Living In The Present

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Image Credit for “Yellow Roses”: winter_can_wait

My romantic husband wants to buy me flowers. I squelch him every time. After nearly four years of marriage, I finally figured out why. The epiphany revealed itself at the Writer’s Workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to write a lead about a memory involving flowers. The lead turned into the following paragraphs:

“Yellow roses smell like death. Death of dreams. Death of desires. Death of innocence. I loathe yellow roses. With Jon, every momentous occasion was marked with yellow roses. Tulips are my favorite flowers. But unless it’s Easter, tulips are hard to come by, so Jon bought me roses. With my credit card.

I used to pretend to be happy and surprised. But somehow they always made me sad. Even though every August I was the only teacher with a dozen yellow roses delivered to her desk, in my heart I knew I was also the only teacher whose husband smoked crack and pawned his Christmas presents. Everyone oohed and aahed and thought he was wonderful and said I was “lucky.” I didn’t want to feel special. I just wanted to have a normal life. And I didn’t feel so lucky when the credit card bill came. When eventually I dumped those drooping roses in the trash, my insides were more wilted than they were. Year by year my girlish dreams died along with dozens of yellow roses, until I knew that they could not, would not, be revived.”

So, now do you understand?” I asked my husband as we walked around the block together on Monday evening. “I think I have some sort of strange emotional conflict whenever you bring me flowers because historically, for me, flowers have often meant that someone was trying to cover something up or pacify some wrong, or just put on a big show when there wasn’t anything in the marriage to support the show.” His head nodded, “yes,” but his face still wore a puzzled expression.

My poor husband. He’s a good and kind man. Sometimes I’ve hurt him because I’ve responded to him with behaviors and emotions carried over from my previous life as the wife a cocaine user. I didn’t want to bring any “baggage” into our marriage. I thought God and I had resolved my issues. But, don’t “issues” rear their ugly heads in the oddest moments? Like when your loving husband brings you roses on an affectionate whim and you just feel annoyed rather than overjoyed?

I do not want to be in bondage to my past. God says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1-26 ESV) I am free from the past. In Christ, I am a new creation. I do not need to mar the present with a thin layer of the past every time something happens that jolts me back to my former life. I was reading about codependency the other day and I came across this quote in the book Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer: “It’s normal to need control and predictability, but the family of an addict or abuser is in perpetual crisis…You learned to control your feelings and behavior to feel safe. You’d never again be at someone’s mercy…you…may be anxious, dread disaster, and try to control people and events because of your past fear even when there’s no evidence for it in the present.” (P. 60) That is me. I don’t want it to be me. But sometimes, it is.

At a Women’s Retreat I attended last month, Dr. Vicky Coe said something that struck me as profound. I summarized it this way in my journal. “God has to take you out of your comfort zone in order to bless you. Especially when we are going to the next phase of life. There is growth in discomfort. We are creatures of habit. We have difficulty in our walks of faith because we live on yesterday’s faith. It’s a daily walk. We can’t live today on yesterday’s faith.” She’s right. I am a creature of habit. I don’t like to be taken out of my secure, controlled environment. I want everything to just be safe. And normal. And okay. But God in His mercy, wants me to trust Him. So he has given me a gregarious, out-of-the-box, spontaneous, romantic spouse. I’m not allowed to control every situation. I cannot squelch his passionate French heritage, and if he wants to bring me flowers, he wants to bring me flowers! Who am I to shut him down? I cannot live today on yesterday’s brokenness. Today is a new day. Codependent controlling behavior will not steal my joy. I will thankfully receive every gift God has in store for me today. Even if that gift is roses! I hope you will, too. Let’s not deny ourselves the gifts of the present because of the pain in our pasts.

