Seth Haines Won a CT Book Award for Writing about His Sobriety
Seth Haines is a writer and attorney who hails from rural Arkansas, where he lives with his family. He's also an alcoholic, something Haines' discovered when he turned to booze in a season in which one of his son's nearly died. After he confessed his addiction in 2013, a therapist and good friend encouraged Haines to journal about his journey to sobriety. These reflections eventually were published in Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, which Christianity Today named a book of merit in its 2016 Book Awards spiritual formation category.
In 2014, Haines read Portland-based writer D. L. Mayfield's Christianity Today cover story, "Why I Gave Up Alcohol." In the piece, Mayfield explains her own motivations in eschewing alcohol—a decision largely influenced by the Christian temperance movement and the deleterious effects that booze has on many of her low-income neighbors. In a recent conversation with Haines, we discussed why a recovering alcoholic found a non-drinker's reflections so "loving" and "beautiful" and where he believes the magazine can lead on addiction in the future.
At what point in your sobriety process did you read D.L.'s article?
I had finished most of my self-reflective writing when I ran across D. L. Mayfield's piece. What I found to be incredibly insightful and helpful about her piece was that she wasn't someone with a drinking problem. I felt like she was writing everything I wanted to tell the Christian liberty movement within certain drinker circles.
In other words, what I wanted to write was, "Hey all of you people who are Instagramming and Facebooking, 'Hey, it's wine o'clock,' or 'Time for a beer,' or 'Here's a picture of my flight,' you guys are incredibly triggering to people who have alcohol problems." But I didn't feel like I was in the space where I could write that at the time without sounding like I was whining. But here comes along D.L. and she writes this beautiful piece, where she says, "As a non-drinker and as someone without a drinking problem, let me explain to you why I don't drink." It was everything that I wanted to say.
Was there a particular argument that you felt was most powerful?
When she talked about not drinking for the sake for her brothers and sisters. At the end of the piece she quipped, "If you wear an 'I heart bacon' T-shirt, I will have to assume you don't have many Muslim or Jewish friends. Likewise, if you are posting about how 'Mommy needs her wine,' I will assume you don't know anyone struggling with alcoholism." I thought that was really poignant, because what she was really considering, "What does it mean to live a Christ-like ethos? What does it mean to love people and not intentionally lead into triggering moments?"
In what way can you imagine other alcoholics being moved or affected by her argument?
Her argument about Christianity's history of temperance as a form of contemplative activism was beautiful, brilliant, and thought provoking. I don't see that as the primary argument that would be helpful to alcoholics or people who struggle with alcohol dependency. But for people like me, who for a season had a misplaced tendency and became alcohol dependent, the article was beautiful. It was loving, and it made me feel like she cared about me. It was the embodiment of your ministry's use of Beautiful Orthodoxy.
Where do you think the Christian and alcohol conversation needs to be?
This is a tricky one. The question shouldn't be, "To drink or not to drink?" In fact, if we're in that conversation, we're in the conversation of sin management and probably not in the conversation of being led by the spirit. The issue of liberty, I'm going to drink what I want because I'm at liberty to do that, at times can be incredibly unloving, and at times, Don't drink another drop, can be incredibly unloving.
The conversation with respect to alcohol should really center around one singular conversation: "Is it a thing that interferes or distracts from your communication with God and with others?" If I'm asking you that question and you say, "I'm kind of an alcoholic," then you should probably quit drinking. If you say, "Yes, on occasion, when I'm around alcoholics and it's an unloving course of action and therefore sin," you should also probably quit drinking.
What other related topics would you like to see CT explore?
I would love to see CT explore addiction in general—not just alcohol—but anything that we might use to distract ourselves in an unhealthy way. I distracted myself from my pain by way of alcohol. For others, it's prescription pills or eating disorders or television. Ultimately, I would like CT to explore how we distract ourselves from pain and what the purpose of pain is in the life of a Christian.
Morgan Lee is an assistant editor of Christianity Today.