A conversation about physical recovery from prescription opioid addiction

Dave and I talk about the physical aspects of his recovery from prescription opioid addiction: withdrawal, post-acute withdrawal syndrome, and more.

What happens when you stop taking a prescription opioid? Well, that depends. Have you been taking them according to the instructions? Or have you been abusing them? Most people who take powerful opioids for recovery from medical procedures experience only mild withdrawal. But when you’ve been taking them for years, and in amounts that could kill you?

In this 20 minute video, Dave describes his many withdrawal experiences with Tramadol and Suboxone and gives insight into the critical need for support in the early months of recovery — especially from long-term, high-dosage prescription drug addiction.

If you’re discouraged that you or your loved one isn’t “back to normal” this is an important watch. Oh, and please subscribe to our newsletter if you haven’t already. We’ll send you a week’s worth of posts in one email.

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:






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.

“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

Learning to hide

It’s been a long time since my last post.

Sometimes, I struggle with a post for a few days and when it’s done it’s like I’ve knocked down another wall. And I need to let the dust settle before I work on the next.

This particular wall is tough. It has taken years to understand and almost a month to put it into words.

* * * * *

When I was in the 5th grade, I got a scolding I’ve never forgotten.

My friends and I were supposed to be at recess, but we snuck back into our classroom to get something from one of our bags. I can’t remember now what it was. But for some reason, when we were caught in the classroom, we lied about why we were there.

The lie must have been pretty transparent because we were sent straight to the principal — at a  public school — who threatened with a spanking and a call home.

As the principal shrilly explained the consequences for lying (she never asked for the truth, by the way) she raised a cricket bat-like board with holes above her head & it whistled through the air landing with a loud smack on the arm of her naugahyde chair leaving tiny circle imprints in the upholstery.

Her voice was terrifying. The thought of that board hitting my backside was terrifying.

But that wasn’t the worst part for me.

The worst was being pulled out of class later that day by my Social Studies teacher who also happened to be my Sunday School teacher.

“How could you do such a thing?” she demanded. ” Don’t you know who your father is?”

My dad was getting his doctorate in theology at the seminary next door to my school, I knew that. But I don’t think I had ever realized that there was a reason why I should be treated differently from my peers until that moment.

It was a blow that left tiny circles of shame on my heart — and it ignited a flame that would eventually consume me: a sense of over-responsibility for what other people think.

* * * * *

That year my parents became missionaries. We traveled across the country visiting churches to raise support, staying with relatives, friends and sometimes strangers and made it to Bangladesh in less than 12 months.

We met so many people that year . . . I had no idea there were so many things to have opinions — convictions — about.

In this new life, I learned:

That going to see a movie in a theater was bad but watching them on video wasn’t.

That playing cards with faces were evil but playing the same games with faceless cards wasn’t.

That there were words that are not curse words, but so and so’s family doesn’t like them, so none of us use them.

That there were versions of the Bible you could read that would cause division, even if you were an expert in Biblical languages and said the translation was technically better.

That churches in the States would drop a missionary’s support if your son’s was too long for their taste in your prayer card photo. Even if it was really just a shadow.

That churches, when you pull up in a nice car, may decide your family must not need their support if you can afford to drive that (even though the car was provided for you by another church).

These things — and so many more — stuck with me. Resonated in my conflict-hating, people-pleasing nature.

I tried to conform to every conservative view to fit in.

* * * * *

But this is the thing that too often happens to children of Christian leaders. Even if their parents work hard (as mine did) to allow them growing room, to not bend to arbitrary standards — someone, somewhere will place undue expectation on them.  Like somehow, because of their parents, they are expected to be better than regular Christians. Better than anyone.

The same people usually put unreasonable expectations on the leaders as well . . . like there is an unwritten rule book of things you can’t find in the Bible. Expectations of behavior. Of dress. Of priorities. Of sacrifice. And there are people who feel it is their calling to make sure you “incur a stricter judgement.”

But these rules and standards are often as different as the people who have them. And you can make yourself crazy trying to keep up. Trying to stay ahead of the game and guess what may offend . . .

. . . maybe that’s why some of the most conservative churches have such terrible scandals, things that go on for years and years hidden. When there is so little room for tiny failures — differences of opinion, really — who would share a real struggle?

* * * * *

At camp, Dave was criticized for the strangest things. The expectations of dozens of different people aimed at him:

This is the way we’ve always done it. The way it’s always been done is wrong.

You have to hire her. If you hire her it will be your worst mistake.

You preached too much about grace at the fireside invitation. You didn’t preach enough grace.

Your wife shouldn’t help with that. We have summer staff to do it.

Staff should have a night off each week. You can take your time off when camp’s over.

Let me do that. I did it all, Dave did nothing.

