“Fix it ’til it’s broke”

People are the way they are for a reason.

I took a test a few weeks ago. The kind I love — asking lots of questions about me.

The is called Strengthsfinder. And I’m completely fascinated by it.

I do realize we aren’t all the same. But when I saw the results of the test, my 5 (out of 34 possibilities) key strengths startled me, and yet I knew right away that it was spot on.  Except for one.

My number one strength is called Strategic. And 3 of my 5 strengths fall into the Strategic Thinker category.

I was discussing this with a co-worker and telling her how funny I thought it was. I just am not that person. Little old me, part-time writer who majored in Literature — not business — a strategic mastermind? We laughed about it and made up other less flattering words for our strengths. But then she asked me if it was true of me anywhere else in my life. How about at home?

Hmmm.

Here’s another way to put it:

A strategic thinker tends to love to read or discuss things, to learn. They observe the past to learn its lessons, or live in the future. They assess something and find what’s wrong with it and then can come up with 50 ways to fix it.

So how does a person like me: fairly reserved, not a jump-in-and-be-decisive-take-the-reigns kind of a gal and content-to-be-part-time-employee-so as to-balance-the-rest-of-her-life, get an outcome on a test like that?

Years and years of practice.

20 years, maybe more, of coming up with ways to fix my life.

This strength has been honed in me out of necessity and survival. Because my life fell apart every six months.

That’s how long it was between discovering relapses. If I didn’t suck it up and figure out a way to fix it, I’d have been more of a basket case than I was.

When Dave resorted to old patterns, so did I. Find out about a debt. Blow up. Threaten. Despair. Pray. Cry. . . Suck it up. And figure out a way to recover financially.

I took him off the bank account. I monitored every move. I flushed pills. I badgered him with questions. Checked in constantly. Looked for jobs for him, new places to live for us. Balanced and rebalanced the budget. Made him sign contracts. Fixing, fixing, fixing.

20 years of fixing Dave . . .

. . . and a lifetime of fixing myself. Going to Bible studies. Reading the right books. Studying for hours on end. Obsessing over the latest methods of housekeeping, child-rearing, wife-being. Working overtime to measure up.

I was so focused on the wrong thing. . .

. . . focused on a surface that was turning rapidly to dust.

The way we wash our clothes

I don’t know what it is in some of us that makes us think proper theology is the answer to all of life’s problems.

Like somehow, just by having the correct view of God, our troubles will dissipate.

I was reminded of this last night, sitting with a group of beautiful Christian women whose lives have been torn apart by addictions of all kinds — theirs or their husbands’ — and who meet together to talk, to pray, to listen.

Something someone said reminded me of the struggle I had had in my soul for so, so long. Christians don’ t have these kinds of problems. 

* * * * *

The only people I had ever known to confess to an addiction were instantly healed of it the minute they became a Christian. Or at least that’s what was said. . . or maybe it wasn’t said and it just seemed like they were.

But see, Dave and I were raised in Christian homes. We went to Bible college. We had “the best” theological teaching known to the evangelical world. And we were set on a path toward ministry and the church.

It was impossible that we could have this problem. Impossible.

Rehab was a blow. A painful blow to my pride.

Such a hit, that I believed it was the lowest point I could possibly reach and therefore merited the voice from heaven that would rebuke my pride . . .  but then restore my life.

In rehab, Dave admitted to the amounts of tramadol he’d been taking. 20 to 30 a day. So much in his system that the “cold turkey” withdrawal traumatized his body. The rehab doctors had to put him back on it and wean him off slowly.

When Dave came home, he had a “to do” list. 90 meetings in 90 days. Go to a recovery meeting every night. You aren’t fixed. You still need help.

But I don’t think either one of us really believed that.

After all, Dave had repented. He’d confessed and done time in rehab for his sins.

And we had church. He met with a Christian counselor once a week. He met with our pastor, too. And we prayed all the time. Dave didn’t need to go to a meeting each night with a bunch of alcoholics. Plus, a lot of them smoked. I didn’t think it was a good environment for him . . .

The important thing now was to get our life back together. He needed a job. We needed to figure out seminary. We needed to forget the past and move on. And really, we should keep this to ourselves. We would never have a ministry if people knew.

A few years later, when I heard about Al Anon, I was just desperate enough to toy with the idea. But I couldn’t bring myself to talk about our problems with people who might not believe what I did about God. What if someone recognized me? They would look down on me, and Dave, because my Christian Leader husband had a secret.

So much pride.

And an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

Like it was my job to make sure the name of Jesus wasn’t shamed by airing our dirty laundry in public.

What I didn’t know about AA and Al Anon is how crucial support is for true recovery.

