Finding Joy In The Trough

It’s been a tough year in our family. No way around that.

I retreat when I’m in a process. I reflect. I withdraw. But then I let things slowly start to flow out, when I’m ready to say things without becoming a mess of running mascara and quivering lip.

We’ve been faced with some of the toughest moments in our marriage due to health related issues, employement changes and some other tough stuff I never saw coming. My husband has been sober for almost 8 years now and I can only guess it was time. I forget this though. The Lord is always preparing us for what’s next whether we realize it or not and for the last 8 years He has been putting purpose into the small, ordinary and big moments of our lives to prepare us.

I confess that I secretely believed I had “paid my dues” in the early days of this sobriety journey with him. I thought, “Ok, this is it. This the hand I’ve been dealt”. Wrong. SO so wrong. I pridefully sat on top of the mountain and declared we had made it through thinking we could just coast in with medals for overcoming. Oh how misguided Leigh to believe that God was done with you! This confession proves the necessity for spiritual growth in myself.

He’s not done stretching me, our marriage, our parenting and our life as a whole. He will never be done until our last breath so thinkining this can be dangerous for the mind. Your time card getting stamped doesn’t exempt you from heartache, the trenches…the trough. But figuring out how to be joyful in this season has been my greatest challenge.

We are admittedly in a trough and I’ve been chewing and mulling over this post for months now thinking about how to say this, how to bring our current circumstance together into one neat spreadsheet of cause, effect and this is what we’re working on now. I don’t have a spreadsheet or a playbook but I do have scripture and C.S. Lewis. Recently, I picked up the Screwtape Letters again. I realized I picked it up because I needed a new perspective. I needed to not see what was happening in our life daily and what I was laser focused on with health problems we have been navigating. The whole book leaped into my arms like a gift.

If you’ve never read The Screwtape Letters it’s worth the short read. The context is a senior level demon (named Screwtape) writes letters to his newbie demon nephew named Wormwood. Screwtape is giving him tips, insights into how to do this job well, getting these humans off track, distracted, broken down so that there is no way they can truly believe in the enemy (God).

In one single excerpt from Screwtape’s letter I recognized what I was in the process of:

“Now, it may suprise you to learn that in His (Gods) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, God relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it (the human) is growing into the sort of creature He (God) wants it to be…He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.” 

(Side note: Of course Screwtape goes on to discuss how to exploit these moments of our lives. My answer to this: Dear Screwtape, You lose. Move on. Thanks, Leigh)

I know this. I am aware that with every blow of the chisel He is shaping us. I guess I just wasn’t expecting this blow of the chisel. It came in from the back. What I’ve been getting over and now through are the feelings I can’t avoid and have to process: The why’s, the what’s, the how much longers?

What I’ve determined is this: I don’t know. I don’t know how much longer, I don’t know why and I certainly don’t know what. But I’ve had to shift my focus onto what I do know, the hopes that I can rest in, and the truth that directs my and my husbands life.

Finding Joy in this place, despite the circumstance, has been the greatest challenge. I want to throw the covers over my head and come back out when we are on the other side of this tunnel but my faith, my husband, my children, my coworkers and everyone around me deserves more than that from me. They should be seeing someone who despite the circumstance can laugh, can engage with life, can face the music, puts one foot in front of the other and pushes forward WITH joy.

Heres the thing about deciding to follow Christ: It is not easy. In fact, its really really hard. I know, I know. I am making this real appealing for non believers but I’m not one to paint a false picture. If you come into Faith with knowledge that this going to be hard but incredibly worth it and entirely skip over the “this is going to be hard” part then you won’t have full understanding. You WILL get more than you can handle. You WILL be heartbroken by people of the same Faith who let you down and break your spirit, you WILL have moments that you will think you can’t take anymore, you WILL want to cry in the closet and run away, you WILL be incredibly disappointed by dreams that take new shape. This is the bad news. But the reason for all of these “WILLs” is to show us our lacking, our depravity, our weakness, and reveal areas of self-reliance.

But here’s the good. I always save the good for last because this is why you jump over the fence, put your feet on the ground and then put one foot in front of the other:

In a dirty, lacking, and broken trough many centuries ago a sweet baby boy was born and He changed our outcome forever. 

