Happy Codependent Mother’s Day

“Oh Julie, you have rug burns on your heart.” Eight months after boarding a homebound plane in Ukraine with my Honey and our newly adopted teenagers, I’m crying on the phone to my friend, searching for ways to describe the festering ache in my soul. I wince as her words trigger the memory of oozing rug burns sticking to my pantyhose. I was an athlete thirty years ago, but my knees still carry the scars.

Our high school gymnasium doubled as a multi-purpose building for many student activities, including church services, so the “Lady Tartans” played basketball and volleyball on carpet. Yes, CARPET! Visiting teams eyed our court in disbelief during pre-game warm-ups. I’m certain the Tartans wielded slightly more than a home game advantage. We were used to our unusual turf’s effect on bouncing balls and the teenage knees of scrappy girls who played to win.

Rug burns rake off a person’s protective skin, creating wounds that seep blood or pinkish semi-clear liquid. Time eventually creates a thin crust over each burn’s surface. When my team played two home games in a row, there was no time for our rug burns to heal before we again sacrificed knobby teen knees for rebounds or game points. I learned the hard way what happens when rug burns get layered—yellow white pus forms under the scab and oozes out when pressure is applied to the wound. Double rug burns are painfully slow to heal.

“Yes. Yes, I do have rug burns on my heart,” I reply. My friend understands rug burns. She was a Lady Tartan, too. She’s also lived a life story similar to mine.

After we stop talking, I turn off the bedside lamp and lay awake long into the night. I’m alone. My family is home. I’m traveling—sharing my testimony of redemption and restoration, sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction.small plane

Do you even believe your own message? I’m stunned by the thought, as it strikes deep in my core.

Of course I do. But, I’m hurting and I don’t know how to fix this, God. How did we get here? What could I have done differently? What do we do now? Why don’t they let me love them anymore?

I toss questions toward heaven with the fervency of a baseball-pitching machine, not expecting Anyone to really answer.

I’m still sore from the sting of the H-word my son spewed just days before I left for this trip. “He doesn’t mean it,” the well-meaning people say. “Don’t take it personally.” Not helpful.

He felt hatred towards me. That’s why he said it. Of course he meant it. He also means it when he says he doesn’t want me to hug him or touch him. When he forbids me to say, “I love you” or to demonstrate any connection or affection at all. He means it. And it’s mean. And it burns my heart raw.

Maybe I could blow it off, recognize that it’s coming from a place of deep pain and trauma-triggered fear. Maybe it wouldn’t fester so bad if that were the only wound. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s my other boy-turned-man-overnight. Trying his wings, testing his limits, telling Honey and me all kinds of things we never wanted to hear. Building a wall a mile high and six feet thick to keep us distanced from his heart.

Here you are, talking on TV about recovery from codependency like you’ve got all the answers, when just yesterday you relapsed into fear-based control and tried to be somebody’s Holy Spirit. Again. Multitude of Counselors

The enemy taunts me with half-truths. Tries to silence me with guilt and shame. I cringe. It’s true. I project my pain from the past onto my kids when their rejection triggers old wounds that still ooze pus and blood. Wounds that stick to my emotional Spanx and rip the skin right off my soul, leaving me tender and vulnerable.

I am not healed yet!

There. I’ve said it. I’m not a perfect pastor’s wife, mother, daughter, friend or person. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, especially when pointed out by those who know me best. When I am afraid, I try to control circumstances or people. When angry, I punish with silence. When I am rejected, I tend to withhold affection for fear of further rejection. Sometimes I isolate. Or use guilt to manipulate. When I don’t know what else to do, I work, work, work. I am a mess. I need Jesus. Every moment. Of every day. I cannot do this on my own.

In preparation for taping this televised program, I reviewed the first Step of the Twelve Steps of Codependents Anonymous: “I am powerless over other people.” Once more, I am humbly reminded that I cannot make “minding other people’s business” my way of life, (even if those other people are my own family). I cannot put off my own good by determining to control, advise or guide others. I must surrender my compulsive drive to “fix the unfixable.” I am not anyone’s Jesus. By God’s grace, I will choose (once again) to ask myself two questions before jumping into control or rescue mode:

