Book Excerpt

Wedding Running

                            Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction And Redemption

by J. Van Heerden

Chapter 1: Cigarettes and Crayons

~ 2000 ~

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”

Psalm 42:11 (NIV)

Summer scorches Texans every single year. The August of 2000 is no exception. Dripping sweat, waiting for the gas pump to click off at the Chevron station, I’m even scorched on the inside. Driving Jon to rehab isn’t in my plans for this summer. I very much like for life to go as planned.

Glancing into the side mirror I catch a glimpse of him, squatting there next to another car, blasting cigarette smoke from one side of his mouth. During the five years and 363 days of our marriage, he’s never let me see him smoke. Our eyes meet. He shrugs and flicks the butt into the parking lot. I remember the countless times I’d lectured my students about the dangers of smoking. They were first graders – the same age he’d been when he started.

I’m a planner. I guess that’s the teacher in me. At seven, I knew my calling. Mother says I was born with a wristwatch and a clipboard in hand. In third grade, I forced my five-year-old sister, Ami, to listen to me read the entire Little House on the Prairie series. (Night after night, we’d snuggled side by side in my trundle bed along with the characters Laura, Mary, Ma and Pa long after Mom had called, “Lights out little girls.”) I often created checklists for daily hygiene habits and begged my teachers to give me extra workbook pages so that I could “play school” at home. Always a lover of order, structure, and routine, I’d planned my whole life before my age reached double digits. Today, those childhood dreams seem impossibly far away.

Just breathe, I remind myself as he opens the passenger door. Don’t say anything. Don’t think anything. Just drive and breathe. When I breathe, I can smell that lingering smoke. I feel angry. That smell represents betrayal. Although cigarettes aren’t the reason for this trip, they are the birthplace of a long journey leading to this day. No, this trip is about another, much more costly addiction…an addiction that is foiling my plans and destroying the good little life we’ve been making for ourselves.

Why do I feel so angry about that Marlboro, when I’m taking my husband to drug rehab for a cocaine addiction so deadly it could put him in the cemetery at any moment? My own emotions confuse me! Maybe I’m in denial; unable to process a drug addiction I’ve never seen in action and can’t wrap my brain around. Whatever the reason, I’m focused on the cigarette and ignoring the “elephant” in the car with me.

We barely speak as the miles melt beneath my tires. Part of me longs to lecture about how nicotine exacerbates the desire for other drugs, but he’d already growled the “I can only do one thing at a time” warning. As usual, my expectations are too high. I just want to fix everything right now. I want our life back. I want my husband back.

Arriving at Blue Sky, the detox/rehab facility, which did not appear to match its happy summer-camp-sounding name, we are greeted warmly by Dora, an extremely cheerful staff member. I receive information regarding visiting hours, phone calls and my role in my husband’s recovery process. (Leave him alone and let him “work the program.”) With a thick, stapled packet on cocaine addiction in my hands and an odd mixture of hope and despair in my heart, I hug my husband, shut little-too-happy-hab’s door and face the Texas heat. That’s it. I’ll see him in two weeks when I return for supervised visitation.

I’m Juliet – also known as Julie, Jules, JuJu and a number of other variations of the Italian name my mother gave me after seeing Zeffirelli’s 1968 rendering of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Sometimes I’ve wished I could be someone else, with another name altogether, someone whose life is more comedy than tragedy. The events of the moments I just relived while writing the above paragraphs marked a major turning point in the history of this regular churchgoing girl from Texas. Life never was quite the same after that. I wanted it to be. Tried to force it to be. But it just wasn’t. Ever.

Opening my car door, I tossed the addiction information to the back and wilted into the driver’s seat. With the seat belt’s click, my internal dam burst. Anger and embarrassment poured from my soul as I drove and wept. Frustration and fear mingled with those tears as I howled to my heavenly Father. This was not the first time I’d taken the term “cry out to God” literally, but it was the first time in a long time that I cried with hope that things might improve.

It has to get better, God. Isn’t marriage supposed to bring joy? It’s always been a little tough, but this past year and a half has been horrible! I didn’t know he was using drugs! How could I be so blind? How do I face the people in my life with a truth I can no longer hide and can barely comprehend?

