarrassment.”

“I didn’t even go to church because of it,” she said. “We had a constant fight for money. One of the hardest parts was him not really being there – the real him.”

He said, the scary part about drinking is it takes away your desire to live and the money that you could use to go somewhere with your kids and wife.

Hurst said anyone dealing with alcoholism or drug abuse should look for any way to aid them in their recovery.

“You need to get new friends and stay away from peer pressure,” Hurst said. “Get involved in some type (abuse) program and go to church and get involved, it will change your life.”

Those three things, coupled with Hurst’s new addiction “the Bible,” helped him get through the rough times and overcome his 40-year addiction.

“I have a whole new set of friends in my church family in Harmony Church,” he said. “I have a strong support system.”

Today, the Hursts have been married nearly 46 years and their relationship “is better than ever.”

“Things are definitely better than ever,” he said. “I told her the other day, ‘I loved her when I married her, but I love her so much more now.’”

Mary agrees.

“I can trust him now,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about him hurting himself or anyone else (because of the alcoholism).”

Now, the Hursts are working to help recovering addicts in the county.

Through a program held on Sunday nights at 6 p.m. at Harmony Baptist Church.

It’s a small program dedicated to Bible study coupled with “Stop the Madness: Finding Freedom from Addictions” as well as the 12 steps to recovery.

“Everything is anonymous,” he said. “What we say stays in.”

Hurst said for those who may be embarrassed about their addictions, the entrance to the program is through the old church and straight into the group meeting.

“No one will see them,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about that.”

Hurst said there is a great need for ministries such as his in Covington County.

The program is probation approved for those who must attend meetings as part of their probation terms.

“We’re hoping those who attend our group will continue to come back to church once it is finished,” he said. “We hope we can help someone and lead them to God. I felt like I needed to do this.”

The Hursts said that those going through addiction and recovery need a lot of love and support to get through this.

They want to show others the love God has shown them and the difference the change has made in their lives, Hurst said.

“I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything,” he said. “The Lord has blessed me. I believe I have something to do before I leave, and that’s to help others who’ve been where I’ve been.”

James and Mary Hurst have started a recovery ministry class on Sundays at Harmony Baptist Church for those who are struggling with addiction. | Kendra Bolling/Star-News