I Was Drinking Myself to Death

Hi, I am Deacon Ken Berry from St. Joseph Parish, Edina, MO. As the Bishops Liaison to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal for the Diocese of Jefferson City, I was asked to write my testimony for the Renewals quarterly newsletter. 

Starting at the beginning I grew up in Calhoun, a small town in West Central MO. It was in my youth that my faith journey began. I attended a small Southern Baptist Church while growing up. My parents were good Christian parents and we always attended Sunday School and Sunday worship services on a regular basis. 

It was when I graduated from high school that I began to drift away from the church. I attended college for two years after high school and during that time began to drink some. Since this was the Vietnam War era, I was mainly going to college to avoid the draft. As I was flunking out of college I left school and immediately received my draft notice. Being the smart person that I am I thought I could join the Army for four years and escape from going to Vietnam. So rather than allow my self to be drafted into the infantry I enlisted for four years in the Army Security Agency. After my training my first assignment was, you guessed it, Vietnam. 

During my year there I began to drink heavily, mainly I think to hide my fear and my loneliness. The booze was cheap and I dranked more and more. After Vietnam I was sent to Germany for two years. And what do they drink in Germany? German Beer. I drank German Beer like it was water. When I was discharged from the Army in December 1971, I was a full-blown Alcoholic. 

While in Germany I happen to meet my wife Marianne who is from Massachusetts and who was visiting her twin sister, who was married to one of the men in my unit. This began a two year long distance courtship. Marianne happened to be Catholic. We were married May 28, 1972. After our marriage and after attending Sunday Mass and Holy Day Masses with Marianne for 13 years, I joined the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday 1985. 

In the fall of 1987 our priest at the time began to talk about having a Life in the Spirit Seminar and wanted my wife and me to attend. We had never heard of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and had no idea what a Life in the Spirit Seminar was. My wife agreed to go and after much encouragement I reluctantly agreed to go. I attended the first four sessions; (the seminar was one night a week for seven weeks). What is called Baptism in the Holy Spirit happens on the fifth week. It so happened that the fifth week was stag night at the Country Club and I was invited to that, so I missed the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

I remember coming home from the Country Club and my wife sitting in the living room, (she had been prayed over for Baptism in the Holy Spirit) and I asked her if she could pray in tongues, which is one of the gifts a person often receives when they are Baptized in the Spirit. She said no she couldn’t and I said well that doesn’t surprise me. You see I thought all this business about praying in tongues was a lot of foolishness, and had been making fun of it through out the seminar. However nine days later when my wife received Holy Communion at Saturday Night Mass, she received the gift of tongues. But she was afraid to tell me as I had been making so much fun of it. She did finally tell me and I said, “I want to hear you.” She prayed in tongues for me and I said, “Do that again.” I was astounded. You see I realized that it was real, because I knew that my wife would not lie to me. 

I did attend the final two sessions of the Life in the Spirit Seminar and began to attend the weekly prayer meeting that our priest started. Father then began to talk about taking a Greyhound bus full of people to the National Catholic Charismatic Conference at the University of Norte Dame, South Bend Indiana, over Memorial Day weekend, 1988. My wife and I decided that we would go to that conference. 

The bus would leave on Friday morning so I had to take my two young children to my parents’ house after work on Thursday afternoon for the weekend. This was a 200-mile trip each way. Before I left Edina I purchased a quart bottle of Jack Daniel’s Bourbon and drank on that bottle all the way to my parents’ house and all the way back which was an 8-hour round trip. When I got back to Edina about midnight that night I had about one drink left in the bottom of that bottle.

You see my drinking had continued over the years and had gotten to the point that I was a hopeless alcoholic. I drank everyday. My biggest fear was that I would run out of Jack Daniel’s over the weekend, because at that time you could not buy alcohol on Sundays. 

The night before I took my children to my parents for the weekend, which was Wednesday night I went into our church in the dark, and knelt before the life size crucifix that hangs over our alter and I prayed. I said, “Lord Jesus I am going to that conference at the University of Notre Dame and when I get there I am turning my life over to you. You can do with me whatever you want to. I can’t go on living my life the way I am.” You see I had hit bottom. My wife had found me laying in our back yard at 2:00 in the morning laying in my own vomit. This was the first time in 20 years of drinking that I had failed to make it to bed under my own power. I knew I had a serious problem, I didn’t know what to do about it. The only one I knew to turn to was Jesus Christ. 

We went to the Conference, and on Saturday I attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar and when I was prayed with for Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I spoke in tongues. The closing Mass at that conference included a healing service. During that healing service Jesus healed me of my 20 years of alcoholism. Bishop Sam Jacobs was on the Platform and was getting Words of Knowledge. He looked right at where I was sitting and said that someone was being healed of alcoholism. I remember sitting there, the tears rolling down my face, and feeling this tremendous weight, this tremendous burden being lifted from me. That was 20 years ago and I have not had a drink since, nor have I had a craving or desire to drink. You see I got on that bus that Friday morning sick and hungover from drinking that bottle of Jack Daniel’s while taking my kids to my parents’ house. I got off that bus on Sunday night a free man. Jesus had set me free. 

My wife and I had went to the conference early after lunch on that Sunday afternoon to save seats for the closing Mass, seats for those on the bus with us. While sitting there we smelled this intense smell of Roses. I didn’t know it at the time but my wife had made a novena to St Theresa the Little Flower. St Theresa was interceding for me. 

The Charismatic Renewal has changed my life. If it weren’t for the Renewal most likely I would be dead by now, as I was drinking myself to death. Remember the one drink I had left in that quart bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I kept that bottle for several years in the brown bag that it came in, stored away. Once in awhile I would take it out and look at it and put it back and say, “I don’t need you anymore. I have found someone better. I have found Jesus Christ.” The Charismatic Renewal is why I am a Deacon, it is why I do all the things I do to serve the church. It is why I am involved in the Residents Encounter Christ program, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ into prison. The Charismatic Renewal brought the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness that I was living in. May this testimony help bring the Light of Christ into the life of someone you know who is struggling with darkness. May they know the healing presence of Jesus in their life. Amen.

Ken Berry

Edina, MO