Sometime into my marriage, I had decided to stop praying, I decided to stop writing, I decided to stop going to church. None of them had done me any good that I could see and they hadn’t gotten me what I wanted in life so I felt the mature thing to do was to quit wasting my time. I stopped reading self-help books and listening to sappy love songs. But I also stopped enjoying nature, walks on the beach, the fact that the sun rose everyday and the stars and moon came out at night. In short, I stopped living and enjoying life itself.
But you wouldn’t have known that just by looking at me. On the outside, I acted just like most people. I got up every morning, ran around like a crazy woman trying to get everything done, took our child to school, drove off to work, sat there half of the day wishing my life were different, filled the rest of the day tackling project after project, picked our child up from school, struggled our way through homework, told my husband as soon as he walked in the door how he wasn’t measuring up, then bathed our son, while my husband made dinner and I got our child off to bed. Our son was in sports, we went on vacations, we had family traditions, we had family outings – we did lots of fun stuff and we enjoyed each other a lot of the time. But the times we didn’t enjoy each other overshadowed the times we did.
And I continued using the same old worn out tactics. I was leaving, I was staying. He could use drugs only at home, he couldn’t use at home at all. I was nice, I was mean. You name it, I tried it.
I tried to find God, I tried to ask for his help, and above all, I always thought I was doing the best I could for all parties involved. Or so I thought. Call it immaturity, call it pure insanity, call it whatever you like. It was where I was in my life and I knew no better. Had I known better, I would have done it all differently. But I am glad that I didn’t know better because I would not have come this far and learned so many lessons without the pain.
God has a funny way of testing us by fire. We don’t like the fire, because it burns. We learn as a baby not to get too close to things that burn or we will get hurt. Many of us take that teaching to heart and learn to stay away from all things that hurt. Some of us get addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling and shopping to cope. Some of us get addicted to people, sex, food, violence, fear, control, isolation or greed. They are all coping mechanisms and all of us have, or have had, one or many neuroses in our life. If you are healthy-minded today, you have your own story to tell of how you got there. If you are not, there is a story waiting for you, and a road to freedom and happiness….if you choose to do the emotional work required to get free.
But we all have defining moments in our life. Times that, looking back now we can see how the path we’d been on led us right to where we are today. Some are good and happy memories and some are painful, horrible memories. They all represented a fork in the road. And we were either in a place where we chose wisely or we were in a place where we couldn’t. But our choices changed the course of our lives, some for the better and some for the worse. In my own life and choices, I’ve figured out that my child has been the greatest gift God has ever given me. That was a choice where I chose wisely. I got pregnant at the age of twenty-four. Not a bad age to get pregnant and I was already out of college. But we weren’t married and I was living 300 miles away from home, not to mention my parents, especially my mom, didn’t approve and wanted me to move home and put the baby up for adoption. I had a decision to make. Abortion wasn’t one of them, and contrary to my mother’s belief, neither was adoption. I believed, even back then, that all things happen for a reason and I was being given this child for a reason. I wanted to know what that reason was and I am happy I made the right choice. Our child was ultimately the one I ended up fighting for in my marriage and I finally gave up the fight for my husband in order to save our child.
Our son was eight when I was once again struggling with leaving my husband. I was at a dead-end in my marriage but I had somewhat resolved myself to living this type of life. I figured I’d sit idly by and watch my husband slowly kill himself (or I’d go insane and kill him) or he’d kill me, which was all the same because I was dying inside anyway.
We were living apart at this particular time and my son and I decided to go to a fair with his dad one afternoon. He was staying alone in our house and living it up now that the ball and chain had been removed. When our son and I arrived at the house a few hours before the fair was to begin, his father was still sleeping off the funk from the night before so I told our son to go take a nap with his dad and I would take a nap in the guest room. When it was time for the fair, I went in to wake them both up. My son woke up first and was sitting in the bed talking to me, when he felt something on his leg and pulled it out from under the covers. It was drug paraphernalia and he asked in the most innocent voice, “Mom, what is this?” In that moment, time stood still as I saw what my son was holding in his hand. Chills ran through my body as I thought, “This could turn out to be his life one day if I leave him in this situation any longer. I could be looking at him as an adult or teenager holding this same thing in his hand but using what goes in it….and wishing I had chosen differently years ago.” That was it for me. I had given up the fight, thrown in the towel, I was done. And I had said that many, many times before in my marriage, but this time, I had no solutions left, no stone left unturned, and I knew I needed to save myself and my son. I had hit my bottom.