  1. Did this person ask me for this help?
  2. What does this have to do with God’s will for me?

Father in heaven, I choose to release my sons and the time frame for their emotional healing and spiritual growth to Your care. I choose to focus on my own spiritual progress and maintain healthy boundaries in all my relationships. I will not sacrifice my personal needs to meet the needs of another person, nor will I resort to unhealthy giving or serving from a place of fear or manipulation. I will allow You, God to be God in my life and in the lives of my sons. Thank You for your grace and your mercy, which is beautifully new every morning. Thank you for Your ability to heal the layered rug burns on all of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

codependency lovingonpurpose

What about you, dear Friend? Are you expending valuable emotional, financial and physical energy rescuing, enabling or persecuting someone whose life is out of control because of a chemical or other addictive dependency? Are you allowing fear to drive your actions as you try to save a drowning loved one? Have you lost your sense of self by allowing your boundaries to be pushed back or knocked down completely? Do you need to take CODA’s Step 1 and admit that you are powerless over another person and that your life has become unmanageable? If so, it’s not too late to come out of denial. Take that Step. Admit it to yourself. Tell Jesus. Confide in a friend. Begin your journey to wholeness today. You are worth it! You are so totally worth it.

Unnamed River

“When was your last period?”

The back of her lab coat is a canvas. I paint the word picture I think she wants to hear.

“Last month-ish,” I respond.

When was my last period? I can’t remember. I don’t know. I’m sure it was sometime around the holidays.

I sit still, trying not to crinkle the white paper strip that keeps the exam table sterile. Trying not to think too hard about the fact that I really shouldn’t count that pathetic spotting as a “period.” I haven’t purchased feminine products in months —maybe a year.

This routine physical will provide one more piece of paper to add to a bulging green folder with “Adoption Paperwork” inked on the tab. One more piece of the puzzle that is our dossier (pronounced dos-ee-ey) “a collection or file of documents on the same subject, especially a complete file containing detailed information about a person or topic.” Yeah, I looked that up on Dictionary.com. Never heard the term before “The Boys” entered our world.

Those boys, dropped on Honey and me like two teenage time bombs. Boys on the cusp of manhood yet trapped in the emotional stages of their earliest trauma. Boys who didn’t ask to have addiction rip their families apart at tender ages or for institutions to rear them and release them into the world as adults when they are really only children with man-sized feet. Boys who begged us with their eyes to let them join our family as we hugged them goodbye after a fun-filled summer. The ones who tried our last nerve and turned our orderly grown-up world, topsy-turvy. The very ones who taught us to love two strangers who didn’t even speak our language or know our Jesus. Those boys.

Just as I emerged from last winter’s fog of denial about the true age of my uterus and began to grieve the death of my dream to birth a baby, we got that phone call about summer orphan hosting. Prayers I hadn’t yet prayed were answered as Honey and I navigated life as surrogate summer parents. I didn’t expect to choose love. I thought we were doing a favor for a friend. I thought hello and goodbye would just be words we would say at the beginning and end of a two month time period. I never knew they would birth emotions that would steal my breath and fill my heart so full of joy and pain and hope and fear and all the things a mother must feel when she realizes a young life depends upon her to make an eternal difference in his world.

So now my mama dream is nearly reality. In a few weeks Honey and I will board a Ukraine plane and go to court in a foreign country. Overnight we will become a family of four without ever needing diapers, bottles or car seats. We will bypass the “terrible twos,” and the preschool blues. No first day of kindergarten, tooth fairy nights or middle school fights. We will enter parenthood at the age many of our peers celebrate grandkids. No onramp. Our kids will enter our world with their palms out for the car keys and their eyes on some cute girl across the aisle. Our lives will never be the same. Ever. And that’s okay.

I should be thrilled. And I am.

(You know there’s a “but” coming, right?) Yeah…It’s a “but” I’ve been thinking about lately. A “but” I’ve been trying to put into words for the past three weeks as I’ve tried and failed to finish this post. For a writer who loves to find the perfect words, I’m at a loss. Some unnamed rivers run deeper than mere words can convey.

Something happened today to help me name my river. I held a young mama as she burst at the seams and burst into tears. Her body cradles a baby boy about to be born and her heart grieves the baby girl she buried just one month and one day ago. Her amber eyes bore both joy and pain as she spoke her children’s names. I felt her anguish filling my car as we drove to the place she calls home. Life and death are the cocktail mix she’s been forced to sip for the past few weeks.

Words again eluded me as she whispered the details of her story. I listened. Fumbled for something, anything to say to take the edge off her pain. I prayed. I walked her to her door and hugged her goodbye. Then I wept on my way home.

How, God, do we live in this world where the joys and sorrows are simultaneous? Where the absolute agony of one person’s loss sits sandwiched between two Facebook memes and we scroll right past in search of a post we can “like” or “share? How do we hold our heads up when our hearts are bowed down with unnamed grief? And how do we celebrate the lives we have when our souls ache for the lives we’ve lost? Or the lives our wombs cannot form and cannot hold?

