With his pants around his ankles and hands clutching his chest, he staggered down the sidewalk along Highway 101 in Coos Bay. Driving home from the college, I often see the homeless and the addicts that camp in the woods or sleep under the bridges. With disgust I mumbled, “Tweaker” to myself and kept driving.
Almost immediately, what I had just done crashed in on me. First, came the realization that the man was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone loved and perhaps mourned by others. Someone loved by God. Next, came shame for the way I had dropped the word, “Tweaker” on the guy. I used it the way racists use the n-word. It was full of superiority and dismissal.
We have used words of dismissal like this for a long time: drunk, wino, junky, acid freak, pothead, crackhead, tweaker. Using these words are easy for me because I don’t really get addiction. I am one of those annoying people who will say, “Just stop.” I don’t smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs, so I don’t get it. Why don’t people make those they love more important than their addiction?
I have some understanding that addiction changes the brain chemistry, and until one has really felt that change, one can’t understand how hard it is to quit. This is probably why so many drug counselors are former addicts. Yet, I have friends, family, and even members of my Sunday School class who struggle with addiction. I live in a community ravaged by alcoholism and drug addiction. I can’t love Myrtle Point as God loves it unless I love addicts.
To my surprise it has been Paul’s letter to the Romans that has helped the most. In chapter seven, Paul describes what sounds like the life of an addict:
For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. . . .For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:16, 19, 22-23)
Addicts know, I suspect, what it is like to be a prisoner of their body. They know the war between their body and what they know is right. In chapter six Paul asserted that everyone who sins has become a slave to sin.
I may not get chemical addiction, but I get sin and slavery to sin. I get wanting to walk in holiness but having my emotions and desires war against me. With Paul, and all addicts, I can declare, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I have walked in the chains of sins and felt the shame of my inability to “just say no” to sin. I have made my sin more important than those I love—more important than the Savior I love. But it is not just me. According to Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We have all been addicts of sin.
Paul begins chapter eight with good news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for the sinner, whether a church kid or an addict, or a church kid that became an addict. In Jesus we find love, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a new life powered by God’s grace and Spirit. We should all get this. Addicts are not alone.