The Sober Life

Six hundred and seventy-four days ago, I took my last hit. That hit is so much more important than the first one. The first one just sort of happened. I don’t think anyone says, “Hey, you know what I am going to do today? I am going to go get high and then in a week or two, hope that I am an addict.” No. Addiction doesn’t happen like that.

For me, it was carbon monoxide seeping into a house, silent, but deadly. I was in pain and the doctor prescribed painkillers. I took them as prescribed the first day or two, but quickly discovered that they helped me sleep. What was an extra painkiller if it meant that I could sleep after six months of night terrors and flashbacks? So, in gratitude, I began swallowing an extra painkiller at night to bring sleep.

Oh, but those painkillers soon proved themselves invaluable in my fight against the flashbacks of being abused … and who would dare tell me not to take them? I was in emotional and physical pain as I relived the many assaults on my body. And swallowing one or two extra pills during the day, what was that really going to hurt? In fact, those little pills actually seemed to help me function.

But just like that, I was hooked. The pills weren’t enough to get me the relief that I needed, so I reached for my old friend vodka whom I hadn’t visited in more than two decades. Truthfully, I would have preferred the burn of whiskey, but vodka is quiet, harder for others to detect. I knew this from past experience. And so, I mixed it with whatever I happened to be drinking. The pseudo-peace that the mixture of painkillers and alcohol delivered I mistakenly thought was a blessing.

When I dumped the pills and alcohol, the withdrawal began within twenty-four hours. And I went back to the pharmacy with a story of having spilled the painkillers down the drain. The pharmacist refilled the prescription for the last time. That is when my life became something out of control, unexpected, so far from what I ever wanted from my suburban, Christian life. I began to venture out to find my hit.

Eventually, my supplier told me he wasn’t going to sell my favored drug anymore, but he would give me a few free hits of something so much better. I knew what I was doing was wrong, so wrong, but I was so desperate not to feel, not to remember, that I let him slide the needle in that first time. And it was so good and so awful. The poison made me so sick and yet, desperate for more at the same time. The guilt and shame of using such awful drugs were all-consuming and required an extra hit to silence. Too easily, poison had captured my heart.

Even now, just remembering it, I want the needle – and yet, I hate the poison. It is awful and controlling, destroying all that is right and good – a thief that steals and lies. The terrible thing is that I knew that the drugs were lying to me, but I didn’t care. The peace the poison delivered was temporary and left me more desperate than the memories of abuse.

The first time I spoke it, I was whispering it to my therapist after months of therapy. Her quiet, sad smile and tear-filled brown eyes were accompanied by the words, “I know. I have been waiting for you to trust me enough to tell me. No one lives through the hell you have been through without something. Most women are dead by your age or so strung out on drugs they are selling themselves on the streets. You are one of the lucky ones.”

Today, as I celebrate sobriety, someone out there is still fighting to find the strength to make it through the withdrawal, detox, whatever you want to call it. It isn’t easy. But here is the good news: it is possible and you are worth the fight. No matter what led you to addiction, the God who made you loves you and sent His Son Jesus to set you free from every chain that binds.

If today is day one for you, HOORAY! You have chosen a path that is hard, but oh so worth it. Learning to walk in sobriety is a process that takes time. The very hardest part is the first couple of weeks as your body learns to function without a hit. Could I just encourage you, wherever you are on your journey, to reach out for help? Find a support group that will help you with accountability, will help you learn to walk in the freedom that God created you for.

If you are struggling with life issues, mental illness or in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. If you go to a church where you trust the pastor, reach out to him. I encourage you to find a good therapist, one who understands drug addictions, trauma, and mental illness – and how they are all connected. If you are in active addiction, find a place to go through detox. Don’t try to go it alone! Stepping out of addiction is so crazy hard and you are so brave to take the necessary steps. By God’s grace and with His help, YOU CAN DO THIS!!

For me, having people support me on my journey to wholeness has been so key. I am involved in a 12 step program that has not only helped me overcome my addictions, but has also helped me find healing in Jesus for the harm that was done to me. I have been involved in intense therapy for the trauma that I lived through. My therapist is a Christian who uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and other trauma based models of treatment to help me process the abuse I went through.

I wrote this poem a while ago, mostly because I wanted a hit so badly that I did not think I would make it through another hour without one. I was reminding myself of how hard I fought for sobriety, how hard the withdrawal was. Breaking free from slavery isn’t pretty. The Red Sea did not part for me and I did not walk into sobriety on dry land – it involved a lot of sweat, blood, tears and vomit. But the good news is, I still made it to the other side and so can you!! And let me tell you, my life of sobriety is so much better than my life of addiction!