I pondered my prayer, remembering my friend whose father’s death day came on her own February birthday, and the one who quietly mourned her second miscarriage last week. And the lady I prayed with yesterday, whose face, half-eaten with cancer, is so marred I can barely recognize her smile beneath the remains of her nose and oozing eye socket.

No funerals are held for the death of dreams. No sympathy cards or flowers sent. No stones to mark the site where we lay that grief to rest. We quietly breathe in and exhale the pain of those dark days when hope is our only light.

Our river may be the sister whose addiction keeps her from being “auntie” to our babies, the father who cannot stay sober long enough to truly celebrate his daughter’s wedding, or the brother doing time for hanging out with the wrong crowd. We think of the new mother who discovers her husband’s pornography addiction and the momma who labors hard only to have her babies placed up for adoption because she chooses a “better life” for them. We love deeply and walk in compassion for those who hurt alongside us in this world, though they may never know that inner ache we carry.

There is Someone, though, who knows my unnamed river. And yours. One who walks through the searing fire with us. One who is never a spectator to our pain, but a participant in our suffering.

I love The Living Bible’s version of Isaiah 63:9:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and he personally saved them. In his love and pity he redeemed them and lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Place your name where the pronouns are. Personalize these words and say them aloud. Make it present tense. Make it real. “In all _______________________’s affliction, God is afflicted, and He personally saves me. In His love and pity, he redeems ________________________________ and will carry _________________________through all the years.”

This is how our Jesus loves us. He feels everything we feel. He is walking through this with us, carrying us when the river gets too deep. I can tell Him how my heart grieves the death of my dream even as I accept His gift of two beautiful sons who will redeem those dreams I thought were lost. His healing love will flow through me to my boys and to my husband and I will move forward in faith toward the life God has planned for me.

Will you do the same with your river of pain?

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader. Please comment below, or email me at info@julietvanheerden.com. Something tells me this post will resonate with some of you. Let’s connect. Pray. Celebrate hope together.

Here’s a link to the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs: I Am Not Alone

Kari Jobe ~ sharing this song Live.

In This Family We…

“In this family we talk about things that bother us. We resolve conflicts from the day before we go to bed.”

I speak into my phone as the Google Translate App turns my words into Russian and spits them back at me in an Eastern European accent.

“Does anyone in this family need to apologize to anyone?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for bed. And for kitchen,” says the boy whose bottom bunk looks like two warthogs wrestled there before breakfast; the same boy who ignored his kitchen duties, choosing instead to watch TV.

“Thank you. I forgive you. Will you please make better choices tomorrow?”

My eyes scan the faces around our dinner table as my thick-accented Google twin barks from inside my iPhone. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“André, I’m sorry bike,” offers the boy who stormed out of the house, disappearing on his bike for twenty minutes after Honey declined the boy’s umpteenth request for a device on which to access VK (Facebook’s European equivalent).

“I forgive you. I apologize for speaking abruptly to you,” says my Honey to the boy whose head is now resting on the dining room table.

“It’s okay,” the fifteen-year-old speaks softly without looking up.

I wait. Silence.

Where’s my apology? I’m sure I deserve one for the attitude I dealt with when I insisted the rap music disappear from the radio. And for the refusal to acknowledge my presence when I knocked on the closed bedroom door. And for the cold shoulder I keep getting from the teen with his head down.

“What, Lord, can I say to clear the air between us? My heart beats heavy with the weight of the unnamed wall separating that boy and me. Please help me.”

I cry out to God as I silently stare at my bedroom ceiling, wondering why the boy avoided my usual bedtime hug for the second night in a row. I never “parented” teens before two Ukranian orphans showed up in our lives just seven weeks ago. As a friend said, “You had no onramp. You just hit the highway at 70 miles per hour.”

I recall the baby steps Bike Boy has taken toward trust as he’s allowed his guarded heart to open in my direction. A recent RipStik (think skateboard minus two wheels) accident forced us into the Emergency Room, both of us white with nausea as he clung to me while the doctor sutured his elbow.

The following day, during a car ride through the Tennessee mountains, he lay his head on my shoulder in a rare gesture of affection.

Even Monday, when we waited in Urgent Care to have his stitches removed, and I asked, “Do you want me to sit beside you?” he responded with an affirmative nod and allowed me to perch next to him on the paper covered exam bed. I put my arm around him as he winced while the physician’s assistant “softened up the scab” so she could “find the stitches.”Stitches B&W

I think about his aloof behavior today, the way he wore his sunglasses, even indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. How he flopped onto the sofa before evening worship with body language that needed no Google App to convey the message he was sending.

