Free To Love One Another or Afraid to be Free?

“if you loved me you’d let me die…”

I went with a reluctant, heavy expectation to the Maundy Thursday service. My child’s words ringing in my ears. 

My need was great.

It hit me, sitting there.  I was in the middle of the Community of God, but felt utterly alone.  And it was all my fault. For I have built up these mammoth walls around myself, so high that I sat there,

Alone, Weeping in the middle of the Community of Believers.  Some in the crowd of hundreds I know, though most were strangers, I had no idea where my friends were sitting.  I sat alone.

I fled as they began the Eucharist.  I was still in the pain of just moments ago, dealing again with the rivers of sorrow carved into my soul over the last year, it was all catching up with me.

How difficult it has been, and that raw emotion was sitting close, heavy, the madness of my child’s mental health situation, an invisible dagger in a wound that I walk around with these days.

Then suddenly Old Regrets began replaying, again and again in my head—my sin and guilt, my humiliation. I have made so many mistakes.

Even after almost five years of sobriety I still haven’t forgiven myself for becoming a drunk in the first place. I am

clearly not willing to receive the freedom of grace and forgiveness for being sober today. That would take a level of courage and humility that I don’t have, at least not yet.

I am clearly still unwilling to admit how little control I have over my life’s circumstances. Sitting there, facing the courageous, loving sacrifice of Jesus, I couldn’t bear it. I fled.

I sat down in the darkened hallway entrance in-between the lobby and the sanctuary  hiding from the Holy One, now I was really crying and embarrassed at my lack of composure.  When just as suddenly it occurred to me – Jesus experienced every human pain—even mine, even my child’s.  (And much much worse.)

And I cannot run from Jesus because no matter how far I flee, he’s there beside me in this moment of anguish.

I have learned.

Listening to your places of pain as a believer in Christ is both mystical and sacred—attending to the Soul’s Ache. It cultivates the depth of understanding that can only come when we slow down and feel.  Although last night I was running away, in general  lately, I’ve been listening hard, in good ways  … And what I hear, finally has been a discovery seen through my photographs …

for a long time I’ve been on the inside looking out at life.

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This has built up an inner turmoil that requires sorting and reconciling and answering this question: Where does all my fear come from?

I’m not petty but I get insecure,  Still, I feel sincere joy at others’ success, and friendships, and connections.

All my life, I have felt alone.

I just don’t think I deserve that sort of thing: a Community who is Free To Love One Another; it’s too beautiful, too holy, and too wonderful to experience the hospitality and community of people. It’s a blessing I’ve never felt worthy of, and I have my bag full of excuses and reasons: I’m too broken and useless, unwanted, undesirable, and therefore, I deserve to be alone.

Even here.  Even now in this Holy Place on Maundy Thursday with hundreds of people around.

And worst of all, I cannot sort out if I made this happen, this Place of Lonesomeness.  But I think I did.

Henri Nouwen expressed so often in his writing and often lamenting:

Even as we need solitude—I know I crave it, seek it, relish it, because it is where I listen for the Spirit and learn—when I finally poke my head back up into the world (go on Facebook or something) I realize that the world went on and people have enjoyed one another  suddenly I feel rejected.  And Alone. And the heartache and feelings of rejection that come are unbearable at times.

Sitting there last night physically alone but in the presence of hundreds of Christ followers, knowing the Saints of Old are there too, with Jesus, surrounding us.

—I laid the last six months down.  Months of being wrapped up in caring for both a sick child and my aging mother. Months of fear over lack of solutions.  Still knowing we don’t have them.

— I laid down my recurring depression which feels like my personal screw-up, a failure I cannot conquer.

— I laid down the isolation and loneliness that comes from shame and fear of rejection by others.

—I remembered all the good people that have reached out to us, asked how they can help and faced my confusion over not knowing what to say.  How many times I said, “thank you but no, we’re managing.”

—I accepted that I don’t know how to receive from others, whether it is because I don’t feel like I deserve it I wonder?  That just might be true.

Jesus’ mandate of Maundy Thursday is a challenge to us to love as we have been loved BY HIM.  Last night, shattered and broken, flooded with all my regrets, I just sat by him and knew, I don’t have to have the answers.

I don’t know how to let people love me.

In Hebrews it says, along with Faith, one must believe that God rewards those who seek him.  (11:4-6).

I’ve had enough looking out of windows, watching others live joyfully and only dreaming of entering into Community while refusing to risk, fearful of the messiness and imperfections of humans.

Jesus said: Love one another ya’ll!  That is so hard to do when you’re on the inside looking out.  When you’re so afraid of being hurt that you continuously push people away.

I heard him, there, Jesus said to me:  

Stop turning away. Love as you are loved, enter into hospitality, healing, wholeness and love—this sort of devotion is made up of my compassion and hope!  There’s no fear when you are abiding in me.

If we allow it, the power of fear dominate us.  What others think of us, fear of failure, fear of intimacy, fear of God, fear of ourselves and what we might actually do for him, even  fear of success.

As Nouwen said, “All our thoughts and actions proceed from a hidden wellspring of fear … but we were loved, before we were born we were declared BELOVED, and that should make us Unafraid.”  

We can walk through the world Free To Love One Another.

—May it be so, friends, I pray.

{How I Wish I Were Different: After Four Years of Sobriety}

I go to the garden. My reasons are messy and fluid, resembling the task.

The 95 degree temperature hits me in the face as I sluggishly climb out of my car. Searching the field, I identify three backs bent. I see them from afar. Why am I here? There is no turning back as the heat punches then catches in my throat.

There are things growing.  I am amazed my first night by the thought of food coming from somewhere.  I pull up dirt covered onions, cutting of roots and tops.  I learn quickly and try to be efficient.  Drop them in the bin, but not too rough.  Not enough to bruise.  My hands reek of onion and I wipe the moist liquid from the onions on my perspiring arms.  I’m hoping this keeps the mosquitoes at bay as twilight approaches.  I did not spray myself before coming, though in a type A moment I had come prepared.  I didn’t want to come off as a novice stinking of bug spray.  That night was my first in the garden.

I am nervous, as I am doing anything new.  Intensely shy, I do not like meeting people.  I can carry a conversation fine but more often than I like to admit, I’m just too lazy.  Self-centered even, I suppose.  Showing an interest in someone, even when I care about them, even when they interest me, even when I know someone already takes so much out of me.  There is a price.

This is a quality I hate about myself.  How I wish I were different.

I wonder, after getting gussied up for a wedding yesterday, why being with people so hard for me?  I was drained and tired afterward.  Some people relish parties! Though happy for the bride and groom, all I could think about was being exhausted.

Partly this was for the fact that there was an open bar.  That brought up all sorts of unexpected feelings. Damn it, I think to myself, I still resent  that I cannot drink. Being a drunk (former drunk, of course) this is more than a little ironic to me.

It’s just not fair kept echoing through me, whiny and complaining.  Deep and pulsing, a humming in my soul.  Not fair, not fair, not fair!!!  I was feeling deeply sorry for myself. And this is how I know, how I knew, even then that I cannot drink ever again.  I know even now that I am a drunk that doesn’t drink.

I wish I were different.

Four years ago this week I quit drinking – it was for good this time.

I should go to an AA meeting and get a four year chip.  But I don’t do AA.  Not absolutely sure why.

I guess, I like to act like I’m not really an alcoholic.  I just “don’t drink” and when I’m not around it I’m “fine.”  But I don’t think I’m happy not drinking and this scares me more than you could know.

I am finding joy and peace, learning to feel the abundance of my life.  But I need to find out why other sober people are happy even at an open bar. But not me.   

I realized last night, sitting across from a young gal from my church who was kind of sloppy from drinking three giant glasses of wine, that I am not a happy sober person.  I watched her enviously as she made at least three trips to the bar and brought each one back to our table.  And I knew. There are some things that I need to sort out.

