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.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

I stepped up onto the limo’s floor for a better view of everyone gathered to wish us farewell. Waving and blowing tearful kisses, I expressed my gratitude for their presence and love.

“Happy life!” Someone called as I ducked inside. André joined me, the heavy door closing behind him, leaving us cocooned in dark and quiet.

“Happy life.” I whispered the words as a prayer for each loved one on the other side of those tinted windows .We rolled out of the church parking lot in our ostentatious ride, feeling utterly overwhelmed with emotion.

“How’s my wife?” André asked, taking my hand…

The above words were spoken exactly six years ago today. They introduced the first serious conversation between my husband and me after we became “man and wife.” You can read the rest of the story in my memoir Same Dress, Different Day. What I want to focus on for the purpose of this piece is the question my husband asked me: “How’s my wife?”

To a woman whose primary love language is words of affirmation, these kinds of conversations have literally fed my soul for the past six years. For my husband to take the time to touch me and ask how I am on a daily basis over the course of our marriage has healed many wounds from a painful past, where I often felt invisible and ignored. Chemical dependency will do that to a relationship. So will any other addiction that damages the frontal lobe or turns a perfectly normal human being into a narcissist.

The need to be seen and truly heard is at the heart of every attention-seeking behavior known to mankind. We often blame those behaviors on the teenagers, and yes, teens are definitely good at seeking attention. But what about the rest of us? Do we ever laugh a little too loud at a joke we’ve heard before. Do we go ahead and buy that flashy ________ (whatever it is), even though we know our money could be better spent? What about those of us who fill Facebook with the facade of our perfect lives and measure our worth by how many “likes” we get on a post? Do we talk more than anyone else in our small group, dominating the discussion time? Or do we brag about our kids’ accomplishments to the point of nauseating those in our workplace? And how often do we just not LISTEN to other people because we’re too busy talk talk talking?

I‘ve been guilty of most of the above. Why? Because I just wanted to not be invisible. My love tank was empty. That emptiness got me into a lot of trouble over the course of my life. It started as a dad-shaped void when my family split when I was four. It deepened as rejection after rejection from boys and men widened the chasm that was my self-worth. I longed to be cherished. But before I could be cherished, I had to be noticed. And sometimes the way I got noticed lead to more rejection rather than adoration.

What about you? I’d dare say we all long to know that someone truly knows us. But, not only that: we long for someone to hear us, and to see our hearts and love us anyway. 

Yes, yes… All of us who grew up in church have heard over and over that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” We believe it in theory. We know God’s Word to be true. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).  “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1). Somehow, though, we go through life feeling unloved and unheard.

Know what I think? I think people rarely listen to one another anymore. I think we all buzz around looking for something to “post” or “tweet” or spout and we forget to look one another in the eyes and listen with our hearts. I think we need to be God with skin on to one another. Then maybe we will begin to believe that Jesus loves me, this I know and He hears me when I pray and He longs for me to be with Him throughout eternity, face to face and heart to heart.

Conversation is a two-way street. It involves speaking and actively listening. It means putting down our devices and turning off the media and going eye-to-eye with the person we care about. It means being willing to be vulnerable enough to spill our guts and share our secrets. And it means asking the right questions when our loved one is sharing their heart with us.

In my 12-Step recovery group, each week we take time to share our stories with one another. For some, this may be the only time someone takes the time to be still, look them in the face, and listen with their whole heart. The profound effect this active listening has on individuals is beautiful to observe. As the weeks, months and years go by, change happens. Rather than a tidal wave of information and emotion spewing from a person at an alarming rate, calm and thoughtful words are confidently woven together as someone shares their experience, strength and hope with the group. There is mutual respect and affirmation as each individual shares without interruption or the burden of another person’s opinion.

In closing, I just want to honor my husband and our six years of marriage with a prayer of gratitude to the God who does hear my prayers and has truly given me the desires of my heart. I have spend the past six years feeling “loved, honored, and cherished.” And to whomever it was who shouted, “Happy life!” on our wedding day ~ Thank you. It truly is!

Loving heavenly Father, I know You hear us when we pray. I know You care for every desire of our hearts. And I know You love us just as much as You love Your son, Jesus. Your Word promises all of these things.

But, God… Some of us are broken. We come from painful backgrounds. We don’t feel heard. We don’t feel loved. We don’t feel cherished. Please help us to believe that no matter how we FEEL, we ARE.

Thank You for giving me a husband who is willing to engage in meaningful conversation and active listening. Thank You for redeeming my broken heart.

