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Posts tagged ‘prescription drug abuse’

silent alarms

Bank corner. Laurel, Mississippi. Russell Lee 1939,
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve run into our past again.

Not just once, but repeatedly.

I want to write about these meetings, but I wrestle with the words for days and weeks until I choke them out.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How something innocently trips a wire and sets off alarms no one hears but you.

Someone must hear it . . . But no. The world hears nothing. Sees nothing.

* * * * *

The first came up in a meeting at work. I was sure the alarm showed on my face, so I looked down, writing nothing on a creative brief.

Ah, relief! — I didn’t have to write this story that created an instant knot in my throat. And then, weeks later, I did.

Edit this and rewrite it with more emotion. 

The story was about a little girl whose daddy went to prison for credit card fraud he’d committed to support his prescription drug abuse.

The hours I spent in that job were a George Bailey-esque angel journey through what might  have been.

Even now, looking back at an old email exchange with a lawyer, I feel a little faint.

At the time, I didn’t understand. All I could see was a debt that was being repaid by garnishing his wages . . . all of them at once . . . leaving our family in poverty.

Some would say, and did say, he deserved it.

That we, the kids and I, deserved it, they would never say. And yet, our lot was tied together . . .

The debt was paid off by God’s grace and provision within a few months, but we were left to wonder if there was more coming. And to this day, we don’t know.

I wrote. For hours. With a box of kleenex.

* * * * *

Deserving . . . a filter I must constantly apply to my fundraising writing. Will donors see the person as deserving? Of their dollars? Of their sympathy? Of God’s grace?

The wire is tripped in a conference room by someone whose vision and passion for outcasts pierces my heart:

Jesus came to set prisoners free. And all of us have been in a prison of some sort: anger, abuse, greed, discontent, unforgiveness . . .

We nod in response. We believe that not one of us is deserving of God’s grace.

There is a debt hanging over our heads and we are blissfully oblivious. All of us fall short. All. Not just law-violators. Not just cheaters. Not just drunks. All.

. . . but now we’re back to what is marketable. What Christians will respond to.

People respond to transformation, someone says.

* * * * *

Another story comes across my desk.

A family leaves Southern California in search of a new life in Washington. What they find is no work, welfare and rain.

But can you make it compelling? they say.

Easy. . . It’s my story, too . . .

I haven’t been back to Tacoma alone in eight years and it’s only an hour away.

I am surprised, after so many years in the country, to realize we’d been such city-dwellers. Our old house is just blocks from downtown.

Curious, I take a side street and drive to the house.

How many times did I walk up and down these streets, pushing a heavy double stroller, coaxing my older kids and bribing them with a popsicle, worrying about what we would eat, about how we’d pay the rent?

I see myself — she’s so young, so thin (but thinks she’s fat), and has so much hardship to go through still. I feel like she’s not even me. A lifetime ago.

How have you experienced transformation?

The question takes me by surprise. I’m not prepared for this.

And yet I am.

Down the street from the room where we sit is the bank with the great, ornate, old-world hall where I sat small and pleading, weak with misery, eight years ago . . .

The manager places stop payments at no fee. She closes the account and sets up a new one in my name only. She gives me a small line of credit. The kindness I received from a corporation still astounds me.

Up a few blocks is the unemployment office where Dave reported in every week. Where he waited in line with the rest of Tacoma’s poor. Where month after month the job search was fruitless.

The sun pours through the tall windows, and I think how to answer this big question.

Transformation is not just something I market. We have lived it. Dave and I.

We are not the same people who came to this city ten years ago. We are not the same people who thought they were experiencing rock-bottom right here, just blocks away. We are not the same people who left a ministry years now ago, in shame.

I know real transformation is possible. I say. I have seen it in my husband. He is nearly five years sober and a changed man.

Amen, they say. And I am freed by their affirmation.

So I tell them that I am still in the process of transformation. A transformation that began right here in this city when a good little Baptist family in seminary was blindsided by addiction. A transformation that is still going on.

I tell them that I understand now what I didn’t even then — that there is no difference between me and an addict. We are all saved by God’s grace and mercy.

I tell them I’m still discovering that I am a sinner. That though there were times I thought I was better than Dave, I really wasn’t.

