The Paradox of Alcohol

****Warning: heavy stuff ahead.**** Seriously though, if you are in love with alcohol then stop reading. ****

As I walked with my husband into the Oteen VA Hospital in Asheville, NC  I came face to face with the Paradox of Alcohol.

It was a warm May day in 2006 when we got the phone call. We had been waiting and wondering for almost two months. We hadn’t heard from Kirk’s dad in over two months and knew that wasn’t a good sign. He wasn’t at his old residence any longer and had moved himself over to a group home on the other side of town. Then we got the call from the VA hospital saying he had been admitted after a small car accident and was declining rapidly. He was incoherent and they were telling us we needed to come because “it wouldn’t be long”. Somewhat in denial at first, I just thought we were going to take care of some his personal effects and check in on him. I didn’t realize that I was going with my fiance just four months shy of our wedding to say goodbye to his father.

For the next few days we were like private investigators. Piecing the last few weeks of his together. The owner of the home that he rented wanted us to come get some of personal belongings and the rest would be thrown away. He had a few vintage tennis racquets, some faded yellow newspaper clippings from his youth, favorite books and black and white photos from Vietnam where he served 3 tours. He, like many others in that bloody time, witnessed the bleakest moments. He was stationed on the naval ships that would carry thousands upon thousands of bodies of our military in body bags from Vietnam back to the United States.

So this was the end of his life. A whole life lived and we had a two black trash bags full.

The rest was shocking to us both. Dirty dishes everywhere, cigarette smoke still hovering thick penetrating every fiber, clear glass bottles strewn around that graduated from the high-end fancy labels to the cheap swill you need just to get a buzz. Scribbled messages on post it notes and bills stacked up. One check book and one file folder. We tried to figure out what his life might have looked like in the end. It was a crushing moment to stand there in the quiet, move through his belongings and feel the weight of his life. Meanwhile this man lay in the hospital without the ability to survive the alcohol withdrawl unlike all the other times. This was it. His body gave up and shut down.

I remember the first time I met him. We arrived into Black Mountain and my husband (boyfriend at the time) followed the protocol his dad required: call ahead and see if we could stop to say hello. He said to give him an hour so we rode around town and then called again to see if he was ready. I didn’t get why he needed an hour. I didn’t understand yet what was happening. My husband hadn’t informed that his father was a reclusive alcoholic. He had mentioned that he had a problem but I had never seen it like this. We went into his dark apartment, heavy with the cigarette smoke, and met this man. He looked like a much older version of my husband which was surreal. His hair was the whitest white. His face was puffy, eyes were red and glassy, but he seemed in good spirits. He was a gentleman. Soft spoken. Kind to his son. He loved him, I could tell. He was proud of his son. I could see the smile in his eyes. He looked at him maybe remembering fonder days when the world around him didn’t seem so dark and hope abounded. Perhaps even thinking of days before the war. We made light conversation and didn’t stay very long. I could see he was starting to getting edgy. His place was very tidy. Dishes stacked neatly. Bed made. Probably an outcome of a strict childhood and life in the military. And just like that we left. That was the last time I would see this man like this. A year and a half later we were in this same dark apartment dumping his belongings into black trash bags, cleaning up some of the mounting trash and witnessing the shell of man dying in a VA hospital.

In front of me was The Paradox of Alcohol.

It was aweful to witness. It wasn’t a picture of a couple sitting on a deck at sunset, toasting with wine glasses. It wasn’t the jovial image of friends cheering on their favorite team at a football game. These are images of people who can handle their alcohol…or so we are to believe. No, this picture was a cautionary tale of a chemical that hadn’t treated people equally. We cannot blame the chemical. The chemical doesn’t inexplicably leap into people’s mouths. But we can look at a societal image that we never see. People die from alcohol. Just like they die from overdosing on hard drugs. Alcohol can ravage the body, steal your life and your joy. And we don’t talk about it. Somehow we hear it but we don’t really believe it because we are afraid to face our lives without it. We eagerly await the latest study that reveals how its good for our health to drink one glass of wine a day. Or we secretly feel like a stronger human being when hearing about someone who is suffering from alcohol addiction because “we can handle our alcohol”.

