The Lord smiled on me today as I sat at my computer at 5:45 pm wearing the same clothes I slept in, teeth unbrushed, hair in a leftover ponytail. (I know that sounds gross, but if you are a writer, you might understand me when I say I was in writer’s mode!) Thankfully, my husband is away and I can get away with it today, otherwise I might become single again!
Here’s what happened: I had just completed this paragraph for Chapter 15, which describes a very brief, very intense relationship that I became involved in after my divorce:
“On a page from October, my journal says, “I want to be understood. I feel terribly misunderstood. This is the first time in my life I have been made to feel as if I’m not good enough for someone, or that they think that of me. How can he just cut me off? Even God says, “Come, let us reason together.” I can see from the verses written in my prayer journal that I was in agony.”
Just as I finished typing that last sentence, I get the following text from my husband,
“I don’t think any human has loved another human more than I love you.”
Honey & Me in Venice
Now, he has no earthly idea what I’m writing about, or how I look or smell today! But my Jesus knows. He sees me sitting here at my table, reliving some painful, embarrassing pieces of my personal history. And my loving, personal Savior decided to prompt my husband to send me that text at just the moment I was reminded of a painful rejection from the past. And while my husband does say kind things to me quite often, those particular words have never been said and their impact would not have been as significant had I not been writing what I was writing at that moment!
Jesus, I just weep these tears of joy sometimes at the ways You lavish Your love on me. You see me. You know me. You know that my love language is words of affirmation. And You know that it hurts me to recall those other kinds of words that I’ve heard in my past. Thank You for reminding me so beautifully that I no longer live in the past…That You have redeemed the things I thought were lost. Bless my sweet husband’s heart. Bless The Lord, O my soul! Worship His holy name…
I used to write the checks that paid the bills. (That was back in the day before automatic drafts.) I controlled the income and the outgo. I did the shopping. I did the saving. I gave my addicted spouse a weekly allowance, which eventually turned into daily “lunch money” because he blew (or snorted) the weekly dollars with one trip to the dealer.
I worked very hard to keep us out of debt and in the black. Sometimes we still received the dreaded NSF (non-sufficient funds) on our bank statement, with overdraft fees attached. Those three letters (NSF) made me crazy! I would clamp down even tighter on a husband who could figure out a way to buy drugs no matter how hard I controlled the cash. I was like Wile E. Coyote, scrimping and scheming to keep my husband from killing himself. Rationalizing insanely like this: If he only gets a few dollars, then he can’t overdose or disappear for days. We can handle a high; we just can’t handle a binge.
The addicted “Road Runner,” on the other hand, figured out myriad ways to outsmart me, from pawning his own stuff to beating in his truck with a sledge hammer and collecting the insurance money. Can’t you just hear him saying, “Beep beep!” on his way to the dealer…again? And can you picture me, ultra control-freak freaking out…again?
Remember that childhood cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself here) where Wile E. Coyote is chasing after Road Runner and ends up going off a cliff? That was me. Eventually, I ended up just going off the deep end because trying to outsmart and out-chase and out-control an out-of-control person is exhausting… and damaging; especially to the ones who are trying to fix everything.
In her best-selling book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie says, “Most of us have been so busy responding to other people’s problems that we haven’t had time to identify, much less take care of, our own problems.”
Following are some quotes that came from spouses of alcoholics when their husbands were in treatment and when they got honest about who they really were and how they really felt:
“The bondage of codependency made me so crazy that all those around me suffered greatly.”
“I caught myself answering for my spouse in Family Program. I started to realize that I was a big part of the problem.”
“I wanted to be a victim. I continued to act like I did not have choices and that it was always everyone else’s fault in the family for how I felt and reacted.”
“I realized that although I was saying I wanted my spouse to get better, I was really afraid of getting better and looking at my own stuff. I kept adding pressure as a way of sabotaging.”
“I still wanted to control things while my spouse was in treatment, because, after all, I had always taken care of everything.” Codependent No More Workbook, p. 83
I recently read this quote on Ann Voskamp’s blog:
“Unless you walk with Jesus every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.”
My thoughts keep returning to those words like a tongue returns to that empty place where a tooth used to be. It’s so true.” Every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.” And that pride and fear drive us to control.
Why did I try to control every penny when I was married to a cocaine user? Because I was prideful. I wanted to make sure that everything about our lives continued to appear normal, even though normal was often far from our reality.
