on being fragile

Brushing teeth in Brooklyn
Annette brushes her teeth.
Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress Collection

Last year, or the year before, my dentist told me I needed gum surgeries. And I didn’t go back.

Cut gum tissue from the roof of my mouth. Sew it to my receded gums. Heal. And repeat. No thank you.

But now I’m in pain . . .

I HATE going to the dentist.

No. ReallyViolently hate.

I once stormed out of our newlywed apartment, marched furiously through our sketchy neighborhood until it was nearly dark, got home and locked myself in the bathroom until my bewildered husband apologized for his offenses.

All he’d said was you have to have a regular dental check up.

Well, he kind of insisted . . . and I would have none of it.

. . .  I’m sure I’ll have to have a teeth cleaning, also known as torture . . .

the gag reflex awakened by Xray cards that bore holes in my mouth, the electric shock of hitting a nerve on my intensively sensitive exposed roots,the stabbing of my inflamed gums, the tugging at the tartar behind my front teeth until it feels like they’re being yanked out, the inevitable lecture on flossing . . .

I don’t stay with dentists for long.

As soon as they expect me to keep regular appointments, I disappear.

* * * * *

But I go . . . more than a little ashamed I waited so long.

And I repeat to myself: it’s not chemo. And I picture my sister, a cancer survivor and my “patron saint” of all things I think will kill me.

And I take my nine-year-old for moral support . . .

I am sure there are notes in my chart. About how I clench my jaw when they clean my teeth. About how I don’ t keep appointments. About the time I grabbed that other hygienist’s hand away from my mouth and begged her to be more gentle . . . Or maybe the notes just say be careful.

How long has this pain been going on? the dental clinician asks.

An embarrassingly long time, I tell her. I am compelled to apologize.

She kindly assures me it’s okay. And does not dismiss or chide my fears of infection.

The dentist says kind things about my receding gums — that I know are notably worse — calling me an “over-achiever” in my tooth brushing, a perfectionist.

She pokes around my mouth and does not send me through the roof. She is always like this, my dentist. But usually I have to endure the torture before I see her, so I forget how kind she is.

She tells me about the hole in my exposed root. She tells me there’s more now than just gum surgery. And she takes my tight face in her hands and looks me in the eyes and says, I know. I had gum surgery, too. But you have to do this. 

And I feel better. So much that I call to make all the appointments as soon as I leave her office.

* * * * *

A few weeks back, on a Sunday morning, I started a post all about how much I hate going to the dentist. (My teeth have been achy for quite a while.)

I wrote and wrote. Dave left to do his Sunday duties. The kids waited in the car for me instead of me for them. And we pulled into church nearly a half an hour late.

We rushed through the foyer, still full of first-service social stragglers, and my eyes landed on my favorite church greeter.

Seeing his face brought back the years when going to church was painful. 

Years of wanting to be there to sing the songs that were an ointment to my heart. To pray. To hear sermons of grace that gave me hope as though written just for me.

But I didn’t want to see all the people. To talk to them. To answer questions.

To hear about marriage and homeschooling and all the ways my life could not measure up.

Not every time. But enough.

I just wanted to slip in and out quietly and unnoticed back then. Not to be early and not make a grand entrance.

The days migraines or withdrawals kept Dave at home in bed. Or we’d had a fight. Or I was on the verge of breaking. Or I was overwhelmed with managing the children alone.

I heard Where’s your husband? Or We haven’t seen you in a while.

Or had a dreadful march to the front row where there are lots of seats.

Later, when the healing began, but I still hurt. I was late to church on purpose. To avoid.

And I felt guilty because I knew I was wrong.

But my favorite greeter has never said those things. And he’s never seated me up front.

Whether I’m ten minutes late or thirty, he gives me a big smile, hands me a bulletin, opens wide the door to the sanctuary and says:

You’re just in time.

Simple words that always make me feel welcome — just as I am.

* * * * *

There’s no chart at Church. No notes.

Nothing to say this one is hurting.

We don’t even wear a color to signify mourning anymore.

But there are people just like me coming to church in desperation.

Because it finally hurts so much they’ll endure small tortures just so they can be healed. 

Healed by Jesus — who they forgot is always kind and gentle.

Some haven’t been in a while. Hoping no one notices it’s been so long. Maybe apologetic.

The notes are written on the face. In the eyes . . .

. . . I’m fragile.

Sometimes it takes a while. To trust.

Do we speak simple words that encourage them to come back?

Or do we use the tools? Questions. Comments. Statements.

Do they leave strengthened to do the hard thing they have to do next?

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, “Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.” Daniel 10:19

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

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.

Redemption is real

I was in prison and you came to visit me.
http://www.chuckcolson.org

“His life is a testament to how redemption, so often debased and abused in a 24/7 news cycle obsessed with celebrity and scandal, can be astonishingly powerful and real.” — Rich Lowry on Charles W. Colson

I was writing an article recently for work and had to read some sections of Chuck Colson’s book, “Born Again.”

Some of it is just too painful, hits too close to home in some ways. Granted, the nation wasn’t watching when Dave lost his ministry because of his prescription drug abuse and all the destructive side-effects.

Because of his Watergate crimes, Chuck Colson went to prison. He served just enough time to see the hopelessness of condemned men and the failure of a system that sent them back to the streets to re-offend. He used his notoriety to found Prison Fellowship sharing his testimony of transformation to give hope to millions.

Granted, it would be hard to hide from your past if your sins, crimes, shame were as famous as Watergate. It would follow you your whole life, just as it did Chuck Colson. Just look at the headlines and the articles detailing his crimes from nearly 40 years ago.

The thing that inspires me about Chuck Colson is that he repented, acknowledged his shame and let God turn it into a platform to speak to criminals and kings. It takes a great deal of humility to have your flaws chronicled for all time and still face the world.

How have you failed? What has God healed you from? And why do you hide it?

People don’t want to hear how great we are or how perfect we’ve become. There’s no real hope for perfection in this life. So give it up! What are you going to let God do with your shame?

People want to know that no matter how badly they’ve failed and no matter how much they’ve scoffed at and rejected the God who loves them, that He still stands there with open arms ready to embrace them and forgive.

It may be in a prison yard speaking to 600 convicts or it might be a small recovery group in your church. All around us men and women are living in their past or present bondage to shame.

Let God use your story. They need to know redemption is real.

 “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” 

Boston Globe in 1973

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,

Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example

for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Saint Paul, I Timothy 1:14-15