This is a weird post to write, because I’m sitting in the middle of a mess trying to share how you can survive.
While I’m barely surviving.
I wanted to call this post “The Blind Leading the Blind” but I decided not to. That’s probably what it should be called though.
So what do you do? What do you do when the bottom falls out and you’re reeling from too much pain? Where do you start? How do you finally get out of bed? Where do you go when nothing makes sense anymore and everything hurts?
I HAVE NO IDEA. GOOD LUCK. GO TO ANOTHER BLOG.
I’ll tell you what I did even though it feels tender, and I don’t know where it’s all leading me.
From the beginning, I crawled desperately to Jesus
May 3rd was a Wednesday. By Saturday, I was able to walk downstairs to my office and collapse into my red chair. With coffee in hand, I opened my Bible to catch up on my devotional reading. (I’m reading the whole Bible in a year and using this version; I can’t recommend it enough.) I didn’t know specifically where to go to find encouragement or hope, so I just jumped back into my daily reading. I was behind, didn’t have a clue where to go otherwise, and just needed to feel less crazy.
The great thing about God is if you show up, He’ll show up too. I didn’t even have the energy to Google something like “Bible verses for encouragement”–I just started reading and expected, no, DEMANDED, God’s help. That feels bossy to say, but it’s what I did.
I sat there for hours. Reading, praying, and listening to worship music. When I couldn’t read, I just listened to music. When I was praying, I was writing in my journal. At one point, I was overwhelmed with puzzle pieces falling into place–things that had felt off for so long–that suddenly God was showing me in a new way. I had a new reality, a new truth, to filter events through. Understanding the consuming way Chris’ drinking had impacted our lives was crushing. Keeping all the memories straight and keeping all the realizations from overpowering me was hard.
But I just kept sitting in the pain.
And when it got too much, I just wrote lists in my journal. Things I could come back and process later because my main emotion seemed to be overwhelmed. I just couldn’t process all the things that were happening.
I highly recommend writing for healing.
I’m not talking about blogging. I’m not talking about sharing awkward Facebook status updates. I mean, get a journal and write horrible, nasty things. Open up a Word document and type all the things you feel like you can’t say out loud. Password protect it if you’re nervous about it. Open a note on your phone and start writing. Research says writing helps us heal faster. This article talks about healing from an injury, but writing can help process trauma as well.
Even if you write and immediately destroy it, I’d suggest writing. Or save it for later when you’re in a different spot and use it as a way to remember God’s faithfulness in the midst of this heartache.
Don’t wait to look for God’s faithfulness.
Find things right now-in the midst of all the heartache-to say thank you for. This feels hard and, also, if I’m being honest, made me mad to do, but I looked for things to be grateful for in the thick of pain and confusion. Saying thanks for my children, for my safety, for the air in my lungs, for the hot coffee, for not yet murdering my husband, for my dog, for a good hair day, ANYTHING to remind me to be grateful. It’s so easy to be consumed with our hurt that we miss the good still present. Don’t do that.
While you’re writing those things you feel you can’t say out loud, make sure you have a few friends around who will listen to you rage without judgment. Like full-on rage.
I personally recommend a friend or two who won’t actually say much and will agree with every single thing you say whether it’s true or not.
Eventually they’ll need to speak truth and provide counsel and encourage and all the other things those self-help books talk about. But first, just verbally throw up all over them and don’t apologize.
We can’t do that forever though. We’d run out of friends. And this would be a really inconvenient time to be abandoned by our people.
So search out a really good therapist too.
I specifically looked for and found a family therapist. I was too wounded to say I needed therapy so I called someone and left a message saying I needed help figuring out how to address this situation with my children. I needed help for my children. I purposefully selected a therapist who knew how to do children’s counseling and family counseling.
But then once I got there and realized it was a safe place where I felt heard and respected, THE FLOODGATES OPENED and I was all like Screw those kids, I’m a mess.
Except in nicer terms and while still loving my children more than life itself, of courssssseeeee.
