Confessions of a Drug Dealer (A Recovery Room Post)

It's National Recovery Month, and in celebration, I've invited Laura Beth Martin, my favorite drug dealer (a pharmacist to be exact), to bring an offering to the table. I met Laura at a writer's conference a couple of years ago, found out she was an Arkansas girl who had a penchant for pie and drawling i-s. Enjoy her piece, then head over to her site for more of her writing. Welcome Laura Beth Martin to the Recovery Room.


Her voice falters and slips as I ask her how she’s doing. I notice her tired eyes and the purple half-circles underneath them. Her arms are thinner than I’ve ever seen, and I worry what that means. There’s no baby in her belly now either.

I notice that too.

My hand quickly finds her name among the sea of white prescription bags, and I place hers on the counter. I smile and ask her gently how she’s doing. She tells me now about her flat belly.

The baby came last week. Thin and long like her momma. She gives me all the standard details and shares the name she chose. As she speaks she chokes up, tears filling her brown eyes, as the words tumble out.

“They took them. They took both my children.”

And the realization of what her world looks like slams me hard in the face and I lean forward my hand gripping that counter, knuckles turning white.

“I’m sorry.” I tell her. “I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, she says. It’s my fault. I did this.”

“Does CPS have them in foster care now?” I ask.

She nods, taking the sack from my hand. “But the baby is still in the hospital. They didn’t even let me tell my little boy good-bye.”

“That’s hard. Do you know what you need to do to get them back?”

“Yes,” she says, “and I’m doing it. I’m keeping my visitation and I’m following my steps.”

She is crying now.

“I can’t breathe without them,” she whispers.

And there, in that moment, I can see her the way Jesus sees her, scared, alone, vulnerable, hurting and confused. And I’m ashamed of my heart when I compare it to his. So many times, as a pharmacist I stand on one side of that counter and see people for who they appear to be, or who I want them to be.

The addict. The dealer. The user. The manipulator. The liar. The sinner. I get so frustrated, so tired of being on the receiving end of attempts to use the medical system for drugs.

I’m hard hearted. A cynic.

And this is an easy thing to do when my own sin isn’t an addiction that everyone can see. When it doesn’t publicly cost me my children, or my job, or my church membership. When I can tuck that sin away and ask God for forgiveness and no one is the wiser. It allows me to create levels of separation for sin, a caste system of religious hierarchy where I can justify my own while judging everyone else for theirs. And the mask of the perfect Christian can remain firmly cemented in place.

But what if my sin were apparent? What if everyone knew I had an anger problem? Or had adulterous thoughts? Or cursed like a sailor? What if the worst thing I’ve ever thought or done was displayed for everyone to see? My shame would undo me.

As Christians, we often want to believe that those with addictions have the power to stop whenever they want, as if there’s a light switch you turn on or off to quit craving your drug of choice. We want to believe that they have complete power over their sin.

No one has that.

Even the ones who keep the front row pews warm three times a week cannot claim to have themselves under control. We cannot white-knuckle our way through the depths of our humanness. It simply isn’t possible.

There is no one righteous, not even one.

And Jesus knows this.

He knows we are forever recovering from ourselves, thus he continually offers his grace cupped and overflowing from palms scarred. He whispers to the addict in us all,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

[Enjoy Laura Beth Martin's writing? Visit her website.]


Want to read a recovery narrative that's about so much more than recovery? Grab a copy (or 10) of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith. I don't think you'll be disappointed. 


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Recovery Room: A Trippy Experience (an Interview with Steve Wiens)

On Thursdays, I welcome all comers into the Recovery Room, a place where we unpack issues of dependency, pain, and addiction. Today, I'm in the hot seat, and I hope you'll join in listening to this candid interview with Steve Wiens. It's just one little click. Go. Really. Go. (And while you're there, consider subscribing to Steve's podcast.) Before you go, though, please know how grateful I am that you keep reading along (or listening along, as the case may be). I cannot say how much I appreciate you.