Easy, peasy, she says good-bye
to the prick of the needle, that good high,
confident sobriety will prove worthwhile
so begins day one with hope and a smile.
 
Shivering,  shaking,  body so aching
wishing and begging and wanting a hit
she wonders if her life is worth this s***
day two has begun but will she survive
to learn, to grow, have something  to give?
 
Sweating and steaming, body screaming,
wishing and begging and wanting a hit
how fully did she to sobriety commit?
Day three has begun, but so much worse,
so far beyond the prior day’s curse
 
Nauseous, aching, head must be breaking
one hit…just one…would stop all this shaking.
She confesses her sin, begs some for prayer,
explains she needs heroin more than the air.
Day four she survives, but’s feeling deprived.
 
Heart racing and shaking, her whole world is quaking
wishing and waiting, pleading and praying
for her world to cease spinning, stop swaying.
There is a chance that she might be surviving
hope begins whispering to her on day five.
 
Waking and quiet, body near still
perhaps she’s summitted withdrawal’s hill?
A shiver, a shake, not quite a quake,
she is surviving that ache
without a fix, she realizes day six.
 
Constant  the battle and craving  wear on
praying for the good day to dawn
that puts an end to this consuming  desire
to have the needle quench the dark burning fire.

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The Anguish of Addiction

“Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11 NAS Bible)

Two days from a new year and it seems the same old me just won’t die. I thought by now God would have won all the battles, settled all the pain, and enabled me to forget the past. He hasn’t, but I still know that He is good. He loves me and He has been gracious! He has healed so much of my past and put to death so many of the ghosts that once haunted me. Most days I don’t crave poison.

Even so, I still get stuck sometimes … I have been sober 663 days and my body still craves the biggest mistake that I have ever made. And some days, days like today, are SO hard that the tears of hopelessness burn my eyes. Permitting them to fall causes just as much shame as the craving. They would require an explanation to the family and a confession of how awful the battle is in this moment. Thankfully, the battle is dead in me most days – just days like today, I struggle to think straight.

Some days, the body remembers what it was like to shoot poison and it wants it. I usually know what triggers it, but not this time. This time it came like an unexpected punch in the gut and jolted me from sleep. I woke in the darkest hours of the night, my body begging the poison that promises forgetfulness, promises peace and life, but delivers darkness and death. I cried out to this God who loves me to help me. I cried out to those who have braved this storm with me, but in shame, withdrew my plea. In the end, I woke the man who walks this broken road with me. He held me while my body rebelled against sobriety. I laid there after he fell back to sleep, filled with self-hatred, regretting having fallen into this addiction.

I didn’t sleep until after 7 this morning, and then only for an hour. The tired from lack of sleep adds to the hopelessness of the craving. I have tried to take every thought captive, to speak truth to my heart, no matter what my body has been telling me.

God is good. He has carried me this far. He is not suddenly going to fail me or abandon me.

For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5, NAS Bible)

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NAS Bible)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, NAS Bible)

“It is for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NAS Bible)

And the good news for today, if you are struggling like I am, is that He is still good! He is not going to turn His back on you or deny you. He loves you so much and is willing to go into the miry pit of whatever struggle you are facing to walk with you. You can not escape Him! How do I know? Because He tells us that repeatedly in His Word. Try reading Psalm 139 (especially verses 7-12) and notice how far His presence extends. There is absolutely nowhere you can go to run away or hide from Him! Nowhere!

Oh, Lord God, thank you that Your lovingkindness is everlasting. Thank You, that in the midst of our battles, we can know that you are faithful! Heavenly Father, when our bodies, minds or emotions are crying out for lies, sins, or poison that lead to death, I am asking, according to the words of Your Son, Jesus, to sanctify us in truth. Please, Father, wash our aching hearts in the truth of your word. Strengthen us through the promise of your presence and grant us the courage and strength that come from knowing you are with us…you will never leave nor forsake us. Thank You that in a world that is constantly changing, You are sure and Your ways are right! Help us each to walk in Your truth. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

My True Love

My favorite movie The Princess Bride was playing on television while I was laying on the sofa struggling through a back injury. Nearing the middle of the movie, Buttercup has a dream in which she is introduced as the princess. An older woman in the crowd boos her and accuses her, “… you had true love in your hands and you gave it up.” And then, “Your true love lives. And you marry another. True love saved her …”and my heart cringes. 

