I was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 14, 1952. My family and extended family lived at 204 E. 31st Street, at the intersection of 31st and Indiana, in the heart of the ghetto. I spent the first five years of my life there. We lived in a huge apartment building with a spacious backyard where all the children played.
I have bittersweet memories of my childhood where alcohol played an enormous role in shaping my worldview. My sweet memories are those of every normal child growing up…playing outside games with friends, anticipating the thrills of Christmas mornings, infatuations with the cute girls in my classrooms, listening to Motown records and dreaming of making it “big” in whatever career I chose.
The bitter part of my childhood was the drinking. My father struggled with alcoholism throughout my young years until a serious injury caused him to stop drinking. His drinking turned him into an emotionally abusive bully who took his bitterness out on my mother who absorbed the brunt of his anger almost nightly. This developed in me a love/hate relationship towards him that eventually led me to follow in his footsteps.
I started an infatuation with the streets at an early age that later blossomed into a full-blown love affair. I began drinking at the age of 12. My drinking led to expulsion from my Catholic grade school for showing up at a Christmas party stumbling drunk. Though academically gifted I was bankrupt emotionally and spiritually.
My substance abuse escalated in my early teens. I dropped out of high school at fifteen to continue my love affair with alcohol, drugs and the streets. I graduated from alcohol to marijuana, then barbiturates, amphetamines, LSD and eventually landed in the deadly tentacles of heroin.
The era of the 60’s changed the landscape of our nation as well as the landscape of my heart.
Civil Rights, Hippies, Black Power, Vietnam, integration, illegal drugs, assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the rise of mega gangs, my heightened awareness of systemic and overt racism all combined to heighten my social awareness and shape my worldview. They collaborated to produce an angry militancy in me ready to fight for world change.
However I allowed my addictions to strong arm my militancy and social consciousness. My passion for change was reduced to philosophical rants shared with other junkies in back alleys and vacant buildings. I became part of the problem instead of the solution!
I developed a bulletproof emotional shell to protect me from my pain. I fortified it with drugs and alcohol. This strategy failed because when I came down off my high the pain returned. Addicts call this chasing a ghost because permanent relief from your pain eludes you. You chase that first feeling of euphoria repeatedly and never find it. King Solomon in Ecclesiastes said:
“So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. ⌊It was like⌋ trying to catch the wind.”
(Ecclesiastes 2:17 GW)
Let me fast forward. By the age of 22 my addictions had robbed me of any semblance of humanity. Hopelessly addicted, homeless, a wreck physically, emotionally and spiritually I cried out to God the only prayer I knew…“Lord please help me”! God heard me and answered in an unexpected way.
One afternoon while out shoplifting at a neighborhood grocery store, I encountered 5 men waiting for me to exit. Instead of the fear of being caught and possibly facing jail time, I felt a sense of relief. I thought to myself “maybe now I can get some help”.
Well it turned out that these 5 men were Deacons from a Church I had stolen a purse from five years earlier. Coincidental? I don’t think so. I believe that Church started praying for me back then. Instead of calling the police they prayed for me and took me to Teen Challenge (a Christian drug program) where I accepted Jesus Christ into my life.
God heard my cry for help and drastically changed my life. That was in 1975 and His mercies and faithfulness are still fresh to me everyday (Lamentations 3:22-24)!
Pastor Alfred Long Sr. is the Founder and CEO of Jacob’s Ladder Ministers. Together with his wife Kacie Starr Long they are dedicated to changing the lives of our justice involved population through Prison Ministry, Reentry and Addiction Recovery
He is the author “Grasping At The Wind” which more fully depicts his struggles with addictions growing up during the turbulent 60’s and 70’s.
You can obtain it from his website at https://www.jacobslm.com or on Amazon.
He is available for Addiction Recovery workshops and Addiction Recovery Coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.