I wish I were different but maybe that’s the thing.  I am me.  I was a crazy falling down drunk, once upon a time.  It was no fairy tale. And I am no princess. I am a drunk, I may be sober, straight and clean, but I couldn’t have a good time last night mostly because I forgot who I was.  And I felt deprived.

I wish I were different.  But I am me. 

Trudging through the cauliflower and tomatoes and watermelon plants today, lugging loads of weeds, carrying hefty loads of hay I worked hard.  I worked to help.  I worked for penance. I worked to forget.  Who knows? Perhaps all that and more.

I know this – I am grateful to sweat, for my health, to be here, to be alive.  Yes, even to be sober.

I may wish I were different but I can only be me.

I can only live this one life.  Oh I have regrets.  Watching others last night brought up plenty of regrets, touched a well of sorrow, a deep recess carved in my soul, but in the end as I embraced the truth of Christ’s grace this morning at church, singing gratefully, I was more thirsty for more of Jesus,

You see, I know I’m a sinner.

I know I’m forgiven.

I need to forgive myself.  And perhaps, even give something back.  Four years sober I don’t know much.  I have no great wisdom about how and why.  There is more I don’t know than what I do.  But this is me.  This is who I am.

I have to stop wishing otherwise.

{A Cautionary Tale of Sobriety}

When I first began this blog in 2008, it was (in many ways) a place to process my alcoholism and recent sobriety.  I felt very alone and thought, why the hell not?  One of the first things I wrote was a poem (of sorts) titled It’s Lonely Here on The Wagon.

That poem chronicled the lonely place of being an alcoholic and a Christian who had lost her faith.

At that time, I knew that I had to stop hanging out with my “drinking friends” and even had one tell me she couldn’t help me with my sobriety.  She had enough problems of her own.

I know she didn’t mean to reject me, but that’s what it felt like.

And I began to tell myself that my friends with whom I had sat around late at night smoking and laughing with, drinking to a buzz, then way past a buzz, didn’t like me anymore and that I was unlikable.  I told myself that the only reason they hung out with me was because I’d drink with them.  I convinced myself that they didn’t like me, sober Melody.  To be quite honest I don’t even have answers to speculation like that, but I know this.

In the light of day I was a manipulative bitch sometimes.  I was petty.  I could be petulant.  I constantly needed affirmation that they liked me.  I even did things to prove to them that I was “cool.” If it sounds like the emotional needs of a high school aged kid, it’s because that is what it was.

I was emotionally stunted and didn’t know how to be a good friend.  In fact, sometimes I don’t think I really know how to be one now.  Perhaps I’m a little better at boundaries. 

I tell myself that I’ve come a long way from those days of drunken insecurity, but something hit me just this week.

I pretty much live my life expecting pain

I expect rejection and so I keep people at arm’s length.  I assume others won’t like me and so I stay aloof thus proving I’m unlikeable.  I assume that I am uninteresting, so I don’t engage in conversation.  I believe that I’m incapable of deep intimacy and so I stay standoffish, even remote.  This is what I do.  Now that I see it, perhaps I can begin to change.  Why assume people are going to hurt you by rejecting you?

Today I have to go to a school picnic and see a few of those same friends that I pulled away from four years ago.  My head and heart are telling me that they rejected me, but I know it isn’t true.  I’m feeling afraid.  Later I have to go to a graduation and see more of those old friends.  I’m sick to my stomach, afraid.  My shyness, aloofness, insecurities are flaring and for just a moment I think that it would be easier if I could just have a drink.

Yes, four years in July I’ve been sober and those thoughts return just like that.  Even though I know it’s a lie, the weight of social, emotional, and historic pressures are great.

I won’t drink.  But I want to and that is a cautionary tale for me.

MELODY

This is a part of a series titled: A Different Kind of Real, where I just write what’s on my heart without a lot of self editing or worrying about what you’ll think.

Some of the things I have written about my alcoholism:

I am not Ashamed
The Slow Crawl Of Healing
What Can I Say About Two Years of Sobriety?
Choose Joy
For Everything There is A Season.
Eulogy to Life.
Letting Go.  Thoughts on Being An Alcoholic
ReThink Everything
My First AA Meeting
My Crooked Heart
It’s Lonely Here on the Wagon
The Place of Nowhere
A New Way to be Human
Eulogy to Life
Winter Comes
Splintered Truth
This Epic Grief
No Dignity
I Need a Filling
Addict

{A Miscarriage of a Life – a post Mother’s Day Lament}

Yesterday I told myself over and over — I have had a miscarriage of a life.

The day before, I spent all day celebrating my older sister as she received a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Yes, I was happy for her but I could not enjoy the day fully because I was so disappointed with my own life.

After the very long ceremony (those Lutherans know how to “party”) I asked her what was next on her list for world domination? It was a backhanded compliment, which had a risk of offending her, but luckily she was gracious. (I get snarky and sarcastic when I’m feeling bad about myself.)

These sisters of mine are capable of doing anything.

Harrison’s seem to have the brains and talent, ability to work extremely hard, a yearning for justice to prevail and the certainty that injustice is, in part, our life’s call, challenge and responsibility.  We are strong, capable, and powerful women. Some days I actually believe that about myself.

I have come to believe that much of the spiritual journey is one of being stripped of all that we would put our trust in, other than God.

Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake.  The life that God has for each of us, if received–changes us.  There is not one sacred path for all.

My journey over the last twenty years has been a stripping, for I never knew Jesus, before.

I never knew I was beloved. I didn’t believe there was a purpose for my life outside of what I could accomplish, a life purpose that is all about Jesus.

Until my father died nine years ago, I was in many ways “asleep.”  Because of the severe damage to my psyche from his anger, I did not know myself.  I did not know the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in any real way.

I did not know it, but I was bankrupt in spirit.

But even in that absence of belief, God planted questions, passions and strong desires inside me, a prompting that has never left me to know the Word of God and interpret it. I know that I am to receive that– and submit to the unique journey God has laid out, even when I cannot see clearly the road ahead.

Trusting is painful — the stripping away of sin, of selfishness and in many ways of aspects of my humanity, my character, that I thought were who I was.  But there is grace, protection, comfort, provision and shalom in submitting to the Holy One’s purposes.

It is the only safe place. And yet it hurts so much when I feel I do not understand clearly.

In my 20s and 30s I lived for my job, it was my identity and all that I knew.  Strangely, I believed it was all I was good at and I thought that I was choosing to walk away from that work, because the environment was unhealthy, but I see now that God led me away, took everything that made me feel good and strong and powerful.  I thought I knew.

I could have lost my marriage and family because of my addiction to alcohol.  I thought I knew, thought I was strong enough to beat it with will power, but the addiction beat me and I found that I was nothing without the Holy One.  Even if I gave up the drink, without the Holy One filling me, healing, and strengthening me I was nothing. I thought I knew.

I sat Sunday scrutinizing people who had given many years of their lives to learning, thinking, writing, believing, enough to sacrifice time with their own children and partners, to achieve this incredible goal of a masters or doctorate. Some were restrained, some were giddy, and many were just slightly stunned to survive it, it seemed to me as a bystander.

I was so incredibly jealous and sad for myself, even mad at myself.  Though the day wasn’t about me, inside my head everything was about me and my feelings of not exactly failure, but a strange bedfellow to it, a miscarriage of a life.   In that moment, how dearly I regretted leaving my career in my early thirties and staying at home with my kids. Deep down a part of me still believed that I would not have succumbed to alcoholism or depression in the end if I had continue to work fulltime.  I’d still have a great career, I’d be able to leverage it toward other work, and I would be respected by others.   Pretty much bullshit and lies, but I almost believed it again as I sat there fuming internally.

