By KATIE EUBANKS
Mart McMullan starts each morning the same way: “The very first thing I do is go to my office and ask God to keep me sober,” he says, sitting with his wife, Holly, at their dining room table in Madison.
For more than 10 years now, God has answered that prayer. And for each of those 10 milestones, Holly has been by his side.
His parents didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs, but three of his four grandparents were alcoholics, Mart says. He himself was a functioning alcoholic “from maybe college to my early years in medical sales,” he says.
He and his first wife usually had some wine every night, but “I got intoxicated on the weekends. … I was functioning at a high level,” he says.
“I can remember very vividly, we were down in Rosemary Beach, probably 2008 or 2009, and I was riding a bicycle and I was intoxicated. My father said, ‘You might have a problem.’”
Mart denied it.
“Alcoholics gravitate toward denial and dishonesty,” he says now.
He did go to rehab — six, seven, eight times. His sons, Connor and Sam, were young. All they knew was that Daddy went to “Daddy camp” to get well.
It didn’t work. “(I went) through a very difficult and trying divorce in 2010, 2011,” he says. “The demise of my first marriage led to me drinking trying to fill a void.”
“He used it to cope,” Holly adds.
Finally, after a stay at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, “I simply ran out of excuses,” he says. He’d lost his marriage, his job at the time, and his house.
“He literally had to start over,” Holly says.
Since August 6, 2012, Mart hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol. That’s when he began his daily prayer for help.
“I really think God was the catalyst. God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.”
‘I was a little nervous’
Holly also experienced divorce — hers was finalized in 2007, when her son, William Seymour, was only 2.
In 2012, the same year Mart got sober, Holly read the Bible cover to cover for the first time.
The following year, “I had been dating a little, and it wasn’t going anywhere,” she says. “I finally said, if I’m meant to be single, (so be it). It was just true contentment for the first time in my life.”
Just weeks later, Mart asked her out for coffee. He’d been sober for nine or 10 months.
“I actually somewhat Facebook-stalked Holly. I knew Holly from Jackson Prep in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he says.
“I was a little nervous about going (out with him),” Holly says — partly due to his reputation from high school. As a teen, Mart was the lead singer of a rock and roll band called Illusion that looked every bit the Southern-fried version of Guns ’n Roses.
“While I was waiting for him to pick me up” — the coffee date had morphed into dinner at Char, by the way! — “I told my friend, I need an excuse not to go out with him a second time,” Holly says.
Her father, who’d grown up in a house with an alcoholic dad, was also worried — “until Mart came over,” she says. “And he’s just so open.”
Holly did have to get used to Mart’s lifestyle, which at that time included multiple 12-step meetings per day. One of those meetings was at 5 p.m., right around the time you might want a drink — or a date night with your significant other.
But they both stuck with it. (And Mart still attends meetings, which he says “have been crucial to my recovery even after 10 years … Recovery is not meant to be done alone!”)
Mart proposed to Holly at Amerigo restaurant on January 3, 2014. “Our three boys were there and participated,” she says. “They each handed me a handwritten note: ‘Will’ – ‘you’ – ‘marry me?’ It was perfect!”
On May 24, 2014, Mart and Holly got married at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson.
“I grew up at Northminster, and it has been a blessing in my life and walk,” Mart says.
By then, Holly had been a single mom for seven years. “In the Bible, the number 7 symbolizes completeness,” she says. “Also, on the Enneagram, Mart is a Type 7.”
According to the Enneagram personality profiles described on EnneagramInstitute.com, a Type 7 is “The Busy, Variety-Seeking Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Acquisitive, and Scattered.”
What about Holly? “I’m a Type 1,” she says: “The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic.” Talk about opposites attracting!
The inside of Mart’s gold wedding band bears the inscription “JER. 29:11” for Mart’s favorite Bible verse: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”
“I think that’s what God has done in putting Holly in my path,” he says.
‘Did you ask God … ?’
Mart spends a lot of time on the phone.
“I hear people reach out to him, (he’ll get) phone calls in the middle of the night, desperate situations — they think, ‘If he can (get sober), I can do it,’” Holly says.
She’s heard him ask people, “Did you ask God to keep you sober today?” Especially if he’s their sponsor in recovery, and especially if they’ve relapsed.
But he also listens.
“I can honestly say I struggle with this,” he says. “Sometimes people just want to be heard. … Something magical happens when one alcoholic talks to another.”
Of course, that means somebody has to talk. Mart’s got no problem with that.
“(After I got sober) I would go to meetings (and) I wouldn’t hold back. I’d open up my heart and soul … because I was hurting. The worst thing is to keep it bottled up,” he says.
Counseling can also help in huge ways. “Drinking is but a symptom of an underlying issue. Counseling with a licensed therapist is a great way to get objective feedback on living life on life’s terms,” Mart says.
He’s grateful for Holly’s support as he strives to help other addicts find freedom. “She’s never complained about the many times I’ve spent on the phone or meeting with (people).”
Of course, it helps to have fun sometimes!
“We love to go out to dinner (and attend) Jackson Prep sporting events,” he says. “We love to go to New Orleans, Las Vegas — we love live music! I feel I can go anywhere as long as I’m spiritually fit. However, I don’t necessarily recommend that to someone early in their sobriety.”
Speaking of live music, Mart’s band reunited three years ago for a “battle of the bands” fundraiser for Prep. Shortly thereafter, they changed their name to The Rock Project and played a Parkinson’s disease benefit in Jackson.
That’s because Parkinson’s is part of Mart’s journey too.
‘I don’t even question it’
In fall 2018, “I noticed this tremor in my left arm,” Mart says. “I saw a neurologist and they ran some tests. I was diagnosed (in spring 2019) with early onset Parkinson’s. … The tremors started to radiate down my leg, only on my left side, and that was my only side effect.”
Now he takes the most common form of medication for Parkinson’s, which helps.
“I exercise a lot, eat healthy for the most part, take supplements — I’m very active,” he says.
“They said exercise is the best medicine,” Holly adds.
“The meds make me lethargic during the day. That’s the only thing.” In three years, his symptoms have not progressed. If they do, he might try a surgical treatment called deep brain stimulation, or DBS.
“I do worry about (him) relapsing, if the Parkinson’s gets bad,” Holly says. She also has genetic concerns in her own family. “My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and my mom (is in the end stages of it now) — does that mean I’m going to (have it)? But I just can’t go there. That’s where your faith has to carry you.”
In the meantime, “next year we will be empty nesters,” she says. “I’ve been praying — I don’t know what’s going to take up my time when (my son) William is gone. So I’m excited to see what happens.”
“I want to see this beautiful country of ours,” Mart says.
Regardless of what life brings, “I go back to Jeremiah 29:11,” he says. “God has a plan. And I don’t even question it. I don’t.”
Similarly, Holly loves Proverbs 19:21 — “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
“(It’s about) His plan, not our plan,” she says.