***Tiny Letter***

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Recovery Room: The Bible as an Instrument of Self-Harm

In Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, I explore how theology or Scripture can serve as its own sort of addiction, how we might use either to numb or soothe pain without communing with God. Even good things can play tricks on us; yes?  Today, Heather Caliri explores the flip side of that coin. What happens when we use Scripture as a weapon against ourselves, when we use it as a torture tool that causes pain? Do you know this bag of tricks, this way of using Scripture for shame instead of freedom?

This is, perhaps, one of the most honest pieces that's been submitted to the Recovery Room. Please take the time to read it, and then visit Heather's website at


The stack of books glared at me from my nightstand. Nearly 2 p.m., time to go to class, and yet I hadn’t picked up my Bible that day.

Lazy, I said to myself. When will you start making God’s Word a priority?

I sighed. If I hurried, I could get in fifteen minutes.

Cross-legged on my single bed, I set my notebook in my lap, and my Bible and quiet time idea book by my knees on the mattress.

Hosea again. I glanced at the Bible study prompts. Another two days, and I’d be done, finally.

I read: Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute.

Oh, God.

I was so tired of verses about unfaithful prostitutes. Sure, I knew I was unfaithful to God—just look at my laziness this morning. I was sure the verses were talking about me. I was the unfaithful prostitute. I was the ugly sinner.

But I was desperate to read something else.

I sighed. Surely even this wish showed my unfaithfulness.

I forced myself to keep reading. I forced myself to see myself in the Bible’s harshest words that day, just like I’d done the day before, and the day before that.

I thought this was what God expected of me.


Twenty years later, I came across that notebook in a box in my garage. I’d saved it through a dozen moves, but had never looked inside. I’d never been brave enough.

It didn’t look very scary: an unlined drawing notebook, a magazine photo of a sunset taped to the front, with a verse from the Psalms layered over it: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart.

I wondered, with a quickened heartbeat, if I was ready to read it.

No time like the present, I thought, and opened the cover, bracing myself as if it concealed shards of glass.

I squinted at pages crowded with the tiniest cursive. The tiny, smashed-together words shouted out the desire of my heart back then: a desire to do more, be more.

I had longed for God’s word to set me free. I had hoped it would fix me, scrub my insides, and cleanse me.

And don’t get me wrong—I believe God’s Word can do those things. It is a transformative book; reading its words can bring life.

But it’s also described as a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

What I realized, re-reading that notebook, is that I had used God’s powerful Word to cut myself.

I sat down on the floor of my garage, reading entries filled with shame instead of God’s grace. I was astonished at how my self-loathing shone through each page.

I’d always identified with the worst character in each prophecy, always assuming I was the evildoer, the harlot, the beast. In my naiveté about the Bible, I’d missed that the prophets were almost always speaking to communities, not individuals, the powerful, not the broken-hearted.

I missed that things others had done to me—abuse, trauma, loss—were crying out for justice. I missed that God preached freedom for me, not condemnation.

In page after page, laser-focused on my own shortcomings, I had missed God’s relentless, overwhelming grace. Instead, I had taken His powerful Word and used it as a weapon to punish myself. [tweetherder text="I am recovering from using the Bible as a weapon of punishment. @HeatherCaliri #RecoveryRoom"]I am still recovering from reading the Bible that way.[/tweetherder]

After college, long after I finished reading the book of Hosea, I stopped reading the Bible altogether, my heart a despairing, cooling cinder. I loved God, but I couldn’t keep going.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled to pick it up the Bible at all. Every time I did, I’d be met by waves of anxiety.

This baffled me. Why couldn’t I read it like everyone else could?

Now, on the floor of my garage, I realized why. My heart was crying out: No more.

For me, recovery from self-harm means affirming that though God’s Word is good, it is also powerful. It means letting go of the idea that I have to read it every day to be a “good Christian.” It means changing how I read it, and finding other ways to connect to God. It means putting my soul’s safety over any to-do list.

