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.

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.

Testimony #3: In The Darkness

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Addiction is a dark time. It is a joy stealer. The story doesn’t always end with their recovery.  I was prepared for my story to sound like my friends you are about to read. I always knew it was a real possibility. Recovery is not for those who need it, but for those who want it. Some absolutely do not want it. But in this darkness, you must find the light of hope. Just like the stars where used by navigators to find their way home, we seek the path God gives us so we can find our way out. This isn’t the end of her story! Her story will end in victory because she has chosen to seek the Lord through it. She is in the thick of it and this is the hurtful truth…

My marriage started off very exciting! We met, fell in love, and married very quickly. We bought land and started building our new home together before we were even married. Everything was a whirlwind of good feelings and anticipation to the perfect life. Very shortly after our week long honeymoon in the Caribbean real life hit me. We were living together, mixing our lives completely, figuring our roles and responsibilities all which were still exciting to me. Once we were settled in as a married couple and home owners I started to see a new side to my husband.

 At first he started going to friends’ houses during the week and coming home drunk. Then he started drinking at home…every night. Every night it seemed like the drinking would start earlier and earlier and sometimes I would come home from my job as a teacher at 3 in the afternoon to him drinking. I didn’t have the husband and man I fell in love with and married.  I now had the drunk version of him to handle day to day life. We have 2 children and soon I felt like my nights consisted of herding him away from the kids. I was miserable. I didn’t want to go home. We argued all the time and arguing with a drunk is pointless and very hurtful. The arguing and insults became worse and worse and yes, I participated. Eventually his anger turned physical. I began taking the kids in the middle of the night and driving to my grandmother’s house.  The next morning he was always very apologetic and I would forgive him. He would promise it would never happen again and it wouldn’t for a while but the cycle would inevitably start again. His parents lived down the street from us and sometimes I would call them and they would come over but of course this just made things worse.  They figured that out and stopped coming. The funny thing to me is if I did call his parents the next day we would all be together and everyone would act “normal”…like nothing ever happened. I left 3 times and finally got an apartment with the kids. Two of the three times he talked me back into coming back swearing the drinking would stop. It would for a while and then the cycle would start again. This last time I didn’t come back. I still love him and I think I always will.

This last separation he started seeing another woman who condones the drinking. He moved her into our rental house without consulting me and then went into debt by taking her on expensive trips and buying a sports car. The whole time this was going on, he was not seeing our son. Now he has pretty much lost his business, got a DUI, about to sell or rent our marital home, tells me he is completely financially supported by his parents, and still not seeing our son. I would think this is rock bottom but you never know.

Since then I have joined a church and become active. I now know I was not fighting him but the devil himself. I realize now I should have been praying more for him. Not just praying but really becoming a prayer warrior for my family. If I could go back to the one thing I would have done differently, it would be to recognize who I was really fighting. This wasn’t my husband I was fighting and I didn’t need to be fighting with words but fighting with prayer. I think that living my life as a quiet example of peace, being his “Ezer” (Hebrew word meaning Helper), and being a true prayer warrior could have saved my family from divorce. I do still pray for him and I pray for myself to be that quiet example of peace and not to get caught up in the deep hurt that only someone you truly love can bestow on you. 

I want to thank my friend for sharing this raw story. Would you please pray for her and her family?  

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

 

2,190 Days

Like turtles on a fencepost. You see them sitting on top of one and you know someone had to put them there.

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says, ‘all right, then, have it your way.” C.S. Lewis

For the majority of my twenties and early thirties I was the second person. I wanted my belief in God on my terms. I believed he should fit into what I wanted for my life and I called out to Him on a need basis only. When I needed Him I prayed. When I felt I was ready to steer, He let me. Everytime I steered on my own, I ended up needing Him again. It’s regretful that it took me until I walked through addiction with my husband that I realized that this cycle doesn’t have to exist. I know that we can’t live in past but I do mourn the time in my life that has been lost that I could have been focused on a true eternal purpose.

