“… And lately I wonder if Christians aren’t the most miserable of addicts–and if the fact of our faith itself isn’t part of the reason. After all, aren’t we supposed to be new creations in Christ, freed from the power of sin? Because we tend to think of addiction this way—strictly as a moral failing—we try to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps. We pray harder, repent more fervently, and fight temptation until we’re blue in the face.” – Sober Boots, a blog by Heather Kopp
After reading Heather’s thoughts last night I read several of the comments from those who had extremely judgmental view of a person’s addiction recovery.
I was left with a hollow feeling inside. I found myself saying that addiction is not a sin. But then, thinking long and hard about it this morning, I realized that although I have never dealt with it there was an element of sin involved in my alcoholism.
I am always helped by talking to my husband Tom. I sought his comfort in the question, “It wasn’t sin, right, that I became an alcoholic? It wasn’t sin, was it? Is it?” He’s one of the least judgmental people I know, so when Tom said “Yes, it is in part it was sin, you had a choice . You cannot discount free will.” I had to listen.
(And then we launched into a wonderful conversation about James 3, our hierarchies of sin and the power of our tongue. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers these things ought not to be so.” James 3, ESV)
How is it that I fell into addiction?
How is it that I am sober today? My sobriety has taken inner strength of will and conviction. Was it God that has given me the strength to remain sober for three and a half years?
How much of my sobriety was tangled up in my conversion path, my faith walk, the gentle work of the Holy Spirit?
In some ways living free of addiction is a form of conversion, as Alyce M. McKenzie says, a turnaround from bondage to a self-destructive behavior to freedom that comes when we commit ourselves to the power of God.
But honestly I don’t recall some grand transaction, or moment, whereby I asked God to help me become sober and whamo I was healed. No, it was much, much slower. It was through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a final ultimatum-of-sorts made by my husband converging within twenty-four hours, that I made a choice to finally quit.
But the conviction had been building for some time – though choosing sobriety took years.
I was pretty sure I was addicted to alcohol when my sisters and I attended the family program at Hazeldon at the request of my mom. It was there that I learned for the first time about the illness of addiction, more importantly about the brain pathways of an addict, about codependency, about the hell we create for others by our words and sarcasm, about the strength sometimes to be found in Al Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous. (**I say more about AA below) After meeting with a doctor there, acknowledging my depression and how much and how often I was drinking, she said they could justifiably commit me to the residential program. But I couldn’t do it — couldn’t accept the need to quit totally. Didn’t believe it was that bad. I went home and spent the next five years or so on a slow decline. Not every day at that point. Not drinking to black out, yet. Not even really in that bad of shape, but an alcoholic for sure.
How many nights over the next few years did I go to sleep almost blacked out drunk. Only just able to stumble to bed – falling into the protective down covers, pounding head on the soft accepting pillows, heart aching with the pain of it all. Thinking – praying – crying out to God.
Making promises. Promising that tomorrow would be different. Promising myself that tomorrow I would not buy any wine. Tomorrow I would not drink myself to a disoriented, forgotten, insensible place. Hopeful that tomorrow would be different, only to fall into the same habit, experiencing the same amnesia as I was purchasing more alcohol.
The psychologist and spiritual counselor Gerald May in his book called Addiction and Grace defines addiction as “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire.”
I found myself, day after day, month after month, year after year, for more than five years being fairly certain that I was an addict and yet choosing the same path. I thought I could be a social drinker. I didn’t want to stop, not really, for a long time. Wine and other alcohol was like a lover. I look back now knowing it clearly, seeing it objectively that it was an idol, yes, more important than anything else. Alcohol was my reason for living. I gave it the space and place in my life much more important than my health, or the welfare of my family, or my commitment to God. So, yes, there is an element of choice. And in that free choice it was a sin.
But sadly as Christians we have a hierarchy of sin – infidelity and addiction being at the top. Why? I suppose it doesn’t even matter ultimately. They were my choices, though compelled by the illness in my brain and the broken state of my heart. I made them. I chose.
And where was God? Well, I stopped seeking him. I closed off from him the part of me that was an addict. I cannot fully describe how I lived with myself spiritually in those years except to say that I was numb even while being wracked with guilt. I was self-medicating. I was depressed. I felt hopeless. I turned away from God. This is a poem I wrote at one point in my recovery, titled Days Without God.
she walked away from hope,
traveled the road of unkept promises.
and god was far away.
days without number
she ran down that road,
of fleeting pleasures
and god turned away
unable to see
unable to be with her.
though she can never deny going,
after a time, she turned
and walked back.
she was broken and bleeding.
the moment she turned back
she felt the presence
and then, god forgave.
