Part three of my four-part interview with Billy Rieser.
What was your “down and out moment? When did you hit rock-bottom?
Like so many athletes that either make it or don’t; what many have in common is not being prepared for life after sports.
I had one goal in life and that was to be an NBA star. That was my destiny, that was all that mattered to me.
I wish I could say that I was a good family man. But even after marrying the sweetest girl in the world from college and having a baby girl who just arrived into the world, my family was not as important back then as basketball.
My priorities were not healthy. After I was not able to play I became miserable and misery loves company. I started hanging around the wrong crowd and one day I had a conversation with a person I should have never spoken to.
That person was a female and the conversation led to an affair which led to other affairs.
By now my life is spinning out of control. It is tough enough to manage one life, now I am living a double life of secrecy and deceit.
In my denial where I thought I was invincible, I proceeded to sink deeper and deeper. To bring some clarity to my thinking and actions, here is what I know now. When you don’t take personal responsibility for your own life and your mistakes and junk, you tend to blame the ones you love the most. I blamed my family for my own failure because I never wanted to take a look at who the real Bill Rieser was because when I would, I never liked what I saw.
I took the coward’s way out by convincing myself that my life’s failures was my wife’s fault.
It was during this time that Carolynn (my wife) approached me with wanting to leave New York and raise our daughter in Lexington, Kentucky.
What was it like heading South to the Blue Grass?
Since I have been running all my life, the first thought that came to me was, “This is great, I can run to Kentucky and get a fresh start.”
The problem with running to a new town was that it didn’t matter; “I” was the problem.
It’s like the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
I was still in running mode, all moving to Kentucky did for me was enable me to find new people to get high with, to get drunk with, and more women to have affairs with.
At this point I am holding on by a thread just trying to survive.
One day Carolynn found a church. Up to this point I had never wanted anything to do with religion, church or God.
I would probably pop you between the eyes if you spoke to me about God because I hated God and wondered were he was when I was growing up East Harlem.
I would be the most unlikely person to even consider contemplating anything spiritual in my life.
Without my knowledge, Carolynn starts asking people to pray for me at this church.
Every week she went she would find more people to pray for me.
I did not know it at the time but she enlisted hundreds of people to start praying for me.
All along Carolynn had no idea what I was doing. She just knew that I had been hurt and had an emptiness in my heart and soul; and that I needed help.
And then it happened. One day Carolynn walked in on a conversation I was having with one of the girls I had an affair with. In one second my secret life of many years was exposed. We are as sick as our secrets and my secrets were killing me so when Carolynn found out about that affair, I then proceeded to be brutally honest with her and tell her about all the others and I did not leave anything or anyone out.
To say she was devastated would be an understatement. She was shocked into complete devastation and sorrow.
For three weeks all she could was scream and yell at me and cry uncontrollably. She was mad and I knew a couple of things were going to happen.
First, I knew she could never ever forgive me and second we were getting a divorce. There was no reconciling this marriage. There was no way she could ever forgive me and trust me again. I knew that I had just lost my family and it humbled me. I hit my bottom. I was at the lowest point in my life.
To make matters worse, we finally have a coherent conversation where we decided to set a time one particular night to talk about the details of the divorce. I was not looking forward to this night.
Before the meeting Carolynn pays a visit to the church she has been attending and asks a pastor to pray for her. Here was the prayer;
God, give Carolynn peace that surpasses all understanding.
That is all he prayed but Carolynn will tell you on her drive home when and where God simply gave her peace and somehow took this burden away from her.
Carolynn was telling God on that same drive home that she was not able to forgive me or even handle what is going on.
So when Carolynn walked through the door that night and came home, there was something different about her. She had this calm (a peace about her that I had never seen before) a confidence and even a little smile on her face that by now I am freaking out because I do not recognize the woman standing before me. But when she started to speak, I knew that it was God speaking to me for the first time where I could hear and know his voice.
“Bill, God would NEVER give up on you and I AM NOT going to give up on you. God can forgive you for ANYTHING you have done. And SO CAN I. I don’t know if I could ever forget the things you have done, but I am willing to give it a try if you are willing to give your life to Jesus Christ?”
At that moment I knew that God was real because he loved me despite me and he just demonstrated that love by giving my wife the ability to forgive me.
In a split second I saw my whole pass life before me. I saw where God was always trying to get my attention; he was always pursuing me, but most of all he always loved me.
It was in that moment that I asked my wife to forgive me. I asked God to forgive me and I accepted his free gift of grace by asking and accepting what Jesus did for me.
That night I told God I would do anything he wanted me to do as long as I knew it was him.
Now I am not the sharpest tool in the shed but being an athlete and a good runner, the only thing that made sense to me that night was to run as hard to God as I have been running from him for the first 36 years of my life.
That moment was 18 years ago and I am still running to God. I must say that I am one satisfied customer.
I have been set free from my anger. I have been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for 18 years.
Carolynn and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this past April 28th and I am happy to report that we are more in love with each other than at any other point in our marriage.
(NEXT UP: IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.)