My mom brought me to an Al-Anon meeting that night. Now, THERE was a stone I had picked up a handful of times and tossed right aside. I had been introduced to these meetings seven years prior when my husband had first entered rehab and I’d always left with the same tenacity and fight in me as I had entered the room with… thinking, “these people are so weak, they’ve given up the fight, and they want me to do the same and it’s not going to happen”. Again, ears welded shut. But this night was different. I had already given up the fight. And I guess that’s why I felt at home and my ears suddenly became wide open. Everything they had to say that night resonated within me. At the end of the meeting when they said, “Keep coming back”, instead of saying to myself, “Yeah right, keep dreaming”, I felt myself saying, “As soon as I absolutely can, I’ll be back, sign me up”.
And once I commit myself to something, I go all in and want to know all about it, like…yesterday. So I was pretty upset and frustrated when they didn’t hand me their guidebook on getting better that first night. Instead they gave me a Newcomer’s Packet that I promptly went home and read in the 1st hour. Like the addict, I wanted more. Unlike the addict, it wasn’t readily available to me because, at the time, the Internet and Google weren’t as advanced as they are today. I had AOL dial-up (equivalent to the very sloooooowest connection today) and even with Google, there were not “all-things-Al-Anon” as there are today on the Internet to find. I went to bookstores looking for Al-Anon books and again, not much to be found because Al-Anon has their own conference-approved literature that was only sold at meetings.
It was so frustrating. I wanted to know how to work these steps and get on with it already! But I didn’t know the first thing about what that really meant. And no one was telling me, even at the meetings. I would hear them talk about working the steps but didn’t know how they knew this stuff and then they would talk about a sponsor, but unlike AA where a temporary sponsor was almost appointed to you, there really aren’t temporary sponsors in Al-Anon and not only that but you have to find someone you connect with and ask them to be your sponsor. “What?”, I thought, “And risk rejection? And what happens if someone rejects me? What then?”
Well, I would have to find out because I was committed to this process and I was also going to be rejected in this process as well. What I did manage to find out after a couple of meetings was that they did have a book to “work” the steps, two of them actually. Al-Anon’s 12 & 12 and Al-Anon’s Paths to Recovery, Steps, Traditions & Concepts. So, I bought them both at the meeting and went to work without a sponsor. I don’t recommend working them without a sponsor now, but at the time I felt I needed to start somewhere.
I no longer had a hard time with Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol” (I inserted drugs, the drug addict) – that our lives had become unmanageable”. I finally realized that I was powerless, this disease had me beat, I couldn’t control it or him and any illusion to the contrary had been a futile attempt at best, and my life had become beyond unmanageable.
Step Two, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. Hiccup here. First of all, I never believed either of us were actually “insane”. There are insane asylums for people who actually go crazy, right? We weren’t quite there yet but I decided not to get caught up on semantics anymore. At the very least, I could admit that what we had been doing wasn’t creating the desired results for anyone involved and that I wanted a better, less stressed, more peaceful life. If you can equate peaceful with sanity, then yes, I’ll accept that and want that. I replaced the word sanity with peace…so, I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to a better, healthier, more peaceful place. But then I struggled with the power greater than myself. You mean God? You mean the God I’ve felt abandoned me all these years as I prayed to him to change my situation? Why would I pray to that God when he never answered my prayers to begin with? You people know my struggle, don’t tell me that you haven’t had the same results and prayed to the same God that I did with the same unanswered prayers or you wouldn’t be sitting in these rooms because this GOD of yours would have answered your prayers and made these rooms unnecessary.