I said all that and more to my mother as we drove back home.  I don’t know if I really believed it.  I do know that who I am, the real me, the person I never knew until I had no job, suffered from major depression and became a drunk – that woman needs Jesus! She believes in the Creator in a way that she never did before she lost it all.

I remembered that my boss, while I was trying to decide about leaving InterVarsity told me to go have babies and come back in five years to continue my part of world domination.  Only, I never went back I was too busy having a breakdown and drinking myself stupid.  That’s what I mean by a miscarriage of a life.

I was debriefing the day with Tom, who is extremely smart and has an almost PhD from the University of Chicago.  As his head hit the pillow he exhaled, he said something like:

Higher degrees have their purpose, and there is a sense of personal achievement if it is important to you, but being a parent is three times harder than getting that PhD.

“Yeah,” I said, “but the world doesn’t esteem parents.  Parenting won’t get you a job.  Parenting won’t bring you any real regard or admiration from others.  Parenting is something everyone does.  (Not to mention you don’t get paid and the hours are terrible.)  It’s not enough.” 

My eyes filled with tears so many times on Sunday, I felt like I was choking most of the day.  I was happy for my sister, genuinely — for I know only in part the many sacrifices she and her loved ones have made for her to accomplish this incredible goal.  I know my father was doing a happy dance, wherever he is.  My mother was beaming.

I spent my mother’s day celebrating my sister in part because I believe in doing things even when they are hard.  I want my children to grow up knowing that doing the right thing isn’t always what’s easy, nor is it usually about you. That there will be many opportunities in life to choose yourself over others, but when given the chance to celebrate someone you love, you should take it.

All day I had moments of deep self-pity and self-loathing for my choices and beating myself up about the last fifteen years.  Hindsight is 20/20 and all, still this is what I have come to know.

I know I would be different and horrible person if I had continued on the path of a workaholic and constant striving for external approval. My character has been changed through these experiences.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a true understanding of God’s mercy and grace in my life. I know that I am loved by Jesus – I didn’t know or believe it two decades ago.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a daily dependence on God for my health – my mood, my purpose and meaning.

For even as humbling and hard as each day is and how much it feels like a sacrifice to not have a viable lauded career at this time, I’m on my knees ever more.

Most of what I am learning is yet to be understood or written I suppose.  Clearly, I am still broken, still too easily overcome by the wrong motives. I continue to be frustrated and discontented and I am frustrated with myself because of this.

In studying the book of Proverbs (because that is where we are in Eat This Book reading the entire Bible in a year at church) I am being drawn to Proverbs 31.  I look forward to learning what a 21st century feminist wife and mother, a homemaker, budding writer has to learn about being a Proverbs 31 woman.

I am open, and fearful. I am angry and aching inside, deep where no one understands me except God.

I know I should be grateful but everything about me is wired to work hard, to please other people, to get the acclaim of others, to be esteemed and admired; it is the entire human condition without God.

I pray for spiritual understanding and an ability to lay all that down — to trust and obey.

Deep down I know that as long as I keep longing for all the wrong things, I can’t grasp what is good, whether that is understanding of what I already have or whether it is receiving what God has for me next.  I cannot grasp it because I am still so filled with discontent.

I thought I knew.  There is very little that I do know.  But my story isn’t fully written.


My Sobriety and My Sin

“… And lately I wonder if Christians aren’t the most miserable of addicts–and if the fact of our faith itself isn’t part of the reason.  After all, aren’t we supposed to be new creations in Christ, freed from the power of sin? Because we tend to think of addiction this way—strictly as a moral failing—we try to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps. We pray harder, repent more fervently, and fight temptation until we’re blue in the face.”  – Sober Boots, a blog by Heather Kopp

After reading Heather’s thoughts last night I read several of the comments from those who had extremely judgmental view of a person’s addiction recovery.

I was left with a hollow feeling inside.  I found myself saying that addiction is not a sin.  But then, thinking long and hard about it this morning, I realized that although I have never dealt with it there was an element of sin involved in my alcoholism.

I am always helped by talking to my husband Tom.  I sought his comfort in the question, “It wasn’t sin, right, that I became an alcoholic? It wasn’t sin, was it?  Is it?”  He’s one of the least judgmental people I know, so when Tom said “Yes, it is in part it was sin, you had a choice .  You cannot discount free will.” I had to listen.

(And then we launched into a wonderful conversation about James 3, our hierarchies of sin and the power of our tongue.  “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers these things ought not to be so.”  James 3, ESV)

How is it that I fell into addiction?

How is it that I am sober today?  My sobriety has taken inner strength of will and conviction. Was it God that has given me the strength to remain sober for three and a half years? 

How much of my sobriety was tangled up in my conversion path, my faith walk, the gentle work of the Holy Spirit?

In some ways living free of addiction is a form of conversion, as Alyce M. McKenzie says, a turnaround from bondage to a self-destructive behavior to freedom that comes when we commit ourselves to the power of God.

But honestly I don’t recall some grand transaction, or moment, whereby I asked God to help me become sober and whamo I was healed.  No, it was much, much slower.  It was through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a final ultimatum-of-sorts made by my husband converging within twenty-four hours, that I made a choice to finally quit.

But the conviction had been building for some time – though choosing sobriety took years.

I was pretty sure I was addicted to alcohol when my sisters and I attended the family program at Hazeldon at the request of my mom.  It was there that I learned for the first time about  the illness of addiction, more importantly about the brain pathways of an addict, about codependency, about the hell we create for others by our words and sarcasm, about the strength sometimes to be found in Al Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous.  (**I say more about AA below)  After meeting with a doctor there, acknowledging my depression and how much and how often I was drinking, she said they could justifiably commit me to the residential program.  But I couldn’t do it — couldn’t accept the need to quit totally.  Didn’t believe it was that bad.  I went home and spent the next five years or so on a slow decline.  Not every day at that point.  Not drinking to black out, yet.  Not even really in that bad of shape, but an alcoholic for sure.

How many nights over the next few years did I go to sleep almost blacked out drunk.  Only just able to stumble to bed – falling into the protective  down covers, pounding head on the soft accepting pillows, heart aching with the pain of it all. Thinking – praying – crying out to God.

Making promises.  Promising that tomorrow would be different.  Promising myself that tomorrow I would not buy  any wine.  Tomorrow I would not drink myself to a disoriented, forgotten, insensible place.  Hopeful that tomorrow would be different, only to fall into the same habit, experiencing the same amnesia as I was purchasing more alcohol.

The psychologist and spiritual counselor Gerald May in his book called Addiction and Grace defines addiction as “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire.”

I found myself, day after day, month after month, year after year, for more than five years being fairly certain that I was an addict and yet choosing the same path.  I thought I could be a social drinker.  I didn’t want to stop, not really, for a long time.   Wine and other alcohol was like a lover.  I look back now knowing it clearly, seeing it objectively that it was an idol, yes, more important than anything else.  Alcohol was my reason for living.  I gave it the space and place in my life much more important than my health, or the welfare of my family, or my commitment to God. So, yes, there is an element of choice.  And in that free choice it was a sin.

But sadly as Christians we have a hierarchy of sin – infidelity and addiction being at the top.  Why?  I suppose it doesn’t even matter ultimately.  They were my choices, though compelled by the illness in my brain and the broken state of my heart.   I made them.   I chose.

And where was God?  Well, I stopped seeking him.  I closed off from him the part of me that was an addict.  I cannot fully describe how I lived with myself spiritually in those years except to say that I was numb even while being wracked with guilt.  I was self-medicating.  I was depressed.  I felt hopeless.  I turned away from God. This is a poem I wrote at one point in my recovery, titled Days Without God.

she walked away from hope,
traveled the road of unkept promises.
and god was far away.

days without number

she ran down that road,
of fleeting pleasures
and god turned away
unable to see
unable to be with her.

though she can never deny going,
after a time, she turned
and walked back.
she was broken and bleeding.

the moment she turned back
she felt the presence
and then, god forgave.