That’s the JOY in the trough. Jesus is the only reason to keep moving forward. He is hated by the Wormwoods and the Screwtapes. They fear Him because they know the truth and  truth is something Screwtape and Wormwood can never offer. The truth that He can carry us through the valleys, increase our strength (Isaiah 40:31), lead us beside still waters when we walk through the Vally of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23),  and rescue us when our spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18). All we have to do is just stay on course and keep our eyes on Him. That’s it.

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddel gives a sermon after winning a race. He uses the race as an analogy of faith much like Apostle Paul does in the New Testament and I love the way that Eric used this analogy to speak to the audience who came to see him run:

“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape-especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within your. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.” 

I cannot argue with this truth because God has permanent possession of my soul and I believe that we are in the race of our lives. This last year has sidelined us and our commitment to help people going through addiction recovery but I felt like it was time to share the message that you will get sidetracked, sidelined, sideswiped but what’s important is to recognize what’s happening to you.

Keep your eyes on the baby in the trough and somehow, outside of yourself, find TRUE Joy in the midst.

Have a Merry Christmas Friends.

Ok, you’re sober…now what?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

Maybe because it’s the least touched on topic or because, truly, it is the one subject that is dependent on each person individually, but recovery will be greatest challenge of your life.  Declaring that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol is the easy part. Leaving a program and getting back to life is the hardest part. My husband will have 7 years in February and I can tell you that the biggest battle for us has been navigating life after the rehabilitation. So here’s the big secret to even having a shot at being successful: HAVE A PLAN.

Start creating a plan before you even go to rehabilitation. Start collecting ideas while you are in rehabilitation about next steps. If you are out of rehabilitation and floundering for what to do next, keep reading.

Rehabilitation addresses one part of a multi-faceted problem. It doesn’t fix your life from that point forward. It gets you on your feet but in order to make the transition you have to make a plan for yourself. I have come up with a framework based off of the last 6 years that will at least provide some structure or direction. 

1.Seek counseling: If you are married, if you are single, if you are in the process of divorce, if you are a family member of the recovered then put this at the top of your list. There are plenty of options for counseling whether that’s a church with a counseling component, a referral from a friend or through a local family counseling practice. Find someone. Ask about payment options. My husband and I contend that if we had not gone through intensive counseling after he came out of rehabilitation then we would have never made it. We needed someone to hear us, to be objective, to be a safe place to share our fears and concerns about this transition. If you are a family member then seek counseling for how to handle this transition of your loved one. A counselor can also be a mediator between the family and the addict. After you finally get a loved one into treatment they leave a giant wake of hurt and sadness behind for you to deal with. Deal with it but don’t deal with it alone. You need sound advice on how to proceed. Otherwise, you are left with battle wounds that never heal.

2.Get involved: Find a church, find a program you love, find someway to give back, and find something outside of a job that ignites your passion. You might find yourself with time on your hands if you lost your job so while your searching, volunteer! Idle time and old patterns slip you back into positions that you aren’t ready for and are ill equipped to handle.

3.Be careful about job hunting: For many people who just jump right back into their life they find themselves in situations that they aren’t strong enough to take on yet and wonder why they relapsed so quickly. The family expectation of getting back to work, the need for money, and the skills you are qualified for can be a deadly combination. For instance, if you were an on the road salesperson and you drank alone in your hotel room or found hotel bars to be your second home then perhaps returning to this job is a bad decision for the transition to a new life. You have to look for a job that keeps you out of those pitfalls and accountable. You may take a pay cut or have to change your financial expectations but you now have new goals and priorities in life.

4.Get REALLY comfortable with your story: one of the ways that I truly realized that my husband was going to make it is because he shared his story with anyone who would listen…no really, waitresses, the guy at the body shop, the person who picked up the couch from Craig’s List…everyone. It would make me cringe sometimes but then he would share what the conversation was about and I realized that that person needed to hear his story because, in that moment, they needed HOPE! We are all looking for hope and your story doesn’t matter until you share it. It also helps in changing your identity. You are different now. You have changed. Talking about it makes you comfortable with your new self. Don’t let it be something that sparks shame. Let it be something you overcame and continue to find strength in telling the story. I often wonder if people get tired of hearing my story…I wonder if they think “leigh, aren’t you tired of talking about it?” The answer to that is an emphatic NO. The Lord intervened in our life in a powerful way and not continuing to give Him praise for that would not honor the gift of the redemption story.

