Gospel singer offers 'no excuses' for addiction, just thanks to God for new start

by Kimberly Pennington , National Correspondent |

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- When Christian music artist Joseph Habedank resigned from his ten-year role as lead singer for the gospel group The Perrys in 2013 to address his addiction to prescription pain medication, uncertainty described his and wife Lindsay's future.

"There was so much uncertainty in so many areas. We're talking about recovery, and we're talking about finances, and we're talking about jobs and all this stuff," Lindsay said. "We didn't know if we were going to get to keep our house. We didn't know if we were going to survive."

Today, after completing a treatment program at Cumberland Heights rehabilitation facility near Nashville and experiencing sobriety for more than 550 days, Joseph reports having more joy and freedom than ever before.

"I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life—more at peace. I love life right now," he said.

Joseph, now touring as a solo artist and promoting his album Welcome Home, has committed himself to raising awareness among Christians about addiction. Christian Examiner recently asked him and Lindsay to share their advice for family and friends of people struggling with addictions. During the interview, the Habedanks stressed the importance of education, responsibility, and love.

Both Joseph and Lindsay credit the knowledge they learned from Cumberland Heights' Chief Medical Director Dr. Chapman Sledge as a key part of the success of their journey.

Scientific research in particular helped Joseph.

Finding out about how people predisposed to addiction react differently to medication than other people changed his mind. He discovered how prolonged drug use makes physical changes to the brain causing it to crave drugs as if they were life essentials such as food and water. These nuggets of information helped him take steps needed for recovery.

"It was hard at first because I even questioned them in treatment when they told me," he said.

"I was like, 'Wait a second. This isn't a disease. This is a sin. This is a choice.' And they said—and this broke through to me—they said, 'If it was a choice, then why didn't you choose to quit?'

"And that really hit me. I couldn't quit. I tried a thousand times. I could not quit," Joseph admitted.

He quickly added that viewing addiction as a disease does not excuse behavior.

"I don't think that we should use that as an excuse: 'Well, it was because of my family. It's just my family's fault.' I'm not saying that at all," he emphasized. "And it was hard for me to accept the fact that it is a disease because I know a lot of Christians think, 'That's crazy. It's not a disease.'

"But when you go to treatment, they treat you like you are a sick kid with cancer, and I don't mean they coddle you. I mean they treat you like, 'Dude, you're going to die if you don't get better. If you don't take these steps, you're going to die.

"You're going to die!'"

Lindsay agreed that understanding the physiological side of addiction makes a difference.

"It put a whole new perspective on the situation for me, and it helped me to get through it. It really did. There are so many pieces to getting through it—the Lord most important of all—but the education is invaluable," she told the Examiner.

Equally important to Lindsay was learning how to ask for help and interact with addicts.

She said she discovered "that all I had to say was, 'I need help.' I walked back to the room where we were meeting, and there were just tears in realizing that I try do everything on my own.

"I'm a fixer, and this was something that was completely beyond my control. Learning to ask for help from professionals—people who know how to deal with this, not just, you know, girls' lunch or whatever—but from people who really know how to deal with this from a medical perspective" is important.

She also notes that well-intentioned people who lack knowledge on how to interact with addicts can worsen the situation.

"They don't know how [to help], and it can become enabling very, very quickly because an addict can lie their way out of anything. When they are in active addiction, they are the most convincing person you will ever meet: 'I'll try to do better. I'll do this. I'll quit on my own.' And then you just kind of back off and you don't want that to happen again, and you sweep it under the rug, and you just move on with life," she said.

Joseph and Lindsay recommended individuals consider Al-Anon groups as a resource for support and education, and they urged people to do internet searches for "education about addiction."

"We have wonderful tools on the internet, Joseph said. "If you want to educate yourself badly enough, you can do it. You just go on Google."

For spouses and parents who feel guilty that someone in the family is addicted to drugs or alcohol, Joseph emphasized that the addict alone is responsible.

"In treatment ... they told Lindsay, 'There's nothing you did that made him use drugs. However, there's nothing you can do to keep him from using drugs in the future. You need to know it's not your fault ... There are ways you can help him, support him, and look for signs of relapse. There are things you can do, but there's nothing you can do to keep him sober,'" he recounted.

He said his mother, who has had two other sons struggle with addiction, learned the same thing.

"The most liberating thing for her was when they told her, 'There's nothing you did that made your sons alcoholics and addicts. Nothing you did. It wasn't your fault. It's not even that they were born this way ... They had this in their brain ... and when they were introduced to this feeling, they liked it so much that they kept doing it until it became the number one thing in their mind.'"

Lindsay added that it is also important to realize that addicts will not recover until they are ready to recover.

"That piece has to be there," she counseled.

"If they're not ready to get help, if they're not completely done with it, they're going to relapse more than likely. ... No matter what you do, your loved one is not going to recover until they make the decision they're going to stick with it and they're going to work the program," she said.

