‘I Would Probably Have Been Dead’

By Marc Massery

Since he grew up with an alcoholic father, Joe Avalos of Stamford, Connecticut, swore he would never drink. But at age 22, he started drinking with a friend. For the next few decades, he succumbed to alcoholism, falling further away from God and his Catholic faith.

“My life was a mess with alcohol and prescription drugs,” he said. “I justified everything by thinking that all my friends did it … . As long as someone I loved was doing worse than me, then I was OK.”

Joe started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet in 1993, after he discovered EWTN watching television at the gym. “But I didn’t have the awakening from it until [years later],” he said.  

In 1995, Joe was driving home from a yoga retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts. He had lost 5 pounds and felt like he was in a great place spiritually. “When I was driving through Stockbridge, near the Red Lion Inn, I noticed a very small sign saying ‘Divine Mercy Shrine,’” he said. “I almost stopped … . [H]owever, I wound up deciding not to because I felt good enough [from the yoga retreat].” He told himself he would drive back some other day. Several miles down the road, he stopped for ice cream and to use the bathroom. In the bathroom, of all places, he found a Bible on the counter. He said, “I opened randomly to a page, and the phrase I read made me believe I had to go back to the Shrine.”

When he got back, he drove up Eden Hill and walked into the chapel. “I stood there in awe,” he said. “I felt the same way I did when I was 7 years old at my First Holy Communion. Standing there, my whole body began to feel abnormally heavy, weighted, and grounded. Any anxiety I had left.” At the Divine Mercy Giftshop, he purchased a set of Rosary beads and a Catholic Bible. He’s been saying the Chaplet faithfully ever since. 

Despite his spiritual awakening at the Shrine, Joe continued to abuse alcohol. Drinking helped him deal with all the suffering life sent his way. His father died in 2003. As a result, he had to take over caring for his mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Then just six months after his father passed, Joe’s nephew died in a drunk driving accident. All these trials led Joe to a breaking point. “It gave me the breakdown I needed to [make some changes],” he said. 

The day Joe’s mother moved into a nursing home, he was sitting by himself in an empty house, looking at his bottle of prescription sleeping pills. “I was so depressed from what happened,” he said. “I was sitting on the floor, frozen in fear for over an hour, trying to decide whether to kill myself or not.”

He was embarrassed to call emergency services because he had worked as a 911 supervisor for the fire department. “Finally, I dialed 211 (a shortcut to all kinds of emergency services in the Northeast) to talk to someone before I did it,” he said. “They sent an ambulance before I took the pills … . If I didn’t dial [emergency services] I would have been dead.”

Subsequently, he was hospitalized for three weeks in the psychiatric unit. On the last day of his treatment, he attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He’s been sober for 15 years. 

“The [Divine Mercy] devotion didn’t stop anything bad from happening, including my breakdown,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t been doing this devotion for 10 years before my breakdown, I would probably have been dead.” 

With alcoholism behind him, Joe’s life turned around. “These days, everything is a miracle in my eyes,” he said. For the past couple of years, he’s been hosting his own weekly radio show called “Cry Oneness” on WCAT in St. Louis, Missouri. “[It’s] a show where you can share your miracles, your stories, your life, your poetry, your music — anything you want to share related to how God is working in your life,” he said. He broadcasts every Sunday at 3 o’clock, the Hour of Great Mercy. 

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