there’s something I have to tell you

Russell Lee, photographer, 1937
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year now . . .

and I still haven’t told our whole story.

If I’m ever going to get it all out there, I’m going to have to be more consistent.

More organized.

More brave.

* * * * *

The writer Anne Lamott tweeted this the other day:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.

If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

So, I’ve been thinking about it . . .

And I think I might be able to get away with that in twenty years.

Because I think that there are people who behaved badly in our story who might take offense . . . or worse . . .

But I need to tell you that there is a better way to deal with prescription drug addiction than what we experienced.

And I think that’s really what has to be told in our story.  

Because the more I read about prescription drug addiction, the more I believe that it’s a silent epidemic creeping into our church pews.

And I am convinced that the Church is completely ignorant about the danger and commonality of prescription drug addiction. And completely unprepared to deal with it.

If I never get the chance to write another word on this blog, I have to tell you some things. You just need to know.

I was listening to a popular Christian counseling show on the radio a month or so ago and heard the counselor (a very, very well-known author) actually say that anti-anxiety medications were NOT addictive.

I nearly crashed my car.

Where would he get that kind of mis-information?

It’s taking forever for the medical world to catch up with classifying drugs.

Warnings have just been sounded about Tramadol, the drug Dave was addicted to.

Only the ones that are flat-out addictive: morphine, etc — drugs most of my readers aren’t likely to have laying around the house — are strictly monitored. Most of the time, when people refer to addictive drugs, they mean these.

Meth and heroin are Schedule I drugs — illegal drugs, with no medical purpose.

Aderall and Ritalin are Schedule II drugs, right alongside Morphine and Oxycontin. Highly addictive drugs, referred to as controlled substances.

Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market are NOT controlled substances, but have the potential to be addictive:

Valium

Xanax

Ambien

Tramadol

and

Vicodin — the number one prescribed drug in America —  131.2 million prescriptions in 2010.

An estimated 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceutical drugs. Prescription drugs account for about 75 percent of all drug-related U.S. overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And three of every four deaths from pills involve opioid pain relievers including oxycodone. — Reuters

We are the most medicated country in the world.

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Shutting down pharmacies that made the naughty list with NIDA, and drug take back campaigns to get unused prescriptions out of homes.

“Most of us can’t go to our grandmother’s house and find cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine, but we can find prescription painkillers.” Gil Kerlikowske

But it was a series of legitimate prescriptions that set Dave on the path of addiction.

What about doctors who prescribe and over prescribe?

What about pharmaceutical companies making a killing off our pains?

Is it necessary to prescribe Vicodin to a teenager with a cough?

Anti-anxiety medication — without any real evaluation –to someone who really just needs counseling?

Narcotics to someone who broke a finger? (Need more convincing? Read this.)

I’ve personally experienced this. This jump to prescribe after a five-minute conversation.

And one of these days, I’m going to lose it Erin Brokovich style.

Maybe I already have.

How many times have I had to write “prescription drug addiction” on the children’s family medical history before someone actually refers to that information? Do I have to tattoo it on their foreheads?

DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you and yours could never get addicted to prescription drugs.

**A WORD OF WARNING: If you or anyone you are concerned about is taking a potentially addictive drug, don’t go cold turkey.

You could die. You could become suicidal. 

Get medical help before ditching your legitimately prescribed pills.

I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you don’t believe me, read the fine print on the insert that comes with your medication.

If that doesn’t tell you these drugs are dangerous, I don’t know what would.

Make your voice heard until you find someone who cares.

Dump your doctor for one who will really test you and your kids before prescribing potentially addictive drugs.

And for goodness sake, check your work and medical benefits. 

We found out after Dave was asked to resign that his Christian employer’s benefits included 30 days of leave for rehab.

No one told us.

And there I go.

But these things have to be said.

No matter how sorry anyone is. No matter how much hindsight anyone has now.

You need to know.

We were good people. Seriously. If I told you how good, you would think I was lying.

Let’s just say this: great kids, leaders in high school — at school and at church, leaders in college, leaders in church, leaders in ministry. Not Party-ers. Not drinkers. And chaste. (Yep. There, I said it. Mock away or shake your head in disbelief.)