Please help me to model Your unconditional love to others by actively listening to them when they speak. Forgive me for being impatient with attention-seeking behaviors. Help me to survive the next nine days with my little students and to model Your love for them.

Bless my readers, Lord. Especially help those who are single, or who feel alone in their marriages. Help them to find safe, healing places where they can share their stories and receive the honor of being heard and understood by human ears and hearts so they can KNOW that every word they speak and every thought they think finds its way to Your ears and heart.

Amen

*Huge thanks to SKA Media Productions for all header and wedding images.

Painkiller Addiction – The Problem I Never Knew I Had

I‘d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Mel Harbin, to our community. Mel reached out to me via email a few weeks ago and shared her story. I invited her to share it with you. Sometimes it’s easy to point fingers at the “hardcore” addictions and to downplay the ones that affect soccer moms, educators and clergy. If we have a God-shaped void in our lives, it can easily get filled by things that will drag us down. Thank you, Mel, for your vulnerability.

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My name is Mel, and I’m a drug addict. But I don’t fit the picture you’ve probably formed in your mind. I’m one of the silent majority – a perfectly presentable addict with a job, a family, and a house in the leafy suburbs. I work in an office, I get coffee with my friends, I exchange polite small talk with other moms at the school gates – but I’m an addict nonetheless.

I’m a painkiller addict, you see.woman and drugs Society prefers to think of addiction as something which only affects a stereotyped few – addicts, we imagine, are insane, wild-eyed, filthy creatures who live beneath bridges. It couldn’t happen to nice, middle-class people like us, could it? In fact, the majority of drug addicts within this nation are ‘people like us’. Prescription drug abuse is an enormous problem – death by prescription drug overdose kills more people per year than heroin and cocaine combined, yet still society is unwilling to change its very fixed ideas about substance abusers. It’s this which led to my downfall. I simply didn’t think that a mom of two like me could be an addict – I didn’t fit the pattern!

Slippery Slope

My descent into addiction began very simply. I had strained my back during my first pregnancy, and my second pregnancy messed it up for good. This was my own fault. Rather than relaxing while pregnant, I took pride in powering on with my work right up until I went into labor. This is not an uncommon trait within painkiller addicts – often we start taking them in the first place because we’re simply too driven. Rather than slow down when ill, we pop a pill. After my son was born, I was prescribed Vicodin to ease my excruciating back pain. I was given strict dosage instructions, to which I didn’t give a whole amount of thought, if I’m honest. I just kind of assumed that I would stick roughly to the dosage, and all would be well.

Addiction Sets In

Vicodin was great. Not only did it numb my back pain, it seemed to fill something of an existential void. I’d pop a Vicodin and my pain would disappear, taking with it a previously unregistered issue which had been gnawing at the back of my mind. In retrospect I can see that this ‘void’ was a spiritual one – my soul’s yearning for God. At the time I just dismissed it as stress. Without really noticing it, I began to rely on Vicodin for both pain and ‘stress relief’. I was just as driven as ever, determined to overachieve in everything, despite having a lot on my plate. I was trying to be the perfect wife to my husband, trying to care for my two young sons, and trying to advance my career at the same time. Vicodin – for a while – facilitated my unhealthy perfectionism. It masked the stress, masked the pain, masked everything. It wasn’t long before I began to gradually up my dosage  – telling myself that my back was bad today and I needed the extra help, or that I could use a boost to get myself through this or that meeting.

The End And The Beginning

DSC_9489Warning bells should have rung when I began to feel sick after missing Vicodin doses, or when I took to visiting different doctors to supplement my prescription, or when I spent my mornings driving for miles to collect prescriptions at different pharmacies. But it took my youngest son – by then aged three – to reveal the extent of my problem. My husband found him in the process of trying to get the ‘candy’ out of a pot of hidden Vicodin – unsuccessfully (praise be to God).

My husband was already concerned about me. Due entirely to the effects of the Vicodin I was taking, I was suffering from wild mood swings, and behaving increasingly irrationally. I was falling to pieces, and both my family and my career were suffering. Upon seeing our son shaking the Vicodin bottle, things began to add up for my husband. He searched the house, and found that I’d stashed Vicodin in several hiding places. When I got home from work, he confronted me. It was an ugly scene. While he was reasonable and calm, my Vicodin-addicted brain would rather that I broke up with my husband than that I broke up with Vicodin.

So I went into meltdown. I screamed, I cried, I threatened to leave him. “You’re an addict,” my husband responded. “You need help.” I denied it hysterically. But, as the now familiar withdrawal symptoms began to make themselves felt, his words began to sink in.