You need to fix this. If you change it, I’ll leave.

Within six months, we felt defeated.

Damned if we did. Damned if we didn’t.

Dave turned back to pain meds.  And when all my efforts to please fell flat, I buried myself in to-do lists. Decorating the house. Homeschooling the kids. Oblivious to the fact that the changes I was beginning to see in Dave were more than just exhaustion from his new career.

* * * * *

I’ve spent a lot of energy in my life trying to live up to please people.

But over-concern for what people think eventually leads to image control. You learn to hide things. Because you know you don’t really measure up. . .

. . . in Bangladesh, there are high walls around houses. And if you’re worried that the walls are not protection enough, you can put a layer of cement on the top of it and imbed it with pieces of broken glass.

The first giant step on our path to recovery was to become a part of a church where no one knew or cared who our parents were. No one cared where we went to college. Few had even heard of it.

We were no one. And that was the beginning.

I was in a place where God could finally chip away at the walls I started building in 5th grade.

But as steadily as God was chipping, I was reinforcing my wall.

Lining the top of it with broken glass.


It’s so strange. How we keep secrets.

And so human.

It comes so naturally to us, that we are often uncomfortable around people who are open and honest about themselves.

We’ve had some interesting responses — Dave and I — to his candid sharing and to this blog.

But there is a place where we put these problems decent people don’t have that will eventually cause them to grow — secrecy, privacy, darkness . . . 

* * * * *

When all the darkness had come to light in our house, and he had gone through rehab, I wanted Dave to tell openly to our church what had been going on in his life.

He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher and a seminary student. Seems like by virtue of his position, the sin should be considered public. After all, there were doctors and pharmacists in three counties of Washington who knew his secret.

But we were advised not to. No, private confession was enough.

And though I disagreed, I understood. Because we were a part of a denomination and a culture that would, in all likelihood, write us off. Dave forever labeled an addict. Disbarred from leadership.

And there was pride . . . it takes a truckload of humility to confess to one person. A mountain of it to confess to a church.

* * * * *

I read portions of a book on forgiveness by a popular conservative, evangelical pastor and writer recently. And I was deeply disturbed by his take on dealing with what he called “private sins.”

In the F.A.Q. section, in the back of the book, the question is who do we confess to? His answer:

“Confession of guilt must always be made to God. Confession is also owed to whomever our sin has injured. The arena of confession should be as large as the audience of the original offense. Public transgressions call for public confession; private sins should be confessed to God alone.”

Private sins . . . confessed to God alone . . .

. . . the tricky thing about the heart — the so deceitful who can know it part of us — is that we are capable of twisting any sin into a private sin . . . this is just between me and God.

Rationalized. Compartmentalized. Kept secret. Covered up.

Reading this in the context of this awful year of discoveries of hidden sins of Christian leaders I grew up with, this idea makes me ill. The ramifications of such a belief are frightening.

Because where is the line?

When does “private sin” become more than just between you and God? More than just between you and a small group of men in a conference room who decide the Kingdom of God cannot afford such a scandal? More than a secret among colleagues who let you go back to a mission field full of young children whose lives you will mar forever with your “private sins.”

It is an ache in my heart that has deepened. This covering of sins. This convincing of ourselves that it is love to do so, when that can’t possibly be what the Apostle Peter meant. (I Peter 4:8)

I’m not saying tell the whole world every flaw. But struggling alone is folly. Because keeping it just between you and God isn’t biblical at all.

It’s not how God made us.

Confess your sins to one another. Pray for each other. That you may be healed. James 5:16

I don’t believe James was talking about that time you thought about ditching church. Or that you forgot to pray for someone you said you’d pray for. Or that you didn’t return your shopping cart to the front of the store.

No. I believe he meant the sins that eat away like a cancer at our souls. The hardcore stuff that we would rather hide. The stuff people don’t talk about.

* * * * *

If there is any regret, anywhere in our story, it is that we believed this human idea of private sins.

Private sins eventually become public. And the end of keeping our secret was disaster.

The pain and the sorrow and the loneliness and the judgement and the rejection — all of these were a result of prolonged struggling and failing — alone.

Keeping it a secret meant not dealing with it — after all, where would we go for help? Admitting struggle meant Dave losing his job. Admitting failure meant we’d be cast aside forever by the church as useless, wasted lives. Admitting that there wasn’t “victory” meant disappointing family who had helped us get back on our feet.

So we kept it to ourselves.

Seasons and years of confessing only to God.

But it was slowly destroying us. Our marriage. Our relationships. Our ministry.

* * * * *

I love that the writers of Scripture were brutally honest about themselves, their sins, their struggles.

Moses, David, Paul — they wrote some seriously harsh things about themselves that, as loving friends, we probably would have advised them to keep to themselves . . .

