I have really struggled with the thought of this post. If you’ve read much of my stuff you may be aware that I believe that God has called me to painful transparency and openness in my walk. Most days I don’t mind it. It is uncomfortable but still much better than addiction. Sometimes God calls me to a place I don’t want to see, much less talk about. Today is one of those days. If it makes a difference, please know how extremely uncomfortable I am writing this. This post is, without a doubt, the hardest one I’ve written to date.
As I’ve talked about before, addiction comes from a place of brokenness. There is some wound deep inside that we seek to numb. In order to stay sober, we have to search out that brokenness and find healing for it. If we don’t then we run a real risk of relapse or cross-addiction. For some addicts, the wound is known. They might have suffered some major trauma in life. Maybe they were abused growing up (sexually, physically, emotionally). Maybe there was a divorce in their family and one parent left. It could be many things, but it is identifiable. Sometimes the trauma is not as easily identified, but just as powerful. Either way, the addiction has kept us from having to find, feel, and deal with those traumas. In recovery, we have to go looking for those hurts so we can feel them finally and deal with them so addiction isn’t simply managed, but destroyed at the root, through the healing of that wound.
If recovery is healing, why is it hell?
Recovery is hell for several reasons. I don’t say this so non-addicts will feel sorry for addicts. I say it because if you’re reading this then you’re probably either dealing with addiction or you love somebody who is dealing with it (or has dealt with it) and you want to understand it better. Addiction is not something that can be beaten alone. If it were then addicts wouldn’t need rehab. Addicts need people to walk with them on the journey of healing. If you are on that journey of healing, or you are walking that path with somebody you love, it is helpful to understand the journey you are on. This is not a subject I enjoy talking about, but I want to give you a peek through the looking glass so that you might be able to be the best partner possible for this journey. I believe all addicts walk a path similar to the one I’m about to describe, but who knows? Maybe I’m the only one.
The healing is painful
The thing in our past (whatever it is) that we have tried not to feel for years, is the thing we need to go looking for and deal with to find healing. That is a very scary thing, it is intentionally seeking out pain. That pain may very well bring healing but that fact doesn’t prevent the hurting we have to endure. Imagine a horror movie where a monster lives deep in the woods. This monster is strong, ferocious, and fearless. It is hard to find, catch, and kill. It has been coming in the night while everyone in the village sleeps and slaughtering people. Near the end of the movie, the villagers always gather their strength and go in search of the monster to do battle with it. The monster of addiction is very real and just as ferocious. If we’ve reached a point where we are willing to search it out to do battle then we are well aware of the fearsome task in front of us. The freedom and healing at the end of this conflict are obviously worth it, but that doesn’t make the task any easier. That is why we need those around us to prepare themselves to go into the woods with us because we’ve already proven we cannot do this alone.
The transparency gets old because it hurts
Just before I went to rehab, I accidentally overdosed and blacked out while driving. I had 2 of my daughters in the car with me on a Sunday evening in February 2016. This was a very traumatic event for my girls. I drove for almost 20 minutes completely blacked out. I have no memory of that event. I have no memory of the driving or the yelling. I have no memory of my 2 children crying, begging, pleading for me to stop the car while I was literally driving 100 mph and swerving all over the road. I have no memory of pulling over (one daughter jumped out of the car) but I was unable to put the car in park, and backed across the highway into the median, with the younger of the two still in the backseat. I have no memory of the deputies showing up and having me transported to the hospital. I have no memory of being chained to a bed because I was fighting the doctors and nurses who were trying to treat me. I have no memory of my wife being at the hospital for 4 days worried about the kids, receiving very few answers as to what was going on with me, and not knowing what we’d do next. All I know is I began waking a little bit Wednesday night, but I was still pretty well out of it. I remember waking up Thursday morning and being told the short version of what I had done.
My oldest daughter hasn’t really talked about it much, even almost 16 months later. But once, about 4 months ago, she asked a few questions about that night I couldn’t answer because I don’t remember. A week ago she read me a letter she wrote describing her feelings that night and what she feels now, when she hears a siren, or if I accidentally hit the rumble strip on the side of the road. She described in great detail what she felt. Then she asked me a question. She said, “Do you wish you could remember those 4 days?” No, I don’t. I don’t believe I could handle it. I don’t want to talk about it because I’m afraid of what I’d feel. I’m afraid I’d have to tell somebody what I feel and I don’t want to do that. Transparency is painful. But I’ve discovered that transparency is vital to my recovery.