I dreaded explaining to my church school colleagues that I’d be attending the teacher’s convention alone. “No. He won’t be coming with us. I’m sorry Principal Steve, I guess it’s just you and a bunch of females again this year.” I dreaded responding to well-intentioned inquiries about my husband’s absence from church. “Yes, I’ll tell him you missed him again today. Unfortunately we won’t be able to host the Friday evening worship at our home this week.” I feared facing his boss, who served on the School Board which hired me and whose children I’d taught to read. “He pawned your tools to buy drugs? Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea that was going on. How can we ever pay you back for your loss?” Trepidation trampled my tiny spark of hope, long after the tears dissolved into deep heaves.

How do I do this, Lord? How will Jon’s sudden 28-day disappearance affect our reputation in this church and this community? What will I say to my sister? You know she’s been really upset lately by Jon’s strange behavior. Now I understand her probing questions. Oh, how am I going to hold my head up and keep it all together?

~School ~

Colorful student workbooks were stacked neatly on my u-shaped teaching table. Small desks in pods of three filled the center of the room, while student activity stations lined the outside walls. I loved organizing and arranging my spacious classroom. I’d taught here for four years. This space felt like home to me. In fact, I think I spent more time within these walls than at our home. The structure. The routines. The little people who brought joy and life to this place and to my very soul; these were the things I could count on. These were just as sure as the familiar contents of my teacher desk, or the absolute of butterflies in tummies the first day of school.

Tearing the “to buy” checklist from my yellow legal pad, I took a quick survey of the room before flicking off the light. Everything is coming together. I want to be ready before teacher’s convention. Just one more trip to Walmart, and I’ll be set.

I love buying school supplies. Love pressing a bunch of super sharp number 2 pencils against my palm, making them all even. Love the little scissors with rounded noses and the tiny flat tips of brand new Crayola crayons. Something about loading up my shopping cart with washable markers and the familiar orange-topped Elmer’s glue bottles makes me happy.

That day, I desperately wanted to be happy. I wanted to forget about the yesterday that had altered my world forever. Longing to get lost for a moment in the “Back to School” aisle, I stopped by Walmart on the way to my empty home, numbing my pain by pawing through bins of glue sticks and pens. On my way to the register I picked up a black and white composition book; you know, the ones with rounded corners and marbled cardboard covers with a line for your name right on the front? Why not? They’re on sale for only a quarter each.

Recently, I rediscovered my stash of journals and composition books. Sifting through them was equally painful and cathartic. The neatly dated entry that fits into this narrative reads like this: Tomorrow is Jon’s and my six-year anniversary. Yesterday I took him to a drug detox and rehabilitation program. This is an incredibly difficult time, but I am hopeful that Jon will be able to submit to the “treatment” and allow himself to be helped. On August three and four he nearly overdosed on cocaine. On the fifth he realized that he could die and by the sixth he was ready to finally admit that he has a problem bigger than he can beat alone.

I feel so angry that he has used more than five thousand, five hundred dollars of our house money (we were in the process of building a new home on some land we’d purchased the summer before) on cocaine! I am shocked and surprised that he is not dead. I feel angry, sad, discouraged and hopeful all at the same time. School starts in one week. I’m not nearly ready. I have so much to do and so many distractions. I am praying for Jon constantly. He has become such an incredible liar – selfish, deceiving, conniving, thieving, angry, sick person.

The house is peaceful without him. I don’t have to worry about him at night or anytime because he can’t be doing bad stuff. Everyone has been so kind. I am thankful to God for Christian friends. Larry and James (Jon’s employers) even promised to take Jon back to work when he gets out.

I’m going to have to be so clear about what I want and need and expect. I don’t even know all of it, except no more drug use, or he is out of the house!

The rest of that sad little journal entry breaks my heart in hindsight. I can see how bad things in my marriage really were and how much I longed for everything to be okay. At the time I didn’t realize that I couldn’t mandate someone who was not okay to be okay. My seven-item checklist penciled into a twenty-five cent composition book from Walmart didn’t mean a “hill of beans” to my drug-addicted husband. I should have considered and questioned some of those items long before he ever became my husband. But we were young then. I was naïve. Isn’t hindsight painfully 20/20?

That night, I just needed the familiar comfort of a checklist.