But most of all, it means paying attention to how my time with God feels—whether I anticipate Him, or dread Him. It means listening to what my heart has to say about my faith.

It means trusting the verse I ignored so many years before: that while delighting in God, my heart will find its deepest desires.


Heather Caliri is writes at You can find her on Twitter @HeatherCaliri. Follow along with her work. You won't regret it.



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Recovery Room: The Fast

It's Thursday, which means we're walking into the Recovery Room. It's also Lent, which means many of us are walking into an intentional penitential season, a season to turn back into a fresh work of recovery. Some are fasting. (If you'd like to join our community fast, follow this link.) Have you considered your Lenten fast this year? Have you considered the reasons behind it? I've posted this here before, but it'll be new for some. Give a listen, get alone, and consider how you'll fast this Lent. Come along?


CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Recovery Room: From Gumption to Inner-Sobriety

Over the last year, I've received my fair share of me-too emails, emails in which the writer has reached out to say, "you've wrestled with addiction? Me too." These emails take various shapes and forms--advice from someone ten years ahead of me on this recovery journey, confessions from other addicts on the other side of the screen.  This is the beauty of confession--it both invites the wisdom and grace of age, and encourages the lame to take their own first step. Yesterday, I received an email from a reader who shared his pain. He'd come to the conclusion of Coming Clean and decided to stretch back into the possibility of God. He wrote, "my life hasn’t changed at all yet... I still ache all the time... I am still trying to take it in, trying to really believe it all… trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again, maybe just a little…."

Trying to get the gumption--what a line.

These are the confessions that are difficult to field, especially in a relational vacuum, but I did my best. As I closed my response, I typed,

"'trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again...' Maybe this is the trick. Maybe it's intestinal fortitude, and intuition, and a bit of wonder that keeps us holding on, or reaching out (depending on our posture). I think God sees that. I think God is okay with that. In fact, I think God smiles on it."

I clicked send, sat in the silence, and considered my bald assertion.


You may not be a twelve-step disciple, may not attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or a Sex Addicts Anonymous. (To put all cards on the table, you should know I'm not a regular attender.) But even if you've never stepped into a meeting, if you have no disordered attachments or disruptive addictions, even if you've only had passing conversations with true addicts (whatever that might mean to you), don't you have some familiarity with the twelve steps of the Anonymous programs? Don't you at least know the first two?

Step 1: admit you are powerless over your addiction, and that life has become unmanageable in that addition.

Step 2: admit that only a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.

These are the foundational principals of the twelve-step programs designed to beat addiction. And herein lies the problem: even if one believes his life unmanageable, even if addiction, or pain, or our spiritual condition has rendered him powerless, what if he can't quite admit that there is a Power greater than himself? What if belief in God is a struggle at best, and impossible at worst? Is recovery possible?

I'm not here to give you the twelve-step answer to the struggle, or to chide your disbelief. I'm also not here to provide resources for atheist and agnostic twelve-steppers (though they exist). Today I'm writing for a far different purpose; I'm writing to inspire your imagination.

Ask yourself this question: What if I don't believe in a Power great enough to save me from addiction? Consider yesterday's emailer; he was onto something.

There's no such thing as perfect belief this side of the veil. So what if we admitted our doubts, the weakness of our faith, and responded, I'm trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again...? What if that response--imperfect as it might seem--was good enough for our communities of recovery? What if our communities (both twelve-step communities and church communities) made space for doubt, faith, and the gumption in the liminal space between? Wouldn't that be a community of honesty and authenticity? Are there any better weapons against addiction and disordered attachments than honesty and authenticity?


In these recovery conversations, let's make space for the doubt and disbelief. Let's make space for unresolved pain and questions. And instead of giving all the right answers, let's inspire those around us to gumption. Perhaps their gumption is God's gift for the recovery of their faith, for the recovery of their inner-sobriety.

Can you imagine it?


CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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