Saturday, May 21, 2016

An open letter to the addict who still suffers

      I see you.  I know where you are.  Well, not geographically speaking, because that would be creepy.  But, you know what I mean.  I see you wake up every morning surprised that you, once again, escaped death.  Instead of being grateful for this miracle, you take that obligatory first step you take every single the pill, to the bottle, to the needle.  You can't even start your day until that stuff is ravaging through your veins, until you no longer feel like you; until you feel everything and nothing...all at once.

      I see you struggle through each and every day.  There are points in the day when you feel on top of the world, unstoppable, carefree.  But, that artificial feeling crashes and you experience an indescribable emptiness and loneliness, which can only be remedied by getting high again.  Your life is a vicious cycle of extreme highs and lows.  Your thoughts are centered on getting your next fix, and you will do anything and everything to get it.  It is the driving force and motivation in your life.  You lie, manipulate, and steal to get what you need/want.  No one believes a word you say, including you.

      I see you, the stay at home mom who goes through the motions every day.  You get the kids out of bed, pack their lunches, iron their perfect little clothing ensembles, throw them a granola bar to eat on the way to school, and silently pray that they didn't have homework the night before.  You can barely even remember the night before.  You think that you fed them, bathed them, and put them to bed.  You woke up this morning in your daughter's twin bed, covered up with her favorite blankie. You must have nodded out during her bedtime story....again.  She must have tucked you in instead of you tucking her in....again.  You drive your mini-van through the drop off line at school, even though at 8:30 am, you are already under the influence and should not be driving. Your kids exit the vehicle looking picture perfect, and you yell out, "Bye!  Love you!  Mommy will miss you!  Have a great day!"  No one would ever suspect that you are a drug addict or alcoholic.  You drive back home to your empty house and tell yourself you cannot have any more pills or another drink until noon. You make it fifteen minutes, and you pick back up again.  Your days could be filled with going to lunch with friends, working around the house, reading a book, or volunteering somewhere.  However, you spend the day in various intervals of sleeping and getting high or drunk.  You try to watch television in the midst of it all, but you never remember what happens.  When you realize that you only have an hour before your husband and the kids get home, you hop in the shower, hide all evidence of your daily activities, start some laundry, and run through the house making beds, doing dishes, and cleaning up like a madwoman to provide false proof of a productive day.  When your husband gets home, you tell him how tired you are because of all of the housework and lament about how the kids have just drained you lately.  You convince him to fix dinner and take care of bath time. You get the kids to bed, and he passes out shortly after because he is truly exhausted from working all day, then covering your shift when he got home from his long day.  You are just grateful that everyone is in bed so that you can have your "me time", and we all know what that entails.  You know that you need help, but there is not a chance that you will ask for it.  You will conceal this secret, even if it kills you....until it kills you.

   I see you, the high school basketball player.  You are playing on the opposing team of the one my daughter is cheering for.  You should be the best player out there, but there is something that is hindering you...something that is wearing you down.  You stumble all over the court, yet you are under the impression that you are playing your personal best.  Whereas you started out strong, you can now barely keep up.  You come close to where I am sitting on the sidelines to take the ball out, and I study your face. Your eyes are dark and hollowed.  Your complexion is ghastly and if I touched it, I think it would feel clammy.  I am confident I could wrap my fingers around your bicep.  I can't take my eyes off of you.  The entire game, I long to catch your attention and simply mouth the words, "I KNOW."  Someone needs to be brave enough to tell you that.  I wonder if anyone knows.  Your parents?  Coaches?  Teachers? Friends?  I feel sorry for you.  I'm sure that when you were partying with your friends one weekend and decided to try something new, you didn't imagine getting hooked so strongly.  They didn't.  So why did you?  You are so young and appear to be quite talented.  I hope you somehow get a wake-up call before you throw your entire life away.  I take a mental snapshot of your face, and I think about you often.  The boy whose name I do not know, but whose mind I can read.

  I see you, the girl who has given all of your pride away to get the one thing you think you cannot live without.  You feel dirty, worthless, and used, but you will do whatever it takes to catch that drug you're chasing.  When someone speaks to you, you cannot even look them in the eye, for fear that they will see right through you.  You feel ashamed.  You are someone's daughter.  You were someone's student; someone's friend.  You won the spelling bee in the second grade, and you slept with a teddy bear well into your teenage years.  You were kind to everyone, especially the shy chubby girl who repeatedly got picked last when teams were chosen.  You always tried to be captain, just so you could pick her first....or maybe second, so that it didn't look obvious.  You loved to play outside, ride bikes, and do cartwheels in the grass.  You wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, or maybe even the first female president.  Those memories seem a world away these days.  You are so far off track that you don't even remember yourself.  You could have been anything you wanted to be, gone anywhere you wanted to go; yet you stand on a street corner, a slave to your addiction....a slave to yourself.