I tell them that my sins of attitude, of speech, are “acceptable” ones. The ones we find not as repulsive as dirty-and-sleeping-on-the-streets drunkenness. And yet I know that they are.

We are all addicted to something, says one . . . .

. . . . I’ve read your blog, says the other. It’s why he wanted to meet me.

Keep writing, they say. There is not enough written about addiction.

I am astonished. They do not know I have been overwhelmed with this burden of writing hard things. Pestered with feelings of worthlessness. That I’ve been shrinking from the fight to be heard in a noisy world.

And another wire is tripped.

This time, however, the alarm that sounds is just a still, small voice. A voice I strained to hear in this very city. The voice that told me to stay when I longed to run. The voice that tells me someday this will all work together for your good and for My glory. 

And He says, You see, I told you so.

the truth heals, part two

Dorthea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress Collection


The blog post today is written by Dave. In the previous post, I wrote about letting go of Dave’s recovery. My prayer in the last few years of his addiction finally became a simple, “If he’s lying, please don’t let him get away with it.” I still pray that prayer — for Dave and even for my kids. Lies destroy relationships. The truth heals.

* * * * *

My addiction to pills caused a lot of damage. Every part of my life was hurt.

Financially I wasted thousands. Physically I was wracked through the withdrawal and detoxification process. Mentally I am not as sharp as I was before I was on Ultram. Spiritually I seared my conscience and distanced myself from God.

The most evident damage, however, was the wreckage I brought on my relationships. My wife. My children. My parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, anyone I met. And almost all that damage was a direct result of lies.

When I was using, I lied about it. Over and over and over.  I lied all the time to hide and minimize my sin. I had an entire life to hide.

I could not sleep.  Guilt and fear that weighed on me and my mind raced from one lie to another and one manipulative scheme to another.  I would lay at night wide awake in the dark, while Deb slept soundly next to me, with pills in my system — afraid I might die. Not because I was afraid of death or even that my family would be left without me. (By that point I had decided they would be sad, but most likely better off without me.)

I was afraid of dying because all my secrets would be laid bare without my constant vigilance to keep them hidden.

It was a full-time job just keeping the lies straight.

Where did I say I was when I was at a doctor? What could I make up to explain the money spent at the pharmacy? Who did I tell what?

Keeping those lies up and my sin in the dark was draining, exhausting and terrifying. I was terrified of discovery.

Earning trust

When I was asked to resign from my ministry job it all came out. The lies were laid bare. My nightmare came true. And it was the beginning of freedom.

The problem was, even if I told the truth now, no one trusted me. I had lied for so long and so well that all the words and all the tears and all the declarations of innocence had been heard before and were eventually proven false.

At times in those first months I nearly despaired that I could ever rebuild trust with my wife, my family and anyone who knew me.

I quickly learned that I needed to be OK with suspicion.

Deb wanted to believe I had changed and was clean and willing to truly walk with God, but she had been to that place over and over and had been hurt. Not just hurt, but violated to her core.

Today we have rebuilt most of that trust. Not completely healed. There are still scars that will always linger. She still needs to be able to ask me if I am taking drugs, if I am hiding anything.

Rebuilding trust was painfully obvious but painfully slow.

The best and only way to earn trust is to have nothing to hide. Just as the damage was caused by lies over and over, I needed to be honest and clean for a long time. Over and over.

Rather than trying to convince Deb that I was being good, I needed to just let the evidence of my recovery and changed life be enough.

I needed to stop manipulating. Stop minimizing. Stop deflecting. Stop seeking instant and controllable pleasure.

I needed to stop trying and hoping and wishing it was different and realize I was powerless over my addiction and needed to turn my will and life over to the care of God. Rock bottom propelled me. But at some point, I had to actually stop and surrender myself to God.

And then I could start… start. Start to seek God and simple pleasures of a real life. Start honesty. Start trusting. Start loving. Start accepting responsibility.

I love that I have earned some trust back from my wife. That we can grow together. I love that honesty and a clean conscience means I can speak and lead and help without the nagging doubts of a blatant fraud.

Another thing has changed . . .

