I would try to look into the mirror and shave without looking myself in the eye. I had become my dad. It was just too much to bear. I was doing to my wife what my dad did to me and that is pulled away and pulled away. It was a hard time for me.
I started in a small little Pentecostal church. My dad was a preacher but he was also an alcoholic. It started when I was eleven. When there is an addiction in the home you can’t talk outside the family. Mom beat the crap out of me for telling anybody what went on in the house. The constant message was that you are not worth anything and you will never make it. Back when I left home at seventeen that was the last thing my dad told me. He didn’t want me to leave. He said; “You will never make it.”
So, I left home and I put a little band together. The Imperials heard me and they said; “Do you want to come to Nashville and try out?” So I did and they hired me. I was twenty-two.
I tried to act as none of the stuff in my childhood happened. I just tried to act like it’s just done, gone and over here. Yet when seventeen years of your life you have heard a thousand times that you are not worth anything, that you’re not worth the salt that goes on your bread. I tell you, after a while, you begin to believe it.
I was in New York. I was twenty-six with Tori (my wife). We were staying at her brothers' house. There were three Heinekens. I thought everybody else has one. I will just have this and cool down in my head. So I drank the first one. I started feeling something. So I drank another one and I felt even better. Those voices started getting quiet. So I had a third. But if anybody knows anything about alcohol within four hours it’s all gone. Then you start feeling very very guilty that you are a gospel singer but you’re trying to numb your feelings. Then it started a cycle for probably about eight or nine years of just living in secret and my wife not even knowing what was going on.
It was in the mid-eighties that my world collapsed and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wound up in Memphis at the civic center there. My band and I were playing, a sold-out house. I was in the dressing room on the floor crying so hard that mucous and everything else was just rolling out. I couldn’t stop. I was begging God; “Heal me or kill me. I can’t live this way anymore. I cannot live this way.” I surrendered. I just surrendered and said; “God, whatever it takes. I will do it. I will do it.”
I started going to a therapist. A Christian counselor that could start combating childhood trauma that had never been addressed. What I began to learn was that I wasn’t a bad person trying to get good. I was a sick person that needed to be well. That started a long process.
I was down at Mark Lowry’s house. There was a man and he was dying of cancer. His son said: “Would he just come by and say hello? It would mean so much to my dad.” So, I said; “Yes.” I took my acoustic guitar and went to the hospital. When I walked in I was shocked at how much he looked like my dad. The first thing he told me, he said; “Russ, I have lived a long life and I have served Jesus. I have taught my boys how to live and if God doesn’t heal me I am going to teach my boys how to die.” That’s a dad. That’s a dad. Then I asked him, I said; “Bishop Jones, Franklin Jones, would you pray for me?” He stands up and he puts his hands on my shoulders. I’m looking up into his eyes just like my dad. He had blue eyes just like my dad. He starts praying and I am just overcome. I start crying. I collapsed to my knees crying so hard I can’t stop. It was just down in the belly of my soul and my stomach. It was coming out. He said; “Russ, I’m so proud of you and what you’ve done with your life.” God is so happy with what you have done.” He began to affirm me. When I stood up after fifteen or twenty minutes something was different about me. Something was different.
I went back to Mark’s house and Tori saw me. The first thing she said was; “What happened to you?” She saw it in my face. I said; “I was just affirmed by a dad.” My Heavenly Father was using this man who looked like my dad to affirm me. It’s like I stepped into the role of a man. I stepped into the role of a father.
Guilt says you did something bad. Shame is I am that thing that’s bad. Jesus asked that crippled guy, he said; “Would you be made whole? If I heal you, you can’t sit here and beg anymore. You have been begging your whole life.” When that question came to me; Would you be made whole? I thought about it. My whole world is going to change. I said; “Yes.” I had a new Dad.