Transparency gets old because we’re tired of disappointing people
The very first time I was tempted to use was about 3 weeks after I graduated from rehab. A guy I worked with offered me some pills, for free. I knew what I needed to do was call people and I didn’t want to. I had spent almost 13 years disappointing people and hurting them. The last thing I wanted to do was call somebody 3 weeks out of rehab and worry them that I was thinking about using. I didn’t want to disappoint my wife. That was the hardest text message to send. I knew it would fill her with fear, anxiety, and disappointment. But I knew that failing a drug test would hurt her so much more, so I sent the message. She was thankful that I did but it was still a hard thing to do. I just wanted somebody to be proud of me. I just wanted somebody’s confidence in me to buoy. Looking back I discovered that I accomplished those things by being transparent but I didn’t know that at the time. Even now, after over a year of sobriety, it is hard to tell somebody if I’m struggling. That shame starts speaking about what a disappointment I must be telling somebody that loves me that I feel like using after this much clean time. I can only imagine what it feels like after 5 years, or 10, or 20, but I know what it feels like after a year. It feels just as bad as 2 weeks out of rehab. Please understand that being transparent hurts and it’s hard. If you love an addict you have to make transparency as easy as possible and a rewarding experience. If they are made to feel less than or are punished for being open, then they won’t be……ever. Grace and mercy make transparency possible, even probable.
The battle for healing and sobriety are not the only battles we’re engaged in
If we as addicts could withdraw from life for a couple of years to deal with our hurts and just focus on healing that would be great. That’s not how recovery works though. We still have to go to work, deal with pending legal issues, pay bills, have kidney stones, lose loved ones, wake up and the car not start, and do all of the other things that happen in life. In the past, every one of those circumstances would’ve caused us to use. Dealing with life’s difficulties sober feels much harder than they are. But keep in mind that while we face life’s trials we’re still fighting the fight to heal the hurt that caused our addiction and fighting to maintain transparency and accountability. It’s a lot of battles at once. Please be patient. It doesn’t excuse or justify how we respond sometimes but it should, at the very least, help you to understand that it isn’t personal or even directed at you. It is a symptom of a broken soul who is still healing.
Expectations help make recovery (at times) a living hell
There are a few areas here we should look at:
- Our expectations of ourselves: we want to be healed. We want to be over addiction, completely. To feel the hunger inside, desiring to use, disappoints us in ourselves. It also causes us to believe we are a disappointment to those around us. Disappointing those who have remained with us in this walk, maybe even begun to rebuild faith, is the last thing we want.
- Other’s expectations of us: grace and mercy is the key again. Berating an addict because he has failed in some small thing is very detrimental. At the end of the day, if you are walking with an addict along the road of recovery there are a great many things that should just be let go. If it is an issue that genuinely needs to be addressed then sit down with them face to face and talk about it. Don’t stew over it. Don’t sit around imagining things and wondering. Pick up the phone. Sit down in person. Communicate clearly, concisely, with grace and mercy, and do it quickly. Don’t leave somebody who is already doubting themselves and struggling emotionally to keep their heads above water, to twist in the wind wondering what the issue is. Lack of resolution in an issue increases stress which increases a desire to use. Deal with it and move on.
- Our expectations of others: this goes 2 ways. Sometimes our expectations of how people will respond to us and how they should respond to us are unreasonable. Addicts should be made to feel comfortable in expressing their expectations. If they are being unreasonable, explain why they are (in a loving and gentle way). We do also have reasonable expectations that are sometimes unmet. If you build a healthy and open line of communication with an addict in recovery they should feel safe to discuss their expectations. If they are reasonable and fair then we who walk alongside them should do our best to meet those expectations, or at least communicate why we can’t.
Watching others in recovery fail is very difficult
Having a great support and accountability system can help us withstand this but just know that we hope our brothers and sisters in recovery will stay clean. When they fail and fall it can shake our confidence in our ability to stay clean. It’s during those times we fall back on our support system. We share a unique bond with other addicts we walk this road with. Losing them to relapse or death takes a heavy toll on us. Be mindful when we lose those we battle with.
Conclusion: this fight is ours
We desperately need people to walk this road with us and fight with us, but at the end of the day, it is our fight. I want to make sure that I point out that when an addict relapses it is nobody’s fault except the addict himself. He might not have the support system he needs. He might have a more difficult path than others but he/she makes choices. I don’t believe any addict chooses addiction. Yes, they make choices, but I don’t believe an addict chooses addiction anymore than I believe that a person chooses an STD because they make sinful sexual choices. I don’t believe an addict chooses addiction anymore than I believe that somebody chooses cancer because they make unhealthy choices in their lives. But I do believe that an addict chooses relapse. After leaving a program of 3 months or more they are clear-headed enough to choose to do the things that will keep them sober. They may be tough choices, but they are still able to make those choices. I am not trying to blame the people who love an addict for their addiction or relapse. I am simply trying to help others see what addicts in recovery deal with. And by so doing hopefully give them the upper hand in helping their addict stay on the path of recovery.