How Do I Seperate My Responsibility From Their Addiction?

This is a big question, isn't it? One that pretty much anyone who has lived life with an addict can relate to. Maybe your addict was a pretty healthy person, until an injury, or a tragedy, or even just a life shift. Maybe you wake up some mornings thinking, "This isn't the person I married", or "What happened to the man/woman who raised me?". Those are painful questions that go much deeper than words. Those are the questions of someone who has felt betrayed by the introduction of something that was never meant to interfere. It's a cold knife, friends.

That wasn't me, though. When Joe and I married, we were a matched pair. Hot messes, the two of us. We wanted so badly to live the right kind of life together. We did everything we thought was expected of us. We followed the road that may have led others to freedom, but only led us nowhere. We ended up in a landfill of misery and had no one who could train us to work a shovel. It was the just the two of us and, eventually, the five of us.

If either of us had been healthier human beings, we may have avoided the crazy. But we weren't, and we didn't. In truth, there was a reason we were drawn to one another. Dysfunction. Familiar wounds. Like I said, we were a matched pair. I wasn't surprised by his addict behavior. In some ways, he'd always been that way. In the same way, I was never surprised by his goodness. He'd always been that way too. The wild mood swings were awfully, horribly, painfully, confusingly familiar. The days of peace were so much of a relief - enough to allow me to forget the exhausting work of trying to make him happy again.

The worst part of my life with an addict was that he blamed me. For everything. I mean everything. In the thick of his battle he blamed me for things that had happened, wounds that had seared his soul, long before I knew him. His childhood trauma needed a place to land, someone to accuse, and I was the nearest and safest target. Part of me knows that, in relationship, things get messy. We all project our fears and hurts onto other people. We all know what it's like to feel so overwhelmed with a memory, or a trigger, that we momentarily lash out at someone unrelated to the circumstance. This was different. This was more.

I entered into our marriage both extremely co-dependent and extremely disassociated. I had thick barriers around my heart and my body. My own suppressed childhood trauma kept me from being capable of vulnerable relationship. My emotions were either hot or cold. I felt both a ravenous need for his attention and disgust when he gave it to me, but both of those feelings never left my chest. They lay there suffocating me while he tried to tiptoe around my silence.

I didn't know what addiction WAS before my marriage. I didn't know that someone else's secrets could tear into my heart like none of my barriers were intact. I didn't know.

Now I know.

In almost ten years of carrying someone else's sickness like it was my own, praying relentlessly, crying myself to sleep, my heart splintering under the weight of his disdain and allowing the full force of his disease to steal my own sense of worth, I've landed on completely new ground.

Over the last year I have stopped running. I've stopped making excuses. I've stopped my own blaming. I've turned around to face the driving force of my constant cycling. Me. Somewhere in the weeping, in the loneliness, in the bleakness and forging ahead anyway I have discovered something so specific to my healing.

I have been in my own way. 

I can't own Joe's behavior, or his disease, or what he does when he's sick. Those are only his. But here's the thing: I was a sick woman when I married him. I was desperate and detached and depressed and abandoned. I was too much of a mess for another mess to handle. And vice versa. His hidden addictions blossomed in our marriage and my strong co-dependency found a place to root itself. I stayed. I stayed in our marriage and I stayed in our sickness. I begged him to change and I pulled on him to affirm me. I pushed him towards Jesus and I yanked him right back again. I had no idea how to separate my responsibility from his addiction. Neither did he.

It's really easy to judge a situation like this from the outside. I've definitely done it. We see someone suffering under addiction, and often abuse, and we say, "I would never let someone do that to me.". We throw around books about praying our significant others out of their sin. We tell women that, in order to stay faithful to God, they must honor the covenant they made to their husband. We pay no attention to the smashed and mutilated covenant trickling through his fingers. Can I tell you what stung the most for me? Outside of our actual counselors, no one ever confronted Joe after I left him.

Plenty of people confronted me.

