Is Addiction Stronger Than Love?

My friend Becca looks like a model, lives in a beautiful home, and has an adoring husband and three young children.

But she’s also an alcoholic who struggles to stay sober. For the past ten months she’s worked hard to recover from a series of devastating relapses that almost cost her everything—including her marriage and kids.

A few weeks ago, I attended a surprise party she threw for one of her children. It also felt like a celebration of Becca’s return to health and happiness. She looked radiant. Her kids clung to her. Her husband beamed with obvious pride.

Only days later, she relapsed again. Friday, she called me crying and asked for help.  I went to see her where she’s staying—a skanky, drive-up motel, the kind where drugs are rampant and no one is actually on vacation.

I hardly recognized her. She looked scary thin. Her eyes were flat and dead, her face blotchy. She couldn’t sit up, kept falling sideways. Clothing and garbage were strewn everywhere. She denied being drunk or on drugs, but she could barely form the words, “I’m not lying.”

And there, on a nightstand by the bed—a mattress with no sheets—was a beautiful framed photo of her three kids. The incongruity and irony made me want to scream, “How could you! Don’t you love your kids? How could you do this to your husband again!”

I drove home in tears, haunted by a question I’ve asked myself for years: Is addiction stronger than love?

Sure seems like it. I couldn’t quit drinking to save my son from his own alcoholism.  I couldn’t quit drinking for my husband, either. If he’d given me an ultimatum—“I love you, babe, but it’s me or alcohol”—I might have chosen alcohol.

But this weekend, after seeing Becca, I found myself thinking differently.  I decided that addiction isn’t really stronger than love because love has nothing to do with it.

Today I am more convinced than ever that addiction is a mental illness. What else but insanity can turn caring mothers into uncaring monsters, loyal spouses into liars and cheaters, promising sons and daughters into criminals and whores?

I’m reminded of one of the best zombie movies ever made, “28 Days Later.” It’s often confused with the Sandra Bullock movie about an addict going through rehab, “28 Days.” But in a way, both films depict the same horrific scenario—what happens when good people morph into something less than human.

Which is part of what makes zombies so scary. Unlike monsters or aliens, these people still look like your loved ones or neighbors, except they’re not anymore.

The same can be said of an addict. The Becca I saw in the motel on Friday was not the Becca I know and love. She was like the living dead, incapable of choosing love.

And where does that leave her husband? Tonight he’s probably still wondering, “Why doesn’t she love me enough to quit?” He’s putting their small children to bed alone. They’re asking, “Daddy, where’s Mommy?” And he has no answer. The mommy they love has disappeared.

In all of this, hope is so hard to find, but it’s there if you look. Addiction might seem stronger than love, but God is stronger than addiction. Because this is true, some addicts do come back from the dead. I did. I’m writing this post as a zombie in full remission.

Becca just might come back, too.

You might be suffering today because you love an addict whose behavior seems to prove they don’t love you. How do you handle that? 

P.S. I changed my friend’s name and a couple details to protect her anonymity. But if you pray for Becca–God can probably figure it out.:)

Author: Heather Kopp at SoberBoots.com

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

58 thoughts on “Is Addiction Stronger Than Love?”

  1. It helps me, when my alcoholic sister lies or says something insensitive or self-centered to me, to remember that until she gets past the denial of her illness, she is not able to relate to me or others in a healthy way. I once shared with my mother the words that a wise doctor spoke to me, that alcoholism is a mental illness. She was unable to “receive” this message, as her husband–my father–was a recovering alcoholic. But I found freedom in this truth.

    Thank you, Heather, for your transparency, the truths you share, and your compassionate heart for others who suffer from alcoholism–including those who love the alcoholic.

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  2. Wow. Reading some of your older entries, and all I can say is: POWERFUL. Addiction is so cunning and baffling a thing, isn’t it? God bless you for sharing your journey…you are a blessing to untold numbers of people, no doubt.

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  3. This is such a sad story, and sadder still in knowing that it is not unique. Heather, please update us on Becca as we pray for her and her family.

    God indeed is stronger than addiction. And the cross gives us reason to hope that he will use that strength on our behalf. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom 8:31-32

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  4. Love what you write & how you put it down!
    “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” comes to mind. Verse may be taken out of context but the truth remains! Love you!

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      1. Yep, and proud of it! I’m working on getting a WordPress blog going and came across your comment! Couldn’t tell you how long ago I added this comment to your site!!

