Church is a place for the broken to be healed. But in many churches and Christian groups, there are more individuals focused on hiding their brokenness than seeking healing.
“As an addict, life is hard enough. But you throw Christian in on top of it and you double the shame,” said Sherry Hoppen, author of the book “Sober Cycle: Pedaling Through Recovery One Day at a Time,” which chronicles her battle with alcoholism while dealing with the stigma of being an addict within Christian circles.
Hoppen, an author and speaker, said Christians often feel an additional burden of shame because “not only do we have to face our loved ones, our family, our friends, but we’re trying to hide it from God too, and we know we can’t do that.”
For years, Hoppen tried prayer, willpower, self-help and support groups — none of which cured her addiction. She felt very alone, and her shame kept her from admitting her struggle or reaching out for help. Then an unusual opportunity presented itself.
Hoppen heard that the ministry she worked for was biking from Michigan to Maryland to raise money. She thought, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Who would do that?”
Fast forward a year later.
Hoppen was still hiding her drinking problem, but one day the head of the ministry asked if she was OK. The truth came out. In tears, Hoppen confessed her addiction. He suggested that she participate in Ride4Life.
Hoppen had expected the typical responses to this kind of admission — offering prayer, a group to attend or how a friend had dealt with it — not a grueling bike ride.
“I looked at him like, ‘You’re crazy.’ I had no intention of doing that. I didn’t own a bike. I was not in good shape at all. I was drinking a lot. I was overweight. There was nothing that made anyone look at me and go, ‘She’s a biker,’” Hoppen said.
She told him, “No, thank you,” and planned to forget it. Everything changed when her husband came home after being out of town.
She had barely gotten the words out about her boss’ outlandish idea before her husband said she should do it.
The next day she bought a bike. After only 51 days of training, during which she kept drinking, she headed out with the group while hiding a raging hangover.
After the harrowing cross-country trip and crossing the finish line, she had an entirely different marathon to tackle — living with the sobriety she had attained during the ride. Though she knew she needed help, shame kept her silent.
Hoppen describes her post-ride feelings in her book: “I desperately need someone to ask me today how I feel about staying sober tomorrow. I need to talk about this, but my fears of how it will be received are bigger than my need and, once again, I keep it to myself.”
That first Ride4Life didn’t cure her addiction. But years later, she finally surrendered.
“I said [to God], ‘Take it. I’ll do whatever You want. Just take this.’ … I wanted Him to take it away so I could go back to who I used to be, when in reality I should have had no desire to go back to who I used to be because I don’t think she was a very nice person,” Hoppen said.
Promising God she would do His will, Hoppen had no idea then what God had in mind.
“I didn’t realize that what He was going to ask me to do was to speak and write about the very thing that I had frantically put a lot of time and effort into keeping a secret,” she said.
Occasionally Hoppen mourns the time she lost due to alcohol, but she also has determined it had to happen that way. She has learned to trust God’s timing instead of her own.
Through her experience, Hoppen recognized the need for addicts and others with stigmatized issues to speak up, especially within their faith communities.
Church can help
“Where are the people in the Church? The minister can talk about it until he’s blue in the face but until we own up to it and say, ‘Me, too,’ nothing’s going to change there,” she said. “The Church is not the safe place the Christian addict will go to seek help simply because we have been told those two words ‘Christian’ and ‘addict’ do not go together.”
Now a recovered alcoholic, Hoppen said she wears both labels — Christian and alcoholic — proudly. “I’m not a different kind of Christian because I’m an alcoholic, but I ought to be a different kind of alcoholic because I’m a Christian.”
Find “Sober Cycle” at newhopepublishers.com or at your favorite bookseller.
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