At the Intersection of Addiction and Grace

My son Noah

As some of you know, on Monday I flew to Virginia to speak to a gathering of Salvation Army officers who operate their addiction rehabilitation centers in the Southeast. I was pretty nervous about it. I was also deeply grateful for the opportunity.

My grown son Noah joined me on the trip, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to have him with me. As we sat at a gate waiting for a delayed flight and Noah was tracking his fantasy football teams on his phone while eating a huge bag of airport popcorn, I was overcome by joy.

Just to have him next to me. Alive. Sober. Just to have him squeeze my shoulder now and then and say, “You’re going to do great, Mom.”

How can this be the same young man who used to smoke pot for breakfast? Who I used to fear would turn out like my father—addicted, depressed, and suicidal?

How can I be the same mother who used to drown my worry about Noah’s drugging and drinking by getting drunk myself? Who used to live in dread of being exposed as an alcoholic and would rather die than declare it from a podium?

The only explanation is that Noah and I are walking, talking miracles—living proof of God’s goodness and grace.

This was never so clear to me as it was on Monday as I spoke about the role of faith in my journey of recovery. Noah graciously allowed me to share some parts of his story, too—including how he’d probably be dead if the apartment where he was living when he hit bottom had had a garage.

After I spoke, we had a buffet lunch with the Salvation Army folks, and I noticed how easily Noah chatted with people. Several times I overheard someone ask him hopefully, “So do you speak, too?”

He laughed and said no. But you know what? He does speak. His life speaks. And nothing speaks louder than the story he can’t help telling just by being who he is today.

At one point, a man whipped out his wallet to show Noah and me a photo of a ragged-looking young man. “This here is ‘Frank’ before,” he explained, meaning before he came to their program. “And this is him after,” he said, showing us a photo of a clean-cut, smiling man who now works for their organization.

He couldn’t have been prouder had he been this guy’s father.

When I was invited to speak to the Salvation Army, initially I was perplexed. What came to mind first were the thrift stores I spent half my childhood trapped in with my bargain-loving mother.

What came to mind next were the red donation cans and the tinkling bells at Christmas.

And then, I thought of my father. Mentally ill and addicted, he spent the second half of his too-short life homeless, in mental hospitals, in halfway houses—and in more than a few Salvation Army rescue missions.

Early in my recovery, I attended a meeting downtown where the “Sallys”—the men participating in the nearby Salvation Army rehab program—reminded me of my father. Their stories touched me deeply for this reason, but also because the changes in their lives were often so dramatic. I’d listen in near disbelief, thinking, You mean to tell me this articulate, hard-working man was living under a bridge just a year ago? 

Sadly, my dad wasn’t one of these success stories. He never found recovery for long, and he took his own life at 47.  No one ever pulled his mug from their wallet to show how the program works.

My dad shortly before his death.
My dad shortly before his death.

Yet in Virginia, I was struck by the sweetness of God to bring me to speak here, and especially with Noah along. It felt like coming full circle, like this was the real end to my dad’s story.

Best of all, I got a chance to look some of these folks from the Salvation Army in the eye and say a belated, Thank you. My father was hungry and you fed him. My father needed clothes and you clothed him. My father was homeless and you sheltered him.

This is what it looks like to live out the gospel. This is what it means to stand at the intersection of addiction and grace.


Author: Heather Kopp at

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.

65 thoughts on “At the Intersection of Addiction and Grace”

  1. I just saw that you are posting again. For some reason, I am not getting the email updates. 😦

    This post is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. I can’t express how beautiful i think your application of this passage is. Breath for breath with Jesus as He says it in Matthew. Perfect. So precious to live it in such a personal way. Makes me think of Hosea.

    Love You,


  3. Miracles are happening daily, thank God….but it takes people like you sharing their story, so many times addicts think (nobody goes through what I go through) there is hope and it takes all of us not to forget where we came from. Giving back – I will pray for you and Noah and you continue to share and save others from the pit of addiction. Blessings on you both.


  4. Heather, this story is beautiful. I’m all teary for you and Noah. Y’all are offering hope to so many.

    I can’t wait to share this blog post with one of the women in my networking group. She takes a lot of pride and does an excellent job as Family Stores Operation Director for our area’s Salvation Army.


    1. Thank you, Kim, for your kind words! Heather, your story puts a face on why we do what we do at The Salvation Army. Most people think of Red Kettles, Bell Ringers, Disaster Relief coffee and donuts, etc. . . . the more obvious symbols of TSA. There are faces, real people, who are helped by generous donations and shoppers at the Family Thrift Stores. I’m going to share your story at my staff meeting next weekend and encourage them, so they know that what they do . . .whether hang clothes, run cash registers, sweep floors, sort donations, take out the trash . . . .it has a purpose, to help share the love of Christ with those in need and those who walk into our stores. God bless you and your son!
      Laurie Suprano
      Family Stores Operations Director
      Horry County Salvation Army


  5. It was good to have you and Noah with us. You are not only a gifted writer but a talented speaker.

    I love how you’ve been able to see this as the end to your dad’s story and how God has used you in this. That is the beautiful story of amazing grace… the kind that saves a wretch like me.