I am always interested in people’s response to me, knowing my story. “We don’t drink that often”, “we really monitor ourselves”, “we are social drinkers”. I have heard all of these and I don’t quite understand why people need to tell me these things. And my thought is this:  I don’t need to know what you do about alcohol in your life. That is your decision. You telling me about what you do concerning alcohol tells me that you need justification. Like the insecure person I was, I did it myself. I justified everything away…”he is too stressed”, “we need to relax”, “he needed to blow off some steam”, “we need to celebrate”….then you get to the point where you don’t need a reason. You just do it to do it: as long as it is at least noon because drinking at 10am might be a problem. But what about when it starts being ok around 10 am. And why is a 2 hour time difference ok? Is there some kind of invisible line that marks a problem. So the guy drinking at lunchtime doesn’t have a problem compared to the guy drinking at 10 am? We make up our own rules and markers in our lives to keep ourselves in check. Then we start to bend them, change them,justify them. Now the rules or markers have shifted…again. The glasses get bigger. The alcohol percentage gets higher but you self talk to remind yourself you are ok because you are only having two glasses. One or two days a week starts to be 3 or 4 bottles.  And so it goes. The downward spiral starts. I’ve been down this road myself with my husband. I was right there beside him when we were heavy social drinkers. We started out just on the weekends and we thought we were ok.

I am aware that plenty of people won’t enjoy this post. They will think I am coming down too hard on drinking. Fine. So be it. But really what I am trying to do is give the other side to alcohol. The one where people end up in the VA hospital. The image where we can’t control it anymore despite all efforts. The one where friends call you about your husband or wife drunk at a local restaurant and you have to go pick them up and the secrets out and people start to talk. People start confronting you about your drinking or your spouses. Or the image of the young teenage girl who died in a basement bathroom after celebrating over at a”alcohol is welcome as long as parents are present” home. Her whole life ahead of her and she was doing what she believed to be was fun…what teenagers do. Or the 11 year-old son that goes into the liquor cabinet then ends up in the ER because they wanted to be a grown up. Then you wonder how he got the idea and you remember the picture he drew a few weeks ago of you holding a glass of wine saying “mommys milk”…and you laughed.

We send mixed messages to our children when we know our family history of alcohol dependence. We are basically throwing gasoline onto the fire of genetics thinking “it won’t happen to me”. Ask anyone who has been through addiction and I can guarantee they will say, “I never thought it would happen to me.” Ask the mother who is shattered because their college age daughter is addicted to alcohol if she ever thought it would happen to her. Ask the successful father who finds himself in a treatment program because he was on the brink of losing his family if he thought it would happen to him. Ask the 39 year-old mother of two who is now in treatment after being in denial for many years if she ever thought it would happen to her. Ask the children of alcoholics that have had to say goodbye to their parents if they ever thought it would happen to them.

Ask the son who just left his fathers hospital bedside after saying goodbye to him if he ever thought it would happen to him. The son that had his own battle to fight with alcohol just two years after. Someone might question that image and believe that seeing it for himself should set him straight. They forget about the fact that alcohol is accepted, loved, adored, celebrated, commercialized, BIG (and I mean HUGE) business and stitched into dish towels with witty one liners. It’s in our face all the time on billboards, in print ads, at EVERY event, at EVERY celebration. You can order it from a menu. You buy it at the grocery store. It’s accessibility is literally everywhere. You don’t have to go into a dark alley or an abandoned parking lot.

Call me preachy but I just want us to be honest about the outcome of alcohol. Do we tell our children the fact that alcohol can kill you or are we afraid that sounds too harsh and contradictory because we know the childlike question would be: if it can kill then why do you do it? This is the question we have to consider and be prepared to give an answer for. It’s not a fun conversation to have but it’s not happening enough. There is an addiction epidemic in our country and our children are on the line. Everyday we hear of friends, family, celebrities dying from addiction to alcohol, opioids, heroin and we think…”thats sad”. Then life goes on again until the next person falls victim. We see the commercial of the lady putting a corsage on her daughter while she is in her coffin and we glaze over. We think we are covered in just saying “don’t do it until your 21” but I have very inquisitive children who will not accept “dont’s” without the “why”. I am going to have to give them an answer. I have thought many times about what we will say. I am determined to be blunt and honest. I will tell them that we enjoyed it for a while. That is was very appealing but that we had a to make a decision, based on many bad outcomes and genetics, that it wasn’t right for our family. I will have to tell them about their grandfather and why they don’t know him and his cause of death. My husband will have to tell them about his own struggle through addiction. I am prepared for this. I welcome this. I want my children to know both sides.

I’ve heard people talking about a healthy relationship with alcohol but that doesn’t add up. I’ve read reports on health benefits of “just one glass a day”…but guess what that does? It keeps pushing our boundaries further out so we don’t feel bad about it and justifies unhealthy behavior. This is how this starts. Next thing you know we are drinking out of fish bowls but still ok with it because in our easily influential minds that is still technically “one glass”. We create slippery slopes built on excuses for ourselves. Addiction is BUILT on excuses. Have you ever spoken with anyone who is in denial with their addiction? It is the FOUNDATION of their self talk: But “I’m stressed”, “I’m tired”, “I’m sad”, “I’m mad”, “this didn’t work out in my life”, “I didn’t get the job”, “my wife is giving me a hard time”…it is endless! All that’s needed is one more reason like “it’s good for me”. My issue with excuses is that there will always be one.