Tonight I will lie down to go to sleep and I will… sleep. I will be OUT in a few minutes. I sleep like a baby, or a log . . . Honesty and a clean conscience have given me peace and rest like I had not known for years.

— Dave

* * * * *

If you are a recovering addict, you need to realize that restoring the trust you’ve broken takes time — there will have to be a lot of truth-telling before you see signs of hope. For Dave, it has been a long and humbling road.  Are you committed to being truthful even if you are not believed? Can you tell the truth longer than you lied? There is hope. 

If you’re married to someone who has started on this “road to recovery,” your journey will also be long. Remember that the habit of lies doesn’t die quickly.  If your goal and hope is restoration, give them time to tell you the truth. Pray that God will catch them when they lie and convict them. He knows and He sees. Encourage honesty. Pray for wisdom. There is hope.

. . . So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes . . .

For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found . . . .

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 . . . I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”

Isaiah 59-60

the truth heals, part one

Rebuilding a house

Rebuilding a house carried out of the Santee-Cooper Basin
Jack Delano, 1941

How did you rebuild trust? someone recently asked me.

How did you make it from the lies to now.

I thought I could give a one post answer. But it’s not that simple.

So I write. And I think. And I pray.

And I ask God to give me words to say to people who feel as though their hearts have been ripped from their bodies. Who are hollow and broken, limping cautiously across a minefield knowing that no matter how lightly they step, eventually there will be an explosion.

I remember how it was to plead with God for an answer.

Should I stay, God? Should I leave? Should I trust him? Should I make rules?

Wrestling. Weighing.

* * * * *

It took me a long time to really understand that Dave had to own his recovery.

As much as I wanted to help, as much as our future was dependent on the outcome and as much as I felt like I deserved to have answers, ultimately my determination had nothing to do with it.

I had to let go of this. This control.

Every time Dave was caught in lies, I had a meltdown. And then I made a plan. Steps Dave could follow to regain my trust.

He’d do them for a while. But too often he was doing it just to please me.

And he really needed to be doing it for himself.

There was nothing. Nothing I could do to fix Dave. Nothing.

No agreement. No counseling. No contracts. No threats. No intervention. No violence.

God had to get ME to a place where I would let HIM work on Dave.

I had to decide if I was willing for God to do the fixing.

* * * * *

I heard it on the radio yesterday — this dilemma.

“You can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed,” I heard one preacher say yesterday. And I know it’s true.

Addicts have to get to that horrible place we try so hard to shield them from. For them, but mostly for us.

And you can’t rebuild trust with someone who doesn’t really intend to be honest.

Then another preacher says, “The love that forgives and restores . . . there is something precious in that Christ-like love.”

And I know this hard, hard thing is true.

That a love that endures involves suffering. 

False starts. Relapse. Repentance. Fights. Being lied to.

So my answer to the hard questions is a thing I don’t want to say.

* * * * *

We won’t know, until we look back, where the healing really began.

From the day Dave first confessed his addiction to the day he really did hit “rock bottom” more than three and a half years passed.

It took years for God to pry my fingers off Dave’s recovery. And God did not always do things the way I wanted Him to do them.

If you are married to an addict, ask yourself these questions:

Do I really want restoration? Or do I just want out?

Listen to what God is telling you about your marriage.

It is not for me to say if you should walk away.  I can only say what we did.

* * * * *

For us, restoring trust took time. Years.

I haven’t just been learning to trust Dave. I am learning to trust God. 

Over the next posts Dave is going to join me.  Because he had to earn trust from everyone in his life — not just me — and only  he can tell you how hard that was.

Because when he looks back, he sees the day he began telling me the truth. Being accountable. Living honestly.

But it was a very long time before I really did trust him.

And even now, I am reminded that it isn’t about me trusting Dave. Because in moments of weakness, the years come back.

And I’m reminded: It’s about me trusting God to make Dave the man He wants him to be. With or without my trust.

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate.

The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For You have rescued my soul from death,

My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling.

I shall walk before the Lord In the land of the living.

I believed when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”

I said in my alarm, “ All men are liars.”

Psalm 116:5-11

there’s something I have to tell you

Russell Lee, photographer, 1937
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year now . . .

and I still haven’t told our whole story.

If I’m ever going to get it all out there, I’m going to have to be more consistent.