I had the same view that some people do of God as a “genie in a bottle”, and my three wishes had been used up by the age of fifteen! I had no need for him anymore, what’s He got to do with all of this? My wishes were spent. That was no longer my answer .
So, they told me about a “God of my understanding”. They said he could be a tree or the universe or nature, it didn’t really matter, as long as he was a God that was bigger than me, that wanted the best for me, a father, someone that loved me unconditionally, and that I trusted. If I didn’t like the word “father”, then he or she could be anything I wanted God to be. I have to admit, it was a little out there for me at first. But I liked the idea that I could let go of the God of my childhood that only wanted to judge me and condemn me. I still have, at this point in the process, very ingrained notions around this word God. I still see him as ruler, creator, punisher. Not not my comforter, not my counselor and trusted friend but someone waiting for me to screw up so he can cast me off into the pits of hell. Because he has these sets of rules and he shows no mercy. You screw up, you’re screwed. Period.
But I’m still willing to try this process that has seemed to bring these people comfort. I’m looking for any relief I can get from the miserable existence that is my own. So I began to think of my higher power as someone like my best friend, someone that would love me even though I had faults. And I accepted Step Two because I knew my best friend would have done anything to make my life better and happier and more peaceful.
Onto Step Three, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him”. I think my main hang up here was turning my will, and my LIFE over. Because I am so stubborn, and later realized I’m also a control freak, I was not willing to hand over the reins of my life to someone else. I had to mull this over and honestly I had to come back to this step again and again and again as I learned to trust my higher power. I was often very dramatic in the beginning and thought, “What am I supposed to do, lay down and DIE? Not do anything until God tells me to?” Well, sort of.
I had to learn to die to self, die to the idea of me being in control all of the time and surrender to God’s will, not only for my life but for my husband’s life as well. I was scared. These were my thoughts, “What’s going to happen to my husband? Will he be safe? Will he die? How is he going to survive without me?”
At the time, I honestly felt I could take better care of my husband than God could. And I guess I even believed I played a role in whether or not he died or survived. I thought if I let go, he would die. And, I guess, maybe he could have. But he could have died with me holding on as well. That wasn’t really up to me, was it? I could at least admit I didn’t really have control over whether or not a person died or survived. But I still wanted to protect him. And I thought I was helping him. But at what expense? And was I really even helping him at all? Things only seemed to be getting worse. So what would it hurt to let go and let God?
So, in finally trying to work this step and in another moment of complete helplessness of not knowing what to do, I surrendered and finally got down on my knees like a child and prayed. And I said a prayer for the first time not to fix anyone else and not to fix my marriage. I prayed something like this, “God, if this is your will for my life, then I accept it and will suffer until the end– but, if it’s not your will, please, God, HELP me.” And that’s exactly when the magic began to happen.
A small, still voice welled up inside me. I knew it wasn’t a new voice, it was a familiar voice but somehow it was now an unfamiliar voice. A different voice than the ones that had dominated my thoughts in recent years because this voice was calming and gentle. It was no longer the thousand voices that were screaming at me to run around and try this and that to no avail. The voices that had me playing the “Whack a Mole” game where I would knock down one problem, only to have another one pop up in its place. No, this one voice stood alone and was entirely different than those other voices in my head and it began to silence them altogether.
I had ignored that calming inner voice for so many years; I barely even recognized it when it came. And I didn’t even trust it when it came. But, I decided to follow it because it was the only option I had left. If this didn’t work, I didn’t know what I would do and I was in so much emotional pain. I still loved my husband, I prayed that things would get better but God was telling me in this moment that I needed to let go. There were things He wanted to do and I was standing in His way. With all my claw marks still in place and holding, I turned my husband over to God that night. It was still a slow process coming but little did I know that God was about to bring me butterflies to help me learn to trust.
Great music video about this:
To continue reading this story, click here:
To read this story from the beginning, click here: Picket Fences