The best way I can introduce Coming Clean: A Story of Faith to you is to share the opening paragraph from its foreword:
This is a book about alcohol; you can practically smell the gin coming off the pages, the lime, hear the ice clinking, the crack of the new bottle opening. But it’s not a book about alcohol. It’s about whatever thing you use to cover over the pain—sex, food, shopping, perfectionism, cleaning, drugs—whatever you hold out like an armor to protect yourself instead of allowing yourself and your broken heart to be fully seen and fully tended to by God.
If you don’t consider yourself an addict, you might find these opening lines something of a turn-off. Given the cultural baggage that tends to be associated with the idea of addiction, most of us work hard to keep such labels at a safe distance. But the truth is that we’re all addicts at some level. As psychologist and spiritual counsellor Gerald May put it, “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” (in Addiction and Grace, New York: HarperOne, 1988). Seth Haines, the author of Coming Clean, goes on to explain:
Read this less as a book about alcoholism and more as one about the pains and salves common to every life. My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life’s pain is a losing proposition.
Coming Clean is essentially the very personal story of Haines’s journey from denial and self-medication towards healing and wholeness. It is a story of childhood faith and grown-up questions; it is a story of doubt and faith, of darkness and light, of fear and hope. It is not, at bottom, a book about alcohol or substance abuse; rather, it is about how we deal with (or fail to deal with) the trials and struggles life often sends our way. And it is, above all, about how freedom and healing is found in forgiveness – of ourselves, of others, and maybe even of God.
Books about the darkness of addiction are often described as “brutally honest”. That description doesn’t seem fitting here: while Haines’s disarming honesty and vulnerability shine through, nowhere is there the slightest hint of anything brutal or insensitive. Yes, Haines’s story helps us understand the awful, soul-destroying reality of addiction; but it also invites us to recognise our own struggles, failures and brokenness and our own need for grace. And, most of all, it offers the very real hope that there is redemption and healing to be found for even the most desperate of our mistakes and the damage they cause to ourselves and others.
The final thing I want to comment on in this short review is Haines’s penmanship. Far from being a cheap, hastily thrown together book in the popular memoir genre, Coming Clean is a beautiful piece of writing. One of the reasons Haines is able to tell a story about the pain and struggle of life and yet to suffuse it with hope and light is that he writes with such poise, poignant and poetry. Quite apart from the subject matter, this is one of those books that is a joy to read for its own sake.
You may be struggling with addiction or on the journey of recovery. You may be keen to gain insight into what makes people turn to destructive habits and how they can find a way through the darkness and into the healing light. Or you may simply be someone who enjoys reading a well written story about life in all its glorious messiness, and about the all-embracing grace that bears us up even when we have given up on ourselves. Whatever the case, Coming Clean is for you.
[Coming Clean was published in 2015 by Zondervan. I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.]