Reflections On “Losing It” A Memoir by Valerie Bertinelli

“Alcohol makes you feel better and then makes you feel worse and then remorselessly very bad indeed, but then alcohol will make you feel better again. It is the cure for the dog that bit you, and how easily you forget it is also the dog.”

Roger Ebert

Ever since Valerie Bertinelli wrote her memoir “Losing It- And Gaining My Life Back One Pound At A Time” I have wanted to read it. Valerie Bertinelli Author of Losing It

Finally, my opportunity came. I found the book at the Goodwill and grabbed it up for a dollar.

In high school I became a huge Van Halen fan. I was particularly fond of Eddie Van Halen thinking he was very cute. I remember going to see them in concert in Charleston, West Virginia. It was a blast. I was closest to the side of the stage Eddie was on. I was thrilled! He was indeed very cute and had a very nice smile. He also smoked like a fiend. He had a cigarette lit and positioned in his fret the whole time he was playing. Sammy Hagar was now the lead singer. I remember him running around high above on the catwalks and leaning out over them perilously, to my distress. He was a great showman, but he scared the heck out of me.

So I have to admit my interest in reading the book was primarily: What was it LIKE to be married to EDDIE VAN HALEN? I came away feeling respect for Bertinelli, thinking I could easily be her friend, and really rooting for her happiness. What was it really like to be married to Eddie Van Halen? Primarily hell. That is what it is like to be married to any addict.

In Cornelius Plantinga’s book, “Not The Way It Is Supposed To Be: A Breviary Of Sin” he talks about the relationship of sin and addiction. He defines addiction as “A complex, progressive, injurious, and often disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, barbituates) or behavior (sex, work, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood.” He points out that “what drives addiction is longing….. a longing of the heart.”

He explains, “Addicts long for wholeness, for fulfillment, for the final good that believers call God. Like all idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain the addict instead of filling him.

Accordingly the addict longs not for God but for transcendence, not for joy, but only for pleasure- and sometimes escape from pain.”

However as he soberly enjoins: “No matter how they start, addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure the distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the gap on the addict- a trap that might be baited on anything from whiskey to wool.” This fact is cleverly illustrated in the above quote from Roger Ebert, who himself was an alcoholic.

In truth Eddie Van Halen was an addict from the day Bertinelli met him.

Eddie Van HalenIt took her twenty years to come to grip with this fact and to divorce him. One really agonizes with her about this in reading the book. It makes you realize just how terrible it is to marry someone who is already in the grip of addiction.

It was clear that she really loved him and truly tried to save him, despite making her own mistakes in the marriage. At first she admits that she partied with him, and that was a way to be a part of his world. But this lifestyle got old and hard to maintain. So she pursued her acting career and he immersed himself in creating music and drinking and doing drugs.

Despite the birth of their child, Ed was not able to pull himself out of his living hell. Plantiga notes: “An addict makes and repeatedly breaks contracts with himself; who finds his longings narrowing and hardening into an obsession with things he knows will devastate his work, self-respect, relationships and bank account and who yet seeks compulsively to satisfy those longings; who thus finds his will split between wanting to banish an addictive substance from the earth and wanting to protect his private cache of it; whose addiction, as it moves through mild and moderate stages, first enthralls him in one sense of the word and then in the other-an addict like this often comes to believe that his “struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against……spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12)

He points out that the “Big Book” of Alcoholic Anonymous says “addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful and patient.” These words could describe the devil himself.

He offers the human being a powerful substitute for God, an idol called “addiction.” This substitute provides immediate pleasure. One does not have to wait for heaven, nor restrain the senses, nor worry about morality. Just take the drink, sniff the coke, smoke the weed and you are in paradise now.

At first it seems like a good trade, until you get hooked. Then you just live for the next time you can get drunk or high. You lose all for the addiction and you don’t even care. You become a shell of yourself. You live in your own isolated living hell, just you and the addiction. It must be so very terrible.

You can just look in the book and see the photos of Eddie as a young man and then when he is older. He looks horrible. The effects of the alcohol and drugs have ravaged him.

For Bertinelli the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ed refused to quit smoking after getting tongue cancer and having a portion of his tongue removed. She finally admitted to herself then that he was not going to help himself. After finding cocaine in a wallet, she confronted him one last time before she left.

The book also chronicles her own battles with food addiction. In her efforts to cope with Ed and his addiction, she fought her own private hell with her weight. Being an actress only made that issue a million times harder as she had to constantly battle to slim down for roles.

One reads the book and gets the sense of two people who connected and were really wanting to reach out to the other, but the tragedy of addiction kept them apart. All sin isolates, but addiction isolates in a particularly pernicious and destructive way.