Doesn't that tell the person struggling to get out from under the sickness to crawl right back in? Doesn't that place the blame, and the responsibility, in the wrong hands? Doesn't that gross assumption of understanding and judgement completely defy what Jesus community is meant to be? 

It does, friends. If you've lived through that war too then I am truly, deeply sorry. We human beings can be so wrong, so quick to judge and slow to understand. Even the best of us can make mistakes that confuse the burgeoning desire to be free. I'm so sorry.

If you've been the one to judge, and I've played that part too, then know that it's never too late to humble yourself. Maybe you're reading this from the perspective of having accused the wrong person. Maybe you're becoming aware of how small your thinking may have been. Maybe it's clear now that you perpetuated the sickness by aligning with the abuser and shifting your finger towards the one fighting for freedom.

Or maybe you're the addict. Maybe you've been blaming everyone else for everything painful and uncomfortable and disorienting. Maybe you've been trying to force the other person to stay slathered in co-dependency because it feels familiar enough to numb the moments between the last time and the next time. Maybe this is your chance to make your own choice; the choice to stop blaming and to start accepting.

Most of us have worn all of these robes. Some of us have been the woman thrown naked before Jesus, the man she had been having an affair with noticeably absent. Some of us have been the religious protagonists, prodding the community to judgement. Some of us have been the cowards who picked up stones to kill a woman who carried water from their wells, bandaged their children's scrapes and served them food at community celebrations.

From here on out, may we all be like the one who knelt down with her in her mess, dared to look her straight in the eyes, left no room for anyone else to self righteously accuse her and then offered this to her:

Go on then. Create a different life. Start over from here. Do something different, but don't come back to this old thing.

Right now, friends, I'm doing something different. I'm not owning anyone else's sickness. I'm not pushing that boulder uphill for one more second. It wasn't doing him an inch of good anyway - it just offered him enough shade to wallow in his disease.

I'm dusting off the remains of who I once was, of all of the accusations that left me broken, and I'm doing something new. The next time someone is thrown into the dirt in the middle of town, I hope I'm brave enough to do more than not pick up a rock. I hope I'm brave enough to sink into the dirt with her, look her in the eyes, and offer her more.

*Have you carried the weight of someone else's addiction? Were you wounded by outside observers? Where is healing for you right now, friend?

*September 2013

Do You Know Addiction?

My mom's dad was an alcoholic. He drank himself to death and his sickness caused chasms of pain for a lot of people. But there are good memories of him too. Not for me - he died long before I was born - but for my mom and for some of her sisters. My mom has a deep love of folk music and Shakespeare because of her dad. She and my Aunt Holly tell silly stories about their interactions with their dad when they were very little. Rare remnants of compassion and grace. There are flickers of who he was meant to be that permeate our conversations about him, but mostly he is a sad memory.

What's interesting is, even though I've never met him, he's a sad memory for me too. Because that's what addiction does - it floods into spaces we can't even begin to understand we can alter. Addiction is a disease that transforms, not only one person's life, but countless others. It creeps into our dark spaces and convinces us to set up camp there. Addiction is a thief - robbing our hearts of their contentment, deceiving us into thinking that something must be bought with the price of our lives. And it is often paid by more than the addict. People who love addicts are prone to paying with their lives too. Maybe not by choice ... at first.

I have friends who have suffered under the weight of a parent's addiction. They've carried the burden of catching their father in an affair because his sex addiction was so expansive it bled into the innocence of his children's lives. I know someone who's first taste of alcohol was at twelve. With his dad and uncles. Because it's funny to get the kid drunk. I know people who have found pornographic material just lying around, yet their dad thought he hid his addiction well. I know people who, at twelve, had to drive their dad's manual truck to another town because he was too high to drive. With her seven-year old sister in the cab of the truck.

