'The Upper Room' Bible reading notes and Paul Doyle's story
Paul Doyle’s Story
Paul Doyle has been a faithful reader of The Upper Room Bible reading notes for over 30 years. Earlier this year he wrote to tell us why: ‘I have been reading The Upper Room since 1988 because that was when I found out that some of the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous began reading it when it was first published in 1935, four years before the official launch of AA.’
Paul is a recovered alcoholic who has been sober since 31 January 1985. He and his wife, Eileen, have three children and three grandchildren and are both retired. Since 2014 he has organised 64 ‘Came to Believe’ spiritual retreats for alcoholics and their families. The last one was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic but he is planning an online men’s retreat this autumn and is hoping to run the 65th retreat at Buckfast Abbey in March 2021.
Here’s Paul’s story …
Paul was born and brought up in Plymouth. His father was an Irish Roman Catholic who left Dublin at the age of 17 to come to England. School was difficult for Paul: ‘Nobody knew about dyslexia in those days. You were just thick; given the dunce’s hat and put in the corner.’ At the age of 11, the local education board sent him away to a special school for children then labelled ‘maladjusted’.
‘This was a painful time where I felt very rejected and lonely.’ Paul recalls, ‘Only in later years did I diagnose myself as being dyslexic.’
He returned to Plymouth when he was 15 and it was then he began to drink. He then joined the Merchant Navy where his drinking really took hold. His boat docked in Belfast where he met Eileen. In 1989 they were married and in 1972 they moved to Plymouth because of the troubles in Belfast.
In 1976 his father was diagnosed with lung cancer and when he died Paul blamed God for not answering his prayers to heal his dad. In his grief and anger, Paul’s drinking spiralled out of control. Then he broke down completely and was admitted to a local mental hospital for several weeks, where he was subjected to electro-convulsive-shock therapy.
He became unemployable in 1979 after an accident in the dockyard. ‘My addictions were taking me over by 1980. I would be in the pub and say to myself, “It’s nine o’clock, I’ll go home,” but I never did. I was always the last one out. I’d wake up putting the key in the door, having blacked out, and then wake up again the next morning full of guilt and remorse, saying, “it will never happen again”, and then two days later I’d out and do the same thing again’.
On 30 January 1985 Paul was on the way to the barber. Finding the shop full, he went to a nearby hotel bar and stayed all day.
‘The next morning, he woke up to an empty house and the ‘four horsemen’ of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair – along with a wet bed. ‘I began thinking about God. That old man with a long cloak and white beard writing bad things in a book about me.’ Eileen had left and this time for good, taking the boys with her.
Paul had finally hit his own rock bottom. He rang his sister, and she came and took him back to her house. He rang AA and within the hour three local members visited him. That night he went to his first AA meeting.
Eighteen months later, he was still sober, and Eileen had returned with the boys. But he was suicidal, desperate because, while his drinking had stopped, he still felt the same inside.
It was just then that he encountered Clarence Snyder on a tape. Snyder was one of the first 40 members of AA and was sponsored by Dr Bob Smith, one of the founders who led Clarence to the Lord in 1938. Clarence discovered that faith in Christ was the only means of living an addiction-free life. Paul listened to his testimony on tape and later rang Florida to learn more, only to discover that Clarence had died in 1984.
But Clarence had established an annual spiritual retreat in Florida based on the 12 steps of AA and Clarence’s wife Grace was still living. She invited Paul to stay with her on his visits to Florida. Paul met many men and woman whose encounter with Jesus had transformed their lives. ‘They were alcoholics, they put hands on me, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.’
He returned home a changed man, eager to share his new faith with fellow alcoholics and eager for baptism.
After several more trips to Florida Paul felt that this Christian version of the Twelve Steps could work in Devon. ‘In 1992 God put a clear message on my heart, to start a retreat in Plymouth. So, in September 1993 I started the first ‘Came to Believe retreat’, with Noel Scully and a team from Florida, at Buckfast Abbey near Plymouth.’
Since then, they have held the retreat twice yearly, with men and women coming from all over Europe and Ireland to attend. There are now 15 Came to Believe Retreats around Europe.
In addition, Paul and seven other Christian alcoholics have established a branch of AA in Plymouth called Big Book Good Book beginners meeting, which is founded on explicitly Christian grounds. They start their meeting with the Lord’s Prayer and include prayer during their evening together.
Paul’s own vision is to see local churches better equipped to deal with addictive problems, which are not only in the community but also frequently within the church itself. Paul’s vision, faith and sobriety are sustained by prayer, Bible reading, and daily reflections from The Upper Room.
To find out more about The Upper Room and to order click here.