  I see you, the addict.  I see you struggle, while trying to act like you've got it all under control.  I watch you slowly die, while you insist you do not have a problem.  I watch you refuse help, while, deep down, you know you desperately need it.  I watch you build walls, while, inwardly longing for someone to tear them down.  I watch you try to succeed yet repeatedly fail.  I watch you try to love the people around you while destroying them.  I watch you pretend to be happy and free; yet, truthfully, you are discouraged, defeated, and downtrodden.  I see you.  I was you.  I am you.

 And, what do others see when they look at you?
They see an addict.
A liar.
A thief.
A prostitute.
A drug dealer.
A felon.
A woman who should have her kids taken from her.

But do you know what I see?
I see an addict who can recover.
I see a liar who will one day tell the truth.
I see a thief who will regain trust.
I see a prostitute who will redeem her self-worth and purity.
I see a drug dealer who will have a new story to sell.
I see a felon who will break free from the chains of bondage.
I see a woman who loves her kids so deeply that she will do whatever it takes to be in their lives.

I see you.  I see past the scars, past the bruises, past the things you have done.  I see a future.  I see redemption.  I see hope.  

Now, walk to the mirror and take a long, hard look.  Tell me, what do you see?  

***To read my story about being an unlikely addict, click here.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

bottle. it. up.

You know those days....those perfect days?  The ones where all feels right with the world, and joy trickles down to the deepest part of your soul?  Yeah.  Those days.  Don't you just wish you could bottle them up?  Me too.

I had one of those days this past week.  Ironically, it came at the end of a not-so-great day.  I had wasted a perfectly beautiful day by wallowing in guilt, regret, and self-pity.  You see, even when we get any significant amount of clean time, the consequences from our addiction still exist.  This just so happened to be one of those days when that reality hit me in the face like a two-ton brick.  Instead of dealing with those feelings I was having, I slept.  Because, I guess that's what I've always done. But, at around four o'clock, I had the sudden desire/motivation to make the day better, and I set out to do that.  I tried to convince myself that I was a day late and a dollar short on making the day count, but I "de-convinced" myself of that real quick.

I hadn't prepared anything for dinner (remember, I was sleeping), so I looked through the fridge and cabinets and threw together some leftovers from the night before and added some fresh mac and cheese to our smorgasbord.  We were just sitting down to eat, when one of our best friends came in to drop two of his girls off.  We invited him to eat our impromptu dinner with us, and he accepted.  We ate, talked, and, of course, laughed and sang a couple of old gospel songs (yes, we are really weird). He left, and I asked the kids if they wanted to go feed the fish.  I have no clue what possessed me to do that, as we have lived here for nearly five years and I have never fed the fish.  We filled two plastic bowls with fish food and headed down the hill to the pond.  I watched the two older girls run ahead, laughing and utterly carefree, while my three-year-old best friend held my hand.  We got to the pond, took the lids off the bowls, and started tossing the food out into the pond.  We have a rather large pond, and I figured it would take a while for the fish to start appearing.  However, within just a minute or two, I saw a small piece of food disappear, and little circular ripples began to appear on the surface of the water.