And I have loved an addict. I have carried the heavy yoke of his sickness like a cross on my back. I have pleaded, and persuaded, and manipulated, and kept silent, and screamed, and cried, and prayed, and sought counsel, and eventually I left. I have considered Judah's life as an addict, Aravis' perspective of what is healthy and normal in an adult relationship. I know that they are watching us both and I have battled to provide for them what was never provided for their dad. And, hear this, he's battled for that too. He's doing deep work and taking classes and seeking professional help. He's a better dad to our kids simply because he's choosing to allow for the kind of work that is completely counter to everything that ever seemed normal to him.

Addiction is a beast. Addiction takes its stance against everything that is healthy, whole and good. It rips into people's hearts, minds and lives. It leaves marks on their bodies and scars on their souls. Addiction is a fierce enemy.

It's entirely possible that you know addiction. Maybe someone you've loved, or hated, is an addict. Maybe you are an addict. Maybe there is something that is sitting on the throne of your life and twisting your heart in a million directions. Maybe you don't even know if you want to be free, and even if you did, how could you ever get there? One thing is for certain: you're going to have to choose. You're going to have to choose to be a volunteer to someone else's addiction, or a catalyst for change (maybe just your own). You're going to have to choose to get help and pursue healing, or to sink into the embrace of that beast. You're just going to have to choose. Every day. All the time.

There are resources, friends. Always resources. For co-dependents and addicts alike there are groups, counselors, books, courses, churches, communities, workouts, programs and mentors. If we keep saying that "nothing ever works", it never will. Plain and simple. Lets not pretend that it will ever be easy. Ever. Not a day goes by that I am not deeply drawn to old co-dependent behavior. I'm often tempted to revert to my restrictive relationship with food. Of course I am. That is my true cross.

I can keep on being that old woman, weighted and scarred and terrified. I can keep feeding my insecurity, my old wounds and my tendency to isolate. That behavior will always be available to me.

But I'm not that woman anymore. I've done some very difficult work to heal and change. I've been obedient to the bending of the Spirit. So obedient, friends. Because I don't want to live that life anymore. I don't want to sway with the force of addiction. I don't want to create the kind of sorrow that my mom lived, that Joe lived.

Maybe my kids will struggle with addiction someday. It's pretty likely. But I hope they know they can kick that sucker's ass. I hope they know that they have a choice; sick or no they can do what it takes to conquer. I hope they know that they are loved even in their dark spaces, but that they are strong enough to live in the light. I hope they know Jesus in the thick of their battles - unashamed, unafraid and unoffended. I hope grace spreads out over them like a blanket. I hope that, growing up, they learn one thing: they are enough. Even if, after today, they never made a good grade again, they never excelled at anything, they never caught a ball or drew a straight line - they are enough.

Most addicts would tell you that they were never enough. They start numbing because there is some deep, aching hole that needs to filled with something. Anything. So they turn to alcohol, pornography, drugs, food, restriction, sex, television, sugar, exercise.... they turn to anything but healing. They keep running in the direction of the voice that says, "You're not enough!".

Sometimes addicts are simply men who love folk music and Shakespeare, but just can't crawl their way out of their drink long enough to realize that they are ruining the lives of the people they loved. And, when they're gone, those small good memories are dwarfed by the ache they left behind in the hearts of little girls.

*Have you lived with addiction, friends? Tell us. We're listening.

*August 2013

Co-dependency and Hosea

"I was raised to be co-dependent. I thought love meant making everyone else happy all the time. Some of my earliest memories are filled with panic because someone wasn’t perfectly content and SOMEHOW that was my fault. I kept on with this behavior for a stupid long time. I dated fix-er-uppers. My longest high school relationship was with an emotionally and verbally abusive boy, but I had no idea until Glamour magazine put out an article on emotional abuse. Imagine me, sitting at the front desk of a small town athletic club, reading a magazine, weeping. Cause that’s when things started to shift.

Glamour magazine said that, often, people who are emotionally abused feel guilty acknowledging abuse. They don’t have bruises or broken bones, so they believe the lie that they aren’t being abused. The truth is, though, they are carrying emotional bruises. Their hearts and minds are battered and that’s just as horrific as a physical bruise.

