Grace for the Addict

Deeper Story is closing and to be honest, I’m torn up about it. Before I joined as a Storyteller, I was a regular reader, taken captive-as many were- by the blunt and beautiful truths that tumble out when you choose to tell your story authentically. When you stop editing it down into something palatable, something safe. When you just say it- out loud- the big questions and hurts and joys, just as they are on your heart.

That’s what Deeper Story has been.

When I was invited to join, I felt like I had been asked to the prom. In the email from Sarah, she offered me a significant amount of time to pray and think and consider if I really wanted to do this, and in an effort to appear nonchalant about it, I waited awhile- give or take an hour- before I couldn’t help myself and responded with: YUP. I’M IN. THANK YOU. 🙂 (or some variation of that.)

I was only there for a short time, but it was a wonderful time. I’ve learned from some truly greater writers about things completely unrelated to writing. I’ve made new friendships that will continue into the future. I was challenged and forced to work harder on my writing than I ever have before (because how do you not stress over your words and your story when you have to stand there next to folks like John Blasé or Sarah Bessey or Addie Zierman or anyone else there.)

If I had to pick a favorite of my ten pieces, I would say the one below is it. It was my first piece. It was a post where I talked about something that I rarely do, a post in which I wanted to get raw and honest about my own fallen humanity and the beauty of God’s grace. My struggle with quitting smoking. (UPDATE: Not fully quit yet, but I have cut down significantly, to about two cigs a day, all of it due to a friendly modern invention called the E-Cigarette.)

Anyhow. Here’s my piece. Be sure, while it’s still open, to go check out all the different essays at the DS page!

Also- if you’re on the email list… I apologize in advance for the coming barrage. As I back up my essays onto this site, I don’t know how to do it without automatically sending out emails. I’m not techy enough.


Grace for the Addict

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In the seventh grade, I won the Ramsey County Police Department Poetry Contest after I penned a poem telling anyone addicted to nicotine to juststop it. It was a district wide contest; a winner would be selected from every school. And a couple weeks after I submitted, my Language Arts teacher burst through the door of my history class. She walked straight up to my teacher and whispered in his ear. They both turned to me, smiling. I beamed back.

They gave me one hundred and fifty dollars. More money than I had ever held in my hands. And two weeks later, with my parents standing proud at the back wall and the local paper’s intern snapping shots next to them, I stood in front of my class and read the poem aloud.

 

“I know the chains of addiction may be holding you down, but think of your family! They still want you around!” I roared like FDR and the class went wild.

 

I am no poet. But my life has been riddled with irony. Here’s some: only a few years after speaking my plea into class, I was twirling the feathery white stick between my own two fingers. I was sparking the cherry at the end, inhaling it deep into my lungs. Over a lake, I lay down on a dock with friends, blowing filmy rings into the stars. Watching them rise and rise and wash away in the wind. Dizzied by the buzz that was breaking over me, I felt euphoric, badass, and truly alive. I did not feel the chain clinking around my ankle.

With all the statistics and health facts we have today, the ads of women reduced to robotic voices and amputees and phantom old men trying to hug their grandchildren, with all this information and truth out there, only the insane could still be smoking. And maybe I am, because I still do.

 

I still smoke. I had a cigarette ten minutes ago.

 

And I don’t know how to write about it and turn it into something sympathetic, or deep, or on some level, okay. I worry that I am disqualifying myself as a disciple or a serious person. It is a problem, yes, I know that; it is an addiction.

“It is idolatry,” one Christian friend told me in college, in our very first vulnerable conversation.

“You won’t feel God’s love until you quit,” said another girl who claimed the power of prophecy, who added that that this was a directive from the Lord she received in just that moment.

And I suppose, some elements of truth can be found there. Much of this is about choice. I turn to an addiction instead of the Answer to handle my anxiety. A lot of this comes down to temptation, self-control, sin.

But it’s also an addiction. A bind. A battle I have waged with every weapon. Once, I promised a friend I’d quit cold turkey and she promised to hold me accountable. By the third night, I snapped. “I can’t do it!” I cried over the phone as I sat rocking on the dock, huffing and puffing like a little engine. Like the little addict I was.

But why? You still ask. Why did you start?

Because I wanted a redemption story. A before and an after. A transformation. Because I couldn’t quit being gay and at sixteen, I stopped believing God cared about changing me at all. And I became obsessed about change.

So, in high school, I started dragging my soul down to the swamp of Bad Things, soaking it in deep. One day, I thought, I could wring it out and scrub it clean. One day, I believed, after all that scrubbing, purging, cleaning, just maybe, I’d become enough.

It took years to knock this illusion out of my head. I tasted real redemption when I finally accepted that I am accepted and washed myself in the waters of grace, in the river of his love, when I found my healing in this sacred Truth: I am loved deeply, and always.

There is no good excuse for the smoking, but there is some context here. And I think that’s why story matters so much. Because in one quick glance, you might just see another sad addict, but when you watch the journey leading to this place, it’s clear that I was a kid, just desperately looking for a way out. Lost just like everyone else in the complicated reality of growing up. And grace covers all of that. Covers me still.

It is National Poetry Month and in this month, Easter, and I’m thinking about how fitting that is. We’re celebrating the single greatest triumph of the world, Jesus defeating death, and we’re celebrating the ancient craft that has breathed space into a world divided by black and white, good and bad, the sacred and the secular, and the possible and the impossible. We’re rejoicing in the grace that is filling every chasm. Filling every single one of us.

  • Hi Ben,

    On the positive side, at least this means you will have some more time for you to post on this blog…. and yes you are a poet, because you manage to continually express yourself in deep, deeply poetically ways which I for one lack, being a scientist (although perhaps I’ve got a bit better).

    But as for the content of the post, which is smoking. I smoke as well, “Marlboro lights” [or Marlboro gold as it’s called over hear]. Yeah I know I’m a bad girl (I’ve also smoked the odd Havana too, but cigars are more man things). But I think in defence there are worse things to be addicted to, e.g. stuff which isn’t legal. So we all have our legal fixes and ways of coping with stuff, even if we are on the side of social acceptability, e.g. wine , food. I even know some one who is addicted to exercise, which is ironically not good for him. So if you want to give up great, but don’t feel down or depressed if you do have the odd cigarette* or if you have a bad day…

    Hugs anyways.

    * when I last visited the US I got into trouble for saying out loud “Oh I could murder a pint and a fag” [which means in English, I really need a beer and a cigarette] .