Strength After Reaching Bottom: ‘The Last Addiction’

Nothing endears a new acquaintance to my heart quite as quickly as an immediate and clear-throated admission of sin, foolishness and weakness. And almost no one gets more credibility with me than the person who has seriously blown it and lived to tell the tale with transparency and clarity. The Book of Proverbs makes a compelling argument for the idea that we are all fools in one way or more, so why do we relentlessly pretend otherwise?

Sharon A. Hersh

True strength, to my way of thinking, is the ability to confess your areas of weakness and then shrug your shoulders in response to those who may register surprise, dismay or even shock. My newest hero in this vein – for several reasons – is Sharon A. Hersh, MA, LPC, an adjunct professor of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

Hersh is the author of “The Last Addiction” and (according to the RTS website) a licensed professional counselor, author, speaker, teacher and certified life coach; an adjunct professor of counseling at Colorado Christian University and Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and as a guest lecturer at Denver University; frequently a speaker and teacher at seminaries, universities, conferences and retreats; teacher of counseling courses on addiction and sexuality; supervisor of graduate intern counselors at the Oviedo Counseling Clinic; member of the American Counseling Association; and an advisory board member of Music for the Soul.

She is also an alcoholic.

More to the point, Hersh is a recovering alcoholic who has tightly grasped the core truth that she has been accepted and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7-9; Revelation 1:5). While her academic and professional accomplishments are admirable, it is her heart-level understanding of God’s grace in response to her multiple failures that seems to have entirely freed her from caring too much what other people think as she shares both her insights and personal struggles with addiction. Knowing she is loved by God regardless of her “performance” in her own recovery has empowered her both to stay sober and speak about her experiences without batting an eye:

The Last Addiction

One of the most baffling aspects of addiction is why someone would continue to do the same destructive behavior in the face of dire consequences. We often talk of people “hitting bottom” before finally acknowledging their problem. But addicts know that there is no bottom. Regardless of how serious previous consequences were, we can always risk or justify one more go at our addiction.

During my drinking days, I’d often determine on Sunday nights that I was done for good. I would throw my bottle in the trash can, take the trash out to the curb, and vow never to drink again – only to find myself creeping out in the wee hours of morning to retrieve it, sometimes drinking straight from the bottle as quickly as I could. I was desperate to stop and desperate to drink. I couldn’t save myself.

For addicts of all stripes (and the people who love them), Hersh is a powerful voice seeking to grab hold of the healing promises of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 4:16-21; Revelation 3:21) and apply them to the here-and-now realities of whatever enslaves them. Hersh’s depiction of her own enslavement – crouching down behind a garbage can to take “just one more sip,” repeatedly violating the trust of loved ones and nearly drinking her own urine while staggering through the detox unit of a local hospital – is a bald reality for many addicts. For anyone who has had to spend hard time cleaning up the messes, both physical and relational, that an addictive lifestyle vomits up all over those who care about the addict, Hersh helps us come to terms with our own sense of powerlessness and futility. The addict is powerless to clean themselves up, and we are powerless to clean them up “for them.”

In fact, it is precisely our shared sense of powerlessness that fuels Hersh’s own story and her conviction that “white-knuckling it” and similar sobriety techniques are of limited value. The truth is, you and I are powerless. Everyone is. The very best intentions of the heart are prone to vaporize at the first appearance of stress in an addict’s life. The unavoidable realities of addiction and its impact on a community – no one is an addict in isolation – only bring to harsh light a truth that we would all rather ignore: We are all capable of absolutely nothing apart from Jesus (John 15:5).

Thankfully, the story does not end there. While raw statistics will tell us that the majority of addicts ultimately die in their snares, the other side of the story is that many addicts actually do recover and go on to lead productive, responsible lives. Hersh’s story (and my own) are ample testimony to the healing power of God and His ability to redeem even the most “unlikely” among us. Put another way, there is nothing other than God’s grace adequate to explain why Hersh did not ultimately die from her alcoholism. (And only Jesus is “big enough” to pull someone like myself out of a bottle of Wild Turkey.)

For her willingness to show vividly how a “good, educated Christian woman” and a hardcore alcoholic can live simultaneously inside the same individual, as well as her willingness to acknowledge that addiction recovery offers no real quick-fix answers, I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough. Hersh tells us that nearly everyone has had their lives disrupted by addiction, either their own or that of someone they love; I believe anyone would benefit from her story and her articulation of what the road back, by God’s grace, might look like.

I used to believe that we were all desperately searching for God, that addiction is a reflection of our search for something to fill the “God-shaped” hole inside of us (a concept Pascal originated as a “God-shaped vacuum”). But my experience of redemption in the humiliating and broken places of my story has taught me that the deepest reality is that God is searching for us. In the midst of our pain and foolishness, we wonder why God isn’t doing anything about it. But in fact, the pain, failure and foolishness are driving us to God. Redemption does not mean that God meets our needs and then our souls stop longing. No, redemption does not eradicate kamar [Hebrew; “to have the intestines yearn”]. Instead, redemption allows us to surrender. We don’t give up craving. We give in to craving God. And God doesn’t want something from us. He wants us.
Sharon Hersh, The Last Addiction

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>