Oh, perhaps this movie contains truths I would rather not face in myself. My true love Jesus lives, yet I tethered myself to drugs and alcohol when the  past came back to haunt me – as if they could save me. Jesus saved me in my youth from death and destruction. He stepped into a life marked by brokenness, drunkenness, and immorality to invite me to live a life of grace, hope and love – a life of sobriety and purity – through a relationship with Him. I responded without fear or hesitation. Love. True love saved me – it is what I found in Jesus’s presence. Love that did not wish me harm or abuse me. Jesus’s love is true and pure, protects and gives good gifts. 

When Jesus called me, I wasn’t afraid of what He might ask me to give up or what church said was necessary to live a righteous life. I wasn’t afraid that He would bring me harm. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be loved and accepted, to have an Advocate, Someone on my side. Jesus gave me love when I did not deserve it. He surrounded me with people who accepted me for who I was and who taught me to seek truth in Jesus. And His Word became my delight. I spent hours just devouring the Bible, reading, meditating and praying through it. I was a thirsty woman led to Living Water who drank deeply and discovered that true joy is in Jesus. 

My true love Jesus lives! Praise God!

But even so, after knowing His joy and dwelling in His safety for more than two decades, I turned to something else to save me…to give me freedom from night terrors and panic attacks. I swallowed pills, injected poison, and spilled alcohol down my throat. My heart is deeply grieved over the foolish mistakes that I have made, but in the midst of it, I have a true love who did not give up on me. Just like Westley pursued Buttercup when she was being carried away by an enemy bent on her destruction, Jesus pursued me. He followed me into the miry pit of addiction and did not give up on me.  Instead, He relentlessly followed me, called to me, and sought me.  Jesus. Jesus has not given up on me – even when I nearly gave up on myself.

As Westley led Buttercup through the dangers of the fire swamp, saving her from the fire, rescuing her when she steps into the lightning sand, and bearing the injuries from the rodents of unusual size, Jesus is leading me.  Seems kind of strange that Westley led his true love into danger to keep her from harm, but he did. In some ways, Jesus has done that for me. He has led me through the bitter circumstances of my past to keep me from the destruction of living with a gaping  and infected wound.   I am not facing flames or quicksand. Nor am I being attacked by rodents, but there are dangers in my life. The dangers come in whispered temptations to my heart. In the fire swamp, Westley taught Buttercup what to avoid, taught her the warning signs. Jesus has taught me and is continuing to teach me what the dangers are, and how to avoid them. He is constantly sweeping me off my feet and holding me in the safety of His arms. He is my refuge. 

And just like Princess Buttercup, who realizes she is making a mistake and turns away from marrying the evil prince who really intends to kill her, I realized that I had turned to a false love that intended to destroy me. Immediately, I fled back to the arms of my Savior and asked Him to forgive my folly and sin, to wash away my unrighteousness. Of course, I received grace!  He was with me all along, urging me to return to Him. 

For you today: Is there anything that you are turning to for relief from physical, emotional or spiritual pain? If there is, I urge you to turn to Jesus. No matter what you are struggling with, He is the only One able to completely understand and to help you in your distress. Popping pills will only help you to numb the pain or to feel good for a little while. Shooting poison into your veins will only bring psuedo-peace that doesn’t last. Sex will only feel good for a moment. Food will only squash the pain for an instant. Getting lost in a television show will only distract from the pain for a little while. And in the end, these things will begin to destroy you, leave you feeling empty and betrayed. Lasting peace and joy  are found only in Jesus.  

The God who created you loves you and desires good for you. Whatever trial or struggle you are going through, may He give you eyes to see His goodness in the midst of it. May He cause your  mind to call to mind all the ways He has displayed His mercies and compassions to you in the past! I know the road is broken and can be extremely painful, but you are never alone. Your True Love has saved you and is in your fire swamp with you! Listen to His voice and wait for Him to rescue you. 

“I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”         
                                                                                                                 Lamentations 3:19-24   (emphasis mine)        

                   

Broken Hearted

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.                                                                                                                                   ~Psalm 34:18

I woke in the middle of the night again, panicked. There are truly no words to describe the terror that claimed my heart while I slept. I don’t often fall to these night terrors anymore, so when they come, they are unexpected. Having completed counseling, I now have the tools to deal with the past when it attacks. Even so, the first thing my mind screams for is liquid peace coursing through my veins. That is the hard part. Some mistakes we make threaten to haunt us the rest of our lives – for me, shooting poison into my veins is one of them. Thankfully, God is my hope. He enables me to overcome the lies with His Word of Truth, planted in my heart through decades of walking with Him.

When hearts break and tears fall, when the drugs call, this little lie tries to slither its way into the darkness: God does not see my pain. Or worse still, He sees but does not care. In so many moments over the last few years, this little lie has tried to wrap itself around my heart, but by God’s grace and through His Truth, the lie did not win.

