How can you like someone you’ve never met? Barbara Bice and I met through a very dear mutual friend. We have emailed back and forth and feel like we know each other. I feel a face-to-face encounter happening very soon. Her book, Just Right, hooked me with the very first paragraph and I didn’t put it down until I had read every word. (Thank you, Barbara, for guest blogging for me this week.) She thought this might be a little too long for a blog post, but after I read it I dared not take away a single word. If you need some hope right now, you’ve come to the right place. Please comment here on the website and help my friend Barbara feel right at home.
Thank you for your prayers for Benjamin. His surgery began this morning at 6:30. (Deuteronomy 33:12 – “About Benjamin he said: ‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.'”)
The Price We Pay
One Sunday, as my husband and I were leaving church, we drove by a well- dressed couple walking down the sidewalk to their car. Though I tried not to stare, something about them caught my eye as we drove by slowly. After we passed them, I turned to my husband and said, “I believe that man is an alcoholic.” He quickly looked in the rearview mirror at the man and then asked, “How in the world can you tell?” I said, “Because I looked as his wife.” I saw it on her face. I saw it in her eyes. I’ve seen that same look many times on the faces of friends, family, and strangers. I have been that look many times. It is a look of desperation . . . often a look of hopelessness. Many months after that, I met that lady for the first time and learned my assumption was right. Addiction had taken a big toll on her.
I know firsthand the high cost of loving someone with the disease of addiction. I am the granddaughter of an alcoholic, the daughter of an alcoholic, the wife of a recovering addict, and the mother of a recovering addict. Just writing that sentence causes me to want to run as fast as I can to the nearest Al Anon meeting! Addiction runs deep and wide in my family. I have heard it said “Addiction is a family sport and everyone gets to play.” Sadly, that is so true. The price addiction takes on a family is enormous . . . financially, emotionally, and often spiritually.
As a young child, I remember sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my father yelling at my mother. He was one of the kindest and most generous men I’ve ever known, but when he drank, the alcohol changed him. It made him angry and argumentative. The first true emotion I recall feeling as a very young child was fear. I grew up knowing our family was different, though it was something we never talked about. Like so many other homes where addiction exists, we had the elephant in our living room. All of us tiptoed around it, pretending it was not there. Today, counselors and therapists call that “denial,” but when I was a little girl, it felt more like a dirty family secret you dare not share with anyone. And, of course, our secrets keep us sick. It was a very high price to pay as a child.
I was completely blindsided by my husband’s addiction to cocaine. We were just short of our twenty-first wedding anniversary when drugs took over his life. Prior to that, he was a great father, a great husband, and a great provider. Never in a million years would I have ever suspected he would be someone who was capable of using drugs. When I married him and said “for better or worse, in sickness or in health,” I was thinking something more along the lines of the flu or the occasional stomach bug, but drug addiction? No way! His addiction was relentless. It changed him, changed us, and changed our family in ways I never thought possible. By the time it was all said and done, we lost everything . . . our home, our automobiles, our direction in life, our serenity, and we were penniless. We went from “having it all” to having nothing. It was a very high price to pay as a wife.
I remember the day I learned our son had become addicted to prescription medication. To say I was devastated is an huge understatement. I had felt great fear before in my life, but never had I known fear like this . . . that gut wrenching raw fear that turns your stomach, breaks your heart, robs you of your peace, keeps you from thinking clearly, keeps you from breathing deeply, and keeps you awake at night. It was all-consuming . . . and a very high price to pay as a mother.
Yes, the toll that addiction takes on family, friends, and loved ones is enormous and it is painful. But, before you start thinking this is just a story of gloom and doom, I want to assure you, it is a story of hope.
By the time I made it to my first Al Anon meeting, I was totally exhausted in every sense of the word. I had no idea what to expect from this meeting, but from the moment I walked in the room, I felt safe. Though I did not know a single soul there . . . I knew them. And, I knew that they knew me. We sat in a large circle and as we went around the room, person after person began to share their hope, strength, and experience. I am not a spokesperson for Al Anon, but I can honestly say that even if no one had opened their mouth to speak a single word that night, and all we did was sit in a circle and stare at each other, I would have still felt at peace. There is something calming, something reassuring, and yes, even something spiritual, about being together in a room with a group of others who you are certain understand your fear and know your desperation. I’m not talking about “misery loves company.” I am talking about “hope breeding hope.”
Today, I continue in my own program of recovery. Though I have not “arrived,” I am so much farther down the road than when I first started this journey. We will all go through storms in our lives. Someone once said “You are never the same person coming out of the storm as you were going into the storm.” That is so true. Storms of life often mold us, often build us, often redirect us, but for certain . . . they change us.
I want to share with you some things I have learned that I would have never learned any other way but by loving someone in addiction. Yes, it is true these lessons came at a high cost, yet I have found that they are absolutely priceless to me.
I have learned that God blessed me with a great inner strength that I never, ever, knew I had.
I have learned it is true “If nothing changes . . . nothing changes.” And, whatever I am willing to tolerate will continue.
I have learned that though enabling “feels” like love, it is actually very harmful and not helpful.
I have learned I do not have to go to every argument I am invited to; and that I can say what I mean without saying it mean.
I have learned that “Letting go and letting God” was a huge step of faith for me, and though it was not always easy for me to do, it restored my sanity on more than one occasion.
I have learned that turning my life and my will over to the care of God is something I have to do on a daily basis, and when I do that, my day goes a whole lot better.
I have learned that daily prayer and meditation helps me to focus on the solution and not the problem.
I have learned that God never intended for me to shoulder the weight of the consequences of someone else’s behavior.
I have learned that it is not within my power to fix or change another person, and I breathe so much easier just writing that.
I have learned that I wasted precious time trying to “prove things.” I do not have to prove another person’s lie. They know it, I know it, and God knows it . . . and that’s enough.
I have learned “Never give up five minutes before the miracle.” And, miracles still happen.
I have learned serenity is a matter of choice and not chance, and the light at the end of the tunnel is actually hope, and not a train.
I have learned that the twelve steps of recovery truly work, and it is an awesome way to live my life.
I have learned that the twelve step promises really do come true. “Is that extravagant? “ I think not.
I have learned that forgiveness sets two people free – the one you forgive, and you.
I have learned that my God is almighty, loving, full of grace, and full of compassion. He is a God who rescues, restores, and redeems. He is a God of hope.
When my father died in 1982, he was a godly man who had been sober for many, many years; my son is working a strong program of recovery and has good sobriety time; and, on May 15th of this year, my husband celebrated twenty-one years of sobriety. Yes, miracles do still happen.
As a result of my journey through addiction and recovery, I have been given the great opportunity to share my own hope and encouragement with many others. Today, I think to myself, “How very blessed am I to have been called into this way of life.” Like the Garth Brooks’ song . . . ”I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance.”
No matter what you may be facing today, I pray you never give up and that you never, ever, lose hope.
© 2015 Barbara Bice, Author
(Barbara is also the author of the book “Just Right – The Road from Addiction to Redemption” available at www.justrightbook.com, Amazon, Apple I-Books, Kindle, and Barnes & Noble Nook.)