In the end Bertinelli won her own private battle and ended up losing fifty pounds and looking terrific. You feel thrilled for her as she loses the weight and ends up finding love too. Yet she still needs to find the ultimate fulfillment which is God himself. Until then, even these momentary victories will remain somewhat shallow.Addiction is the tragedy of idolatry carried to the extreme. When we try to put anything in the place of where the worship of God alone belongs, we come up empty and fall short. Our hearts were created to know Him and to worship Him. Until we acknowledge this we will always be digging empty wells and the buckets we pull up will run dry. They might provide some temporary pleasure, but when we put the bucket down the well again, it will bring up less water each time. So it is with sin.As C.S. Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters, “It is an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.” Sin does provide pleasure, but it is a counterfeit pleasure and each time we engage in it we will find it brings us less. To paraphrase Lewis, the devil cannot really offer any man a pleasure. He can only offer a man a perverted pleasure, one that leaves him more thirsty than he was before. Addiction is just the extreme form of this. Man has decided to turn to alcohol or drugs and make them the center of his life and worships them. At first they offer a return, but then he must have more and more to get the same effect. In the end the whole life withers and is consumed by the addiction.The vital energy needed to seek God is drained away. Could there be anything more tragic? Van Halen once wrote a song called “The Best Of Both Worlds.” In it Hagar sings,

“You don’t have to die and go to heaven
Or hang around to be born again,
Just tune in to what this place has to offer,
Because we may never be here again.
I want the best of both worlds,
And honey I know what it’s worth,
I want the best of both worlds,
A little heaven right here on earth.”

Every honest saint will tell you that this is not heaven and the pleasures this world offers pale in comparison to what heaven will be like. That’s the irony. To have the best of the next world you have to let go of the temporal pleasures that may be found here. As martyr Jim Elliot put it, ‘He is no fool, to give up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Christ said is another way, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” The truly wise live for eternity.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Liquid, the Perishable and the Hazardous

There are certain signs one has reached the holiday season.

First, they are playing the eternally sappy song with the lines: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Second, you have been inundated with catalogs in your mailbox.

Third, it is time to make the inevitable trip to the post office to mail your Christmas cards and packages.

Upon entering the post office you immediately notice that everyone is haggard and disgruntled. You drag yourself to the number box, and pull your sentence slip from the wall. It says “47.” They are on number “32.” You sigh.

You try to make things interesting by noticing all the customers, by counting and recounting your cards, and by whistling. This does while away some of the time.

Finally, the momentous moment has arrived and it is your turn. The postal worker looks a bit droopy as she rattles off the familiar words: “Are you mailing anything liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous?”

Since this was my third trip there of the month, I just had to ask. I looked the lady square in the eye and said, “Does anyone ever say ‘yes’ to that question?”  She laughed.

“No,” she admitted, “They never do but we have to ask.” “You know,” I remarked, “the bad guys aren’t exactly going to fess up to what they have in the package. Honesty is really not their strong suit.” We had a good chuckle.

I think I brightened her day because she was still smiling as I left and she wished me a happy holiday.

In my mind I envisioned my next trip to the post office. When they asked me the inevitable question I decided I was going to reply: “Is it liquid, perishable and potentially hazardous? Why yes, It’s all three!”  I can’t wait to see their dumbfounded face as I am escorted out in handcuffs.

Get Low: A Look at Sin, Regret and Forgiveness

*Note: If you haven’t seen the movie and you want to, this post reveals the ending.

Anyone who tells you they have no regrets is a liar.

Anyone who says they are not lying about having no regrets, is a liar.

It’s impossible to live without regret. Those who think it is possible deceive themselves.The Mugshot in the movie Get Low

In the movie “Get Low”, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, the themes of sin, regret and forgiveness are explored. When I picked up the DVD, the movie intrigued me because it was about a man, Felix Bush (Duvall’s character) who had lived as a hermit for forty years who wants to throw himself a “funeral party.” The idea is that he is a man about whom many stories have been told, most of them disreputable. He wants to invite people from all four local counties to “come and tell their stories” about him.

Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray’s character), who is the director of a local funeral home. Murray is a bit down and out because nobody in the town seems to want to die, so business is slow. When his assistant hears this reclusive old grouse wants to spend his cash on this party, Murray jumps on it. So the mug shot of the recluse is taken and the invitations sent out.

Felix Bush talks to his preacher friend in the movie Get LowMeanwhile the hermit goes to visit an elderly African American pastor. He wants him to come to the funeral party so he can tell the man’s true story, because the pastor is the only one he has confessed it to. The pastor at first refuses, but then he relents and comes. The big day arrives and the whole town has converged at the “funeral party.” Instead of telling their stories about him, the man tells his own story and sets the record straight about his life.

