God Loves Junkies, Too
This is not a book review. Though I kind of wish it was. A book review would be easier to write.
No, these are just my thoughts after reading “How to Murder Your Life” by Cat Marnell. I should put this out there at the start: if this kind of book is a trigger for you, hinders your recovery, or clashes with your ideas about faith, please feel free to pass this post up. Trust me, I won’t be offended. Self care is healthcare.
Reading this book for me was deeply inspiring, deeply moving, and deeply hilarious. Cat Marnell has an enviable career as a beauty editor for some of the biggest women’s magazines in the world and loses it all with the help of her addiction. Marnell really is one hell of a writer and dives right in to the gutter without looking back. You see, Marnell is a junkie*, a true addict, not a casual user or partier. She’s also not the kind of junkie most of us are used to: recovering, repentant, and throughly regretful. Marnell is an addict who continues to use and continues to cause hurt and pain to herself and others. She also takes pride in some of her most epic downward spirals and tells of the experiences she appreciates when under the influence of drugs. Is she on the path to recovery? Yes, in a way. Does she want to be? Not always.
What do we do with a heroine who doesn’t meet our expectations? What do I do? Do I cast the book aside and call it a night, or do I dive right in and try to find something hopeful about the whole situation? I’m all for diving in.
The thing that struck me most in this memoir is that Marnell is frank and honest in the few instances she mentions a faith life and God. She mentions prayer a few times and how she believes God is involved in her journey. Even in the midst of thoroughly troubling moments in her memoir, she still maintains that God has a hand in her life. In one funny moment, she mentions that all this “God talk” can really turn people off so she skips along to the next episode.
Despite it all, that is probably the thing that most stuck with me after reading her life story. In the middle of a pretty troubled life, Marnell found hope. And she didn’t find it in a traditional sense, in an evangelical sense, in a “Jesus saved me, now I’m better” sense. She found hope in the very ordinary way many of us do. She found hope in living.
I have to admit, I haven’t had much experience with addiction in my own life. Sure, I hit it hard in college, but I guess my DNA allowed me to skip past some of the unhealthy addictions some of my friends started falling into: food, drinking, drugs, hookups, whatever. Did I sometimes make a mess out of my 20s? Yeah, of course. But I find myself in my late 30s relatively unscathed.
That being said, I have a handful of people close to me who have struggled with sobriety and have experienced the highs and lows of that particular glitch in their genetic makeup. Addiction is so pervasive that I’m surprised I didn’t know more addicts in my life. Or maybe they are just really good at hiding all that troubles them. For those whose torment I could see more visibly, it so often broke my heart. Some days all I could offer were prayers and some financial help here and there. I would drive away from seeing them with a broken heart and not a whole lot of solutions.
In those moments, I really rely on my faith in prayer and the belief that God watches us all, that He cares for us all, that He is there for us all. In my faith life, the questions of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “If God is good, why is there suffering at all?” are such thorny thorny theological questions to untangle. I have my theories and ideas and revelations, but that doesn’t really help other people who are going through a difficult time. The moment I open my mouth to say, “I think suffering happens because…” I really have to shut up because it is completely unhelpful to the situation and more a policy statement than an exercise in compassion.
Private prayer and reflection have helped me sort these things out in my own heart, though. While I can be there for someone in a physical sense, providing basic needs and sympathy, I can also help them in a spiritual sense, with my own prayer and cries to God on their behalf. The honest part is: I don’t know how to help, I don’t know how to fix it, it sucks, and it’s terrible sometimes.
I will say with full certainty, that despite what addiction does to families, friends, and lives, God loves the junkies too.
When I read Marnell’s book, I was reminded of my post on Psalm 22. In Psalm 22, verse 29, David mentions “those who cannot keep themselves alive.” Yes, there are some who have a really hard time keeping themselves alive.
Marnell herself reflected on this when she wrote a powerful piece about Whitney Houston upon news of her death.
Marnell specifically discusses Freud’s idea of death instincts, or death drives, and how these can take over the very basic impulses we all have for self-preservation. She believes that yes, there are people “who cannot keep themselves alive.” She may have Freud as a reference instead of King David, but the idea is strikingly similar.
