Sunday, June 27, 2010

The truth is, most Christians think alcoholism is a choice

When I say that alcoholism is a disease, I'm often met with the same response from Christians,

Well... kind of.

Family, friends, professionals, it doesn't matter,

Well...kind of.

The commonality among people who have said this to me? They are not alcoholics.

I do understand why Christians struggle to understand alcoholism. As believers in the Bible, what comes to mind for them is "do not become drunk on wine..."


As a Christian and an alcoholic, I struggle with this mentality. I don't want to become angry or resentful, I just hope that I can help people understand, even if my effort here falls on many a deaf ear, I guess I just need to say what I need to say and then let it go.

I don't want to argue, but I do want to talk about this.

The way alcoholism is approached in most Christian circles is truly damaging. There is already so much shame in the mind and heart of the alcoholic, so to hear the message that this disease is a sin and a choice only compounds those feelings and therefore hurts rather than helps.

I'm writing about this today because I heard a pastor speak last night and it left me hurting, sad, frustrated....

The pastor was invited to speak to a group of alcoholics, to encourage and enlighten. I respect this man and truly appreciate him for having the courage to stand up and talk to people he may not fully understand. I believe he was nervous and uninformed, so this isn't about blame or judgment. This is about a deep desire in my heart to prevent my fellows from being hurt in the way they were last night. That's all it is.

To make a long story short, what I heard last night was that I've made my bed and it's going to be difficult, but now I have to lie in it and I should remember to love everyone, even the most unlovable, because well, look at me-God loves even me, so I should pass that on. I heard that I made a choice to be an alcoholic and that it's only because I grew up with bad examples (not true). And Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and a loaf of bread because he felt sorry for the people even though he was busy, and so He must love me, too. Even me.

Now, before I receive comments that tell me that my drinking was sinful, I want to be clear. Yes. I drank. I chose to take that first drink all those years ago, at a legal age, just as many other people do and then go on to never struggle with drunkenness or addiction.

But for me, that one drink never stopped. I am an alcoholic. I have a disease, and therefore, my drinking snow-balled all on its own. Please trust me if you can. I consistently found myself unable to control the amount I consumed and completely unable to control my ruminating thoughts about drinking. For so many years, I thought this had to do with me, as a person, that I was more flawed, lazy, lacking self-control. I couldn't understand what was happening. I had heard my entire life that alcoholism is not a disease. So, my conclusion was that I was simply failing, and then failing, and then failing again. It wasn't until I learned MUCH about the physiological aspects of this disease that I finally could get real help that made it possible for me to stop. I absolutely could not stop without starting a rigid program of recovery. That, my friends, is a disease.

So I look at what this man said last night and I roll it over in my hand like a stone and I feel it, I just let myself see it and feel it, and then I have no choice but to forgive it, tossing that sad stone away, over and over.

I guess what I'm asking here is this: When considering your beliefs about alcoholism, please know your unknown. Please know you can't judge something you have not experienced.

I heard this little ditty in treatment: The truth needs no defenders.

The truth, it stands on its own no matter what. It just is. Like alcoholism, it just is. Like redemption, it just is. None of those three things can be changed by our will, but there they are.

No matter what I do, I'm an alcoholic. And no matter what I do, I am redeemed. And no matter what I do, that's the truth.

In the end, no matter what anyone thinks of me, I know that alcoholism found me so I could find true freedom. And because of this disease, I have the gift of knowing more about unconditional love than I could have learned any other way. I'm grateful, and I will not be angry about these uninformed opinions of me, because I cannot afford to have this gift stolen.

"Alcoholism is a physiological disease with spiritual consequences."-Father Martin

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


Boy Crazy said...

Hey there sweet strong girl. I'm applauding over here. I had not realized that was a common belief among Christians - I hadn't heard or encountered it before. I'm sorry that you have to hear and deal with and dodge those kind of 'well-intentioned' comments and armchair analysts. And even beyond alcoholism- you make a good point about people needing to recognize their unknowns as they form their judgments and prepare their lectures. Love to you.

Brooke said...

I am a firm believer that we all have our "vices". We don't know what it will be usually until we are in the thick of it. I believe there are a lot of choices in life, and sometimes those choices lead to an addiction. But most of us don't know which ones will do that to us. I have come to realize that I have a very addictive personality, therefore, I choose not to drink (or whatever) because I KNOW that it will be a problem. I know this because of past experience. Once someone asked me how I could forgive something someone I loved hurt me with. I responded that I have these certain problems, and how in the world could I judge that thing when I have my own downfalls? I wouldn't want to be cast aside because of the things that I have done, therefore, I cannot do that to someone else.
I also believe that through our savior, we can be forgiven. I have also come to find out that he loves me, a sinner, and he wants me to come to him with my problems, sins and temptations, and hand them over to him . Thank you for sharing such a personal story. You are such a sweetheart.

