Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Brighter Days Ahead

"Katy!  I have been offered a job," my husband shouted as he stumbled through the door.

"When?  Did someone just call you about it?" I cautiously questioned.

"Oh, no.  It was in person.  They offered me a job on the spot!" he proudly replied.

Initially I felt immense relief...that he was finally home...that I knew where he had been.  We were part-way through what turned out to be a two-month unpaid medical leave.  He had announced to the marriage counselor one day that either he had to quit his job (because he hated it) or was going to kill himself.  How about neither?!  So we met "in the middle" with agreeing to the medical leave.  It wasn't unusual at this time for him to just take off, unannounced and without communicating where he was going/when he would be home/where he went.  Trying to save money, we had cut back to one car and one cell phone.  It was a time of worry for me.  A time of powerlessness. Almost a year after this conversation, I learned about how the brain is changed through addiction, especially the frontal lobe.  Things like reason, inhibition, judgement...are all diminished.  Even though I didn't know that yet, it was at the peak of these brain changes for my husband that we were having this conversation.

As I glanced away from his expectant and excited eyes to scan his scruffy unshaved face, his torn tee- shirt and jeans, and took in the smell of having not showered for several days, I pondered on how to tell him what I was thinking.  Instead I decided to ask another question.  "What is the job for?" I asked with as much excitement as I could muster (worrying it would be too see through...I didn't have it in me for one more conversation to blow up in my face).

"It's for summer sales for an alarm company.  And they offered me a job on the spot!" was his hurried attempt at convincing me once more.

Years later I was able to share with him my thought: if you look like that and they offered you a job on the spot, I am not so sure this is a great opportunity! It felt like they were ravenous wolves just looking for a person to hire who had a pulse!  Over the course of about 6 months he continued to try convincing me of this "golden opportunity."  NOW, don't get me wrong.  I know people personally who are really good at summer sales.  I am not saying it can't be lucrative.  I was saying no knowing that my husband is much stronger at customer service than sales.  Additionally, it felt like too big of a risk where our finances were already a wreck. The recruiters did all they could to wine and dine him.  They took him (and later our family) to dinner, they paid for his expenses to go down to their awards nights in Utah, they continued to follow up with him...until one day about six months after the first conversation.  He came home again in similar spirits and announced in the same voice, "Katy!  I quit my job today!  We are going back east to sell alarms!"

I could not believe it.  I could not believe that he would just up and quit his job.  I felt hurt and confused.  Why would he do that?  Especially when I had expressed again and again my discomfort and sick feelings about it?!  In those 6 months I had taken a few shaky beginning steps towards healthy and was in the beginning stages of learning to set boundaries (even though it would be another 6 or so months before I knew by name that was what I was doing).  I calmly said to him.  "You can go.  I am going to stay here with the kids.  When you are selling well then we will join you."  With all the ups and downs and changes the kids had been through in the past two years, I wasn't willing to uproot them, only to be sent back home for poor selling.

So that was the plan.  He would go.  Then he left us for the second time and said he was done. That meant we wouldn't go. Then we had the turning point night I have written about before.  During the conversation, we addressed where to go from here.  As we talked about our options based on the choices available to us, I felt the Holy Ghost stronger than I had in months.  We needed to go together.  In hindsight it makes so much sense.  We needed to go, relying on each other in ways that we had allowed ourselves to be intruded upon. By this point there were so many voices.  Well meaning, but so many voices.  Going thousands of miles across the country and away from family and friends was the best thing we could done for our marriage in critical condition.  PLUS if we were going to make it through the commitments to sobriety and hopes for recovery, our best chance was to stay together and be strong together.

So.  We took out our crew seats in our van and slid the back seat forward.  We loaded up with kitchen items, linens, clothes, and anything else we needed (it was a furnished apartment), grabbed snacks and movies for the DVD player, loaded the kids up and drove.  We drove from Idaho to Minnesota, (and spent a few days with his brother's family), then Minnesota to our temporary home in Virginia.  Although our lives were tattered, we had hope.  We only had one basket, but oh how we put everything into it.  We were determined to make it work.

Rent would come out from our check automatically.  Mark had sold enough alarms to basically pay rent, groceries, and gas.  Initially we weren't worried.  But then another month went by without having money to pay our mortgage back home.  As the weeks went by, his trainer approached him once giving him a "warning" that he wasn't selling enough.  As we discussed it, this was our only option, so Mark re-doubled his efforts.  He got up early to study and practice every morning.  He did everything he could.

