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Testimony of the Month

Don Nicholson compressed

It was 2001 when I gave up on life. I was standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking out over Paris. I asked myself, “What is the purpose of all of this?” Life seemed empty and meaningless.

The five years leading up to my Eiffel Tower epiph­any had been taxing. Growing up working in the oil fields of Vernal, Utah, I rose through the ranks of an oil company and became an instrument control manager stationed off the coast of Angola. I was making $120,000 a year and had over $200,000 saved for retirement.

Losing It All

Working overseas meant an unusual schedule. I would work for 28 days straight, living on an ocean-based rig. Then I would have 28 days off. It was an enjoyable arrangement, making six figures for only six months of work. In Angola, the rig was completely dry, which meant that alcohol was not allowed. So for the 28 days I worked, I was sober. But the minute I left the rig, I would start drinking and would not stop drinking for the next 28 days. It was like that the entire time I worked overseas.

At home in Vernal, I was married to a woman I didn’t love. This was my third marriage, a rebound response to the loneliness I felt when my second – and longest lasting – marriage fell apart. The first time I got married, I was only 19 and it lasted for six months. But my second wife, Jeri, was the true love of my life. We stayed together for over 12 years and the hole that was left in my heart when our marriage ended couldn’t be filled, even by alcohol.

Many times, coming back from Angola, I would route my flight home through Europe so I could spend some of my 28 days off seeing the sites. This time, in Paris, I was depressed, unable to stop drinking, disconnected from God and living in what I felt was a loveless marriage. Looking back, I can see why I gave up on life. When I returned to the oil rig, I told my bosses I was quitting. Back in Vernal, I told my wife I didn’t love her and wanted a divorce.

I took my savings, secured a rundown apartment in Vernal and started drinking every day. Over the next three years, I spent my life’s savings on alcohol. I wasted my days locked inside my apartment and kept two half-gallon bottles of vodka in my home at all times. The only time I would leave was to buy alcohol or food. I was so lonely that I remember wishing someone would knock on my door. But then when someone did knock at my door, I would hide inside my apart­ment, not answering.

My Family Breaks Up

It was strange to be so isolated in the town where I spent most of my life. I had moved to Vernal in the fifth grade after my parents divorced. Previously, we had been living in Seattle. I was the youngest of four children and went to Catholic school. When my parents told me they were getting divorced, I remember going to school and praying that it wouldn’t happen.

It was frightening for me to think of life without both a moth­er and father. In Vernal, I was shocked to find out that not ev­eryone in the world was Catholic and that some people had different thoughts about how the world worked. I became a loner and spent more time reading books than with friends.

When I was 14, my older cousin introduced me to alcohol. When I drank, I felt transformed. Instead of being a shy intro­vert, I actually felt comfortable being around people.

When I turned 18, I started working in the oil drilling business that employed so many young men in the Uintah Basin. At 23, I married Jeri. We followed a job transfer to Evanston, Wyoming and had a son together. Life was good. We were active in church and I even taught a ninth grade Sunday School class. Still, I drank most every weekend, and soon my wife joined me. We started going to dance clubs and our drinking grew worse. We quit going to church and in 1995, after 12 years together, our marriage fell apart. After divorc­ing, I quickly remarried a woman I didn’t love and transferred overseas to Angola.

Out of Money and Locked Up

After drinking away all my savings, I realized that I needed to find a job. I started working at a “fishing” rental company. We rented equipment to oil-drilling companies for retrieving tools or other items that accidentally fell into their wells.

The job wasn’t great and paid far less than I was used to, but at least I had money to buy alcohol. In 2008, I was married for the fourth time to a woman I met at Alcoholics Anony­mous. We were both trying to stay sober and thought we could help each other stay away from vodka. Instead, we started drinking together. We were drinking so much that we would black out (being conscious, but not remembering what had happened the next day).

During some of our black-out sessions, we fought and the fighting became physical. The cops were called many times and usually it was my wife who was blamed for scratching or hitting me. One night, however, I grabbed her and was arrested for aggravated assault. I was given six months in the Uintah County Jail.

After four months in jail, I came across a brochure for the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake. I picked it up and took it back to my cell. For the next two weeks, I read it over and over. I started praying to God again. I asked Him if I should ask the judge to send me to the Rescue Mission for help. With just 40 days left on my 180-day sentence, I spoke with my lawyer. I asked him to see if the judge would release me to attend the New Life Program at the Rescue Mission in Salt Lake.

My attorney was against it. “I think you will be humiliated,” he said. In his mind, I wasn’t a homeless person. I wasn’t as bad as those street drunks. My reply was, “Maybe that’s what it will take.” Instead of being humiliated, maybe I would find the humility I needed to stay sober. Against his better judgment, my attorney convinced the judge to let me out 40 days early so I could spend a year in the Rescue Mission’s New Life Program.

A New Life

When I walked into the Rescue Mission in January of 2013, I remember thinking, “I am nothing like these people.” I made up my mind that when the weather warmed up, I would head back to Vernal. But then things started to change. I began to love the daily Bible study class. Even though I had gone to church many times, I realized that I had never really studied the Bible.

The truth of God’s Word came alive. For me it was just like running into a brick wall. A spiritual light was turned on in­side of me. I realized that God loved me, that He sent His Son to die for me and was ready to forgive if I would turn to Him and follow Jesus Christ.

I began to see that I was exactly like all the other people at the Rescue Mission. In God’s eyes, all people are the same, from the billionaire to the penniless homeless man. There is equality in how God views people. I took pleasure in study­ing the Bible, learned to have joy and made friends I could trust. Many of the things I formerly perceived as weakness, like being timid or shy, I started to view as positive ways God had made me unique. I was encouraged by 2 Corinthi­ans 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

One of the best things about the Rescue Mission has been connecting with so many people who are excited about following God. I have met many great volunteers and had a great community mentor, Frank Murray, who read through an encouraging Bill Bright book with me. I love going to Calvary Chapel on Sundays and am learning more about who God is and how I can serve Him better.

I have graduated from The New Life Program and am living at the Terri Timmerman Freedom House, the Rescue Mis­sion’s transitional housing complex. I have a good job at an instrument control company, where I prewire electric pan­els for substations. When I am off probation for my assault charge, I hope to return to work in the oil drilling business, this time as a sober follower of God.

I know my struggle is far from over, and I am not one who counts the number of days, months or years I’ve been sober. Instead I say, “By the grace of God, I won’t drink today.” Please pray that I would stay close to Him and continue to grow. And most of all, thank you for supporting the Rescue Mission and giving a person like me a second chance at life.



To learn more about what is happening at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in April, check out our monthly newsletter, The Rescuer:

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