2,190 days of sobriety for my husband. Amazing. To God Be The Glory.

Every February my husband and I get excited because we know that we have made it through another year where alcohol has become a part of our past. Every February we reflect on what we have learned and how different our lives have become…for the best. As the gap widens from where we were to where we are now, I am more at ease with who I am and who God made me to be as a wife, mother, friend, daughter and sister.  The idenity crisis of my twenties and early thirties is gone. I understand now that , as my mother says, “real learning is a change in behavior” and that “what you do tells people what you really believe in”. For the last 2,190 days our lives are a day to day battle ground for what surrendering means. It isn’t always easy, but I exhausted my own way. Now I say “Thy Will Be Done” and the outcome is ALWAYS above and beyond my own ideas or plans.

I remember feeling incredibly anxious when my husband first became sober. There were so many unknowns and I knew our lives where about to radically change. I believed I was giving up things I enjoyed. I wasn’t ready for it. It was all about me and my hang ups. I was afraid of superficial things like:

What would my friends think of us?

Will we lose friends? (Yes you probably will)

Can we have fun sober or will we be the wet blanket that everyone has to be careful what they say or do in our presence?

Will I resent him because alcohol won’t be part of our lives anymore?

I wrestled with all of this for the first sober 365 days.

And then in a moment of clarity I realized one thing. All of these things I was worried about had nothing to do with my marriage. I wasn’t married to these people or friends I was worrying about.  I was married to a man that needed me to be on his team. I wasn’t being a team player by getting caught up in these social issues. He needed me to be on his side. Since that moment of laying it all down, I have never once resented him or this choice. In fact, it has become a blessing to me and our children. On this earth I will never understand the depth of Gods knowledge of our lives but somehow He went before us and laid out His plan. He redeemed the wreckage and showed me that this life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We get one chance to live it FOR Him. And that’s it. So these things I was worrying about where 1. all about me and 2. have no place in His plan for my life. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments when we wrestle with these things. Like I said, it took me almost a whole year to get over myself and get on board with my teamate. But we do need a white flag moment because everything has a beginning date and an end date. It’s just easier to take my word on this and start living your life for Jesus and ask your spouse to forgive your self-centered motives.

There are many verses in scripture that have carried my husband and I through these last 6 years. It has been part of the learning process and letting the words marinate in our hearts. These 3 in particular speak to our new life.

2 Corinthians 5:17  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

What riches in these verses!

So here we are. 2,190 days of walking with the Father and now we go confidently into the next day and then the next because He goes before us. He comes running to us like the prodigals father. He sees our baggage, carries it for us and then leads us through it. We just keep living in our amazement of HOW we got here. Like turtles on a fencepost. You see them sitting on top of one and you know someone had to help them up there.

‘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.

 

 

Potemkin Village

In 1787 while on a journey through newly acquired territory in Crimea, Catherine the Great toured a section along the Dnieper River with Grigory Potemkin, one of Russia’s highest military officials. Catherine was unaware that Grigory had set up fake villages along the River to fool her into believing that this section of Crimea was prospering.

While having a discussion with my husband about putting up facades, my husband recounted his time going to Pigeon Forge on weekends when he lived in Knoxville (almost a decade ago). He said he would pass by these large ornate theaters which always seemed out of place or too much for their surroundings. Curious to see what was inside and expecting the grand exterior to be reflected on the interior, he was surprised to find a small metal warehouse like building behind the large facade.

People are good at creating facades. All you need to do is go on Facebook and you will get the best version of everyone. You can untag yourself from less than attractive angles of yourself (I am totally guilty of this!) but you can’t untag yourself from realities of life. We are stuck with ourselves and our situations however not appealing or attractive that may be.  I was an expert at hiding my husbands addiction and pretending everything was ok. I realize now I wasn’t just fearful of people’s perceptions but I was also in denial of the horrible situation created by his addiction.

You can only keep the facade up for so long before people start knocking on the door. Then they find the exterior isn’t aligning with the scary interior.