5.Educate yourself: I am not the most avid reader but when its a subject I am passionate about I will read whatever I can. If you are the spouse or the loved one of an addict then read books that apply to co-dependency and the enabling relationship. I encourage parents and spouses to really understand their role in recovery. If you aren’t aware of your role in recovery then you can actually increase their time in the cycle as opposed to helping. We naturally believe ourselves to be helpers and then end up interfering with a downward spiral that needs to occur. If you yourself are transitioning into a life after rehabilitation then find books on brain chemistry, addictive behavior, family genetics and addiction. It’s amazing how much easier it is to be in this process of recovery when you understand your bodies response to addictive behavior and how this happens. (We have several book recommendations located on the lifeonthewagon.com website.)

6.Open your Bible: Every day the Lord reminds us of being prepared, planning and putting on the armor. When you come out of rehabilitation you will be a prime target for temptation. The enemy does not want you to succeed. They delight in our failure and dance on our weakness. Prepare yourself for it. It may not be obvious, it may come from the doubts of your family and friends, it may arrive in a pretty package or a relationship that you think you are ready for but the Holy Spirit is telling you no. You need to navigate through this with your spiritual armor or you will fall. The arrows, the road blocks, the open doors that aren’t meant for us. It’s all very confusing if you do not know how to differentiate between where you should and shouldn’t go and the enemy loves to keep you confused. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself,  but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12

7. Understanding that consequences linger: you went down a dark road, you hurt people, you made some really bad decisions. Look, no ones perfect and I have made my own horrible decisions but one of the realities of this is consequences from the aftermath will continue to exist. People will see you differently. You will have to explain gaps in resumes. Trust isn’t automatic. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Some things that have been broken will never be the same. I don’t say all of this to shame anyone. I am proud of those who take recovery seriously and realize that this is going to be A LOT OF WORK. But the work is worth it. Family will begin to trust you again. You will become an encouragement to others but you have to be proactive in your own recovery. An attitude of passivity  lets things happen without creating opposition to it.  The Lord wants us to be prepared for the pitfalls. He wants us to get involved with life so that His plan can take shape.

8. Find someone to be accountable to: Your spouse and family are not your accountability group: I have seen it happen too often (specifically, with spouses leaning on their husband or wife as their accountability group) and this you need to hear. Do NOT place the burden of accountability with your family or spouse. They have been through too much to now have another role. Keep in mind they are in the process of healing, too. Look for someone older and wiser. Find someone who has been in recovery for at least 5 years. Find someone that had a similar path (i.e. children, spouse, single, divorced etc…) Call  your church and ask one of the leaders to help identify someone they know in the church. Go to your local AA meetings and be paired up with a sponsor. This is a person that will not judge you, that you can call when you feel weak or beat down. Your wife or your husband cannot do this objectively without slipping back into their own patterns of co-dependency. I wanted to drive my husband back and forth to Celebrate Recovery under the guise of us being a team however what I was really doing was controlling the situation and making sure he went. You can see why this is a conflict for both.

9. Old Friends and New Friends: You may also find a new circle of friends that think as you do now. If you aren’t strong enough to be around old friends then perhaps you can politely excuse yourself from their company for a while. You may become distant and that’s ok. If they are truly worth your continued friendship then they will be there when you are ready. Be honest with them though. Talk with them about your new life. They might understand. They might not.

10. Look for opportunities to build trust. I think I said it before but this new life will be a challenge!  If you are seeking opportunities to build back trust then you get to were you would like to be at a steadier pace. Show up when you say you will show up. Do what you said you were going to do…consistently. Call when you said you would call (don’t text… call…because if someone can hear you speak soberly then they won’t doubt you). Go above and beyond without expectation of anyone noticing. You might have moments when you want to rebel or give up. Don’t give into that. This was self inflicted chaos and the outcome of giving up is returning to a lonely life. In fact, it’s not living at all.

Remember your rock bottom moment? Don’t forget that moment. Remember what you told yourself then: “never again”? Remember how dark and alone you felt? Keep pushing forward, run the race, and stick to the plan. Good days will start to outnumber the bad. Thank God for normal everyday days. Those are the days and moments I treasured.

I still love ordinary days because I remember I prayed for ordinary days. Pray for those kind of days again. You worked hard for those days and when they start to come again be thankful that God ushered you through.

