There is neither limit nor an expiration date on what God can do in a person’s life.

By the time I was 57, my love for alcohol and myself had cost me everything dear. But that didn’t keep God from loving me, choosing me, and putting me in places where I could impact people’s lives.

For 40 years, I lived in the clutches of alcoholism and drug abuse. Programs told me I needed a higher power—something that could help me channel my thoughts and keep me sober. So I set out to find one. But each one I tried led to deeper levels of shame.

At 38, I reached an all-time low after my poor choices cost me both my marriage and a successful restaurant business. Devastated, I took my dog—the only friend I had left—and traveled to a remote place to hide from life.

I was a hopeless, pitiful sight as I sat with my loyal friend, Bailey, eating a bowl of Purina Puppy Chow soaked in Jack Daniels whiskey.

I had burned every bridge and had put everyone I loved through misery.

It all started when I was 14 and my parents delivered the shocking news that they were getting a divorce. We were a tight-knit family who attended church weekly. I’d never even seen my folks disagree, so I couldn’t understand why they would divorce.

I didn’t welcome the changes. Life wasn’t right without Dad, and strange emotions stirred in my heart. Mom cried often, and my siblings and I lived in painful confusion. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my footing. Our family unit had been my security and foundation.

I begged God to help me. Every night, I curled up on my bed, played “The Lord’s Prayer” on my record player, and prayed, “Please, God, put my family back together.” But He didn’t.

No matter how hard I prayed, God remained silent. And that angered me. I couldn’t understand why He didn’t intervene if He was so good and loving. I don’t know if that’s when I consciously wrote God off, but I do know that I was no longer certain what to think about Him. So for the next 40 years, I lived apart from Him.

It wasn’t long before my parents each remarried. My stepparents didn’t stand a chance of gaining my acceptance. It wasn’t that they were unloving; they just didn’t fit into the picture of what I wanted my life to look like.

My parents’ divorce had turned my world upside down. I had no clue how to process the pain or navigate my new life. It didn’t help that my teenage body was raging with hormones, and I was experiencing peer pressure for all sorts of things. It was a perfect storm.

I sought out people and substances to help me escape my pain. Partying and surfing consumed my life, and I basically lived at the beach near our South Florida home. My grades reflected my new hobbies, and I failed my first semester of 11th grade.

My stepfather, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, suggested military school, and off I went. But nothing changed. More than discipline, I needed a new heart. Mine was in agony, and all I knew to do was to keep numbing it with substances.

Somehow, I made it through to graduation. Mom told me that if I wanted to continue living at home, I’d better get my act together. But I didn’t heed her warning. I racked up two DUI charges and, in separate incidents, totaled two cars. Then, I was arrested with the intent to distribute drugs.

True to her word, Mom kicked me out.

I moved into a camper van and sought work at a local restaurant. A friend of my dad’s noticed I had a knack for the food service industry and offered me work in his high-end Italian restaurant in Virginia. I jumped at the chance to move—what I’d call my first

geographic cure.

The restaurant world was an ideal match for my love for alcohol, drugs, and the party life. During this time, I met a beautiful young waitress, and we got married. Life was good.

Many influential people, including some related to organized crime, ate the food I served. I liked those guys and their exciting life, and they liked me. (It’s a good thing, because I also witnessed what happened to the people they didn’t like.)

They sat around the table laughing and carrying on their business while I took it all in. It wasn’t long before I was gambling and helping the bookies collect and pay out.

I discovered I enjoyed cooking and, in 1982, decided to attend chef school in France for six months to develop my skills. When I returned, I worked at Maison Blanche in DC, right across the street from the White House. Soon, one of the restaurant owners I had worked for in Virginia suggested we start a new restaurant. He put up the money and I put up the talent, but it wasn’t a good partnership.

My wine distributor then suggested I open my own restaurant and backed me financially. We called it Dale’s at Chick’s Beach, and it quickly became the place to be. My wife worked hard alongside me.

I wish I could say I acknowledged and honored her hard work, but I did not. My addictions were completely out of control by then, and I was no longer able to balance the party life with my responsibilities at work.

There’s no need for me to go through my “drunk log” and recount all the horrible things I did. I was an awful husband with no respect for my marriage vows and a terrible businessman. When my wife and financial backer had had enough, they held an intervention. They gave me a choice: attend a treatment center or lose my marriage and the restaurant.

I agreed to their terms, but I wasn’t ready to change. I was only there to save my hide. I even had an affair during my 30-day stay at the recovery center. I was incapable of loving anyone, including myself.