        It will likely take me some time to get this up & running — got a lot of other stuff going on; I’m not a tekkie; and I’m getting older, ok, more “mature” (I hope)!!!

        I’ve just ordered your book due to come out in May. Looking forward to reading it too.

        Love ‘n hugs, TJK

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  5. Wow, Heather, what a heart-wrenching story, but I know there are so many more just like it out there – even right here in my own little town. I’ll be praying for your friend and her family.

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  6. My brother said “no man gets sober until he loses his wife and family.”
    My best friend sad, “you are loving him with all your heart and working yourself to illness and he is not getting better.”
    His therapist said, “as his addiction progresses, it will come to a point where you will see that your actions will be dictated by the choice of your children having a living father or you have a dead partner.”

    Alcohol is stronger than love.

    We had to choose life for all of us.

    The chips had to fall where they lay.

    We all had to live the new life that was put in front of us and be grateful that everyone is currently alive.

    There are no assurance that he will remain sober; sadly my children know that. That is why we live our lives one day at a time.

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    1. Janet, thanks! Wow, yes, you must see so much of this. Isn’t it amazing how much we start to take it all in stride? When I was writing that post for today I kept wanting to talk also about how as a society we’d react so differently if it was a virus like the one portrayed in Contagion that was killing people left and right. It’s really the black plague of our generation, but we mostly yawn and mutter about the damn junkies. So heartbreaking. As you know, every one of them is someone’s baby. H

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      1. And while I was home sick today, a law enforcement K-9 dog found marijuana in a student’s locker. Most likely and sadly, parents will be down our throats rather than supportive. In fact, one snide remark has already made its way on FB.

        I do know the horrible power of addiction. For three weeks prior to back surgery and two weeks post-surgery I was on prescription painkillers. When I realized I was waiting out minutes to take the next one, I made up my mind to get off them…in two days’ time. I cut the dose down to half the next day and stopped them completely the following day. I was stunned that I was no longer in pain, though the drugs themselves had convinced me I needed them.

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  7. Addiction is a bondage that distorts primary things and your relationship to them. It distorts love. you drown in the distortion in one way. The distortion becomes ‘home’ to you in another. The distorted ‘you’ you know in that ‘home’ feels more real, if possibly disappointing. As long as, and whenever, the ‘doctrine’ (if you will) of the distorted you is driving your gut you are in trouble–especially in the first years of sobriety. 3 tumbles off the wagon for someone seriously working is not uncommon.

    Addiction is bondage.

    Our master calls us Lost. We call us all kinds of ugly names. We pull away. Our master leaves the 99 safely penned and spends the night in the storm searching for the one that wandered off, extracts her from the brambles she has gotten caught in and carries the wounded, frightened creature back to the others on his shoulders. There, there is great rejoicing.

    Tick off her tumbles. She’s closer to staying in true reality. Pray for her that way. Pray for
    clarity. Believe__even when today is brutally sad. Becca just might come back too!

    Sharon

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    1. Sharon, thanks so much for your wisdom here. I love that picture too–off God searching for the lost one of us. I appreciate your prayers so much! I am so grateful for my readers and for all the love that they give back. It’s an amazing thing. Thanks for contributing! H

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  8. My son’s addictions were well hidden for nearly two years, right up until the day he said to me with a small, broken voice, “Dad, I’m addicted to heroin and I need help.” I had endured and ignored a nagging intuition that Something Very Bad was happening for many of those months, but it was far too easy to dismiss the clues as evidence of typical adolescent issues: insecurity, angst, hormones. I felt terribly unloved during that season, but what parent doesn’t feel unloved at least once during the hell and hope of raising teenagers? I found plenty of other excuses for apparent lack of love, too, among them, guilt over selfish choices I’d made years before.

    Today, 136 (sober) days after my son admitted his powerlessness, I have a new appreciation for those difficult days. Hindsight isn’t always 20-20, but it’s a lot clearer than the fog of lies and deception insisted upon by his addiction. Yet the real surprise of retrospect is that not only can I see the dark clues I missed back when hope was a splinter, I can also see hints, however faint, of what the selfish mistress kept denying him: his desire to love.

    Today he is capable of choosing love. He chooses it one day at a time; sometimes with confidence, sometimes with a small, broken voice.

    I am thankful for both.