Grand Canyons

It’s been a long time since I have posted. I will blame it on having a newborn. I can blame a lot on that. I will probably use that excuse until he is one or ten years old. Our son was born on April 19th. We were so excited to meet him. He doesn’t do much at the moment but I can tell he is starting to really take things in, learning and observing his little world. We are now the parent of 2. It’s exciting and scary. It has its moments…and those “moments” sometimes happen in the middle of the night. Like last night. It was a full on parenting middle of the night moment and what struck me in the middle of the night was how life (and any semblance of the old before he came) gets pushed aside. I think what bothered me the most was how my spiritual life has taken a hit. I haven’t spent any time with God and it has started to show. I am going through the motions of getting adjusted, trying to stay sane. All the while that part of my life, which is the foundation, is crumbling…so being up in the middle of the night with the baby and his congested nose was my wake up call. Its sounds silly but the Lord knows how to get our attention. Just let anything happen to one of my kids and I am on my knees praying.

Isn’t it funny how well He knows us?                                                                                   grand_canyon_scenery-12355
Isn’t it great how much He cares about spending time with us?

So my son could barely breath, much less take a bottle with all of his congestion. He even sounded like he was choking at one point. I was terrified. There isn’t any medicine to give a two month old and they cant blow their nose so all you have is saline and a horrible aspirator which makes him scream. It was 2:30 in the morning and I hadn’t even dozed off yet for fear of this happening. I was scared and felt completely alone in my own house. When it started to work and he got quiet I prayed. And then  I heard a song in my mind. It’s an older song but one of my favorites by Susan Ashton called Grand Canyon. (She is a great songwriter…where are you Susan Ashton?? Come back and write more songs!!) The lyrics have resonated with me at different times of my life. One line in particular is:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up at You from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

In the quiet as I fed my son I felt like I was at the bottom of that Grand Canyon again. I hadn’t been in real prayer for a while and God felt far away. But the truth is I moved, not Him.

Lord, I am sorry for putting everything else first. I am sorry that you have to go to such great lengths to get my attention. I am sorry that I have neglected the most important relationship in my life.

It always seems that I must be in some sort of crisis to be on my knees. When I was going through the battle with my husband and his addiction I was keenly aware of the Lords presence in my life. I spoke to Him all day long, prayed all day long…and now? Well, my husband and I switched roles. He is closer than ever and I am at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Another line of the song is “And I’m a long way from where I know I need to be
When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me”

This is part of the process of moving on in life when you aren’t in crisis mode. You learn to live again but you need to learn how to keep God first now that the storm has passed. I am A LONG way from where I know I need to be and things will keep coming into my life like waves (good and bad). I need to keep afloat or I will drown. I won’t go overboard with the analogy but it really works in this case. Keeping afloat means you must keep learning, keep praying, keep diligently seeking truth and putting on the armor.  I have to learn this or I won’t grow spiritually. I will be stuck in “for emergencies only” mode and that’s not what my faith is about. God isn’t to be compartmentalized or kept in our back pocket. He should be daily…like my commitment to feed my son on a schedule. I have to actively schedule my priority with God. Having a newborn, a job, a 4 year old, and my life in general are secondary. I am sure I will have many more Grand Canyon moments in my life. But I think last night I realized that I was stuck in a pattern. If I am going to live this life on the wagon, then all of me needs to get on board. If we as Christians don’t grow and attempt to face each seasons of our life as if its our last then we will miss out on what we can learn when the storms are calmed. The storms are just temporary but we have to use what we learn from them. I learned some big lessons in my storms but the most important one is that Jesus held me up through them all and will continue to do so. I just think I would rather know Him better when the next round comes as it inevitably will.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Here are the lyrics to Grand Canyon…check out the song if you get a chance!

I’ve seen You calm the waters raging
in the rivers of my mind
Your spirit blows a breeze into my soul
And I’ve felt the fire that warms the heart
Knowing that it comes from You
Then I’ve let it turn as cold as a stone
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at You from the bottom of the

Grand Canyon, so small and so far
From the Grand Canyon, with a hole in my heart
And I’m a long way from where I know I need to be
When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

I’ve had the faith that gave me strength
for moving any mountainside
I’ve felt the solid ground beneath my feet
But I’ve had the bread of idleness while
drinking from a well of doubt
And it shakes the core of all I believe
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand, Grand Canyon between You and me