I managed to stay sober for one month after treatment before I reached for the bottle again. That choice cost both my marriage and my restaurant and led me to the pitiful scene I described earlier with my dog.

Fortunately, some good did come out of my eating that Jack-soaked dog food—I finally realized I had a problem. I asked my parents for help, and they came through. Mom helped fund a stay at another treatment program, while Dad helped me find a job and some wheels.

My sobriety was short-lived, however, and I got into another accident. This time, I hit someone head-on and almost killed them. I should have served time, but the judge graciously gave me five years’ probation during which I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous.

At these meetings, I learned valuable coping tools and met kind people who understood my pain. I also met Roberta, who was recovering from heroin addiction. It was love at first sight for me.

But a problem arose when I made her my higher power and rested my entire well-being on the health of our relationship. Since neither one of us was equipped to love the other, I lived on an emotional rollercoaster.

Three days shy of my fifth year of sobriety, Roberta broke off our relationship. Devastated, I reached for a six-pack of beer. When that wasn’t enough, I drove to the store to get more. Wouldn’t you know it—I rear-ended a police officer on the way. Three hours of drinking put me in the most serious trouble I had ever seen.

On January 2, 1997, I entered a courtroom filled with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and police officers, all urging the judge to send a message to the community regarding drinking and driving.

He complied and sentenced me to six-and-a-half years in the Florida DOC.

I thought I’d gotten the raw end of the deal, but I’m now convinced that sentence saved my life. It gave me time to realize I was powerless to change myself, and I remembered God.

During the three-and-a-half years I served of my sentence, I became deeply involved with chapel services and started reading my Bible. When I was released from prison, I entered a work-release program where I worked for Publix Supermarkets. The deli wasn’t my high-end restaurant, but I was grateful for the job.

I wanted to stay sober and make good choices—I really did. But like a dog who returns to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11), I eventually returned to the bottle. I just didn’t know what to do with the pain in my heart and all those uncomfortable emotions, so when they surfaced, I reached for the bottle to take them away.

Publix noticed my struggle and sent me to an employee assistance program. There, I discovered Celebrate Recovery (CR). This 12-step program unashamedly points people to Jesus Christ as the only higher power that can save and transform a life.

Through this program, I realized that although I had professed to believe in Jesus in prison, I hadn’t surrendered my life to Him. I still doubted His unconditional love for me, and that made me unstable in all my ways (James 1:6–8).

My faith took anchor, though, after I met Lonny, my CR sponsor. His faith in God was so real and attractive. For years, we met weekly at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings at his home. It wasn’t convenient, especially with me riding a bike, but it was necessary if I wanted a different life.

Slowly, I began to let go of life’s controls and give the broken pieces of my heart to Jesus. Through Him, I found the healing I needed as He bound up my wounds (Psalm 147:3) and gave me the power to change (Philippians 2:13; 4:13).

Lonny told me early on, “Dale, if you get up, dress up, show up, and do the next right thing, and if you ask God to guide you and you surrender your life daily to Him and serve others, God will bless you.” I took his words to heart and proved him right. I’ll soon celebrate 12 years of sobriety.

God has used my past in amazing ways. He’s allowed me to set up and teach Celebrate Recovery programs in prisons and to establish a transitional home for men called The Living Harvest in Tallahassee, Florida.

I’ve attended an exclusive executive leadership training in New York City and criminal justice reform meetings at the White House. I’ve even been recognized at the Florida Governor’s Mansion for my public service. And all of that happened before I could even drive! Our inabilities and shortcomings don’t hinder God.

In March 2021, Prison Fellowship hired me as a chaplain resource liaison. In God’s perfect timing, I was able to get my driver’s license so I could accept the position. After 21 years of restrictions, I can now fly anywhere nationwide, rent a car, and drive myself to prisons and meetings. To God be the glory (Isaiah 26:12).

God truly does help those who seek Him. No matter how old you are or how many times you’ve tried and failed or how little or much you have, God can still make a way for you. It’s not too late.

Grab hold of His hand, get up, and try again. God has not given up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. Make Him your higher power. With Him, there are no limits (Matthew 19:26).


DALE WHITE is the founder of Living Harvest, a post-release residential Christian Recovery organization. He also serves as chaplain resource liaison for Prison Fellowship, has served on an executive committee for the Florida Department of Corrections, and is a Celebrate Recovery Inside State Representative for Florida.