For these choices I had to ask my husband’s forgiveness.  Someday I will do the same with my children when they are old enough to understand.  From the friends who lived beside me and saw the destruction of alcohol in my life, I covet their forgiveness.  Family members who saw and lived and wondered and were wounded by me, they too I need forgiveness and grace.

I live with the knowledge of my walking away from God.  I live with the knowledge that I did that every day, I chose it.  I cling to God now.  I relish his forgiveness and I acknowledge my sin.  His grace is enough.

To those accusers, the ones that throw out the accusation of “sin!” like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, I say this. No matter who we are or what we have done, in Christ we are given a new life of repentance and dignity where there is no place for legalism and guilt.   This is a life of grace.   Only God knows our hearts.   He is there with us, if we cry out to him.  But recovery, that is a long difficult walk and by no means something that just happens by surrendering to God.  I know this.

But I also know that He walks it with us if we ask him.  Look at John 8, Jesus asking where are your accusers?  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Do I know how that transaction works, ultimately?  Not really, but it is for me now found  in the daily choice to be sober.  Did Jesus think she’d be free of sin them then on?  Nope, not likely and there was parts of her life she had to choose to walk away from.  Alcoholics must do this in order to recover.

I cannot cast stones at others, no matter their “sin.” Grace and peace is found in the knowledge that I am not judged either.

“… and I’m still learning how to hack and slash through this beautiful jungle of grace.”  Stephen

MH

** I do not work my sobriety with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).  I don’t personally find AA all that helpful, though for a time I was greatly encouraged by attending a weekly meeting with women.  I walked into that room and experienced like I never have in my life a level of understanding, empathy and acceptance.  No condemnation.  We were all alcoholics and other forms of addicts.  No pointing of fingers.  In a way that the Church doesn’t seem to be able to live out — the idea that we’re all sinners together in this mess of a world.  All sinners.  All saints.  All walking the path together.  Why is it that (some) Christians are the most judgmental of all?

I longed for (and still sometimes do) church to be a safe place for me to go and find help with my recovery, but my church at least doesn’t offer anything for addicts.  Not sure why when they have divorce-care, and grief-care, and cancer-care among many other kids of “care.”  It does feel like they are strangely silent on this.  I was helped by an addiction specific counselor, fortunate enough to have it covered by insurance, and spent more than six months in weekly therapy working through many aspects of my addiction as well as learning about the disease’s power.

I was in Love…with Vodka, Wine and Gin

Wine
Image by isante_magazine via Flickr

On the eve of my birth week, I want to take a moment to remember where I have come from, now that I am three plus years sober.   

While purging and organizing books this week I came across a little orange index card that I wrote to myself while I was working hard at accepting my need for sobriety.  I thought I had lost the card and that would have been tragic because the thoughts written on it are very important to me.

About five years ago, I spent more than a year — at two different stages — seeing counselors specifically about my drinking.  At that time, I wrote what I thought of my life without alcohol so far.  I said:

I value my recovery because …..

  • I have an improved mood.
  • I feel strong.
  • I am more present and self-aware.
  • I am more willing to face my feelings.
  • I am more hopeful about the future.
  • I am more in control of my world, actions, responses to life.
  • My relationships are more honest.
  • I am a good role model for my kids.
  • I am a cultural enigma.
  • I am more relaxed socially (less No worry about embarrassing myself.)
  • I have a higher quality of mental engagement.

All this is true.  And more.  Today when I look back another thing I am so grateful for is that my life partner, family and close friends never judged me. At least I never felt judged. Especially Tom could have. Boy, oh boy, I made some bad choices.  Tom lived with my addiction for many, many years, continuing to love and support me.  At my worst, he wiped up my vomit and put me to bed.  He pulled me out of parties before I could do something stupid.  All those years he was simply loving.  I never felt that I was a bad person because of my dependency to alcohol.  Not from him, but I did judge myself!

In my head, I was constantly accusing myself.

I cannot count, because it happened so many times, the number of Sundays I spent sitting in church nursing the world’s worst hangover, full of shame and self-loathing.   I am not sure which felt worse, the physical symptoms of being hung over or the emotional beating I gave myself.  I just knew I was living the life of a hypocrite.  I didn’t have the courage to give up on churchgoing all together, but I was miserable being there.

For a long time my drinking made family life feel disjointed and a mess, because it was!

I started in on the wine too early in the evening, so I was too “tired” to do anything else in the evenings, except veg in front of the television.  When it was time to put the kids to bed, I was too tired to read to them, something I had always loved.  That memory makes me deeply sad still, but I will forgive myself some day.  Some things are harder to forgive yourself for like driving drunk with my children in the car, even if it was just a few neighborhood streets.  I did that.  I am utterly horrified to think of it now but it happened.  Why do I admit that today?  Why do I force myself to recall the shameful choices I made?

Because I do have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I could drink again.  And those are lies, but it is all too easy to forget.

Back to Tom, he was unhappy with our choices and (very) willingly quit drinking many times with me, for me.  He encouraged me to quit many times and we did quit a few times.  But it was such a part of our lifestyle that we soon were drinking again.

It grew more difficult as the years went by for me to even consider quitting, as I was afraid that I couldn’t live without it.  And, suffering as I was from major depression all those years, I was self-medicating with the very drug that furthered my depression.  (Alcohol is a depressant but I either didn’t know it or didn’t want to know.)

The first time I went to counselling for my alcohol addiction it was an intellectual exercise.

My mother was in a recovery program and addiction is all over my family tree.  I was drinking too much, but I was not yet the sloppy, falling down drunk that I became.  I was “abusing” alcohol.  I was addicted.  But I had convinced myself that I was managing.  I learned a lot from those counselling sessions, most important of which was that I should quit for lots of reasons.

In order to have that type of counselling you must agree to not be drinking as you go through it.  And I did that, but I was just a dry drunk.  All of my behaviors were still of an addict who wasn’t using.  I didn’t yet believe the things I wrote on that index card.  I had not lived long enough as a sober person.

I asked my counselor at my last session, after five months of sobriety,  “What if I just drink socially?  Don’t keep it in the house.  Don’t drink every day.  Just have a drink from time to time (like normal people)?  Maybe I won’t have to quit completely.”  I was desperate to not have to quit.

At that point I could not imagine being happy without alcohol in my life. 

“Then I’ll see you back here in about three years.”  And I literally thought “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”   That is how far I was into the lie.  Well, I’ve said it before, but it didn’t even take three years.

About a year and a half later I was back and that time I was serious about quitting.  I knew that alcohol had control of me and my life.  I had no power to fight it.  I thought about alcohol all the time.  I was so in love with wine — and vodka — and gin!  I had spent that summer drinking heavily every day and spent most evenings drunk.  I just did it in such a way that I thought I was hiding it from others.

But enough about that.  (Perhaps the rest will go in the memoir.)  Today, I am so grateful for my sobriety.   It isn’t that complicated to figure out if alcohol has power over you.  How much do you think about alcohol? How often do you choose not to drink, because you wonder if you have a problem?  Do you drink every day?  Do you squirm answering those questions honestly?   Although it is certainly not true that every person who drinks too much from time to time is an alcoholic, rather what I think about is, what is the main focus of your life?  Can you live without alcohol?  If you’re not sure , … I would seriously consider talking to someone.

Those are the questions that haunted me and it wasn’t until I quit that I realized without any doubt that I was out of control.

Melody

P.S. Other things I have written about my life  drunk and addicted.

