“No Grits For You” (A Step 6 Story)

Step 6

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

 I am mean in the mornings. I don’t mean to be mean. I don’t want to be mean. But I am mean. Sometimes just a little mean. Sometimes big mean.

Before we married, I told my husband about it. At first he didn’t believe me. “How can someone so nice be mean?” he innocently inquired. After I explained the problem he said, “That doesn’t make sense. Our bodies store glycogen in the muscles and the liver. We are designed to be able to go without food for two or three days.”

Even after the I Do’s, he remained unconvinced. I think he doubted my experience – perhaps thought I was looking for excuses to be grumpy. It wasn’t long, though, before the cantankerous side of the bride arrived. Think honeymoon. Florida Keys. The morning after we have each devoured giant pieces of the best Key lime cheesecake EVER.

Honey wants to hang out on the porch before breakfast. (He likes to ease into the day, no rushing, no timepiece.) I wake up, down 24 ounces of water and start rummaging for breakfast, knowing my window between bride and bridezilla is fairly small. Honey calls me outside. Wants me to watch the sky with him, chill and chat with him, just BE. With him.

I’m torn. I want to. Really, I do. But I know how I’m feeling. I know that I need to eat food…and fast. I don’t want to ignore my new husband. It’s awesome to be wanted, just for my company. However, I don’t want to ruin the moment by snapping his innocent head off with my two-edged tongue, sharpened by a cheesecake hangover.

I open the refrigerator, already knowing it’s empty. I dig through bare cupboards searching for a jar of peanut butter or a leftover packet of Saltines from prehistoric guests. Nothing. Honey is calling to me. I’m churlish, wanting him to come inside and dress for Denny’s or Cracker Barrel. Even Dairy Queen, I-Don’t-Even-Care-Queen, I’ll eat anything. He doesn’t feel my urgency.

Suddenly I remember the Harry & David gift basket that had been delivered the day before. God bless the friends who sent this! Grabbing a forty-dollar gold-foil-wrapped pear and a handful of mixed nuts, I head outside to the sun-kissed morning and the man who wants to enjoy it with me. Whew, that was close.

Honey escaped my meanness that day, but now, nearly five years later he’s fully convinced that someone “so nice” can be mean. Often, the first thing he says in the morning is, “What can I get you for breakfast?”

Why am I sharing this with you? What does the above anecdote possibly have to do with Step 6? Don’t log off now…here’s the connection:

In Melody Beattie’s book, Codependents’ Guide To The Twelve Steps she says whether we call our issues “character defects,” protective devices or simply a need for healing because of woundedness, the result is the same: we all have SOMETHING WRONG. WITH US. THAT WE NEED TO BE READY TO RELEASE TO GOD.

My morning meanness has authentic roots. I can justify it medically. I can play it off, excuse it, or even ignore it. But that does not negate the fact that I may injure those close to me because I refuse to allow God to remove the character defects that prey on my blood sugar issues.

One of my issues is the codependent tendency to be controlling. It’s something God and I have been working on for some years now, but I often have to be reminded of Step 6 and become, once more, “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” That controlling thing happened again this morning, before breakfast, when I wanted to control what my husband got to eat.

On Sundays, I like to cook breakfast, not just inhale a bowl of cereal while straightening my hair like “normal” mornings. So, I got up and started preparing a frittata: onion, fresh tomatoes, avocado and kalamata olives. Mmmmm. Just as I popped the accompanying Ezekiel bread into the toaster, I called Honey to the table. He entered the kitchen asking, “Are there grits?”

No, there aren’t grits. I made a frittata.” (I knew I sounded slightly irritated, but I didn’t care. I’d been in the kitchen for 30 minutes and was ravenous and ready to eat. I just wanted him to eat what I’d made and hush.)

Wow! That looks amazing. Can I have some grits to go with it?” Honey asks.

“Why do you need grits? We have toast.”

I’m South African. I like corn grits with my eggs. You know that.”

I don’t care what you are. Just sit down and eat. I did not say that part out loud. What I did say was this: “If you want grits, you can make them.”