I have spoken about transparency before but I feel more urgency now with our need to reach out and be honest about our struggles. We are worried about what people might think if we confess what’s happening in our lives but even more worrisome is coming face to face with the problem and what the fallout will look like. You ask yourself questions like “will my friends think less of me if they knew? What will this mean for our family and what will have to change? Will we have to get counseling? Will my spouse have to quit their job and go into treatment? Should I consider Divorce? What do I do?” Its a very helpless feeling. I have been through the seasons of denial but then it all started to unravel. I couldn’t control it anymore. I couldn’t control his drinking anymore. I couldn’t take the keys away again or worry about being out in public and feeling the embarressment. I couldn’t do IT ANYMORE. I was exhausted. I was running out of clever excuses and ready for him to deal with this addiction and frankly didn’t care what anyone thought or what might have to change in our family. I WAS DONE. I called my family and close friends. You see, when you give it up to the Lord you find out what true surrender means.

I’ve given my testimony a few times in the last few months and each time I am reminded about what the Lord did for us in that horrible time of our lives. How gently He guided us out of this facade we had created and gave us a new life. A fresh start. Free from the bondage of this delusional control. Light was now on the lies.

God knows whether we drink everyday or drink too much too often, or sneak that pain pill, or creep onto the computer for pornography. He knows when we tell people for the 10th time that our spouse isn’t feeling good when in reality they are hung over and laying on the couch again. He hears the excuses we give and the things we are afraid to admit. But He patiently waits on us to come face to face with our truth. He is ready to hold us through it. I have lived with secrets. I have held up the appearance. I have told myself the lies: “it’s not that bad” or “it could be worse.” The lies will consume you.

Your truth is this: It is that bad. It is a facade and it will get worse.

It will be painful to be honest about it. It will hurt your family. You may have to go through treatment or therapy. You may have to confront your spouse or family member. But taking that risk of the outcome is far better than continuing to live in this facade and believing this isn’t your life and this will never happen to you. I can easily say that when I stopped worrying about what others thought and started focusing on what I needed to face, I felt an amazing sense of strength. A willingness to be vulnerable is far easier than the exhaustion from hiding a secret life. Be authentic, face it, and knock down the facade. You might be surprised by how people respond to your honesty but more importantly you will get to know God through these circumstances and see Him do all that He has promised.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

9 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. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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My husbands testimony

One of the most sacred things that Christians have is their testimony. We must protect it at all costs. No one can shut it down with their own philosophies. It isn’t a bunch of words you are talking(preaching) about. It is the action of your life. It is your story.  It is the moment when Christ began a good work in you. It is ongoing, it is always changing as seasons of our lives transition from easy “normal” days to the most difficult days we have ever known. Recently, my husband was asked to give his testimony in the newsletter that his ministry sends out. Now that it was in print I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share it on this blog.

On Thanksgiving of 2008 while attending the Hebron program I received an index card that had a simple quote stating: “An extraordinary plan for your life will mean an extraordinary trial to prepare you.” They also referenced James 1:12. It is not signed and I’m not really sure who wrote it, but I have held on to this card for many years. It permanently resides on the front of my refrigerator. James 1:12 (NIV) says: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” This verse (and quote) that we reference daily didn’t have much meaning early on in my new walk with Christ. Later though, it would prove as a daily reminder of God’s grace and mercy upon me and my family all the while giving direct instruction for our new lives in Christ.

My trials with alcohol started at an early age. Fast forward through a “lively” college era and a prosperous professional career and I arrived at 2008 where alcohol had become the center of my life. In 2008 I was coming off some of the most lucrative professional years of my life. I was married to the most beautiful Godly woman and we were expecting our first child. Life was good…Right? Well, despite all of God’s numerous blessings I found myself going into in a very dark place until my entire life became unmanageable due to alcohol. It was nothing short of a miracle that I learned about Hebron Colony Ministries and I began a journey that was no less miraculous.

