Heather Kopp thought she knew God and thought she was a good Christian. She believed in Jesus and even wrote books about her religion. But that wasn’t enough to protect her from a 12 year raging addiction to alcohol, which started with her second marriage at age 30. She describes this time in her life: “During all those years of drinking, I continued to write and edit Christian books. Publicly, I held forth on things like parenting and prayer, while privately I drank myself past sensibility. I knew I was a phony, a hypocrite, and a liar.” (p. 21)
Her first husband, Tom, whom she married at 17, had a healthy sexual appetite. But things didn’t go well, almost from the beginning. “I could no longer bear for Tom to touch me sexually. If he even kissed me softly, I wanted to kill him. If I forced myself to have sex with him, it was all I could do not to rake his eyes out.” (p. 168) After 10 years and 2 sons they got divorced, caused by the typical immaturity and infidelity often seen in young marriages.
She was always taught that one of the responsibilities of being a good Christian wife was taking care of your man’s needs. Here is an explanation, from the book Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in an Imperfect Marriage:
I am God’s appointed lover of my husband’s soul.
Don’t envy wives who leave their unhappy marriages. Just look at what happened to Jennifer. She got divorced, and pushed for commitment from a friend. Now she is a single mom of three, despairs over her prospects and wishes she’d never been so foolish.
Scripture can shed some insight into why you may be feeling resistant or resentful. The intent of this duty isn’t that a wife complies with a husband’s selfish appetite for sex on demand or vice versa, but to fulfill her sacred obligation to meet her husband’s sexual needs, keep the marriage bed pure, and keep each other free of sexual temptation. A wife who regularly refuses sex is acting selfishly. You need to take active steps to restoring satisfying lovemaking.
Heather was in a really tough spot. She wanted to be a good Christian, but she admits she has a problem around her relationships with men: “I’ve been broken around this issue all my life. Too many perverted uncles and after a while all men look like uncles.” (SoberBoots: Yep My Husband is a Sin Dog) Would her second marriage be any more successful? “Fifteen years my senior, he seemed mature and wise — a man in full, not a boy. I admired him. Always, the little girl inside of me desperately craved his approval.” (p. 16) No sex before marriage, of course. But the children pressured them to tie the knot. Would things go better with the man she loved like a father?
I required at least seven glasses of wine in the afternoon just to feel normal. The more I drank the more I wanted to drink. When it came to alcohol, the rebel in me rose up. Using Dave’s perceived puritanical “judgment” as justification, I began to buy and drink alcohol he didn’t know about. It was my secret obsession. As my drinking escalated, so did my tendency to fight with Dave. It was impossible for him to mention my drinking gently enough to avoid triggering my shame, which translated instantly into white-hot rage. He never noticed that my purse weighed ten pounds. In twelve years I never missed a night of drinking. I began to experience regular blackouts. Even though I appeared conscious and functional, I’d wake up the following morning unable to recall events from the previous evening. (pp. 8-23)
Toward the end of my drinking, usually the only way I could even know that my husband and I had been together the evening before was if in the morning I found my undies by my bed — a helpful reminder to myself that I should mention to him how much I enjoyed last night. (p. 52)
She was also lying constantly about her drinking, pretending she wasn’t drinking as much as she actually was. “Learning early to lie, cheat, and steal had to do with growing up in a very dysfunctional, screaming, fighting family.” (p. 119) She would pick fights all the time:
As my drinking escalated, so did my tendency to fight with Dave. (p. 17) Dave and I got into a fight because he hadn’t been “romantic” lately. I began to badger him about his not pursuing me like he used to. (p. 18) What horrible thing did I decide or imagine Dave did — after I got drunk and irrational? (p. 3) I’d gone into a drunken rage and locked him out of the house. Naked. (p. 25) I hit David — hard. And kicked him. And clawed at him. (p. 153)
Finally after 12 years of this she concedes that she has a problem and checks herself into rehab. The experience was not what she had expected:
I envisioned myself here curled up in a corner, sweating profusely, delirious with pain, and perhaps suffering small seizures. But that never happened. Much to my relief, during those first couple days, I was given Valium to help me cope with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Instead of climbing the walls with craving as I had expected, I was alone in my room, calmly reading a book. (pp. 43-44)
I was barely done with detox and I was being encouraged to spend the upcoming weekend at home. But the idea of going home so soon alarmed me greatly. By now, I understood the the idea of “triggers”. Just the idea of Dave made me want to drink. Driving away, I felt like a convict who’d been released way too soon. I felt oddly shy of my husband, who met me at the door and hugged me for a long time. What on earth would we do? Agitation quickly washed away my calm. How could Dave possibly understand the trepidation I felt about the idea of sober sex? Now I realize I had learned to rely on alcohol not only to get me into the mood, but to tell me what to do once I got there. I wished I was already back at treatment. Where I didn’t have a husband who was so alarmingly present. [They have sex.] “Do you think you’ll stay sober, Heather?” he whispered. “I hope so,” I told him. “But they say not to promise.” (pp. 51-53)
After a few weeks at rehab, she returned home. But there were challenges:
We got to a question of his I’d been dreading: “What about sex? When we made love, could you even remember it the next day?” “Sometimes,” I told him, which was barely true. “But hey,” I added with false cheer, “I remember every time when we did it in the morning!” (almost never). I felt as though I was disclosing the painful revelations of an extramarital affair. It was very much as if alcohol had been my secret lover. (p. 33)
As expected, Dave’s homecoming was the hardest part of my day. I’d greet him at the door with a forced smile, bright eyes, and alcohol-free breath. But inside I felt strangely bereft. I gazed out over the flat, parched land of the rest of my life. But what was so bad about ordinary existence? I couldn’t understand it. Why was I so desperate to escape the natural state in which God made me? How could I possibly do this for the rest of my life? (pp. 70-74)
But she remembered her commitment to her faith:
Slowly sex became a way to express my affection instead of something that happened to me when I was drunk. (p. 73)
But now a deep loneliness was slowly breaking me open to the possibility that I might want a friend. I began to explore various meetings around town. The particular brand of love and loyalty that seemed to flow so easily here wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced, inside or outside church. [She made a friend, Nicole.] We whispered about the old, creepy men who were too interested in hugs. (pp. 79-84)
Is that the end of the story? Was the addiction cured? No. It raised its ugly head once more, on the flight home from a trip with Dave, when she got into a fight with him for drinking her sparkling water at dinner, while he was enjoying wine as well:
At the airport, I found a bar and marched in, determined to drink at Dave, as they say. Somehow it just didn’t taste like I remembered. It didn’t slide smoothly down my throat like liquid gold. It was sour and cutting. (p. 124)
OK, the addiction is finally cured! Whew!