I didn’t know the 12 Steps were actually Biblical principles. I didn’t know the beautiful bond that grows between people who share each other’s burdens. I didn’t know how much more like true Church it really was than what I’d been doing all my life. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16) Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

I remember how freeing it was for my soul that first time I opened up and shared in a recovery group about the things I had kept locked tight in my heart for years. Unburdening. Letting go.

* * * * *

I think back on the secrecy now and wonder at it. So short-sighted.

Hiding our struggles out of fear that people wouldn’t respect us. Believing we’d never have a ministry with people if they knew.

I wouldn’t trade what we have now for anything. Sitting with someone who is letting go of terrible burdens and admitting to soul-crushing pain. Being heard without interruption for the first time in her life — no one stopping her, no one patting her on the back and telling her to “just trust God,” letting her cry without being shushed. And then looking up to see faces filled with tears. Not out of pity. But because they know. And they pray for each other. For deep, painful things that they’ve never shared with another soul.

And then they talk about the things that resonated with them when Dave was teaching. Someone who gets it, who knows, who’s been there. Who talks honestly and openly about things that would make any other group of people uncomfortable. Encouraged to keep going by a man who in many people’s eyes forfeited his right to ministry years ago.

Sometimes people need to see your dirty laundry to know perfection is not the goal. And that your usefulness in this life isn’t in spite of your problems. It’s because of them.

Insanity

At the deepest level, one addiction is the same as another.

Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs. The more you have, the more you want. All have the potential to be habit forming.

But they don’t all have the same price tag.

Unlike some other addictions, the signs of over-using tramadol aren’t immediately obvious. There was no smell on Dave’s breath. He didn’t stagger into the house. Life was actually more pleasant when he was using.

The truth was always revealed by money.

* * * * *

I had known for many years that from time to time Dave would spend a couple hundred a month on pain meds. It was just part of the deal. Chronic pain management was expensive.

If insurance didn’t cover because it was too soon for another refill, he’d just pay out of pocket. $85 for 30. A week’s worth.

But I got tired of it. Tired of being poor because of pain. 

I fought. And I made threats.

In 2000, I wrote in my journal:

I am on the edge of insanity I think. The kids have been sick all week and Dave came home sick on Friday. I am angry, frustrated and crabby and I explode at the smallest things. Yesterday, we received several bounced checks notices  . . . we’ve had so many financial successes of late and now he has gotten us $500 in debt. I completely exploded and told Dave I’d separate from him if I could. I was so angry at him and he was so sick, but I didn’t care — I just kept yelling at him. I just cannot take it. I feel nothing but anger. . . I can see how women just walk away — it’s too hard. I pray and it doesn’t seem to help my attitude at all.

By 2004, rather than face my disappointment and rage, Dave had found ways to get his fix without me knowing, and without it showing up in our bank account. All perfectly legal.

* * * * *

When Dave entered rehab in 2004, he was up to 30 Ultram (tramadol) a day.

I didn’t know how hard he had been working to hide things from me . . . until he went to rehab and left his phone with me.

Dave didn’t even know how bad it was.

He had just been spinning plates for so long, managing the effects of his addiction.

But when you take the spinner out, the plates fall . . .

. . . there are some really good things about those weeks alone with the kids. Lots of praying for Daddy to get well. Many loving family members miles away who did everything they could to get us through.

But neither Dave nor I, to this day, can speak of those weeks without tears.

Day after day, phone call after phone call, the depth of Dave’s addiction was revealed to me by debt collectors.

Plate after plate crashing to the ground.

Expensive plates.

* * * * *

Amazing that either of us could dare to pick those pieces up and try again.

Spinning, that is.


The fine line between belief and denial

It’s incredible to me, when I read through my volumes of journals knowing what I know now. . .

. . . how is it possible that I could have been so very, very blind?

Maybe I was distracted.

By the time Dave went to rehab, I’d been raising babies for a decade.

Four kids in seven years: pregnant and recovering from childbirth for more than three of those years. I was exhausted and just trying to survive.

With packing and unpacking and searching for new places, a dozen moves had consumed three years at the very least.

Dave was a youth pastor and a coach in addition to his teaching job until we moved to Washington. When he wasn’t working, he was sick.

And I was juggling a part-time job for three years along with the children and being Dave’s wife.

Add normal everyday life to all of this busyness & there’s no time to really look at your life.

But if there’s no time to look at your life, there’s also no time to feel the pain.

The busier, the better. For my own sanity.

Because there were things I couldn’t fix.

* * * * *

I saw Jellenik’s chart of the downward spiral of addiction when I was taking a health class in college. Probably was even tested on it. But the next time I really looked at it was when Dave brought it home from rehab.

