Almost exactly one year ago today, I wrote about our family’s journey with addiction and how we were helping Emily get the healing and recovery she desperately needed. You can read that post here. Now, a year later, I share a brief update, as many have wondered how things are going.
That’s a big question. It’s not going as well as we all hoped.
First of all, we’re somewhat stable, in that every member of the family is in their right spot today: I’m at the office, the kids are at school, and Emily is currently in a rehab facility. I know that doesn’t sound all that good, especially the rehab part, but I’ve learned to take things one day at a time. More than a mantra, it’s a survival tool that just so happens to echo Jesus when he says “who by worrying can add a single hour to the day? Let tomorrow worry about itself.” That’s how addicts — and their families — have to cope. So we do our best. It’s not “fine” and I’m not “fine”, our kids aren’t “fine” but we’re trying to press on. Meh. This is what develops true grit, I guess. And suffering definitely turns us into something better. I recall reading that somewhere in Romans 5… it’s in there, trust me.
It’s true that every person who deals with addiction has their own rock bottom, and you never know from one person to the next where that bottom is. A very select few people can just quit — woosh — and the addiction is gone. Others quit with meetings (AA, NA, etc) and a solid support network. Many others need to stay at a rehabilitation facility, where they get focused care in a detox/clean environment that keeps the drug of choice at bay. Incidentally, the “typical person” deep in addiction does an average of 7 residential stays in rehab, meaning that just one stay is rare. It could be 2, 3, 6… and for some, 8, 9… stays.
When I first heard that, I didn’t believe it. 7 stays? As of today, we’re on #4.
Now, I believe it. I have no idea how this is all going to go. I have surrendered control, again and again. I pray for healing, but I’ve also been at this long enough to know that optimism has its place but coming to terms with reality is a difficult but needed step.
Glaring understatement: addiction is very powerful. In addiction, our own brain gets highjacked, causing us to reach over and push the self-destruct button with savage glee. Since our addiction masks the pain, our own self-destruction doesn’t really hurt at the time. When it does start to hurt, we medicate with yet more of our drug of choice. It’s chemical, physical, psychological. Is it spiritual? Just ask anyone who has prayed the serenity prayer a billion times a day.
Mental Illness is not a choice, it’s a disease. Nobody says “hey, I should become an addict.” Addiction usually comes from desperation. Relief from anxiety, from emotional pain, from depression, from… you name it. We could ask “why is that person an addict?” when we might really ask “why am I not an addict?”
One of the problems with airing dirty laundry is that it burdens people. I don’t like to be a burden, so it’s very difficult to signal anything that would indicate otherwise. However, as I’m preaching about Mental Health this month at Renovation and how the church should be a place free of stigma, it seemed odd to not give some kind of update. At the same time, I still want to guard the dignity of my family. It’s a dance.
What can you do? Pray, obviously. I mean that. I know it’s our go-to, but it’s true. We feel — I know — when people are praying for me and for us. Please keep doing that, and please keep praying for Emily. She’s not easy to reach because of the schedule she’s on, but know that God hears your prayer. A few people asking the boys how it’s going can be supportive, but if 15 people do it in a day, it’s rather overwhelming for them. I don’t know how best to address that, except to ask for your prayerful sensitivity for the right words at the right time. I’d like to think that the boys’ll look back and remember how real the church was in a time of family crisis. We need more people with those kind of memories. Especially pastor’s kids.
Back to what I mentioned before: we’re relatively stable. Really. Emily is in a place surrounded by help and support. Besides the obvious gap that it leaves in our family life, our day-to-day is fairly manageable, especially thanks to some folks at the church who do laundry, bring food, and support us in other ways. We have a respite care worker who puts in 8 hours a week with Lexi, which helps with evenings and meetings and such. My sister, many counties away, is generous and helpful in myriad ways, like the time she hired a crew of people to come in and deep clean the house. It smelled like IKEA afterwards. Best of all, I have an outstanding mother in law who spends nearly every weekend with us, which is what actually makes the day-to-day work. I don’t have the church authority to knight saints, but if I could, Karen would be a double saint, if that’s a thing.
I went to my first Al-Anon meeting last week. Al-Anon is a support group for those who have a loved one in addiction. That’s me. It was a good meeting, and I can’t wait for the next one. It makes this slightly less difficult.
My counselor regularly says to me “people get clean every day… happens all the time.” Climbing out takes a lot more time and a ton more energy than falling in. But it can be done. No, it’s not going as well as we all hoped. But there’s still hope.
Today, I choose joy.