And what was I so afraid of anyway? Why was fear a driving force in my life? Well, I was afraid that he would kill himself or someone else. I was afraid he would go to jail, and at the same time afraid he wouldn’t go to jail. Afraid of what the good people in church would think if they knew what was really going on in our lives. Afraid that we would lose our home, our vehicles, our jobs. Afraid that I might lose my mind. Just afraid. Of lots of things.
I was so prideful and fearful and controlling that I was blinded to the “elephant in the room.” Oh, I kind of knew there was a large mammal with a long trunk that had taken up residency in our lives, but I thought it belonged to the real addict, surely not to me!
Upon closer inspection, one that required a good Christian counselor and some Al-anon principles, I realized that the elephant had my name on it. It was my pet. No one ever spoke of it. We all ignored it. But there it was, one day, bigger than life. Its name was Control. It stood firmly on four legs: pride, fear, shame, and secrecy.
Only when those legs began to buckle under the powerful daily application of God’s Word, did that beast begin to fall to its knees.
Is that your elephant?
I dove into scriptures like Isaiah 41:10, which says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (NIV) Proverbs 16:5, in the King James version reminded me that pride is an “abomination” to the Lord. The Living Bible puts it this way,“Pride disgusts the Lord. Take my word for it—proud men [and women] shall be punished.”
This week, I came across a great little magnifying glass that might be used to check for elephants. You may want to prayerfully read it and begin turning some of those burdens you’ve been carrying over to the One who can truly handle them. It’s written by Cherilynn Veland:
Five Major Ways Addictions Can Affect Your Life, Even If You Are Not The Addict
If you are in a relationship with a problem drinker or problem substance abuser, or if you have a family member who is an addict, there are five major ways that this disease may affect you.
1. You can become more controlling. It is normal for this disease to make a person feel anxious or overwhelmed. Because of this, the family member usually becomes more controlling of their environment. For example, if you are a boss at a company, and your spouse has a drinking problem, you might over-manage your employees. You could channel that control need into making more and more rules and restrictions for your employees. If you are a parent, you may do this with your kids, managing their relationships or being overly restrictive.
2. You can become anxious and more easily overwhelmed.
You will worry more in general about everyone you care about. If you are a mom or a dad, you may be overly-focused on your child. You want to make them happy at all costs, and you become overly worried if something goes wrong for them at school. Work is more difficult. Everything gets harder.
3. You might think you can help when you can’t.
People who are in relationships with substance abusers will often try harder and harder to “make” the addict/alcoholic happy. They will work hard to do whatever it takes to “make them OK” so the drinker or user won’t need to drink. Sadly, this will not help. Addiction has nothing to do with someone’s environment. Even if a substance abuser likes to blame their difficult work or the messy house, these are just excuses.
4. You can become fixated on the other person’s behavior.
Wondering and worrying about things like, “Will ____ drink tonight?” or “What if they drive?” or “How will it be at home if ____happens?” These worries can become a fixation in your mind, leading to self-neglect. This cycle repeats over and over.
5. You can get blinded by denial.
If your loved one is a substance abuser, it is normal to go into denial. Remember the woman who killed her children and several other people after driving with 10 drinks in her system? Her family says they knew nothing about it. Denial is a powerful partner to the disease of substance abuse. Even loving parents will turn a blind eye. I see it all the time.
The takeaway: Even if you are just the friend of an addict, or you grew up with an addict who is in recovery, alcoholism and drug addiction have tentacles with deep impact. Anyone in any kind of a relationship with someone who is addicted has to be touched by this disease. Contact a counselor or a 12-step program such as Al-Anon if you are in this situation. Learn about codependency. Help is out there. (http://drnicolaswarner.com/five-major-ways-addictions-can-affect-life-even-if-not-addict/)
My students used to tell elephant jokes: Q: “What time is it when an elephant sits in a chair?” A: “Time to get a new chair.” Q: “What is the same size as an elephant, but weighs nothing?” A: “An elephant’s shadow.” Q: “How do you eat an elephant?” A: One bite at a time.” I guess that’s what I want to leave with you – the way to conquer the elephants in our lives is to first acknowledge that they actually might be ours. Then we make them disappear one bite at a time. And those bites are found in the first part of Ann’s quote, “Unless you walk with Jesus every day…”
Jesus, help me to walk with You, humbly, fearlessly, day by day, until every single bite of that elephant is swallowed up by Your grace and mercy. Amen.
I turned 44 last week. It kind of hurt. When I was a kid, I used to lay underneath my yellow and white tulip-covered comforter playing a game in my head that went something like this: I’m 10, my sister is 6. In four years, I’ll be 14, and she’ll be ten. When she’s 14, I’ll be ready to graduate from high school. And when she’s 18, I’ll be 22! I’d continue on until I reached about 30. Then my mind would go blank, because I could not even begin to fathom what my life would be like at 30! That was the age of my mother, whom I believed to be ancient!