When I think about all those who cannot keep themselves alive: addicts, the poor, the suffering, those with life-threatening mental illness, I can’t help but reflect on God’s own attitude toward the suffering, to the helpless, to those who are overlooked and under-loved. What did He do when confronted with those who were on the very edges of “normal” society? Jesus reached right out, grabbed their hands, and restored them. For those who asked for His help, Jesus overwhelmed them with forgiveness and miracles. For those who were simply caught in a life of doing things that hurt themselves and others without every asking for His help, He accompanied them on their journey.
Not everyone around Jesus was repentant. Did you know that? Not everyone in His social circle wanted to make a change or wanted Him to get involved in their lives. Think of all the tax collectors, prostitutes, and cruel teachers of the law. He spent time with them too. He had pretty harsh words for some of them, but they were in His orbit, they were at His table, on the hills where He taught, in the audience while He was speaking. He knew each and every one of them.
He called some of them by name and invited them to repent and free themselves of their addictions. Zacchaeus the tax collector was addicted to money and to carving power and a lifestyle out of others’ vulnerability and suffering. He heard Jesus call his name and his life was changed forever. The woman at the well was addicted to physical intimacy and relationships. Jesus invited her to leave this addiction behind and follow Him right where she was. The deeply, deeply disturbed and demon-possesed were some of His favorite kinds of people to restore and heal and bring back to wholeness.
You have on one hand, those who didn’t have an ear to hear or heart to listen to Jesus’ message, and on the other hand, those whose lives were changed forever. Who does Jesus love more here? Who does Jesus love?
He loves us all. With His whole heart.
Many people relate so strongly to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After hearing the story, most think that “prodigal” means returning or repentant. No, what prodigal really means is:
- 1.spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
The father in the story loves his loyal, hardworking, trustworthy son with as much heart and grace as his wantonly destructive son.
Sometimes I think it took just as much love to welcome the prodigal son back as it did to let him go.
The father in that story is a mirror to our Heavenly Father that Jesus speaks of so often. The Father loves us so deeply, He lets us go. He lets us choose addictions and destructive life patterns because He respects our free will and the sacredness of the souls of His own creation. He doesn’t require or demand or command us to come back, but He welcomes us with equal love when we do.
Jesus accompanied the entire “Island of Misfit Toys” along their journey regardless of how they felt about Him, whether they obeyed, or whether they were in recovery. I choose to believe that’s true today, right here and now.
When I didn’t know where those close to me would end up on the other side of their addiction, I believed that God knew exactly where they were and was right beside them the whole time. He knew them and loved them more deeply than I could ever hope to. Those were what my prayers were about. I didn’t always think to ask for help with their addictions. I just asked Him to keep them alive for another night. To take care of them when I couldn’t. To watch out for them when they left my life and when they popped back in.
I fell for a God and a Savior who loves them unconditionally, without condition, without a promise of recovery or repentance or any other requirement. He loves them when they are in the dirt, in the worst of their addiction. He loves them even when their addictions take them to really pleasurable and mind-expanding places too. Because if destruction wasn’t so enticing, none of us would be tempted to follow it.
I know, it’s the holidays. Who wants to think about junkies at a time like this? Honestly, it’s probably the best time to think about them. While some of us are working on decorating our trees, buying fancy makeup palettes (that’s for you, Cat Marnell), eating delicious food, and spending time in warm houses watching the snow fall, let’s remember those who have a hard time keeping themselves alive. Whether in prayers or actions, keep an eye out this holiday season. Accompany people on their walk. Serve and love them with joy, gentleness, and kindness. Let judgment take a backseat and reach out.
In one scene of Marnell’s memoir she describes spending Christmas Day alone and sobbing. We don’t have to look very far to find someone who needs us this time of year. Someone who needs us any time of year, really. But if Christmas is about love and Emmanuel, God with us, let’s follow His example and be with the ones in our lives who need us most. That’s how we stem the tide of drug epidemics, that’s how we heal our world, that’s how we change lives, and that’s how we begin to make it better.
* A note on the term “junkie” – For many, this can be a really loaded word. I get that. I’m using a term Marnell uses from time to time and contrasting it with the idea of a “beauty junkie” or “magazine junkie.” You know, obviously not the same, and I’m hoping my readers will get it. Unloading a term, if you will.