It’s available! In both paperback and Kindle formats. The Soul of an Addict: Unlocking the Complex Nature of Addiction, by D.J. Mitchell.
Addiction is more complex than it may seem. Written for the non-addict who seeks to understand substance addiction, The Soul of an Addict shows that addiction not just a disease or a choice. Using statistics, anecdotes from the lives of addicts, and the author’s personal experience with addiction and recovery, the book argues that addiction affects all aspects of human existence, including identity, purpose, life structure, and morality. It serves as a religion in the addict’s life, and any approach to recovery must also provide these essential needs. With one in seven Americans struggling with substance abuse, this book brings a timely analysis for anyone concerned about addiction.
“A must-read… As a therapist I will be recommending this book to my clients.” –Milt McLelland, CMHC, Roots Counseling Center
My first non-fiction book is coming soon. The Soul of an Addict: Unlocking the Complex Nature of Addiction argues that addiction is far more complex than most models accept. Is it a disease? A choice? Yes. But it’s also more than either of these. In fact, addiction has the sociological characteristics of a religion.
The book is supported by statistics, anecdotes from my work with addicts, and stories from my own struggle with addiction. It will be available in two weeks.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Twelve, “What Is Recovery?”
Jenna was in her fifth round at a treatment facility when I met her. She dropped out before the end of the program and went back to using drugs.
Nate got clean and sober the first time he went to treatment and never used again.
Ben was sentenced to treatment by the court after his fifth conviction for DUI. He went to avoid prison, yet he got clean and stayed clean for many years.
Vivian had a spiritual experience after an alcoholic binge, attended Twelve Step meetings and never drank again.
Dan found sobriety in a church run by a pastor in recovery.
Al got sober through Twelve Step meetings while in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Vern failed at treatment facilities and methadone clinics for years, but after doing some time in jail and living in his car for a year, he finally got clean in a Twelve Step program.
Treatment takes many forms, and has varying rates of success. But, whether an expensive rehab facility, a publicly funded treatment center, a church-based support group, or a cost-free Twelve Step meeting, some form of support is usually necessary to help us get out and stay out of our addiction. The reason is simple: If we knew how to stay clean and sober without treatment, if we could envision a way of life sufficient to replace addiction, we would have given up drugs already.
Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is big business in the United States. In 2017, nearly three million people underwent treatment. It’s estimated that Americans spend $30-35 billion a year attending rehabilitation centers for drug and alcohol abuse.
That doesn’t include the nation’s largest single “treatment” system: prison. According to researchers Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, nearly half of all federal prisoners, about 100,000 people, are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. It’s estimated that half a million nonviolent drug offenders are incarcerated in state and local prison systems.  At an estimated $30,000 per prisoner per year, that’s another $15 billion expense that falls to the taxpayers.
In 2016, some 168,000 people on parole or probation were returned behind bars not because they committed a new crime but because of technical violations such as staying out past curfew. Sawyer and Wagner argue that the justice system is structured to promote failure, not to reward success.
It’s worth noting that those who go through treatment are more likely to be white (about 80%). Those who go to prison are more likely not to be white (about 70%). The rate of addiction does vary slightly between races, but perhaps not as expected. Of the three most populous races, whites lead in substance abuse problems with 7.7%. Blacks have a rate of 6.8%, and 6.6% of Hispanics struggle with substance abuse. Yet blacks are six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than whites.
Jacob, a young African-American man, was arrested for drug-related offenses. While represented by a public defender, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Later, he managed to pay an attorney several thousand dollars to have the judge reconsider the sentence. It was reduced to one year followed by a court-ordered drug treatment program. Financial resources clearly make a huge difference in the outcome of drug offenses in the criminal justice system.
There’s another troubling statistic. In 2017, more than 20 million Americans sought treatment for a substance abuse problem. Only 12% of them actually received treatment. That’s a huge improvement over prior years. In 2014, for example, only 7.5% of those seeking treatment actually received it. But still: out of every eight people who seek treatment, seven do not receive it. The most common reason cited, by almost half of those who could not obtain treatment, was lack of insurance coverage. They couldn’t afford the cost.
 NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet” (https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/, accessed May 15, 2020). Numbers for Hispanics were not included. Also see Alana Rosenburg, et. al., “Comparing Black and White Drug Offenders: Implications for Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice and Reentry Policy and Programming,” J Drug Issues 2017 47(1), 132-142 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5614457/, accessed May 15, 2020): Blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for smaller offenses; 49% of Blacks and only 10% of whites in the study were convicted of marijuana possession compared with 7% of Blacks and 50% of whites convicted for heroin possession.
I finished writing Benji’s Portalmore than five years ago, and almost immediately began the sequel. But it got delayed by grad school…
I’m putting the finishing touches on it now, and it will be published before the end of the month. Here’s an excerpt:
“How is my sister?”
The doctor sighed.
“Unchanged, I’m afraid,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that we don’t know why she is sick.”
“How can you not know?” he asked. “Look at her! Something serious is happening to her. But you don’t know why?”
The doctor sighed again.
“Let me tell you what we do know,” he said. “Her condition stems from a problem in her brain. It’s not related to any other system. But we can’t identify why her brain is malfunctioning.”
“Why not?” Benji pressed.
“Brain chemistry is extremely complex,” the doctor explained. “And her brain chemistry, and presumably yours, differs from what we see on Parisa. Many of the chemicals are the same, but they appear to play different roles in your brain than in ours. So we don’t have the knowledge to determine what’s normal, and therefore we have no idea what’s not normal.”
“What about mine?” Benji asked. “If you checked mine, that should show you what normal is, right?”
“It would show us what is normal,” the doctor said, “for a young man who is just beginning puberty. But we don’t know how similar that would be to a young woman who has already reached biological adulthood.”
“So what do we do?” Benji asked. “You’re saying you can’t treat her?”
The doctor sighed again, his expression pained.
“That is what I’m saying,” he confirmed. “And it’s not an answer I’m happy with, but I’m afraid we just don’t have enough knowledge about her biology. I would suggest that you take her back to your home planet, where they are familiar with what normal brain chemistry looks like for someone from your planet.”
Benji felt his heart sink. On the one hand, he welcomed the chance to go back to Earth and see his parents. But on the other, he knew that his own people’s knowledge of brain chemistry was limited. His mom had often warned that psychiatrists threw medicines at a problem rather than trying to understand it. They had no ability to measure brain chemistry. Instead, they used trial and error, as if each patient was a guinea pig. Compared to Parisa, Earth was extremely primitive when it came to psychiatry.
But it didn’t look like he had much choice. Lisa needed help, and the doctors on Parisa couldn’t help her.
“Can I spend a few minutes alone with her?” Benji asked the doctor.
The doctor glanced at Tamar, and then back at Benji.
“Of course,” he replied.
Then he and Tamar left the room, closing the door behind them.
Now alone with Lisa, Benji went to her side and took her hand.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked yet again. “And what do I do about it?”
He began to cry, deep sobs that made his chest heave.
“How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?” he lamented.
Then he heard a voice, though whether it was Lisa’s or his own, or someone else’s, he wasn’t sure.
“You’re not listening,” it said.
Benji stopped in mid sob.
“Listening to what?” he wondered.
“You’re asking a question, but you’re not listening for an answer,” the voice said. It sounded very far away.
“Okay,” Benji said in his mind. He asked again: “What is wrong with you, Lisa?”
He listened hard.
At first, he heard nothing. Then, gradually, he began to hear a whisper in his mind. As it grew louder, he recognized the voice as Lisa’s. But he couldn’t understand the meaning of her words.
“Black and white, grey and red,” Lisa said. “What happened has not happened. What I saw I did not see. What I did not see I will see again. Red and grey, white and black. Backward or forward, it is all the same.”
“Lisa?” Benji called, his mind to hers. “Lisa?”
“Benji,” she replied. “Thank God. I only can hear you a little through the noise, and I can’t see you through the colors.”
“What colors?” Benji asked.
“Black and white, grey and red,” she repeated.
“I don’t understand,” Benji said.
“Neither do I,” she replied. “Can you help me?”