One day he called me and told me to come back to the apartment right now.  When I came "home," his trainer was there.  He informed me of the conversation he had just had with Mark.  "You haven't sold enough to keep up with the team.  Either you quit or we will fire you.  How do you want it to look on your resume?"  Speechless.  We didn't know what to say.  "Well...unless you have any questions, we expect you gone in the next 24 hours."

So, we began to pack, load the van, and clean the apartment.  I just purchased amount of groceries, mostly perishables on my errands.  We called a couple who was staying to see if they wanted them.  It was one of the most humbling moments of my life when the husband asked, "So what are you guys going to do?"  I covered my face with my hands and began to sob.  We had $1000 to our name.  We were two months behind on our mortgage.  Neither Mark or myself had health insurance since Mark quit his job.  We honestly had no idea what we were going to do.

They went home and shortly returned.  He held out a check and said, "I am going to give this to you.  Please don't question the amount.  Just take it."  It was written for $1000. The money he gave us covered our trip back home (gas, food, motels) to Idaho.  I am crying writing this.  I still cannot believe their generosity!

So we came home with $1000 to our name.  Nothing else.  Everything else had been burned through or cashed out during unemployment, underemployment, or the medical leave.  We ate food storage.  I bought nothing.  And Mark searched for a job.  And searched.  Finally, he found a job at Melaleuca in the call center for $8 something an hour.  Our family of 5, Mark with a Bachelor's degree and he worked for $8/hour.  We gratefully took it and began digging our way out of this deep, deep hole.  Both of addiction directly, but also the indirect damage and consequences surrounding those choices.  A few months after we came back to Idaho our group counseling started.  We literally sold plasma to pay for it until Mark was able to get a second job.  We knew we needed to go through this program before we could move forward in our lives.  We didn't see any other way to accomplish it.  I think back to friends who I loaned things to or my students who I would gift courses without having them made a trade.  I began to discover that those were the ones who were more likely to be half-in or flippant about it.  I am thankful we literally lost plasma to be in this program!  It meant that we took it more seriously to pay a high price to participate vs. if our insurance had just covered everything for us (I am not saying it has to be that way.  I am just speaking for us as a couple based on where we were at with things).  Mark's parents helped us get caught up on the mortgage.  We had food stamps and medicaid for the kids. Mark took a third job as he was able to secure it.  Our ward paid for our private counseling for a few months. It was so humbling to need help like this.  I felt shame whenever we had to ask for help or whenever I swiped the food stamps card.  But based on the choices we had made, we were limited on how to proceed.

But we did.

One foot in front of the other.

A little at a time.

I have written plenty about us now being almost 5 1/2 years out since Mark's last major relapse.  I have also written about the ways God has blessed us to be down to just one (and one REALLY good) job now.  Mark is steady and stable.  He has been brave and willing to make big changes.  He is a wonderful provider and reliable for our family now.  I am so grateful to be to this point (but I am so grateful for these experiences that have taught me compassion and have helped give me eyes to see and a willing heart to share with those around me who don't have that).

This story has been loaded with shame until recently.  Now that it's been 5 years last month since we headed to Virginia, it doesn't hurt like it used to.  I still cried writing it.  I cry because I know there are people who are STILL in the thick of it.  I cry because I can't write everyone a check for $1000 who desperately needs it.  So to those who are in this place of uncertainty and turmoil, I want you to know I am cheering for you!  I am begging you to hold on!  Do all you can.  Your pleadings and heartfelt prayers are not falling on deaf ears.  Heavenly Father hears you!  You are not lost to Him.  He hasn't forgotten you!  He has big plans for you.  Just hold on.  Trust.  It will all work out somehow.  Don't give in to despair.  Don't give into darkness.  Don't give up! Even though in the moment (and especially those moments that last and last), it may feel like this will never end, you will get through it somehow. Hope for the brighter days ahead.

This reminds me of Elder Holland's talk "Good Things to Come."  Here is the version with a movie clip (acted out of the story he tells).  Just like Elder Holland, I too can testify that because of Jesus Christ, there is ALWAYS brighter days ahead and good things to come!  We just have to hold on and trust or we will never know what's ahead.

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