And yet. And YET. Prescription drug addiction nearly destroyed us.

Take a good, hard look.

This is what’s coming.

Christians have got to be ready

They weren’t ready for us.

And some of them should have behaved better.

Redemption is real

I was in prison and you came to visit me.
http://www.chuckcolson.org

“His life is a testament to how redemption, so often debased and abused in a 24/7 news cycle obsessed with celebrity and scandal, can be astonishingly powerful and real.” — Rich Lowry on Charles W. Colson

I was writing an article recently for work and had to read some sections of Chuck Colson’s book, “Born Again.”

Some of it is just too painful, hits too close to home in some ways. Granted, the nation wasn’t watching when Dave lost his ministry because of his prescription drug abuse and all the destructive side-effects.

Because of his Watergate crimes, Chuck Colson went to prison. He served just enough time to see the hopelessness of condemned men and the failure of a system that sent them back to the streets to re-offend. He used his notoriety to found Prison Fellowship sharing his testimony of transformation to give hope to millions.

Granted, it would be hard to hide from your past if your sins, crimes, shame were as famous as Watergate. It would follow you your whole life, just as it did Chuck Colson. Just look at the headlines and the articles detailing his crimes from nearly 40 years ago.

The thing that inspires me about Chuck Colson is that he repented, acknowledged his shame and let God turn it into a platform to speak to criminals and kings. It takes a great deal of humility to have your flaws chronicled for all time and still face the world.

How have you failed? What has God healed you from? And why do you hide it?

People don’t want to hear how great we are or how perfect we’ve become. There’s no real hope for perfection in this life. So give it up! What are you going to let God do with your shame?

People want to know that no matter how badly they’ve failed and no matter how much they’ve scoffed at and rejected the God who loves them, that He still stands there with open arms ready to embrace them and forgive.

It may be in a prison yard speaking to 600 convicts or it might be a small recovery group in your church. All around us men and women are living in their past or present bondage to shame.

Let God use your story. They need to know redemption is real.

 “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” 

Boston Globe in 1973

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,

Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example

for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Saint Paul, I Timothy 1:14-15


But for the grace of God

The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

* * * * *

I spent a week of October in Southern California doing interviews with men and women who are working through this process of recovery. Twenty-five of them.

I sat across the table from them each day at the rescue mission, as one by one they told me their stories. Nearly all of them had had a struggle with addiction that had ravaged their lives:

* a former gang member with intimidating tattoo covered arms who can’t have his name printed or photo taken because of his violent past;

* a beautiful young woman, resembling an average college girl but who had been in and out of prison since she was 12, committing crimes just so she could go back to where she felt safe;

* an unemployed, homeless family — mother and father both recovering addicts — whose only alternative to living at the mission was to live with relatives who were heroin addicts.

At night, when the interviews were done,  I drove an hour or two to spend time with my sister and her family, a brother and his family, and my parents. And I realized again how blessed I am.

Dave and I have nurturing, loving families who didn’t let go — and didn’t drag us down. Loving family, who follow God, whose presence in our lives is an encouragement, who never locked their doors on us, who gave — more than we could ever begin to repay — when we were most desperate.

That is the humbling difference between me and all the people I interviewed.  No matter how different I may think I am from the woman who escaped an abusive relationship — and slept in her car with her toddler for eight months and got arrested for drunk driving and child endangerment and went straight to the Mission after being freed from house arrest — I am not.

Sometimes we give ourselves too much credit. We say we would never be like that because we’re smarter. Or because we’re hard workers. Or . . . and we discount the fact that God set us in families. We didn’t choose them. It was none of our doing.

Because in spite of the differences in our upbringings, in our families of origin, we speak the same language, these recovering addicts and me: But for the grace of God . . .

Each one of these recovering addicts told me a story of how God got a hold of them. Each one, tearfully expressing a deep gratitude for the grace I have known of all my life. Each one, rescued by this grace of God from a life of deathEach one, knowing exactly where they would be, but for the grace of God . . .

There is a danger in being raised in a good, loving Christian home. And there is a danger in having all of our needs met and never knowing hunger. There is even a danger in always making the right choices.

Because when we haven’t felt the vast chasm that separates us from God, we tend to take the bridge for granted.