I’m stumped, Lord. I don’t know why he’s behaving this way and I cannot make him talk. Is it guilt that drives this boy-turned-armored-car? Shame? Fear? You know I tried to be as kind as possible when I had to confront him about that poor choice he made. I told him about grace and forgiveness. I demonstrated unconditional love toward him, even as You taught me that Your work in me is still unfinished.”

I remember my own relapse into codependent denial as the product of Bike Boy’s deception accidentally dropped onto the living room floor for a millisecond before he scooped it into the pile of stuff he carried from our vacation-laden minivan.

That can’t be what I think it is. Well-worn denial pathways in my brain instantly re-opened as I searched for a reason to explain away the evidence of deceit. Our eyes met for a moment as he fluidly gathered the contraband and disappeared into his bedroom.

My broken brain automatically dismissed the facts my eyes had witnessed – just like it had over the course of my twelve previously married years to a chemically dependent spouse. I defaulted into denial and continued to unpack as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I allowed the child to believe he had gotten away with his sin.

“God, I thought You had healed me of those wounds,” I prayed from my pillow the following morning when He woke me early to “discuss” the incident. “Why would I ignore an elephant in the room? Again! After all we’ve been through together? Haven’t I achieved enough healing in my recovery to confront that deception in the moment? What damage have I done in pretending I didn’t see what we both know I saw? I don’t understand!”

That brief interaction threw me emotionally backward into a life I thought I was healed from. A life of covering for a chemically dependent narcissist who could convince me that my own senses were wrong and he was telling the truth about everything from where he’d been all weekend to what happened to his paycheck. A life I spent three years writing about in my recently published book Same Dress, Different Day. A life I no longer want to control me.

“Help me, God. I cannot allow this child to be a victim of my past. I must speak the truth to him in love. I will confront him about what I saw.”

With a tremble in my voice, I speak into my phone. “I need to talk with you about something important. And I need for you to be perfectly honestly with me. Okay?”

I watch his eyes as my Russian counterpart repeats my plea. They meet mine for a second. “Okay,” he responds in English.

“Please tell me about…”

This time, as Google Translate replays my words, I can almost see the veil fall over his face. It hides his eyes. Guards his expression. Builds a fortress between us.

I persevere. “Don’t be afraid. We all make poor choices sometimes. But we all must also face the consequences of those choices. Let’s just talk about it so we can make it right and put it behind us.”

Silence.

It took the help of another, more human translator to get to the bottom of the issue. But we did it. And I stood on the sidelines witnessing genuine remorse and relief as the wrong was made right again.

Somehow, though, I continue to be walled out. The food I offer is refused. The affection denied. The interaction limited. It’s hard not to take it personally. It hurts.

I’m reminded of my Heavenly Father. Of how I respond to His unconditional love with similar disdain. Of how guilt destroys our intimacy and how my own brokenness prevents me from allowing full access to His heart. This one experience with a broken child reveals to me a glimpse of My Father’s love. Despite my sin, He loves. Despite my rejection, he loves. Despite my fear, he loves. Despite my relapse into self-protective behaviors, HE LOVES.

“God, help me to love like You today. Help me to trust that You work ALL things together for the good of those who Love you and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust that You will break the ice with this child and restore our relationship before he gets on that airplane back to Ukraine. Amen.”

If you are interested in orphan hosting, please consider Project 143.

If you have hosted, fostered, or adopted a child you may be interested in the following links on Reactive Attachment Disorder:

http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-truth-about-adoption-one-year-later

http://www.reactiveattachment-disorder.com/2009/07/parenting-children-with-reactive.html?m=1

http://www.theadoptioncounselor.com/pdf/Attachment%20pamphlet.pdf

I Saw You. You Are Beautiful.

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.Cross 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!Hibiscus

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)

(Find Ann’s entire post here: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2015/03/when-you-feel-wounded-by-your-own/ )

Hostility Anyone? (Denial Series #5 of 5)

This post is my fifth and final in a series on DENIAL.Hostility

I’ve written about how we intellectualize (https://julietvanheerden.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/stepping-out-of-denial/), how we minimize and avoid in order to deny our truth (https://julietvanheerden.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/denial-baby-denial/), and how we blame others, rather than take responsibility for our situation (https://julietvanheerden.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/yoga-pants-you-are-not-my-bff/).

I’ve invited you to join me in unveiling the mirror of truth, and taking the first of 12 Steps: Admitting our powerlessness over our compulsions, obsessions and addictions, and that (in some area) our lives have become unmanageable. Having done so, perhaps we are finally ready come all the way out of denial and move on to Step 2. We’ll do that next time. For now, we have one more area of denial that hasn’t been addressed.

