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.
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.
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)
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.
I have a slow processer. Not in my computer, but my brain. My “fight or flight” signals don’t work. When badly spooked, I just stand there – frozen to the floor, unable to move at all. The same thing happens when I’m struck with emotional turmoil. My brain turns into a frozen gel pack. My tongue forgets what to say, and days can go by before my thoughts thaw out enough to process the problem.
My New Running Shoes
For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve been. When kids were unkind at school, I’d be on the bus, hours later, trying to think of a “good comeback” to their comments. When my high school boyfriend cheated on me, I could not believe the evidence and went through weeks of trying to figure out what to say before confronting him with the truth. When “well-meaning” church members say something rude, I mindlessly shake their hands and draw a blank as to how to respond. By Wednesday or Thursday, I might come up with something. Maybe. When I feel backed into a corner, I tend to just camp there for a while.
As the former spouse of an addict, I remember often crunching through life on those proverbial egg shells as I tried to process the constant lies and slights and think of ways to confront without being confrontational. More often than not, I would stay silent, since by the time I was ready to speak about an issue, several more incidents had happened and the first one seemed moot by that time. It was frustrating to live like that.
I always wanted to be one of those people who could just say everything that needed to be said, right when it needed to be said, with no regrets. I’ve always wanted to be someone who knows when it is okay to walk away and when it is time to stay and deal with something head-on. But I never have been. Those lines are frustratingly gray for me.
As I’ve continued to attend my 12 Step group and to learn about how to deal with my codependent tendencies, I thought I was getting better. But some things have happened in the past week, which have revealed my need for greater growth in that area. God is not finished with me, yet.
Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, says this in the reading for April 4 entitled, Negotiating Conflicts: “Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.
Problems and conflicts are part of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.”
She goes on to say, “Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.” Those words exactly describe the past few days of my life. It’s not that I was “unwilling” to tackle and solve the problems, it’s that my slow processor could not do it fast enough to keep up with the pendulum that swung from hate to love to dismissal within a matter of hours.
I wanted to say the right words. They came out wrong. I wanted to fix it, but I was, too late. I wanted to explain myself, but I had missed the boat of the friendship in question. By Tuesday, it had pulled out of the harbor and was well on its way to another continent by the time I was ready to speak about what had happened in the first place. Talk about missing the boat! I was left with my head spinning and my heart hurting, wondering what had really happened and why my emotional feet were still frozen to the floor.
Melody continues, “Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.” I guess that’s what happened. It took me a while to figure out exactly what my “bottom line” was, and by the time I was ready to explain that, it was too late for explanations. The relationship was over. It stung. Still does. Mostly because I know where my heart is. But it doesn’t matter. My slowness to act was interpreted as a lack of caring. And “who needs friends who don’t care”, right? Ouch.
So, where does one go from here? Well, I think I found the answer today, in the book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul says, 12 I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.
13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. Philippians 3:12-14 The Living Bible
I guess that’s what I’m going to say too, “I’m not perfect. I still have a lot to learn, but I will put on my brand new running shoes keep moving toward that day when I will fully be like Jesus. I’m not going to get stuck in trying to reconstruct conversations that will never take place or explain things to deafened ears. Instead, I will continue to run this race toward the finish line. No detours. Just a continual pressing on toward the prize of a Christlike character.”
Father, please help me to learn the lessons that You would have me to learn from this experience. I did my very best. It wasn’t good enough. That hurts. I spoke without thinking first. I’m sorry. I moved too slowly. That’s what I do in times of conflict. Please fix the broken thing inside of me that doesn’t allow me to “fight or flight,” but keeps me stuck motionless for too long. Please help me grow through this and to process the loss in healthy ways. You know how I am about losing people. I’d almost rather lose a limb than lose a person, especially if it’s by their choice. But I know that a friend who wants to be lost cannot be easily found. Teach me, Father. I’m willing to learn…
Beattie ends her April 4th reading like this, “To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of the blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.
We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible. Committed, intimate relationships mean two people are learning to work together through their problems and conflicts in ways that work in both people’s best interest.”
Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem-solving efforts.” The Language of Letting Gop. 94
Are you stuck in conflict? Do you need to walk away? Or is it time to stay and deal? Our heavenly Father understands exactly why we respond or react the way we do. He will reveal the path ahead to us if we ask Him to. He will direct us toward the finish line. He will help us to run our race. One step at a time. Have you asked Him, yet?
“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Does your heart, like mine, long for the Prince of Peace as we scurry through the holiday season? He’s right there, waiting with the promise to give us His soothing peace. I read it just this morning in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
This time of year, our attempts to find peace are often disrupted by frantic attempts to fit events, people and purchases into already overloaded lives. The flurry of activity can feel like a winter blizzard, even for those of us who live in Florida! But in the midst of it all, I can hear His quiet invitation.“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30.
That yoke part is extremely good news for those of us who have ever been “yoked” to someone who is in bondage to addiction. Or for those who may be yoked to our own addictions or issues. Or who feel yoked to an unsavory past. It’s hard to move, hard to function, hard to turn around… so hard to find peace when we are yoked to something or someone who is constantly pulling us toward fear and insecurity.
Maybe we cannot even put a name on the “yoke.” Maybe it’s just a holiday thing, something that “comes over us” every year, bringing out emotions and behaviors that don’t quite seem to fit us, like old skins that we used to wear when life was out of control. These kinds of yokes are triggered in many ways. Melody Beattie calls them “Holiday Triggers” in her book The Language of Letting Go. She says, “We may not understand why we suddenly feel afraid, depressed, anxious. We may not understand what has triggered our codependent coping behaviors – the low self-worth, the need to control, the need to neglect ourselves. When that happens, we need to understand that some innocuous event may be triggering memories recorded deep within us” p. 369. She continues on the following page, “Many of us are torn between what we want to do on the holiday, and what we feel we have to do. We may feel guilty because we don’t want to be with our families. We may feel a sense of loss because we don’t have the kind of family to be with that we want. Many of us, year after year, walk into the same dining room on the same holiday, expecting this year to be different. Then we leave, year after year, feeling let down, disappointed, and confused by it all.”