We are responsible for our own health and we need to take charge of that. The alcohol business doesn’t care about your health. The list of health issues because of moderate consistant drinking is endless:  links to cancer, high blood pressure, chronic disease like liver cirrhosis and pancreatitis, memory loss and brain functions, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. My husband personally experienced panic attacks because of alcohol abuse.

So lets do some educating….I remember at one point in my life when I was drinking heavily I had a tendency to lean towards the celebratory excuses for drinking. A great day, a good report, a nice check…etc And then after celebrating too much I ended up in tears. Every time! I see this on TV a lot of too. People getting together to celebrate something or have a party and someone ends up fighting or in tears. Why is that? The answer is pretty simple. Alcohol is depressant. We hear that but do we really understand what that means? The relaxed feeling you can get when you have the first drink is due to chemical changes alcohol causes in your brain. It helps us feel more confident and less anxious because it’s depressing the part of the brain associated with inhibition. As you continue to drink though more of your brain is affected and what was initially a positive affect can turn into a negative emotion EVEN if you started out in a great mood. You then can become angry, depressed, aggressive or anxious. When I finally realized this after going through all the trauma of my husbands addiction and what could have been an addiction for myself, I was relieved to have answers, to understand what was really happening. We need to know and understand how these chemicals affect our bodies. We know that they initially make us feel good but we know that it can go south real fast. We have to do the research. We are so careful about the foods we eat but less so about the other chemicals we put into our bodies because of one thing: we don’t want to know. Because then we’d be accountable to that information.

Look, I know we are determined to have the nice kids. And as much as I want my kids to be the nice kids, I am sincerely more concerned about the drug generation being breaded. If they don’t grow up with transparent parents who can answer the why’s then they will not fully know the consequence of their choices and that “healthy relationship” with alcohol you dreamed up for them quickly turns into a serious problem. I know my kids will make their own mind up about alcohol but they will do this with full knowledge of why they grew up without it in our home. It will not be some big mystery.

The paradox of alcohol. We like one of the images. We hate the other. But you cannot have one without acknowledging that the other exists. We have a responsibility to our children to give them the right message about alcohol. This is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility to take care of the message. To be honest and thorough but also to let our lives be the example. “Don’t do as I do” or wait until your “of age” stuff doesn’t work. We want our kids to be nice, but the nice kids have problems with drugs and alcohol too. I’ve read far too many obituaries lately of young people which start with “was a good kid and loved by so many people in the community”.

There is so little in life that we can actually control, but we can control that message. We can share our real experiences in life with alcohol and how quickly things can change to bad when we aren’t sober. I pray we will all take control of the message and live it out for them. This next generation depends on it.

A Structured Life: Courtney’s Testimony

Structure is comfort. We know what to expect and there is no parting from it. I remember being conscious of my need for structure when I had my first born. You did not divert from the plan. Our lives do not work out how we planned. I recall the Jewish saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Here is my friend Courtney’s story…

I have always preferred structure to chaos, predictability to adventure. I prefer implementing a well thought out plan versus a go-with-the-flow and see where it takes me way of thinking. I can see now why God chose to match me with a husband who is my polar opposite in this way. Perhaps this is why I was attracted to him in the first place, because God saw that my inclination toward desire for structure and predictability needed to be balanced.

Growing up, I had the sense of predictability and structure, which I craved. Though the day in day out routine tended to bore me on occasion, it more often brought me comfort. My parents had clearly articulated expectations, rules and guidelines. We went to church every Sunday and I was involved in youth group as I became older. I am thankful for the background in faith, which helped build a foundation of knowledge, growing still today. I knew what to expect and what was expected of me. I had grounding and a sense of safety, an understanding of commitment and fortitude. Because my life was predictable I assumed the whole of my life would be as well. I was going to do all the things right I had observed others doing right, and was going to avoid making poor choices which would lead me to a broken marriage, kids that are unruly and a job I clock in hours at miserably so. I was good at seeing the pitfalls others had experienced and avoiding them – or so I thought.

