Gene Dooley was beaten. Tired. Done with it all. Tonight he would take the only way he could see to escape his decades-long alcohol addiction.
He grabbed a vacuum cleaner hose, stooped and duct-taped it to the exhaust pipe of his Ford pickup. Then he ran the hose through the back window and sealed it with more tape.
He climbed in and turned the key. The clock said 2 a.m. As exhaust fumes flooded the cab, he coughed himself to sleep.
He awoke with the sun shining through the windshield so brightly he could barely make out the time on the clock: 6:10. The truck was still running, its gas gauge near empty. And against all logic, he was alive. He turned off the truck and went back to his house.
“I figured if four hours didn’t do it, surely what little gas I had left wouldn’t,” Dooley told Decision.
Dooley had begun sneaking alcohol from his parents’ parties when he was 12, growing up in rural Fayette County, Tenn. In his teens, he and his friends didn’t find much to do except drink. At age 15, he went to rehab for the first time.
After a stint in the military, Dooley went to work on a river barge. For 15 years, he was able to live as a “functioning alcoholic,” he says. He would work 30 to 70 days straight, drinking no alcohol. Then he’d have two or three weeks off, during which time he did little else but drink. Three days before returning to work, he would taper off his drinking, thus appearing perfectly normal when he reported for his next assignment.
But then he switched from barge work to paddlewheel riverboats, and he could no longer keep his drinking separate from his work. The days were long, but he could go home each night and drink.
“I was probably legally intoxicated a lot of times when I would go to work,” Dooley says, “because if I didn’t get off work until 10 p.m., I would drink until 3 or 4 in the morning, then get up at 8 and go to work.”
He lost his job. After more DUIs, his truck was impounded. Without a vehicle, he couldn’t find another job. He had burned bridges with his family. For three years, he lived alone, subsisting on food stamps, fish from a local lake and vegetables from his garden. Any money he made from odd jobs went to alcohol. It was during this hopeless period that he tried to take his own life.
Two more years passed before Dooley found help. A couple from a local church reached out to him and suggested that he check into Hebron Colony Ministries, in Boone, N.C. He arrived—reluctantly—on Nov. 20, 2004.
“Little did I know my entrance into the program at Hebron was the beginning of my new life,” he says. On Nov. 24, around 9:30 p.m., Dooley went to the chapel alone, repented of his sins and gave his life to Christ.
He stayed on as an employee after completing the program, and he now serves as the ministry’s food service director.
He also went back to school and earned a bachelor of arts in religion with a minor in ministry, and He now teaches, preaches and leads small groups, both at Hebron Colony and at churches and Christian conferences. When his father passed away last summer, the very family members who had once wanted nothing more to do with him asked him to handle arrangements and preach the message.
“If you had asked me when I came to Hebron what would be the greatest outcome for me, I would have said to quit drinking,” Dooley says. “But God had so much more in store for me—as He does for all of us if we are just willing to turn to Him.”