Joseph acknowledged that while it is normal for parents to feel guilt in a situation like his, those feelings cannot be the primary focus.

"Honestly, this sounds harsh, but it's not about you. It's about the addict. So love on them. Put your stuff aside and say, 'I'm going to get my kid well. This ain't about me.'"

Although the Habedanks do not believe family members cause others' addictions, they do believe family members have a responsibility to confront the addict. They listed personality changes, a pattern of lying, weight loss, decreased attention to personal hygiene, repeated requests for money, and abnormally dilated or restricted eye pupils as signs that could indicate addiction.

"Learn about this stuff. Go online and read about it," Joseph said. "Normal people just don't go around asking for money all the time. It's just not normal.

"If you've got somebody asking you for money all the time and you're already suspecting that they're an addict, they're probably an addict," he said.

Joseph said that when a loved one acts suspiciously—indicating some form of addiction—talking straight to them about their addiction is important.

"Confront them first. If they lie, if they even get even more irate, go buy a drug test," Joseph advised.

Chain pharmacies sell drug tests for approximately $20.

"Have the courage. It's uncomfortable. It's going to make them mad. But what's more important: making them mad or them dying of a drug overdose because you didn't say anything?" he asked. "Or what's more important: you making them mad or them getting so drunk that they kill a child in an accident?

"So be willing. That would be number one," he urged. "Be willing to make your loved one angry in order to save their life. That would be the best advice I can give."

Lindsay added, "It's only going to make them mad if they're using, and if they're using, you need to know."

For Christians in high visibility roles—pastors and musicians, particularly—honesty about addiction is important despite the humiliation and potential loss of income and reputation.

"It's so simple, but there's so much to be said for this," Joseph noted. "The truth will set you free.

"So if you're trying to protect your husband from losing his church or losing his job, if it means saving his life, tell the truth," he said. "Get up and tell the church, 'Hey, I've got a problem with prescription drugs. Ya'll are welcome to find a new preacher, or I can go get some help.'"

"Either way, as hard as that is, as humiliating as that is ... if it saves your life ... a wife should be willing to say, 'Tell the truth.' And you don't have to tell the world," he suggested. "You don't have to do what we're doing.

"I'm not saying this road is for everybody, but when it comes to people that you are responsible for, they deserve to know the truth and that is that you aren't perfect," he declared.

"Preachers aren't perfect. Singers aren't perfect. Pastors' wives aren't perfect. Missionaries, missionaries' kids – they're not perfect," he said.

Despite those imperfections and the need to confront them, Joseph emphasized the importance of loving the addict and remembering why Jesus went to the cross.

"I finally realized Jesus made me who I am. He didn't make me an addict—don't get me wrong. But He made me who I am," he insisted, "and He knew before anything how I would fail Him and that's why He went to the cross."

"He didn't go to the cross for perfect people," he continued. "He didn't go to the cross for sober people. He went to the cross for drug addicts, and alcoholics, and adulterers, and fornicators, and all these awful things that we look at and we think, 'There's no way God can fix that.'

"Well, that's why He went to the cross – to pay for everything," Joseph added. "Jesus paid it all.

"An addict doesn't need their mom or dad or their spouse to tell them they're a loser. They already know that. They already feel that," he declared. "The last person to forgive the addict is going to be the addict themselves.

"Lindsay forgave me long before I forgave myself," he said. "My family forgave me. So they know—they know they're addicts. They might not admit it in word. They know they're thieves. They know they're liars."

He emphasized, "They hate that. They hate that they're losers."

"Don't bash them. Love them," he encouraged. "Tell them, 'Hey, there's a way. Let me help you.' And if they don't want help, then you just persist, but be kind. Kill them with kindness.

There's something to be said for that with an addict," he said. "And let them know that Jesus loves them how they are, but He loves them too much to let them stay how they are."

Lindsey added, "It is so heartbreaking. So much of it is just devastating. The whole process is hard to get through. [I made] a choice saying, 'I choose Joseph. I choose to trust what the Lord is going to do through him,' and 'I choose to believe that this is going to have a good ending,' and 'I choose hope.'

"It would be easy for me to have just said, 'I choose to go home,' but there's always hope," she exclaimed.

Joseph described 2013 as both the worst and best year of his life.

"The lows were so low and the highs were so high," he said. "God drew me back to Him."

Lindsay described the journey as life changing.

"We would not trade it for anything. We learned so much about each other. We learned so much about other people and how we can help other people. We learned so much about how the Lord will come into a situation and absolutely hold you through everything, and I have never felt more held.

"I never knew what it meant to be so held as we were in those months," she confessed.

Looking ahead, Joseph and Lindsay are seeking ways to use their experiences to assist others.

"We're really searching for a way to broaden this part of our ministry where we can help other addicts and their families," Joseph said. "We're praying and welcome others to pray with us, too."

Developments in Joseph and Lindsay's ministries can be followed on Facebook and Twitter