It’s not surprising that at 23, soon after our marriage began, life started to unravel. The comfort I craved in predictability was not present. I chose a profession that was stable, with predictable hours and weekends off. My husband chose one with irregular hours and an irregular schedule, which often stretched into the late evenings and weekends. This did not innately provide regular time for us to connect. We created unhealthy patterns related to communication, and were both very self-centered in our approach to life together. This drove us apart at a time in our marriage when we should have been building healthy patterns and a strong foundation. We were floundering. Because of my insecurity in the unknown, the unpredictable nature of our relationship and my inability to control my husband and his actions toward me, my need to control began to creep in. My husband grew distant and apathetic. The more he fought against me, the more I tried to reign him in. I spoon fed him every bit of what I needed – to the extent that he would patronize me, do the bare minimum to keep me “happy” momentarily until the next thing came up and the cycle continued. My need to control grew out of my fear that I would not have the life I had planned. I wanted God to work in my life, but I wanted him to work things out the way I wanted them to go.

Added to the cycle of control and apathy, my husband and I both have a strong sense of independence. We both tried to do it all ourselves –  whatever that was, without seeking much if any wise counsel. Our independence grew into isolation. I, being the planner, thought I could plan my way out of the mess we had created single handedly. If I just figured out what steps 1, 2 and 3 were, and my husband went along with my plan, we would be fixed. I did not need anyone else to teach me the way to go, I would get myself (and my husband) out of this mess. He on the other hand was seemingly fine going about his day-to-day doing what he wanted, when he wanted.

On the rare occasion I shared the truth of our lives and the poor state of our marriage, the advice I received though well intentioned, was from others who had not travelled a similar path and who had not lived much more life than me. It offered little perspective. I was accustomed to going to God with my weakness, but avoided sharing my struggles with his body of believers. I knew that God knew everything about me, so there was no use in lying to Him about anything, but was afraid if I shared with others they would blame me. And my biggest fear, that they would be right in thinking I was the cause of my husbands distance.

As this unhealthy pattern continued, I had no idea that my husband’s coping mechanism relied on numbing his discomfort. The more discomfort he felt regarding life, including my efforts to control him and his choices, the deeper he went into addiction— though it would be several years before either of us realized addiction was a part of our lives. I remember sitting at lunch with my co-workers after a major argument with my husband the night before – as they chatted about their pets and what they had cooked for dinner the night before thinking, they have no idea regarding the reality of my life. What would they say if they knew? What would they think about me? About him if they knew the truth? The reality was, my husband and I were always either fighting, or he was ignoring me. He was staying out drinking, or not coming home at all. When he was home, I was miserable toward him, and he ignored me. I nagged and cajoled to no avail. How did we get to this place? How could we get out of this pattern? How could this be fixed? The truth is, we got there slowly, and we couldn’t get out of the mess we had made. The only one who has the power to fix the mess we created is Christ.

While I had maintained a steady relationship with Christ through most of my life, I wasn’t willing to give up control. I was desperate, but wasn’t willing to trade what I knew, for the unknown even if it could have been better – much better. Fear and control wanted to hold onto what I knew. What if God decided to fix this? But what if He didn’t? What if – what God had for me was worse than my current reality? This was a bold lie I believed for far too long before learning more about His nature and what He is really all about. Because I had nowhere else to go, I began to seek. I was anxious, weak, tired, broken, and confused. I slowly began to surrender. I began reading my bible regularly and searching God’s word for truth. The word and the Spirit worked together to replace the mountains of lies I had accumulated for mountains of truth.

I can cast all my anxiety on him because he cares for me1 Peter 5:7.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously. Joshua 1:5

My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

People who know their God will display strength. Daniel 11:32

Where the spirit of the lord is, there is freedom. 1 Corinthians 3:17

If God is for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:33

In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I meditated on his word. I sought Christ in my life as I never had before. During the most unpredictable time in my life, He brought me peace. I saturated myself in His Word, on His promises and in prayer. He began to put people in my life that had been where I was. I found a Christ centered counselor who had experience in addiction and mature Christians to serve as a sounding board for me. He began to build community for me. We are intended to be each a part of the body of Christ, not lone soldiers out there fighting a battle alone, in vein. I began to give up control and realize that my sense of control was a fallacy. Christ’s control (guidance and direction) over our lives is enduring. I began to intentionally seek community in Christ followers and build relationships with mature believers in Christ.

While all this was going on, my husband remained in his addiction, and it became worse than it had ever been. I had to learn how to stand for God’s truth over the noise of the world’s. How to make hard choices – telling my husband our marriage was not healthy, and was not functioning as God intended and that he needed to leave.  I did not and could not have known which direction my husband would choose to go – toward Him, or away from Him and from us.

For a while, my husband chose to run, to fall, and I had to learn that it was not my responsibility to save him. That was in God’s hands, and in a choice that my husband (like all of us) has. The changes I could affect were in me, through Christ. I had to get to a place where I was confident that I responded to my husband in a way that honored God and in a place where I could sift the truth from the lies. God gave me the wisdom to be able to recognize them clearly.