An Ongoing Process

I am now ‘clean’ of Vicodin, and have been for some years. With the love and support of my husband and sons I’ve been able to ride out the rough times and get my life back on track. To this day I don’t know how much I was taking – I just know that that I’d pop a pill whenever I began to feel even slightly off color. This is not a healthy way to deal with one’s problems.

Finding God was a major help. Learning to rely on the unswerving, unconditional love of God rather than constantly having to prove myself through perfectionism was a huge relief, and caused me to make major changes to my life. I now ‘let go and let God’ when I feel pressured, rather than reaching for a chemical solution. I am happier, and our family is rock solid. I do have some concerns about the future of my boys – they say that addiction runs in the family – but I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep them safe from the scourge that nearly destroyed me.  I will certainly try to ensure that they never experience that same spiritual ‘void’ which proved so influential in my own descent into Vicodin hell.

~~~

The journey to relative wellness has been a long one for Mel Harbin. She’s in long term recovery from a painkiller addiction and taking each day as it comes. She now writes for a living and is concentrating on helping others who have ended up on the same path as she has.

Happy Birthday to My Blog! (And Step 5)

Diva CupcakesToday marks exactly one year since I hit “publish” on my very first blog post. My goal was to post something authentic and encouraging once a week. You see – blogging would become my way of putting my very private toes into the public pool called “writing with real readers in mind.”

Although I’ve always been a closet writer, about two years ago, I felt a distinct calling to write my memoir – the one that begins with being the wife of a cocaine-addicted Christian, and ends with becoming the wife of a small-church pastor. Against my better judgment as an introvert, I obediently began to tell the tale of how God redeemed the things I thought were lost during those locust-eaten-years of my first marriage.

People close to me asked questions like, “Now that your life is amazing, why do you want to dig up all those old bones?” But once they began reading the first chapters, they quieted down and began encouraging me to continue. It has been a long journey. Blogging has helped to keep me moving forward – forcing me to remember, holding me to my self-imposed deadlines, and inspiring me with feedback from real people who are experiencing some of the same hurts that I survived as the codependent spouse of a chemically dependent person.

I know there’s an audience for my book. I believe that it will give hope and tools to those traveling similar trenches. I’m excited to announce that I’ve just signed up with Westbow Press! My book, Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction and Redemption will be available in early 2015 on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and elsewhere, as an e-book, or a “real” hard cover book! I am excited, humbled, and grateful for the opportunity to share my story with a wider audience.

(Since this post is officially supposed to be about Step 5 of the 12 Steps, let’s see how I can weave that in, so those of you following the Steps here won’t get lost in balloons and streamers of my little hallelujah party!)

Step 5 MemeStep 5 says:

“Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

That’s tough. When I do wrong, I want to hide. I don’t want to ‘fess up.

  • It’s easy to justify not talking to God about it by saying, “Why should I talk to Him about it? He already knows everything anyway.”
  • It’s easy to walk around in a bubble of denial, blaming everyone else for        what’s wrong in the world and justifying or ignoring my own behavior.
  • As an introvert, it’s more than easy to never talk to another person about my feelings or problems or mistakes. I can hide it all, stuff things down, get lost in busyness and never be real with anyone.

Yeah… I’ve been there, done all of that, and “worn the t-shirt” for years. I just have one thing to say about it: None of that hiding has ever been as fulfilling as being authentic, being heard, and being loved anyway.

The book, Serenity, A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery, says this about Step 5:

“This may be one of the most challenging steps we face in our recovery process, but it can also be one of the most fulfilling in terms of removing us from our isolation. In order to accomplish Step 5, the three-part sharing it endorses must take place. That is, all of what we discovered about ourselves in our Step 4 inventory is to be freely admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being…

…Because these areas are so sensitive and so very personal, it is important to exercise care in choosing the person or persons with whom we formally share our fifth step. Such individuals should be trustworthy and somewhat detached from the situations about which we will share. For example, one would not usually call on a spouse or immediate family member to hear this confession. In fact, it is quite common to choose a therapist or pastoral counselor for this purpose. Also, such individuals should be compassionate, not condemning.” p. 45,46

If you are ready to be authentic, transparent and real, please allow me to encourage you to find a safe person and a safe place to share your story. Healing takes place in community. When we are ready to be real with God, with ourselves, and with a trusted friend, counselor, or sponsor, we are ready for the next Step.

What’s it gonna be, friend? Will you give yourself the gift of healing today, on the birthday of this blog? Will you trust God and a friend to love you for who you are and not judge you for the mistakes you’ve made in the past?

Happy Blogday! Happy Book Publishing! Happy new-found-freedom-to-be-real! Happy me! Happy you!

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!

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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.