I have my family to thank for paving a firm foundation in my life. I grew up with positive Christian influences in my life. When I embarked on attending Hebron Colony in 2008, it came with loving support from not only my expecting wife, but also my immediate and extended family. I looked forward to seeing God’s plan for my life unfold like many powerful testimonies I had heard from men who had taken the same journey through the Hebron program. The feelings of anxiety I had when I first arrived at Hebron Colony were quickly replaced with feelings of love and security that I had not experienced in long time. There are still no words to put it into proper perspective.

It was not long after arriving at Hebron Colony that I learned about the power of prayer and what a “relationship” with Christ really looked like. God used these men, the staff and ultimately His word to draw me back to Himself where I eagerly recommitted myself to Him for His purpose during my time at Hebron. While in the 10 week program my wife wrote me a letter. In that letter she spoke to me about what our life might look like given our new life. What I realized is that she was sharing this with me as a hope and a prayer. It was how she envisioned herself standing up and giving a testimony at Hebron for what we would have been through and how the Lord brought us through.

This is an excerpt from her letter:

“This is my husband Kirk and we have now been married for almost 5 years and we’re blessed with two beautiful children. Life wasn’t always so grand though. Our second year of marriage when I was pregnant with our first child his drinking became a severe problem and wreaked havoc on his health, our marriage and our families. There were many sad nights and days that seemed to never end. I cried out to the Lord alone in my room to heal him and protect me. I felt like the hand of God had left our marriage and was in a complete state of despair all the while Kirk slipped deeper into an alcoholic coma – there is no other was to describe it. Finally the Lord brought Hebron Colony Ministries into our lives and not a moment too soon. I was 4 months pregnant and 70 days seemed like a long time but the darker days could be coming to an end. When Kirk came home right before the birth of our baby he was a completely changed man. The Lord had restored peace in his heart, and a commitment to stay clean and sober not by his own strength but by the strength God gives us when we call out to him for help. I am so grateful that he was here for the birth of our first child and could believe that he would be the father he had always wanted to be. Since that time in our own lives the Lord has continued to help us through as a family and we are stronger than we could ever hope for on our own. To this day Kirk has never had a desire to drink again and I have continually supported this by not letting it be a part of my life. So here we are 5 years later and I am so in love with my husband, my children and most importantly my Savior Jesus Christ. He saves us from ourselves and He rescued my husband from himself and gave him back to me as a new man, changed forever by the grace of God.”

This letter had a profound effect on me. I keep it to remind myself of where we are now, how far we have come, and all that God has redeemed in our lives.

I returned once more to Hebron in 2010 broken beyond measure having turned away from God’s plan and will for my life and not understanding why. By God’s grace I was allowed to return and experienced radical transformation. By this time I was on the verge of losing everything. My wife, my child, my family, my friends, my job. What I came to realize this time is that I had only surrendered 99% of my troubles, burdens and self at the foot of the cross. It was out beside the Hebron Chapel that I fell to my knees. I said a simple prayer asking God to reveal to me “the known and unknown” that was deep seeded in my heart. Instantaneously, God revealed to me what it was that was fueling my drunkenness and pain: feelings of abandonment, resentment, shame, guilt, etc… It was that remaining 1% that I was finally able to turn over to Him. When I came to I saw one of my Hebron brothers passing by and for a moment I looked at that man with eyes of Christ. He allowed me to experience for a moment the outpouring of love Christ has for us. I believe God showed this to me for a reason and placed a calling on my life to serve Him. This was April of 2010 and I was a new creation saved by God’s grace.

In April of 2015 it will be five years since that calling.
We shall always remain amazed at His love for us and how He graciously answered that single prayer and hope that my wife wrote so many years ago. My wife and I now have a beautiful 5 year old daughter and a one year old son. God continues to provide for our family and we thank Him each day for allowing us to serve Him in the very ministry that provided an opportunity to change our lives forever. We thank God for our “extraordinary” lives and even the trials we’ve endured not our own strength but His alone.
In His Service,

Kirk M. Hamilton, Jr. Graduate 2010
Administrative Staff, Hebron Colony Ministries

Hamilton Family Final (46)

What Addiction Has Taught Me So Far

I am thankful for what addiction has taught me. It sounds weird to say and even stranger to type but I really consider our experience a blessing. Today I am looking back at the road we have traveled down and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Yesterday my husband and I had one of those moments where you look at each other,  nod and say “we really have it good “. That doesn’t mean its perfect or what I imagined. It just means that we aren’t in control and it is well with our soul.