That immediately triggered a I hadn't thought about in quite some time.  I was a little girl, walking across the road at my Papaw and Mamaw VanMeter's house to go to the pond with Papaw.  I had never been fishing before, and he tried to tell me the basics and the rules.  He stressed that the most important thing I should do is not make noise.  If you know me well, you know that I love to talk and laugh and I definitely don't do it at a low decibel.  Thus, he reiterated that rule MANY times. I knew that he meant business.  This was serious.  Ok.  Must.  Not.  Talk.  We sat at the edge of the pond, and he cast both of our poles into the water.  We waited and I made a solemn vow to myself that I would be quiet.  After some time of complete silence (easy for him, hard for me), I started seeing ripples in the water, and he pointed, his eyes telling me they were fish.  He always talked with his eyes.  That was a day I wish I had bottled up, sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Anyway, let me dry my eyes and get back to present day.  We fed the fish both of the bowls of food over the course of a half an hour, and I watched in amazement at how they just kept multiplying and knew exactly what to do.  That big pond, and they knew to come to our little corner and eat those little bits of food.  God's design never ceases to amaze me.  The kids sat down and finished the ice cream I had scooped out for them before leaving the house.  The older girls went to the fence line to look for honeysuckle, while my favorite three-year-old and I laid on our backs trying to find animals in the clouds (all we found was cotton candy), while listening to Chad mow the field.  Another thing I hadn't done in a while (I also found myself swinging beside my daughter at the playground a couple of weeks ago bragging that I could swing higher than her...mature, huh?).  I then heard the sweetest little voice say, "Misty, let's have a best friends dinner party....with leaves."  So I sat and pretended to eat leaves, enjoying every single second (and pretend bite) of it.  The bigger girls came and sat down with some vines they had torn off of the brush line, and started making things with them.  I just watched, soaking it all in, trying to make the lump in my throat disappear.  How did I deserve to experience this goodness and beauty?  I didn't.  But, I got to anyway.

We packed up all of our belongings and headed back to the house.  We sat on the edge of the pool and put our feet in the icy cold water, then came inside.  My feet felt frozen, but my heart was thawed.

I covered cold kids with blankets, fetched drinks and snacks, picked up messes, got out dry clothing, practiced a talent show song, and made some decorations for their props.  The other girls went home, I got mine in bed, and I sat and folded several loads of laundry, while Chad sat in the chair and talked to me.  I went to bed that night thinking, "Man, this day sure did turn around."  And you know what? I wished with everything in me that I could bottle it up.  Because, some days I need a reminder of what that smells like; what it feels like to breathe that all in.

The days that I have no desire to get out of bed.....take the lid off the bottle.  Mmmmm.  Fresh air. 

The times that I feel like giving up and wonder if I will ever really "get it".....take the lid off the bottle.  Mmmmm.  Sunshine.
The days when I feel shame and regret because of the hurt I've caused the people I love the most....take the lid off the bottle, and just breathe that goodness, that here and now, in for a brief moment.  Mmmmm. The sound of a lawn mower running.
The days that my youngest repeatedly reminds me that I have to get out of bed early to get her to the school for her field trip and I feel like I have failed because this is a legitimate worry for her.....take the lid off.  Mmmmm.  The smell of honeysuckle.
The days that I get her to the school early, with lunch packed, snacks packed, all cute and happy, and I pat myself on the back; then long after the bus is gone, I look over and see her souvenir money still in the car and feel my heart sink.....take the lid off.  Mmmmm.  The feeling of being barefoot in the grass; of cold water on my feet.

The times that I just need a reminder of how truly blessed I am (and not in the cliche way)....take the lid off.  Breathe it all in.  Mmmmm.

The laughter.  The smiles.  The conversations.  The twinkles in the eye.  The tears.  The lessons learned.  The kind words spoken.  The I love yous.  The pure joy.  The hugs.  The gratitude.  

Bottle. It. Up. 

And breathe it all in.  Then, be sure to put the lid back on real tight, because one thing is certain: there will come another day when you need a reminder; when you will pop that lid off once again and breathe it in....if just for a moment.

And, you will be glad, with everything inside of you, that you bottled it up.   

I want you to share with me as well!  Comment and tell me about a memory that you keep forever bottled in your heart.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When you don't feel worthy of being celebrated as a mother

 Mother's Day.  A day set aside to honor and celebrate mothers for their love, sacrifice, and selflessness.  Great concept.  But, what if you don't feel worthy of being celebrated?  What if you are pretty sure you are a failure as a mother?

Mother's Day 2014 I found myself in that very spot.  I was in treatment, and it just so happened that my first visit with my family (after a month of not seeing them) fell on the day before Mother's Day.  I will never forget the anticipation as I waited to see those three little faces.  They walked into the facility after being checked in, and I looked at them as if it was the first time I had ever laid eyes on them.  I immediately threw my arms around them and held them tight, then looked up to see all three of my children crying. Chad had a required session with my counselor, so she took him with her and the kids grabbed my hand. They had brought lunch, so we sat down to eat together and they presented me with cards telling me how great of a mother I was.  My then seven-year-old daughter looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, "Here.  This is a flower I planted for you at school."  It was a scrawny looking little flower planted in a little plastic cup, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. 