Unlocking Forgiveness

Rusty Lock

In 1989 I was nineteen and heartbroken because of another betrayal by my “forever yours faithfully ” boyfriend. I listened to The Eagles cranked up LOUD in my muffler-less hand-me-down car. They knew a lot about heartbreak. And a little bit about forgiveness. Don Henley sang it this way:

“The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again                                                      I’ve been tryin’ to get down
To the heart of the matter but my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore”

“Heart Of The Matter” was written by Henley, Don/campbell, Michael W./souther, John David. Read more: Don Henley – Heart Of The Matter Lyrics | MetroLyrics

That part about all the things I thought I knew… I know what he’s talking about. At the age of 43 I’m learning them again. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s a process. It’s a decision that is made with or without the warm fuzzy feelings that can be a wonderful side dish to a heaping helping of forgiveness. God keeps showing me how multifaceted and ugly bitterness is. I don’t want any root of it in my life. I choose forgiveness. I choose to release the feelings of hurt and abandonment that even now…after all these years, can crop up as I write about things already buried. No, I’m not talking about the teenage angst of a boyfriend’s wanderings. I’m talking about the deepest ache of a spouse’s betrayal.

I keep thinking I’m okay as I journey back in time to painful places in order to write this memoir. And by God’s mercy and amazing grace, I am okay. My life is not what it was. God has abundantly redeemed the things I thought were lost. I have spent my time in the pits of despair and my dollars in the therapist’s chair. I’ve revealed, released, healed and moved forward. But when I write certain bits, I can still feel a jab from somewhere on the inside and once more I am faced with life’s perpetual decision: do I choose forgiveness or allow just a tiny bit of justified bitterness to have access to my soul?

Yesterday I crafted the following paragraph for Chapter 12 at a writer’s workshop hosted by environmentalist author Dale Slongwhite. As I prepared to read it aloud to a group of strangers-turned-friends-through-shared-writing, once again I was offered the menu. Once again, I chose forgiveness. What worked for Don Henley back in 1989 was actually set in place by our loving Heavenly Father before the first sin created the need for such an institution as forgiveness. Here are the instructions from the One who best knows that the fastest way to freedom is forgiveness. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” Ephesians 4:31-32. NIV  First we choose to unlock our hardened hearts. Then He gives us the grace to follow through with that choice. Here’s a glimpse into Chapter 12:

“Forgiveness is the sharpest tool for severing soul ties with someone from our past. It is bitterness that binds. Why have I so often seen it the other way around? My thoughts clarified as the round wall clock counted down our last hour of couple’s therapy. I heard the second hand ticking like a time bomb. Side by side we sat on the same grey sofa where week after week for the better part of a year Dr. Fox had witnessed the unraveling of our marriage. The dim lamp on the side table could not dispel the darkness hanging over us as we solemnly shared the memories and regrets of twelve married years. My mouth was dry and my eyes moist as I recounted a few of my favorite times with Jon and expressed my choice to forgive him for searing my heart with betrayal. As we hugged goodbye, I breathed in his familiar scent, a concoction of Acqua di Gio, sweat, and Marlboros. I released him. He released me. I was free.”

Thank you, Dale Slongwhite, for creating a space and a writing prompt that brought this memory out of the depths and put some meat on it. I loved what happened in your workshop yesterday and I left feeling energized and inspired to write!  (If you are an aspiring writer of any age, you, too may be interested in Dale’s website and other workshops: https://writelines.net/.  Dale’s most recent book, Mucked Up, is her passionate exploration of the lives of Lake Apopka farm workers as she tackles the personal side of environmental and political issues surrounding the growing and harvesting of much of Central Florida’s food. You can learn more about that project here: http://www.muckedup.net/.)

Thanks to those who are praying me through this journey. Birthing a memoir is both beautiful and exhausting. I pray the labor pains are worth it and that hearts are touched in a way that brings hope to those who feel alone in their suffering.

Caught Off-Guard

“Our silence equals death with addiction. If nobody knows how many people are affected, that people they love are affected and people they work with, why should they care?” David Sheff in an interview with Will Godfrey, Editor-in-Chief of The Fix. See the entire interview here: http://www.thefix.com/content/david-sheff-addiction-clean91667?page=all

“Are you married?” Her brown eyes looked up at me inquisitively as we walked together through the labyrinth of middle school hallways.