You are Beloved

This post is about being loved and feeling loved.  And what can happen when you don’t believe you are dearly loved — to your relationships and to your hopes and dreams for your life.

GROWING UP, I was not told…

I never believed that I was “dearly loved.” This was partly because I grew up in a frightening and unpredictable home and because of my father’s angry raging behaviors.  I have always been profoundly unsure of myself.  I remember how important it became to simply grow invisible. 

Invisible was safe.  If you aren’t seen or heard, you cannot upset anyone.  No opinions.  Eventually no thoughts at all at home, where you might slip up and express them.  This was okay if he agreed with you.  But if not, there was no telling what might happen.  You might be lectured at for hours, or berated in front of a friend. Humiliation.  Threats.  Intimidation.  Blame.  It just wasn’t predictable.

When I look at my children I’m appalled by my upbringing.  I want nothing more than to see my kids discover and grow into unique people.  I see incredible things in them and I tell them often, out of love and a wish to affirm those truths.

 “Those are beautiful words you have written.”

“God made you full of joy.”

“You memorize things so easily. That will make life so much easier for you.”

“You are careful and precise and that will serve you well in the future.”

“You make people laugh, what a gift!”

“You care about others.”

“You are gentle and kind and the world needs more men like that.”

“You will grow into someone who washes others’ feet.”

“Yes, that is sexist it pleases me that you saw it.”

  “You articulate yourself so well!”

I speak these truths and other, because I believe children need help to discover their talents and abilities and to experience the spirit of God.  I believe we don’t naturally know.  My place in God’s world, made in his image, is something that I never discovered in that shrouded, hidden place that I disappeared in to for so many years as a child and young adult.

THE CHURCH didn’t tell me …

Secondly the Church sent subliminal, and sometimes outright sexist messages to girls  where I was growing up in the south.  I “heard” that I am a second class person; less valued by God because I (somehow) need men to support me, protect me, and teach me, especially about the Bible.  I was to subordinate myself to men.

Though I heard those things, in my gut I knew it was wrong.  I have always believed that if you believe in the world of Gen 1 & 2, and in the hope of lasting and true restoration by Jesus on the Cross, then you cannot accept the cultural Church practices spoken of in the NT.

MARRIAGE

By the grace of God I married beautiful, ennobling, questioning complex thinking person of faith.  He lives with me in the land of questions and he does not attempt to tell me what the answers are.  Together we began the journey and partnership of marriage in June of 1993.  What he spoke into my life was hope, and goodness, and empowerment. He listened for my voice and I began to heal. 

I was a fanatically hard-working ministry leader when he met me.  I worked for my father (ironically) so at the end of the day, I finally had my father telling me what I was good at by giving me promotions.  The more I accomplished the more responsibility I was given.  I discovered I had many talents, I was a hell of a hard worker and I had a need to constantly be proving myself and my worth.  At the end of the day, week, month, there was always more to be done.  More to prove.  More to do to validate myself as a daughter, as a woman, as a leader, as a human being.

I still didn’t believe I was BELOVED.   Skip forward from my mid thirties to today.

TODAY I am …

44.  I have been out of the workplace for ten years.  I “used” my children as an excuse to leave an acrimonious place where (I felt) I had hit the glass ceiling. I was burned out trying to prove myself.  I didn’t know the grace of God in my life.  I didn’t really believe.

Over the last decade I have walked a painful path but I have discovered that I am beloved.  Oh yes, those difficult lessons (my experience with clinical depression, my alcoholism, losing my parents) were so vital to my becoming human again and the reason that I am alive today.  I got sober, which took courage in the Christian community.  Actually I didn’t get any help from Christians but by God’s grace, my life is living through and beyond being an alcoholic or being depressed.

Today my life is so incredibly rich and full.  And now as a woman, a burgeoning feminist, a feeble follower of Jesus, a sometimes photographer, a frequent writer, hungry student of the Bible, I am asking for others to speak truth into my life now about my unique contribution to be made.

If I let myself, I quickly become focused on what I am, who I am, why I am … and the fact that I am so afraid.  (I think) I want to study and learn and be able to articulate Truth by going back to school. When I look around my community there are needs everywhere.  I see them.  I feel them.  My heart breaks for it.  As a white person with affluence I believe I have a unique responsibility and a unique place of financial privilege.  As a woman, and a feminist and a follower of Jesus I believe my voice is unique.

The Jesus that washes our feet wasn’t a macho oriented, “women should be in the home cooking, cleaning, having babies and bringing me my dinner” kind of man who has been written and preached about in the Church.  He preached that we are to live in peace, he offers us a life full of victory (over our sin), and he makes us generous and loving. We are to speak against injustice. That’s the Jesus I know.   That’s my kind of faith.

But I am afraid and I can no longer blame my upbringing.  I can no longer blame the Church.  I can no longer blame my father.  With no one left to blame, I am here with my convictions and beliefs, greatly needing shape and formation.  It is time to act; to step out in faith that God is with me each step of the way and that there is a reason for each experience I have had.  In some ways I “woke up” just a few years ago.  A late bloomer doesn’t do it justice, but you are never too old to do something.

At fifty, my mother began a process of waking up.  She is now in her seventies and to her credit is a person continuously searching for truth.  I greatly admire that about her.

Andy Crouch, on his blog Culture Making, says disciplines are the key to excellence. Ten thousand hours is a good benchmark—that’s one hour a day, five days a week, for forty years (with two weeks of vacation each year!). If every Christian decided to spend 10,000 hours developing their capacity in a single cultural domain (painting, stress fracture analysis, genomic sequencing, you name it) and also 10,000 hours on the spiritual disciplines that embody dependence on God (solitude, silence, fasting, study, prayer), in forty years we’d have a completely different world. How are you spending your 10,000 hours?

I am a white woman of privilege, blessed by living a beautiful life, a feminist and Jesus follower, who finally knows she is BELOVED and is finding her voice and asking:  How should I spend my next 10,000 hours?

You Are Not Alone – Thoughts on Sobriety.

A glass of red wine. Photo taken in Montreal C...
Image via Wikipedia

At times I detest that I am an alcoholic. It’s damn inconvenient.  Those are the days that it seems the whole world drinks – except me and perhaps James Frey.

I dreamt of drinking last night. That scares me a little, because in my dreams I seem to “forget” that I can’t drink.  Now that’s a nightmare – an alcoholic that draws a blank on their past.  Even if it is only in their dreams.  I recall now that I just wanted a small glass of red wine. No we don’t need to order the bottle. A red, to accompany whatever I was eating.  Harmless.

I have never actually taken a sip in my dreams, thus far.  The dreams come unbidden, which may make you think that drinking is on my mind a lot.  Most of the time, these days, I never think about being an alcoholic. But when I do, sometimes I resent that I cannot drink.

Lest you begin to feel sorry for me and think that I am an innocent former drinker, I must set you straight. In the end I was a falling-down drunk. I had to quit. I would have lost my life eventually. I never hit “the bottom” which some say you need to do to recover. But I got close enough that my conscience, and my husband, and God finally said enough is enough. Some people will need to hit the bottom to change. But most of us feel it building in our lives for a long time and finally one day we know.  We are ready.

For more than five years I had wrestled with the knowledge that I might be addicted. I didn’t know enough about the disease to make a good call on it.  But in my experience your gut is usually right. If you are wondering whether you just might be addicted to alcohol, listen to your soul. Hear the voices that talk to you late at night after drinking too much. Or the ones that pop up with the morning hangover.

Recognizing that we have a problem is a drawn-out and bit-by-bit process, at least it was for me. No one wants to think of themselves as an addict or alcoholic. Unfortunately our culture says getting addicted to it makes you weak. It is shameful and definitely not for Christ-followers! Christians do not become alcoholics, because they “trust in God.” Ironically, addiction is no respecter of race or religion or status. And all that stuff about just trust in God is bullshit.