We made small talk, all while trying to avoid explaining to them what the facility was, because they had no idea that I was a drug addict.  They thought I was in a hospital.  As the clock ticked away and it drew closer to being time for them to leave, I debated begging to leave with them.  I didn't know how I could say good-bye.  I sat down in a chair, and, one by one, they each ended up on my lap....even my then sixteen-year-old.  And you know what they did?  They curled up in my lap, laid their heads on my chest......and sobbed.  And, as hard as I tried not to, I sobbed with them.  Not just because they were getting ready to leave and I would miss them, but because I could not believe that this was our life.  That I, the woman designed to comfort and protect them, was the main character in their pain.  I walked them to the door, hugged and kissed them, said good-bye, and waited as my littlest one had to be pried off of my leg.  And, you know what?  I sure didn't feel like a good mom in that moment.  I sure did not feel worthy of being celebrated.

Maybe you are there too.  Maybe you are fairly certain that you are ruining your kids lives (by the way, I continue to feel like that on a daily basis), and you don't believe you deserve a card that reads, "To the greatest Mom in the world!"  Rather, if you could design the card you reckon you warrant, it would read, "Not so dearest Mom:  You have scarred me for life." 

Maybe your kids are not even with you this year.  Maybe you recently lost custody of them because of bad choices you have made.  And, now, you can't even entertain the thought of being celebrated. 

Maybe you've had an abortion, and, although you are somewhat successful at blocking that out the majority of the time, this is that one day of the year that it consumes your mind.  You just can't forget what might have been. 

Maybe you knew that you could not provide for the baby you were carrying and you chose to give that child to someone who could.  You are quite certain you made the right decision, but, on this day, Mother's Day, you question it. 

Maybe you have a grown child and, somewhere along the way, there was a rift in the relationship.  You haven't spoken for years and you can't fathom the thought of walking to the mailbox and finding a card. 

Maybe you lost a child, whether young or grown, and all you have left are memories.  You would give anything to go back in time and receive a hand-painted terracotta pot full of scrawny little flowers. 

Maybe the desire of your heart is to be a mother, and, sadly, that has not been possible for you.  You look at all of the other mothers around you and ache that there is no one to call you by the name you have always wanted to be called....Mommy. 

I don't know what situation you are in today, but I do know what it is like to feel sad, jealous, and unworthy on Mother's Day.  Such a beautiful holiday that is so tough for so many.  And yet, we forget.  We forget that mothering is the most complicated calling we will ever receive.  We forget that we mess up, and that, most of the time, we go to sleep at night wondering if we are damaging these precious goods while simultaneously vowing to "do better tomorrow." 

Think of that woman who appears to be the perfect mom.  She has it all together, or so it seems.  You wish you could be like her, and you are pretty sure she  never raises her voice and is raising the next president or world changer (there is a teacher at my kids' school who immediately comes to mind).  Chances are, she too lays her head on her pillow at night with those same thoughts and questions.

If you have messed up along the way, your story doesn't end here.  I know, because mine didn't.  I have been given another shot at being a mother.  I am finally back home with my family and daily working on myself to be a mother that I can be proud of. 

Whatever your situation, embrace who you are this Mother's Day.  If you are trying to get clean, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you gave a child up that you knew you couldn't care for, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you cannot have children, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you struggle with depression and are merely doing the best you can do, you deserve to be celebrated. If you feel grief all day because of the life you gave that was taken from you, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you are in the process of adopting, of bringing a child who needs a mother into your home, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you have the ache in your heart to be a mother, yet you know that desire will never be fulfilled, you deserve to be celebrated.  If you have made mistakes bigger than life, you still deserve to be celebrated.

You see, our society makes it seem like perfection is the only thing that deserves to be celebrated.  But, that's not realistic.  You know what is realistic? 

Getting out of bed every morning and putting one foot in front of the other on your journey of motherhood/womanhood/life. 

Bettering yourself.
Forgiving yourself. 

Loving yourself.
Embracing yourself. 

Now that....that is worthy of being celebrated.  And so are you.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

National Day of Prayer 2014: the day I was exposed on the local evening news

  Today, our country is celebrating the National Day of Prayer.  People gather in every state, surrounding flag poles, lining the outsides of courthouses, and congregating in churches to pray for the state of our country.  This is a necessary and reverent day, when we focus more on the spiritual needs of our leaders and those around us, rather than concentrating on our political differences.  Great holiday!!

