It was announced yesterday at Renovation Church that I am on a Leave of Absence for the month of February. I want to tell you why that is, what’s been going on, and what we’re doing right now.
Our lives have been full and good, blessed by the Lord and a delight in many ways, but it should be said that our family has its share of challenges. We were totally surprised to discover that our daughter had Down Syndrome. Our oldest son underwent a serious cranial surgery at 18 months old. My mom died way too young, leaving us without a mom/grandma who loved us and supported us in many loving ways. And the joys of ministry are always paired with intense demands that will take a toll on any family.
Through all of this, my wife Emily has been dealing with depression/anxiety. Though she pursued various levels of treatment over the past 14 years, it has proven to be an ongoing struggle for this awesome wife and mom who committed to stay home with the kids while I worked. Treatments and therapies were in the off-and-on mix as Emily soldiered on to make our daily lives happen. All of this with a special needs daughter and two rambunctious boys, plus a husband who surely means well but still leaves dried toothpaste on the sink, often sprinkled with stubble. I know it sometimes felt like having three little kids and a pretty big kid. Nonetheless, Emily always made it work. We always had clean clothes to wear, food to eat, and the bills paid. I’m telling you: she’s amazing. I did as much as I could to help at home, but she carried much of the load, pressing on through all kinds of stuff that had largely been pushed out of the way so our family could keep going.
About two years ago and out of nowhere, Emily had a seizure. As far as radamdavidson.com goes, this post about what happened has been the most popular thing I’ve ever written. Family and friends were wonderfully supportive. We discovered that her seizure was caused by a lack of sleep. All that to say: make sure you’re getting enough sleep! Of course, I say that as a guy who can fall asleep in a matter of seconds. Emily, on the other hand, has dealt with insomnia for most of her life.
It was just a bit after that time that Emily had a common cold. She took an over the counter medication that helped with the symptoms but also, to her surprise, helped her cope with the depression/anxiety. Over time and initially unbeknownst to me, she developed a habit of always taking this particular medication, not for its intended purpose but rather as an anxiety management tool. As the months rolled on, she was taking it with greater frequency and at greater amounts. As can happen with any person regarding nearly any substance, Emily developed an addiction to the cold medicine.
I should pause here and say that I’m no expert when it comes to addiction. I once thought it to be an ethical issue, but it’s not. I believed that the best thing you could do is tell a person to stop because it could destroy them and everything they’ve got, but addiction isn’t rational. In fact, as I understand it, addiction rewires the brain so that a person will do anything to get their drug of choice. No, this doesn’t absolve personal responsibility. But it does help optimists like me come to terms with the fact that you can’t be positive and pray this away (God can heal broken arms, but He tends to heal through doctors and casts), you can’t will this away, and you can’t guilt this away. Save your logic for another day. Addiction is a disease. Telling someone to stop based on reason alone would be like you telling me to grow hair on my head again. I am a man of great faith, but that’s probably not going to happen.
As we (myself, extended family, close friends) confronted Emily on this, trying to strike the balance between grace and truth, she faced the fact that indeed this was an issue, and that something needed to be done. She pursued counseling with an addiction specialist, did some intensive impatient and outpatient treatments, and even went to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. All along the way, only one person in the medical/therapy world said that they had heard of such a unique case of addiction, especially when it came to her drug of choice. Nonetheless, Emily soldiered on as I reduced some of my extracurriculars to be home more. We did our best to keep a balance. It kinda worked.
When we got around to Christmas/Winter break 2018, it became apparent to me and to our extended family that things were not getting better. An appointment with her doctor confirmed that yes, Emily was still using. Everyone we talked to stressed the need for her to go to a treatment center. Of course she hesitated because of 1) cost 2) inconvenience and 3) the honest belief that she could kick this on her own. Early on I believed that she could stop with the right treatments and the growing support network in our community. With this new level of severity, our extended family members who were fully in the know were all thinking the same as me: we need to do something more to help Emily.
It was bad and getting worse. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. They say that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they change. What they don’t say is what rock bottom looks like. The obvious rock bottom — death — is exactly what we were trying to avoid. In my prayers, I started saying things to God like “why aren’t you fixing this?” or “what do I do now?” and even “I feel forgotten.” Have you ever felt that way? I did. It was about a month ago. I was sitting on the ottoman in our front room, waiting on hold as I was desperately trying to get someone at our doctor’s office to set Emily up for an appointment ASAP. A medical assistant listened as I laid out the situation. Although they didn’t have any appointments available until March (!), she was trying to find a way for someone to see Emily. I spent enough time on hold to hear the whole album. I silently prayed “Where are you, Lord?” Suddenly the on-hold music stopped and the voice on the other end said “don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you… hang on for just a sec, ok?”
Someone may be asking “why didn’t you say something sooner?” The church is an amazing community that is designed for mission. One critical component of this unique community is that we carry each other’s burdens. Believe me, I get it. But I knew that once this went public, it would be out there. It’s not that I wanted to live a lie or keep things covered so we’d look good. Far from it. I was motived first and foremost to protect Emily from yet another layer of pressure as a Pastor’s wife. I wanted to maintain the dignity of my wife and children. I believed, until about a month ago, that she could do this on her own. And, I didn’t know it was quite this bad.