Why we need transparency

I am sure there are plenty of friends and family that wonder why I chose such a public venue to tell our story piece by piece. It’s a good question! Why be so public about it?? I think the answer is pretty simple: Because it’s real. It’s called being authentic. Can you be authentic quietly? Yes. But I don’t think that helps anyone. Part of the reason we are given challenges is to give people hope that they can overcome it, too. No one wants to go through the journey of life alone. Especially not to suffer through the many realities of life alone. I believe my mothers generation and the generation before that frowned on airy dirty laundry. But I don’t think we can call it dirty laundry anymore. I think we should call what it is: part of the human experience. I tried supression for a long time and all that happened was resentful build up. Then it started to pour out of me in unhealthy ways like getting raging mad at the little stuff or saying hurtful things. We become angry people. My husband and I were talking about angry people the other day. You know, the ones who always have something negative to say or like to put people down. They aren’t fun to be around. But what you realize about people like this is that there is a reason for their negativity. Something is happening at home and they have no outlet for expressing what they feel. It’s a lonely place to be. When recovering from addiction you NEED other people, you NEED an outlet to express how you feel, and you NEED honesty.

One of the most difficult parts about the road to recovery is regaining the trust that was lost. There is no road map on how to do this because each person in your life has to be handled differently. Please know that everyone will NOT agree with everything you do when making amends, but don’t give up trying to make amends with them if it’s not working. Time is your greatest asset. The more time you have to prove you’re recovered the easier this amends process will be. You will have a foundation. Reconciliation takes time. Sometimes the addicts or the family want immediate resolve. For the addict, their first focus for the first year should be on themselves. It sounds really narcissistic to say and hard to swallow since the addiction has already claimed so much selfishness, but it’s a fact. Every day of the first year is a battle. But if they are transparent with others about what they are going through, what they are fighting for then understanding and time will (hopefully) be given. When an addict starts to claim this new life, recognize the disaster they made of the old one, then you will know that they are making great progress. Let them come to terms with their past. I suggest writing letters or if they are in a recovery program, sometimes a family week is offered. Go. You might be angry with them, but this is the opportunity to unload and leave it behind. They will need to deal with what is unloaded but this way it is out there and dealt with in time. All family and friends really want is acknowledgement of the chaos and hurt. The addict can’t fix it at that moment. But they can hear it, process it, and decide how they want to handle the reconciliation. BUT it needs to be reconciled at some point. This is all part of the transparency process. Acknowledgement, reconciliation, honesty…these are words that need to part of the recovery process as a whole group.

Now that my husband and I have gone down the road a bit in this recovery, we are even more convinced on the importance of being honest and open about what we have been through. I know that we won’t get support from everyone and that’s ok. We aren’t doing it FOR everyone. We are doing it for those that really need to hear it. That want to know how to make their story turn out differently. For those that think there is more to life than painting this pretty picture of their lives. Our lives are being painted right now and I would prefer mine to be painted in a way that lines up with the actual photo. You see, the picture I inserted below…I love this photo. My husband is saying something that is really making me laugh. It’s a beautiful day and my daughter is behaving, somewhat, and it’s a perfect moment. What you don’t see is the battle we went through in the last 3 years to have such a beautiful, authentic moment. But we fought hard for that photo. I hope we have many more moments like this in our future and by God’s grace we will. A picture only tells 10% of the story and you have decide how to get real about the remaining 90%.

Hamilton Family Final (23)

In perspective, we are all the same

dads camera 122
I had a friend send me a message on Facebook letting me know that she liked the blog because it gave it her perspective on addiction. That is definitely something I had intended to do and glad that it is coming through. What I have realized through research and real life experience is that people still don’t know a lot about addiction and there is great divide between what is known, the stereotypes and the perceptions that people have toward addicts. There is definitely a sense of superiority between those that don’t have any issues with addiction and those that do. It’s an actual sense of strength versus weakness. I would hope that through some of what I write here, people who do not suffer from addiction would at least feel a deeper sense of empathy for those that do. Because we all have our hang ups. We all have things that we are addicted to, that we use to escape. It’s just that some things are more harmful to ourselves and to others. Unfortunately addiction doesn’t really get noticed until it is at the “affecting other people” stage. When the money starts to dry up or work suffers or jail/car accidents happen. Those are the moments when we wake up and think “ok, there may be a problem here.” But like I said in a previous post, the threshold has been passed at this point. If life is going well, if work is good, you can buy the house, the new car and no one gets hurt…then whats the problem?

