Where do you turn for hope when you already have the answer and it isn’t working?
Though this site focuses on schizophrenia, close to 50% of people diagnosed with the illness also struggle at some point in their life with alcohol or drug abuse¹ —fifty percent who might not know there is a solution. Heather Kopp, in a newly released memoir called Sober Mercies,² writes about the solution she found.
Kopp recounts her descent into alcoholism, her conflicts about her spiritual convictions, and her realization she was “mentally, spiritually, and physically sick.” She wanted to share with others how she came “out the other side without losing God in the process.”³
If you face a dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and substance use disorder (SUD), Kopp’s insights might give you hope and the courage to press on. I could not help but notice the similar physical struggles, spiritual confusion, and stigma in Kopp’s life as she sought to confront her condition and live with it, as those found in the lives of people dealing with schizophrenia. Perhaps the dual roads to recovery have fewer differences than we imagine.
Kopp, who does not use the word ‘cure,’ once believed her Christian faith would make her immune to alcoholism which she viewed as a moral lapse. Throughout her memoir she shows the events in her life and changes in her faith that she believes left her vulnerable to an addiction to liquor. As she descended deeper into alcoholism she found herself forced to examine the nagging challenge of the ‘sin or sickness’ dilemma. Is alcoholism a disease or a sin? Christians facing symptoms of schizophrenia or severe depression often grapple with the same question. The answer, Kopp decided, “was much more complicated than a single paradigm could explain.”
Once she admitted the depth of her physical problem, she also had to re-examine why her Christian faith appeared to have failed her. “Where do you turn for hope,” she asked, “when you already have the answer and it isn’t working?” She writes frankly about her discovery of flaws in her faith, and how her desperate struggle spurred her toward God in a new way. “I needed to find God as I didn’t understand him,” she wrote, “or I was doomed.”
I believe this is the redeeming highlight of suffering of any kind.
In the chapter titled “A Pillowcase of Grace,” Kopp describes her awakening to the lavishness of God’s grace which she had never comprehended before. Her “encounter with grace” unfolds throughout the book. She explains how grace helps loosen the strangleholds of addiction, failure, and shame. The formation of honest, intimate relationships, which she used to avoid, was (and is) another grace-filled encounter for Kopp. She continues to seek recovery along with others, and has seen the power of daily forgiveness, community, and grace begin to define her life.
Kopp said her faith changed from an intellectual journey to “a desperate soul journey aimed at being real with God.” The change allowed a humble trust in God to develop. No matter what.
Kopp chose to reveal her struggle through alcoholism and cynicism to offer hope to those who do not think change is possible. She does not spare herself in her portrayal of alcoholism and its consequences to her family. (Her son graciously allowed her to include the story of his battle also.) Nor does she shrink back from what some consider the dangerous ground of mixing “spiritual tenets of recovery” with Christian faith.
Heather Kopp writes about joy and daily dependence on God’s mercies as she “tread(s) the miracle” of each new day. This self-proclaimed Christian drunk was relieved to discover means of grace to live a sober life, in spirit, soul, and body. One day at a time. Isn’t this the way we’re all supposed to live?
Nothing went so wrong that I escaped God’s will or His love for me. Nothing went so wrong that it couldn’t be part of my spiritual journey. Nothing went so wrong that God couldn’t turn it into something beautiful.
² Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp (Jericho Books, 2013).
³ “Why I Wrote This Book” by Heather Kopp, Sober Boots, May 6, 2013. http://soberboots.com/2013/05/06/why-i-wrote-this-book/