For these choices I had to ask my husband’s forgiveness. Someday I will do the same with my children when they are old enough to understand. From the friends who lived beside me and saw the destruction of alcohol in my life, I covet their forgiveness. Family members who saw and lived and wondered and were wounded by me, they too I need forgiveness and grace.
I live with the knowledge of my walking away from God. I live with the knowledge that I did that every day, I chose it. I cling to God now. I relish his forgiveness and I acknowledge my sin. His grace is enough.
To those accusers, the ones that throw out the accusation of “sin!” like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, I say this. No matter who we are or what we have done, in Christ we are given a new life of repentance and dignity where there is no place for legalism and guilt. This is a life of grace. Only God knows our hearts. He is there with us, if we cry out to him. But recovery, that is a long difficult walk and by no means something that just happens by surrendering to God. I know this.
But I also know that He walks it with us if we ask him. Look at John 8, Jesus asking where are your accusers? “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Do I know how that transaction works, ultimately? Not really, but it is for me now found in the daily choice to be sober. Did Jesus think she’d be free of sin them then on? Nope, not likely and there was parts of her life she had to choose to walk away from. Alcoholics must do this in order to recover.
I cannot cast stones at others, no matter their “sin.” Grace and peace is found in the knowledge that I am not judged either.
“… and I’m still learning how to hack and slash through this beautiful jungle of grace.” Stephen
** I do not work my sobriety with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). I don’t personally find AA all that helpful, though for a time I was greatly encouraged by attending a weekly meeting with women. I walked into that room and experienced like I never have in my life a level of understanding, empathy and acceptance. No condemnation. We were all alcoholics and other forms of addicts. No pointing of fingers. In a way that the Church doesn’t seem to be able to live out — the idea that we’re all sinners together in this mess of a world. All sinners. All saints. All walking the path together. Why is it that (some) Christians are the most judgmental of all?
I longed for (and still sometimes do) church to be a safe place for me to go and find help with my recovery, but my church at least doesn’t offer anything for addicts. Not sure why when they have divorce-care, and grief-care, and cancer-care among many other kids of “care.” It does feel like they are strangely silent on this. I was helped by an addiction specific counselor, fortunate enough to have it covered by insurance, and spent more than six months in weekly therapy working through many aspects of my addiction as well as learning about the disease’s power.
12 thoughts on “My Sobriety and My Sin”
There is so much truth in what you are saying – the Holy Spirit is revealing stuff to you that it takes many of us a lifetime to hear. I really don’t have time or space right here and now to explore this with you, but I would love to continue the conversation. I love reading about your journey and find it to be very hope-full.
I will try to keep my thoughts brief…
Jesus a)died for ALL of our sins. Past, present and future. All forgiven. Grace abundant… b) not only died for our sins, but came to dwell in you (the new creature thing.) He removed our dead spirits of stone and made us spiritually alive. But so often we choose to continue to live in old flesh patterns. By this, I mean we try to do everything our own way, sometimes asking for “help” from him. I don’t think God want’s to help us do better at ignoring him. Addictions, sin of any kind… they get between us and God and each other. We can’t clean them up on our own any more than we could create our own forgiveness. There is an act of our will – becoming willing to accept our own ‘death’ (as in crucified with Christ) so we can really live. This often comes through painful choices by us or by others, and a season of brokenness where we come to the end of ourselves. And our self-effort isn’t always ‘ugly’… sometimes we do wonderful things but we are still doing them in the flesh, and still coping to manage the pain of what we have come to believe is true about us. Eventually, we can’t keep this up either. And there’s the constant challenge of keeping our masks looking good and covering the fear that “they might see me for who I really am” (or who we think we really are.) And we are still trying to earn what God has already given us. His life. We enter into his life! This is not the stuff of religion! As we come to realize that the stuff we are doing to ourselves (and the ones we love) is not born out of our new spirit, and then we begin to let him change us from the inside out. WE are already new creatures, but we have to learn to live in that “new”. No, your “sin” is no worse or “better” than mine. In fact, so much of mine was covered up by good looking flesh (I call it whited seplechure) that I had to have a pharisectomy before I could really see the ugliness of my own flesh. But God doesn’t see the ugly! He sees me as I really am in Christ – as he created me to be. You are right that recovery takes time – it takes time to become ready, step by step, and bit by bit, to ask Christ to come alogside of us and show us who we really are, and to heal what is broken. Just day by day realizing that “hmmm, this (action or attitude or ___) is not who I really am (in Christ, the crucified and resurrected me)… I wonder why I do that – what have I believed about myself that makes me think I need to do this… or what need am I trying to get met somewhere other than in Christ?” So often just asking the quesiton and being as honest as I know how to be diffuses the habit/compulsion/hurt. Calling it out often makes it vanish in the amazing Grace of Christ. Sometimes this means forgiving – myself, others, even God – for hurts I feel they have caused me (even if they didn’t really, I still felt that way.)
