Caught Off-Guard

“Our silence equals death with addiction. If nobody knows how many people are affected, that people they love are affected and people they work with, why should they care?” David Sheff in an interview with Will Godfrey, Editor-in-Chief of The Fix. See the entire interview here:

“Are you married?” Her brown eyes looked up at me inquisitively as we walked together through the labyrinth of middle school hallways.

Yes. Are you?” I reply, my own brown eyes smiling as I tease her. (She’s a petite sixth grader.)

Laughing softly she quietly fires her next question, right into my heart, “Do you have kids?” How could I know that her words would catch me off-guard? I get that question all the time. I’m used to easily responding with some sort of, “no.”  I stall.

What?” I force her to repeat herself, as I compose my response. It is simple.

No.” I shake my head.

You don’t want any kids?” She innocently presses. What does a substitute teacher say to an angelic, dark-haired sixth grader whom she has just met when the child has just scratched the scab off of her healing-from-the-inside-out soul? (Don’t puncture wounds always take the longest to heal?)

February is a difficult month for me. It holds the birth day of a child whom I neither bore nor raised, but fiercely love not one ounce less than if I had done both. Maybe the emotion I choked on today as I escorted a curious sixth grade girl to science class sneaked up on me because SHE, too is in the sixth grade this year. And SHE, too has big brown eyes and a gentle spirit. And HER birthday is just a few days from now. I still haven’t bought her anything.

I don’t know what to buy. What do sixth grade girls want for their 12th birthday? I remember what I wanted. I got it, too. A blue diary with a gold lock and teeny key. In it I recorded all my girlish hopes and hurts. I wish I still had it. Maybe it would give me insight into a twelve-year-old’s soul. I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a pre-teen. What it feels like to know that you are almost grown (or so you think), but still like to play dolls with your little sister when no one is looking. Do they even make diaries these days? Or do Facebook and Instagram document kids’ lives in posts and snapshots, no longer private to be opened only with a golden key, but wide wide open for all the peering world to see? Kind of like my heart tonight, I suppose.

I digress. What is the point of this post? Maybe it is simply this: we never know when we will have a head-on collision with the pain of our past. It can be a smell, an image, a simple phrase, or an ill-timed question. But our heavenly Father knows. And He promises to give us “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.” This afternoon, I felt His strength as I gently assured the inquiring little mind before leaving her with the science teacher.

Somehow I came away from that conversation emotional, but not angry. Guilt and blame used to come knocking my door down whenever I allowed my thoughts to turn to HER and to why SHE is not mine in the way I had once hoped SHE would be. (See chapters 7 & 8 of my upcoming book for what my story-telling hero, Mr. Paul Harvey, would call, “the-rest-of-the-story.”)

I totally get David Sheff when he states in his own heart-wrenching memoir Beautiful Boy that, “Worry and guilt and regret may serve a function – as a turbocharger of conscience – but in excess they are useless and incapacitating.” For years after losing HER to another family because of the illegal drug use in ours, I was emotionally incapacitated by guilt and regret. It was only by God’s sweet grace that I was able to put that darkness behind me. However, as anyone who has been wounded by the shrapnel that addiction sprays over entire families knows, there are triggers to the past that can evoke emotions that have to be dealt with over and over again.

It does get easier with time. Rather than come home and crawl into my bed, as I may have done in years past, I am writing this post in hope of helping another weary soul to find some peace. Joyce Meyer Ministries reminded me this week that, “God wants to heal us but then He doesn’t want us to forever be in recovery. He wants us to recover and then get busy helping somebody else.” I suppose His healing is exactly why I could happily hum on my way home from school today, “Great is Thy Faithfulness…Lord unto me.”

You can listen to one of my favorite versions of that hymn sung by Selah here:

Be Still And Know

Thank you, winter_can_wait, for another great image.

Thank you, winter_can_wait, for another great illustration. Love you, Sister.