Wow. That wasn’t very nice. I regretted it as soon as it came out. Honey silently moved toward the pantry and got the grits. As he came close to me to open the microwave, I said, “I’m not going to say anything else until after I’ve eaten something, okay?” He agreed that that might be a good idea.

After the microwave had dinged, the prayer had been said, and half my frittata had been eaten, I swallowed my pride and asked Honey to pass the grits. He did, gently stating, “Just think of them as polenta. They are quite nice with the frittata.” We made up. And lived happily ever after. (At least until the next time my need to control crops up in a weak moment,Frittata and I allow it to win instead of immediately taking Steps 6 and 7.)

When Plan B Is Good

She had a plan. It was a vision of perfection. Warm water. Loving husband. Calm, quiet midwife. Natural birth. It was a good plan, one that has worked thousands of times. For others._DSC0466

Have you noticed that life on planet Earth does not always go as planned? Sometimes we must go to Plan B. It’s hard to relinquish Plan A. It hurts. But there comes a point when we realize that what we’ve been doing just is not working. We come to a place of decision.

From behind my camera lens, I observe her as she approaches that point. Frustration bursts from her lips as tears threaten in her voice.

“I want to go to the hospital,” she concedes. “I just can’t do this anymore. It’s not working. I’m worn out.”

It wasn’t working. There were reasons for the difficult labor, good reasons for going to the hospital. Kind Husband agreed. Wise, Gentle Midwife agreed. Exhausted, Brave Mommy gave up her perfect dream and went with Plan B.

Life is just like that. We have plans. Hopes. Dreams of perfection. When they don’t work out, sometimes we try to force them, pushing, breathing hard, bearing down on those around us – trying to control people and situations. Trying to create facades of “perfect” that aren’t true of our realities. It’s laborious.

Only when we meet denial in the mirror and look him in the eye can we say, “This is not working. I’m exhausted. I can’t do this anymore.” And that’s when our Kind, Gentle Jesus takes us in His arms and says, “It’s okay. You don’t have to. You have worked really, really hard. But it’s time for you to relax and allow Me to take over. I can get you where you need to go. Will you trust Me?

Melodie Beattie writes, “For those of us who have survived by controlling and surrendering, letting go may not come easily.” She says sometimes we even have to get to the point of saying, “’I don’t want it. I realize it’s important to me, but I cannot control obtaining that in my life. Now, I don’t care anymore if I have it or not. In fact, I’m going to be absolutely happy without it and without any hope of getting it, because hoping to get it is making me nuts – the more I hope and try to get it, the more frustrated I feel because I’m not getting it.’

“I don’t know why the process works this way,” she concludes, “I know only that this is how the process works for me. I have found no way around the concept of letting go.

We often can have what we really want and need, or something better. Letting go is part of what we do to get it.” The Language of Letting Go p. 215-216

God invites us to trust Him with all of our hearts, rather than trusting our own logical plans. He promises that He will direct the paths of our lives, if we will do that. It’s difficult to let go of Plan A. Even when Plan A hurts, when it is draining, when it’s not working out. I know. I hung on to my Plan A marriage for a long, long time – hoping, praying, pleading, begging, working on it from every angle imaginable, until I was limp with exhaustion. I had to let it go. Only when I opened my clenched fists and released it to God, was He able to begin working miracle after miracle to redeem the things I thought were lost.

Witnessing this sweet, young mother struggling to give birth, I connected with her when she gave up her Plan A. I saw the transition. She let go. She stopped fighting, stopped pushing, stopped forcing something that was beyond forcing._DSC0834

Then she took another kind of action, refusing to mourn long the death of her beautiful birthing center dream, she quickly prepared herself for the hospital. Looking forward, not backward, she bravely embraced the wheelchair, the bright lights, lab-coated physicians, IV’s, and epidural, (especially the epidural). Soon she birthed a handsome, healthy boy. With him at her breast, the candlelit birthing pool was far, far from her mind. Plan B was good.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV)

Are you trusting Him today?

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Is That Elephant Yours?

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?

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.

P.S. Here’s the link to Ann Voskamp’s blog where I got the quote: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/04/15-keys-to-parenting-what-no-one-tells-you/