Looking in the rearview mirror of the 34 years that have passed since I began playing that childhood head game, I can see how the enemy of my soul has been like a hitchhiker, always on the side of life’s road, trying to thumb a ride. Sometimes I’ve maintained a steady pace and ignored him completely as I kept my eye on the “prize.” Sometimes I’ve slowed down to get a better look, and somehow ended up in the opposite lane facing oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, there have also been times when I’ve stopped to pick him up and ended up on a wild goose chase as I followed his misguided directions.
After those awful detours, I’ve had to call upon my Jesus to remove the enemy from my life’s vehicle. After closing the door in his face I continued on my journey, more cautious than before. Watchful.
This past week, that hitchhiker has shown up several times. He isn’t always dressed the same, so I wondered if it really was him. He wore the cloak of Confusion one day. And then masqueraded as Fear of Failure the next, whispering, “Don’t bother trying. You will never get this book published anyway. It’s way too long. And who really cares? Lots of people live lives way more dramatic than yours. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Once or twice (or sadly more) he boldly stood in the middle of my road as Pride. The swerve I had to make to avoid him almost ended me up in the ditch. “Just leave that part of the story out. It isn’t very flattering, you know. You say you’re protecting someone else, but you really want to protect yourself.”
I’ve had to draw my Sword on him a few times lately, claiming scriptures like Psalm 40:11, “ Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me.” God, your love and truth will protect me, right? The truth sets people free. Those guys in the Bible didn’t always make perfect choices. Still, you used them. I just want You to use me. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may bless Your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
Today I had lunch with three beautiful ladies. We laughed and talked and shared stories of our lives. One of them asked me afterward, “So, why are you writing this book anyway?”
I said something like, “Because I want to help other Christian people who live with an addict in their family.” Then I started singing a childhood church song with the words slightly changed, “With an addict in the family, not-so-happy-home, not-so-happy-home, not-so-happy-home…”
She cracked up laughing then said, “It’s so true, isn’t it?”
Most of us in pews have someone in our inner circle who is addicted. Not all of it is drugs. Sometimes it’s food. Or media. Or porn. Whatever it is, it hurts us. It hurts our families. Hurts our relationship with God. Everything suffers.
When we’re ten years old, dreaming in our beds of what our lives will be like when we’re 20 or 30, we do not imagine that we’ll ever be married to an addict. We never fathom that we could become the addicted one. We only dream those “happily-ever-after” bedtime story dreams.
By the time we’re 40 or 50, we realize that the choices we made in our 20’s are affecting not only us, but also our children and even their children. Who we slept with, who we married, what habits we developed, our career choices – all of these decisions have had a trickle-down effect. Our families now reap what we’ve sown. We keep reaping what we’ve sown.
Sitting at a cozy café table with those three precious women today, I listened to their chit-chat, smiled at their stories of adult kids and grandbabies as they passed around their cell phone snapshots vying for the “whose got the cutest grandson” title. As I observed them, the realization dawned on me that they have each been long-married to the same “good man” they originally started with. No divorces. No regrets.
Now that they are all retired, they happily enjoy life with their husbands, kids and grandkids. It was a rare treat to lunch with them. Even rarer to observe their shared dynamic of longevity and security in their marriages. I wondered how they had done it. But I didn’t ask.
Instead I played that old game in my head, except this time it went something like this: “I’m 44. My husband is 56. We don’t have kids. When I’m 56, he’ll be 68. That’s about the same age as my friend’s husband. And he’s retired. In twelve years, my husband might be retired. And we won’t have any grandkids to brag about or show pictures of… Right there, I knew I needed to take those thoughts into captivity before that hitchhiker hijacked a wonderful luncheon with my friends. I recognized him in the nick of time, slinking up on me in the guise of Regret.
I know my friends’ lives aren’t perfect. We’ve shed some tears together over the years as they’ve also suffered the heartache of watching loved ones make poor choices. But I admire whatever it was that they did right in their pasts so they can be in a place to truly enjoy their present.
As my sister, Ami likes to say, “Life is all about choices.” I suppose it’s really true. We reap what we sow. We get out what we put in. We choose whom we serve. Are you living today in such a way that your family will benefit from your choices for generations to come? Am I?
