Addictions: Invitations to Relationship with God
David Tremaine is the minister of formation at Good Samaritan, University City. Cascade Books recently published his first book, The Beautiful Letdown: An Addict’s Theology of Addiction, about a new approach to understanding addiction. In this interview he discusses his motivations, and hopes for sharing his story with the world, and specifically, with the Church.
Visit The Beautiful Letdown website for small group resources, speaking inquiries and a place to ask questions of the author.
- Talk a little bit about yourself. What is important for people to know before they read the book? What is your background?
I am a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church and I work full-time at a church in San Diego. I was previously in the ordination process to be an Episcopal priest, which led me to seminary. I received a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. I have been in active recovery from addiction to pornography since March of 2014, which is the experience that sparked the idea for the book. I am also a husband and a father, and I love being with my family. I have been heavily influenced by the mystical tradition in Christianity, which has significantly shaped my theology.
- What is The Beautiful Letdown about?
The Beautiful Letdown is a combination of storytelling, theological reflection, and biblical interpretation stemming from my experience as a sex addict. Each chapter begins with part of my story of addiction and then focuses on a theological and/or biblical topic based on that part of my story. The main goals of the book are to lay out an intentional theology of addiction for the Christian tradition, and to open up a conversation about sex addiction within faith communities.
- What was the inspiration for this project? Why is this topic important to talk about today?
I spent one year on leave from seminary between my second and third year when I was going through a divorce. It was at that time, when everything in my life was falling apart, that I admitted to myself that I was an addict and explored my interior life and spirituality for the first time. The more I reflected on the language that was commonly used both in religious circles and secular circles to talk about addiction, the less it resonated with my lived experience. That was really the spark, because when I went back to seminary, I had an overwhelming desire to read and write about the spirituality and theology of addiction, which led to my thesis, which ultimately led to the book.
- Who is this book for?
For people who identify as addicts and engage with 12-step groups, this book is a reflection on addiction from a progressive Christian perspective. It is also for people, religiously affiliated or not, who are in relationship with those who identify as addicts. It can be a conversation starter and an invitation to more compassion and deeper understanding. Finally, for members of the church and leaders in the church, it is an invitation to change our perspective of addiction, and an invitation to reimagine how we do theological reflection in the 21st century.
- Why is it important for the church to read this?
As a member of the Episcopal Church it is important to me that the church reads it so that we can begin to imagine a new way of responding to addiction, sin, and suffering. We are missing out on many transformative experiences by not taking seriously our call to engage deeply with our own suffering and the suffering of the world. Rather than remaining hostage to the idea that being part of a faith community is primarily about adhering to a set of beliefs, I hope that we can take our place as a community that is open to suffering together. This requires that we share the real suffering and healing happening in our lives.
- What kinds of conversations would you like people to have after reading this book? How do you hope people will respond to it?
I hope that the reflections on the spiritual and personal experience of addiction will resonate with people. I hope that people can begin to talk more about addiction in light of its hope and potential, rather than simply its destruction, while still honoring the suffering that it causes. I hope that people will take it as an invitation to interior exploration, and an invitation to share courageously with one another the things in their lives that aren’t working and are causing suffering.
An Excerpt from The Beautiful Letdown
“It felt like everything was gone. All of my efforts to save myself had failed. Those walls of lies which I had built to prop myself up had come down. My delicately constructed defenses crumbled around me and as I fell with them, I felt that I may never land. It felt like I may fall forever. At the same time, that falling began to feel like being ever so softly, ever so gently, held. The falling was in itself a holding. The crumbling was itself a recreation. The death was itself life. When everything was gone – my image, my security, my certainty – the only thing left was the simple fact that I still existed. The object of my addiction, the thing I thought was the most important thing in the world, had let me down. It had dropped me into the bottomless depth of myself: a depth that I never would have known if it weren’t for my fall, a fall that I never would have experienced without being addicted. My addiction was an invitation to something more, to something unfinished and yet whole, to something eternal and always becoming, to something true and still developing. It was an invitation from God, one that I had carried with me for so long, but had never opened – until it opened me.
What if, instead of thinking about addiction as a disease that needs treatment, an epidemic that needs eradication, or a moral failing that implies weakness, we saw it as a hand-written invitation from God? How would we operate differently if we saw addiction as an invitation to union with the transcendent, to knowledge of our true selves, and to spiritual depth and wholeness? How would we respond differently to those we know and love who are addicted? How would we treat ourselves differently in the face of our own addictions? Do you see how this way of thinking can change the way we understand and respond to our own suffering and the suffering of others? Addiction is not something to hate, to run from, or to disown. We can no more label the experience of addiction a simple human tragedy than we can label the crucifixion one. There is something more to it than meets the eye. There is a ‘joy set before’ us (Heb 12:2 NRSV), a promise present in this excruciating experience. In all its pain and fear it is something to grasp, to run toward. If we do, it will lead us to vibrant life, to our true selves, and to peace. Each one of us has received this hand-written invitation and now is our chance to examine how we will respond. It is an invitation that we do not discover in our happy times, in our religious devotion, or in our own moral purity. No, it is one that finds us through the very parts of ourselves that we wish didn’t exist, that we tried with every ounce of energy to hide. If our addictions – our sins – are our invitation, how much longer can we afford to throw them away?
This is the question of our lives.”