So I wrote:

  1. No more drug use
  2. No more smoking
  3. Daily talking and prayer time
  4. Meet my emotional, physical, financial needs (I told you I was naïve.)
  5. Everyone made right with and paid back
  6. I get full control of every penny
  7. Honesty in all dealings

I’m sure I slept better, having written my list and said my prayers. I know that God in heaven witnessed my hurting heart. I remember the comforting presence of His sweet Spirit during that dark and lonely time. I wish I had known then, the things I’ve come to learn. I suspect, though, I wouldn’t be the me I am, and I wouldn’t know the things I know, if it weren’t for the catalyst of that dreadful Texas August day when I drove my husband to drug rehab for the first time.

 

 

Recent Posts

Two Sisters Talk About Suicide

Today is the last day of National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States of America. September 8-14, 2019.

It’s been quite a week. The stench of death still stings strong in the nostrils of anyone who has read or watched the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

On Monday, Pastor Jarrid Wilson kills himself. As a pastor’s wife, I ache for his widow, Juli. Can’t imagine what she is going through—what she will go through as the shock wears off and our world continues swirling though hers stopped cold.

And then there is Wednesday. “9-11” Nearly every post on Facebook is a meme with some image or story reminding Americans of the day their world stopped turning in 2001. My friend Stan changes his profile picture, as he does each 9-11, to the haunting “Falling Man” image. My stomach tightens and I throw up in my mouth a little when I re-see that image— slim young man, head-first-off-a-Twin-Tower, one knee bent, back straight, arms to his sides.

I weep. I don’t know what I feel. Every year it’s the same. The Falling Man is so graceful. So…desperate? Bold? I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I always wonder if it’s suicide or self-preservation-that-ends-in-death. And does it even matter what I wonder? I just look at his image and I ache for him, too. For his family. For the nation that still has PTSD because of what happened that day in New York City. WE WILL NEVER FORGET.

Oh, and  Friday. Friday my sister posts on her Instagram @Winter_Can_Wait. That’s nothing unusual. She’s a fab photographer and often posts thought-provoking quotes from famous folks and well-edited images. But, Friday… Friday is different. Friday Winter_Can_Wait makes herself vulnerable.  The V-word. Brené Brown would be So. Stinkin’. Proud. I am—and I’m not even a V-word Queen like Brené.

Sis and I text back and forth. She has a vulnerability hangover before she even imbibes in the head-reeling, cold-sweating, heart-racing, home-grown-ale called “Sharing Your Suicide Story.” I encourage her via text message:

Sister! What a piece of writing! Wow!

I remember that.

Couldn’t get to you fast enough.

I’m so thankful you survived.

Please tell me you posted that.

She answers:

I have not posted it…

…I have never talked about this

or told anyone in all these years.

Me

It is good to get it out.

Good to talk about it.

It was a horrible time.

Excellent writing.

I will post it on my blog.

I will share and share it!

Sis:

Really?

Would it help someone?

Me:

It’s powerful.

It’s vulnerable.

Strong.

It gives hope.

It NEEDS to be shared.

Sis:

Okay.

Me:

Do you want to talk about that experience?

What was the catalyst for you to give up?

Sis:

Talk?

No.

Feelings of rejection.

Abandonment.

Black Hole…

Me:

I’m so very, very sorry.

And I sucked as a sister

during those years.

I’m sorry.

Very sorry.

I loved you.

So much.

But I was too far away.

Sis:

No, don’t be sorry.

It has all made me who I am

and has led me to my purpose.

Our pain leads us to our purpose.

(Hours later)

Me:

Have you posted yet?

Sis:

Having second and fifth thoughts about sharing it.

Me:

Post your poem.

Sis:

Ugh.

Me:

Sister!

Sis:

Makes me feel nauseated.

So many judgers and haters!

I know. I know.

I am being Jonah –

running from what God has called me to do.

Me:

You can do it!

That was 30 years ago.

But wow…

The raw pain.

The fresh writing.

The healing that comes

from releasing all of that.

Sis:

It’s a real struggle.

One can easily be in a black hole.

Me:

I know.

I wrote a whole book about it, remember?

Sis:

I feel sick.

Are u sure?

5-4-3-2-1

Ugh!