Once I finally quit, July 17th, 2008, I have never relapsed.  I’m fairly certain that is because I have a family. They are my accountability. My kids are my Program. I am intentional about talking to them about my addiction to drinking and I think it is important that they know and understand the nature of the illness is hereditary.  And I am not shy about reminding them of the ugly side of drinking.  When I passed out in front of them. Or threw up all over myself in the car. Those memories return for a reason and that is to help them see the unglamorous side of addiction. And remembering keeps me sober.

Seeing others who clearly struggle with drinking is a good reminder for me, but it is not a reason to stay sober. I feel pity and empathy and hope they’ll figure it out soon. Because life is beautiful sober – in full color in a way that being a drunk is living in sepia tones compared to full color, 3D. It is loneliness vs. living in community. It’s living in starvation when you can live with a full stomach. You get the idea. Living in your addiction is like living in an ugly broken-down smog filled factory.   Sobriety is living in the glorious Grand Canyon!

But people do relapse and I hope you know this too is a part of the journey. A few years before I quit for good, I decided to go to counseling to “learn about addiction.” (That’s what I told myself.) I settled into about seven or eight months of not drinking, because that is what they require of you to receive alcohol counseling.  I learned all I could about the issue.

Near the end of my time I asked my counselor if she thought I could be a social drinker.  You know, if I wasn’t “up for” quitting.  I could still not imagine my life without alcohol.  I loved alcohol.  I didn’t go through a day without thinking about it or craving it. I wasn’t giving in to it right then, but after seven months of sobriety I thought I was “strong” and got the notion in my head that I would simply be “a social drinker.” I would just stick with one or two drinks in any given setting and definitely not drink at home.  I would be okay.  My counselor answered the question like this: “If you continue to drink socially, I predict I’ll see you back here in three or four years.” Yeah right, I was thinking, not me.  She does not know me.

She may not have known me, but she knew an addict when she saw one.  It took about one year – Yes, that was all it took for me to fall on my face literally and figuratively. I remember walking out of there, thinking “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”  That was how seductive alcohol was for me at the time. I did not believe AT ALL that I could be happy or have joy without alcohol in my life.

I walked out of that building full of the idea that I hadn’t been drunk for a good long time, so it would be easy to limit. Or at least it would take a while for the problem to present itself.  Honestly, I didn’t really care either way.  I was just glad that I could still drink.

Oh, it presented itself alright! More strongly than ever. With a vengeance.

I do wish that I could drink.  It still lures me. It teases and ultimately lies to me that it is a simple thing to drink. But those lies I can overcome and made my peace with in time. I stop them as soon as they pop in my head.  And remind myself that I and my life are worthy of my sobriety.

Sober people are some of the most brave people I know.  And that includes me.

If you or someone you love ever wants to talk confidentially with me about this, I am glad to do it.  I can only share my experience.  The answer is different for each person.  But knowing that you are not alone is important.

MHH

Here’s something I wrote two years ago about being an addict.

Parenting by Free Fall

I don’t think about my father very often — any more. After he died, there was a time when my relationship with him clouded everything I did, or thought, or believed.  Before he died, I had no real understanding of how much he made me who I am.  He and my mother.  Every choice I made, sadly was in some way a reaction to his control over my mind and my heart.  I don’t think he meant to have that kind of power over me, nor would he have wanted it.  But it happened that way because I was so afraid of him.  I so wanted his approval.  And longed for more from him and my mother.

I talk a lot about the mind and heart in my writing because though two different organs they are connected psychologically to  — what makes us  — human.  I believe they make us who we are and it is through our choices (by making up our mind) that we grow into different people (transforming our heart.)

It’s strange to think back. I had no idea how unwell my parents were — as a child I thought they were just being parents.  Thought all parents were like mind.  I had no notion that there was a good or bad way to be a parent.  Nor could I conceive that I might one day stand in some sort of judgment over them and I am still very uncomfortable being perceived that way.

[I feel when I write about my mom and dad, I have to give this caveat every time:  I know my parents did the best they could with what they had.  I figured that out through lots of therapy.  I do accept it now.]

Listening to a radio interview yesterday of Anne Sexton’s daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, I was struck once again by how very dysfunctional my home life was growing up.  If you don’t know, Anne Sexton was a poet, known for her confessional verse who won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1967, a year after I was born.   She suffered through out her life with clinical depression and after many attempts,  killed herself when she was 45 and her daughter Linda was 21.

While I listened to Linda talk about her relationship with her mother as a love/hate and like/dislike, oh how much I related as it is unpleasantly close to what I experience today with my mother.

I love my mother dearly, but I can’t figure out a very good way to be with her. I want to be in her life. And I try, sometimes.  And at other times not very hard at all.  I know that I must be a better daughter.  And that she is a widow.  And I have all that weight on my shoulders which I want to live up to.  But often we hardly see one another and she lives ten minutes away.

Certain things she does hurts me, over and over again.  And no matter how much I have learned to not take it personally it is hard not to do so.  For example, it is not personal that she does not show up to things that are important to me because she got sick or is not “up to” it or is genuinely in some physical pain.  She’s done that my whole life and it feels personal!  But it’s not.  I think she just shuts down sometimes.  I believe it is because of my father’s treatment all those years — her brain blitzes out and she just can’t “do” life.  It comes and goes.  Sometimes she’s all over me.  And then she’s gone.

I simply want to escape the pain of not being able to understand my parents and how they treat me.

For Linda, growing up it was taboo for her to talk about her mother’s suicide attempts.  For us it was forbidden to talk about my father’s rage, my mother’s illnesses, and later the drinking.  There were so many secrets.  I wrote about that in a poem to my sisters titled A Sacred Contract and that’s what it was.

Linda Sexton said how much her mother’s depression and suicide attempts hurt her.  I’ll say it.  These are the things that broke my heart early on in life and God is beginning to repair. My father’s rages.  My mother’s obvious misery.  My father’s belittling and constant picking at her and us.  My mother’s frequent sinking into illness to “get away” from him.  My father’s work and frequent travel with subsequent fatigue.  My mother’s constant “support” and appalling attempts to build him up when he was in one of his Funks of insecurity and fear of failure. I think because if he fell apart the whole thing — our lives — would fall apart also. At least that was the threat.  That was the fear.  That tsunami was constantly just off the coast for years.

Relationships with parents are difficult and complicated.  On the one hand we know how we are so like our parents in their dysfunction and we castigate ourselves for it.  There is a level of shame involved that must be overcome.

Forgiving your parents for being who they were. And forgiving ourselves for being so like them or for choosing not to be like them any longer which also somehow becomes a betrayal as well.

No Boundaries.

Linda went on to say, as she put in her book Half in Love, another dilemma of living with such parents is that there are no boundaries appropriately set up by the adult.  And so the child feels unsafe — life feels precarious all the time.  My father’s rage was so unpredictable.  Even while it was on some level expected, it came at unexpected times.  If you cannot count on or predict the bad, on some level you cannot believe in the affirmation and love.  I don’t know why.  You just can’t.

And yet I worshiped my father.  There I said it.  And it is true.  Just as others did, I did.

And that was also my betrayal.  I worshiped my father and came to unfairly loath my mother.  It’s twisted.  She suffered from his rages more than anyone.  She endured.  She protected us by holding that fragile matchstick house together all those years.  But I saw her as the betrayer of us after all those years.  Thinking somehow she should have left him.  And what would have become of us if she had walked out on him after one of his thousands of verbal beatings over the years?   All I know is now.  Now without him we are a fractured family.  We don’t know how to be with each other.  We are all alone in our lives together.

Parenting by free fall.