It turns out that for forty years Felix has been living in self-imposed isolation as “penance” for his sin, which he now confesses to. Forty years earlier he had been having an affair with a married woman. One night he went to see her and when she answered the door she was covered in blood. Her husband had been beating her. Felix went in to the house to intervene. A fight ensued. The husband sets fire to the house. Felix attempts to get the woman he loves out, but he is not able to save her. He is not even sure how he himself gets out.

Felix had also dated the sister of the woman he was having an affair with. She did not know about the affair all these years, and being in the crowd she learns for the first time how her sister died. The crowd listens in stunned silence and leaves quietly at the end. Now they know the real story behind this mysterious figure about whom so much has been told.

The movie rather poignantly portrays several things about sin. First it exemplifies the weight of guilt people carry for the sins they commit. Even if no one knows, they know somewhere deep in their hearts the wrongs they have committed and they carry this weight like a pack on their back. It also showed that the consequences of sin affect many people. Sin is like throwing a stone in a pond. The ripples move out in concentric circles. Yet even those who are farthest from the center are still impacted.

The whole town, to some degree, was affected by Felix’s sin. He was so “notorious” that many stories had spread about him, some of which were untrue. The movie illustrates that sin and its effects are like a prison. In Proverbs 5:22 It states: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Felix’s self-imprisonment was a physical illustration of what was already a spiritual reality. The irony of sin is that it seems like freedom and instead is a prison. Another facet of sin that it exemplifies is that sin leads to alienation. Sin alienates us from others and even from ourselves. In the movie the man’s affair was an attempt to escape his isolation, but the sin brought further alienation for him and death for her.

Interestingly Felix Bush is not interested in receiving forgiveness. He says “People say I need to ask Jesus for forgiveness, but I ain’t never done nothin’ to Him.” He Felix Bush gets ready for a time of confession in the movie Get Lowfeels that he has “done his penance” by choosing to live in self-imposed isolation to atone for his sins. The preacher tells him, “You know it isn’t enough.” There is no remedy for guilt other than forgiveness and there is no true forgiveness found in penance. The only true forgiveness to be found is by believing that Christ died for your sins and accepting his death as payment for yours.

This is a position of humility because it recognizes that there is nothing one can do to “pay” for their own sins. We certainly do experience earthly consequences for our actions. Yet these are not “payment” for our sins. They are consequences. The man’s statement that he “never did nothin’ to Jesus” is an untruth. Scripture makes clear that all sin is primarily against God. King David in his famous Psalm of penitence says “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4) Sin is betrayal. We betray the one we are to love the most. We put another God in His place and worship it. This is the breaking of the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other God before me.” No one on earth will be able to say to God “I never did anything against you personally.” We all owe a debt to God. That is a non-negotiable truth. The negotiable part is how we handle the debt.

Felix Bush was able to tell his story and share the regret he had bottled up. It shows him at his death walking toward a figure dressed in white, presumably the woman he had an affair with who has now “forgiven him” and they now will presumably be reconciled in the hereafter. In reality all he had done was share the regret of his story. He did not relieve his guilt, nor did he receive forgiveness, because he did not make peace with God to whom he owed the debt.

Ironically the movie is entitled “Get Low.” Obviously we “get low” when we are laid in the earth for the last time. Yet if this man had really “got low” and humbled himself before God and asked for forgiveness, he wouldn’t have needed the communal confession which did him little good. Maybe it’s a good reminder for us all. It’s high time to get low before we are brought low.

Is There Anything More Important Than Serving God?

Do you ever notice how in life it is the simple stories that hold the most profound truths?

I want to look at one such ‘simple story’ from the Bible. In looking at it I want to answer the question ‘Is there anything more important than serving God?’

It is the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.

Martha and Mary
Martha and Mary by He Qi

It is a familiar Biblical story to many people. “Yes, yes”, we say. “We know. Martha was too busy cooking dinner for Jesus to be sitting at his feet listening to him. We need to be more like Mary who was attending to Jesus. Ok, I’ve learned the point of that story. What’s next?” Well, in truth, have we learned the point of that story? If we have, then why are so many Christians lacking in wisdom and maturity but instead are exhausted, worn out, harried, frenetic, self-righteous, critical servants? Perhaps we better take a look at the text again.

Jesus and his disciples are on his way to Jerusalem to face his final test in this world- his arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion. On the way they stop at the home of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus, close friends of Jesus. Martha is most likely a widow since she owns property. We are told some things about Martha in this text. We are told she had opened her home to Jesus. That is no small insignificant fact.

We are also told that Martha had a sister named Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” But Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Now in true sister form Martha was irritated that her sister was “loafing” and not helping “share the load” of the work.