My husband decided to surrender some of his independence and pride, and take his first real step in seeking help; his first step in admitting his brokenness and addiction and God began rebuilding. He began to form a firm foundation. But my husband was not ready to give up the battle with self and pride. As he acclimated to his new life, I did not know that he was still holding onto his addiction. His patterns at home had changed significantly, but there was something that was still off. After a year into his road to recovery he confessed to me that he had been holding onto a piece of his addiction, and had been lying to me about it for almost a year. That whole year I had been patient, continuing to seek Christ and apply his truth to my life. I knew that I could not continue through another unhealthy pattern in our marriage. I did not know what God’s plan was, but I knew that whatever it was – it was good. And I stepped back.

I initiated a separation, knowing how severely what little trust had started to rebuild was in shambles. We were separated for 2 ½ months. 2 ½ months of not knowing what would become of our marriage, but knowing that God is good all the time. You see – we make mistakes, big ones, and a lot of poor choices. But God had been teaching me. He can make beauty of our messes. He can restore the years the locust hath eaten. Joel 2:25. I believed that He could, and He would.

I didn’t know what my husband would choose….Christ, or not (Christ), and all that comes with that. I knew that one day I would have to answer for myself, and my husband would have to do the same, and completely released control to the one who saves. And save he did.

I am not sure why God chose to speak to my husband in such a clear way and call him back home during our separation or why my husband chose to listen to that calling, but I am so glad he did. There are not words (in the English language anyway) to describe how grateful I am for what God has done in my heart and in my husband’s.  It is truly amazing what an awesome God we serve. He is a very real God who is alive in us, and who loves us in spite of ourselves. In spite of our running and control and selfishness and all the things we hold onto. He loves us, has forgiven us, and seeks after us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I believe this verse should be followed by a few exclamation points! Even better, the Amplified version which I love because of the elaboration, so descriptive in articulating what we have both experienced first hand: 2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Amen!

So here we are. Not a year into our new life together, and married for 13 years. I thought it would take years to rebuild. I’ve learned that the walls we build, brick-by-painstaking brick, God can smash down in an instant. I love the visual that creates. In less than a year since the lowest point in our lives thus far, I have experienced forgiveness, hope, joy that is not from man. Christ has given me a heart for others, and perspective regarding our short time here on earth.  He has taught me that my planning nature is not a pitfall, but something He has created in me intended to glorify Him. My husband’s sense of adventure balances my need for predictability and pulls me out of my comfort zone and into the arms of Christ. Our marriage is a beautiful dance as Christ intended it, with Him at the center. The process, this life, was never comfortable- in fact painful. Those moments when I was weakest He stepped in. I learned He can use me even in the midst of my imperfection. Look at Abraham! Gideon! Duh! Right?! He has taught me the importance of community and forming relationships with others who have walked some of the same paths and are through them. They are the body of Christ. All parts of the same body, designed to work best as they were designed, but together. I look forward to the many adventures ahead; both the mountain top experiences and the valleys which draw me into sweet communion with Him.

The word thankful does not do justice for the gratitude I feel for the work He has done in my life and in the life of my husband. We have an AWESOME, loving God. He desires you dear brother and sister and wants you to experience abundance and fullness of life in Him. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9. Rest on His word, and seek Him. Surrender and He will do miraculous things in your life and give you not just goodness, but abundance. John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

ABUNDANTLY.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine. Ephesians 3:20.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19.

tes•ti•mo•ny: Kevin’s Story

Lifeonthewagon has turned 3 years old! In celebration, I decided to freshen the look of lifeonthewagon.com (when you have a chance, look around and see what’s new), but more importantly, I decided to do a series called: testimony. I asked several friends to share their stories. I am praying you will be inspired by their courage to share. I will be posting their testimonies over the next few days, so be on the lookout for each one. You will not want to miss the blessing of hearing their stories! To God Be The Glory!

The first testimony comes from Kevin, a graduate of the same ministry program my husband attended. You can leave comments on this post for Kevin if you feel led. I am thankful for his honesty and willingness to share….

Kevin’s Story 

I am honored to share with you my testimony and story of how God has saved me and restored my family. I am a native of Boone, born and raised by hard working parents.

 My battle with addiction began in my teenage years, though I did not see the signs early on. A verse comes immediately to mind in John 10:10, “The thief comes not but to steal, kill, and destroy.” It all started with alcohol, but quickly moved on to methamphetamine abuse shortly after high school.  My father owned several tractor trailers, so the natural progression was to follow in his footsteps and become a driver as well. Being a long haul truck driver for many years really enabled me to be someone else while on the road. Those years took a huge toll on my wife and children. The physical and mental abuse that I bestowed on them was completely out of control.  I would frequently have thoughts of suicide, becoming so fed up with the direction my life was heading, and I blamed everyone except myself.

