To all my friends who struggle with addiction

 

To all my friends who struggle with addiction:

I see you struggle. I mean I really SEE you. I REALLY see you. I really see YOU.

Sometimes I look into your eyes and I sense that you feel invisible. Like you are damaged and not worth a glance or a simple hello. As if you have shut off the part of you that feels because you have deemed yourself unworthy. I want you to know that I KNOW you are worthy of love, second chances, and long conversations where I hear your story. And you know what? Your story makes my head spin- all that you have been through and that you have survived. But you know what else your story does? It gives me compassion. Empathy. It helps me not judge you. It shows me how hard it has been and how brave you are when you surrender to a life of recovery. I think everyday what it would be like to have experienced a drug that makes you feel so free inside and how hard it would be to quit. That is why I never tried it- I was terrified I would not be able to walk away from it. I have an addictive personality too. I am hot or cold. Black or white. I would be an addict if I had been offered it like you have been at 10 or 11 years old. So to this day I have never experimented with any drug but that does not make me any better than you- it just means my rebellion looked different. But no better.

Sometimes you look at me like I have everything and what would I know of man problems, financial problems, parenting problems. I absolutely have dealt with all of these….I am just a little farther down the path of life than you because I am OLD compared to most of you.  I have been through my insecure twenties, my child rearing thirties and somehow in my forties I finally feel like my skin fits and that I am exactly who God created me to be- quite rough around the edges, clumsy, and downright weird but those all feel as if they fit perfectly like a well worn glove. I don’t know what it is like to struggle exactly like you do but I do understand what joblessness, loneliness, and really ugly parenting seasons look like. Boy do I ever.

Sometimes I wonder how you survive recovery. So many meetings, so many rules, and the marks for the messy rooms……yikes! But you are brave and you take it head on. I know you stumble through it and fall back into bad patterns but I also know you wake up every day and face the addiction and the control that the drug has over you at times. I am in awe that you can learn bus routes, day care, housing, funding, job hunts with the cards stacked against you, court, case plans, visitation……it is so much. But you know you have to do it for survival.  You know the stakes are high and you could lose your kids forever so you do it.

Sometimes I watch you slip away into the world of relapse and I feel helpless. I want you to know that you are better than that drug but you do not yet believe it for yourself. So you take one hit and then another and before you realize it you are back in your addiction. I hate that. I hate the drug. But I still love you.  When you are in the midst of it, I won’t come around or give you rides because you are not a safe person to me when you are using…..but when you are ready to face recovery again I will always be there to give you clean clothes and a ride to rehab. I promise.

And when you celebrate your one year anniversary for your sobriety and you want a cake, I will bake one for you or have a friend do it. And when you get your kids back, I will rejoice with you. When you move into your first place after rehab, I will wake up every few hours to pray for you.

I say all of this not to sound like Mother Theresa but to tell you that you matter a whole lot. You are worth fighting for. You and I don’t fit into a pretty perfect box and that is what makes us beautiful and cherished. We all want to be known. I want you to know my struggles and I want to know yours. I want us to know each other when we are old. I hope that if you relapse and I have to say hard things to you, you will one day realize it was all in love and I have not abandoned you.

I see you. And I think you are beautiful and smart and courageous. I know you fight a battle against addiction every day but you are worth the fight. You have to want it or it is too big and will take over your life. But we all want it for you- your kids want it for you. We are here to fight alongside you but you have to be the strongest warrior. God is bigger than the addiction and much more loving than I am or anyone else walking with you through this. He wants to see you win the fight. Light must break through the darkness. God has given you that light to lead you through the dark days. Don’t let that light grow dim. And if it does? Pick up the phone and call us. Hunt us down. You have to be able to ask for help. We want to be there. Will you let us? Or will you assume we will let you down like everyone in your other world did? We are not perfect but we will try. In our own brokenness we will love you the best way we know how if you give us the chance. Don’t assume that because we have not been where you have that we don’t have anything to offer. We have struggled and lost battles and gotten back up to fight it again and again. Some of us are losing battles you don’t even know about. Pray for those of us who you see as “clean” because a lot of us don’t see ourselves that way.

We need you. We need you to keep it real. Tell us how it really is. What to look for in our kids so we will know if they are experimenting with drugs. We need you to show us that the struggle is real and you are not going to let it defeat you.

You are a gift to me. I won’t speak for the whole world because I know a lot of people will never give you a chance….but do not give up. You will rise from these ashes and show them that addiction did not get the best of you and God will get the glory. You keep fighting, girl. And don’t you let your guard down for one day. It is in you to be a conquerer so now it is time to go do it.

 

The Process of Stripping

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In the past five years,  everything about me has changed (most significantly in the past two). Some have called it “mid life crisis” but since it is not a crisis, it was “transition.”  I have been called a hoarder, crazy cat lady, insane, and often given no words because people are speechless. I really don’t seek out these descriptions or even like them; however, they are all true.