Isn’t it true that, sometimes, we just need someone else to point out the horror of our dysfunction in order for us to relinquish the fear that we are just crazy?

Sometimes we have to step back in order to propel ourselves forward.

That moment, at that dingy front desk, was my first step back. That was also the first time I felt a little shove forward.

Have you heard the definition of insanity? Doing the same things over and over again, expecting a different result. That might also have been the definition for Stephanie. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get orange juice from an apple. I keep squeezing that damn fruit and trying to explain to it how much I need orange juice. No matter how hard I try, that apple is never going to be an orange. I am never going to get what I need from it. Are you tracking, or have I lost you in the land of fruit and insanity?

I married a broken man because I was a broken woman. I was looking for a safe place to land, hoping I would finally belong somewhere. I was longing to be understood, to be someone’s partner. I assumed marriage meant safety, connection and, honestly, being in control. Cause, let’s be real, co-dependency is really about being in control. If you’re squirming in your lawn chair right now, you might be co-dependent. It’s okay, you can squirm. I twitch a little as I write it. It’s hard to shine the light in that direction.

Most of us can identify with the side of co-dependency that feeds others. We know what it looks like to spend our lives trying to rescue and heal other people. It’s harder, and deeper, to acknowledge that, ultimately, the sickness of co-dependency feeds ME. I feel safe when I think I’m in control. I think I’m in control when I can make other people happy. It has nothing to do with actually serving a need in someone else. It’s serving my own need - the need to feel safe.

So, when I fail, and the other person is still a raging mess, I panic. When I finally realize that this apple is producing apple juice, I have a little meltdown. I’ve been envisioning, conjuring, pleading for orange juice. What the hell do I do with a glass full of apple juice?

I’m not in control anymore.

Que panic attack.

I can see you, friends, hunched over your heartache, looking for any other way. I know how it feels to want to just keep juicing, to just keep praying that some other result will come from the same behavior.

Maybe it will, because that’s your story and I’m not writing you. But I do know this: old behavior does not produce new results.

There are times in our history of God and faith and community when God has asked someone to keep doing the same thing over and over again. Remember Hosea? Poor Hosea who obeyed the call to misery and heartache. Oh Hosea. It would be easy for us to say, “Yeah! I’m Hosea. That’s why I keep hoping for a different result. I’m called to it.” Maybe you are, friend. I’m not here to question that. It’s your story, your heart, your life. You have to own it and take responsibility for your own actions.

I can offer you this though.

Hosea lived in a time before Jesus; a time of sacrifices and prophets and the law. He answered that call because God had something to say to a rebellious people that just wasn’t being heard any other way. Let’s not miss the most important part of this call: God was calling Hosea to deliver HIS message. He didn’t ask Hosea to do it just to do it. He wanted Hosea to be a part of his story; a part of the coming invitation to be rescued by Jesus.

God is not for our wounding. He is always, always for our healing. But don’t think he won’t let us walk our wandering roads to get there.

When Israel asked God for a king, he relented. It wasn’t the road he wanted for them. He had something BETTER, something WHOLE-ER, something BRIGHTER. But they demanded and he relented.

He’ll do that, you know. He’ll get out of your way if you are determined to go around him. He’ll hold his space of invitation and redemption, but he won’t get in the way of you crowning a king. He’ll let you keep squeezing and pounding the apples. He’ll let you repeat the same behavior over and over again. That doesn’t mean he’s calling you to it.

Maybe he’s calling you to something better, something whole-er, something brighter. Maybe he’s asking you to put down the fruit, step back and wait for a minute. Maybe he has something to say to you in Hosea’s story without asking you to BE Hosea.

Something like this.

There comes a point when God strips it all away. We’ve been wandering and wounding and beating down the doors of things and people we think will make us feel better. We’ve found addiction, sorrow and broken hearts. We’ve produced disaster for ourselves and for other people. Thank God, he FINALLY says, “Enough”. No more, friends.