Today’s post takes a different slant. It’s written for those of us who have loved or lived with someone whose denial is destroying them. We’ve witnessed the up-close-and-personal ugliness of addiction – in our spouse, our child, a parent, or a friend. If we’ve tried to intervene, we may have been on the receiving end of their hostility. Hostility is denial when used by someone caught or confronted with problem behavior. It manifests as anger, lack of communication, or verbal and physical abuse (adapted from the “What is Abuse” session of the Door of Hope http://www.careforcelifekeys.org/pages.asp?id=53).

Denial is considered the “hallmark of addiction.” It runs rampant in chemically and co-dependent families. Darlene Lancer, MFT says, “Children of addicts often deny that their parents’ problems affect them, believing that leaving home, or the addict parent’s recovery put an end to their problems. They don’t realize that they’re still affected, nor [do they] think about their painful childhood. Even if they only had an alcoholic grandparent, this made their parent codependent, and as a result they’ve been affected as well” (Codependency for Dummies p. 65).

I’d like to extend what Ms. Lancer says to include parents and spouses who pretend that they are not affected by the self-destructive choices their kids and lovers make. We pull our heads into our self-protective turtle shells and close the door when we get “snapped at” by someone who is hiding behind a wall of hostility. If you’re like me, even a little snap inflicts emotional pain. Sometimes we snap back. Other times, we retreat and allow the person to continue their destructive behavior unchecked.

I remember trying to figure out how to broach the subject of my former spouse’s obvious relapse after several months of “clean” living after his release from a live-in treatment facility. He wasn’t volunteering any information, but the “red flags” the addiction specialist had warned me to watch for all waved vigorously. I wanted to catch him in the act, or in a lie, or with some kind of hard evidence because I knew that he would be hostile towards me and manipulate his way out of the confrontation if I had nothing concrete.

For weeks we played cat and mouse. I tried to trap him, but he weaseled out of every accusation. I remember calling my sister to tell her what I’d seen, begging her to write down what I said because I was sure that he would get me to believe something different. I didn’t even trust my own sober senses. I needed a witness to my life so that I would know I wasn’t crazy. Have you been there?

Denial sometimes causes people to express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways. While the addicted person denies his/her problem, responsibility, or behavior, and deflects intervention with hostility, we can respond with hostility of our own – getting caught in a firestorm over dirty clothes, unpaid bills, or other minor issues, while denying the deep emotional or physical devastation of their addiction.

What can we do? Living in a hostile environment eventually takes a toll on every aspect of our lives. Watching our loved ones destroy themselves is traumatic. Admitting that we have no control over their hostility and denial is our crucial First Step. Finding a safe place to express ourselves and be heard when our loved one cannot hear us is also vital. There are safe places. Al-Anon is one of them. Yes, it’s for family members of alcoholics, but is also beneficial for anyone who loves an addicted person. If you’d like a sample of the type of community Al-Anon is, here’s a seven-minute podcast: http://al-anonfamilygroups.org/TheSteps/using-step-one.

If you find yourself consistently meeting hostility with hostility (either passively or aggressively) in your own home, it’s time to get help.

May I encourage you to find a group like Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or Codependents Anonymous? Yes, you have Jesus. But even He didn’t go it alone. He surrounded Himself with 12 people with whom He shared His life. No, they were not perfect. Yes, one denied and one betrayed Him, but he didn’t isolate Himself. He found hope in community. He was our example. Don’t deny Him the opportunity to work through others to help you in your particular situation. Let Him redeem the things you thought were lost. Let Him begin with you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Your example. Thank You for living Your earthly life within a circle of friends with whom You could be authentic. Forgive me for going it alone sometimes. Forgive me for fighting fire with fire when I see those I love making such poor choices.

Help me to “speak the truth in love” as You instruct in Ephesians 4:15. Give me the courage to own my disappointment and pain when I’ve taken a back seat in my loved one’s life while their addiction is at the wheel.

Show me how to love with my eyes wide open, like you did when Peter denied You. You didn’t turn the other way and pretend it didn’t happen. You didn’t shout at him or guilt him. You looked straight at him and held him accountable for his actions. Later, when he repented, You forgave him. I want to be like You, Jesus. Amen.

Why Fight Addiction With Addiction? (Denial Series #4 of 5)

Where does it hurt?” I knelt before a pensive five-year-old, trying to discover the source of his pain. As a substitute Kindergarten teacher, I was unfamiliar with the child’s history. He couldn’t find words to describe the hurt, but his little face spoke volumes. I sent him to the school nurse. After she hooked him up with a frozen sponge in a baggie, he was again able to happily participate in class activities. If only it were that easy to fix our inner boo-boos!