Oops, my few words turned into many! And there’s more in me wanting to get out…. I’m still processing all of this myself (i’m sure that is obvious!) …. but I will stop.
Two things: If you can find a Celebrate Recovery (yes, a 12 step – but Christ centered) you will probably find the same warm acceptance. This is a place your experience can also help others. Second thing: Read “The Cure” by Thrall, McNicol, and Lynch. Truefaced is the name of their ‘ministry’…. it’s all about learning to walk in Grace, and to let go of the things that are not in agreement with our new spirits. (I have not read the Cure, but I read it’s predecessor – I think this is just a re-write.) Anyway, they have a strong and very positive message.
Thanks for reading. Life is full! Blessings.
I didn’t see that you had written a longer reply. I didn’t want you to think I had not appreciated your thoughts. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I read ROE, you were one of the people interviewed? I wrote a review of it at provoketive. I will look up the book you mentioned. Peace.
Yep. Chapter 10. I responded to your review, and you went to my blog and commented. Which I appreciated. My blog isn’t as beautiful as yours- and you write so well! But it’s just my journey, and I truly write it for myself. I don’t write as much right now – just a season, I’m sure. When I started it, I knew that I had to be honest about my journey in a sort of a public way without others being obligated in any way to listen. Blogging was a fit – anyone can read it, but no one has to, and I don’t write for an audience. I don’t know what it will become in the future, but I do enjoy writing. There are so many really good blogs out there – not enough time to follow all of them! I have added you to my blogroll links, though, and will likely be back from time to time.
Jeez, short memory. I read too many things. Thanks for spending a little time with mine. I don’t know who I write for. It started totally for myself. Then I found that what I wrote meant something to others. It’s just hard to sort our life vs. writing. Life and living is most important. But now writing is life. (Feels a bit Confucius.) Writing just may be what I am supposed to be doing. Not sure. ((Scratches head.))
It was because of what you have written here that I was able to even acknowledge my own addiction to alcohol. I don’t even know how it started except I used to enjoy a glass of wine in the evenings. Just 1. One glass of wine before bed. Suddenly I could drink a 5 liter box of wine to its dregs in 2 or 3 evenings. I would drink because I could not fall asleep otherwise. I would wake up at 3am and need another drink to fall back asleep. I hated how I felt after a night of binging on wine. I hated how my skin began to look. I didn’t even really like the taste of wine any more. I just knew I needed it. I finally realized I no longer had control. If wine was in the house I was drinking it. I have stopped but I am not sure if it’s for good. I hope so. I pray so. I need it to be so. It’s also important for me to stop drinking because of the medications I take for a health issue I have. It is just like playing Russian Roulette to mix alcohol and these drugs. I know this intellectually but when there is wine in the house, I don’t care. Anyway, I wanted to write this anonymously because I’ve only just recently admitted my addiction to myself and my husband and am working through it. Thanks again for writing what you write and for putting so much honesty into your writing. I didn’t know there were others out there like me until I began reading what you’ve written. Thank you and God bless you.
Thanks for say all this even if anonymously. It took me more than five years to be able to say “I’m an alcoholic.” Whispered confession full of shame. Fear of others perceptions of me. Wondering, if I said it and I relapsed then what? The thing is that it’s simply an admission of our powerlessness over alcohol or whatever drug.
I do know this, you won’t be able to do it alone. You’ll need the help of a counselor or some other accountability. But it is totally worth it when one day, down the path you wake up one day and realize that you’ve changed. I know exactly how to pray and thank you for your email. Peace friend.
Thank you for a very honest and powerful testimony. I believe that the legalism, judgement and “boot-strapping” only intensify the power of sin. Whenever I think of addiction in all its forms, I think of the story of the man by the pool. He had waited for years to be healed, and then one day Jesus says, “Rise and walk.” We all live life somewhere between waiting by the pool and realizing that the power of sin has already been cancelled–between change as impossible and change as fully actualized already. Like you, I’m not sure how to explain the crossing from one side to the other, but it does happen by God’s grace. We might celebrate a “moment”, but there are always many years that preceded that moment. Perhaps a piece is the need to explore the vastness of God’s grace before we truly realize just how much we can depend on it.
Thank you. Beautiful thoughts, words. Comforting to me today. Feeling a little bruised by an awareness of my own frailty. As one faces their brokenness, we need to embrace the grace, which is sufficient.
Thanks for a great post. I agree that sin is involved, especially at the front end. I knew that I was drinking too much and I often drank anyway. But I think what happen in full on addiction is that many other factors come into it and make it not so simple. I’m so glad that you’re reading my blog and taking part. You’re insights are so valuable is your honest story as you share it. Thanks for being my friend. You bless me. Heather
Thank you for sharing!