Addiction has been an good teacher. It has taught me how much we need God. I am a weak person without the Holy Spirit to guide and convict. With addiction you learn to be radically dependent on God and the strength He provides us to endure and battle through.

Addiction has taught me to be empathetic to people who struggle with dependence. I use to look at people and think “just stop doing it.” But now I realize that it is a matter of the heart and not willpower. The substance abuse is just a band aid to cover what is really ailing underneath.  Abuse is a mask to hide what you don’t want to go through.

Addiction has taught me that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why alcohol is so accessible and acceptable and why other drugs are illegal and frowned upon. I don’t know why people who drink in moderation look down on alcoholics. I don’t understand why the face of alcoholism is a homeless person living under a bridge.  I want to know how Doctors, who consistently prescribe drugs to people and don’t give alternative options, live with themselves?

Addiction has taught me to be honest with myself. I use to be really good at saying I was fine. I use to be great at highlighting the good and stuffing the bad. Well, I’m not good at it anymore and I’m glad. Hiding the bad is exhausting. I never realized how tired I was until I just stopped being “fine”. Its liberating to be honest with yourself about who you are, who you are married to, and that bad things (addiction especially) happen to good people.

Addiction has taught me to how to be strong. You think your a strong person. You think you can handle anything. You think you have control of your life. And then it all goes away. Your willpower, the control, the love, the empathy. Then you have to pick yourself up off the floor, dust yourself off, and learn how to let go. When you learn how to let go, you learn how to be strong. Being co-dependent was my addiction. When I finally let go of what I thought I needed to do for my husband, he got sober…and I was free, strong, and a new creation.  Amazing.

Addiction has taught me to ask for help.  I was a pretty independent person. I always have been. But people who are this independent don’t like asking for help. Its in their nature. Asking for help makes you appear weak, dependent, and shamed. The most humble day was calling my parents to ask for help. It was the hardest phone call I have ever made. It was admitting that our life was wreak. I was admitting that I didn’t have it all put together. I was at the end of the rope. But I did it. And we are here. A living testimony to Jesus, that you can be healed. The greatest moment of courage was picking up the phone and its a decision I have never regretted. I learned to ask for help.

It will be 4 years on February 22, 2014 (1,460 days!!!) and in those 4 years I have learned more from addiction about myself than any class could ever teach. You can learn plenty from books, but that’s just head knowledge. You can walk around with pretty quotes and sound intellectual. You can talk about your philosophies of life and what you say you believe. But go through the fire, come out the other side, and people will actually start believing in the Faith and philosophies you have proclaimed. Addiction has taught me about what it really means to have Faith because I didn’t know what the outcome would be of going through this, but I finally believed that I wasn’t writing the story anymore. It was a leap of Faith to give it all up. The Great Author has the pen now and I look forward to each chapter ahead.

Hamilton Family Final (81)

7 years down

“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”— Helen Keller

October 21, 2006

It was the most perfect fall. No really. PERFECT! Bright blue sky.  A high of 70 degrees. Cool at night. The sun was setting with that beautiful autumn haze of orange and pinks. My husband and I stood before the church at All Saints and said “yes” to marriage. It was bliss. I looked at this man and decided to take the ultimate journey with him. Not asking whats ahead.  Just diving in because love is that powerful.

