The 700 Club with Pat Robertson


Thirsty for Sobriety

By Shannon Woodland
The 700 Club -Former television anchor and reporter Les Smith reflects about his public image. “That was the one part of my life that I always preserved. Because I thought, ‘That’s the me that I want the world to see.’ I can be a mess at home alone, but when I’m out there in front of other people I’m going to be as professional as I can possibly be.”

Les continues, “I could go hours and hours on live television doing my job at a very high level and then go home and collapse.”

Les was determined not to let his co-workers know he lived a private nightmare. He’d go home after a long day of television reporting and let booze numb the pain. No one knew the weight of Les’ problem, not even Les. “I think about the time when I was a teenager and I’d sit in my room by myself and listen to sad songs. I didn’t understand at the time that was the beginning of a life-long battle with depression.”

In college Les became an alcoholic. He thought it was the only way he could exist. “I did it to mask the anxiety I had, the loneliness I had and the depression I had.”

After college Les began reporting for WAVY-TV in Hampton Roads, Virginia. He pushed himself to get ahead and was very careful about his professional image.  But his private life was a mess. And he didn’t want anyone in it. “I would start a relationship with a woman and it would last a period of time where they tried to get too close to me. And I would use alcohol and isolation to push them away. If someone tried to get too close to me, I’d end the relationship. So I went through this long pattern over the years of pushing people away when they got too close to me.”

When the pain of depression became too much for Les, he’d call in sick. He thought he could handle it himself. “(I thought) ‘I don’t need help from anybody and particularly when I continue to be successful at work. I thought, ‘Look I can go and do my job. Nobody needs to worry about me and what I do when I go home.’”

Les hid his depression for 22 years at WAVY TV. But in 2007, he could no longer keep up the front. So one day, he disappeared. “I was just done. I was just done. I knew I couldn’t go and I couldn’t put on the happy face. I couldn’t be the professional Les. I had to stay on that couch and be the real unhappy Les.”

Les broke his contract and walked off the job. A year later he turned up, worked briefly for a station across town, WTKR, and then left again. He eventually landed a job in New York City where he drank even more. “The real end came in 2010, and I was in New York City, and I really was trying to drink myself to death. I was so depressed, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t keep food down. I just did not want to go on anymore. My dad had to come up from Texas to help me. And he got there and right away called an ambulance. They took me to the hospital, and they had to detox me and give me medicine so I wouldn’t go into a seizure. And I still wanted to die. I asked God to let me die.”

But Les didn’t usually talk to God. And the idea of God talking back, well, he didn’t even consider that, until... “I’ll never forget it was the middle of the night, about 3 o’clock in the morning. It was very dimly lit hospital room and I’m asking God to let me die, and I hear a voice in my spirit that says, ‘No. I want you to live.’  And that was the moment I realized, ‘OK, I have to make a choice. Do I live and how do I live?’” 

In that hospital room, Les learned something about God. “I always believed in God. But I didn’t understand that God was somebody Who was in me and a part of me, all the time. I thought God was somebody you went to church and worshipped on Sunday, and that was the end of the relationship. Then during the week you went and did your thing and came back on Sunday.  That’s the part I missed. And that’s the part that my brokenness eventually led me to.”

Les realized the pain he was trying to numb was really a hole he was trying to fill. “It wasn’t until after I came to Christ that that’s a God-shaped hole. And the only thing that fills that hole is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing else can fill it.”

After being released from the hospital, Les checked into Youth Challenge in Newport News, Virginia. “It was at that point where every day we got Christian education. Every day I deepened my understanding of my relationship with Jesus Christ. And it was only through that experience doing it every day and letting Him come in and do the work that needed to be done in me, that I finally changed. I finally turned that corner as a person.”

Recently, Les guest anchored with friend and associate Barbara Ciara at WTKR TV in Norfolk, Virginia. He’s also a real estate agent. He finds that people recognize him wherever he goes and they want to tell him their stories. “I’ve learned as I’ve begun to give my testimony that people have shared with me their own troubles. And I can tell you, I’m not the only person who ever sat on a couch watching the 700 Club with a bottle of vodka in my hand praying with Pat. There are a bunch of us out there. It just took us a long time to get to the right place.”

“I had gone the wrong direction for a long, long time. I’m not where I need to be, but I’m sure not where I use to be. And for the first time I’m going in the right direction. And what fills for me is the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ and a hope and a future. That’s all that works for me.”

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