The increasing amounts of pills and booze made Johnny Cash more twitchy than ever. Friends noticed and whispered about his incessant nervousness. It manifested itself in odd tics, gyrations, facial expressions, and eyes that sometimes blinked as though he were doing Morse code.
He paced and banged around the house in the middle of the night, often waking his wife and kids. He chain-smoked cigarettes and downed endless cups of coffee. Sometimes he just up and left. He would get in his car and drive recklessly and pointlessly for hours through the streets, hills, and deserts of Southern California.
Johnny’s vocals suffered, as the drying agents in the amphetamines—plus cigarettes and alcohol—brought on chronic laryngitis. At his first Carnegie Hall concert in New York City (what should’ve been a personal and professional milestone), he could barely talk above a whisper, much less sing.
As he started to croak out his first number, there was laughter in the audience. Some thought he was joking. His hour-long set was such a disaster that Columbia ditched plans to release a recording of the concert as an album.
Cash was on the road 80 percent of the time and performed close to 300 shows a year. When a tour ended, it wasn’t unusual for Cash to drop completely out of sight, not showing up at home for weeks, even months, at a time. The drugs drove a deep wedge between him and his wife, Vivian. And he felt no compunction about his dabbles with the women so readily available on the road.
Predictably, Cash’s behavior led to his debut on a new public stage. An early morning episode in Nashville prompted the headline “Johnny Cash Arrested Here on Drunk Charge.” Two weeks later in California, Cash made news again when Ventura police clocked him going 90 miles per hour on the Ojai Freeway at 1:00 a.m.
Johnny was on an all-too-familiar trajectory that has been the ruin of many a man and woman who climbed the mountain of fame. However, once they arrived, they found nothing there. The stories of rock, pop, and country music stars who ended up with substance abuse problems and worse are endless. And they will continue to the end of time.
I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.
I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. (Ecclesiastes 2:1–11 NLT)
What has been your experience with pursuing the pleasures this world has to offer?
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:8–11 NKJV)
When Jesus was tempted with the things of this world, what tool did He use to respond?
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV)
Why is substance abuse more than just a physical problem?
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