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Confessions of a Pill-Popping Pastor

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This Place is Not for Me

When I first arrived at rehab, I was met by a big, tattooed, long haired, bare foot Native American. “Here is where you will sleep. Lucky!  . . . You got the room to yourself. This is the kitchen, where you can eat anything you want . . .” He proceeded in attempting to make this fearful (-yet-acting-confident) Okie comfortable with the place I would be living for a while.

It was the “detox” house. This is the place you go before you go to the next house. It is heavily monitored with many rules in place. Detox is where you go to rid your body of the substance to which it is addicted (alcohol, crack, heroin, or in my case, pills.) It is also the place where you go through withdrawals which are, more often than not, terrible and life threatening (depending on the substance).

“So,” I said to my scary looking friend, (who was also an okie!), “Now what do I do?” “Sit on the couch, sleep, watch tv, whatever you want. You will be here a while detoxing.” But I did not need to detox. I had not had a pain pill in a while. It was already out of my system. Why am I here with all these people who are shivering, sweating, and pacing all around the house? This place is not for me.

But I will stay to make everyone happy . . .

This Place is Really Not for Me!

“Group time!” yelled one of those who worked at the house. Group time? What is that? “Do I have to go?” I asked the guy who was calling us together. “No, but you might like it.” So I got up and sat on one of the chairs arranged in a circle.” When everyone finally sat down, I looked at the rat-pack I was identified with and began to shift a bit in my seat. Each person that sat down looked about as roguish as I could have imagined. You could see just by looking at them that this place was for them.

As all of them shared their tattoos and told stories about their last stint in prison, we had our first group icebreaker: “Everyone, lets go around the circle, tell your name, where you are from, and what your DOC is (for us insiders, this means “drug of choice”). “Heroin,” “Crack,” “Crack,” “Meth,” “Cocaine and alcohol,” “Dope” (which, I came to find out, is heroin), “Anything I can find!.” When it got to me, I felt slightly embarrassed. No tattoos. No prison time. I almost wanted to lie, but I went ahead and said it: “Michael Patton. I’m from Oklahoma City. Pain pills.” I was about two inches tall. I thought to myself: this place really isn’t for me.

These Are Not My People

After all, I had legitimate issues. My L4 is broken and placed in a grade four position, as the rest of my spine collapses on the sciatic nerve (I may not understand anything I just said, but I have the X-rays to prove it!). Yes, I became addicted, but I was not trying to get “high.” These people have no excuse. They are young, roguish, partiers. They should be ashamed. I am someone trying to cope with real pain. These are not my people.

Over the next ten days I was forced to stay in this Alcatraz of a rehab without a phone, no contact to my family, and no computer. However, my heart did hurt for them, and, most importantly, the Lord loved these tweakers every bit as much as he loved me, didn’t he? So I decided to get to know them. I sat down with them one by one and listened to their stories. Being completely green to the drug culture, they helped me along with some of the terminology. I asked them about the drugs they took, why they took them, and how it all started. I heard at least five stories that should be made into a movie. I could not believe and did not know how to process what I was hearing. One guy started crack when he was six at the instigation of his mom. Another had parents who were drug dealers. At the age of fourteen years his father taught him how to deal weed at his school. Another was kidnapped when he was twelve-years-old, held for ransom, mutilated, then returned home. Another lost his entire family one night when their car met a tree on the highway. On and on I could go. And you will not believe this: as I was listening to these stories of hurt, pain, tragedy, and hopelessness, I started to think maybe I do belong here.

When I Became Addicted

Let me be as honest as I can: I love pain pills. More specifically, I love hydrocodone. Get me a bottle of #120 10/325s (some of you will know what I mean here) and I will go to town. I turn into Superman, superdad, and all-around fun guy to be around. No matter how negative I was before, these pills are my tool for taking on the world. I teach, preach, write, think, study, and even pray with more energy and enthusiasm while I am “high.” At just the right balance, you would never know I was on anything. Oh . . . and . . . they help my back.

