At the age of 13, Paul “PJ” Donahue started attending DEC with his mom and stepfather. Around that same time he also began drinking, which led to years of alcohol abuse. “When I was really young I would go to the soda machine. I was already fantasizing and romanticizing about drinking. I remember watching the Superbowl and there were constant beer commercials. I remember drinking soda, and Pepsi was a Bud. I was already off and running before I even started.”
During high school PJ spent much of his time playing music and partying with his friends. His passion for music later turned into a career as a drummer for several bands and a drum teacher for many students in the area. He remembers music and drinking being very separate at first. Most of his week was spent practicing, but he would be looking forward to the weekend when he could get drunk with his friends. “As I grew older, and had more freedom, I was able to make that more a part of my life. Music, partying, and alcohol, they go hand in hand. By the time it was my career, when I could go to work and I was expected to be a part of it [the party scene], it fit too perfectly.”
Years of partying and social drinking had gone by when PJ noticed a change in his behavior. “Somewhere along the way things started to change. I would drink on a Friday night and I would wake up Saturday and the first thing I wanted to do was drink more. Then that became the reality. It got to the point where I would come to Bible Study on a Thursday morning and I would be in the bar by 11AM. Drink all day. Drink all night. Be right back in the bar Friday.” Drinking with friends was no longer just a social call. Drinking was all he could think about.
PJ, along with his wife Jenn and daughter Molly, continued to attend DEC. “Usually Saturday night I would have a gig. I would come to DEC and put on the “Church PJ”. Always looked sharp. Nice button down shirt. Totally shaved. After shave. Mints. Hair perfect. On the outside looking like everything was together. You would never know. I would just sit there and think, ‘I just got to get through this hour then I can go to the gig and drink.’ I would not really listen to the sermon, but I would always watch the worship team. I envied them so much. I was super proud of them.” He was proud of the younger members of the worship team for the way they were serving and the heart they had for the Lord. He was so glad they were “sold out” for God, because he remembered what he was doing on a Sunday morning at that age. “When I was 24 or 25, I would wake up hung-over. Maybe in the bed. Maybe next to the bed. Maybe on the kitchen floor. Who knows? Maybe on someone else’s kitchen floor.” Although he was so intrigued by the members of the worship team, he wanted nothing to do with them. He did not want to deal with his addiction and he knew that if he joined he would not be able to hide it anymore.
After years of alcohol abuse, PJ had a gig that made him realize just how much his addiction had a hold on him. He had some drum students cancel a few hours before a gig in Concord, and he was left in the city just waiting to drink with friends before his gig. “I had a gig in Concord on a Thursday night. It was from 9PM-1AM or something. I had some students up in Concord and then I had a little break, actually too long of a break. I remember thinking to myself, ‘You can’t go in there and get a beer yet, because you know that once you start you will not stop.’ So I sat in the parking lot across the street just waiting out time because I knew once I started it was on.” It wasn’t long after that he decided to go into the restaurant and start drinking.
By the time he made it to his gig he was already drunk. “I remember going up to the bartender and she said, ‘You can drink all you want. It’s all free, but we have a New Hampshire law that you can’t drink on stage.’ And I was like, ‘Thank God! That will force me stop for like an hour. I just need an hour.’” By the time the gig was over he had been drinking for several hours and had to drive back home. His blood alcohol content was far over the legal driving limit. He stopped a couple of times along the way because he was having trouble seeing correctly and was afraid he might get pulled over. After a couple of hours he made it home. As soon as he got in the door he went into the basement and began drinking again.
A couple of weeks after that night he decided to go back to Alcoholics Anonymous and get some help. He had tried sobriety once before but was only able to stay sober for about 3 months. Around the same time, he also decided to join the worship team at DEC because they were in need of a drummer. He first contacted Danielle thinking that being a part of the worship team might help him in his sobriety, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to commit to too much because he had brunch gigs on most Sunday mornings. Shortly after contacting her he was put on the schedule to play once a month! This forced him to have a sense of responsibility, because he knew he couldn’t show up to rehearsal on a Thursday night or a service on a Sunday morning drunk.
Soon after joining the worship team he also began attending a Community Group. They were going through the book “Experiencing God”, which really helped him see what experiencing God was like for the first time. It helped him in his prayer life and taught him how to develop a relationship with God. “Prayer isn’t just a routine. It isn’t just something that you say. Church isn’t just something that you do and just go to get through and then you’re good. You have to start to seek God and ask God to reveal himself to you.”
After 2 months of being sober Danielle asked PJ to play a drum duet for the Mission’s Sunday at DEC, having no idea the internal struggle that was going on. “That’s a weird point in sobriety. When I first stopped drinking…that’s almost easier because you are so close to that turmoil and it is so fresh in your mind. When you get farther in sobriety you kind of forget how bad it was.” He was struggling with sobriety because it was so new and different, but he knew he could not go back because that would be even worse. He felt stuck and vulnerable, but he did not realize just how vulnerable he really was.
PJ came to practice with the rest of the worship team for Mission’s Sunday, and shortly after Danielle noticed something was off about rehearsal. In that moment she stopped rehearsal and prayed. She was feeling spiritual warfare and asked God to help them in their practice. “We had had so many problems, like technical problems. It was really weird. Everything was fine until I sat down to watch the worship team practice the other tunes. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I was just having these thoughts of, ‘Why are you here? They don’t even want you here. You don’t belong here. You need to pack up your stuff and leave and drink. You shouldn’t even be alive.’ I must have gone back on stage. That’s when Danielle prayed the first time. I remember Danielle prayed twice. The first time Satan used it to make it worse on me. Then he was like, ‘Now look! Now you’re not supposed to be here so much that you are ruining it for them.’” As the practice continued, PJ’s feelings were not going away.
PJ put on a brave face like nothing was wrong and continued to play the drums. Danielle had no idea what was going on in his mind, but she knew that the team was under a spiritual attack. So, she prayed again for the demonic spirit to leave practice. “Then Danielle prayed a second time. That’s when I knew that she felt it too.”
That night PJ went home and talked to his wife, Jenn, about what happened. She did some research to find out what spiritual warfare was and that was when PJ realized he had been under attack. “That was really cool that Danielle felt that. It made me look into it more. It made me think, ‘Maybe I’m not ruining it for everyone. Maybe Satan is threatened by what good can come out of it.’”
It has now been several months since that night at worship team rehearsal. Through help in AA, and support from the worship team and his community group, PJ has been sober for over a year. He has continued to serve on the worship team and has been a huge encouragement. Through it all, God has done an amazing transformation from a life of addiction to a life of freedom. “I believed in God. I always believed that we were created and the world was created. I can just see that by looking around. But as far as Jesus, I was a little more like, ‘Maybe? But, how do you know?’ I think often that when Jesus died the veil was torn and I’ve spent a lot of my life just trying to sew it back up. Once I humbled myself and just said, ‘You take it. I can’t do it anymore.’ That’s when things started happening…[when I was] driving home from Concord one night and hearing, ‘Jesus is your friend. You can talk to Jesus.’ And I just casually said, ‘Jesus, I love you.’ And I looked down and the license plate said, ‘Love you more.’ And when they did the baptisms and there was one after the other and I was on the team. I just felt like God was revealing to me another character of him. No matter how dark it gets, or how much stuff happens in the world and how lost everybody gets, and how out of control everything seems to get with shootings and everything, don’t forget for one second that He hasn’t got it right in his hand and He can win at any time, at will. He’s got it.”
PJ with wife Jenn
PJ with daughter Molly