Open my journals from those years to any page and you’d see my confusion over dishonesty, my anger about missing money, distrust of Dave’s apologies, increases in his dependence on pain medication, failed promises and resolutions, work problems, deterioration of relationships, unreasonable resentments, grandiose behavior, persistent remorse, impaired thinking, and even a geographical escape attempt.

So, so many signs.

* * * * *

It’s funny. This pattern I’ve gotten into. Even still.

If there’s something I don’t want to deal with — cleaning toilets, paying the bills, missing my family, feeling sad about the kids growing up so fast — I get really busy with something else.

The problem is, when you’re so busy, you miss the signs.

And it takes a crash to get you to notice.

And sometimes it takes more than one.

The joy of pie

Counting your blessings is a huge part of recovery.  Looking at my life to see the good that’s come from the bad — or in spite of it — keeps me from wallowing in the past that I can’t change.

This seventh post seems like a good spot to take a rest and a deep breath and tell you about some blessings before plunging back in to a big bowl of messy.

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” right?

Not me. Lemonade is too easy.

I tend to make lemon meringue pie . . . and I make a huge mess . . . and then the pie is devoured in an hour.

(That’s just an analogy, by the way. I’ve had a lot of lemons in my house and I’ve only made lemon meringue pie once — just two weeks ago . . . and I did make a huge mess. . . and I had to send Dave out for Taco Bell because I had exhausted myself with my creativity and had nothing in me left to make a decent dinner. But it was really, really amazing.)

We’ve had plenty of life lemons handed our way over the years. And the process of turning them into pie has been tougher than whipping meringue. But God has changed us along the way and today, we can clearly see some of  the blessings — the joy — of the pie He’s been helping us make.

Work has been a big piece of that pie.

Dave and I have both enjoyed a measure of success and satisfaction in the jobs we’ve had the last three years since we left full-time ministry, and a huge part of that is because of where we’ve been.

Dave is a certified credit counselor at a nonprofit agency and talks to people every day who are at the end of their rope. He’s been really successful and now he trains other counselors.

I’m pretty sure it’s because he understands exactly what it feels like to know financial despair. He listens and truly empathizes.

And I get to write fundraising letters for rescue missions.

No. Really. 

Every interview with someone whose life has been pulled from the gutter, every story I read of a family who were once living in their car is a blessing. I know for a fact “There but for the grace of God go I.”

* * * * *

I have had a hard time over the last few years accepting the changes to my life plan.

But when I count my blessings, I realize I’m pretty happy with my pie.

* * * * *

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5

Another June

“You’re not nothin’. You are not nothin’. You’re a good man, and God has given you a second chance to make things right, John. This is your chance, honey.” – June Carter, Walk the Line

It’s difficult to explain believing.

If I tell you that one of the reasons I did not leave Dave back then was because I believed that he wasn’t going to stay an addict forever, and then I tell you that he struggled for several more years after the events of my last posts, you might wonder about my beliefs.

But it’s true. I believed.

I believed God had made Dave for better things. That his life was not going to be wasted by drugs. That our family would heal. That all of our struggles had a purpose.  That this wasn’t the end of us. I believed all of those things.

Not that I always acted like I believed. I hurled plenty of “Curse God and die!” at him.

But I also saw the defeat. The trying and failing. And the despair that comes from that.

I believed that if I left him, he’d give up and end up in a gutter somewhere. Dave needed encouragement. He needed to know that if he took the tortuous journey through withdrawal and recovery, his family would be there at the other end. I knew this was true.

I failed at it over and over and over. And I doubted more than I’d like to admit. But I stayed, in part, because I believed. And it was awful. But it was worth it.

* * * * *

People say things . . . 

“If my husband ever did that, I’d leave him in a heartbeat,” and “Honey, dump his sorry behind!”

I heard that at social services when Dave was out of work for 5 months. And again in 2007. I saw it on the face of the intake lady when I dropped him off for three weeks of rehab in a hospital on the other side of the state. I overheard people talk about addicts as losers that will never change.

Dave heard those things, too. And he agreed because he felt the same way about himself. There wasn’t a lot of encouragement to believe that any good would come of this whole mess.

But everyone needs someone to believe in them. 

Besides, I wanted to be there when he got back on top of the world. And I didn’t want some other woman reaping the benefits of my tears . . .

* * * * *

We cry through the emotional parts of 2 hour movies and think the story is inspiring and amazing. We love stories with happy endings. And we respect couples who make it through the ring of fire, together.

But it’s hard to watch in real life. It takes a whole lot longer.

And it’s not scripted.

Believing isn’t always pretty.

And sometimes, no matter how hard you believe, it doesn’t turn out the way you hope.

The friend at the end of my rope

There are a million trails to take with this blog . . . it’s been a 20 year journey: through migraines, through addiction, through healing.

Yesterday, as I prayed and pondered what might be most helpful right now, I opened my journal from the year I’ve been writing about.

