Book Review – Incomprehensible Demoralization

It’s probably not a good idea for a drug addict to work as a pharmacist. Actually, I’d say it’s definitely not a good idea for a drug addict to work as a pharmacist. And yet, in 1996, when Jared Combs graduated from school and became a licensed pharmacist, he was heavily addicted to all kinds of drugs–any kind of drug, really.

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As is so often the case, Combs had to be brought low–very low–before he could see any substantial change and healing. In his case, Combs had to spend time in prison for stealing and consuming drugs. He was twice arrested and twice fired from jobs he loved. And yet today he is a testimony to grace. He has been sober for several years and once more practices pharmacy, this time at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. He is the father of three young children and is a committed husband. The strangely-titled Incomprehensible Demoralization is Jared Combs’ story of addiction and recovery. It is a story of one man’s transformation from a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict on the fast-track to a lifetime behind bars to a sober, church-attending family man.

Incomprehensible Demoralization is a self-published work but one that is quite well-done, at least as far as self-published works go (I’ve long since learned to lower my expectations for such books). Though it definitely could have benefited at times from an editor’s pen, it remains readable and well-written. Combs does a good job of sharing the trials and cravings of an addict. He shows well what it is like to be willing to do anything or give anything for one more fix. He shows that not even a clean-cut person working a good job is exempt from this kind of temptation.

The difficulty in writing a book of this nature is properly balancing the “before” and the “after.” In some ways, a person’s life as an addict is more interesting to the reader than his life after addiction. And this is, sadly, the undoing of Incomprehensible Demoralization. Though I truly did want to be able to recommend this book, I do not feel that I can do so in good conscience. I base this on several concerns. First, where Combs gives goes into great detail about his life as a drug addict, he gives far less attention to life in recovery. He describes sin far more than he describes grace. Second, and of greater concern, is the fact that the gospel is almost entirely absent from this account. While Combs ascribes his victory over drugs and alcohol to God’s grace, never does he describe the power of the cross or the power of God’s forgiveness. Never does he preach the gospel as God’s power over sin. He turns often to Alcoholic Anonymous’ Big Book but never does he quote the Bible. Third, mostly below the surface but sometimes in plain view is an understanding of his addiction as being somehow tied to genetics–that the disease of alcoholism is the cause of moral deficiency. A look at Scripture, though, reverses this, telling us that moral deficiency is the ultimate cause of alcoholism and any other kind of sin and addiction. Fourth, never does he adequately deal with the spiritual implications of living the way he did–as an alcoholic, drug addicted thief. And finally, the book is sometimes crude, using expletives needlessly and relying too much on sarcasm that, at best, borders on rudeness.

The book is interesting as a biography and as a story of recovery. But as a spiritual biography it is disappointingly lacking. While Combs rightly ascribes his victory over addiction to the power of God, never does he really prove this or describe how it came to be. This could almost as easily be a story where the hero is Alcoholics Anonymous rather than God.