Choosing to believe truth when the emotions are high and the lies attack is impossible on my own strength. So, daily, hour by hour, moment by moment, I sit at the feet of Jesus, praying He will enable me to cling to Him, His Words, His Truth – the only real truth. I crack open the Bible and am awash in His love. His promise is that when my world falls apart and my heart leaks tears, He is near. He is sitting with me. When the spirit is crushed and without hope, He is an ever present help. When the need for liquid poison calls my name again, Jesus is with me. He is stronger than the need for drugs. He promises not only His presence, but His healing, freedom, and love (see Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:19-21). Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted and heal their wounds. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives. Jesus. He is the only answer my heart needs. He is the only answer any heart needs.

And this morning as I wrestle with the uncertainty of our future and the brokenness of my past, I sit with this same Jesus, crying out. Confident of this, that He will not leave me or my family alone. His Word promises, “…he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. So, we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.'” (Hebrews 13:5b-6) What a beautiful promise. There is nothing I have to fear because the Lord is my helper, not just on the days when I get everything right and have it all together, but always. Thankfully, His promise is that He will never leave me nor forsake me. The promise and assurance of His presence gives me courage and alleviates my fears.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 ESV) He is near us, even as we cry out to Him. He is close to us, even when we don’t feel Him. His Word is true and is the balm our souls need. My Jesus sees the struggle, hears the cries of my heart and whispers, “Peace, be still.” And the storm inside of me falls quiet at His command.

For you this morning: Perhaps you are struggling with a broken heart due to the loss of a child or  spouse. Maybe, like me, you struggle with addiction. (Addiction comes in many forms – addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, approval, adrenaline.) Or maybe, you are just overwhelmed with life or are having panic attacks, struggling with anxiety.

Right now, whatever your struggle, God is with you. He has not left you. I know it may not feel like it, but the truth does not depend on our feelings. It depends on the character of a faithful God. He is faithful and He is near, not because you feel it or have it all together. Not because you gave generously at church or served faithfully in a Sunday school class. Not because you got the house cleaned and the laundry done. Not because you are good enough. God is with you because He has promised to be with you. Your impatience with your toddler won’t cause Him to leave. Your irritation with your husband, that fight you picked, the car accident that was your fault, that mistake you made at work, that last drink of alcohol you took, those pills you popped, that little lie you told…not one of those things will drive Him away. In Christ, He is with you because He has promised to be with you. 

For you: Are you struggling with believing God in some area of your life? Do you have wounds that need healed? Whatever your pain is, God is with you. He loves you. Maybe try one of  the following: 

Read through Isaiah 61:1-3. Pray it out loud. Make a list of who God is and what He promises in these verses. Confess to Him where you don’t see him involved in your life and ask him to show you His presence.

Turn on the praise music, sing at the top of your lungs and dance around the kitchen. If you have children, invite them to join in. I find it most helpful to use a wooden spoon as a microphone (especially if the kids are present, because their laughter rings joy).

Get out into the great outdoors. Take a walk at the park, play in a mud puddle, swing on a swing.

If you have a gratitude journal, maybe you could read back through it to see what God has already accomplished. If you don’t have one, why not start one? It’s simple. Just list a few things you can thank God for each day.

Call a friend you know is struggling and share her burden. Kind of strange, but bearing some else’s burden often helps us bear our own.

Father God, you who made the heavens and the earth, thank You that Your Word is true even when we don’t feel like it is, even when we don’t feel like You are near. Thank You that You are the hope of our hearts and the healing our souls need. I pray today, Father, that You who are present with each of us every moment of the day will make Your presence tangibly evident to our hearts.

My Grace Anchored Soul

The last few years have been difficult ones for me. I have felt the waves of a raging sea crash against me and inside of me, tossing me to and fro. My faith has been tested – and it has near failed. When memories of the past began to torment me, I cried out to the anchor of my soul. Sitting in the presence of a holy and living God daily,  I still fell into drug and alcohol use to quiet the memories and forget the terrors, to enable sleep. It was unexpected. I think anyone who knew me then would tell you that it was out of character for me. But it was in this falling that I discovered the depths of my poverty and the riches of Christ’s grace. I rode the waves of His grace to the heights of heaven – me, a sinner, saved by grace, came to understand the depths of grace I need, not just for salvation, but to live every single day.

It was in the falling, that I have discovered that not only is Christ the anchor for my soul, but His grace is sufficient to catch the one tossed by the sea.  I am hoping that in this blog, I will be able to share some of that grace and encouragement with you, no matter where you are in your life journey!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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