  6. What a wonderful post, Heather! You are a shining example to your son. Through your example and God’s grace, he is able to stand by you as you both hold your heads high! It is such a liberating experience and such a good feeling that you never want to lose that. Once God has delivered from your demons, you never want them back and it is a terrifying thought, isn’t it? You have come a long way and so has Noah. God bless both of you! I loved this post so much that I have posted it on both my profile and my author page and I tweeted it too. 🙂 Oh, btw–I am reading your book and it is awesome! I love the conversational tone and openness as you discuss what I am sure is very hard to talk about. Beautiful job! 🙂


  7. Heather…

    Congratulations on those moments of peace shared with Noah.

    “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord

    Tom M.


  8. Thank you, Heather! So inspiring! Noah looks so much like your father! Most of all, this gives me so much hope. My 20 year old son is struggling much the same way it sounds like your Noah did. As a recovering addict, it’s so hard watching my own child go through so much heart-ache knowing he has to come to his own “bottom”. I hurt for him, but I know that God hears my prayers.


    1. I love that you see my dad in Noah! I sure do. He–more than any one else in the extended family–got my dad’s eyes. Beautiful blue with great lashes. I’m so sorry that your own child is having such a hard go of it! 😦 It hurts so much to watch your baby suffer, especially when it seems so needless. If he/she only understood his/her preciousness. Thank God for moms who never quit praying.


  9. So powerful and such a testimony of God’s grace. I totally agree with your statement “this is what it looks like to live out the gospel”. Thank you doe always painting such a beautiful picture with your words.


  10. What a beautiful tribute to your son and your father. You honored them both with your life today. Thank you for your willingness to push through the tough stuff. You are a blessing.


  11. I love your story. My Dad was an alcoholic and he never seemed to have freedom from his guilt and shame. He passed away 18 months ago. We didn’t experience joy together. He seemed to never be able to find peace that I think comes from grace. I always seemed to cause him shame and maybe I never really forgave him, although I made the effort many times. Your experience of joy with your son, is delightful. Your picture of your Dad brought tears to my eyes. I think maybe, in my journey of grace, that finding self compassion for me is coming as I find compassion for my Dad. I loved the smile your Dad had in the picture, and even though as I have grown I discovered that I have hated my Dad, I loved my Dad too.
    Thanks for your courage!


    1. Boy, you nailed it in your opening line–linking his lack of freedom not to the alcohol but the guilt and shame. So much truth in that! I’m so sorry for your loss. How heartbreaking. I also loved your lines about finding self-compassion and that helping you find compassion for your dad. Beautifully put. Hope to see you around here again, friend.


  12. “It felt like […] this was the real end to my dad’s story.” – I love this. Our legacy lives long after we’re gone and your father left you and Noah as his legacy. I’m sorry he couldn’t make it, but without his story, what would yours be? That God is amazing, the way he uses our failures for His Glory!


  13. Heather.. Wow!! I am in the Middle of your lovely book.. You are an inspiration.. Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom.. Your story is a lot like mine..


      1. Actually, I am at the part where Noah started whistling.. so to see that happy face today, gave me hope!! I don’t mind a spoiler.. I suppose thru the book I know you that way, and here on the blog, but really we are all kind similar, moms.. alcoholics.. Christians.. take care..


  14. Thinking about the lyrics to Matt Redman’s song, Wonderful Maker. This was such a beautiful post and reminded me how awesome it is to move from the intersection of Guilt and Despair to the intersection of Addiction & Grace!


  15. I also lost my dad to addiction when he was 35. It is so encouraging to read some of yours and your son’s story. My siblings also struggle with addiction, still praying for them. If it wasn’t for the grace of God, my life would look a lot different! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  16. That was so powerful, Heather and it spoke to me in several different ways. I feel like I’ve been allowed to watch you come full circle in this process. From the day we were sitting on your porch when your book got picked up and the panic you were feeling at all the interviews there would be, to this, you have come into your own with speaking your story. I’m so very proud of you and so thankful that God has faithfully walked you through this process.

    You’ve come full circle with Noah too. From that horrible day when you found out he was no longer sober and the terrifying reality that was, to giving him over to God once again realizing that you had to trust God with him “no matter what.” To this, you’ve been allowed to watch him get sober once again and flourish in his life. He was there to support you and cheer you on this time, like you’ve done for him so many times. What a gift for both you.

    The last part of this post that touched me so deeply was how you described what the Salvation Army did for your dad. They were Jesus to him. Makes me wonder who I can be Jesus to today.

    Thank you for sharing your story my dear friend. It has changed my life and the lives of countless others.

    Love you so much.


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