I understand the privilege in this recommendation. Good counseling is often expensive and out-of-reach for many people who would benefit from it. In 2010 when I first learned of Chris’ addictions, I should have gotten counseling but it wasn’t financially possible. If that is you, I would start at your church and ask for help there. If you don’t have a home church or even go to church, there are a lot of churches who will still help if you ask. Just don’t be shy about asking for what you need. I think you’ll be surprised by what you can find.
Also, I’m reading books.
This is something I didn’t do the first time and I know now I should have. Addicts are all the same. So reading books by people who work with or were or lived with addicts is comforting. Reading books about trauma and healing and healthy relationships–all things I desperately want and need has been good for those quiet moments when it hurts to be in my own head too much. The Bible helps me make sense of my life, but so have other books.
Nobody really grows up with all the skills needed to live with an addict, an alcoholic, or to handle major trauma. Those experience are life’s little surprises just to keep things interesting. So we’ve got to search out knowledge and understanding in areas we lack.
Books I have read or are currently reading:
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
Safe People by Cloud and Townsend
Addictive Thinking by Abraham Twerski
And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick
(Also, the current issue of National Geographic [September 2017] is all about addiction and really informative.)
Books I have on my list to read:
The Scars That Have Shaped Me by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
(Have a recommendation to add to the list? Share it below.)
And finally, I’m attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
Actually, will be. Tomorrow. I have heard from lots of readers who know my story too well that I should be there. Not for Chris, but for myself, for healing. So I’m going to AA to heal. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that later.
I don’t know how all of this is going. It’s just what I’m doing each day to not collapse under the stress and disappointment of my current situation. It’s all I can do right now.
In my very first meeting with my counselor, she taught me how to breathe. Don’t worry, I was breathing before that, but she asked me to do a mindfulness activity where I just paused and took three long, slow breaths. In through my nose and out through my mouth. Three times. To calm myself. To focus only on today. To not think about tomorrow. To start again. To be aware of only this moment.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m here, right now, in this moment doing some breathing and doing one simple thing at a time. It’s all I have control over.
Brooke Randolph says
Typically the recommendation would be for you as a spouse to attend Al Anon not AA, but others who know you and addiction better than I do may have a reason for recommending AA
Hmm, maybe I’m confused? I thought AA and Al-Anon were the same thing? I’m attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting tomorrow.
Brooke is correct. AA would be for Chris, Al-Anon would be for you. Not to say you can’t go to an “open” meeting at AA, but if you are looking for support amongst people that have been impacted by alcoholism, not those who are alcoholics themselves, then you are would go to Al-Anon. https://al-anon.org/
Glenda Jones-Van Paris says
You’re a badass, Mary Graham. You can do this! I’m a big listener of podcasts for my morning walk. My favorite is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, by Paul Gilmartin. He is an alcoholic, drug addict, etc. and covers many topics with guests, both famous and not. I think you can search keywords (e.g. addiction, abuse, etc.) for those that you might be most interested in and could be helpful. It can run the gamut from funny to heart-breaking. I believe the website is mentalpod.com. Thinking of and praying for you.
Whitney Koehn says
I attended Al Anon for a while and I feel like it really helped me to begin thinking rationally about myself. Counseling wasn’t an option financially, and Al Anon was a safe place for me to cry and rage and laugh like a crazy person. I personally think it would be a better fit than AA for the long term. My husband told me some of the things talked about and I wouldn’t have been able to handle sitting through that. But you are a very strong person. It might work for you.
For sure, when it all seems like a confusing storm, always go back to healthy boundary work & none better than Cloud & Townsend’s. Their Boundaries in Marriage is helpful in specific ways as is Beyond Boundaries – Learning To Trust Again In Relationships (down the road, when the time is right.) Another beautiful resource is Gerald May’s Addiction & Grace – Live & Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions (might be a healing tool for Chris, too). Blessings, Mary.
*Love, not Live – Ugh, fat typing fingers
Ashley O says
Just so others are aware, many therapists offer a sliding fee scale to offer help to those who cannot afford it. Your therapist sounds wonderful. I hope she can guide you through healing yourself ❤️