I have seen this scenario play out. The result is always the same. Somewhere, at some point, you do not control the drug. It controls you. It’s like a light switch that goes off and you are hooked. Just one extra pill a day and then it becomes two. Just one drink at brunch, one at lunch, one mid afternoon, two after work, two at dinner, and then 3 before bed. You wake up the next morning with hangover and repeat the cycle the next day but this time you tell yourself you will at least wait until after work. So you do wait until after work but you have 3 then, then 2 at dinner, then 4 before bed. You wake up the next morning with a hangover and vow you won’t drink that day. And you take the day off. Good for you. You can go a whole a day! Then the next day comes and it is back to it again because you proved to yourself that you can go a whole day and be just fine. Here’s where I have to add in some “perspective”. One day, Two days, and even 3 days proves nothing to yourself. You have just fed yourself the LIE. It is a false sense of security. Alcoholics, Drug Addicts, Shopaholics…they ALL repeat this cycle. We don’t want to have a problem. We are all the same in this way.

Here are some statistics about alcohol that I found to be pretty shocking:

•Alcohol is the number one drug problem in America.

•People with a higher education are more likely to drink.

•Higher income people are more likely to drink.

•Americans spend $197 million each day on alcohol.

•There are more than 12 million alcoholics in the U.S.

-one-third of all suicides involve the use of alcohol

•Three-fourths of all adults drink alcohol, and 6% of them are alcoholics.

•In the United States, a person is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 30 minutes.

•A 2000 study found nearly 7 million persons age 12 to 20 were binge drinkers.

•Three-fourths of all high school seniors report being drunk at least once.

•Adolescents who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than their counterparts who do not begin drinking until the age of 21.

One perspective that I would like to offer is on the family dynamic. Because alcohol is so socially acceptable, it is often difficult for an addict to hear that they drink too much especially from members of their family or loved ones who drink heavily. The first thing an addict will do is want to remind them about the 3 fingers pointing back at them. But do you blame them? Its like an overweight family member telling another family member that they need to lose weight. Or a smoker telling another smoker that they need to quit because the other smoker smokes a pack instead of a 3/4th of pack. It doesn’t balance out in an addicts mind. The addict becomes extremely defensive. This type of intervention is usually not effective because of the source. This goes back to what I was saying before about it being a family issue. In order for an addict to truly get well, the family has to get well also. All habits need to be examined by each family member. When I started to realize that I could have my own issues with alcohol it really helped my husband not feel so isolated. Like it was just HIM with a problem. Yes, I was angry for awhile about it but then I just thought to myself, “whats the point? What has alcohol, to date, given to ME as a person? The 100% truthful answer: nothing but pain and heartache.” When everyone in a family starts examine themselves then you have just increased the addicts odds for a full recovery. If that is truly what you are wanting to happen for them the work needs to start within each of you as well. Time to take some personal inventory on yourself and any hang ups you could also work on. The best time to do this is when the addict is getting the help they need. Let them know that you are looking at yourself too. It’s amazing what kind of boost this can give to them while recovering.

Just recently my husband and I watched the documentary on Bill W., the man who started AA. Something very poignant was said about him as a man. Something I thought ends this post nicely: (in reference to his seeking out other alcoholics to connect with)

“He had a real thirst for more, but will it ever be quenched? We are all meant to thirst so the question then is where do we aim what we thirst for?”

I think this says it all. I think God made us this way. We are all meant to thirst for Him and until we find Him, we will keep trying to quench it with everything else the world offers. In this way, we are all the same.

Two Steps Back

It is a frightening concept for a family of an addict. Relapse. It definitely kept me awake at night. And it happened to us. MANY times. More times than I will allow myself to reflect back on. But it is a very real possibility for anybody who goes through treatment. It is a fall from grace. Two steps forward and million steps backward. As a wife on the sidelines it felt like I was watching a really tragic story on Lifetime but it was REAL. It was cruel. The world shattered and at the bottom of all the debris was my broken heart. Every time. Sometimes I feel like our hearts can only take so much and by the 10th lapse my heart was tired of breaking. I would become very angry with how relapse was presented to the family “as a part of recovery”. I found this to be maddening. What a horrible set up for failure? Are they saying that it happens…to expect that it will happen? Isn’t that giving the addict an excuse to fail? What if we said that to our kids in high school: “You will probably make an F at some point in your life”. We know it’s a possibility but is that how we present it to them? As you can tell, I was not digesting this well at all. I still don’t. I don’t believe it is what you need to say to a family or an addict who is making great strides in recovering.