It has really been a process of stripping. Stripping me of insecurities, Feelings of inferiority. Fear of being a nobody. Enslaved to other people’s standards.

My whole life I wanted to fit in, but my whole life I didn’t want to fit in. I wasn’t “in” and I wasn’t “out.” I knew that I did not fit. I was not categorizable. In high school I tried everything on for size and it was either too baggy or too snug. I struggled with who I was. I went to college unprepared for the other students with sorority pedigrees, limitless credit cards paid by daddy, and extravagant semester long debutante engagements in their hometowns. I knew that did not fit. My senior year I became a Christian and was semi-invited into that crowd but I was too late to the game for those who had been friends all four years of college. I knew that did not fit. I returned home from college and worked as a nanny to a little boy I adored while all my Vanderbilt classmates were either getting master’s degrees or corporate positions. I avoided the calls from the alumni association asking me for my updated career information for their records.

I knew I did not fit.

Then I got married to Kenny who was like no one I had ever dated. We really did not experience anything similar growing up but I was intrigued by how genuine he was. I had decided I needed to find out who I was and whether he fit into my not-yet-determined persona. That was a daunting task!  So I had one major test that I felt determined if he was the one…..Kenny drove a beat up car with issues. MAJOR issues. I loved it. The ceiling hung down so it was pinned up with push pins and every time he went in reverse and switched to drive it let out a horrible sound. Like “EEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!!!” There was no pretending it did not happen-you just had to wait for it and laugh. I thought it was hilarious but Kenny did not find it all funny. So the test was to see if he would drive it down to the Yacht Club when we went to play tennis. If he was too ashamed to drive it there, I was out. If he was confident enough to own the sounds, the exhaust and the overall ghettoness of it, then I was in. I guess you know he passed that test.

When we got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex for $300 a month and even that rent was stretching us. He was a middle school youth pastor and I was a preschool teacher. We barely made rent every month but I was the most content I had been in years…..but still had no clue who I was. Still searching. Living in a very poor neighborhood with regular robberies and gun shots going off and also joining the Junior League and serving hors d’ouevres at the elite museum gatherings when I could barely buy groceries for myself- trying them both on for size. Again neither one fit…..but Kenny was with me through all of it and I learned to draw strength through his confidence because I did not own it for myself.

As a mom at 28, 30, and 34 and then adopting at 38, I suddenly had a house full of boys….and I loved them, cherished them, and adored them but NEWS FLASH….I was not one of them. I did not like mud fights or wrestling or know the rules of baseball. I did not fit. That does not mean I did not enjoy motherhood or find purpose in being their mom but it was one more reminder that I was not like them in a lot of ways. Sometimes I felt like an outsider to the world of boys. I prayed so hard for a girl to come into our lives and even our first dog and cat were boys. Seriously??

I always wanted to be just enough- not too much or not too little. Not too loud or too quiet. Not too thin or too heavy. Not too overbearing or too laid back. I wanted to be JUST RIGHT. And I never was….so I kept trying.

Kenny has been in ministry since we started dating- so that is the 23 years we have been together. Youth pastor, church planter, seminary student, associate pastor…..and I have been his wife. For those who did not know me then, I was a great follower. NO LIE. When he took a new job in a church, I trusted him wholeheartedly that it was what was best for our family and I went. And I loved it. I still had no idea who I was. Did I want to be in the big, beautiful church or the small community of believers where we barely got paid? I had no idea and I did not want to figure it out so I went where Kenny was called and I made myself at home wherever we were. Those were amazing years for us but I still was so confused as to who I was created to be.

In all the years I have been on my own, my house has been predictable. I would buy a beautiful new picture from Kirkland’s to hang in my living room only to find out four of my friends had the same picture. I wanted everything clean, undamaged, and picture perfect. My kids, my house, and my life needed to fit in a pretty box with a big bow because that is where I felt safe. When things were not in order, I fell apart. Even when we moved into a 50 year old home, I wanted to tear out anything that looked old and make it new. I had no appreciation for anything that did not come out of a box from Lowe’s.

I always envied the hippy girls in college who pulled it off beautifully. I wanted to be the girl who went out without makeup. I admired the moms who felt that they could be a mess. I longed to be someone who had confidence and did not take everything personally. But it just did not come. I waited for something magical….I waited a long time.

My forties hit me and I started to feel free. I realized that time was short and I needed to figure myself out. Kenny graduated from seminary and I had been telling him that was going to be my chance to figure out ME. I had no idea where to start but eventually I realized I loved to write, take pictures, talk to people and walk with them through hard times, and I wanted to be a voice for those who have been forced into silence.  But what does that all mean? I was NOT a writer. I was NOT a photographer. I was NOT a mentor. I was just ME. But suddenly being me started to feel a little bit like it fit. And as I sought God and His path of healing for wounds I had carried my whole life, the burden became a little lighter. My identity began to form around who God had created me to be…..not who I had been told I was my whole life. I began to feel free. Alive. Whole. But God still had some stripping to do….

