A Day in the Life {Addiction from the other side}

One thing I want to do on my blog is to post from time to time about addiction. It was very hard for me to find personal stories about it and I hope to share some of our story as a way to help others. Anything I write about this topic is written with permission by my husband, as I am committed to speaking our truth while protecting what is his to decide if and when to share.

There’s a post I’ve seen making the rounds on Facebook recently. You may have seen it, liked it, shared it.

It says:
     2 twin boys were raised by an alcoholic father. 1 grew up to be an alcoholic & when asked what happened he said “I watched my father”… The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said “I watched my father”… 2 boys, same dad, 2 different perspectives. Your perspective in life will determine your destination. Today’s a new day. Go.

I’m going to make an assumption here but I think the original author of this post probably doesn’t know a whole lot about alcoholism. While I understand the attempt here (you choose and control your destiny through your outlook on life), the use of addiction as the teaching point is unfortunate.

Over the past 5 years, I have learned a lot about addiction. I’m married to a recovering addict. It has stolen many, many things from my family and if I’m honest – I’m not actually keen on “defending” addiction. I’m still fairly angry about the place it has in my life and what it’s done to my family and my marriage. The moments it has stolen from me, the celebrations it has ruined, the trust it has betrayed. And while I believe in the disease model of addiction, it still angers me. It still feels unfair and cruel and let’s be honest, most addicts act unfairly and cruelly. So let me say right off the bat, I am *not* in a place to defend an addict. I’ve been way too hurt by one to do that at this point.

BUT.

As I’ve learned about addiction and its patterns – this much I know. It is not as simple as choosing to be an alcoholic or choosing not to be.

I know this is hard to understand. I struggled with it for a long time. I would think – why doesn’t he see? Doesn’t he hear what I’m saying? Doesn’t he love me/us enough to want to make things better? How can he make those choices or act in those ways and say he loves us?


I didn’t have my ‘aha!’ moment until around March of this past year. We had been separated since January. Our marriage was in a horrible place, we were barely speaking to one another, and when we did speak it was tense and anxiety inducing for me. 

I’ve decided not to share the details, but I can say that it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks that NO ONE – no one – would choose this life for themselves. There is no one who would enjoy living that way. To be so dependent on the substance that is wrecking their life – it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. 

Things did not miraculously get better after that point. I am not yet in a place of peace about what’s happened. I am working hard every day to forgive the things that have taken place in my marriage and to gain some understanding about how alcoholism and addiction affects my husband. I still am fearful of relapse. I am fearful of being hurt and betrayed again. I am fearful of the effects on my children. I am sad that I will have to talk to my children about this disease and the power it may have on their own lives as they grow older, I am sad that I will have to watch them closely for the signs of addiction in themselves. 

Addiction sucks. It sucks for the addict and it sucks for anyone in his or her path. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 5 years, and the last year in particular, it’s the exact opposite of what the above post proclaims. Most addicts cannot simply wake up one day and choose another path.  In fact, that kind of assumption contributes to the shame and guilt addicts feel about not being able to just ‘stop’.

If you’ve been hurt by an addict in your life – this is a critical point of knowledge for you. It doesn’t take away the pain, it doesn’t invalidate your anger and feelings, it doesn’t make you wrong for feeling how you feel. But it was, in many ways, like a weight off my shoulders when I realized what a hold this disease or illness had on my husband. It finally allowed me to see a glimpse of him for who he is – a child of God who is broken and sinful like each and every one of us. A man who I vowed to love in sickness and in health.

Many days that knowledge and realization seems grossly unfair if I’m honest. I struggle with feeling angry that this is the path I unknowingly walked down. And it doesn’t – not for one second – excuse past behavior. But it does offer an explanation, even one that is hard to swallow.

I don’t know why I am here, in the middle of this. Substance abuse is a subject I knew absolutely nothing about 5 years ago. And I am still learning – still struggling to understand something that makes zero sense. And my heart hurts for those of you who are on the other side of addiction like I am. For those of you who are confused and alone and trying to make sense of the insanity. I wouldn’t wish this path on anyone. But as I learn and grow in this, I hope to share what I’m learning with you.
I realize that sharing my story so openly like this opens me up to a lot of judgment, criticism and opinions about how I live my life. I have heard some pretty hard things over the past stretch and am learning to toughen up a little bit. My journey is not the journey everyone will or should take. 