Heather of the EO said...

just to clarify that last quote. What I'm saying is that alcoholism is a physical disease. My choices could not prevent the fact that I have it.

Like diabetes, it's just there, genetic, etc. Sure, someone can eat their way into triggering it, but it's still a disease.

For alcoholics, it only takes one drink, one sip, to trigger the disease-beast. The NO off-switch response.

The quote is about that, and then comes spiritual upheaval. Which can be true of many, if not all, diseases. We struggle-spiritual.

The unique thing about alcoholism in that particular regard is that booze will mess you up and have you doing things you would not normally do. Things that will haunt you. That's the hardest consequence of the illness.

Heather of the eo said...

I guess what I'm saying is that yes, alcohol becomes a vice, a person becomes dependent, but when we word it like that, it sounds like a choice.

Sara Sophia said...

This was perfect. And I have been thinking lately how the only people I know who TRULY GRASP the Heavenly---are those who have been through hell and lived to tell about it. Who found God in that dark place and know Him the better and dearer for it. Who have had His Hand at that their backs and the wind of the Holy Spirit in their face. Who fall and fail and fall again and aren't afraid to call out "HELP ME JESUS" with child-hands outstretched.
To me, those are the ones I want to learn from. Those are the ones I see knowing Him and proving Him and bringing Him glory.

DeNae said...

I'm wondering if it really is just a Christian thing, or if you notice it because you inhabit a Christian world. I'm pretty sure that if you were a Muslim, you'd be getting the same message - and probably more emphatically - from your fellow practitioners. Just a thought.

I think what you're talking about has to do with choices and consequences. As an example, a lot of people choose to have unprotected sex. No one actively "chooses" to contract HIV. But while the choice doesn't always lead to the disease, one doesn't know what the consequence will be until they've made the initial choice.

Is drinking "sinful"? I'm not willing to go there; even among Christians there are varying attitudes on the subject. When one drinks, do they "choose" alcoholism? Only in the sense that no one can hope to have full control of the consequences of their choices.

So I guess I understand the whole "If A, then B" math that leads to what you're talking about here. But there is a part of me that feels that, regardless of what leads to what, the thing God wants most from His children is for them to take all of their pain and lay it on the altar, and let Him heal it.

What does it matter how we got to the place where we realized we couldn't make it without God's help? What good comes from passing judgments on one another? Who is helped by such a useless expenditure of energy?

I'm sorry that even religious leaders don't always understand this. I hope you can let the hurt pass.

Does it help that I think you're awesome?

Heather of the EO said...

YES, totally agree that this is NOT just a Christian viewpoint. I'm exposed to this mentality in Christians more often than with other people, but that is just my experience.

I know there are all kinds of people who don't fully understand alcoholism.

And yes, it doesn't matter in the end HOW we got to that place of need and complete humility. But if we do, it's a gift.

I will move on from this place of hurt, I will. I'll never stop trying to help people have a better understanding in a loving way, but I really can't afford to be bothered by it.

Cynthia said...

Thank you for helping ME understand this better. I have ADD. One third of those who have ADD are alcoholics. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be in that place if I ever drank. As you say, "it is in me". I believe that it is latent in me and so many others who may rush to judge. True, it is only because of the 'no drinking' stance of the religion I ascribe to that I have NOT gone there. At the same time, I know it COULD be me. It could be any of us. And we all need mercy because if it isn't THIS, it's something else.

Graceful said...

I'm glad you tackled this topic here. It's an important message that needs to be heard. Thanks for being brave enough to put it out here.

MidnightCafe said...

Heather, I find the same attitude among Christians about a whole range of psychological diseases - depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc...that somehow those of us who struggle just aren't trying hard enough. If we prayed enough or had enough self-control, we'd be better. But that's so far from the truth. The truth is that all of these things are diseases. We don't deny people medical treatment and tell them they need to try harder. We treat them WHILE we pray. It shouldn't be any different for alcoholism or depression or anxiety...

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Could not agree more. Yes. Thanks for saying it so well.

Brooke said...

Cynthia said it better than I did. That was almost exactly what I was thinking. I just couldn't figure out the words to express it. I absolutely agree that alcoholism is a disease.

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