Loving addicts, whether they're Amy Winehouse or Betty Ford

Maureen Herring

July 27, 2011

I find this extremely problematic.

Winehouse and Ford became entangled in the sin of addiction.

Addiction is no more a "sin" than cancer or diabetes. Attitudes that suggest that addiction is a sin rather than a disease lead to judgment against addicts—which makes them less likely to seek out help. 

We need to change the narrative about addiction in this country to the point where an addict going into rehab or an AA/NA program is seen in the same light as a cancer patient going into chemo. 

We wouldn't dream of ridiculing or judging someone whose hair had fallen out from chemo or radiation treatment; our culture's ridicule and judgment of high-profile addicts like Amy Winehouse when their addictions cause them to look like a wreck, give a bad concert, or lose a lot of weight is one of the reasons that addicts who aren't rich and famous deny their addictions to themselves or others. 

They see us snickering at Amy Winehouse "behind her back," so to speak, and they don't want to be subjected to that same treatment by being out about the disease they've got and seeking treatment.

July 27, 2011

Addiction is the result of both sin and disease.  Both, not either or.  I agree that judgement does nothing to help them.  But to not acknowledge that addiction is the result of bad decisions (both by the person addicted and the people around them) is assume that addiction is deterministic.  Not everyone becomes addicted.  Addiction (in a somewhat similar way to cancer) would not exist without a fallen world.  

The biggest problem I think with getting more people involved in the recovery process is that addicts are hard to help.  They reject the idea that they need help.  By definition, addicts are more dependent on their addiction than on the people that are trying to help them.  Rich (or poor) addicts deny their addiction to themselves and others because they are addicted.  It is not because of ridicule or judgement.  Addicts are incapable of understanding their addiction.  Eventually some 'hit bottom' but that does not mean they are able to over come. 

It is ministry without a lot of returns.  Unfortunately the church, like most of the rest of US culture like ministries that 'have bang for the buck'.  Addiction ministry will have more people that fail than succeed.  Most addiction will fail multiple times before they succeed.  They may never succeed.   Jesus does not evaluate on bang for buck.  Jesus evaluated on obedience.  If we are obedient, we will have more people that obediently serve those with addictions.

July 27, 2011

James, I realize that the word "sin" is a hot button for lots of people. It can be defined in a number of ways. I meant it as a "state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God." 
If "the entire law and all the commandments" are encapsulated in "love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22) and "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) then every person on earth falls in the category of sinner and every behavior that counters this law of love is sin. Sin is a word that describes the condition of damaged souls and spirits. It is a word for behavior that reflects that condition. It's not about breaking society's rules, assigning blame, or stigmatizing people. I consider sin itself to be a disease of the soul. It is an insidious, destructive force that attaches itself to souls in various ways. Out of fear and pain people hoard money and possessions, strike out in anger, wrestle for power and control, boast, eat too much, drink too much, shop too much, use drugs, cut themselves, starve themselves, objectify the opposite sex, steal, lie, etc. etc. I don't think the Bible places these behaviors in any sort of hierarchy. All these conditions need rehab. That is the attitude of mercy. Grace is all about rehab. We all need rehab in one way or another. That's what I was trying to say.

July 27, 2011

Out of fear and pain people hoard money and possessions, strike out in anger, wrestle for power and control, boast, eat too much, drink too much, shop too much, use drugs, cut themselves, starve themselves, objectify the opposite sex, steal, lie, etc. etc.

Those aren't the same thing as addiction, though. We don't say that "out of fear and pain people have cancer," or "out of fear and pain people contract malaria." While we might understand those as results of the imperfection of nature, we would never suggest that they are moral faults on the part of the person who gets cancer or malaria, and we certainly wouldn't engage in moral judgment against a person who has them. Addiction is a real disease like those diseases, a real medical condition like those real medical conditions—not a condition for which we use the metaphor of disease, like sin.

Like it or not, you are judging the acts you describe in that list, by describing them as sins, as things people choose to do. Addiction is not a choice. It is a condition that a person either has or doesn't have. A person can choose not to engage in the acts or things they know they're addicted to, but they can't choose not to be an addict; I could get drunk continually for the next week, but the fact that I'd be able to sober up on day 8 without feeling an almost irresistible urge to get drunk again is a sign that I'm not an alcoholic, and couldn't choose to be one.

To be sure, many of the things you list are also signs of other conditions for which we shouldn't judge people—things like cutting oneself or anorexia are themselves conditions that are, if not in and of themselves medical or psychological conditions, signs of deeper-seated issues over which none of us is in any position to sit in judgment. But putting those things among sins like anger, boasting, and greed for power is just as inappropriate, I think, as putting addiction among them is.