I am not saying that everyone should forgive willy nilly and could never advocate that every person continue doing life with someone in active addiction. If you are currently in a relationship that makes you feel unsafe emotionally, mentally or physically – get out. Get space. Protect yourself.

But in my life, his journey of sobriety and the choices he has made along with being very prayerful about going forward, have led me to this place. 

It’s my hope and prayer that from our trauma and pain, we can bring a message of hope and understanding to other people about this topic. Today, he is 228 days sober and he moved back home 2 weeks ago. It is an interesting place I am in, having to be so vulnerable and out of control in so many areas of my life and simply choosing to throw my open hands up into the air and trust that God is in control. 

Because if I am being honest, I hate it. I hate feeling afraid of the unknown and of being hurt again. Grace is given to me daily by my Savior and it is grace that I will keep trying to extend to others. I fail at that a lot, but I keep going every day, because I believe that God IS bigger than my circumstances and that no matter what happens in the future, His ways are better than mine. 



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Why?

We’ve been in our new house in Pinehurst for almost 2 weeks now. Moving and unpacking is the worst – I feel like things are under control and then stumble across another couple of boxes which unearths stuff I have to find a home for and pretty soon the whole house is in shambles again. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that never ends!

But other than that, we are settling in nicely. The kids and I love the house, we love the area, and I can’t wait to get involved in things once I have this baby.

So…why Pinehurst?

This is a tough post for me to write, mostly because I don’t know what to say or how to say it or even if I’m ready to talk about it. But with Harper coming soon, it feels like I should address it.

With his permission to share everything below, I think most people know Todd and I have been separated. Some really hard things led to our separation and while I have battled hurt, sadness, betrayal and fear he has been battling an addiction.

For the last 9 mos, as I’ve prayed for direction, I’ve heard a lot of “be still.”  I knew that separation was the right choice, without a doubt. I knew that Todd needed to get healthy, and that in small ways I was enabling him to stay sick. I am not, by nature, codependent – but it’s almost impossible not to adapt codependent tendencies when you are married to an addict.

The good news is that Todd has completed an inpatient treatment stay and moved on to a recovery program where he’s been since April. He’s pursuing sobriety hard and with intention and commitment and I’ve seen him change significantly. I’ve seen the Todd I knew when we dated, the one I married and committed my life to. I’ve seen a vibrance in him that has been missing for a long time.

His recovery program is in the Sandhills area, not far from where we are now living. It was a hard decision for me, but one guided by the most loving and caring Heavenly Father who has taught me so much during this process. He has taught me about unconditional love, forgiveness, grace and even empathy.

I am a work in progress on all of those fronts by the way – I am also battling a lot of other feelings: fear, anger, resentment, betrayal, abandonment, embarrassment, sadness…

And I’ve had to let myself sit right there in those feelings occasionally, because they show up when I least expect it. They’re real and they’re valid feelings and I have learned at this point in my life that stuffing them does no one any good. And you know? It sucks. It sucks to be looking back over the last year at pictures and have them trigger memories or moments that are hard and painful. I want to delete everything about the past year and fast forward to the better stuff. I hold on to hope that there will be better stuff.

So what does this all mean, really?

I don’t know.

My personal experience with shared custody of my oldest son has been a painful one in its own right. It’s a painful situation to share your child across state lines and over holidays and summers. When Todd began to take the correct steps to get well, and continued to maintain his sobriety I felt the gentle nudge that reminded me my children need to be near their father, as long as he was healthy. And I knew that with a newborn coming, I would not only need help, but that I deserved help.

So the slow process began – one of starting the healing process as a family. A process of understanding, forgiveness, grace and learning – really learning – about addiction. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s been so good to see the boys happy and excited and truly enjoying things they have missed out on for a long time.