I attended my first 28 day secular rehab program in 2001; and sobriety lasted for a short time before returning to the hog pen, as I call it, again. During those years of sobriety, Tracie and I built a new home; and we were blessed with a third daughter. Of course, these blessings came with their own set of stressors which led me back to drugs again, because I didn’t possess the tools I needed to deal with the problems that arise every day. 

In 2010, I attended Hebron Colony Ministry for the first time. Life returned to normal again for a short time, but I decided that my family needed more money to live; and I found myself missing the road. The opportunity presented itself to buy another tractor trailer and I jumped at it feeling this was the right move for our family.  All along I believed this was Satan’s plan to pull me and our family back into his grip, like the thief he presented himself again. 

Things went fine in the beginning of my newest venture, but then I became tired from the high expectations and long hours that are required to be successful in the logistics business.  I began using drugs again to enable my body to stay awake and deliver the loads in a timely manner.  I justified my drug use by comparing myself to King David, telling myself I was making money for my family. Brothers and sisters, was I wrong!  Over a short six month period, I was deeper in that hog pen than I had ever been.  Our home that we had worked so hard to build ten years earlier was foreclosed on, my wife and children left me and moved to a small apartment while I was left living in my car.  One day, driving into Boone, God saw His opportunity and took it. He had brought me to my lowest point in order to save me from myself.  I cried, begging God to help me and fix the mess I had made of the life He had given me.  I knew it was time to go back to the Mountain of Miracles, Hebron.

I made my way to RD Hodges’ office, a man who now I am proud to call my friend and brother in Christ. I was ready for a lasting change in my life and the staff welcomed me with open arms. They had prayed that I would find my way back and those prayers did not go unheard.  Though my wife had left me and was so fearful of me that she had a restraining order in place, she agreed to be my sponsor and drove me to Hebron that Saturday morning.  She knew the man I could be and longed to have that godly man back in their lives. The last portion of John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life abundantly” rings true and I have not looked back. I graduated on August 18, 2012, and then God blessed me again, allowing me to extend for an additional 12 weeks and then 6 more months as volunteer staff assisting Gene Dooley in the kitchen. The pastors laughed, telling me I was the first student to actually request to be assigned in the kitchen and I was blessed to have godly men like Gene in my life.    

Our lives are now full of happiness and joy.  My wife and I have a closer relationship than ever before, and although two of our daughters now have homes of their own, we have an exceptional relationship with each other.  Our youngest daughter Maggie is now 9; and she trusts me and my decisions. I still go to Hebron every Saturday where I enjoy helping the ladies in the office and meeting the new men.  I also enjoy doing the sound for each Saturday graduation service.  Maggie goes with me and enjoys the services as much as I do. 

I have said all this to say that when I truly surrendered everything in my life to God, He gave me an abundant life right here on earth and the tools I need to maintain this life, being in His Word. God gave my family back to me, a nice home to live in, a great job that I like and a heart to help other men who are just like me.  I praise God for the life he has given me because without Him my life means nothing. God can take a mountain of mess and turn it into a mountain of miracles like me.

Yours truly,

Kevin 

Graduate 8/18/12

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Phil. 4:13

 

‘Tis The Season To Come Back To Life

We weren’t happy. I was miserable and this time of year, more than any other, made me really feel it.

About 8 years ago I dreaded Christmas. Really it was the whole season. I sound like the Grinch. I related to him I guess. Christmas represented dread, work, putting up a front, manufacturing joy and deception on another level. When you have someone in your life that is working on becoming an addict or right in the thick of full blown addiction, you understand what I am talking about. You are surrounded by delusions of perfect family life when in reality you are at home plotting how NO ONE can discover your secret or how bad it’s starting to get at home behind closed doors. There is a twisted sense of relief that when you go to a Christmas party you can feel normal and no one really notices because others are just as drunk as your husband or wife. But then the cruel dawn of morning comes. I remember some of our most heated arguments usually came at this time of year.  Did I mention how much I dreaded Christmas? It only shined a spotlight on my deep sense of hopelessness. The belief that I would never be able to send out that Christmas card with a family photo and feel like it was authentic. Like we had true Joy.  We took the photo and sent out the card but I knew in my heart the photo was such a lie.We weren’t happy. I was miserable and this time of year, more than any other, made me really feel it.  I looked at pictures from other people and envied the life I was seeing. One that I believed I was never going to have. I felt alone, desperate and empty.