He strips it away. He brings us low, not to destroy us, but to heal us. He calls us to step back. We must step back. In Hosea’s story God takes away Israel’s vineyards, her beauty, her status and her false gods. He strips her bare and leaves her desolate. We aren’t God in this scenario, friends. We’re Israel. We’re the wanderer. We’re the prostitute. We’re the broken. We’re the unfaithful. We’re the insane. We’re the ones who have been juicing apples for decades, pleading for orange juice. No one, ever, is going to be able to give us what we need. Ever.

Our old behavior leads us into the kinds of spaces that only allows for one thing.

We must be brought low. We have to step back. If we don’t - we will never ever heal, we will never move forward. We will only sink until we die.

But then this happens:

"That is why I'm going to win her back. I will lead her into the desert. I will speak tenderly to her. I will give her vineyards there. I will make the valley of Achor [Disaster] a door of hope. Then she will respond as she did when she was young, as she did when she came out of Egypt. "On that day she will call me her husband," declares the LORD. "She will no longer call me her master.
Hosea 2:14-16

God takes the apple our of our hands to replace it with an orange."

*June 2013


"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part."
[Matthew 6:14 &15] 

I've been thinking about forgiveness lately. There are some people I need to forgive. There are some offenses I need to let go of. There are some wounds that will never fully heal until I stop clinging to my right to be angry.

I learned something freeing in Mending the Soul. Forgiveness doesn't mean I open myself back up to further abuse or manipulation; it isn't an open door to an unhealthy person or situation. Forgiveness means I can move forward again. I stop dwelling on the sorrow someone else inflicted on me. I can give weight to the very real injustice and, at the same time, tear down the wall that is keeping me stuck.

Forgiveness is, after all, just entering into what God is already doing. I certainly did not earn my forgiveness. I didn't purchase it or work hard to uncover it. I just received it. Which means I can forgive someone else, even if they didn't earn it. And then I can move forward, boundaries in place. I don't have to carry that banner of pain or resentment any further than the next step. I can let it fall, let it crumble, because the banner of forgiveness will carry me to sweeter places.

My mom's dad was an alcoholic. My grandparents divorced when my mom was a girl and he drank himself into a gutter before my parents were even together. He hurt my mom. All addicts hurt the people they love. But my mom did something brave, something we just won't get unless we have experienced forgiveness. She sat with him in the hospital. She read to him, she talked to him, she prayed for him. She held vigil at the side of a dying man, a man who had not earned her forgiveness. She didn't lie to him, she didn't soothe his ego. She just sat faithfully with him. And, before he died, he offered all of his brokenness to Jesus. She sat with him as he crossed from his disfigured life into a whole life. She helped him die, but she really helped him live. She didn't have to do that; no one would have asked it of her. But my mom chose the kind of strength that defies what we think we should, or shouldn't, have to bear. Her form of forgiveness healed her dad, but it healed part of her too.

We can't all sit at the deathbed of the person who wounded us. We can't all see the completion of our powerful forgiveness. But we can live that kind of grace - the kind that calls for something beyond ourselves. We can choose to set ourselves free by setting someone else free. We can forgive.

We often mistake forgiveness for forgetting, which would be foolish. We don't forget - we learn. We see that some people are not safe for close relationship and so we build a fence with a gate. If we tried to forget, we'd really be building a wall. Our resentment and fear would build up against that wall until we suffocated. We'd drown ourselves.

Today, friends, let's forgive. Let's choose to let go of the tight-fisted defenses we've been building in our heads. Let's give our bruises time to heal. Let's learn how to construct the kind of boundaries that protect us, without imprisoning us. Let's get healthy in our relationships and in our hearts. And let's start by entering into what God is already doing.

Forgiveness is not an invitation to further wound. Forgiveness is taking back the power someone else had over you and willingly laying it at the feet of Jesus. Forgiveness is a step towards healing. So let's move forward.

*February 2013