When Vickie Elliott shares her story, people always ask, “Why did you stay?” It’s an understandable question considering everything she’s lived through.
For this native of Martinsburg, West Virginia, her reason was simple. She loved the man she married in high school and never considered leaving him, despite his decades-long addiction to alcohol that ravaged his health and contributed to his death at the age of 57.
I ask the question too, just one of many, and have a feeling this woman will school me on the true meaning of forgiveness and unconditional love.
Love at First Sight
It was love at first sight when 16-year-old Vickie Everhart met tall, good-looking Gideon “Gid” Elliott. By her junior year, she was pregnant, and he was ecstatic. He proposed and bore the difficult task of telling her parents. They married on Valentine’s Day 1976.
“All he wanted to do was work and he worked hard to provide for his family,” says Vickie, the assistant vice president for administration and human resources director for an insurance company. Within eight years, she and Gid were raising two girls and a boy.
“Believe me, it was hard financially.”
But her troubles were only beginning.
Maybe you can relate.
What Happened to Gid?
“Gid started drinking,” Vickie says. “At first, it started with a few beers, and then he started drinking more beers.” Over time, he acquired a taste for vodka, consuming a fifth each night. He’d drink all night, pass out, and get up each morning and begin anew…just like his alcoholic father before him.
“When he drank the hard stuff, he got mean. Hateful. Once he got so mad that he pulled the phone out of the wall, threw it in the yard, and cussed me out. It was mental torture. He ran me into the ground and accused me of having an affair. That’s what the alcohol did to his mind.”
His drinking grew worse.
Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, high-blood pressure, lupus, neuropathy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Gid was arrested for driving under the influence. He spent the night in jail and lost his driver’s license. But that didn’t stop him. Henceforth, he drove his lawn tractor.
He also spent two weeks in the hospital because the alcohol had perforated his stomach, requiring an infusion of 21 pints of blood over five days. Despite the health risks, he couldn’t stop. Vickie would come home and find Gid lying face-down on the driveway or on their bedroom floor.
She’d plaster on a happy face and go to work, her colleagues never the wiser.
And I ask again, “Why did you stay?”
“God gave me a forgiving heart for him.”
A Generationational Problem
Substance use disorder seems to run in families, and eventually it ensnared two of Vickie’s three kids. While dealing with Gid’s issues, a cousin had introduced her then-teenage son to heroin.
“You just can’t imagine what it was like living with two addicts,” Vickie says. “Gid was in and out of rehab, and my son was in and out of rehab.”
Addiction then struck Vickie’s daughter. At first, wine relieved her depression over her dad’s death, but soon she had to drink more to get the same feel-good sensation. Desperate, knowing her addiction had taken control, Vickie’s daughter tried to kill herself and ended up in a psych ward.
All About Grace
So much has changed since then.
Her son will celebrate four years of sobriety later this year and her daughter hasn’t touched a drop in five. “I just can’t praise the Lord enough. All my kids are sober.”
Listening to her story, I can’t help but think about her husband, his suffering and inability to recover. His mental abuse of her.
Why did you stay?
“I think it comes down to love. When we took our vows, we promised we’d never separate or divorce. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it. I think it also comes down to grace. I forgave my husband.”
Vickie’s Life Purpose
But perhaps her suffering had a purpose she couldn’t understand then.
One year after her husband of nearly 40 years died in 2015, Vickie asked God what he wanted for her. “I heard Him say that we needed a revival in our church… bringing hope to the hopeless. I’d never been so excited in my life.”
And so, she launched “Hope, Healing & Love,” an annual three-day conference in Martinsburg where hurting people from around the region share their testimonies.
“I think that God allows us to go through the suffering to help others get through their time of need. Giving our testimonies is how we reach out to others. I want to share what I’ve been through. Someone always relates. God will give you the strength to get through. He certainly carried me.””
Maybe that’s why she stayed with Gid, her one and only true love.