Last night my husband and I were talking about this time of year and why the ministry is suddenly bombarded with phone calls from family who need help for their addicted son or husband.  I immediately knew what he was talking about because I was that woman. I was reminded about the feelings that this season brought with it many years ago. It all came flooding back and I realized I needed to sit down and write about this time in my life because right about now if this is you, YOU need hope.

The only hope on this earth where we are surrounded by darkness is Jesus. He was brought to earth to be a light in the darkness (Advent!). He brought with Him eternal Comfort (Matthew 11:28-30), inexpressable Joy (I Peter 1:8,9) , and never ending Peace (Philippians 4:7).  We can seek the whole world to find or manufacture what He brought for us but we will always come up short and be left with a lie whispered to us by an enemy that seeks to destroy any chance of finding these things authentically. This is why we are so incredibly distracted this time of year by everything that has nothing to do with what the season is truly about. Just one of the many reasons why addictions seem to grow exponentially during this time of year: The stress from a million little things that don’t matter, the reminders of imperfect families, the need to portray life as it isn’t, the constant stuffing of the holes in hearts with material gifts, the feelings of sadness or guilt over broken family relationships. We want relief from it all! We don’t want to stop and think about our true reality or the poor condition of our broken heart. Instead of “Just Keep Swimming” you find yourself saying “Just Keep Stuffing”.  It all comes at us in a very short window of time and it is ALL CAPPED OFF by the reminder of yearly failures as we celebrate New Years Eve. Then we wake up the next morning with guilt, shame or fear of what’s coming in the new year and a bucket full of horrible resolutions. Not to mention that New Years is a goal for many addicts “to make it to” and then quit and get help.  You might hear this: “I will stop after the holidays”. I can’t even begin to count how many times I heard this lie. For me, all of it was a haunting lie. Incredibly empty with a side of deep disappointment.

If all of this sounds like what you are going through right now let me speak directly to you. I know that you are feeling desperate. I know you are losing hope. I know that you want to run away. I know you want to stand at the edge of the cliff and scream into the abyss. I know you are so tired of holding this life together so your children will have little memory of this time in your marriage or family. For you, in this time, I want you to stop talking at them and start praying for them. The talking is done. You can’t say anymore and I can guarantee they won’t listen so just PRAY. Pray like you have never prayed before. Pray in the car. Pray at that party. Pray beside your bed. Pray in the closet. Pray through tears. Pray for God to intervene in their life in a mighty way. Pray that it will happen during this season. Pray like your life depends on it. Stop intervening in the spiral. You cannot control it. Just pray for God to open their eyes so they can see themselves. So that they really see that they need help. Real help. Not just a meeting. He can do it but He needs you to get out of the way.

Whatever that means.

The safety net needs to be removed and you have to let them fall. I know you are scared by what that means, but trust when I say that it is far more hurtful to see an addict continue down this path without fear because they know you will rescue them. Just pray.

Pray this prayer with me:

Heavenly Father, I am broken. I feel alone. I feel desperate. I need you. I need you to intervene in my life and the life of this person in a mighty way. In a way that only you can do. I acknowledge that I need to get out of the way of the work you are going to do in their life. I give them over to you and fully trust that you are going to handle this. I can’t handle this anymore. I have tried to fix and save but failed. I know they might not choose you Lord, but today I choose you. I need you to work on my own heart as it broken into a thousand pieces because of all they have done to our famly. They have hurt and abandoned me, our children, our family. Only you can heal that hurt in my heart and I ask you put balm in that wound. Keep us protected from the chaos while you intervene. Keep them protected while you intervene. I trust you Lord. I trust you know what’s best. Thank you for your promise of an eternity with you. Thank you for your Son who came to the world to give us Your peace, Your comfort and Your joy. I rejoice in that promise this Christmas. You are my hope. In Jesus holy name I pray this. Amen. 

He loves you beloved and He won’t leave you. Keep Hope. The Redeemer will redeem as He has done in my life and can in yours IF you let him. He calls out to dry bones Come Alive. He calls out to dead hearts Come Alive! “Tis The Season” to come back to this life of Faith we are called into. For you, for your loved one, for your whole family. The Light in your darkness calls out for you to Come Alive.

Skip the ad and listen to this song for a moment.

 

 

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)

But they need me…

Once upon a time a woman moved to a cave in the mountains to study with a guru. She wanted, she said, to learn everything there was to know. The guru supplied her with stacks of books and left her alone so she could study. Every morning, the guru returned to the cave to monitor the woman’s progress. In his hand, he carried a heavy wooden cane. Each morning, he asked her the same question:”Have you learned everything there is to know yet?” Each morning, her answer was the same. “No,” she said, “I haven’t”. The guru would then strike her over the head with his cane.
This scenario repeated itself for months. One day the guru entered the cave, asked the same question, heard the same answer, and raised his cane to hit her in the same way, but the woman grabbed the cane from the guru, stopping his assault midair.
Relieved to end the daily batterings but fearing reprisal, the woman looked up at the guru. To her surprise the guru smiled.
“Congratulations” he said, “you have graduated”.
“How’s that?” the woman asked.
“You have learned that you will never learn everything, ” he replied. “And you have learned how to stop the pain.”

