The Tragedy of Addiction
Posted on March 30, 2021 by VMMissions Staff
D.J. Mitchell’s life experience and faith in Christ enable him to understand the needs of addicts and help them to have hope for the miracle of recovery.
I knew Frank from Twelve Step meetings. He’d been sober a few years, drank one day, and then came back to our meetings for another few years. Then he went out for one drink and couldn’t stop. I called him about a business matter a few months later, and he told me he was desperate and wanted to talk. We agreed to meet for coffee the next day. That night, Frank wrapped his car around a telephone pole. I have always wondered: if I’d met him that day instead of putting it off until tomorrow, might Frank still be alive?
This story illustrates that working with addicts is a life-and-death effort. It also reminds us that we don’t know how much time someone has. Today is the day I need to be of service to them—no matter how tired I may be and no matter what else I may have scheduled. Taking time to talk with a person struggling with addiction may save a life.
My friend Mario had been drinking and using drugs for 30 years, and had been arrested more times than he could count. I mentored him while he was in rehab, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t serious and would relapse as soon as he finished the 60 day program. I was wrong. Mario stayed clean and sober. Fifteen years later, he manages a homeless shelter and runs the local Twelve Step meeting house.
D.J. Mitchell (left) studies the Bible with a client at Healing Refuge, a ministry for those suffering from addition in Harrisonburg, Va. Photo courtesy of D.J. Mitchell
I don’t mean to suggest that my efforts bring success. They don’t. An addict has passed beyond the realm of human aid. Only through God’s loving intervention can any of us be saved. Mario, like every one of us who recovers, is nothing less than a miracle.
I struggled with addiction for a decade. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, I couldn’t face life without chemical assistance. That I found recovery at all is miraculous. I went looking for a methadone clinic, and instead found a Twelve Step meeting.
I’ve now been in recovery for over 35 years. I owe a debt of gratitude for the grace and mercy I’ve been given. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2, we were saved by grace to do good works. Part of my recovery is committing to doing for others what was done for me.
Six years ago I felt called to ministry. My family and I moved across the country so I could attend Eastern Mennonite Seminary. While there, I began to realize how little most pastors understand addiction. But ministering to those who are addicted is something to which I am uniquely suited.
Jesus tells us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 NIV). The Bible is filled with sinners who were called. Jacob committed fraud. Moses was a murderer and a fugitive. And Paul, the greatest evangelist of the New Testament, was a murderous persecutor of Christians. We’re given plenty of evidence that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5 NIV).
Addiction is more complex than most people realize. Society offers two models: addiction is either a choice, or a disease. Some religious people describe it as sin. That’s true if one considers that sin is not just action, but separation from God. But addiction is more than any of these alone.
Typically a person uses drugs or alcohol to manage the pain they carry from childhood abuse or trauma. This becomes a coping mechanism for both the pain they carry and the ongoing difficulties of daily existence, which are made worse by continuing drug and alcohol use. We literally cannot cope with life without our drug of choice because we have no other coping skills. No matter how much we might want to give it up, we can’t imagine living any other way and are certain we could never change.
Our addiction also plays the role of a religion. Our drug becomes our god—a false and destructive god to which we would sacrifice anything. Our using or drinking becomes a form of worship that we engage in with daily devotion.
With this religion of destruction comes the spiritual baggage of false worship. Our demons are both figurative and literal. Our lifestyles, circles of friends, bad choices, and frequent exposure to the occult open us to all manner of unfriendly spiritual influences.
To be successful, recovery must address all these aspects of addiction. But the most important first step is to offer hope. Many of us have tried to quit before and failed. We conclude that we are beyond help. And our addiction tells us there’s no hope. Our false god doesn’t want us to recover.
Paradoxically, real hope most often comes from desperation. It is most often the consequences of our actions that force us to consider changing. Shielding an addict from the consequences of their actions may seem the loving thing to do, but it may actually delay their recovery.
Once the decision to change has been made, the most important question in a newly recovering addict’s world is simply this: “What do I do with all the time I used to spend drinking or using?”
This is where the gospel shines. It teaches discipleship. Helping someone walk with Jesus every day not only brings them closer to Christ, it teaches habits and coping skills that will serve them well in life. Church once a week will not be enough; those of us accustomed to daily worship of our false god need more.
Recovering addicts need spiritual healing, as well as counseling and, in many cases, medical attention. My goal is to network effectively with other local healing ministers and ministries for the sake of those trapped in addiction.
Working with addicts takes patience and a tolerance for disappointment. Since I began my work here in Harrisonburg, despite the challenges of COVID-19, I’ve found ways to connect with addicts through referrals from other pastors and transitional housing facilities. I take men to meetings, work the Twelve Steps with them, and offer guidance for navigating the world without drugs. I also offer healing prayer and deliverance. For those who are willing, the change can be spectacular. One man, who lived on the street for years, is now clean and working to restore relations with his family. Another, who spent over a decade behind bars for alcohol-related offenses, is sober today and attending college.
In the recovery community, we say that every one of us in recovery is a miracle; the rewards of seeing someone recover are beyond words. God can take someone with the worst past and the worst pain, and transform him or her into a light than shines in the darkest of places.