We’d moved to Washington in the summer of 2002. We were a thousand miles from my family and my closest friends.

So many things had happened. It was difficult even to open my mouth and explain to anyone over the phone.

The extent of our troubles had stayed between me and God and Dave.

But in the spring of 2004, life started to unravel fast. Dave lost his job (he wasn’t meeting sales quotas). He’d failed another quarter of seminary. He hadn’t been paying bills . . .

I had caught Dave in so many lies. And we had no money.

I couldn’t leave, even if I’d wanted to.

I recall sitting in the corner of my daughter’s room in a patch of warm sunlight, crying until I had nothing left. Nothing inside me but deep, deep sorrow.

As I read my journal, I was amazed at the dates. It’s now seven years to the day since the first time I got to the end of my rope:

June 4, 2004

I could hardly go on with life yesterday and I cried out to God about who I should talk to. I prayed, as I cried and washed the dishes.

I was barely done praying and Laura called.

I was still crying and told her about my prayer and she came right over. . . .

I was really encouraged by talking with Laura. She agreed that Dave needs a chemical dependency program. She even helped me call and told me what to say to the kids and our parents, etc.

I told Dave the plan when he got home. I told him he had been given a window by God, and by His grace we’d make it. . . . But he has to get help — his addiction is so much bigger than he is. I have got to believe that. But like Laura said, God can heal him — he healed her!

Help me to be strong, Lord. Actually, just be my strength. Please give Dave hope . . . and help me to be resolved Lord and not let him back out or talk his way out of detox.

“We have a God who delights in impossibilities.” [Andrew Murray] Make this impossibility possible, Lord! Amen.

It’s a little hard to read this entry in my journal. My friend Laura had just been through a life and death battle with breast cancer and though she was still recovering, she was finally cancer free. Her hair hadn’t even grown all the way back in.

I am still so stunned that she called me when she did — it was such an instantaneous answer to prayer.  We didn’t usually talk on the phone, just at church a few times a week.

But I was always convinced Laura had a special connection to God . . . 

* * * * *

I wish I’d gone to Laura’s funeral.

(Cancer came back with a vengeance.)

But I was in a different struggle then. In the fall of 2009, I was coming to the end of the years I was mad at God.

Maybe it’s me

There are days, weeks, months and even years in our history that are still difficult to talk about. Even last night, enjoying a lovely and rare meal out, discussing the blog — we both have a hard time talking about certain memories. It’s so unlike our life today. Sometimes it seems like a foggy nightmare.

But even at this moment. As I recall those days, there is physical pain in my gut. And my chest is tight. And there’s a lump in my throat.

It may take us a while before we can “go there” on this blog. But we will eventually. Because telling people about it reminds us it was real and keeps us from going back there. And maybe there’s something in those days that will help a reader through dark times.

One of those years, was the year of Oprah.

After I got over the shock, I confronted Dave about being an addict. He freely admitted to it.

And then I made plans to help him get out of it. 

I truly believed that if Dave just studied scripture more, prayed more and denied himself, he would “get over” his addictions.

Dave was in seminary studying to be a pastor. And my journals are full of me trying really hard to measure up to being a good pastor’s wife.

If I was just a better wife . . . a more organized and disciplined homemaker, a better mother to our children, if I gave him more quiet time alone, prayed more regularly, didn’t nag so much, was patient when he was sick and in pain . . . if, if, if . . he wouldn’t have to take pills. He wouldn’t need to because he wouldn’t have headaches. Caused by stress. Caused by me.

I still didn’t understand how tight a hold addiction had and how it had changed Dave.

I did think something was terribly wrong with him. . .

Or else it was just me . . .

“I think sometimes that it is all my fault,” I wrote in my journal,  “that he has made this pattern of lies and deception because I am such a horrible person.”

And then, there were the painful realizations. Like hard kicks to my gut. His confessions about dropping classes, spending money we didn’t have on pills while we were struggling to feed four children, pay rent and utility bills. . .

Sleepless nights. Endless self deprecationIf I was just a better person . . . 

Being hard on myself was nothing new. For years I’d been my own “Job’s comforter.” There must be something I’m doing wrong to make my life be this way.

Oh, I’m not a martyr. I may have convinced myself at times that I was. And, to be honest, sometimes imagining myself to be a martyr got me through. But many, many times, I was just as hard on Dave.

This was a spin cycle I had been on almost all of our married life. And it would be several more years until I would understand that my conflict had a name and that a lot of people shared my struggle.

But I know now.

And I think that’s part of the pain of remembering those times . . .

There was so much I didn’t know.

Like wandering through a dust storm, tiny pieces of sand scratching your face, causing pain while you step fearfully and blindly toward a refuge.