He wants to, but it’s not time yet. He needs more recovery, more health, more therapy, more accountability.
It was the best answer I could imagine.
It’s weird to say that, I get it. But it was probably the healthiest, most mature thing I had ever heard my husband say. He was self-aware enough to say he’s not ready. He was reflective enough to know there was still much to do. He was brave enough to admit exactly what he needed without worrying about how others might feel.
If I was still concerned about how his recovery was going, this was the first positive action I could trust.
He wasn’t coming home. It was the right choice.
I don’t know what part my confession of fear and invitation for him to return home played in this. I don’t know why God was so adamant I make the offer. But I know it was supposed to happen.
As we wade through the first steps of early recovery, I’ve been reminded again and again from counselors, therapists, and drug addiction specialists at the treatment center that Chris needs hope and encouragement. The first few times I heard that, I hated it. Faking anything is hard for me. My face will tell you what my mouth is trying hard not to say. I want to be honest even when it’s not welcome. I hate deception and empty words. (Related: Enneagram type 8. You ordered the book and read it already, right?)
I didn’t know if I had any hope for Chris. I didn’t know if there was any encouragement left inside me. I didn’t want to pretend we could be okay again, because I honestly didn’t know. There was so much damage and destruction in Chris’ wake so hearing he needed me to be hopeful and encouraging was just asking too much.
It was hard for me, during the majority of his first treatment stay, to say anything vulnerable or loving. I was very detached. I did what I was supposed to do–calling insurance, attending visiting hours, listening to counselors, reading books on addiction–because it is what I was supposed to do, and I am a good student.
But my heart wasn’t in it.
My heart was still busted and bleeding all over central Indiana. I didn’t have time to go find all the pieces and bring them down to Franklin, Indiana, for Chris to stomp on again. So I said very little when we visited; I said very little when we got our few phone calls a week. Chris talked, and I listened. Chris was eager to engage, and I was standoffish.
Telling Chris he could come home hurt my pride, felt unsafe, and reminded me of betrayal. Telling him I was afraid gave him a power I didn’t want to allow him. I didn’t want him to know there were still pieces of me that were his and there was still more damage he could do.
But for the first time in years, Chris was gentle and wise with my heart and his own. Maybe he just needed the hope and encouragement an invitation home signaled.
He decided transitional housing was his next, best step. A half-way house where he was still monitored in a way I didn’t want to do as his spouse. A new program to work. More days of sobriety. Additional time with his addiction counselor. The ability to practice some of the new skills he was acquiring through classes, programs, and a clearer head.
It felt right immediately.
Things fell into place quickly. Within a week, insurance approved his new out-patient program, a bed opened up at the half-way house located at the same facility he lived during his in-patient program, and a flexible job opportunity with recovering addicts who were decades clean presented itself.
What we hoped was best was being affirmed by God who was meeting every one of Chris’ needs.
Today Chris Graham is fifty days clean and sober.
Tomorrow will be two weeks at the half-way house.
He’s slowly earning trust by going where he says he’s going and doing it sober. He’s got his cell phone back and communicating with safe people who can encourage him and hold him accountable. He’s attending AA meetings almost daily. He’s earning trips home to visit us. He’s working at a job that doesn’t isolate him all day, he’s working with sober guys. He’s practicing hard conversations with his counselor and addressing family issues. He’s randomly being tested for drugs and alcohol by his treatment center. He’s currently on medication that will make him violently ill if he consumes a drop of alcohol, even mouth wash. He’s addressing his depression, and I’m seeing parts of his personality I’ve never seen before (like standing up for himself; it’s interesting and exciting. [Again, see Enneagram type 8 for details]).
He really wants to come home. But it’s not time yet. He knows it, and I know it. If anything, we’re both learning that the right things are sometimes the hardest things. I’ve known that a little bit longer than him, but he’s catching up quickly.
I don’t know what’s next. Alcoholics are reminded daily (hourly…every minute…) to take one day at a time. That makes a lot of really overwhelming things feel less overwhelming. So we’re not making any grand sweeping plans, but seeing how things go. As Chris continues to transition out of the safety bubble of rehab, he’s building a relationship with an AA sponsor who is intent on kicking his butt and supporting his sober lifestyle. We’re beginning to search for a marriage counselor to address the mountain of struggles we have ahead of us. We know sometime after the new year, Chris will need to find a different job. The construction job he started last week is a great fit for his current life situation, but we can’t–from a financial standpoint–survive off this income.
Last weekend, Chris came to church with the girls and I. It was the first weekend he had spent with us in months, and it was the first time he had been to our church since August. He was visibly shaking and anxious. I could feel his body shaking as we sat next to each other. I was worried he wouldn’t make it through the service. At one point, he had tears falling down his cheeks. He didn’t participate in the worship songs, didn’t glance at a Bible, seemed disengaged from the whole experience.
Afterward, I asked him if he was okay. I didn’t think it went well. I was worried about him.
He said, yes, he was okay. He was glad he got his first visit over with. It felt weird and good to be back.
I don’t share that vulnerable moment for attention or to make you feel sorry for him, but it got me thinking: how many of us are living lives with anxiety, panic, and pain that we mask with our phones, drugs, co-dependent relationships, alcohol, or a million other things that keep us distracted from what’s going on in our heads and our hearts? How many things are we not dealing with because they’re painful, embarrassing, shameful, or overwhelming? Maybe we’re not all alcoholics, but we for sure all numb and avoid and ignore things we should be confronting. Our coping mechanisms may not be drugs, but we’re all hurting and confused in some way or another, and we trick ourselves into thinking we do a pretty good job of covering it up. The reality is, it will eventually destroy us. It will destroy our relationships, our health, our safety, our quiet, our pretend normal. Sooner or later. That’s not a threat or a scare-tactic, it’s the truth.
For Chris, as he peels back the protective layers he’s built for himself since childhood, he’s having to face some demons and hard realities about himself and his family. Again, the right things are sometimes the hardest things. Actually, the right things are always the hardest things.
Getting to know the real Chris Graham is worth it.
I wonder who I would be–who we would all be–if we had to strip away all the crutches, all the numbing activities, all the hiding we’re used to doing.
I bet it would leave us all pretty raw and exhausted and exposed.
The Grahams are pretty raw and exhausted and exposed right now. But it’s starting to be beautiful too, one day at a time.