I am that child – at times unable to function in life because something hurts, and I cannot find the words to describe my pain. I need something that no substitute can give. I need to go to the Great Healer so that He can hook me up with His treatment plan for my life.Staring out the window

In my last post, “Yoga Pants, You Are Not My BFF” (https://julietvanheerden.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/yoga-pants-you-are-not-my-bff/), I mentioned that symptoms of DENIAL can be rooted in the abuse or neglect we’ve suffered, or in our own sin. I shared that I was “sinning in my yoga pants.” Let me explain: I’ve historically used food both to celebrate life and to numb or comfort myself from the pain of life. I don’t know how or when that habit began, probably sometime during childhood. All I know is that when something is hurting me, ice cream makes me feel better. If I’m stressed, chocolate is my friend. If I’m nervous or scared, I tend to find myself standing in front of the fridge. What is that?

What it is, is sin. Why? Because I’m turning to something other than Jesus, expecting it to bring peace, comfort, and order to the chaos of life. It’s idol worship. Ouch. Yeah, I said that.

So, here’s what happened over the past two years as I wore my yoga pants to “work” every day. (Well, not every day, but most days.) Writing a book is hard work. Especially when it’s a book that bares your soul to the world and exposes the inner turmoil of living with a chemically dependent person. In order to write well, one must place one’s self in the scene. Basically, I re-lived several hells as I wrote the story of how God redeemed the things I once thought were lost in my life.

When I lived my story the first time, I often numbed my pain with food. As I wrote my story, Candy Cornreliving those losses, I found myself reverting to the old patterns of running to the cupboard in search of something to relieve the emotional turmoil of remembering the accidents, the poor choices, the betrayals and the darkness of dealing with addiction. In essence, I numbed myself from the pain of the consequences of addiction with addiction.

Often, just like the Kindergartener, I couldn’t even name the pain. I just knew that something hurt. Rather than run to the kitchen, I needed to run to Jesus. He could have helped me figure it out.

Jeremiah 6:14 reads this way in The Living Bible: “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!” God knows what He’s talking about. If we’ll just own the issue, He’ll give us so much more than a sponge in a baggie. He’ll give us the inner healing that we need. He will help us recover from the cycle of addiction.

The Addiction Cycle:

  1. Pain, distress, boredom
  2. Reaching out to an addictive agent, such as work, food, sex, alcohol, or dependent relationships to salve our pain
  3. Temporary anesthesia
  4. Negative consequences
  5. Shame and guilt, which result in more pain or low self-esteem, starting the cycle all over again

(http://www.recoveryconnection.org/cycle-of-addiction/)

Admitting powerlessness is absolutely essential to breaking the addiction cycle. We have to take Step 1 if we want to get off the crazy merry-go-round.

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Where is your life unmanageable? Where are you compulsive, obsessed or addicted? Own it. Name it. Take it to the Great Physician. Don’t wait another minute. Get on with your abundant life!

Father, forgive me for allowing myself to revert to old coping patterns. I admit my powerlessness over using food to numb or reward myself. I ask for Your power and Your Spirit to give me self-control and the ability to run to You when something is hurting and I cannot name it. I choose to trust You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Yoga Pants, You Are Not My BFF! (Denial Series #3 of 5)

I don’t do Yoga, but the pants became my best friend. I’m not sure how that happened, but perhaps you can relate.Macarones 2-2

Our relationship began innocently enough; I was writing a book. At home. I could roll out of bed and begin keying in an unfinished sentence from the night before. Yesterday’s yoga pants called to me from the chair where I’d tossed them. Before I knew it, My Honey was home, and I’d nether showered, nor changed from those pants. That’s how I rolled through at least eight chapters.

Yoga pants are comfortable. No zippers. No buttons. That’s the good news. The bad news? No zippers + No buttons = No accountability. A few pounds can slip into place without proper acknowledgement. Before ya know it, the yoga pants are the only pants that fit! That’s a problem.

Welcome to blog post number two in my series on DENIAL.

What is denial? Basically, denial is maintaining that a problem does not exist in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Hindsight tells me I’ve used two types of denial in my yoga pant ordeal. I’ve used minimizing and blaming.

Let’s talk about minimizing for a moment. Minimizing is defined by dictionary.com this way: “Minimize – to reduce to the smallest possible amount or degree.” We maintain that although a problem may exist, it is not very serious.

I totally did that with my recent weight gain. “Oh, it’s just a few pounds. It’s not that big a deal,” I’d whisper unconvincingly to the mirror after realizing that half the clothes in my closet screamed at the seams when I attempted to wear them.

No problem, I can get this off with a few extra trips to the Y,” I’d promise myself, forgetting to factor in the fact that after forty, the “freshman fifteen” doesn’t budge as easily as it did during college.”