But see, God isn’t into secrets.

Secrecy is a like a bandage put on a festering wound, hoping it will heal itself.

And eventually, because God loves us and doesn’t want us to die from infection, he takes off the bandaid. Sometimes by ripping. Sometimes by a slow, painful peel . . .

One of our favorite stories, Dave’s and mine, is in John 11.

Lazarus. Dead. Sealed in a tomb for days. And Jesus tells the bystanders to open the grave.

Lord, he stinketh.

Objections. To Jesus exposing the stench in order to heal . . .

Loudly, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Shouts, so that everyone around can hear.

And then, of all things, he asks the crowd to take off the bandages.

* * * * *

Sometimes, in order for people to understand the possibility and power of healing, they need experience the grief of the death.

Sometimes the stinky bandage removal is so that the bystanders will learn something about God.

. . . for me and for Dave, going back to the secrecy and privacy and “putting away quietly” would be as insane as Lazarus wrapping his healed body back up in the stinky grave clothes and retreating into the tomb to slowly rot to death…

And it would be a waste of an incredible resurrection.

Weighing In

Weighing the peas. Calpatria, CA. Dorthea Lange, 1939

I’ve often been a swinging pendulum . . . an all or nothing kind of gal.

Throwing all my energy here and then way over there.  Terribly messy and then Mommy Dearest-clean. Totally opposed to something and then really excited about it . . . and then not, again. . .

But I’m fairly certain it’s better to live life more like a scale than a pendulum. Not the kind you step on. The kind that sat on the top of our piano in the 70’s “weighing out” bunches of plastic decorative grapes. The kind of scales “justice” holds while she covers her eyes.

But balance is hard. Truly. So, so much harder than swinging.

Balance means weighing my life, my time, my talents against my values. Balance means unloading things and saying no. Balance means loving people who are different from you and tackling hard conversations because they don’t share your standard of measure.

Balance is often misunderstood. Messy. Gray.

Pendulums swing through the muck of life and come out clean. Scales are in it. Measuring. Weighing. Thinking. Evaluating. Knowing there is a time to tip the scale, but carefully choosing to do it when it really matters.

* * * * *

I think a lot of us  seem to prefer the pendulum swing.

He’s totally wrong. He’s totally right. What I know is good. What I don’t know is bad. Agree. Disagree. Love it. Hate it. Black. White.

Shades of gray are uncomfortable. Shades of gray require messy conversations. Shades of gray mean sometimes appearing inconsistent. Shades of gray require balance.

And that is why we maintain a safe distance from people who struggle with problems decent people don’t have. We read about them in the news. We judge. We label.

The pendulum swings, side to side, in a rhythm of self-righteousness:

They are not like us.

We would never be like them.

They get what they deserve.

. . . but when you find that problem a decent person would never have in your house, in your friend, in your church, in yourself, you find that you have created a  simple machine — a culture, a church, a soul — that cannot process the paradox . . . so,  the pendulum keeps swinging, ignoring.

Hoping it will go away.

* * * * *

In the fall of 2004, when Dave was interviewing for the position at the camp, it was important to me that he tell his future employers about his struggle with addiction. So he did.

Do you have victory? They asked.

In Dave’s mind, he could control his addiction. He didn’t want to admit it was still a problem. And I didn’t know it was still a problem. I believed there was only failure or victory.

Well . . . yes. 

The response: Then we don’t need to hear about it.

Afterward, I would wonder about this response. Wonder what would have happened if the response had been more probing. More questioning. What are you doing about it? Who is keeping you accountable? What is your plan for when this job sucks the lifeblood out of you? Or if Dave had said, I still struggle. I need support.

But now, I marvel. At all sides. At the one who thought he could control a consuming addiction for the sake of his family. And at the one who seemed to think an addiction could be so quickly and easily swept away. And at myself, for swinging from the depths of despair into a dream.

* * * * *

As I was looking for a picture of balancing scales, it dawned on me that at some point in the advances of machinery, measuring value and worth became a rather quick job.

Once upon a time, back in the balancing days, people set the items onto one side of the scale and then, they carefully added and removed weights or coins onto the opposite side.

Somewhere, we lost the art of balanced measure.

Step onto the scale and in one glance we judge: Accepted. Rejected. Victor. Failure. Winner.  Loser.

Decent people don’t have these kinds of problems and therefore, as decent people, when they suddenly have this problem decent people don’t have, they will deal with it themselves swiftly and privately we won’t have to deal with the mess. With the gray. With the struggle.

The pendulum swings.

And we hide from it behind competence. Or piety. Or humor. Or goodness. Or badness.

Balance is hard.

Balance means sitting on the scale and letting the farmer point out my flaws while he measures my value.

And I hold my breath.

Because I’d rather swing.

“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?


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.