Friday, December 26, 2014

My Journey: Isolating Silence

Most of the addiction posts here are consistently getting between 250-300 reads.  I'm not sure who all of you are.  It's not necessary for me to know.  My purpose to post is to offer a safe place should readers need it and to remove the isolation of addiction---the thought of "I'm the only one."  Every once in a while I will receive an e-mail or message on FB or even a call or text. An even rarer treat is to run into someone who has/is reading the blog in person.  It's a bit vulnerable as I hold my breath and wonder what will come after "Hey, I read your blog..." but re-confirms why these posts are here.   In praying about how to share the message of Jesus Christ, one answer has been to open up and be vulnerable.

Me and my family have become "the face" of addiction to many of you.  For those who are supporting loved ones or friends without being directly involved, we hope to bring understanding and insight.  For those who are fighting a daily battle, we hope to be a voice of hope: that Jesus Christ is the answer and the only lasting way for recovery.  Although details are different, our stories are the same.  I may not know what it feels like to face specific addictions or to currently have a husband relapsing. I know well what terror, betrayal, & uncertainty feels like.  I understand what it feels like to be surrounded by darkness.  To feel without hope.

After running into two people two days in a row who shared they read my blog, I was pondering on what a miracle it all is.  That He has blessed me at the right time with the right words to find the right person.  I shared the blessing with my husband who also rejoiced with me.  My thoughts turned to gratitude for my husband's willingness to share.  To be vulnerable.  I post with his permission and any of the more vulnerable posts I have him read before I publish them.  I can't ever recall a time he has asked me to say less.  More often than not, he encourages me to share more.  He is to the point that he trusts who I share with and what I share.  My sharing has allowed others to open and share their own story and both have left the conversations knowing we are not alone.

And of course my thinking triggered memories of a time when it wasn't that way at all.

Three Christmases ago very few people knew what was going on.  A few months before that my husband was experiencing full-blown withdrawal symptoms.  Neither one of us recognized it as such at the time.  He was under pressure from un, then under-employment.  He hated his job and although he had gone 7 years of sobriety, he had not replaced his addiction with another form of release.  What started as sudden weight loss and sleep problems slowly expanded to mental health issues.  A doctor prescribed medication for bipolar, then later after being evaluated by a Psychologist, prescribed medications for anxiety and depression.  He was so anxious he would sometimes stay up until early in the morning or not sleep at all.  We couldn't finish conversations, even simple ones, without him taking off and leaving the house.  The depression was so bad he would miss work most weeks at least once.  He got to the point he was suicidal.  Terrifying does not even begin to describe how it felt at that time.  On top of terror for my husband and fear for our future, I had 3 little ones at the time and I ached for them.  To top it all of, he would swing to insanely high highs, then turn around and drop to the lowest of lows, all within a week or less.

I don't think I intended to keep a secret.  I think initially I didn't fully realize how bad it had gotten.  I really thought it was just a bad day...that turned into a bad week...then weeks...and months.  Initially the only people who knew that we were struggling was our bishop, the counselors, and the doctors who I started dragging Mark to "fix" him.

Once we realized the severity of the situation, he was ashamed for anyone to know.  There can be such a negative association with mental or emotional health issues.  That somehow "bad" things only happen to "bad" people.  I know I initially approached it with misunderstanding and I hurt my husband deeply with my "just snap out of it" attitude. 

Side note: We don't believe that it is wrong for people to do one thing or another.  We have no judgement for those who take medication...or those who prescribe them. hehe...We are just telling our story.:)  My husband refused to take medication because he didn't believe a pill could fix his problems.  He is so smart!  My co-depent self started researching diet and other holistic options to "fix" it.  He refused it all.  It was a hellish span of time to say the least; however, when we met with the counselor for a screen interview of the group counseling program, she asked if he had ever been diagnosed with anxiety/depression or bipolar.  We knew we were knocking on the right door with this counselor!  For my husband, he was mentally cracking trying to hold up the facade, and who he really was/what he really was feeling.  It was too much and he was straining under the load of duality.  It isn't always the case with addiction, but it was our situation.  In our situation, anxiety and depression were symptoms.  Treating the addiction, the patterns of behavior, and the faulty core beliefs that caused the patterns, freed my husband from the clutches of mental illness.  Instead of taking medication, Mark focused on recovery.  Little by little as he regained sobriety, then recovery, we saw less and less of the swings, until 3 years since his last major relapse, we don't see mental illness at all.

Shortly after that I not only held the secret of his mental health, but also that he was binging in his addiction again and all the dysfunction that entails.  I had carried this weight for many months.  I would slap a stupid smile on my face and go to church.  I remember at one point looking around the room in Relief Society at all the sisters who appeared to have "their lives put together" and knowing mine was in complete shambles.  I felt so out of place and shame that if any of them knew what was going on, they would not love me or accept me.  That I was somehow broken and those feelings fueled burying the truth even deeper.  Now years later, many whom I believed were "perfect" have become dear friends.  They love me even though they know and have shared some amazing stories of courage I never would have guessed.  My shame was blocking me from being able to see that we are all dealing with something.  That same stupid smile accompanied me any where I went.  I was careful to filter through and said very little because if I said ____ or ____, then that would lead to questions.

Finally it came tumbling out to my mom.  She had sensed something wasn't right for a long time; however, my stupid smile and cheery voice had covered it up well enough to at least convince her that she must be off, because it "wasn't me."  What relief I felt!  That someone in my support system knew that my life was falling apart and that my family really wasn't okay.  My husband wasn't happy about it, but I let him know that I needed support to be able to continue to support him.  Little by little he told his family.  Then I shared with a friend.  Then he, then he "allowed" me to share more, and he more...

At least to our faces, most of the time, we have been met with kindness, understanding, and relief.

Sometimes shame, but mostly kindness. 

I remember the months well where I could not share and want to offer love and encouragement to those who are still there.  From my experience and in having a vast network of friends in the same situations, it may be best to allow the loved one with addiction the privacy they desire.  It's okay to approach him/her and let them know that you need at least one person you can share with.  Maybe you can even discuss together and decide a person you BOTH are comfortable with.  12-step programs can also be a great place to start---to rally support from those who understand.  I remember being blown away my first few times of going to meetings that what she is saying sounds like it came from a page of my journal, and her too...  Yes the loved one needs to feel respected, but you need support too.

Sometimes as couples finally reach out for help, the loved one can be more "crazy" than the spouse with addiction.  It's important to take care of yourself and get what you need or you may not be able to care for or support your loved one.  It may feel backward at first, but it is necessary.

To those in isolation, it may feel you are met with silence.  That the heavens are shut and your prayers must just be bouncing off some closed door.  I know that God loves you!  He knows who you are!  He knows your name! He hears your groaning and fears.  He knows your heart is breaking.  It is because He loves you that He is allowing this in your life.  It isn't because you are somehow less or you haven't served Him well.  The very situations that break our hearts can also allow His spirit a place to enter.  As we give our broken hearts to Him, He will give a new heart.  In the meantime, He is there and is hearing and will answer your prayers in the ways and times that will fulfill both His Great Plan and His plan for you.

"The Comforter" by Scott Summer

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