The 12-Year-Old Alcoholic

By: Rudy Norman

  • The 12-Year-Old Alcoholic

How the stories of Jesus rescued a boy haunted by abuse and addiction

Richie Wilson doesn’t hesitate to tell you he’s an alcoholic.

The 58-year-old man lives on the remote Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick—a mere 18 miles from the state of Maine, its closest mainland point of contact. He says that title immediately stuck to him at the tender age of 12 years old, when he first took the whiskey bottle and pursed it to his lips.

Despite not having a drink in 37 years, Richie knows that the demons of his past are still beckoning at his door—yet unsuccessfully because of his trust in his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Born and raised on the same island he calls home today, Richie’s childhood was pretty normal. Both his parents loved him. His mother served the Lord from a young age, while his father didn’t dedicate his life to Christ until a mere year before he passed away at age 85.

Perhaps the most painful memory Richie shared with me is the day his childhood was changed forever. He doesn’t go into detail because of the obvious trauma, but with a brief moment of hesitation, he painfully admits that he was sexually molested as a young boy.

Sadly, it would be an event in his life that would lead to an unravelling of tragic proportions. In that instant, with innocence brutally stolen, a young Richie tried to hide the pain of what happened, never admitting the source of his hurt until much later in life.

Richie’s life began down a path of self-loathing and doubt as he sought out release from the pain. As a pre-teen, he found what he thought was a cure one night on the beach where he and some friends were hauling lobster traps. An older friend had brought along the very source that would destroy years of his life.

Richie says he still remembers his first taste of alcohol. As the whiskey slid down his throat and he started to feel the almost instant effect on his body, so began the days of masking the pain in a deadly way for Richie Wilson.

A year later, another form of release came—drugs. When it came to a drug of choice, there was no such thing, he says. Whatever he could get his hands on was fine. Richie plunged deeper into his addiction when he purchased street drugs on his own for the first time—right before joining a church service.

Looking back, the shame in his voice is evident as he tells his story, especially when he speaks of his mother, who Richie says was faithful to bring him to church until he started to refuse the invitation at age 14.

Richie’s adolescent years were filled with parties, drinking and drugs. But something had happened a few years earlier that, while impossible to tell at the time, would be the gift that would end up saving the life of a young man so desperate to escape his pain, but going about it in all the wrong ways.

It was the eighth grade. As his classmates sat at their desks, he watched as a man walked through the door with a stack of New Testaments.

Richie says the man was from The Gideons, and was there for the sole purpose of presenting each of them with a New Testament of their own. At the time, he thought nothing of it. So he brought it home and promptly forgot about the book.

The next year, in grade nine, he quit school and started working in the fishing industry to help support his habits.

That is, until Christmas 1978. Richie, now 21 years of age, walked home with a heavy heart. His years of trying to hide in the bottle and the drug pipe were starting to take their toll—and deep down, Richie was looking for more. But as he walked into his room, there, lying on the table in plain sight, was a book that hadn’t been opened since it was presented to him in a grade eight classroom.

Picking up the New Testament, he started reading in the Book of Matthew. He kept reading, continuing the next day, and every day throughout the Christmas season.

In January, Richie began to feel the weight of his life choices. Grabbing his shotgun, he headed to the wooded area near his home. His plan? To end his life. A life that had been destroyed by a cruel trauma at a young age, and scarred by years of substance abuse trying to hide his hurt.

Standing in the forest with his gun, evaluating his life, Richie’s heart suddenly began to stir. He started thinking about the month before—the words in the Gideon Scriptures he’d read during Christmas. The stories of a man whose love for sinners like him made him think there was still something worth living for.

And shortly after the day when he nearly took his own life, Richie was delivered from his addictions. A few years later, Richie, along with his future wife, dedicated his life to Christ, crying out to God on the same beach where his addiction began as a 12-year-old boy.

From there, he says, his life changed forever. Suddenly he didn’t need alcohol or drugs to hide his pain. He’d found a new hope and purpose in what Christ had done in his life!

Perhaps most remarkably, Richie quickly embraced his gift of evangelism. He has spent years telling people what the Lord has done in his life. He’s had an opportunity to lead hundreds of people to the Lord in personal conversation.

Each of the people Richie witnesses to receives a Gideon copy of God’s Word—like the one that started his journey toward redemption. Today he’s personally distributed over 1,300 Scriptures to people from all walks of life.

Richie’s had the opportunity to share his story with other Gideons in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but most importantly, his desire is to continue to share the story and hope of the cross, to whomever he can, every chance he gets.


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