The Lottery You Don’t Want to Win

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Another person I care about died from addiction last week. He was young and bright, and he smelled like destiny. He had the potential to be a world changer. Now he’s gone. Destroyed by a disease that is killing more Americans each year than the Vietnam and Afghanistan Wars combined.

There is a disturbing story by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery. The tale is about a small town with the disturbing tradition of picking a sacrificial victim each year for a public stoning. In the story, the victim was selected by a random lottery, and their death was thought to ensure a good harvest for their crops. Everyone was accepting of the practice until someone in their family was picked. Then that family wanted it stopped and declared it to be awful and unfair. But by then it was too late. Their number was up, and their loved one suffered a horrible death.

That’s what addiction is like. People pay little attention to it other than what they see on the news. When it’s just a story, addicts are easy to disregard as “those people” with loose morals and no willpower. Then it hits someone they love, and their eyes are open to how horrifying a disease it is.

When it happens in your family, you get a ringside seat to watching your person get swallowed alive by a disease that wants to eat their soul. That’s a game changer. Then it becomes awful and unfair. Incarceration and death don’t feel like good answers when your family’s name comes up as the unlucky winners of this lottery. Then you want treatment options.

But as far as treatment goes, Southern Illinois is as far behind the times as the town in Shirley Jackson’s story. We are not a community that values recovery. You find that out quickly when you have a loved one you are trying to get into treatment. If you do get them in, there is no sober living community to support them when they get out. Good recovery meetings are hard to find and even harder to start. It’s not even easy to find a reliable AA sponsor. And good luck finding regular fun and fellowship when you are embracing a sober lifestyle.

You know what you can find a lot of? Bars and churches. It makes sense why the bars aren’t on the front-line fighting addiction, but what’s wrong with our churches? Why aren’t more of them getting involved?

I will tell you why. In our very Christian, Bible-Belt community, mental illness and addiction are diseases that are shrouded in shame and stigma. Many churches don’t want “those people” in their congregation. If they don’t have a heart for the population in need, they won’t give money to help fund treatment options. Instead, they will spend their money on carpet and drapes and building committees, while outside their doors people are dying of treatable diseases like addiction and mental illness.

Brennan Manning said if you want your ministry to line up with the heart of Jesus, you have to learn where the outcast weeps. It’s time for the church to learn where the outcasts weep.

My family knows what it feels like to be the unlucky winners of this lottery. We drew the short straw, and it was me that became addicted. I was stuck in the horror of my addiction for over two decades. It was awful for my family to have to watch me go to prison, but they did not have to bury me. In the recovery community, that is a success story.

For those families who weren’t so lucky, I grieve with you. Every family touched by this insidious disease grieves with you. And I vow I will not stop advocating, educating, and fighting until this disease is eradicated or I draw my last breath, whichever comes first.