Benji choked back a sob.
“I’m trying, Lisa,” he assured her. “I’m trying. But I don’t know what to do.”
“Farchedan,” she replied.
That struck him as an odd expression for her to use.
Benji emerged from the room to find the doctor and Tamar conversing together telepathically. He approached them and took their hands.
“You’re right,” he told them. “If there’s nothing you can do for Lisa here, then I should take her home. Our psychiatry is primitive compared to yours, but at least they’ll be familiar with her brain chemistry. And I don’t know what else to do. Maybe my parents will have some idea. I’m sure they’ll want to be with her, even if they don’t know how to help her. So I’m going to take her back to Earth.”
Since I first began reading the Bible I’ve been fascinated with the Gospel of Luke. Not only do Luke and its sequel Acts comprise almost 2/3 of the New Testament, but Luke is the only non-Jewish author. He was a Gentile. Given that I, too, am a Gentile, I find his perspective– and his inclusivity– particularly relevant to my own experience.
As time went on, I began to realize the magnitude of Luke’s claims: that the Holy Spirit, formerly reserved for a few chosen servants of God, became available to all at Pentecost. That Jesus conquered sin through His resurrection. And that the spreading of the Gospel– in word and deed– continues the victory.
At Seminary I studied Greek. Admittedly I took the lite version, not the scholarly version. But as a wordsmith myself, and someone who has lived in multiple cultures, I began to realize how difficult it is for a literal translation to convey the depth of meaning of the original.
Let me give an analogy. Not long ago, one of the pastors at our church preached to a mixed group of English and French speakers. Another pastor translated the sermon into French. The preacher referred to “a home run,” and the translator dutifully translated the expression literally. But the French listeners, who did not come from a culture that played baseball, had no idea what the expression meant. The meaning was lost.
So it is with Luke’s Greek. The very first phrase is translated in the NRSV as “Since many have undertalen to set down…” But this misses the underlying meaning of Luke’s words. The Greek word ἐπεχείρησαν, translated by NRSV as “undertaken,” literally means “to put the hand upon,” as in “To put the hand to the plow.” Luke isn’t just saying that his is not the first attempt. He’s stating, quite emphatically I think, that the previous authors didn’t finish the job. Luke is about to tell us something new, something amazing, and something the others have, in his opinion, missed.
This, of course, stirs the debate about whether all the biblical authors are saying the same thing. My answer is: Of course they aren’t! Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience. Luke wrote to Gentiles. John (the Gospel writer) wrote from a more mystical perspective and uses some of the best Greek in the Bible. John (the writer of the Letters of John) was a local preacher, not a theologian. He addressed matters of immediate concern, much like Paul (if in a less educated style). And John (the Revelator) was clearly a native Aramaic speaker– his Greek grammar is tortured, much like my grammar when I try to speak other languages I’m not fluent in. And his purpose was to relay prophecy– an entirely different art.
Luke is clearly a well-educated man, and an excellent writer of narrative. He says nothing that doesn’t contribute to the movement of the story he’s telling (and I don’t mean to imply in any way that it is fiction). He uses no word by accident.
That’s why looking at Luke’s Greek is so important. In a series of posts, I will do exactly that.
As I said, I’m no Greek scholar. But I am a wordsmith, and I know how to use the tools. I understand denotation (what a word literally means) and connotation (the underlying meanings understood by native speakers). And I accept that Luke, as he lays out his narrative, does nothing by accident. What he says in the beginning supports what follows.
So I “put my hand” to an attempt, as many others have before me. Perhaps true scholars will cringe. Or perhaps the Spirit moves us to see something the literal translation misses.
If my work causes you to think, then I’ve done my job. Because I accept it as a given that the Word of God cannot be held in ink on a page. God is infinite. We are not. And as powerful as the written word is, like us it is incapable of encompassing God.
Elm, an Outlander and a deserter from the army, lives in shame and fear. If the King’s men find him, he will surely be executed. His one pleasure is an ancient and forgotten cave temple. There he dreams of better days, and of his landlord’s beautiful daughter.