As a mother, after all these years I see how this way of growing up gave me “no map for how to be a mother”  as Linda Sexton put it so well yesterday in her interview.

I have struggled so much with the confusion of that reality.  At times, saying I should never have become a mother.  What was I thinking, thinking I could be a Mother?  Sure, I can do the driving, and wipe away tears, help with the homework (not math!) and in the classrooms.  My mother was a great homemaker. She cooked exceptionally well.  I’ve gotten than from her but kids can survive without it.  And she loved to garden as do i.  She was a terrible cleaner, as am I.  It is not that I cannot clean, I just do not.

But shouldn’t home be “a self-sustaining world unto itself.  And mothers world-makers?” as David Griffith says in his essay Homemaker about his mother.

The fact of the matter is that I feel about as able to be a parent as a Mime.

I copy other people.  I try to mimic Mothers that I admire.  But I am mute.  And a fake.   I continuously hit some strange, solid and impenetrable internal wall.  I cannot break through it to discover what it would mean to be a “normal” or “good” parent.  A good mother.  I have not found the answers in parenting books either.  They are not the answer.

It’s something deeper.  I don’t trust myself. And beyond that I do not even have words for it because I have never experienced it.  There are missing pieces of my soul, my experiences, my character and person.

How can I ever hope to be a healer?  Because that is one word I do have for motherhood.  

Mothers are meant to be healers.

I am left with the knowledge that my only hope is that The Healer will infuse me with the Spirit of God.  Then and only then, there and only there something good will come.  I have to trust in that.

I have to set all my hope in that.  Because left to my own devices there is only fear, insecurity, depression, addiction, rage, and broken hearts.  There is only an inability to love, to connect, to nurture, to receive, to cohabitate  — to be human. I am not being overly dramatic although it sounds so.  When all you knew was rage you are unable to be normal.

I wrote this poem i 2004 after my father died.  It felt like a betrayal  then, when the words came out of me they were as much of a shock to me as to others I think.  But now I see that they were s t e p s toward my own healing.

Good Dad.  Bad Dad.

I shed no tears today
for the warrior who has fallen.
Taken down by Cancer’s sword.
My heart is full of memories,
good and bad.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Constant worry.
Constant change.
Who could have foreseen
the Cancer overtaking his mind;
that became my liberation
in five short months.

The danger –
of loving too much;
needing tenderness,
and all the things Daddy’s are supposed to be.

PAIN. FEAR.
Emotions jangling around inside me
like some kind of white noise;
pushing their way into my conscious thoughts.
Invaders, threatening to undo
the weak hold I’ve found on The Good Life.
So many memories
good and bad,
bad and good.

Who was he? Why was he MY dad?
MY tormentor.
MY warrior;
Finally broken,
beaten by the Cancer
that was to become my friend.

Betrayal, these thoughts which plague me.
Broken; the unspoken promise
to keep our secrets to the end.
How do I remember?
How do I stay true and honest,
when the Truth causes an ache
too strong to feel,
to face,
to bear.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who was he in the end?
A Demon? A Saint?
Now simply a Muse?
Remembered, but no longer feared?
Thought of in furtive,
anxious moments?

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who is he to me now?
A man driven to despair
Living a chaotic, frantic life.

Not the Good Life I choose,
Not the legacy I will repeat.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.
Who will I listen to?
Who will I believe?
I am the woman I choose to become
today, tomorrow.
These are the Good Days
that I can change.
Yesterday is dead.
Burned in the funeral pyre.
Vapors.
Mist.
Dust settling around me.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.

Good.

Bad.

Good.

I certainly don’t know what it means to be a Mother.  A Daughter.  A Sister.  A Wife.  A Friend.

I

just

don’t

know.

But I can only take this life one day at a time and hope in God.

None of us can rewrite our history.  Nor should we try.  It makes us who we are today.  And for me, it makes me strong enough to write tomorrow.

A Poem: Shame Falls Heavily

Shame Falls Heavily

I first noticed them arrive
as the two women settled their kids and husbands in two rows
in front of us in the stands.
Then the men were gone.

I saw how they laughed playfully, sitting close.
One touching the back of her friend.  Whispering
to one another.  This was intimate familiar territory.
I thought it seemed to be an attraction
which was clearly more than friends.

Suddenly her husband appeared and she turned her back,
Completely forgetting the friend, to fall asleep
on his shoulder.
The game began.

After a long while the boy, her son, looked
back questioningly, eyebrows raised.
Then both children look again
at her and at the man. Not asking with words, but clearly wondering
what’s wrong?  They needed to know what’s going on.

He shrugs again. And then again, when they glance back later.
His shrug is slow and heavy
as if to say: he doesn’t know why she’s asleep.
But he knows.
I don’t know. Not yet.  At first, it seemed innocent, even to me.

The game was Hockey and I have to admit it held little interest.  So
my curiosity with this hauntingly familiar scene grew. I couldn’t help
Staring.  Wondering.  A nagging sense of foreboding as the woman slept on.
And the kids are cheering. Knowing
but not wanting to know.

Startled I see that she has thrown up into her hand.
All over herself, and him.  As he tries to comfort her,
and then to clean her up without anyone noticing she begins to weep.
He was so gentle as he whispered into her sticky hair
all the things I knew he didn’t believe.
It’s going to be alright.  HUSH… It will be okay.

Shame
Falls
Heavily
like a wool blanket
on her shoulders as she continues to weep
quietly into his shoulder.  Wiping her own mouth again and again.

The smell of alcohol and the stench of puke finally reaches me.  Then
without thinking I unwind my gray scarf from my neck to help.
Hesitantly at first. I thought
against it.  These thoughts almost made me sit back again, as
I re-twisted my scarf back around my neck.

What would I have wanted?
How do you love like He would in a moment like this?
So, unwinding quickly I tap softly on his shoulder to hand to him the gray rayon scarf. Wordless
for there are no words. He knows.

The moment s l o w s in time when he won’t let go of my hand.
The hockey game fades.
I don’t hear the screaming fans or feel the cold air in the stadium.
All I feel is his warm hand on mine.

And his panic.
He does not know what to do.
It flows into me, his fear, his sorrow because this isn’t the first time.
His tears, welling deeply inside.

As he presses down on my hand it all flowed into me.
In that second, a moment of passing so briefly, I know again
the shame which falls so heavily.
As I remember my own.

Finally, pulling my hand away, I sat
through that game as if I were that woman, again.
The children mine.  The friends and husband
all — unsure.   Afraid.  Watchful.  Not knowing what to do.

This morning, I am grateful for my sobriety.
And wonder, of all the thousands of people in the stands last night, why did this woman sit in front of me?
I saw what it was like to be the sober ones. And hope I never forget
the frightened doe-like eyes of her children.

I will add this to my frayed two and a half year old,
yellow, 3 x 5 card of reasons I am gratefully sober today.
Shame
Falls
Heavily
But I am no longer the Woman.

—————————————

Some of the things I have written about my alcoholism:

I am not Ashamed
The Slow Crawl Of Healing
What Can I Say About Two Years of Sobriety?
Choose Joy
For Everything There is A Season.
Eulogy to Life.
Letting Go.  Thoughts on Being An Alcoholic
ReThink Everything
My First AA Meeting
My Crooked Heart
It’s Lonely Here on the Wagon
The Place of Nowhere
A New Way to be Human
Eulogy to Life
Winter Comes
Splintered Truth
This Epic Grief
No Dignity
I Need a Filling
Addict

re|think everything

(re|think)

noun

Pronunciation:/ˈriːθɪŋk/

[in singular] a reassessment, especially one that results in changes being made.

I am thinking about many things including the future of this blog.  I was particularly challenged by a conversation this weekend.  My sister questioned why I “live so much in the past?”  She was wishing for me that I would be able to “get on with my life.”