I borrowed this therapy fable from the book “Co-dependent No More”. I thought it was a great introduction to another cycle of addiction that co-exists with a spouse or loved one that is chemically dependent. Co-dependency is actually its own addiction by its nature. When your behavior is completely dependent on the behavior on another then you are a co-dependent. If my husband had a good day, then I had a good day. If he was having a bad day then my day was also bad but I kept that to myself because then my goal became to make his day better. To fix it. To turn it around. But really I was just trying to run interference because I didn’t want to turn it into another binge or trigger. In one word, this type of existence is exhausting. You can never break from being vigilant about your surroundings and what outside influence can affect them. I remember thinking if I made his favorite dinner and created the perfect relaxing atmosphere then he would not feel agitated. I also tried to do things like keep our schedule filled with activities so there was no “down time”. Any moments of quiet would be moments of thinking too long about drinking. Its amazing how much brain power all of this took. Did it help? No. Did it change our outcome? No, it actually got worse. It provoked. Like when you tell a child don’t and they proceed to do it anyway. To see if they can get away with it. There is no fear of the consequence. It just becomes about having that one thing and anything standing in the way is just another obstacle to get around.

When I finally got my hands on this book, Co-dependent No More, I was amazed. I was reading about myself. All of the characteristics about myself that I thought were helping him were actually preventing him from fully hitting rock bottom. I was delaying the process. It was a profound and liberating moment for me. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my issue to fix. I was standing in the way. I know we are programmed to want to help but in this case I wasn’t helping. I would try to get him to go to treatment, read books, talk to him about how he was hurting our future, but unless they are ready to change this all goes into a black hole. It doesn’t mean anything to them because they are fighting something within themselves. It wasn’t easy. It was really difficult because I didn’t feel right about it…at first. It felt unnatural and I think that was because I had trained myself to be the cleaner, the helper, the cover up. I had to let him make the mistakes. To not make any more excuses for him and his behavior. I got really good at thinking of excuses of why he wasn’t with me at different events “he’s sick” “he’s traveling” “he went to see his grandmother”…always something so I didn’t have to answer the questions. I got really bad at saving face. My friends new immediately what was wrong. So when I started to make the transition away from that life I started to have many moments of peace. A peace that I was doing the right thing. I knew that whatever the outcome would be, I would have to be ok with it. And when I say “outcome” you have to get real about the possibilities. With any kind of addiction, if they never get to that point then the finality of death is always there. And as much as you want to rescue them from that fate, if they don’t desire to change, then you cannot intervene in the process. If an intervention happens, if treatment after treatment happens, if they continually keep choosing that life then it is time to stop helping them go down hill. You see it all the time on shows like intervention. There is always somebody that keeps helping them. That gives them money to keep living in this life. That gives them a place to fall. Pays for their apartment, phone bills, transportation or keeps trying to include them in the families life. From an outside perspective you want to yell at the TV and say “stop helping them” but when its you, and its your loved one…its just not that easy. But just like when you see it on the tv you have to stop and look at what you are doing. Are you helping the addict? Or keeping them in the addiction. Usually, the answer is the latter of the two.

One word: Boundaries. You have to put up boundaries. Until they are ready to admit that they need help and really want to change then this an absolute for you, for your family, for your children. This is where counseling could be a great help in order to understand what these boundaries should look like. I think for a co-dependent you must seek counseling for yourself or you will find yourself slipping back into old patterns just like addicts do. You need that accountability. TO KNOW how to stay strong amidst being a spectator of the downward spiral. There are plenty of places to go like a church counselor, Al-anon, addiction specialists who can help you set up these boundaries and keep you focused. Once you get off track then you start to go down in the spiral with the addict. The point is to save yourself first. Is that selfish? In this case, no. It is necessary. And that’s as far as you need to go with the guilt of it all. If you are a person of faith, then all we are called to do is pray. Pray constantly. Pray without ceasing. But that is as far it goes. The rest is literally in the Lords hands. He will provide them with a way out but it us up to them to realize that this addiction is beyond them and they need to help. Period. I will leave you with this…The Serenity Prayer for the Co-dependent:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the people I can not change,
The courage to change the person I can,
And the wisdom to know that is ME!


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.