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    1. Wow, what an amazing response. I’m so moved by your story. I can so relate to it! My son didn’t get addicted to heroine, but his situation was pretty awful. I Your last couple paragraphs here are so great. So true! And so beautifully put. Thank you for blessing my blog with them. I am so glad your son is recovering! Addiction is such a curse when it’s active–and yet God can turn it into such a beautiful thing when we get into recovery that makes it all worth it. What a weird paradox. Best, H

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    2. PS While I was writing that comment my son called me and told me he is planting a small garden today. He wants to come borrow tools. Then he invited me over for pesto pasta. If you knew my son you’d know that this is such a beautiful moment, another miracle, a sign that recovery is still working wonders for him! H

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  9. As I read your post I think the person (or people) that need to ask “Which is stronger, addiction or love?” is the person that isn’t an addict. I personally haven’t ever heard of someone being addiction without love from family and friends. Addicts will never get to the point where they choose love unless they are being loved through their sickness.
    Most the time, love wins. 🙂

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    1. Wow, Adam! Such a great point. It’s something Dave and I were talking about last night too. I think it’s so true, but it’s also so hard to talk about because so many people who love addicts feel like they’re loving all they can and it doesn’t help and they feel walked on… I guess I’m always nervous about anyone drawing the wrong conclusion and thinking that I’m saying you can love a person into recovery. Which you sort of can. But also you can’t. It’s so complicated! But I should write a blog sometime about how much I suspect my husband’s steadfast grace and love helped me turn a corner and keep me turned. Because there’s a lot of truth in the power of that. When someone believes in the better you they see inside you–it makes you want to believe too. You’re so dang smart. :)H

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  10. “I sing, because I’m happy, I sing, because I’m free”….today…

    His eye is on us “sparrows”.

    Praying for “Becca” and her husband and kids….

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  11. My husband is in recovery, 3 years. I have problems also. I loved everything you said, and I really, really, appreciate you writing about it and being so forthcoming. Most people, especially “church” people, in my perspective, always seems so perfect. No one wants to talk honestly about these types of problems. Well, almost no one. What I found in my personal situation was that forgiveness is the key. Otherwise I would be divorced. Both of us accepting each other as we are is a big part of recovery.

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    1. Sherri, I couldn’t agree more about forgiveness being key. I posted about that once, here. I am so glad you are reading my blog. I love to hear from others in recovery. And yes, sometimes it’s hard to find the kind of raw honest we’re looking for in church with regard to discussing addiction. I think so many Christians feel shame about addiction and like there’s something extra wrong wrong with them that they could love God and still fall into that kind of bondage. I hope you’ll keep reading and talking to me. Heather

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  12. How do I handle it? I used to give as good as I got. If he ignored me by drowning in the bottle, you can damn well bet that I ignored the hell outta him as soon as he was sober enough to notice. 28 years (and 1 year of my own codependent recovery) later, I realize how ill we both were all those years. He is sober now, but not in recovery. How do I handle things nowadays? I pray…ALOT. For him and myself. I pray for our marriage, I pray for peace and serenity, and I pray for acceptance. Jesus Christ reached down and saved me 1 year ago and He put me on the path to my own recovery and then He led me back to the road that leads to normal life. I learned to Let go and Let God. HE saved my life. I pray HE helps my spouse find his own road to recovery and normal life too.

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    1. It sounds like you’re handling it very well. But it’s sad that your husband is dry but not in recovery. I always think these people are some of the most miserable on the planet. When you don’t replace drinking with a deeper spiritual experience–which most people find in recovery–then you are just left in the same state you were before–a self-centered alcoholic who just happens not to indulge. I don’t know your husband so this might not even apply to him, but I’m so glad to hear that You have been in recovery. That’s the most important thing you can do, in my mind. Learn how to let go and surrender as you are. I love that you know the source of your help is God. I’m praying too… Hugs, Heather

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  13. My husband has been sober for 12 years. After I read this post, I just wanted to go home and give him a big hug and thank him for staying sober, and praise God for helping him to stay sober. Thank you for reminding me what a big deal it is that he’s been sober for this long.

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  14. I have been there. Felt ALL of those feelings. The anger, the sadness, the empty place that hope used to live. But I am a mother and wife who believes with everything I am that GOD IS STRONGER than addiction. My husband was two years sober as of February of this year and God removed his desire to drink…every day we still are careful of potholes and feeling over confident but every day I am more and more confident that JESUS breaks every chain…if we ask. Thank you for sharing your heart in all of this. I will pray for Becca…there is a wonderful place in South Carolina she can go called Grace Home: http://www.hebroncolony.org/grace_home.html…it is the sister organization of the place that my husband went to Boone NC. AND it changes lives. AND its free. It is the only way to a lasting recovery. All the best and congratulations on breaking your chain!