Whenever My Honey wanted to go out for frozen yogurt, pizza or Thai food, I’d minimize my feelings about gaining the weight and go ahead and eat like a teenager anyway. Then I’d come home and immediately put on my yoga pants. “Ahhhhh! That’s better. Please pass the popcorn. I haven’t gained that much.”

Now comes the blaming part: What is blame? Again, dictionary.com says, “Blame is to hold responsible; find fault with; censure.”

Blaming is denial because we refuse to accept personal responsibility for the problem, maintaining that it is someone or something else’s fault. We blame people and circumstances for our own problems or lack. Blame can become a way of life if we are not careful.

I stayed stuck in denial by blaming my husband. “You eat later than I’m used to. That’s why this is happening to me,” I’d say. Part of that statement was true, but he never forced me to eat. I could have had a cup of tea, or made different choices. “You tempt me with sweets that I usually don’t keep in the house,” I’d whine while munching a piece of dark salted caramel chocolate from the stash on top of the fridge. “You served me a huge helping. You didn’t want to share the entrée, so I had to order my own.” You. You. You… Blame. Yeah, I did that.

The truth is, when I am fully surrendered to God, through His power I can choose when, what and how much I eat. No one else has that kind of control over me. Even babies know that. (Try feeding strained carrots to a tiny set of resistant taste buds!)

It’s time to stop minimizing, stop blaming and start owning the fact that I must either buy new pants, or shut my mouth if I want to fit into my old ones. It’s my choice. My decision. My life.

What is it with you? Where are you sinking into the murky waters of denial through minimizing or blaming?

Sometimes our bodies will tell us when we’ve been in denial long before our brains do. Physical symptoms, like weight loss or gain, unexplained illness or pain, migraine headaches and other symptoms with unidentified sources are often the direct result of deep emotional pain, rooted in our lives. When divorce from a chemically dependent spouse became my unexpected reality seven years ago, I was instantly “cured” of debilitating chronic migraines!

Why do we wait so long before acknowledging pain or abuse? I waited until my scales showed a combination of digits I’ve never seen, before snapping out of denial. I waited until I had a grownup meltdown in my closet every time I needed to wear something other than yoga pants. Only then did I get serious about my weight gain.

Maybe it’s not weight with you. Maybe it’s something else that you are in denial about. Think about it. Pray about it. Ask God to reveal it to you before you, like me, have a long, unnecessary road ahead before you are back to “normal.”

If we are consistently doing or using anything to numb, hide, or alleviate emotional or physical pain, we may be in denial of the root of our suffering. That root, if left intact, then grows a trunk and branches and leaves that take many different forms.

These “leaves” can be shaped like shame or poor self-esteem. They may be depression-shaped or look like isolation or anger. Sometimes they resemble powerlessness or even suicidal behavior, but they are all just symptoms of some underlying root that needs to be exposed.

That “root” may be abuse or neglect that we have suffered at the hand of others. The root could also be sin in our lives. With me, it was both.

I was sinning in my yoga pants. We’ll talk more about that next time. Until then, may I invite you to join me in taking Recovery Step 1? It says, “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Pizza Pie

Father in heaven, I’m coming to you today because somewhere I got off the right track, and I realize that only You can redeem the things I’ve lost (or gained). Forgive me for minimizing my problem and for blaming You or others for what I know is my responsibility. I surrender myself to You and admit that I am powerless over my compulsions, obsessions and addictions. This area of my life has become unmanageable. I am powerless. I need Your power. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

Denial, Baby, Denial (Series #2 of 5)

So on Friday the Honey and I are grocery shopping. A woman with three kids clinging to her cart recognizes him and we stop for introductions. After answering her question about how long we’d been married, I brace myself. It’s coming. I just know it is. Get ready to smile and play it off.

Any kids yet?And…there it is. Sometimes I wish I were a betting woman. The words rolled innocently off her tongue, transforming themselves into daggers that I quickly deflected with humor before they could reach any soft tissue. Whew. That was close. Moving on to the produce section. No pun intended.

On Saturday night a couple of young mothers from church are hosting “Moms’ Night Out,” complete with the movie by the same title. I’m thinking I’m not a mom. I might just skip this one. You know, slide under the radar and stay home with the Honey. Then I get a personal invitation and a little push from the Hon. “Go on. You’ll enjoy hanging out with the girls.” So I go.

And I’m okay. Really. It was fun! How can you go wrong with popcorn, Twizzlers and theatre-sized boxes of peanut M&Ms in the house? The mommies seemed a little naked without their little ones on their hips, but the dads did great (unlike the movie), and no one had to leave early to relieve them.

