Keeping It Real

Shame slams me like a hurricane, instantly eroding every ounce of pretense as my sixteen-year-old son’s quiet words silence my verbal hailstorm. “Somebody hears this.” He nods toward our open door. I nod at my neighbor across the street (whom I haven’t even met yet), frozen on her ladder with Christmas-light-laden arms mid-air as she stares. I am mortified.

Closing the door I continue arguing with the other taller-than-me-now teen folded into a too-small beanbag. “I doesn’t want to go.” Arms crossed, chin set, resistance evident in every visible body part, he waits for my reaction. Resisting the compulsive urge to correct his newly acquired English, I shovel guilt, thick and cold as the December snow his friends sludge through on their way to school back in Ukraine.

“If you don’t come, nobody comes. Then we waste all the money we spent on tickets. Is that what you want?”dinomomHi, I’m Juliet. I struggle with codependency that manifests in perfectionism and control. I have relapsed. Badly.

My addiction to control is so out of control that my whole household blew up (not literally, but nearly). The above incident happened a month ago on the morning I had planned to take my sons to Universal Studios as a reward for great behavior in school and on the four-day road trip we took to promote my book at a recording studio in Illinois. (It’s a looooong drive from Florida to Illinois. Just sayin’. They totally earned Universal.) Sadly, since that morning I’ve had multiple trips backward into my ugly codependent default as I’ve tried to find my feet as a new mom of teens.

Week after week for years I’ve repeated Step 1 and it’s companion scripture in my Celebrate Recovery group:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18

Week after week for years I’ve felt fairly good about my progress. Yes, I messed up sometimes. Yes, God (and people) forgave me, and yes, I grew from each backwards step into codependency’s predictable patterns of control. But lately…I’ve seen ugly glimpses of who I was a decade ago. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has witnessed my dark side. I don’t think my family is scarred for life, but trust will definitely take time to rebuild.

I am still broken in hidden places. The pressure cooker in my soul exploded last Sabbath as I sobbed on my bedroom floor after yet another confrontation. Embarrassed by Friday’s outbursts that prompted a late-night intervention by our teen savvy friends; frustrated by the fact that they got our sons to talk rather than tantrum and even a little jealous of the honest communication that commenced between them, I poured my heart out to Jesus. He showed me it wasn’t any of those things that was breaking my spirit. He showed me that I was projecting the emotional pain I experienced in my first marriage onto my kids. I was allowing their words and actions to cut too deep. I let them trigger my deepest wound – rejection. I need a thicker skin. For crying out loud – they are KIDS!

I want everything to be Christmas card perfect, but it’s not. img_3060In the three months we’ve been home from Ukraine, it’s­ been more like Christmas-baking-messy. Sticky-messy like when you spill flour on the counter top and try to use a damp dishcloth to wipe it up. Messy like when your bowl is too shallow for the electric mixer and you spackle your backsplash with cookie dough. Or messy like what happens when you and your Honey, six-years-married and childless, adopt unrelated foreign teenage boys and try to find your feet as a new family.

My Sis texted me some advice the other day. It’s pretty good stuff. I’m not sure where she got it, but she’s not new to parenting and I believe she’s right. Here’s what Sis said in regard to the unwanted behavior we’ve experienced in our household lately, mine included:

“Behavior has to be compartmentalized. Behavior never determines whether or not you are loved. Behavior does not necessarily define the heart. It is a reaction, a trigger that demonstrates that a child (or a person) does not have coping skills. Behavior does not determine whether or not we are part of this family. God does not love us based on our behavior. He demonstrates unconditional love, and it’s not performance-based. Everyone has a choice. We can choose to love, despite behavior. We can choose to stay, despite behavior. We can only control ourselves, not others. We can say to our kids, ‘I choose you, despite your behavior today. I’m not leaving, despite your behavior.’”

We pressed the reset button as a family. Today is a new day. Today I choose love. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose hope. I choose to stop being discouraged by the unrealistic expectations of myself, and others. I choose to be humble and apologetic. I choose to stop acting like a maniac and scaring my Honey, my kids, and my new neighbors.

I choose to say, “I love you;” even if I never hear the words reciprocated. I choose to be a mom; even when it hurts that they don’t call me mom. I choose to be real and to let myself be loved in the ways that they choose, not the ways I expect. Because, like the Velveteen Rabbit in that timeless children’s story, I become more real when somebody loves me. I just can’t dictate when they love me or how they love me.

Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. When you’re real, you can trust that God’s love is enough to sustain you when fickle human hearts let you down. When you’re real, you can give grace to those who are learning how to walk in His footsteps and grace to yourself when you misstep. When you’re real you can blog again, even though you don’t have much to say except, “Keep coming back.” Come back to where you were before you took that wrong turn. Come back to the heart of the One who understands your heart. Come back to the basics. Step 1. “I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors,” but God is powerful. I don’t have to go back. I’m not who I was. Today, I am a new creation. I am free to love freely.office“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Painkiller Addiction – The Problem I Never Knew I Had

I‘d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Mel Harbin, to our community. Mel reached out to me via email a few weeks ago and shared her story. I invited her to share it with you. Sometimes it’s easy to point fingers at the “hardcore” addictions and to downplay the ones that affect soccer moms, educators and clergy. If we have a God-shaped void in our lives, it can easily get filled by things that will drag us down. Thank you, Mel, for your vulnerability.

