James B. Nelson is Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and author of many books including Body Theology. In this frank and illuminating paperback, he writes about his addiction to alcohol. There are three stories unfolding here: Nelson's journey as a recovering alcoholic trying to live one more day free of the disease, the story of his Christian faith and its relevance to these experiences, and the story of A.A., the organization that has helped so many people regain their lives and their wholeness through the miracles of community and a support system that is always there.
Some years ago, John Bradshaw observed that addictions are "the ruins of our search for transcendence." Nelson agrees that the thirst for God is part and parcel of most addictions, along with a reverence for rituals. But it is only in recovery that one learns to understand the meanings behind such yearning. The popularity of the A.A. slogan "alcoholism is a disease, not a disgrace" points to only one of the many ways addicts have been made to feel as if they were untouchables. Nelson subscribes to the disease model of addiction but also is convinced that the sins of selfishness, control, attachment, and perfectionism are part of the addiction process.
Recovery, he discovered, is never a simple thing. It means living with a host of paradoxes:
"It is a paradoxical that alcoholism is both a disease and a manifestation of that basic alienation called sin.
"It is paradoxical that those who have been the deepest into denial can become most vulnerable to the truth about themselves.
"It is paradoxical that out of limitation comes freedom: "I cannot drink" (limitation) becomes "I can not-drink" (freedom).
"It is paradoxical that in facing our powerlessness we find power; that in facing our imperfection we find wholeness.
"It is paradoxical that since grace is both justification and sanctification, recovery is both a gift and hard work."
Hitting bottom, according to Nelson, is when an addict finally admits defeat and confesses that he or she needs help and surrenders to God. Then comes the experience of transformation: "And, whatever words they give to it, most recovering people convey the sense that their new life feels much more like resurrection than immortality of the soul. 'I was dead, and now I'm alive again!' They know that a whole person disease calls for more than Band-Aids. It calls for a transformation so fundamental that words like 'resurrection' and 'new birth' seem utterly right."
This soulful book does a fine job conveying the mysteries, challenges, and roadblocks of addiction. It proves that God can transform us all through grace and the loving support of those who care for us.