Here we are now. Married. Seven years later and I look back at that girl who said “I do” and I am glad I didn’t know what was to come. Would I have chosen this path? I don’t know. The world would have told me to say no. It wouldn’t make any sense. That would be crazy. Who would ask for heartache like that? But I did and the journey changed me. For good. For the gift of the message. The message that God loves us, no matter what. When we are at our lowest. When we yell at Him with anger because we don’t have answers. When our heart hurts so bad that you wish you could rip it out of your chest. Yeah. He loves us then.

I am so thankful for this man I married. He has such courage. Such conviction for standing for the truth. He is the man that I prayed for when I was young. I wanted someone strong in Faith that could lead a family. He wasn’t like that in the beginning. But then again, I wasn’t who I should have been either. But the foundation was there. The stage was set for a big life changing, gut wrenching, go through the fire kind of moment. When you go through that you have two choices: Blame God for your bad choices or look in the mirror. I am thankful we both chose the mirror. Finally.

On the day that my husband graduated from the program at Hebron I remember standing up in that chapel, as I had many times before, and singing “Victory In Jesus”. The words had passed my lips a thousand times before but on this day they meant something real. The victory over the addiction had been won. Jesus marched in and saved us. Tears rolled down my checks as I sang. I couldn’t really get the words out but it was like I was hearing the song for the first time. It meant something this time. I wasn’t just standing there with a hymnal robotically singing these words. I was the one who had experienced the victory. My husband was free of this bondage and our lives would never be the same.

So here we are at year seven. The last three 1/2 after sobriety have been the most joyous of our lives. We have so much to celebrate. So much to thank God for. For two beautiful children. For a roof over our head. For my husbands job of working with men who are at lowest point like he was and being a living testimony that this bondage doesn’t have to be their story. For my job and the friends that I have made there…they know my story and accept me for it.  For our church family and friends and friends we left behind at the beach that have kept up with us and this journey…cheering us on the whole way. I am glad to know you all!

My faith, seven years later, is forged and sealed. But other storms will come. If you are a person of faith and know how this being a follower Christ works then you know that you should rejoice in these times of calm and peace but understand that more is to come. Maybe not to you but people you love. We don’t know why but we know who is in charge. And I trust Him. All of the evidence in last seven years (and my whole life really) has His fingerprints all over it. If I didn’t acknowledge that He loves that much, that He cares that much then I would be in contempt for not giving Him the glory. So to God be the glory for revealing Himself in our mess. For showing up. For getting us through it.  For crossing the heavens to escort us out of the darkness and into the light.

7 years down. Eternity to go. And to my husband, thank you for sharing this journey with me. I love you.

Are you crazy?

Why give birth naturally? Are you crazy? I have gotten this response a lot lately. Its surprising and eye opening. I have now given birth twice. The first time with an epidural and the second time without any medical interventions. It wasn’t an easy decision. I must be honest, the moment that the nurse came to me while in labor and asked what my birth plan was…I paused. I had a chance to cave. I knew I wouldn’t be judged for it either. I was incredibly tempted at 6 cm to call this thing and get the epidural. But then I opted out and just looked at the nurse and said through near tears “no meds please”. She almost said “are you sure?”  I am glad she held back.

So how did I come to this decision? I knew after giving birth to my first that I would investigate this natural childbirth more in depth. I am one of those strange people who are interested in pushing the body to do what it is supposed to do and as women, we are created to give birth. I started my research by watching a documentary called “The Business of Being Born”. If you are pregnant now and interested in this process then I highly recommend this documentary. It gave me the confidence to believe that I COULD do this. If all of these women did it, then why couldn’t I? I wanted the raw experience because I will never be doing this again…so why not give it my best shot? After all, as a society aren’t we a little too quick to pop a pill when we feel any pain? I know I was. My husband just laughed when I told him I wanted to do this naturally. Then he realized I was serious. He knew my threshold for pain was very low. Well, that’s what I thought about myself anyway. I decided to challenge myself in a way I never have before. To make this body work like it is supposed to. It was one of the best MOST PAINFULLY FULFILLING decisions I have ever made.

