The Only Really Honest Ones? Addiction and Grace in “Sober Mercies”

I recently reviewed Heather Kopp’s memoir, Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk for the Englewood Review of Books. My review begins:

In a recent interview, popular blogger, author, and recovering alcoholic and bulimic Glennon Melton said this:

I think addicts are the only really honest ones. Life is hard, and everyone thinks so, but we’re the ones who say we will not pretend…Through our recovery, we also tend to end up much more self-aware and grateful than the general population. We believe in miracles, because we are one. We tend to be compassionate to others’ suffering because we’ve suffered. I really like us.

While Heather Kopp, author of Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, has a gentler, more nuanced style than the über-intense Melton, I think she would agree with this assessment wholeheartedly. While Kopp was a Christian long before she got sober, the honest self-examination required by recovery gave her faith a gritty depth and necessity it lacked before. We Christians talk a good game about how badly we screw up and need God’s grace, while indulging in surreptitious self-congratulatory back pats. We still believe on some level that we are saved by our wit and our wisdom, our commitment to prayer or stocking the church food pantry, and our Christmas tradition of giving gifts to the poor instead of each other. We can go on like this, awash in self-deception, for years—perhaps our whole lives—if we are lucky enough to live a life with few crises.

Read more here….

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Tim

    That review is really well done, Ellen. You got my mind thinking hard already this morning.
    Kopp’s story reminds us that God is with us when we turn to him in awareness of our utter need for him, and he’s with us when we don’t have that awareness too. I can appreciate Melton’s take on the nature of addicts and their relationship with God, but I hope we don’t need to become addicts in order to have that relationship of complete honesty and reliance he says only addicts have.
    The point isn’t whether we have recognized our addiction or other shortcoming. The point is Jesus, and the completed work he has done on our behalf. Anything other than that is idolatry, including thinking that “addicts are the only really honest ones … the ones who say we will not pretend.” In fact, as I re-write those quoted words I can see what hogwash they are. I’ve never heard that Paul was addicted to some substance, but he is one of the most honest writers I’ve ever read. And he understood completely that it wasn’t about his own honesty at all, but about Jesus’ righteousness completely.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      OK, I’m going to push back a bit here. While Glennon Melton (who is a she, BTW, Tim!) writes with an over-the-top style that doesn’t always fit with how I see the world, I think there is some truth in what she’s saying. Not that addicts are the only ones who are especially honest or aware of the need for grace. But I do think that, for most people, it takes some “hitting bottom” experience of helplessness, whether that’s an addiction, a chronic illness, the addiction or death of a child or other loved one, a house fire–something that tells us in no uncertain terms that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL, no matter how shiny and put-together our lives may be on the outside. Paul, after all, spoke of the “thorn in his flesh,” so even if he wasn’t addicted, he had something in his life that he could not contain and that drove him into the arms of Jesus. I think people can live a rich life of faith without any sort of crisis, but that a crisis can drive people to a depth of faith that was previously unknown.

      • Jeannie

        Hi Ellen, I know you were replying to Tim’s point, but I just want to say that I agree with you 100%. What you’ve just said is exactly WHY Melton’s words bothered me.

  • Jeannie

    I enjoyed this review greatly. I love Heather’s blog and was fortunate enough to win her book in a recent draw on Gillian Marchenko’s blog (insert woo hoo here) so I am really looking forward to receiving and reading it.

    I was also uncomfortable with the “only honest ones” remark. In my experience in some Christian circles, the “look how far I fell” angle can shift to “so look how much more deeply I know God than those who didn’t fall so far” — a weird sort of pride (not that that was what was originally meant, but it’s a real & present danger). But I don’t see that in Heather’s writing, which is why I love it, and her!

  • Dave Parker

    Have a good vacation!