I don’t know what this means for my marriage just yet. Todd and I are living in separate residences still. He is spending a lot of time with the family, helping out, just being with the kids, and we are slowly seeing where things go. It’s been a time of rest for me, just having him healthy and well and here to help. I know that as long as he works on sobriety, our family has a chance at surviving this. I am hopeful for him and for my children.

But I am scared. Addiction is…almost impossible to describe. It’s hell. It’s insanity. It’s indescribable. It’s baffling and mind boggling and twisted and just really, really sad.

There are parts of our story that will be painful for a long time to come. Things that will take me probably years to get over. But in all my time on my knees, searching for the peace to officially leave my marriage, I never got it. All I ever felt was that my job was to be still. To continue on the path I was on, but to wait. And I got angry many, many times. I had so many reasons to be angry, and I knew that I had every biblical reason in my back pocket to sign divorce papers and move on.

But God’s message to me was to be still. So I am practicing that as often as I can, and learning the
very complicated art of grace. For a long time, I thought grace meant blindly accepting and forgiving and ignoring what my inner self was screaming, but I have learned that sometimes before we can extend true grace, we have to be able to put up boundaries.

I hope to dig into the topic of addiction more on this blog. It’s an extraordinarily confusing issue which is often misdiagnosed as a host of other mental illnesses or problems and statistics tell us that twenty-three million Americans age 12 or older suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. 23 million is a staggering number. It’s a prevalent problem but one that very few truly understand. A problem that has directly affected my life, my marriage and my family and one that I am still working hard to understand every day. 

I remain cautious and unsure on this journey. How could I not? I know that a happy outcome is not guaranteed. I know that recovery statistics are grim. But I also know that I follow and trust an amazing God who wants healing and recovery and wholeness. And for Him, I take a giant step forward.




World Changer

My mom posted this video to Facebook.  It’s worth a few minutes of your day if you’re a woman, know women, have a daughter, a mother, a sister…

But if ain’t nobody got time for that – there’s a part in the video where he talks about strong and courageous women in the bible.

He says,  “Esther, Ruth, Martha, Mary – These women changed the world forever.  And inside of each and every one of you is a woman with that same power, and that same strength, and that same world changing capability and your responsibility is to find that woman and to set that woman free.”

I stopped for a second to consider what it means to be a world changer.

After all, these days, I’m a woman who can barely make it through the day with her emotions intact.  I’m huge and pregnant, tired and sore, achy and exhausted from 9 months of tossing and turning and 3 weeks of a toddler who is on sleep strike.

And it’s more than that.  Since the day Todd & I got married, behind every nook and cranny, around every corner of our lives I feel like one or both of us have been putting out fires. Ministry, a blended family, raising children, unexpected pregnancy, pregnancy loss, pregnancy after loss, financial stress, personal tragedy, family tragedy – at times I feel like life will not let up.  Like God will not let up.  I know pretty much anyone reading right now can identify.  We are no different than you.  Ever hear about spiritual warfare?  Some days I feel like Satan has an arrow pointed directly at us.

With all that going on – how can I be a world changer?

And then I remembered two stories – I remembered two moments in my life where I felt God speaking directly to me.

I’m not the kind of person who has those types ‘interactions’ with God.  I have faith and I work on my relationship with Him – but I’m not having experiences where I HEAR him very often.  So these have stuck with me.  The first involves sitting in a church service and God whispering something to me that told me I was to marry Todd.  It’s personal and it’s not a story I share often but I knew Todd would be my husband from pretty early on in our dating relationship.  It actually even involves one of those world changing women from the bible that was mentioned earlier.

The other time was one night, not long after we’d gotten married.  Like I said – we’ve had a rocky go of it.  The beginning was tough.  I never believed in a fairy tale romance or wedding or life – I’m not that kind of girl – but I was not expecting the battle to be raging from the moment we said “I do”.  And no lie – family tragedy occurred the night before our wedding.  So one night, I remember lying in bed crying out to God for relief, for understanding, wanting to know why.  (You guys see I do this a lot, right?)

I was confused.

He told me marrying Todd was the right thing to do.  So why were things so hard for us right from day one?

I have since learned that very rarely is doing the right thing the easy thing.