So Martha does an interesting thing. She rebukes God.

Now straight up, that isn’t a wise thing to do. Yet we see it in ourselves don’t we? We too have been irritated with God when He is not “cooperating with our ministry plans.” We say things like, “Hey Lord, I’m under the load here. Couldn’t you send more volunteers to help with my great work I have going?” Martha implores God, “Tell her to help me!”

Jesus is very gracious with Martha. He rebukes her gently.

He says in effect, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed, Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Now if you would ask many Christians the question I asked in the beginning, “Is there anything more important than serving God?” I think many would respond quickly and emphatically, “No!” Serving God seems to be the most important thing we could ever do with our lives. Yet, God himself intimates a different answer.

Martha and Mary by Velasquez
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Velasquez

Let’s look at some of the things Jesus teaches us by his words to Martha. First, Jesus implies in his words that how we spend our time has eternal consequences. He also is saying that some of our choices are better than others, particularly those that will reap eternal, versus temporal benefits. Paul himself elaborates this kind of distinction in 1 Timothy 4:8 “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Translated: exercise is good, godliness is better. Jesus says the same here. “Hospitality is good. Listening to God is better.” Jesus commends Mary for her choice saying “It will not be taken from her.” What Mary learned at Jesus’ feet had value, not only for this life, but also the one to come.

Mary is commended by Christ. Why exactly is this so?

Is it only because her choice is better? It is not only because her choice is better, but it is also because the heart behind it is motivated by a higher goal. Mary’s highest goal was just to know Jesus better. Her’s was a position of humility, submission and dependence. She understood that we cannot serve Christ until we have received from Him. She had the right order. Jesus already told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothin

Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Vermeer --- Vermeer's placement of the figures of Martha and Mary in relation to Jesus might imply that their actions are of equal weight. But is this what the biblical text implies?

g.” How often though do we spend our days in busy service, neglecting to just “be with God.”

Mary is also commended here for a deeper reason. Jesus said that the whole law could be summed up in two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” He also tells us in the Old Testament, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Mary obeyed. She chose to love God with all she had and thus she fulfilled the great commandment. In doing so she showed a heart of wisdom.

Which is the easier task, to sit or to serve? On first blush, sitting at Jesus feet seems like the easier task. After all Mary is not doing any “work.” Or is she?

One of the things that makes Jesus distinct is his counter-cultural attitude toward women. Pharisees did not have women disciples. They did not consider women as equals, and certainly not as logical enough to learn scriptural truths. Yet we see that Jesus treats women very differently. He treats them respectfully. He engages in theological discussions with them (i.e. the Samaritan woman at the well). He also teaches his women disciples (i.e. Mary). Sitting is actually the more difficult task. It requires that we be still. It requires that we listen. It requires discipline and an attitude of active thought (meditation). It requires us to understand how deeply we are dependent on God and need to hear his words to us everyday (humility). It requires an attitude of worship and awe for God.

Martha is described in the text as being “distracted.” She is “worried and upset” about many things. To be worried is to “have a divided mind.” To distract is “to draw one’s attention to a different object.” Life is full of distractions. We could spend our entire life dealing with them and never accomplish anything of value. Jesus teaches in the parable of the soils that the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” can choke out the Word and its fruitfulness in our lives. This shows that distraction and worry are serious temptations for us to contend with if we truly desire to mature in our Christian life.

Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vincenzio Campi

Is there anything more important than serving God? Yes. Jesus teaches us here that it is more important to love God by seeking to know Him.

An opportunity is defined as: “A favorable, appropriate, or advantageous combination of circumstances.” There could be no greater opportunity than to learn the mind of God from God. That is the opportunity that Martha and Mary had. Yet if you lack wisdom you will not be able to make the best choice when the opportunity arises. That is why Moses prays in Psalm 90: “Teach me to number my days aright that I may gain heart of wisdom.” God promises if we ask for wisdom, He will supply (James 1:5) We need to ask for this wisdom so that we can do as Paul admonishes: “Be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Inherent in wisdom is the understanding of the brevity of life.

This simple story is not just about Martha and Mary. It is the very situation we face every single day.

Every day we get to choose if we will pick up the Bible and listen to and learn the mind of God from God and to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We cannot say that we have check marked off this story as “got that point” unless we are applying it. James says, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22). If you hear the message that you should attend to God himself as first priority but don’t apply it, you deceive yourself, and so do I. We often think that we would obey God if only we were clear on what He expected of us. Yet here He makes it clear: ONLY ONE THING IS NEEDED. The truth is not that we are uninformed, it is that we are disobedient to what we know.

I pray for you a heart of wisdom to make the better choice, as I pray for myself.