I reached out to the area Superintendent (my boss & the person who oversees the group of churches that I’m part of). He listened well, offered support and encouragement, and helped lay out a plan of how best to respond so that Emily could get the care she needed, the church would continue to function, and our family could find healing.
I called our insurance carrier and asked them about coverage. I didn’t know until now that some rehabilitation centers can run $1,000+ per day, and that insurance like ours will often cover some of a one-month stay. Every bit helps, but it sure did limit availability. Like before, I was on hold as our insurance rep called different facilities to see if they could take Emily as a client. And, like before, the on-hold music blared on as an ironically cheerful soundtrack to our family crisis. I was connected with a place in Grand Rapids that sounded perfect but, upon deeper investigation, turned out to not take our insurance. I cannot describe to you the feeling of utter helplessness I had in that moment. The person on the other end said “you know, there is a place that does take your insurance… write this number down.” I wrote it down. Desperately. She said “I’m going to let Roy know you’re calling.” Okay. Who’s Roy? Doesn’t matter. I called Roy and he said “oh yeah, just got the text about your situation. Sounds like we need to get a place for your wife tonight.” I sighed in relief. We set it all up and made plans to hit the road as soon as Emily’s parents got to the house to watch our kids.
A few minutes after we left our medical insurance rep called me back to see if we made any progress. I let her know about the bizarre chain of phone calls that led us to Emily’s instant treatment option and the rep said “that’s such a relief… I was praying for you guys the whole time because I knew it was desperate…” Mind you, this isn’t a Christian insurance carrier per se. It was apparent that the Lord was lining things up in miraculous ways.
For the past few weeks Emily has been in a residential treatment facility where she takes classes, does therapy/counseling sessions, and works hard to get the right coping tools. Deep issues that have knocked around in there for years are finally getting the attention they’ve long needed. Though it’s no island getaway, she’s getting the time away she needs to make it so that she can once again be the wife and mom that God has wired her to be — and undoing the bad wiring of addiction.
Yesterday I preached about the Power of Disclosure. I went out on a limb and talked about all this stuff in both services. I laid it all out there, doing my best to point to Jesus in all of this. Do you know what happens when we’re real? When we tell the story as it is? When we expose the darkness to light? God has room to heal like never before. I won’t start preaching again, but I will say that sharing this, first with church leaders, then congregation, now you, is a great risk. A published blog post can’t be unpublished. People will see and think differently. The stigma attached to addiction is something we all know and either despise or hold to… often a mix of both. Yet, for every one point of risk in this, I believe that there are ten if not a million opportunities for someone to find the grace of Jesus in a new and freeing way. If this helps you in your journey, I’d like to think that it’s worth it.
My only regret is that this is Emily’s story, and I wish it was she who was able to share it and not me. I can only share my perspective. So here’s where I’m at. I have been given the gift of a Leave of Absence so that I can focus on self-care and family care. I will be working with a counselor to process all of this. I will be… taking up a hobby? I don’t know. As it turns out, my job is what I’d be doing for fun anyway, so this will be interesting. In the meantime, the church will function well without me (I really believe this) and I’ll do my best to focus on what only I can do. I’m going to lean into Jesus and let Him do His thing, which is something only He can do.
As I’m doing my part, Emily will do her part as she continues through rehabilitation. We talk via phone with some regularity, and she even has the opportunity to do video calls with Lexi who insists on another rendition of The Wheels on the Bus. Emily sings her heart out. She’s a good mom who’s doing her best to come back again. I love Emily and I’m proud of her. I look forward to the time where she can share some of her journey with you. I trust that God is building a great big story of grace out of all this mess.
Thankfully we have a supportive family and congregation. People are stepping up in amazing ways. We are humbled by the love and support, but not surprised. After all, we are part of a community that is doing its best to become more like Jesus. Though I dislike the attention, I can’t help but get excited about how God is going to use this.
Am I happy? Um… no. Not right now. I’m kinda in shock. However, I know I’m being formed; I trust the Lord, I choose joy.
This is just a side thought, but Leave of Absence, which is kind of a redundant phrase, isn’t it? It’s a customary and fitting title for what I’m doing, it’s just that I’m struck by the oddity of a Leave of Absence. I’m on a leave. What kind? A leave of absence. Oh… is that the kind where you’re gone? Yes — very different from a Leave of Presence, which is where you ignore what’s going on around you. I wasn’t daydreaming, I was on a Leave of Presence: still here, but not really.
That’s kinda funny to me (and probably to me alone).
I look forward to sharing more as time goes on. Thanks for reading. We appreciate your prayer in all of this. Pray for Emily, for our family, for healing, and for God’s redeeming of bad stuff. The Lord has been so faithful in all of this, and, quite frankly, He’s the only one who can make this right again. I believe; help my unbelief.
My friends: choose joy. You are not forgotten.