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The Secret Lives of Christian Pill Addicts


Nov 4 2013
Addicts shouldn’t have to hide their recovery from the church.

Financial strain, mood swings, missing work—the signs of addiction were all there, but my theology and my trust of the medical world reasoned it to be impossible. I oscillated between believing I needed to be a better Christian wife and grieving over his behavior. For years, I prayed, pleaded, interrogated, cried, and threatened Dave over what I decided was irresponsibility. I went through cycles of blaming myself and questioning his salvation. I even accused him of an affair.

Finally, failing seminary grades, debt, and desperation drove me to a pastor for help. The conclusion was that Dave lacked self-discipline, just as I had suspected. He needed to be responsible and lead our family. Then, after an episode of Oprah on drug addiction, I did some research online. Sure enough, Ultram/Tramadol, the "wonder drug" my husband had been prescribed five years earlier with promises it was non habit-forming, was as addictive as heroin.

When I confronted Dave, he was relieved. He'd been taking 30 pills a day, he'd lost his job, and we were deep in debt. I called his doctors and asked them to stop prescribing—they were as surprised as I was. (Though it has been on the market since 1995, Ultram/Tramadol has just this year begun to be regulated as a controlled substance.)

Dave checked into inpatient rehab for three weeks, returning with instructions to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. He tried Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but felt lost. He was making a new start, and we wanted to tell our church, but were advised by the few who knew not to. No one will ever want Dave as a pastor if you do. Not only were the meetings inconvenient, it was difficult to attend them every day in secret. Besides, we thought God had healed him. Did he really need meetings if he had the Holy Spirit?

I didn't understand recovery at all. I believed that because Dave was repentant and clean from drugs, the nightmare was over. But freshly out of rehab and unemployed, he was vulnerable to failure. He was back to taking pills within a few months; and when he dropped out of seminary to lead a parachurch ministry full time, things got complicated.

Dave hid his drug use, but every six months I'd find out. Each revelation was a kick in the gut: debts, lies, shame. The first time I discovered his relapse, we went together to his new employer for help. Dave was asked if he had "victory over his sin," and we were told if it happened again, he'd lose his job. And once again, we were advised to keep our struggle to ourselves.

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