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.

 

 

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Nesting

An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective on New Motherhood

Hey first-time momma. I see that sparkle in your eyes—the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation, trepidation and celebration as you post and post and POST pictures of every tiny step leading to your little one’s arrival. You and daddy can’t hide your new-parent pride as you share the details of your journey toward the day you will meet your joy-boy face-to-face.

Cute new clothes neatly folded in his dresser. A closet filled with shoes and shirts and matching pants five sizes too big just because you know he will grow before your very eyes and you don’t want him to lack for one. single. thing. Matching bedding and wall art and family photos all perfectly placed to make him feel right at home in his bright new world.

Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and everybody who loves your family hold their collective breath as they wait and pray for arrival day. Each time you enter his room to straighten a not-really-crooked picture or fluff an already-fluffy pillow you feel like a kindergartener at Christmas, sneaking downstairs to peek at presents under the tree over and over until the magical morning finally dawns.

I see you standing in the nursery doorway, that wistful smile on your face as you dream of the day he will sleep in his very own bed and you will tuck him in and kiss his forehead and say goodnight prayers. Your joy cannot be contained, even when people tell you parenting is not for the fainthearted or the faithless, but for the bold and the fearless. Even when they tell you not to wear your beating heart on your sleeve, but to protect it with the shield of common sense and a tiny dose of pessimism so you won’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go as planned because, “There are birth defects and complications, you know and you must be prepared for these things.” That’s what the naysayers say, but you don’t hear them. You can’t hear them because your love-filled heart is beating too loudly to hear anything else.

You have felt the hand of God Himself move within your being as circumstances beyond your control or imagination came together to create this miraculous addition to your family. Your own faith increases day by day as you watch your Creator answer the deep desires of your heart. You will never take lightly your responsibility and calling to be a mother. You know too much of the inside story to ever believe, even for a millisecond, this wasn’t your path to follow.

You will do your utmost to model Jesus and to love and serve your family well. Sometimes you will fail. In the aftermath of those failures, you will kick yourself harder than you would ever kick anyone else in similar circumstances. Some days you will feel the very world on your shoulders as you carefully weigh out decisions you must make in order to keep peace and safety within your family. You will ache on the inside and smile on the outside as you watch your child learn to crawl and toddle and then walk away from you into a world filled with dangerous people and places you would never wish them to know. Your heart will sing a new song the first time you hear the word “Mom” and know it’s meant for you.  And you will turn your head away as tears burn your eyes when the sweet mouth that used to say, “I love you” forms the h-word as a bedroom door shuts right. in. your. face.

You will bow your head. You will touch that closed door and you will pray. You will wonder whether or not to knock or to walk away. And whatever you decide to do will be the wrong decision because that’s what happens a decade or so down the road when his nursery has morphed into a mini man-cave and you are no longer welcome with your hugs and care and goodnight prayers.

I know you can’t believe it now, as you wait and wait and wait for all that you’ve waited for. And I don’t want you to believe it. I pray something different for you. Something more like your dreams and less like your fears. My wish for you, sweet momma, is only roses on Mother’s Day and no thorns on any other day. You might look at me and silently say, “How do you know how I feel? What do you know about being a mom? You never carried a life for nine whole months, sticking out round in front of you for all the world to see. You can’t really know, can you?”

And I suppose I will never know the answers to your questions except to see myself reflected in your eyes as I witness your waiting and anticipating and creating the most perfect little nest you can afford to create. As I listen to your conversations and your self-revelations through each stage of your process as a first-time parent-to-be, I feel like I’m talking to the me I once knew before my nest became full of flying feathers and flapping wings, too quickly returning to empty and quiet and almost tidy.

Maybe my “babies” were already fifteen when they first arrived, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d waited a lifetime for their wide-eyed laughter and softhearted banter that made our house feel more like home. My heart grew as full as your nine-month belly as I rocked one and hugged the other before tucking them in each night. After their breathing grew heavy and steady, I’d whisper a prayer from their doorway, always dreading the day they’d fly away and be grown and gone out of sight.

All the plans and the clothes and the room decorations became Goodwill donations and memories and printed photos on my fridge reminding me how quickly things on earth can change. Yes, I see you first-time-momma. I know you. Once I even was you, cuz you know what? It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, how it happens, or how old your babies are when they land in your nest—when God puts that huge mama love in your heart, there is nothing and nobody who can change it or take it away.

You have a big adventure ahead—lots of twists and turns in life’s highway. Hold on. Chin up. Knees bent. Heart steady. You got this. And just remember, dear girl—all that stuff you feel deep, deep inside about your little one…your heavenly Father feels about YOU. When the going gets tough, let Him love you. Let Him hold you. Let Him keep all His promises until you are fully grown in Him. He will fight the forces that fight against your family and He will save your children. That’s God’s promise. He’s got a place prepared for you like nothing you can imagine. He will bring you and your children and your children’s children all the way home. Forever. Amen.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 NIV

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