July 27, 2011

But to not acknowledge that addiction is the result of bad decisions (both by the person addicted and the people around them) is assume that addiction is deterministic.  Not everyone becomes addicted.

One doesn't become addicted to something. One either is an addict, or one isn't. A strict lifelong teetotaler with an extremely strong genetic predisposition toward alcoholism might not know that they have the tendency towards alcoholism, because they've never tried it. However, that doesn't mean any less that they have the disease of addiction within them. If that teetotaler, not knowing of his or her predisposition to alcoholism, decided one day to have a glass of beer with dinner—something that, in my opinion, is neither a sin nor a bad decision—that alcoholism would be likely to rear its head, and take this person to a place where they couldn't control their behavior.

The fact that not everyone becomes addicted to a given substance is, in fact, more evidence that it's a disease rather than a sin, because it places the onus for addiction not in the substance or in the choice to partake of the substance, but within the makeup of the individual. The fact that I can drink a beer and not have it spiral into a dangerous situation doesn't say anything about my moral character; it says that I don't have the disease of alcoholism, in the same way that my ability to eat an apple without having to check my insulin is a sign that I don't have the disease of diabetes rather than a sign of my moral character.

I do agree, though, that the people around an addict can often be guilty of sin by enabling the addict or ignoring the problem, rather than confronting it; however, at the same time, as you mention, the addict ultimately has to want to treat their addiction in order to successfully start the recovery process, so there's only so much the people around him or her can do.

Addiction (in a somewhat similar way to cancer) would not exist without a fallen world.  

I don't disagree with this at all. It is a sign of the imperfection of the current world that addiction exists, just as with cancer or diabetes or any number of other diseases. But that doesn't mean that those diseases are a sign of an individual's sinfulness.

Ultimately I think we're closer than this discussion would suggest; I agree that the church should be engaged in ministering to and helping those who suffer from addiction in working through and supporting the recovery process, whether or not it's directly through the church. And it's not a pretty process, nor will the people it brings into our doors consist entirely of those people that populate the pews of "respectable" churches. It's likely to bring in broken people, people who are hurt and damaged and out of control over their own lives, people who will often face a long hard road with many setbacks to recovery.

But the ultimate aim of the church isn't to be "respectable" or to have it easy—it's to model God's love for each and every person, no matter what diseases they suffer from. We should no more shy away from supporting our brothers and sisters who are recovering from addiction, than we should from supporting our brothers and sisters who are undergoing chemotherapy.

July 27, 2011

Yes,it is true that both of these women were addicts,but one survived and the other did not.Amy died at 27 while Betty Ford passed in her old age.
One needs to look at why this happened.Amy is now on the long list of popular musicians that have died early.Jimi Hendrix,Janis Joplin,John Bonham,Jim Morrison. All suffered from excessive substance abuse.
But what drove them into the extreme?
Betty Ford,like the above musicians was a rebel.She spoke out against her husbands political stance.This must have taken a toll on her.
Did she turn to substance abuse to deal with conflict? Luckily she had a
positive family to give support.
Many top top rock stars live a lifestyle where drugs are easy to get.Sometimes their managers keep them supplied with them.This keeps them on tour constantly so they can make more money and get rich.
They do not have the support factor that Betty Ford had.
Like a good doctor,you have to look for the root of the cause.
Very cool essay topic you have here!!!!!

July 28, 2011

Although this was a very well-intended article (as so many of the articles I've seen her passing), like so many of them I have read so far, it is missing a VERY important factor which led to her addiction.  Depending on your source, Amy was either Bi-Polar or Manic Depressive.  Either one of these conditions is treatable with medication.  Amy refused to take the medication that would have allowed her to lead a "normal" life... If you read about BPD, you'll see she has all of the classic signs of the disorder.  A lot of people with BPD sadly end up taking their own lives... without treatement, they often turn to substances such as drugs and alcohol as their medication and way of escaping the pain that her mental illness caused her...  If she had only taken medication to help her condition, I believe she would definitely still be with us today... may she rest in peace.

July 28, 2011

"One doesn't become addicted to something. One either is an addict, or one isn't."
I have to respectfully disagree with this statement to a point.  Yes, there are people who have a genetic predisposition to addiction and I do agree with this.  But there are some that do not and can still become addicts.  A lot of this has to do with their skill set and coping mechanisms.  I am a recovering addict.  When I was in my 20's, I drank and partied a lot, but never struggled with addiction.  Addiction doesn't always start after a week of drinking heavily....it's a pattern over an extended period of time that results in a chemical change in the body.  After going through two serious car accidents, I was prescribed narcotics for legitimate pain for a period of over a year.  While I didn't realize it at the time, the drugs were also numbing my emotional pain from being raped a couple of years before, and eventually I couldn't tell the difference between the types of pain the drugs were treating.  By the time that I realized what was happening, I was addicted and taking 10 percocet at a time several times a day...not because of some "high" but because I had to keep increasing the dose over time to get the same relief and to stay out of withdrawal.  I did not have a genetic predisposition to addiction, but it was all about how I coped with what was unfolding in my life.  I think that scenario plays out a lot.  As I talk with women and hear their stories, it is much more common than we realize.  Another thing to understand is that people with mental illness are at a much higher risk of becoming addicts for the same reason....it's the only way they know how to numb what is happening.

