Compassion squeezed me until the tears spilled out. The room was a small space filled with big pain. Palpable pain. I was eye to eye with you, my target audience. You – who quietly read my blog while your loved one sleeps “it” off in the other room. You – who nod in understanding when a chord of truth resonates with your story. You – who carry on with your calling, despite the ache in your souls as you long for your loved ones to be free. I saw YOU last weekend. You simultaneously broke my heart and made me proud.
Heather Kopp, in her memoir Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With A Christian Drunk, boldly claims, “…people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.”As we rubbed shoulders together, I understood what she meant. Your “game faces” melted under fluorescent lights as I shared my story. A silent, silken thread of shared brokenness wove its way through the room, making us soul sisters, regardless of our differences.
I’m thankful for you, for you represent every woman I write and speak to: every woman whose heart is heavy with the burden of someone else’s addiction. I knew you were out there, holding your heads up while your hearts break, serving others, as your own lives seem to unravel at the seams.
I’m proud of you… for being brave enough to attend a breakout session with an elephant in the room. You didn’t ignore it. You didn’t deny its presence. You swallowed your pride and spit out the seeds of denial so they could no longer take root in your lives. You embraced the pain and allowed your facades to crack as I held the mirror for Jesus as He turned your eyes toward the truth that you are not alone in your suffering. He is right there with you in every ounce of disappointment as you pour yourselves out for someone who cannot love you as they love themselves (because self-love is something addicted people have very little of). You wept as you allowed my story to penetrate your private hells and give you some survival tools and some hope.
Thank you for allowing me into your suffering. Thank you for the hugs at the door and the encouraging words of affirmation. Thank you for putting flesh on the souls of the women I’ve written my memoir for. I loved being able to share my heart with you. I loved connecting with you. I love you. As Kathryn Stockett wrote in, The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” And you is beautiful!
I read Ann Voskamp’s blog post today. It’s entitled, “When You Feel Wounded By Your Own.” She says, “It is the wounded ones who make us heal.” I agree with her. When we share our wounds, our sorrows, our suffering, something healing happens. Healing takes place in community. Seeds of hope are sown in community. Sorrow is divided in safe, healing communities like Celebrate Recovery or Al-Anon. Please find one. Or, create one. Allow God the space in your busy life to finish the good work He has begun in you.
“He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!” (Isaiah 25:8, NLT)
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.