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    1. I am so glad to hear this–that you have find hope in Christ. I am so glad your husband found the kind of recovery he needed–the right fit for him. I agree that it has to be God who does it. And isn’t it wonderful to know that He can? Thanks for the recommendation. H

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  15. Oh, my heart hurts for Becca and rejoices in you Heather. What a miracle it is to find God and recovery and then tell your story so others find hope. I just said to my husband yesterday that I think the reason why I have trouble believing the the good things people say to me is because my mother said them and then kept drinking. I always thought that if she meant them, she would love me more by giving up the bottle. So I have a learned tape in my head that says people don’t really mean what they say, they are just saying what they think I want to here. You have given me some perspective here, thank you.

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  16. This is a tough one. I know that if I didn’t have my husband and kids, I would be dead or at least nearly dead from drinking myself to death — that was the trajectory. I have always believed it was because of them, having more to live for than simply my own desperation that gave me the strength to get help/get sober. Even today, I have times when I think if I lived alone and had no accountability I would still be a drunk. Let’s just say its super complicated.

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    1. I agree that it’s super complicated. And I have heard people say they got or stay sober for their kids. And maybe that is true and can work, but I think ultimately even when we think we’re doing it for others–if it’s working–it’s usually because we ourselves truly want sobriety too–and knowing that our kids okay is a huge part of us feeling okay and able to live with ourselves. So our kids and love do inspire us–but time and again I’ve seen that kind of love not be enough to overcome the insanity. Maybe because we have SO much guilt about our kids and so all our trying to get and stay sober for them–when it fails, can make us feel ten times worse. It raises the stakes, that’s for sure. Ultimately, I couldn’t quit for Noah or Dave, but the brokenness I felt about that and around it helped me reach that point of desperation I needed to reach. Does that make sense? Great thoughts here. Thanks! Heather

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      1. For sure. The strength to stay sober comes from within. And from God, though I feel mostly like it was sheer willpower. But there’s an accountability to family (not bringing alcohol home, not drinking at parties) that comes from my family knowing and being physically there. I don’t pretend to know why I am able to be sober when others relapse. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m weak. Care too much what others think of me. But I know that’s twisted too. And not exactly right.

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  17. I didn’t take my brother’s drinking personally. True, I have a poem that questions why my love wasn’t enough to keep him from drinking but it wasn’t a constant thought. I was more confused by the whole situation than anything else.

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    1. What a great, simple way to see it. I didn’t take it personally. That’s so hard to do, especially when another person’s addiction is affecting you. It feels so personal at times. It feels like the person doesn’t love me. It helps to remember that it’s the addiction that doesn’t love you, hates you in fact–and is trying to kill your loved one. So glad for your response here!

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  18. Sometimes the past is so haunting, we just can’t leave it there. I’m so sad for Becca and her family. I’m praying for them all, and that she finds lasting recovery.

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  19. This morning I was reading in Genesis 4 – it’s the passage that talks about the dreams Pharaoh had. The first dream was about Pharaoh standing by the Nile, “when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat…then after them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank.” Here’s the kicker and the end of this dream- “and the cows that were ugly and guant ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.” Oh my word! That’s such a word picture of addiction. It’s exactly what you were describing in your post today.

    I read a commentary on this passage which said this: “This dream should be a warning to each of us. Yes, it is possible for the best years of our life and the best victories we have won…to be swallowed up by defeat…The only safe assurance against such tragedy is to have a fresh touch with God daily – or even hourly.” This next sentence is so full of truth for the addict, “my blessed, fruitful and victorious experiences of yesterday have no lingering value to me today.” That is just a long way of saying “one day at a time.” My sobriety from yesterday is not going to keep me sober today. Only a “fresh touch with God” today is going to do that.

    I will pray for Becca and her family. I’ll be praying for that fresh touch from God for all of them. Thanks for this important post.

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    1. What a great picture! Awesome. I love the commentary, too. I love the idea of a fresh touch from God. And isn’t that so true? That we don’t need more theories or knowledge, but an immediate experience–a constant re-experience of his love. Great thoughts! Hugs, H

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