Can you identify with these words? Do the holidays throw you together with people who are not a part of your regular life, but who try to put you in a “box” that you no longer (or never did) fit into? I encourage you to refuse to wear that yoke this year. Whether from certain smells, locations, traditions or people – if negative emotions are triggered by this season, there is ONE who offers one of the greatest gifts of all, PEACE. Take a moment to be kind to yourself today. Spend time reading the peace promises in God’s word. Remember the Christ Child. Embrace the angels’ words as they sang over the hills of Bethlehem so long ago, “Let there be peace on earth.” The Prince of Peace longs to go with us to every holiday party, every family gathering, every store, every moment of every day. We never need to feel alone in any situation where we would normally feel alone in a crowded room.
One final thought from Melody Beattie, “One of the greatest gifts of recovery is learning that we are not alone. There are probably as many of us in conflict during the holidays than there are those who feel at peace. We’re learning, through trial and error, how to take care of ourselves a little better each holiday season” The Language of Letting Go, p. 370. In my humble opinion, the best way we can take care of ourselves this holiday season is to let The Prince of Peace reign in our hearts! Happy, Peace-filled Holidays!
*Thank you Ami Novak for the beautiful photography to accompany this post.
Flattened, deflated, defeated. There they are again. I haven’t seen them for almost a year. But my morning neighborhood run revealed lawn after lawn strewn with these sad collapsed creatures. Most have been reduced to barely recognizable shells of their pretentious puffed-up selves.
I first took notice of them last year around holiday time. Something new for consumers and chronic yard decorators to spend their dollars on. Personally, I’m not a fan. But, I can identify with the poor things because they look like I sometimes feel. Maybe you know what I’m talking about; completely spent, exhausted and empty. That’s when I know that I am falling back into old patterns of codependency, and my brain’s caution light begins blinking yellow!
Back in the thick middle of my former marriage to a chemically dependent person, more days than I can count, I felt like that deflated reindeer on my neighbor’s lawn! My entire life, at times, revolved around trying desperately to control our cash so he wouldn’t go on a binge and kill himself or someone else, or trying to catch him in a lie so I wouldn’t feel so crazy when he tried to convince me that I hadn’t seen, heard, or smelled the evidence of something that I was positive I DID see, hear, or smell. It was exhausting! Add that to hysterically clinging to routines and facades so that no one would know how bad things really were. All the while choosing to love, give and serve someone who was too broken to reciprocate. No wonder I often felt like that wilted Saint Nick I passed on my run this morning. I knew what it was like to control, fix, and give, give, give until there was nothing left but a thin shell of my once buoyant, joyful self.
In 1986, Melody Beattie wrote Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. It has sold more than 5 million copies and Amazon is still stocking it. If you find yourself, like I did, flat on your face from caring for and trying to control everyone but you, please do yourself a favor and buy this book! Here’s the link:http://www.amazon.com/Codependent-No-More-Controlling-Yourself/dp/0894864025
Currently, (just to keep on top of my game, so I don’t relapse into crazy control-freak-save-the-world-itis), I’m reading Darlene Lancer’s Codependency for Dummies. In it, she describes those of us with these tendencies this way: “A codependent is a person who can’t function from his or her innate self, and instead, organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or other person(s)”. She says that codependency is, “A lost Self, which includes addicts as well as many of those who love them.” Codependency for Dummies, p. 30. For the longest time, I thought that the drug addict in our household was the only one with problems. It wasn’t until my life became consumed with trying to save him, that I realized the significance of my own problems. In my struggle to rescue my lost spouse, I had lost myself. My needs were not being met. The following definition of addiction and codependency fit me as perfectly as an Asics running shoe: “Codependency is an unhealthy reliance on the control of exterior things in order to fill interior needs.”
I can sure identify with this quote from Melody Beattie, can you? “Codependency can be absolutely and totally exhausting. It drains and depletes people, puts a blindfold on them, spins them around in circles until they’re dizzy. Then people try to go on with their lives and wonder why they can’t.” Codependent No More Workbook p. 14. She goes on to say that, “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.”
That was once my entire life. Now I have a new life. But, as you know, we usually bring our old selves into our new relationships. Where I once was run ragged trying to be the savior of one, now I am tempted to rescue the many, at the expense of the relationships I most value. For, you see, God redeemed the things that I thought were lost. And now I am married to a precious, God-loving, people serving husband who ministers to a whole congregation and an entire county. As his wife, I embrace his heart for the lost and suffering and work right alongside him. Together we are BUSY! Sometimes so busy in doing “good things” that we look and feel like those deflated lawn ornaments in our neighborhood. We both must be cautious of never trying to be God in anyone’s life. We continually strive for a healthy balance, as we live lives of service to God and people. It’s only through much prayer and the daily invitation of God’s Holy Spirit to live inside of us that any of us can do the work He’s called us to do. He doesn’t ask us to be God to anyone. He asks us to show God to everyone. There is a difference.
So, as we enter this season of frantic busyness, Philippians 1:11 is my prayer for us all: may we never be depleted and deflated from carrying burdens that do not belong to us, but “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation–the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ–for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” Doing “good” and helping others is never about praise and glory for me. It’s about living a balanced, healthy life of service that will bring glory to our one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.