Teha, Commander of the Army, owes his position and standing to the order established by the gods. When the King takes a heretical priest as an advisor, everything Teha believes in stands in jeopardy.
In a forgotten city in the mountains, an old monk uses spiritual gifts to seek an ancient prophecy of peace and justice. Aided by a mysterious old woman, he works to prevent a war in the realm of the gods that would devastate the world of men.
A routine decision by the King sends these three men on a collision course that will change the world.
This novel follows three men, and the women who inspire them, through tumultuous events in a world of swords and violence. It is a world of diverse gods, prophecies and mystery, kings and priests, and a world in which a few privileged people live in peace while the vast majority experience war.
I started this book almost thirty years ago. Inspired by a Hindu temple I visited in India in 1987, it became a complex work told in three voices. Yet though it portrays people who believe in different gods, it is also an allegory about how we view God, and about misconceptions of power and violence.
As I write this, the paperback version is available here. The Kindle version should be available in a day or two.
If you decide to read it, please give it a review!
It’s been a rough couple of days with my blog. WordPress installed an editor they call Gutenberg, which is deigned to allow users to easily make impressive-looking posts. Unfortunately, it’s not for writers. As Nathan Ingram writes,
The days of sitting down and composing in the post window are gone (of course there is a question about how many people do this anyway).
Call me old fashioned, but that’s exactly what I do. I’m a writer. I’m not a coder, programmer, graphic designer, visual effects editor, or any other variety of technical creator.
I write words.
And I know how to get stuff done in what they now call Classic Editor. (I get it: “Classic” means old fashioned. I can live with that.)
So I tried the newfangled Gutenberg. I did a couple of posts on it. And yes, it makes designing a simple post easy. But designing a simple post was never hard.
The problem came when I wanted to embed an audio file to my post. Gutenberg’s description says there’s a “block” for that. Maybe there is, but I couldn’t find it. What should have been a 90-second post turned into an hour of frustrated failure. On my one and only Christmas post. Merry freakin Christmas.
Take Two: If I can’t work with Gutenberg, maybe I can get rid of it. That, fortunately, was a little easier. It took several searches, because the older solutions don’t work any more. But there is a free, simple plug-in called Classic Editor that returned my life to manageability.
Our friend, Joshua Pettit, has just published a book of amazing photos of southern Utah. Paired with musings from his struggle with chronic pain, the book is intended to be both beautiful and inspirational.
Here’s a sample:
Your words and self talk are what define you and your perceptions in life.
Change those to fit your desired point of view, that’s
This is an excerpt from the book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.
“Christ is risen!” I begin. “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before. But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ What a shock that must have been!”
So begins my Easter sermon. I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation. They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.
That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning. I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.
After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.
Then the moment comes. I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.
“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.
Then I pause. The next line won’t come out. I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.
I’m not expecting what happens next.
“Christ is risen!” I repeat. “He who was dead now lives. Christ is risen in me!”
I continue in a softer voice.
“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ! We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”
“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask. “Let’s be honest. I fall short far too often. How about you?”
I raise my hand. About half the congregation raises theirs, too.
“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask. “I do.”
I raise my hand. More hands go up.
“Are we sinners?” I ask.
I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”
“Yes!” they reply.
“Yes,” I agree. “But we found new life through Jesus Christ. Amen?”
“Amen!” they reply.
“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why? Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”
I pause, and see heads nodding.
“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue. “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them. And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.
“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask. “They spent three years traveling with Jesus. He was their teacher. They saw Him after the Resurrection. They saw the holes in His hands and feet. Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?
“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.
Some people chuckle.
“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.
“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask. “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life? But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?
“It happened to me,” I say. “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life. I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it. I should have gone to prison. How could that be God?
“And it wasn’t,” I say. “I did those things, not God. Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus. But he was. They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger. And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life. That’s what it took for God to get my attention. I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God. Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?
“I am a sinner,” I say. “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. How many of you are willing to say that with me?”
“I am a sinner,” I repeat. “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”
About half of the congregation says it with me.
“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.
This time, everyone joins in.
“Christ is risen!” I proclaim. “His tomb is empty!”