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My name is Mel, and I’m a drug addict. But I don’t fit the picture you’ve probably formed in your mind. I’m one of the silent majority – a perfectly presentable addict with a job, a family, and a house in the leafy suburbs. I work in an office, I get coffee with my friends, I exchange polite small talk with other moms at the school gates – but I’m an addict nonetheless.

I’m a painkiller addict, you see.woman and drugs Society prefers to think of addiction as something which only affects a stereotyped few – addicts, we imagine, are insane, wild-eyed, filthy creatures who live beneath bridges. It couldn’t happen to nice, middle-class people like us, could it? In fact, the majority of drug addicts within this nation are ‘people like us’. Prescription drug abuse is an enormous problem – death by prescription drug overdose kills more people per year than heroin and cocaine combined, yet still society is unwilling to change its very fixed ideas about substance abusers. It’s this which led to my downfall. I simply didn’t think that a mom of two like me could be an addict – I didn’t fit the pattern!

Slippery Slope

My descent into addiction began very simply. I had strained my back during my first pregnancy, and my second pregnancy messed it up for good. This was my own fault. Rather than relaxing while pregnant, I took pride in powering on with my work right up until I went into labor. This is not an uncommon trait within painkiller addicts – often we start taking them in the first place because we’re simply too driven. Rather than slow down when ill, we pop a pill. After my son was born, I was prescribed Vicodin to ease my excruciating back pain. I was given strict dosage instructions, to which I didn’t give a whole amount of thought, if I’m honest. I just kind of assumed that I would stick roughly to the dosage, and all would be well.

Addiction Sets In

Vicodin was great. Not only did it numb my back pain, it seemed to fill something of an existential void. I’d pop a Vicodin and my pain would disappear, taking with it a previously unregistered issue which had been gnawing at the back of my mind. In retrospect I can see that this ‘void’ was a spiritual one – my soul’s yearning for God. At the time I just dismissed it as stress. Without really noticing it, I began to rely on Vicodin for both pain and ‘stress relief’. I was just as driven as ever, determined to overachieve in everything, despite having a lot on my plate. I was trying to be the perfect wife to my husband, trying to care for my two young sons, and trying to advance my career at the same time. Vicodin – for a while – facilitated my unhealthy perfectionism. It masked the stress, masked the pain, masked everything. It wasn’t long before I began to gradually up my dosage  – telling myself that my back was bad today and I needed the extra help, or that I could use a boost to get myself through this or that meeting.

The End And The Beginning

DSC_9489Warning bells should have rung when I began to feel sick after missing Vicodin doses, or when I took to visiting different doctors to supplement my prescription, or when I spent my mornings driving for miles to collect prescriptions at different pharmacies. But it took my youngest son – by then aged three – to reveal the extent of my problem. My husband found him in the process of trying to get the ‘candy’ out of a pot of hidden Vicodin – unsuccessfully (praise be to God).

My husband was already concerned about me. Due entirely to the effects of the Vicodin I was taking, I was suffering from wild mood swings, and behaving increasingly irrationally. I was falling to pieces, and both my family and my career were suffering. Upon seeing our son shaking the Vicodin bottle, things began to add up for my husband. He searched the house, and found that I’d stashed Vicodin in several hiding places. When I got home from work, he confronted me. It was an ugly scene. While he was reasonable and calm, my Vicodin-addicted brain would rather that I broke up with my husband than that I broke up with Vicodin.

So I went into meltdown. I screamed, I cried, I threatened to leave him. “You’re an addict,” my husband responded. “You need help.” I denied it hysterically. But, as the now familiar withdrawal symptoms began to make themselves felt, his words began to sink in.

An Ongoing Process

I am now ‘clean’ of Vicodin, and have been for some years. With the love and support of my husband and sons I’ve been able to ride out the rough times and get my life back on track. To this day I don’t know how much I was taking – I just know that that I’d pop a pill whenever I began to feel even slightly off color. This is not a healthy way to deal with one’s problems.

Finding God was a major help. Learning to rely on the unswerving, unconditional love of God rather than constantly having to prove myself through perfectionism was a huge relief, and caused me to make major changes to my life. I now ‘let go and let God’ when I feel pressured, rather than reaching for a chemical solution. I am happier, and our family is rock solid. I do have some concerns about the future of my boys – they say that addiction runs in the family – but I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep them safe from the scourge that nearly destroyed me.  I will certainly try to ensure that they never experience that same spiritual ‘void’ which proved so influential in my own descent into Vicodin hell.

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The journey to relative wellness has been a long one for Mel Harbin. She’s in long term recovery from a painkiller addiction and taking each day as it comes. She now writes for a living and is concentrating on helping others who have ended up on the same path as she has.