I don’t know the day or hour I became addicted. I remember the first time I took one a few years ago. It was for an ingrown toenail (hey, those things hurt!). I looked through the cabinet for some Tylenol, Advil, or anything. I found an old prescription of my wife’s that she never took. It was for pain, so I took it. I don’t remember being “high,” I just remember that it did a lot more than deal with my toe. It lifted my spirits to a place that they had not been for a while. I had been depressed. A few years before, I had left my stable job at Stonebriar Community Church (which I loved) to come home and help my family grieve the loss of my sister and deal with my mother’s paralysis. My soul was naturally saddened. And this one pill took it all away. In my mind, it was a wonder drug. And it was legally prescribed.

It would be a while before I really started popping-pills daily, and even longer before the “recreational” aspect of the pills were a bigger drawl than the pain-relieving part. Just like anything else, my addiction took “baby steps” on the path toward destruction. That is the way it had to be with me. After all, I am a leader in the Christian community. I preach the Word of God which frees people from addiction. I would have never tip-toed off to a drug dealer, slipped him some cash in a dark underpass, and drifted off to wonder land. It all had to be legitimate if I was going to get addicted to drugs.

And so, there I went . . . getting “legitimately” addicted to pain pills. And somewhere along the way, they began to consume me. They consumed my thoughts, plans, and hopes. Everything else became second. Everything.

Running to Stand Still

“You see,” I told my druggie brothers and sisters, “It was no time before I took the pills to stay at zero. They did not get me high, they just made it to where I could face the day. My tolerance was through the roof.” Each one of them, to my surprise, expressed the same idea. They were not just trying to get “high,” laugh, and gain courage to do some stupid teenage stuff. They had no intention of wasting their lives. They, like me, were (as Bono would put it) “running to stand still.” They wanted to be the best of who they were, and, because of their addiction, they believed their only option was drugs.

Heroin, Meth, Crack, alcohol, Oxy, or Hydrocodone – it makes no difference. I have come to drop the idea of a drug’s “respectability.” I was no different than any of them. We all have our avenues we take to escape the past and elude pain, mental or physical. Those of us at the rehab loved the place that the DOC took us, but we hated what we became due to frequent visits.

Besetting Sins

For some of us it is drugs. For others, it is sexual sins. For some, it is sleeping away your problems. For others, it is Netflix. For some, it is working so hard you don’t go have to go home and face your family. For others, like my friend Ted, who sat by me in class at rehab, it was heroin, which took his life on Saturday.

The human condition, no matter what your besetting sin, is the same. We are in a daily battle that has to be won moment by moment. We all have our excuses that make our compromise seem more “respectable.” Sadly, for most, they won’t change until they have lost everything. I was lucky I had the Lord working through many people who loved me, taught me, and, in great humility, lifted me out of my “respectable” demise.

Those Were My People

I am not here to tell you, who are in the clutches of addiction, to escape. You already know that. I am not here telling you, who look down upon the addicted as accursed, to change your view. If you know God and know your Bible, you know your “respectable” ways of escape are really no better than the crack-head’s.

1 Tim. 5:24
The sins of some are quite evident, going before them to judgement. But the sin’s of others follow.”

I am here to tell you those were my people.

3 Responses to “Confessions of a Pill-Popping Pastor”

  1. Michael, read your story; it mirrors my life and story! I was a preachers kid, never around any type of drugs, etc…. Am now 71 yrs of age, delivered from pain pills last year!! Tried rehab several times; finally decided I did not want to die in my sin and submitted to God!! It has been very difficult to acclimate to every day living!! Also, my two beloved children supported their mother with love of Christ!! A blessing through their witness of Christ’s love and forgiveness!! Thank you for sharing your struggle and healing!!!!

  2. Thank you for relating your experiences. Reading them has been both humbling and encouraging. And I can see how especially much you are loved by God, how determined He is to keep you near Him. (In more than one sense, since His heart is with the poor and rejected of the world. Your people.)
    I’m going to keep that last verse, 1 Tim 5:24, at the front of my mind.

  3. Vohnda Miller 2016-02-10 at 6:37 am

    I shared your post. Your humility and desire to do the best you can, the right thing has enabled you to impact many lives. From theology, caring for a disabled loved one, to depression and addiction, God is using you, in ways you could not foresee, to impact many lives for His glory. I am sorry you endured these things but so thankful God is using them for good. Isn’t that awesome ? Nothing wasted. Let me encourage you to keep doing the next right thing one step at a time. Thank you.

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