Yes. Are you?” I reply, my own brown eyes smiling as I tease her. (She’s a petite sixth grader.)

Laughing softly she quietly fires her next question, right into my heart, “Do you have kids?” How could I know that her words would catch me off-guard? I get that question all the time. I’m used to easily responding with some sort of, “no.”  I stall.

What?” I force her to repeat herself, as I compose my response. It is simple.

No.” I shake my head.

You don’t want any kids?” She innocently presses. What does a substitute teacher say to an angelic, dark-haired sixth grader whom she has just met when the child has just scratched the scab off of her healing-from-the-inside-out soul? (Don’t puncture wounds always take the longest to heal?)

February is a difficult month for me. It holds the birth day of a child whom I neither bore nor raised, but fiercely love not one ounce less than if I had done both. Maybe the emotion I choked on today as I escorted a curious sixth grade girl to science class sneaked up on me because SHE, too is in the sixth grade this year. And SHE, too has big brown eyes and a gentle spirit. And HER birthday is just a few days from now. I still haven’t bought her anything.

I don’t know what to buy. What do sixth grade girls want for their 12th birthday? I remember what I wanted. I got it, too. A blue diary with a gold lock and teeny key. In it I recorded all my girlish hopes and hurts. I wish I still had it. Maybe it would give me insight into a twelve-year-old’s soul. I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a pre-teen. What it feels like to know that you are almost grown (or so you think), but still like to play dolls with your little sister when no one is looking. Do they even make diaries these days? Or do Facebook and Instagram document kids’ lives in posts and snapshots, no longer private to be opened only with a golden key, but wide wide open for all the peering world to see? Kind of like my heart tonight, I suppose.

I digress. What is the point of this post? Maybe it is simply this: we never know when we will have a head-on collision with the pain of our past. It can be a smell, an image, a simple phrase, or an ill-timed question. But our heavenly Father knows. And He promises to give us “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.” This afternoon, I felt His strength as I gently assured the inquiring little mind before leaving her with the science teacher.

Somehow I came away from that conversation emotional, but not angry. Guilt and blame used to come knocking my door down whenever I allowed my thoughts to turn to HER and to why SHE is not mine in the way I had once hoped SHE would be. (See chapters 7 & 8 of my upcoming book for what my story-telling hero, Mr. Paul Harvey, would call, “the-rest-of-the-story.”)

I totally get David Sheff when he states in his own heart-wrenching memoir Beautiful Boy that, “Worry and guilt and regret may serve a function – as a turbocharger of conscience – but in excess they are useless and incapacitating.” For years after losing HER to another family because of the illegal drug use in ours, I was emotionally incapacitated by guilt and regret. It was only by God’s sweet grace that I was able to put that darkness behind me. However, as anyone who has been wounded by the shrapnel that addiction sprays over entire families knows, there are triggers to the past that can evoke emotions that have to be dealt with over and over again.

It does get easier with time. Rather than come home and crawl into my bed, as I may have done in years past, I am writing this post in hope of helping another weary soul to find some peace. Joyce Meyer Ministries reminded me this week that, “God wants to heal us but then He doesn’t want us to forever be in recovery. He wants us to recover and then get busy helping somebody else.” I suppose His healing is exactly why I could happily hum on my way home from school today, “Great is Thy Faithfulness…Lord unto me.”

You can listen to one of my favorite versions of that hymn sung by Selah here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrsfCZvqGxQ

Be Still And Know

Thank you, winter_can_wait, for another great image.

Thank you, winter_can_wait, for another great illustration. Love you, Sister.

“There’s no shortage of compelling memoirs by addicts, and the best of them offer revelations for anybody who loves one…And yet…with rare exceptions, we have not heard from those who love them. Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself. At my worst, I even resented Nic because an addict, at least when high, has a momentary respite from his suffering. There is no similar relief for parents or children or husbands or wives or others who love them.” David Sheff in his painful memoir beautiful boy, a father’s journey through his son’s addiction.

