As a person who once fell in love with an alcoholic, addiction holds a sensitive and heavy place in my heart. I often wonder what works for recovery and what’s just a quick fix. I wonder, for people who struggle with addiction, what their triggers are. What is it that launches them into a cycle of using?
Then I hear addiction stories like Mike’s, and I get it.
Mike’s Addiction Story
Mike is a recovering drug addict, and his addiction story is one of heartbreak. When he was twelve years old, he was declared dead three separate times after being hit by a car while riding his bike. You can imagine he was never quite the same after that. Sadly, Mike grew up to spend most of his adult life in prison. While there, he lost both is mother and his son in two separate car accidents. And on top of all that, he had been diagnosed with a number of psychological disabilities.
Sure, I hear Mike’s addiction story, and I get it.
Last spring (2014) Mike was introduced to His Way, a Christ-centered residential recovery program for men with drug and alcohol addictions. He had been in and out of jail, and in and out of various recovery programs. But His Way was different.
“You can’t get recovery in 28 days,” Mike said. “His Way can be more supportive. They teach you more. You learn a lot about Jesus.”
Ah, there it is. Jesus. Jesus is the difference.
“Before I first got there I was kind of in a situation of getting back on track,” Mike said. “But when I got there everything just fell into place and I got back where I needed to be and closer to God and learned to do His will.”
Tom Reynolds, executive director of His Way, noticed the impact that love, fellowship, and prayer had on Mike.
“What I really saw was just how powerful God’s love being expressed through people can really bring about that transformation we often look for.”
Mike graduated from the program in November 2014.
I hear Mike’s addiction story, and I get it. I think.
Progress, Not Perfection in Addiction
Now, several months later, Mike’s still going to church, still reading his Bible, and still sober. But then he said something that made me tilt my head a bit.
“After I graduated I was sober, then I relapsed a couple of times but I had to focus back again and now I’m sober again, and I ain’t did nothing else so I’m good.”
Honestly, my immediate thought was, wait…isn’t that failure? Do you need to go back to the program?
But then I realized what Mike was really saying. His Way was different than the detox-type places he had been in; they taught him that the journey out of addiction is about progress, not perfection. His sobriety is about progress, and his spiritual journey is about progress. Isn’t that true for us all?
Tom drew the connection for me. “This process…like any of our spiritual journeys, isn’t clear and clean-cut. It’s not like we’re baptized in Christ and we just never have a problem after that.”
Sanctification of an Addict and of Us All
As I listened to Mike’s story—the story of the sanctification of an addict—I couldn’t help but get excited about the Light that is so evident. Mike doesn’t identify himself as an addict or an inmate anymore, though he spent most of the life with those labels. He now identifies himself as a child of God (I Cor. 6:17). The truth of the Gospel is that even though he occasionally falls into the cycle, he focuses back on God and he’s good again.
This truth is so simple, yet we all muddy it up into a complex, guilt-ridden mess. I am a perfect example of this! Hearing about Mike’s relapse after the program, I immediately questioned his success, instead of seeing the picture of my own sin—my own addiction. How many times have I resolved to not judge, or lie, or covet, and then turned around and do the exact thing? We all do this constantly; we return to the vehicles of our struggles instead of running straight to God. Mike is no different than us; his addictions are just easier to see.
Whether your addiction is for alcohol, or drugs, or chocolate, we’re all really the same. Maybe it’s not a visible substance you’re addicted to, but an idea or a feeling—like the need for acceptance or the desire to be perfect. Whatever it may be, just like an addict, we all need Jesus to help us out of the addiction. And we must remember that the journey is not about perfection. It’s about progress. God’s grace covers us even when we make mistakes and fall into the cycle of addiction again (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Now I hear Mike’s addiction story, and I get it.