Joshua in the Bible says it this way, “…choose you this day whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Father God, I choose You today. I’m sorry for allowing my own willfulness to get in the way of Your plans for my life in the past. I know that 44 years is but a grain of sand in Your hourglass. Thank you for redeeming the things I thought were lost. Thank you for my kind and gentle husband. Although we may never celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, please help me to treasure each day we have together and to celebrate what you have given to me, rather than lament the things I don’t have. Give me the grace to live my life in such a way that Your Name is glorified. Protect me from the hitchhiker. I don’t want to give him any more rides. Help me to live in the grateful present, not the regrets of the past, or the unforeseen future. Just right here and right now. One moment at a time. One godly choice at a time. In the name of Jesus, amen.
p.s. Matthew West wrote a song that resonates with me & couples very well with this post. Maybe you’ve heard it on your Christian radio station. Here are the lyrics & the You Tube link:
Hello, my name is regret I’m pretty sure we have met Every single day of your life I’m the whisper inside That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King I am no longer defined By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us
That we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King
I have a slow processer. Not in my computer, but my brain. My “fight or flight” signals don’t work. When badly spooked, I just stand there – frozen to the floor, unable to move at all. The same thing happens when I’m struck with emotional turmoil. My brain turns into a frozen gel pack. My tongue forgets what to say, and days can go by before my thoughts thaw out enough to process the problem.
My New Running Shoes
For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve been. When kids were unkind at school, I’d be on the bus, hours later, trying to think of a “good comeback” to their comments. When my high school boyfriend cheated on me, I could not believe the evidence and went through weeks of trying to figure out what to say before confronting him with the truth. When “well-meaning” church members say something rude, I mindlessly shake their hands and draw a blank as to how to respond. By Wednesday or Thursday, I might come up with something. Maybe. When I feel backed into a corner, I tend to just camp there for a while.
As the former spouse of an addict, I remember often crunching through life on those proverbial egg shells as I tried to process the constant lies and slights and think of ways to confront without being confrontational. More often than not, I would stay silent, since by the time I was ready to speak about an issue, several more incidents had happened and the first one seemed moot by that time. It was frustrating to live like that.
I always wanted to be one of those people who could just say everything that needed to be said, right when it needed to be said, with no regrets. I’ve always wanted to be someone who knows when it is okay to walk away and when it is time to stay and deal with something head-on. But I never have been. Those lines are frustratingly gray for me.
As I’ve continued to attend my 12 Step group and to learn about how to deal with my codependent tendencies, I thought I was getting better. But some things have happened in the past week, which have revealed my need for greater growth in that area. God is not finished with me, yet.
Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, says this in the reading for April 4 entitled, Negotiating Conflicts: “Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.
Problems and conflicts are part of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.”
She goes on to say, “Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.” Those words exactly describe the past few days of my life. It’s not that I was “unwilling” to tackle and solve the problems, it’s that my slow processor could not do it fast enough to keep up with the pendulum that swung from hate to love to dismissal within a matter of hours.
I wanted to say the right words. They came out wrong. I wanted to fix it, but I was, too late. I wanted to explain myself, but I had missed the boat of the friendship in question. By Tuesday, it had pulled out of the harbor and was well on its way to another continent by the time I was ready to speak about what had happened in the first place. Talk about missing the boat! I was left with my head spinning and my heart hurting, wondering what had really happened and why my emotional feet were still frozen to the floor.
Melody continues, “Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.” I guess that’s what happened. It took me a while to figure out exactly what my “bottom line” was, and by the time I was ready to explain that, it was too late for explanations. The relationship was over. It stung. Still does. Mostly because I know where my heart is. But it doesn’t matter. My slowness to act was interpreted as a lack of caring. And “who needs friends who don’t care”, right? Ouch.
So, where does one go from here? Well, I think I found the answer today, in the book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul says, 12 I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.
13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. Philippians 3:12-14 The Living Bible
I guess that’s what I’m going to say too, “I’m not perfect. I still have a lot to learn, but I will put on my brand new running shoes keep moving toward that day when I will fully be like Jesus. I’m not going to get stuck in trying to reconstruct conversations that will never take place or explain things to deafened ears. Instead, I will continue to run this race toward the finish line. No detours. Just a continual pressing on toward the prize of a Christlike character.”
Father, please help me to learn the lessons that You would have me to learn from this experience. I did my very best. It wasn’t good enough. That hurts. I spoke without thinking first. I’m sorry. I moved too slowly. That’s what I do in times of conflict. Please fix the broken thing inside of me that doesn’t allow me to “fight or flight,” but keeps me stuck motionless for too long. Please help me grow through this and to process the loss in healthy ways. You know how I am about losing people. I’d almost rather lose a limb than lose a person, especially if it’s by their choice. But I know that a friend who wants to be lost cannot be easily found. Teach me, Father. I’m willing to learn…
Beattie ends her April 4th reading like this, “To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of the blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.