It hurts to love those who are destroying themselves. It hurts to watch the slow disappearance of who they were and frightening to see the apparition of who they are becoming. One doesn’t want to believe the changes, cannot accept the reality that the one they love is no longer lovely or lovable. Yet love is a choice and as loved ones, we continue to choose to love the unlovable, even though they begin to do the unthinkable. It hurts. Bad. And we long to fix it.

In fact, we can destroy ourselves on our quest to fix the one we love. We can fall into such a frenzy of fixing, enabling, rescuing, and saving that we begin to co-dependently exist for the sole purpose of keeping another from ruining their life. I know. I lived in those trenches for years.

In my quest for authenticity as I write, I keep looking back at journals and scribbles from years past. One particular verse in Psalms keeps cropping up, over and over again through the years I wrote or highlighted or underlined. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew word for God in that passage is Elohim. The name first used for God in Genesis 1; the Creator of the heavens and earth. It is He who invites us to be still and know Him, because only Elohim can create order from the chaos of our lives.

This past weekend I attended a women’s retreat. Guess what the Psalm the speaker, Dr. Vicki Coe, used? Yes. Psalm 46:10. “Be Still…” In the notes I took from her seminar I wrote, “Stillness is an action. Let go. Release. To let yourself become weak. To surrender. To abide.” Yes, Lord, I pray. It has been seven years since I said goodbye to living with a chemically dependent spouse. But here I am trying to write this memoir from a place of authenticity, and am scrambling to remember what it was like to live in utter chaos. I can only say, “Thank You, God!” That it is difficult to remember. That I am having to rely on my journal and the memories of family members to help me write the crazy that used to seem so normal to me.

In my quest for understanding, I am reading about the journeys of others. David Sheff’s memoir is a poignant, painful read. My sister tried to get me to swallow it when it first came out. I could not. It was too close to home for me then. But now, with some distance, I can go there to see what the loved one of an addict writes that is so compelling it becomes a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It has similar ingredients to my story and, if you also love an addict, to yours. We all live similar hells. Some of us are just better at putting ours down on paper than others. My goal is not to make some kind of a Bestsellers list. I don’t think that was David Sheff’s motive either.

Me handwriting Chapter 8 while on vacation in Croatia last October

Handwriting Chapter 8 while on vacation in Croatia last October

My goal, like his, is to tell my story in such a way that others can find a shred of hope to cling to in the midst of their chaos and heartache.

The biggest difference in our stories is that my hope has a name. Jesus. I long for Him to become the hope of my readers, too. That is why I share my own story of walking through the valley of the shadow of drug addiction. The shadow is not the addiction itself, but it can easily create coping addictions in those who love the individual with a debilitating primary addiction, like chemical dependency.  I pray that my experience will provide a sense of fellowship among Christians who are suffering with this ugly beast that used to only be in “the world” and not so much in the church.

Although my life today is completely removed from what it was seven years ago, Psalm 46:10 still applies to me. I’m busy. Too busy at times. No, I’m no longer trying to save an addict from himself, but I am trying to do a lot of “good things” for God. This women’s retreat weekend was good for me. I needed the reminder to “Be still. Let go. Release, Surrender. Abide.” Beth Moore puts it so nicely in her book, Why Godly People Do Ungodly Things p. 123, “Sometimes we have to walk away from the deafening demands of our chaotic lives to inhale His.”

Whatever valley you are walking through, let me encourage you today to “walk away.” Find a quiet place to inhale God. To abide. To find strength. To let yourself become weak and to release it all to Him. Be still and KNOW that He is God in your life today.

*If you or someone you know loves a meth addict, you may find Sheff’s memoir a tool for your survival toolbelt. Be prepared to overlook language not typically used by Christians. http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Boy-David-Sheff/dp/0547203888

*I think this song by The Fray pretty much sums up this post. http://youtu.be/5nUuBjz4Vhc