Today a friend asked me point blank, no warning, “So how are you doing with the whole kids thing?” Granted, the question was asked in the kindest of tones and by the sweetest of persons, but I wasn’t ready for it. No time to grab my arsenal of codependent denial patterns. All I could blurt was the truth. “I’m in a sad place right now. I feel like I’m giving up on my dream.”Doorway

The truth, God? Seriously? Wow. I wasn’t expecting to blurt the truth. My 12 Step group would be proud. I didn’t hide in denial. I just admitted I am powerless. Step 1. Here I am again.

I was planning to blog a mini-series on denial and Step 1. Did a couple of pieces last week on this topic. I just wasn’t planning to use myself as the guinea pig. Nope. That wasn’t what I had in mind. Guess God had other plans. He does this sometimes – Just keeps repeating Himself until I admit that He’s talking to me. I usually get it on the third time around.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Three in a row. If this is a Tic-Tac-Toe game, God, You win!

In my research for this blog series, I discovered these Denial Patterns we may develop in order to survive:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • I lack empathy for the feelings or needs of others.
  • I label others with my negative traits.
  • I can take care of myself without any help from others.
  • I mask my pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
  • I express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
  • I do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom I am attracted. (Codependency for Dummies p. 73)

(Anyone else see themselves reflected in a bullet point or two?)

Careforce Ministries states this about denial:

Denial can also be cloaked through minimizing (maintaining that although a problem may exist it is not as serious as everyone thinks), and avoidance (changing the subject; burying oneself in other activities).

Denial protects us from situations we may not be psychologically ready to handle. Sometimes that is necessary, but we cannot stay stuck there, continuing to use denial as a coping mechanism.

We must become unstuck and by God’s grace face our issue, our pain… our heartache head on. Sometimes that hurts worse than the dull ache of denial. We’ll need support. Prayer. Courage to grind through the pain with God until He grants us “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr). Take heart! He promises us that with Him, all things are possible. Even this.

So, here I am, God. I’m not laughing. Not avoiding. Not hiding in busyness. I refuse to minimize, alter, or hide how I truly feel. I choose to be real through this season. Please show me how to answer those innocent questions with tact and honesty. Give me space to grieve the death of another dream. How you will redeem this thing I feel I have lost? Do not let any root of envy or bitterness grow inside of me. Keep me close as we work this out together. Amen.

P.S. Please use this piece of painful transparency to touch another life and let them know that they, too, can step out of denial into the pain and that You will go with them through the valley.

 

Stepping Out of Denial (Series #1 of 5)

In two weeks, our 12 Step group will begin again at Step 1. This time around, I’m praying for God to continue to peel the layers of the onion that is my life. May I invite you to take a peek at Step 1 with me?

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions    and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Are we so busy controlling the lives of everyone around us that we forget there are areas of our own lives that are unmanageable? It’s time to come out of the dark. Time to take Step 1. Time to face the truth about ourselves.

 Here’s a short list of symptoms in our lives that there is possibly something deeper going on. We often look at the symptoms and stop right there, never getting to the root of the problem. Do you see yourself or someone you love anywhere on this list?

  • Shame-filled
  • Addicted
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Exhibiting poor self-esteem
  • Feeling powerless
  • Dealing with unexplained physical issues/illness
  • Battling suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Continually dealing with damaged relationships
  • Having a tendency to isolate

If you see yourself here, you are not alone. Many of us get stuck in a cycles like this. It’s like a roller coaster ride that never ends. We feel like throwing up. Life is no longer fun. We scream, but no one seems to care.

The first key to getting off the ride is coming out of denial. There are many ways to deny the truth about our issues. Denial is basically refusing to acknowledge that a problem exists, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

One way we do this is by intellectualizing. The creators of The Door of Hope program  (http://www.careforcelifekeys.org/pages.asp?id=53) define intellectualizing like this:

Intellectualizing – “When recalling the abuse, denying that the abuse had any emotional effect on them. We can think about it, talk about it, analyze it – but never take a step forward in the healing process. We can think we have dealt with it, but all we have done is thought about it.”

Consider this an official invitation to come out of denial today. We can prayerfully ask God for insight as to why we behave in certain unhealthy ways. He will reveal the root to us. Only then can He begin to truly heal.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NIV)

Step 1 Meme

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Father in heaven, please open my eyes today. Show me the areas of my life where I am in need of Your healing touch. Reveal the truth about why I behave the way I behave and feel the way I feel. Please forgive me for intellectualizing my pain. I am ready to allow You to heal me. I choose to trust You. In the name of Jesus, Amen.