Greg Traber snorted lines of cocaine off the back of a toilet seat in a hospital bathroom.
“My wife was in the next room about to give birth to my son,” Greg confessed. “It’s the only place I could find to do it.”
Greg hid it well. No one seemed to notice the times he slipped away to pacify his secret dependence. But feeding the beast was about to cost Greg more than just money.
“I had my first drink of alcohol when I was seven,” Greg remembered. “My grandfather gave it to me. He was an alcoholic. So was my mom.”
Recognizing the destructive family pattern didn’t deter Greg. Instead, it gave him an excuse to drink as much as he wanted. By the time he entered high school, alcohol no longer gave him the buzz he needed, so he tried something much stronger.
“By tenth grade, I was shooting cocaine intravenously,” Greg said. “I mixed it with Dilaudid or Percocet — whatever I could get my hands on in the 80s. By 1984, I was selling drugs and doing all sorts of things I shouldn’t have been doing.”
Find a Penny
In 1989, Greg reconnected with his former girlfriend.
“Penny grew up in church,” Greg said. “I always like to joke that she’s been a Christian since birth, so I tried hiding my drinking and cocaine use from her.”
They married in 1991 and soon had a daughter, then a son. Greg went to work for his father’s business. All appeared well from the outside, but Greg’s alcoholism steadily carved a chasm between him and Penny.
“I knew he was drinking the whole time he was working,” Penny said. “I remember lying in bed many nights praying that he would make it home safely. I didn’t fully know what to do, so I just did the next right thing. I knew prayer was always the next right thing.”
But like the glacier that sank the Titanic, Greg’s more dangerous cravings lurked underneath the surface, waiting to sink his marriage.
“In November of 1999, I tried crack cocaine,” Greg said. “That drug took me places.”
Up to that point, Greg considered himself an honest user: He worked for his drug money. But one use of crack cocaine had his mind tossing around scenarios he’d never before considered.
“I remember seeing an extension ladder sitting outside someone’s house,” Greg said. “All I could think of was to steal it and sell it for drug money. So I took it to the pawn shop and sold it for 70 dollars and bought crack cocaine.”
And just like that, Greg’s drug use was no longer honest.
Sneaking money out of his bank account for crack, Greg was heading toward financial ruin. Plus, his funky behavior led Penny to fear he was having an affair. Greg teetered on the edge of losing it all.
Noticing Greg’s abrupt change, his dad hemmed him in and went for the truth.
“On a Monday, after about two months of using crack, I went in to work, and my dad said we had to go look at a job site,” Greg remembered. “Once we were in the car, he said, ‘What’s going on? You’re not going to get out of this car until you tell me.’”
Greg unloaded on his dad, confessing his addiction to alcohol and drugs. Greg’s dad called the entire family into action. They gathered at Greg and Penny’s house where they joined forces to help Greg get clean.
“That afternoon, I got on my knees and prayed,” Greg remembered. “I said, ‘Lord, if You are who You say You are, and You love me the way You say You do, You’ll take this from me.’ That was January 24, 2000, and I haven’t used anything since.”
Power of Prayer
Although certainly on the right track, Greg still had some work to do. He entered an eight-week rehab program while Penny rallied her church family to pray for Greg’s recovery.
“That whole ‘power of a praying wife’ thing — that’s real,” Greg said. “I knew she’d been praying for me non-stop for years. People would have clapped if she left me. But she didn’t. She came every family night to visit while I was in rehab.”
After rehab, Greg returned home to discover his new identity without drugs and alcohol. Penny and the church were there to help.
“The following Sunday, I went to church with Penny,” Greg said. “We were there an hour before church, and they were doing a pre-service prayer circle. I walked over to the pastor and shared what was going on. Without hesitation, the pastor and associate pastor placed their hands on me and prayed.”
Wrapped in the love and acceptance of his family and his church, Greg slowly realized God’s plan to use his years of drug abuse for the restoration of others.
The Next Right Thing
Greg became a certified substance abuse counselor and worked in an intensive outpatient program before opening his own practice.
“I felt I needed to get my hands dirty,” Greg said. “I needed to get into individuals’ lives. I can really, truly relate to people who are struggling through addiction. That’s what God has me doing right now.”
Greg and Penny teach addicts that the opposite of addiction is more than sobriety — it’s connection. They encourage family members to come in close and walk people through their battles.
“People look at addicts and want to discard them and walk away,” Greg said. “In all reality, they should be gathering around them and loving them. That’s what’s going to get them to the point where they understand there is so much more to life.”
Most importantly, Penny and Greg want to connect others with Jesus.
“Grab hold of Jesus,” Penny said. “Hold on to Him and don’t let go. In the pit of addiction, it’s pretty hopeless, but never give up hope. You are never alone.”