My mom's dad was an alcoholic. He drank himself to death and his sickness caused chasms of pain for a lot of people. But there are good memories of him too. Not for me - he died long before I was born - but for my mom and for some of her sisters. My mom has a deep love of folk music and Shakespeare because of her dad. She and my Aunt Holly tell silly stories about their interactions with their dad when they were very little. Rare remnants of compassion and grace. There are flickers of who he was meant to be that permeate our conversations about him, but mostly he is a sad memory.
What's interesting is, even though I've never met him, he's a sad memory for me too. Because that's what addiction does - it floods into spaces we can't even begin to understand we can alter. Addiction is a disease that transforms, not only one person's life, but countless others. It creeps into our dark spaces and convinces us to set up camp there. Addiction is a thief - robbing our hearts of their contentment, deceiving us into thinking that something must be bought with the price of our lives. And it is often paid by more than the addict. People who love addicts are prone to paying with their lives too. Maybe not by choice ... at first.
I have friends who have suffered under the weight of a parent's addiction. They've carried the burden of catching their father in an affair because his sex addiction was so expansive it bled into the innocence of his children's lives. I know someone who's first taste of alcohol was at twelve. With his dad and uncles. Because it's funny to get the kid drunk. I know people who have found pornographic material just lying around, yet their dad thought he hid his addiction well. I know people who, at twelve, had to drive their dad's manual truck to another town because he was too high to drive. With her seven-year old sister in the cab of the truck.
And I have loved an addict. I have carried the heavy yoke of his sickness like a cross on my back. I have pleaded, and persuaded, and manipulated, and kept silent, and screamed, and cried, and prayed, and sought counsel, and eventually I left. I have considered Judah's life as an addict, Aravis' perspective of what is healthy and normal in an adult relationship. I know that they are watching us both and I have battled to provide for them what was never provided for their dad. And, hear this, he's battled for that too. He's doing deep work and taking classes and seeking professional help. He's a better dad to our kids simply because he's choosing to allow for the kind of work that is completely counter to everything that ever seemed normal to him.
Addiction is a beast. Addiction takes its stance against everything that is healthy, whole and good. It rips into people's hearts, minds and lives. It leaves marks on their bodies and scars on their souls. Addiction is a fierce enemy.
It's entirely possible that you know addiction. Maybe someone you've loved, or hated, is an addict. Maybe you are an addict. Maybe there is something that is sitting on the throne of your life and twisting your heart in a million directions. Maybe you don't even know if you want to be free, and even if you did, how could you ever get there? One thing is for certain: you're going to have to choose. You're going to have to choose to be a volunteer to someone else's addiction, or a catalyst for change (maybe just your own). You're going to have to choose to get help and pursue healing, or to sink into the embrace of that beast. You're just going to have to choose. Every day. All the time.
There are resources, friends. Always resources. For co-dependents and addicts alike there are groups, counselors, books, courses, churches, communities, workouts, programs and mentors. If we keep saying that "nothing ever works", it never will. Plain and simple. Lets not pretend that it will ever be easy. Ever. Not a day goes by that I am not deeply drawn to old co-dependent behavior. I'm often tempted to revert to my restrictive relationship with food. Of course I am. That is my true cross.
I can keep on being that old woman, weighted and scarred and terrified. I can keep feeding my insecurity, my old wounds and my tendency to isolate. That behavior will always be available to me.
But I'm not that woman anymore. I've done some very difficult work to heal and change. I've been obedient to the bending of the Spirit. So obedient, friends. Because I don't want to live that life anymore. I don't want to sway with the force of addiction. I don't want to create the kind of sorrow that my mom lived, that Joe lived.
Maybe my kids will struggle with addiction someday. It's pretty likely. But I hope they know they can kick that sucker's ass. I hope they know that they have a choice; sick or no they can do what it takes to conquer. I hope they know that they are loved even in their dark spaces, but that they are strong enough to live in the light. I hope they know Jesus in the thick of their battles - unashamed, unafraid and unoffended. I hope grace spreads out over them like a blanket. I hope that, growing up, they learn one thing: they are enough. Even if, after today, they never made a good grade again, they never excelled at anything, they never caught a ball or drew a straight line - they are enough.
Most addicts would tell you that they were never enough. They start numbing because there is some deep, aching hole that needs to filled with something. Anything. So they turn to alcohol, pornography, drugs, food, restriction, sex, television, sugar, exercise.... they turn to anything but healing. They keep running in the direction of the voice that says, "You're not enough!".
Sometimes addicts are simply men who love folk music and Shakespeare, but just can't crawl their way out of their drink long enough to realize that they are ruining the lives of the people they loved. And, when they're gone, those small good memories are dwarfed by the ache they left behind in the hearts of little girls.
*Have you lived with addiction, friends? Tell us. We're listening.