I do, however, believe you need to talk about it. The addict needs to know about the signs to look for, hurdles to avoid, a mindset/attitude that should promote caution. The thing with Relapse is that happens well before the actual slip. It could take months of build up before the catalyst. But if we talk about and know the signs then we can prevent it. The hard part for a family or spouse is that you might feel like YOU need to be the one to see the signs and you may see the signs but you can’t really interfere with what is happening. IF you have a plan going into treatment then part of that plan involves after care. ( I realize that this isn’t something one thinks about before treatment because majority of the time they are just trying to physically get themselves there).

One of the most important words to the recovery process and after care is this: ACCOUNTABILITY!!! (highlight, underline, asterisk) The family and spouse is NOT the recovered addicts accountability group. It needs to be an outside source whether that is AA, a pastor, a mentor, a Celebrate Recovery small group…I would suggest having a few people as your designated “people” and there needs to be strict confidence within the group. This is the place that you share the hurdles, the moments of weakness, the changes in attitude, stress, feelings of denial, social awkwardness, loss of control and all the other signs of relapse so that you will have people around you that have been through it and know how to set you back on the right path.

I remember trying to BE that person for my husband and it always blew up. I didn’t understand what he was going through so how could I possibly relate. At this point I had given up drinking and acknowledged that I could have my own issues but I did not have the battle that he had. HE was at war with himself. Wrestling through pain I had no idea about it. I learned a very important lesson about drugs and alcohol during this time. HE used the drugs and alcohol to escape some serious pain, deep inside, that he had never dealt with. Your body does get chemically dependent over time but you start to reach for it initially as an escape method. I thought it was just about the chemical dependency but it was the fact he had not pulled everything out that was lodged deep into his soul. There is an underlying theme that you hear with most of the recovery stories. That at some point either early in their childhood or later on into their teen years something happened. It is either anger, resentment, abandonment by a parent, or physical/mental abuse. BUT SOMEthing happened. It is buried and usually buried pretty deep. I had no idea that the root of my husband’s addiction started here. I thought it was just a “put the bottle down and get right” issue.

So do I believe in relapse? I believe it is going to happen again at some point if the addict doesn’t deal with what is in their heart. I believe it will occur more often and be worse every time after because the chemical dependency increases and the war within is raging harder each time. I believe you need to seek counsel even after you have dealt with yourself because old habits and behavior changes can creep back in even after you have recovered. I believe you need to surround yourself but not isolate yourself to people who have been through a similar experience. I think you need to have friends that have never had alcohol or drug issues. I believe you need to transparent with others about what you have been through. I think this helps the recovered addict and others understand each other and also helps with accountability. If you are recovered and can’t be honest about it then it’s almost as if it never happened. It gets easier to share with others. You become less intimidated with people’s response but most importantly you never know who is in “your audience”. You might just help to save their life by your bravery.

Hey…I remember you

There are a lot of adjustments you make when transitioning into a new life of sobriety. For my husband and I, we had to make some drastic lifestyle changes. We moved, we sold of lot of our belongings, we gave away all of our barware (its funny how easily you can do this when you have been through so much), we have a new church home with new friends, but one of the best parts of starting again is getting to know each other again. You see, so much of my energy was spent on hoping he would recover, researching, educating myself, working on my own co-dependency that you forget what each of you are like together as a couple. It’s like I am meeting my husband again for the first time. Which has been an absolute blast!

I remember now all the qualities about him that made me fall in love with him at the very beginning. We laugh a lot now. He is one of the funniest people I know. He is quirky. He can be long winded (ask our Sunday School class) but he’s passionate about his faith, he is analytical (and truly suffers from paralysis by analysis…cue the research for him to be able to decide on our new laptop. Painful), he still listens to techno (what?), he fiercely loves this family, he cooks (and is amazing at it), he is incredibly giving of his time and really cares about other people, he is really clean, he knows a lot about electronics which is why I leave all the technical decisions up to him, he is organized, he knows a lot about cars and takes care of both of ours very well, he is up early in the morning and brings me a cup of coffee every morning before work…and I could actually continue on but I won’t. The point is, I am so happy to see him again. I knew all of these things about him. I knew he was good dad. I knew he was a great husband. And to have him back, to have that hope fulfilled of having my partner back is an answer to a prayer that I had tucked away a long time ago and filed under “impossible”.