As a little girl, I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a garbage picker when I grew up. WHO says THAT? Apparently I did…..but it never fit into my life plan so I never thought anything of it. I learned when I was no longer that little girl that other people’s garbage by the side of the road is gross and dirty so why would anyone pick it??

Over the past five years, I have started to slow down and admire other people’s junk on the side of the road. I have plopped my kids in a chair down the street to save it until I could come back with the truck. I have stopped right outside Lakeland High School to get a table and been yelled at by my high schooler to PLEASE leave the junk just this once (and that one time I did). I started to think other people’s throw aways were pretty cool. I wasn’t always sure what to do with what I found because I was still stuck in the shiny, new stuff but I was intrigued. I wanted to put an old chair in the middle of my floor but…..no. Too risky. I wanted to hang my own photography in my house but I settled for professional prints because they were safe. I wanted to write my own story but other people’s words were much easier to hide behind.

Then a few years ago I wrote my story (still being written and I will one day write a book). Then I started a nonprofit with a close friend of mine that means I speak at women’s encounters about my own faith journey and my own brokenness. Then I quit my job to work full time for CPI Haiti and not have an hourly salary to depend on.  I began to see myself emerging and it did open my eyes to who I was becoming but there were still gaping holes of insecurity in the fiber of who I was.

Then I decided that I wanted to pierce my nose and get a tattoo. Who does that in their forties? Apparently I do. I began to feel free. No longer confined to what I thought others would think was acceptable for me. I decided I could do something even if I was the only one who liked it. . Of course this has little to do with actual ink and piercings and everything to do with who I was becoming.

I suddenly became obsessed with yard sales. Getting other people’s castaways. I started shopping on half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army for all of our clothes. I no longer needed new with tags and nice, neat aisles to walk down. I found great pleasure in trying on other people’s donated clothing and walking out without spending more than $10. Saturdays I got up at 6 AM while everyone was sleeping and hit as many yard sales as I could- looking for anything to take to Haiti or to give away. I still had to tell people I was obviously not shopping for myself when I went to their nice homes and they gave me funny looks that I was one of “those people.” Still could not own my personal love for yard sales- it was just what a good nonprofit person does for needy children.

Then this year I had a breakthrough of sorts. I hung the photography I had taken in Haiti in Mitchell’s (after periodic breakdowns that my work would be seen and judged by others for a whole month) and survived. Survival was not a given at that point. Then Alison and Amber asked me to do the artwork for an event called Red Tent. Also terrifying. My hidden insecurities started oozing out everywhere and I felt exposed. I was in this event with a bunch of hipster, cool artsy people and the ink of my tattoo was still fresh and I was still figuring it all out.  I wanted to own ME but ME was still morphing. So I just started to take portraits for the artwork of the event. And I felt alive. I needed to make frames and I stressed about it for over a month. I could not afford anything fancy and for the Mitchell’s pictures I did them all brown because that was safe. This time they wanted COLOR- fun colors. NOOOOOOO……I don’t know how to paint, do fun, make it work. And then I met one of the most spectacular people EVER….Kimberly. She agreed to help me paint fun, colorful frames. I was so nervous that day. I showed up with no confidence that I could do it. And she showed me that holding a can of hot pink spray paint could be life changing. Why? Because you can make something that looks amazing- even if it is only amazing to you. And if you make a mistake? You paint over it. Nothing is final and everything is a work in progress.

I went to Ace Hardware that night and bought cans and cans of paint…..I also got glaze, sandpaper, brushes, etc. and I went back the next day to learn more. And the next day. Before I knew it my entire back porch was covered in tarps, paint supplies and old, thrown away frames. I had fallen in love with creating something beautiful out of something not worth looking at. I felt free. Free to create. I came home and made a sign that has a quote by Henri Matisse that says, “Creativity takes courage.” And that day I gained courage.

And then I discovered my love for anything old and started going to yard sales because I am ok being one of those crazies who fights traffic and talks you down from $2 to $1 for something I think is a treasure. I get the eye rolls from the family for the “junk” I bring home but I see the potential that will come with some polish and some love. It took a lot of polish and love for me to emerge and I guess I see that same potential in old silver and splintered wood.

One yard sale day I bought a beat up old patio table that was not selling so they practically gave it to me. As we left I told Cooper that it was my favorite piece of furniture I had ever bought. He said, “Mom, you like old stuff, don’t you? I think it is because it tells a story.” YES! I had never realized it until my 12 year old figured it out for me. I love old because it tells a story. I see the jar and I wonder who used it to can peaches and where they were living and how it got to me.  So much more interesting than a new jar from Target that was made 3 weeks ago.

Mid life is INCREDIBLE. A time of discovery. Freedom. And most of all acceptance for who God knew I was going to be when He put it in my heart to be a “garbage picker.” It does not get better than that.