Me:

You.

Are.

A.

Gifted.

Writer.

Sis:

Here goes.

I am posting.

Me:

You okay?

Sis:

Huge release.

I might be

hyperventilating.

Me:

Breathe.

Slowly.

It’s okay.

It’s going to be okay.

God is bigger than the pain of our past.

Healing comes when we share.

When we tell our story,

When we are heard,

When we help others heal.

Sis:

This is huge.

This is the biggest thing I’ve ever shared.

It’s Suicide Prevention Week.

People are already seeing my post!

Me:

It’s out there.

Let the healing begin…

Sis:

It’s there.

Forever.

I am flapping.

And then the likes and comments begin:

“This is the most powerful and reality-based image and words. Oh my…stopped in my tracks by you…”

“Huge courage…I better understand the “light” you strive to shine

…if this helps but one person this share will be priceless.”

And now today, 213 likes and 57 comments later:

“…Your post from yesterday kept going through my head.

I’m a big fan of losing the stigma of psychic illness,

was so proud of you to reach out and show your vulnerable true self.

I was truly touched, again,

thanks so much for sharing and showing that you, I, we are not alone.”

I’m proud of my sister. Proud of God’s power to pull us out of black holes. Proud of the way the Holy Spirit works with our wounded, abused, neglected, abandoned, tender, vulnerable hearts.

I watched a TED Talk https://youtu.be/PY9DcIMGxMs about how the opposite of addiction is connection. The enemy of our souls works endlessly to isolate us, to disconnect us—from God, from one another. Once the wounded are separated from the pack, we are easy prey for all kinds of soul-destroying activities and substances, and the evil spirits that latch onto the vulnerable, including the haunting spirit of suicide.

Kris Vallaton says this in his latest blog post, How to Overcome a Spirit of Suicide. https://krisvallotton.com/fight-suicidal-thoughts/


“I’d like to propose that it is not in your nature to want to destroy your life and the very thought of it comes from the devil. Self-preservation is built into every creature God created! It is not your nature to want to destroy yourself!”

We were created to live forever. With sin came death. But with the death of Jesus Christ came life! Say this aloud, and put your name right in there.

“For God so loved_____________that He gave His one and only Son. If I believe in Him, I will not perish, but I will have eternal life.” John 3:16

That’s God’s promise. It was His promise for every hurricane victim, for Jarrid Wilson, for the Falling Man, for my Sis as a teenager, and for you and me today. Live loved, my friend. LIVE! You are so LOVED!

@Winter_Can_Wait (Age 16)

I was 16
The winter snow was still on the ground
in patches. Slushy. Muddy.
Everything was darkness.
I couldn’t climb out, I couldn’t see out, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t see anything… nothing.

Cold and numb I opened the bottle.
I choked down a handful…
“How many did you take? How many?!!!”
They screamed. They whispered. The harsh tone scolded. Was it worry or disdain?
Questions, accusations, nothing even mattered. Nothing.
“We have to pump her stomach.”
Shivering, shaking, vomiting.
So cold. So dark.
“I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be anywhere.
Nobody wants me. Nobody sees me. Invisible.
I am nobody. I mean nothing.”

“You can’t go back to your school now.”
“Where’s your mother?” Where is your closest family member?” “Do you have a parent here? In the states?” ((Does anyone want you?)) Do you have a number we can call?”

The sirens.
The lights.
Head pounding.
White sheets. Vomiting.

“Here’s another one.”
Clip board. White coats.
Bright lights.
So cold. Shivering. Shaking
“Attempted suicide. Pills”

Questions. More and more questions.
Doctors. Therapists. Nurses.
24 hour supervision.
No possessions. Nothing sharp.
Not even a pen…

It gets better.
You do matter.
Someone cares.
Someone sees you.
Someone hears you.
You are not alone.
There is light even when
You can’t see it.
It’s inside of you.
Believe it.
Stay here. You are
Wanted. You are welcome.
You are enough. I will never
Judge you. You are safe.
Talk to someone.

My name means something.
My story matters.
I survived.
I am here.
Tell me about my trauma.

@Winter_Can_Wait
#nationalsuicidepreventionmonth
#nationalsuicidepreventionweek
#suicideprevention

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