As women, giving birth naturally can be one of the most emotional experiences we ever have. You are bringing a child into the world. Your body, for 9 months goes through an enormous upheaval and your comfort level decreases monthly. I am not one of those women who enjoys pregnancy. I will just get it out there. I would consider having another but the idea of pregnancy again makes me physically ill. It probably sounds at odds with the giving birth naturally. Aren’t you supposed to glow for 9 months? You are supposed to be serene, happy. Like an Earth Mother. You smile and only have to push once. Well, that’s not me. But I can’t complain about it. I am keenly aware that there are women who find out they can’t have children or struggle with infertility. They would trade places with me in a minute. So for that fact alone, I don’t talk about my disdain for pregnancy but for the purpose of this blog I am trying to give the whole picture and be honest about the experience. Even though I have these feelings about pregnancy, I can’t say that the end result isn’t worth it. It is. I am in love with my children. Now, back to the birth thing…I decided to use the 9 months to prepare for the idea of giving birth naturally. I looked at the positives and the negatives and the only negative that was in the “Natural” column was this: incredibly painful. If you think about it, that really isn’t a negative. It is just a decision you make based on how you deal with pain. When I was pregnant the first time, the epidural was a given. It is what you do these days. Most women choose it. You are in the majority if you get one. The thought of doing this naturally wasn’t on the table. I was so scared of the pain that I didn’t even want to consider doing the other. But isn’t that just like life: we don’t do what scares us the most for fear of the unknown? And why do it when you have the option of drugs?

With my second child I started to question all of this. I started to think about why we choose not to experience pain anymore. We don’t have to, right? If you have pain there is probably a pill for it. With my husbands battle for sobriety, I began to pay attention to the prescription pill addiction battle that is taking place right now in this country. Its not surprising to me that it has reached epidemic proportions.If the doctor prescribes it to you, then you should take it right? More and more we hear of celebrities dying from overdoses on prescription medications (usually pain killers are involved or the mixing of a sedative) and the numbers of women overdosing is surpassing that of men. I hear stories about moms taking Xanax, Klonopin, or Ativan to be better moms and how many stories of addiction start with “I went in for surgery on my back,knee etc and….”. My husband works at a mission for men with substance abuse problems and says that 1 out of every 3 men that comes in is addicted to some kind of prescribed medication. So why is this country in such a crisis with prescription drug addiction? I believe they are easily accessible and overly prescribed. I wont say that doctors all overprescribe but they are part of the problem. Some are becoming more diligent and regulating but at the tragic expense of many casualties that have lost the battle with addiciton. What scares me the most is that we are so afraid to feel pain that we don’t know how to get through life without a pill for whatever ails us. And for that matter, if the drug companies were in the business of making us well then they would, in effect, go out of business right? I am not saying all of this to point to a conspiracy but what I am alluding to is that we are ill equipping ourselves and our children on how NOT to deal with life. We have created an expectation that all must be good all of the time and if isn’t then there is a pill for that. The younger generations are not being told to deal with things. They are handed magic pills to help them study longer or not be sad or not have anxiety or pay attention better or get thinner. We are moving toward a society that won’t know how to deal with life in its raw form. It is a life without consequences for our choices. I am not an evolutionist but I do believe that we adapt. The tragedy is what we are adapting to.

SO am I really crazy for wanting to experience childbirth in its natural state? I chose this route to see if I could do it. To see if I could work through the pain. And I did it. It gave me incredible self confidence of what I can endure. The human body is an amazing thing. Our tolerance for pain (physically) is much more than what we give ourselves credit for. If we take away the highs and lows, the emotion, the sadness, the pure excitement and joy, the peaks and the valleys then we are missing out on the great human experience! Just this morning I heard Greg Laurie say to leverage your pain, don’t waste your pain (he was specifically talking about the pain of loss) and physical pain is a great analogy for mental pain. When we experience pain, both mental and physical, we learn to lean on God. C.S. Lewis said “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” There is no pill for our heart. There is only one prescription for our heart and that’s Jesus.

http://offlabelfilm.com/

– Entered into the world naturally on April 19, 2013-

4 days old