I agree that it is incredibly difficult to deal with addicts who are using because they are very good at manipulating, lying, and deflecting things...they will steal from you and have no conscience...they will do anything to get a fix.  I've been there and it is scary to think about some of the things I did.  But you are also right, that as the church we need to meet people where they are at rather than sit back in judgment.  We may not be able to help everyone and more people will relapse than succeed, but Jesus gave us the example of pursuing the one lost sheep and I am a testament to His grace and mercy and love and can sit here 7 years later clean and sober only because of it.

Melissa Bergin Burns
July 28, 2011

This is a great & interesting topic. I have read some very good points on all sides. I would say that while there is a metaphysical factor, there are also choices involved. If you discover you are an addict, you may choose to pick up that glass or pipe or cigarette or substance or what have you, or you may choose to walk away or call a friend or leave. If you have cancer you may choose to be positive & active, contemplate treatment, learn about your condition, or lay down & let it consume you. If you have diabetes you may monitor your diet and/or use insulin properly, or you may choose to ignore that there is a problem & partake in what may be normal for some but risky for yourself. Some afflicted people certainly do have it much harder than others, and everyone has varying degrees of support & resources. It is a sad thing when any struggle seems to be overwhelming for someone. Addiction is frequently one of those issues. I have experienced it personally, I know others who have, and I see from a further distance situations such as the one that prompted this discussion. It's tough. It involves the physical body, the spiritual realm, the mental battle field and the emotional aspect, as well as the individual's world and anyone included in it. It's far from the only problem that is so all encompassing and is so rampant in this world. It's ugly & brutal. It's life on earth. It's good to be aware of, discuss, and stand up & do something about it.

July 28, 2011

Thanks Jb I am a recovering Alcoholic and Christian and this article is RICHT ON!;)

July 28, 2011

If anyone were to say that the addict not wishing to treat their addiction, shows that it is a sin, I would have to point out the number of people who refuse to treat their high blood pressure or diabetes. It is often part of an underlying mental illness. Many addicts are severly depressed and just looking for an escape. Bi-polars tend to self medicate with alcohol, etc. I have chronic depression and take a medication for it. Often I am told that if I just trusted G-d more, I wouldn't need the med, what about the Christians who need glasses to see, or insulin, or heart meds?

Jason Stambaugh
July 28, 2011

I love the contrast between Winehouse and Ford. Two very different models of what it means to be "addicted". The question for me from this post isn't so much whether addiction is a sin, disease, or something in between, it is how do we get people to choose Ford's path? How do we, as a society REALLY celebrate recovery?

July 28, 2011

I'm a recovered crystal meth addict, I used for 10 yrs. I started when i was 18 after graduating high school.At the end of my addiction I started using a needle something I said I would never do! But then I also said I would never snort anything up my nose,I was so lost. I had been in church when I was young and when the message started making sence to me, I gave my life to Christ when I was 14 or 15.After 3 yrs the church I was going to shut down and the pastor relocated.After graduation, then cosmetology school it was like one bad choice after another. At the age of 27 I decided I had to make a choice,to change the way I was living. I moved home with my mom ,which was a woman of God!! Thank you Jesus !! I had withdraws ,was sick and she was right there by my side , Just like the Lord is with his children. I know after I got to feeling better and decided to get out and look for a job, I no she was praying for me to stay sober and clean , I had a few bad days, I believe I could count them with my fingers, for the most part God gave me so much strength, with the help of my mothers prayers.I met my husband about three yrs after moving back, my mom walked me down the isle and gave me away, I have been married for 11 yrs. I have for the most part served God since then.I believe a person has to really want to change. If I wasn't in a relationship with God and didn't decide I needed him when I was 27 I would probley be dead.I lost my mom in 2009, if I wasn't serving God, I don't know how I would have made it thru.My family has had issues with addictions, a year later in 2010 my oldest brother died in prison, he struggled with alcohol , the Lord new my mom couldn't deal with that ,so he took her first. I wasn't close to my dad ,but nne monthes before my mom past my dad past he also was an alcoholic . We serve a mighty God !!!!!

July 28, 2011

i hope that the many people who feel the need to judge and act superior woll read this and think twice before the chose to indulge in either one of these activities

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