Even with a new bride, a vow to drink more responsibly, and a job he liked, Jake’s depression deepened. He was drinking a bottle of Jameson whiskey a day. He planned his suicide on multiple occasions. He used cocaine regularly. He had an ongoing affair.
They were the darkest years of his life. He believed in God, but he ran to the comforts and escapes of this world to ease his pain. “I wanted relief. All I wanted was some kind of relief,” he recalls.
Rebecca saw her husband’s burdens and desperately tried to take them on herself, believing she could fill the hole in Jake’s heart. On her shoulders, she’d always felt the heavy weight of others’ salvation, both eternally and temporally. She needed to fix and protect the people in her life, and she carried this savior complex into her marriage with Jake. Inevitably, this burden unraveled her to the point at which she had no fight left in her. “His final spiral down felt like eternity, but it was really just a couple months,” she remembers.
It was the summer of 2010. Rebecca knew something was up—she knew Jake’s behavior had changed—so she confronted him. Jake admitted to aspects of the truth. Yes, he’d had an affair, but he promised it was a one-time thing with someone Rebecca didn’t know. In truth, it was habitual and with a mutual acquaintance from Jake’s work.
“You’d think seeking pleasure in that avenue would be satisfying, but that affair made me more miserable than anything else,” Jake recalls. “I hated that I did it. I hated that I couldn’t stop.” He hid so many things from Rebecca that he felt like he was living a complete lie. And Rebecca was frightened for Jake’s well-being. He’d call her late at night, drunk and suicidal, and she wouldn’t know where he was.
“At that point, I was just really trying to control him—to get him to go to therapy, get him to see a psychiatrist, get him on medication. It was just about fixing him, because he was so suicidal I thought he was going to kill himself and it would be a reflection on me as a wife—that my husband killed himself because I wasn’t good enough. It was shameful for me to have a husband going through this and not be able to fix him. I even tried to get him committed and took him to a psychiatrist, but he’d had a good day that day, so he seemed fine and wouldn’t share the truth, so this plan just blew up in my face,” she remembers.
“I knew he was still having an affair. I knew he was still drinking. He didn’t come home at night. I felt like if I did nothing, I was going to come home and find him dead. I couldn’t watch him just kill himself.”
Rebecca spent that summer talking to a Christian therapist, her best friend, and God. They were the only ones who knew what was going on, and they were her lifelines. “God gave me this compassion for Jake—it wasn’t humanly possible,” she remembers. “That’s how I could stay with him, even though he continued the affair, continued to drink, continued to lie.”
But even with that compassion, she was still terrified about what was going to happen to Jake. She called her best friend sobbing one Thursday afternoon, saying that Jake had to get help or she was going to leave. She remembers telling her friend, “There’s no way he’ll choose me.”
Rebecca’s friend replied, “Our God is a God of miracles—He can do anything.” And Rebecca deemed this would necessitate a miracle. There was no way. So she prayed for a miracle.
That night, she went home and gave Jake the ultimatum: pick your lifestyle, or pick me.
And he didn’t pick Rebecca. Jake packed up his things, left for his alcohol-and-drug-fueled weekend at ACL and a final fling with his mistress, and prepared himself to confront the youth leader who was, in Jake’s eyes, the root of all this evil—his alcoholism, his drug addiction, his affair, and his deep, deep pain.
He’d given up. He was so entrenched in shame that he couldn’t imagine God would ever want him. He remembers, “I didn’t want to be accepted back into God’s embrace. I wanted to die. I’d do a lot of cocaine and feel my heart and just beg it to please, just, stop.”
When Jake finally got back after ACL to his 1991 Buick La Sabre, isolated in the center of an empty parking lot outside BJ’s Brewhouse, he was ready to do what it took to end his pain.And then his car wouldn’t start.
Phoneless, he walked fifteen minutes to his wife’s grandmother, hoping to find Rebecca there. To her knowledge, Jake had planned to go visit his father in Florida. Rebecca opened the door to find the last person she expected. Head down, Jake asked for her help with the car. She paused, and then replied, “The only way I’ll help you is if you come to church with me.”
Hungover and out of options, Jake agreed. They fought the zoo of traffic and arrived, finding seats eight rows up in the back bleachers at Austin High School where The Austin Stone Community Church holds Sunday services. Jeff Mangum was teaching a sermon called “Faith Is: Seeing the Unseen,” and it seemed to Jake that God had orchestrated the whole universe so that he could hear this sermon at that exact moment.
Tears poured down Jake’s cheeks. People around him passed him tissues and squeezed his arm in comfort. Jake remembers so clearly, “I felt like God was in the building right there with me. Everything that Jeff said…”—he sighs—“It’s hard to explain. Jeff said that our God is going to push you to the edge where you have no other choice but to rely on Him—that it’ll feel like you’re falling, and He’ll catch you. I needed to rely on someone way bigger than me. That sermon couldn’t have been meant for anybody else but me. And it just crushed me. I felt like I could reach out and touch God, and He said, ‘Dude, just stop. Stop running, stop doing everything. Let Me help you.’ And I remember just crying. I bawled.”
“The snotty kind,” Rebecca interjects, laughing.
Filling his lungs with air, Jake remembers, “That was the most relief I ever had in my life.”
Here was that turning point they had thought was coming in 2007. And here it was, coming with the full force of God’s power and love in their lives. The Harrisons began to feel their burdens lighten, unaware that God’s plan for them was still very much in progress.