Just recently I experienced one of those moments when you look at your spouse and think “how did I get so lucky”…although its not luck at all. Its all part of a bigger plan. He was chosen for me. Long before we were ever a thought, it was a done deal. It is truly amazing to see how well we compliment each other. To understand what God was thinking when he put us together. We balance each other out. We just fit. And now with our life being back on track, I am filled with hope and thankful for redemption because our life is richer than it was before. We have a different perspective than we had before. Contentment is easy. We don’t look for more or the next big step. We enjoy the moment we are in and relish in it (as one might be able to tell by the fact that I have yet to put a nursery together yet for our son we will meet in the next couple of months).

I say all of this to bring me around to what is possible. It can be difficult to think about the possibility of a life that survives addiction. But it is possible. For my husband and I this wouldn’t have worked or happened without the grace of God. Without God’s love I wouldn’t have been able to love my husband again. I wouldn’t know how. Only the Lord could give me eyes to see my husband again in the way God does…hopelessly flawed but forgiven. To peel away the hardness in my heart that I had built up for self-preservation. To soften my heart. And to look at him again with love and say “hey, I remember you”.

The Sugar Test

Have you ever wondered what an addict goes through or how addiction happens?
My husband and I were talking the other night about how to put it in perspective for people who have never suffered through addiction. He told me about one of his co-workers a few years ago who was getting her masters in psychology with a concentration in addiction counseling. Addiction is tough to relate to if you have never experienced it yourself so for this coworkers class, they were asked to go through a sugar challenge or sugar test. Now, this can be quite a shock to your system depending on the amount of sugar in your current diet but it really does effectively give perspective on addiction: 2 weeks. No sugar. Zip. None. ZERO.

You will be amazed by
1. all of the foods that contain sugar.
2. the similarities between sugar and alcohol to become an addiction: increased amounts over time and withdrawal symptoms.
3. the fact that alcohol and sugar act on the reward system of the human brain.

As I said before, the degree of withdrawal depends on the amount that one consumes daily. The range of withdrawal symptoms can include:
headaches, nausea, fatigue, depression, severe mood swings, or anxiety.

I remember telling me husband to “just quit drinking”. Then you hear all the withdrawal symptoms and realize how strong the chemical dependency can be. Those are just withdrawal symptoms from sugar! Can you imagine it for other hardcore drugs? Who is motivated to give it up??? That’s how addicts feel though. They know it is coming but delay it for as long as possible. Withdrawal from any substance is physically demanding and requires so much strength to get through. This is why some are beyond the point of just being able to put the pill box, the syringe or the bottle down. It is beyond them and they have to go to a monitored detox facility because they honestly want to get well but physically are unable to handle the withdrawal symptoms on their own. (It is important to have empathy for an addict on a certain level).

The first 3 days of withdrawal from sugar are the most challenging. Most people don’t make it!
I challenge those that want to know and understand addiction on a very small scale to really try this…especially if you are supporting a family member or friend who is recovering. If there is one thing that addicts feel when going through recovery, it is isolation. Family and friends do not understand what addicts face. They expect them to just recover and go on about their business but this will be with an addict for the rest of his/her life. Your family dynamic will never be the same. I can give you hope that it can get better at some point but it will never be the same…and you shouldn’t want it to be. Something very traumatic has happened to your family or friend. This is a life changing moment for them. They are coming out of a very dark place within themselves only to find that the world around them remains the same. My husband always tells me that the hardest day of the recovery is the day you are done with treatment. It is a terrifying moment for most because you have to learn HOW to function in the world as this new person. You are under a microscope. People are watching your every move. But they have to prepare for that. Like I said before in a previous post, addiction is a family issue. The family needs to learn how to be around the addict and vice versa. There are serious issues of mistrust towards the addict and the addict has serious guilt and shame about the trail of sorrow they have brought on family and friends. This is where I have to interject the importance of family counseling after treatment. It should be a part of any recovery plan and if the family is unwilling because they don’t believe the addict then the addict needs to go it alone.

If you decide to do this challenge even for a few days then I would like to hear about your experience. I have given up sugar myself (not currently since I am pregnant and taking away sugar would be a joy killer)and know what to expect but it’s always interesting to hear others perspective on an emotional, physical level. GOOD LUCK!!! (And please warn your family about what you are about to do! They might think you have gone mad.)