Long before that conversation, I have asked for a clear insight about what is next for me.  I have been seeking — praying — listening.

Rethinking What I Know about Myself.

  • I need to know  that my life contributes to a grander and larger story than simply my own.
  • I have certain passions — God-given, I believe.  Most notable photography.  biblical studies.  women.  any injustice.
  • One spiritual gift I have seems to be Mercy. My heart breaks over the corruption and greed in some that leads to poverty and pain for others.  Over persecuted people groups.  Over homophobia, racism, sexism.  Over anyone being homeless.
  • My voice, in writing, is loud and clear and sometimes even challenging.  Out loud I am meek and unclear, which I experienced this weekend to my dismay.

Rethinking Biblical Translation & Interpretation.

I have a hunger to understand scripture for myself.  Dare I say this?  It frightens me that so much of (most or all) biblical interpretation throughout history was done by men.  It gnaws at me from inside out.

I am not a raging neofeminist or even a strong proponent of a feminist or liberation theology.  (I guess I don’t know enough about them to say one way or another.)  Simply put, things have been stacked against us:women

  • A patriarchal society& culture brought us the message of the scriptures that we live our lives by. 
  • Another group of men translated it into the language for “everyone.”
  • And, then in most churches today men stand up and interpret scripture every Sunday and all week long.

“The Bible has shaped the life of the church in a way that nothing else has done and Christians today are the product of the history of its interpretation.” 1

Why should I trust their translations and interpretations categorically without question?  This is simply foolish, in my opinion.  And still I pray for a spirit of humility — that I would be a fertile ground.  I ask why do I think these things and if my motives are wrong or I am simply being foolish in my thinking, that this thinking would change.  And, I have thought of many responses to this conundrum, from applying to be an unpaid intern at my church in biblical hermeneutics, I would hope, to bring a feminine voice to the teaching being done, to going to seminary.

Rethinking My Role.

As I seriously consider the perception of being a “woman of leisure” which I wrote about recently, I get mired in my own frustrations and can’t pull together clear thoughts.  Because it is emotional for me!  I don’t care about the money (perhaps I should) but I want respect.  And I know if I don’t respect women who stay home, then how can I expect others to respect me?

And before you email me about the value of being at home with kids, know that I’ve had more than ten years to ponder this subject.  I don’t need “encouragement” in that regard.  It is an incredibly complicated personal decision for every women and I do respect the difficult place women (so much more than men) are in.  So if you are a man, butt out. No one can make this choice for a woman or explain away her doubt, fear, aspirations, goals, or desire for “accomplishment” or get why she cries to be away from her babies.

Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama was named Most Powerful Woman of the Year, beating out heads of state, chief executives and celebrities in Forbes magazine’s annual listing.  Some women came out saying Ms. Obama talks about herself as a wife and mother and were questioning how that makes her influential?   Gr…..

But I digressed into an issue that is only a side story in my search for a place to make an impact and contribution.

And I am still left thinking at this point, is this blog much ado about nothing?  Is it time to stop?”

Rethink Everything.

It is difficult for me, at times, to look back over the last decade of my life.  In human terms — quitting  a meaningful, challenging job, succumbing to clinical depression, becoming addicted to alcohol, and straying far away from the LORD — it was all failure on my part. And yet, it was through those experiences, as mortifying as they are and were to me, that I have come to recognize many things.

I am actually grateful to have been brought so low.  I can only hope that I am still learning and am becoming a person useful to the LORD.  I had to trudge through the violence of my childhood and my feeling of betrayal and disappointment towards my parents — and forgive them.  This has opened me up to a new life.

Christ’s broken body for me was real and meaningful in a new way never understood until my humiliation.  And gratefully I can say, this drove me to my knees.  I went from someone who felt she was competent, powerful, knowledgeable and puffed up with my importance to a broken reed, hardly knowing up from down.  Alcohol devastated me — became the thing that I lived for.  The passion, the dreaming, the hoping, the living stopped.

I am so grateful to not have lost everything. It is humbling to sit here in the comfort of my home knowing that I am loved by my husband and adored by my children.  Undeserved, as I know how close I came to losing  all that I now hold dear and even my life.

As I consider what the future holds for me I want to be fertile ground.  Looking back, mostly glad to have fallen.  To have learned.  As I look ahead there is no perfect plan.  I must trust while serving, not knowing the future.  Trust that I have a contribution to make, but if that “thing” the “plan” never happens, hope that I will continue to be grateful and if I am never made whole, still I will ask for it.  And hope.  And stay open.

===================================

I have more than fifty poems I have written here.  This one, is called addict.


Being an addict catches me by surprise.  Today,

seemingly innocent things — a drink, a smoke, a purchase, food, even exercise can become

urgent

need.

In the time that it takes to feel a flash of happiness, sadness or regret;

less than 60 seconds of my life

and I remember,

I am an addict.  How could I have forgotten?

Today I must ask what brought this on?

For tomorrow I must fill the need

with OTHER.

As for yesterday, I can only look back and remember

I am an addict, but I am stronger than my need.

And as for this moment — I know I am an addict;

I am. I was. I always will be, always will be

an addict.

ADDICT written april 9, 2009 by melody harrison hanson

Those that have no background in addiction look at the word ADDICT and the word alcoholic as kind of wicked and weak.  Face it, our culture doesn’t understand.  But if you’ve been there, if you live there, if you love someone who does or has you know exactly what I mean.  And I thank you for understanding.

1 Bray, Gerald.  Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present, 1996, IVP

What can I say about two years of sobriety?

I am very happy to be sober.  Full of joy all the time?  No.  Of course not.  No-one is, if they are completely honest with themselves.  But being sober equalizes things for me.  Brings me back to the middle.  I still swing toward sorrow and fear at times.  And though still too infrequent I have many, many days of contentment and joy.

I know this for sure, my ability to stabilize the bouts with depression is improved with not drinking, as alcohol is a depressant.  You don’t want to believe that when you are drinking, but it’s true that alcohol exacerbates the bleak moments, dark moods, the feelings of despair.

I don’t work a program, though I believe that some of this would be easier if I did.  There is a sense, when you are an alcoholic that you’re Alone with a capital A. Alone in a room of drinking people.  The world is full of people (my husband is one) that can have a drink or two and stop.  Alone in that others don’t have that “thing” that you do, which makes it impossible — to — stop once you have started.   The inner compass that directs your soul, that moderates your actions and behavior.  That thing is broken when you’re an alcoholic.  During the last two years of drinking I just didn’t want to stop.  Every time I drank, I wanted more.  I was able to control it for a while by not letting myself have access to a lot of alcohol.  One bottle of wine in the house at a time or whatever.  But an open bar, or party, or what not pretty much guaranteed that I would be plastered.

Anyway, that’s all boring.  Being a drunk is sad and boring.

Being sober is beautiful.  I can feel my feelings.  I can see my kids, hear them, and know them.  I appreciate my life, my husband, my blessings.  Friendships are sweeter.  Writing and photography — all the goodness in my life —  is connected to sobriety.

Most of all, I know that being an alcoholic (though at times a real bummer cause I wish I could still drink ) makes me need.  I take that “need” and hand it over to God.

I am helpless.  Hopeless.  Lacking in anything good without God and so grateful to know I am loved.

Tonight in YOGA, I heard God say to me :

B E L O V E D.
Over and over again, BELOVED. 
YOU are deeply loved by me. 
Let go of what others think of you (or what you think they might think.) 
Why do you care. 
The only thing you need to care about now 
is that you are my BELOVED.

That’s all I need for tonight.

Mel

I have written a lot about sobriety both poems and prose.  If you ever want to talk about any of this, I am available. I’m no expert, but I’ve been told I listen well and care deeply.  melhhanson@yahoo.com