The God of Recovery
Looking back on it, she feels betrayed by her own religion: “I was deeply disillusioned about a Christian faith that hadn’t been able to save me from alcohol.” (p. 138) But where did she learn what she knew about Christian love and marriage? Remember the passage at the start of this article, about a wife’s duties to her husband? That was from a book written by none other than Heather Kopp herself! She was trapped by her own understanding of Christianity. Woe betide the women who read that book without the aid of a nightly blackout. (See: I call blackout.) These women deserve amends.
At AA meetings she learned to trust her will to the care of the care of God as we understood Him. (Step 3) She much preferred this god, the God of Recovery. She found herself much more at home in the rooms of AA, even though it is a Pagan cult where the members can choose any god they wish. She discovered that being a Good Christian offered her no advantage over the other drunks in the room, and she had to re-learn her faith from the start.
This was especially true in regard to her own son, who was also struggling with addiction:
By now, Noah’s own problems with alcohol and drugs were well established. A few years earlier, all four of us parents had become so worried about him that we staged a mini intervention. The intervention failed. After that Noah took a couple more brief stabs at sobriety. But for the most part, he continued to spiral even more deeply into alcoholism and severe depression. [She told him that she was going to rehab.] “You don’t have enough good stories, Mom,” he said. “If you go to rehab, you’re going to suck. You’re going to be in there with a bunch of losers my age. And besides, I don’t think you can stop drinking.” (pp. 38-39)
Although Noah wasn’t ready for recovery, he understands that success is about telling good stories. This is in fact the draw of AA — The Drinking Club for mischievous young people, and the old people who teach them the binge-abstinence cycle.
Although she achieved sobriety, she was not immediately able to convince her son of the benefits of serenity. Her son, like many young people, was more interested in fun and sex, or the lack thereof, than expelling demons in his soul, or turning his will to god. Noah’s drinking and depression got even worse, and she was very scared for him. His desperation and powerlessness to drugs and alcohol got so extreme at one point that he almost did himself in.
I could not trust God to keep Noah safe or alive or sober. Life had proved to me that God was not to be trusted in this sense. God was asking me to hand Noah over. Give him up. Let him fall off the ledge. Either I trusted God with Noah’s entire life and death, or I didn’t trust Him at all. (pp. 192-193)
And so she turned her trust to the God of Recovery, and offered her own son as a sacrifice upon His alter. Does her son survive? You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. But remember what he says to his mom about her stories. Perhaps he really ‘gets’ it.
In summary, the God of Recovery (GoR) has several advantages over the Christian God. First of all, if you pray to it, then it can suppress your unbearable craving to drink (assuming you can wait a few years until you’re old enough that your husband loses interest in sexually violating you). The GoR also understands that addiction is a disease, like diabetes or lung cancer. The victim can’t help but drink and lie and cheat, so it is not a moral failing as it would be under the Christian God — who demands: “Don’t be drunk.” As for the addict’s unbearable compulsion to drink, that is the god’s honest truth (which we can safely believe because even though they have a history of lying they have acknowledged it and have seen the error of their ways). At AA meetings, the GoR laughs along with your stories of drunken revelry. The Christian God? Just don’t stand too near any well grounded objects, that’s all I can say. Also GoR doesn’t necessarily offer forgiveness in the form of eternal Heaven to men who abuse children, which is a big issue for alcoholics who are often the victims of such abuse. (One exception: GoR allows a man to freely violate a woman if she’s plastered — don’t worry Dave you’re safe!) Finally, GoR requires daily supplication to maintain sobriety (“One day at a time”), so when it’s time for a relapse, you can just conveniently ‘forget’ to pray to Him that day and you’re good to go!
Unfortunately not everyone thrives under this god. Remember her good friend Nicole? She returned to rehab several times and never seemed to be able to expel the demons that caused her self-destructive behavior. Her 3 children never experienced a mother’s love while not under state supervision.
And of course, Noah struggled mightily with the powerlessness that could be overcome only by the God of Recovery. You can lead a horse to water….
But don’t worry the God of Recovery is perfectly consistent with the Christian God — just another set of lights on the same street. And for you medical geeks out there: addiction is really just an allergy that causes a craving for more (as she learned in rehab).
Anyway, it’s a great book, and really enjoyable and well-written. I would recommend it over Cathryn Kemp’s Painkiller Addict (also reviewed here) because the relationships are much richer and more honest, and because it’s theologically more interesting. This is important, since Alcoholism is a cult religion — and little more than modern day demon possession with a pseudo-medical facade.