“There’s no shortage of compelling memoirs by addicts, and the best of them offer revelations for anybody who loves one…And yet…with rare exceptions, we have not heard from those who love them. Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself. At my worst, I even resented Nic because an addict, at least when high, has a momentary respite from his suffering. There is no similar relief for parents or children or husbands or wives or others who love them.” David Sheff in his painful memoir beautiful boy, a father’s journey through his son’s addiction.

It hurts to love those who are destroying themselves. It hurts to watch the slow disappearance of who they were and frightening to see the apparition of who they are becoming. One doesn’t want to believe the changes, cannot accept the reality that the one they love is no longer lovely or lovable. Yet love is a choice and as loved ones, we continue to choose to love the unlovable, even though they begin to do the unthinkable. It hurts. Bad. And we long to fix it.

In fact, we can destroy ourselves on our quest to fix the one we love. We can fall into such a frenzy of fixing, enabling, rescuing, and saving that we begin to co-dependently exist for the sole purpose of keeping another from ruining their life. I know. I lived in those trenches for years.

In my quest for authenticity as I write, I keep looking back at journals and scribbles from years past. One particular verse in Psalms keeps cropping up, over and over again through the years I wrote or highlighted or underlined. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew word for God in that passage is Elohim. The name first used for God in Genesis 1; the Creator of the heavens and earth. It is He who invites us to be still and know Him, because only Elohim can create order from the chaos of our lives.

This past weekend I attended a women’s retreat. Guess what the Psalm the speaker, Dr. Vicki Coe, used? Yes. Psalm 46:10. “Be Still…” In the notes I took from her seminar I wrote, “Stillness is an action. Let go. Release. To let yourself become weak. To surrender. To abide.” Yes, Lord, I pray. It has been seven years since I said goodbye to living with a chemically dependent spouse. But here I am trying to write this memoir from a place of authenticity, and am scrambling to remember what it was like to live in utter chaos. I can only say, “Thank You, God!” That it is difficult to remember. That I am having to rely on my journal and the memories of family members to help me write the crazy that used to seem so normal to me.

In my quest for understanding, I am reading about the journeys of others. David Sheff’s memoir is a poignant, painful read. My sister tried to get me to swallow it when it first came out. I could not. It was too close to home for me then. But now, with some distance, I can go there to see what the loved one of an addict writes that is so compelling it becomes a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It has similar ingredients to my story and, if you also love an addict, to yours. We all live similar hells. Some of us are just better at putting ours down on paper than others. My goal is not to make some kind of a Bestsellers list. I don’t think that was David Sheff’s motive either.

Me handwriting Chapter 8 while on vacation in Croatia last October

Handwriting Chapter 8 while on vacation in Croatia last October

My goal, like his, is to tell my story in such a way that others can find a shred of hope to cling to in the midst of their chaos and heartache.

The biggest difference in our stories is that my hope has a name. Jesus. I long for Him to become the hope of my readers, too. That is why I share my own story of walking through the valley of the shadow of drug addiction. The shadow is not the addiction itself, but it can easily create coping addictions in those who love the individual with a debilitating primary addiction, like chemical dependency.  I pray that my experience will provide a sense of fellowship among Christians who are suffering with this ugly beast that used to only be in “the world” and not so much in the church.

Although my life today is completely removed from what it was seven years ago, Psalm 46:10 still applies to me. I’m busy. Too busy at times. No, I’m no longer trying to save an addict from himself, but I am trying to do a lot of “good things” for God. This women’s retreat weekend was good for me. I needed the reminder to “Be still. Let go. Release, Surrender. Abide.” Beth Moore puts it so nicely in her book, Why Godly People Do Ungodly Things p. 123, “Sometimes we have to walk away from the deafening demands of our chaotic lives to inhale His.”

Whatever valley you are walking through, let me encourage you today to “walk away.” Find a quiet place to inhale God. To abide. To find strength. To let yourself become weak and to release it all to Him. Be still and KNOW that He is God in your life today.

*If you or someone you know loves a meth addict, you may find Sheff’s memoir a tool for your survival toolbelt. Be prepared to overlook language not typically used by Christians.

*I think this song by The Fray pretty much sums up this post.