We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible. Committed, intimate relationships mean two people are learning to work together through their problems and conflicts in ways that work in both people’s best interest.”
Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem-solving efforts.” The Language of Letting Gop. 94
Are you stuck in conflict? Do you need to walk away? Or is it time to stay and deal? Our heavenly Father understands exactly why we respond or react the way we do. He will reveal the path ahead to us if we ask Him to. He will direct us toward the finish line. He will help us to run our race. One step at a time. Have you asked Him, yet?
“Shame on you.” “Shame on him.” “Shame on me.” My mouth has formed those words many times in 43 years. My mama said them when I tried to sneak back into the house after a broken curfew. My Grandma ‘Dessa said them when “so-and-so’s husband stepped out on her and ran off with that little tramp.” My great-grandmother said them when she felt bad after burning her hand and swearing out loud in front of us kids. I grew up with shame.
In elementary school, I was ashamed that we lived in a mobile home on someone else’s property. In high school I was ashamed when my coach kind of joked that my fashionable “high tops” weren’t really basketball shoes at all. (They were all my single mama could afford.) In college, I was ashamed that my car had no paint and roared through campus in a not-so-cool way because the muffler had fallen off. When I got married at 24, I felt shame when I accepted a diamond ring that had been worn by my husband’s ex -wife. When I got divorced 13 years later, I carried the shame of a wasted womb to the courthouse.
If I had believed the enemy’s lies, they would go something like this: “You are unworthy to hang out with the kids who have their own swimming pools and whose parents drive Audis. You shouldn’t even play sports because you’re can’t afford the proper gear. Everyone is going to laugh at you and your stupid Balloon sneakers. And forget about trying to date any of the “cool” guys at college, they are WAY out of your league. And that ring, well, obviously you aren’t worth the trouble it would take to get a new diamond. Or at least one that your husband didn’t buy for someone else! And that wasted womb, well… that was your own choice. You made your bed. Now lie in it.”
Okay, I did believe those lies. Maybe not consciously. But I made agreements with the enemy about who I was based on what kind of home I lived in, what clothing I could afford, and what car I drove. I suffered on the inside for making poor choices and pretending that I was okay with them. Shame and pride and fear created a nasty concoction within, yet I smiled on the outside. I never verbalized any of that. Just worked hard. Got good grades. Did my best to be a good crack-wife. Pretended to be okay. Slogged through the swamp of shame.
Before Dr. Brown gets to the actual shame part of her talk on shame, though, she speaks a lot about vulnerability. (I also recommend her Vulnerability talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability ). It resonated with me when she said she had a, “Vulnerability Hangover.” I kind of felt that way after my previous post. I just wanted to hide. To lay low. I felt kind of naked. And the negative self-talk came, “So, was it worth it to put yourself out there like that?” I even began to second-guess some pieces that I was planning to put into my book. But then, one dear reader had the courage to make the following comment on my blog post, “Unashamed.” She said, “Beautifully written. Someday so many people will be able to tell you how much your honesty and transparency has helped them. Keep releasing the fear of what people think – What I thought while reading this is how awesome that you are sharing it and how it will resonate with so many more people than you can imagine!”
I actually wept. Just sat here dropping tears onto my lemony-patterned table cloth. Thank you, God. That someone sees. Is touched by what You and I are doing here. Thank You, for those words of encouragement.
Brené Brown goes on to say, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” And that it is the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” So, this is what I want to say today: If you feel stuck in a place of shame, take a step of courage and be vulnerable. Find a safe place to be real. Dr. Brown says that, “Vulnerability is the pathway back to each other.” Find a 12 Step group like Celebrate Recovery, where you can tell your story. Attend Al-anon. Risk a friendship. Just be real and give another person the opportunity to say two of the most powerful words in the universe, “Me, too.”
Isaiah 50:7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
P.S. The photo may appear unrelated to this post, but it sure looks yummy, right? Seriously, I made Strawberry Shortcake for my Honey and me after we found some fantastic strawberries at Costco on our date night last Monday. And I’m not ashamed to say that I ate every bite of the one in the above photograph, in sweet memory of my Grandma ‘Dessa. Loved her so much – wish I could share with her some of the things I’m learning about shame. I’m afraid that she lived and died in its ugly swampland.