Book Review: Sober Mercies

in: Blog, For Writers & Readers

Sober-Mercies-188

Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. By Heather Kopp.

In September 2006 Heather Kopp, a longtime Christian who authored and edited Christian books, was forced to confront her drinking problem. Sober Mercies is the true story of her journey toward sobriety and of finding hope when the God she had always believed in couldn’t save her.

About the Book

Kopp tells her story with honesty, humor, and a distinctive flair for storytelling. Nevertheless, her pain and confusion grip the reader as she describes her twelve years of living a double life as a Christian wife, mother, and secret drunk, and then as a newly sober woman who must reinvent her life and faith without the crutch of alcohol.

The 224-page narrative differs from other stories of recovery in the author’s sensitive and intelligent treatment of her crisis of identity, her search for a real God, and her unexpected recovery of hope as well as sobriety.

Sober Reality

Getting sober initially presented Kopp with the same problems all recovering alcoholics face: how to relate to family and friends without the cushion of alcohol, how to reevaluate her place and purpose in the world, and how to fill in the long hours when her mind and body craved the one substance she could no longer imbibe.

As she ventured deeper into the world of sobriety, however, she also faced the pain of watching her eldest son succumb to the same lordship of alcohol that she had escaped. Her first relapse convinced her that she was, in fact, no better than anyone else at her recovery meetings—the men and women who, unlike her, had seen the inside of prison or lost custody of their children because of their alcohol and drug addictions. She forced herself to admit that she, too, had endangered her sons’ lives by driving drunk and had neglected their nurture while she binged and blacked out.

Most troubling to her was the seeming failure of her Christian faith. Why hadn’t God stepped in to save her from her addiction?

God Beyond Reason But Reachable

At the start of the book, Kopp admits that she had always believed her Christian faith would keep her safe from “the kind of gross moral lapse I considered alcoholism to be” (p. 13). She thought what she needed was the right formula of faith, willpower, and some carefully worded prayers to convince God to take away her cravings and restore her to a whole and happy life.

But years of repeated surrender and pleas to God failed her. Finally sober but disillusioned, she considered with brutal honesty her understanding of God:

“Something about the way I approached God wasn’t working—maybe had never worked.…I knew now that I couldn’t hope to stay sober without fixing my relationship with God. But the God I thought I knew and understood was not the God who could save me. I needed to find God as I didn’t understand him, or I was doomed.” (p. 139, italics hers)

Kopp came to realize that her faith was based upon reason and doctrine but had little to do with her experience of God Himself. Others in recovery seemed to know less than she about the Bible but understood, as she did not, that they needed God, desperately, every day.

She began to see that her Christian background, far from protecting her, had in fact inoculated her against spiritual growth. In her pride she had become such an expert on God that “deep, spiritual truths I heard in church had bounced off of me like a rubber ball off cement” (p. 142). She began to search in earnest for the God she couldn’t explain but who, with power and grace beyond her comprehension, could save and sustain her from one sober moment to the next, one day at a time.

Her Story, Our Story

Kopp’s book offers spiritual wisdom not only for those struggling with alcohol but for anyone who is battling a destructive life pattern. In her final chapter the author comments on the soul-dividing nature of addiction:

“A consistent hallmark of addiction is that it divides us at our very core. In that awful moment when we truly desire and determine not to drink, and then still do, we have begun to drink against our own will. The one of us has split into two, and it seems like the better of us has disappeared into the night.” (p. 205, italics hers)

Who among Christians can deny that feeling of split self? The apostle Paul spoke for us all in his letter to the Roman church:

So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner. What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? (Romans 7:21-24 NCV)

Like Kopp, each of us must get beyond an intellectual faith in God and experience our complete and desperate need of him. Only then can we live by his grace and enjoy his victory in our lives.

To Order the Book

Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, by Heather Kopp. (2013). Jericho Books: New York. 224 pages.

ISBN 978-1-4555-2774-8

Purchase this book through amazon.com.

Hardcover: $14.48; paperback: $11.98.

Also available as ebook: $8.89; and audible: $19.95.

To learn more about Heather Kopp and her ministry to recovering alcoholics, visit her blog, Sober Boots.

  • Jeanette Hanscome September 7, 2013, 4:29 pm

    Hi Judy,

    I was so excited to see this review! I have followed Heather’s blog for over a year and found Sober Mercies extremely powerful. I pray that more readers will be inspired by it thanks to this post.

    Reply
    • Judith Ingram September 7, 2013, 5:00 pm

      Thanks, Jeanette. Heather’s story truly is compelling. I pray God will continue to use her transparency and wisdom to help and encourage her readers.

      Reply
  • Laura Christianson September 20, 2013, 11:24 am

    I read this book last week upon your recommendation and recommendations from several other people. While I don’t struggle with addiction myself, I am close to several people who have what I’d call an “addictive personality.” “Sober Mercies” helped me better understand the mindset of an addict. The book was highly readable — I read the whole thing in two sittings and my husband read it in one sitting. I’d put it on the top 5 among the 80 or so books I’ve read so far this year.

    Reply
    • Judith Ingram September 21, 2013, 1:51 pm

      Laura, thanks for your valuable insight. The book does help us all to better understand the addictive mind, whether or not we personally struggle with addiction. Glad to know the book was so meaningful to you and your husband. I hope it continues to get the attention it deserves.

      Reply

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