But on that night, God made something very clear to me about marriage.  Anyone reading this that has been married for a long time will probably already know it.  But it was a revelation of sorts to me.

He told me that marriage was not designed to make me happy.  Marriage was given to us because it’s one of the most perfect ways to learn to become like Jesus.  My job as a wife and mother would be to mirror Jesus in my day to day dealings with my husband and with my children.  To view these precious gifts from God the way that He does.  Unconditionally loving, patient, understanding, and unbelievably filled with grace.

CS Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”

This has been a challenge that I have remembered OFTEN in my marriage.  To look across the dinner table at the faces that join me there and see them just like Jesus does.

I promise I haven’t gotten off on a tangent here.  What I’m trying to say is – that right now, in this season of life – my ability to be a world changer happens right here, in my home.  It happens at the dinner table, in the car with my kids, in late night conversations with my husband.  It starts with hugs and kisses and smiles and reassurance that these people who share my life are loved by me, imperfections and all.

Am I perfect at this?  No.  Am I even good at it?  Probably not.  No one ever said being like Jesus was easy.  And it’s not.  But it IS something I remember often and try to put into practice as much as possible.  To change MY world – the little world inside my four walls – as best I can.  And as a result, these people that I pour into on a daily basis can take that outside these four walls and start a domino effect that just might change the world.

So if being a ‘world changer’ overwhelms you, start with a spouse.  A child.  A friend.  Pour into them, see them as Jesus would.  Change your heart and it WILL change the world.

Lucky

I, Miranda, receive you Todd to be my wedded husband. I accept you as
a precious gift from God. I love you with a love only Christ himself could place
within my heart. I promise to give myself to you as Christ gave himself to the
church. I wish to have and to hold you from this day forward, for better for worse,
for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as
we both shall live, according to God’s holy ordinance.
___________
I lived life as a single parent for 10 years before I met my husband.  
I learned to do pretty much everything for myself.  I raised my son alone.  I cooked, I cleaned, I packed his lunches.  I clothed him, I put him to bed, I helped him with his homework.  I took out the garbage, killed bugs, fixed broken appliances, hung pictures on the wall and at times – moved furniture by myself.  
I worked to support him.  At one point I worked a full time 9-5 job, then went to work waiting tables in a bar 3 nights a week.  I would get home at 4am, sleep for a few hours and then get up by 8 to pick up my son from my parents and drop him off at daycare while I went to my “real” job.  
I learned not to rely on anyone else.  I developed a tough exterior – one that didn’t need anyone.  I could do it myself, thank you very much.  
This past week I have been a little shocked at how much I need my husband.  For the first time in our entire marriage I think I am realizing that I need him.  I know you are probably thinking, “Miranda, of course you need him – you married him and that’s what marriage is about!”  And don’t misunderstand me – I love my husband.  He can make me laugh like no one else.  He’s the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, and sometimes it strikes me as funny that he likes to have conversations with little ol’ me.  (Seriously, dude is brilliant.  He writes books!) 
But even though I love him and we chose each other to be with for the rest of our lives, I don’t think I felt like I “needed” him.  I got married because I wanted to, not because I needed to.  
I dropped him off at the airport this morning as he travels out of town for work – which he does quite often – but this morning felt different.  This morning I felt like a piece of me got out of the car and boarded a plane.  
I couldn’t have gotten through the past 2 weeks without him.  I needed him in a way I never realized – and even though we won’t be struggling with loss and tragedy every day of our marriage, it has opened my eyes to the kind of relationship we can have.  The kind of relationship we should be working on every day.  One of vulnerability, one of raw honesty, one of sweet and compassionate love.  The past couple of weeks could have very easily brought out the worst in both of us.  Stress and tension have a way of doing that.  It has been amazing to see us come together and be stronger than ever, and I am so proud of his commitment to his family, to the church, to his job and to God.  He loves each one so passionately and fully and I don’t think I’ve admired him more than I have this past week.
I am lucky he chose me.
No, seriously.  You know a single pastor is a hot commodity here in the South!  😉
Thankful to be reminded of that this week.