By Joy Allmond
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Robby Gallaty isn’t who you think he is.
At least that’s what billboards in the greater Nashville area said of Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in nearby Hendersonville, in the weeks leading up to the church’s 2016 Easter service.
The message—meant to mimic a smear campaign—gained national media attention and garnered 14,000 attendees on Easter Sunday, doubling the church’s usual attendance of 7,000.
But the intent of this jarring billboard message went beyond piquing interest of locals and getting them through the doors at Long Hollow to hear the gospel preached; it was a preview of Gallaty’s testimony of radical life change.
In his recent release from B&H Publishing, Recovered: How an Accident, Alcohol and Addiction Led Me to God, Gallaty tells the rest of the story.
Many years before he was a pastor, Gallaty was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Medicated pain management efforts following a near-fatal car accident three days before Thanksgiving launched a downward spiral into substance abuse.
“My descent into full-scale drug abuse was amazingly rapid,” Gallaty says in Recovered. “In November of 1999, before the accident, I was selling cars, training for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and thinking about business opportunities. By early the next year, I was looking for faster and better drug connections. I got in too deep for a number of reasons.”
In less than a year’s time, Gallaty says he became a “fully functioning addict.”
“Not everyone can live that way, but I did,” he recounts in his book. “It enabled me to lead a shadow life by compartmentalizing my drug abuse so that the people who loved me most knew nothing about it.
“Other than God himself, the greatest resource available to us, in times of crisis, is the love of the people who care about us. But true love always demands full transparency—my family needed to know what was going on in order to help, but I covered it up so well, they had no idea.”
Gallaty said he hid his addiction so well he never felt the need to avoid his family. He participated in normal activities with them—like having dinner and going to the movies.
“We hung out together—but all the time, my parents had no clue their son was a drug abuser and dealer,” he writes. “I also went to work every day, I did my job, and everything seemed normal. But I was secretly continuing to destroy myself.”
And he wasn’t just destroying himself—he was destroying his most important relationships. Not only was Gallaty in and out of rehab programs, he stole $15,000 from his parents to support his habits.
Exasperated, his parents had him move out of their home.
“When my parents kicked me out, it saved my life,” said Gallaty. “It was the hardest three months of their lives, and they’ll tell you that. But it was the best thing for me. I knew that I couldn’t fix myself.”
Gallaty said this was the best thing for him both practically and spiritually. His eviction from his parents’ house began a series of events that eventually led to him becoming a Christ follower.
“Even when they were unbelievers, they extended the grace of God to me in their unconditional love and support,” he said. “My prayer is that parents will read this book and be encouraged to never give up on their children, knowing that God is working even during the worst times.”
In Recovered, Gallaty chronicles the events and people God used along Gallaty’s recovery journey to bring him to Christ. He said his past addiction experience has bred an authenticity in sharing his struggles as he relates to individuals and families affected by substance abuse.
He also aims to resource church leaders to minister to those individuals and families, particularly in this current season of heightened opioid addiction.
“My hope is that pastors and leaders who have never struggled with addiction will be able to better understand how people struggle to experience sobriety,” Gallaty said.
“I wrote [Recovered] as a tool to be given out to people struggling with an addiction of any kind. I share the gospel on three different occasions in the book. Prayerfully, God will use it to bring people closer to Himself.”
Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.