More organized.

More brave.

* * * * *

The writer Anne Lamott tweeted this the other day:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.

If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

So, I’ve been thinking about it . . .

And I think I might be able to get away with that in twenty years.

Because I think that there are people who behaved badly in our story who might take offense . . . or worse . . .

But I need to tell you that there is a better way to deal with prescription drug addiction than what we experienced.

And I think that’s really what has to be told in our story.  

Because the more I read about prescription drug addiction, the more I believe that it’s a silent epidemic creeping into our church pews.

And I am convinced that the Church is completely ignorant about the danger and commonality of prescription drug addiction. And completely unprepared to deal with it.

If I never get the chance to write another word on this blog, I have to tell you some things. You just need to know.

I was listening to a popular Christian counseling show on the radio a month or so ago and heard the counselor (a very, very well-known author) actually say that anti-anxiety medications were NOT addictive.

I nearly crashed my car.

Where would he get that kind of mis-information?

It’s taking forever for the medical world to catch up with classifying drugs.

Warnings have just been sounded about Tramadol, the drug Dave was addicted to.

Only the ones that are flat-out addictive: morphine, etc — drugs most of my readers aren’t likely to have laying around the house — are strictly monitored. Most of the time, when people refer to addictive drugs, they mean these.

Meth and heroin are Schedule I drugs — illegal drugs, with no medical purpose.

Aderall and Ritalin are Schedule II drugs, right alongside Morphine and Oxycontin. Highly addictive drugs, referred to as controlled substances.

Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market are NOT controlled substances, but have the potential to be addictive:

Valium

Xanax

Ambien

Tramadol

and

Vicodin — the number one prescribed drug in America —  131.2 million prescriptions in 2010.

An estimated 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceutical drugs. Prescription drugs account for about 75 percent of all drug-related U.S. overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And three of every four deaths from pills involve opioid pain relievers including oxycodone. — Reuters

We are the most medicated country in the world.

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Shutting down pharmacies that made the naughty list with NIDA, and drug take back campaigns to get unused prescriptions out of homes.

“Most of us can’t go to our grandmother’s house and find cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine, but we can find prescription painkillers.” Gil Kerlikowske

But it was a series of legitimate prescriptions that set Dave on the path of addiction.

What about doctors who prescribe and over prescribe?

What about pharmaceutical companies making a killing off our pains?

Is it necessary to prescribe Vicodin to a teenager with a cough?

Anti-anxiety medication — without any real evaluation –to someone who really just needs counseling?

Narcotics to someone who broke a finger? (Need more convincing? Read this.)

I’ve personally experienced this. This jump to prescribe after a five-minute conversation.

And one of these days, I’m going to lose it Erin Brokovich style.

Maybe I already have.

How many times have I had to write “prescription drug addiction” on the children’s family medical history before someone actually refers to that information? Do I have to tattoo it on their foreheads?

DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you and yours could never get addicted to prescription drugs.

**A WORD OF WARNING: If you or anyone you are concerned about is taking a potentially addictive drug, don’t go cold turkey.

You could die. You could become suicidal. 

Get medical help before ditching your legitimately prescribed pills.

I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you don’t believe me, read the fine print on the insert that comes with your medication.

If that doesn’t tell you these drugs are dangerous, I don’t know what would.

Make your voice heard until you find someone who cares.

Dump your doctor for one who will really test you and your kids before prescribing potentially addictive drugs.

And for goodness sake, check your work and medical benefits. 

We found out after Dave was asked to resign that his Christian employer’s benefits included 30 days of leave for rehab.

No one told us.

And there I go.

But these things have to be said.

No matter how sorry anyone is. No matter how much hindsight anyone has now.

You need to know.

We were good people. Seriously. If I told you how good, you would think I was lying.

Let’s just say this: great kids, leaders in high school — at school and at church, leaders in college, leaders in church, leaders in ministry. Not Party-ers. Not drinkers. And chaste. (Yep. There, I said it. Mock away or shake your head in disbelief.)

And yet. And YET. Prescription drug addiction nearly destroyed us.

Take a good, hard look.

This is what’s coming.

Christians have got to be ready

They weren’t ready for us.

And some of them should have behaved better.

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