 Two years ago, in 2014, the National Day of Prayer fell on Thursday, May the first.  I had entered into treatment (for the first time) only three weeks prior to this day, and it just so happened that our facility had a choir and had been invited to sing at the courthouse in Huntington, WV for the prayer service.  Most of the girls were pretty excited to get out of the house, but I was somewhat apprehensive.  I was in a constant mild state of panic about seeing someone that I knew from home.  Only a handful of people knew where I was, and I intended to keep it that way.  I naively believed that my three-month absence would simply go unnoticed, or possibly that my husband would help me conjure up a believable story about a one-hundred day illness that had isolated me from society...perhaps a nonfatal case of small pox or the bird flu?  As long as no one found out that I was a drug addict.  That was one secret I would do anything to protect.  Huntington, WV was only about a forty-five minute drive from my hometown, but I rationalized that it was highly unlikely that I would see anyone I knew.

The Wednesday night before, we each received a t-shirt to wear so we would all match.  We could either wear jeans, dress pants, or a skirt with the matching t-shirts.  The shirt was bright pink with a butterfly on it, and it read:  Karen's Place:  Addiction recovery that works.  It wasn't really my style, but I didn't have much of a choice.  We got up on Thursday morning, practiced a couple of songs to sing at the event, then loaded into two vans to travel to Huntington.  We arrived and took our seats, waiting for our turn to perform.  When they announced our group's name, we approached the steps leading into the courthouse, and lined up the way that we had arranged.  The choir director looked at me and mouthed, "Sing out."  I'm kind of a singer.  I sang a couple of songs and then sat down when the girls began to perform an interpretive sign language song that I had not learned, nor ever had the intention of learning.  I sat on a bench with the facility's Nurse who was typically within arm's reach of me as I had been having recurring fainting spells (I have a history of those).  We sat on the bench and I watched her raise her hands in the air and worship as the other girls performed.  She had a smile on her face, and, although I hadn't known her long, one thing was for sure:  she loved us girls, no matter what we had done in life.  She took care of us with the greatest level of love and compassion.  As I sat and waited for the performance to wrap up, I noticed a cameraman from WSAZ was there, and he was recording the group.  I hadn't noticed him when I was standing on the steps, so I was pretty sure I had escaped his lens.   

We climbed back into our assigned vans into our assigned seats, and were informed that we would be going to Taco Bell.  Like not the drive-thru Taco Bell, but the inside Taco Bell. You know, the place where you order what you want, sit down and eat, while simultaneously seeing real people!  You talk about a vanload of excited women!  We each had four dollars to spend, so we placed our orders and waited for the food to be passed out.  Now, here is the part I love to boast about.  There were at least two tables of staff members, but when the food had all been served to the tables, the manager came to ME and asked ME if all of MY girls had gotten their correct orders.  I totally just went with it and acted like I was in charge instead of needing someone to be in charge of me.  I checked with everyone, then informed him, thankfully, that they had nailed each and every order.  The other girls laughed and told me that I enjoyed the fact that I did not look like a drug addict way too much.

We drove back home where we received a call informing us that the evening news was showing a segment of the day's events.  We would be gone at a meeting, so the news was recorded for us to watch at our nightly group.  I was pretty sure that I was not in the performance that the reporter guy videoed, and, furthermore, the festivities had lasted all day so there was only a sliver of a chance that our treatment facility would be featured.  At around nine o'clock that night, we gathered in the Great Room, and the girls who were technologically competent hooked up the TV and queued up the recorded news program.  We fast forwarded through the random news stories until the segment on the National Day of Prayer started.  The film started rolling, and I saw various people that I had seen earlier in the day at the Courthouse.  There was one scene of the flag waving in the wind, then the local government officials praying while numerous onlookers bowed their heads.  Then, they announced that a group of girls from a "local" treatment facility for women with alcohol and drug addictions had performed. They cut to a scene of the girls doing the sign language song that I had sat out on.  I saw the pink shirts....but only for a split second.  The camera moved so quickly from that image that we could barely even pick anyone in particular out.  Sheew.  I heaved a gigantic sigh of relief.  I had escaped being seen on the news.  I was secretly praising the Lord that I had refused to learn the motions to that song, realized I had escaped being exposed, and my apprehension eased.  But, the very end of the segment, a vision flashed upon the screen that will haunt me for life.  I gasped as my hand covered my mouth, and my eyes begrudgingly relayed to my brain what I was looking at.   There it was.  Plastered across the screen.  Me.  Sitting with the nurse.  On the park bench.  With a pink shirt on.  That said "Karen's Place:  Addiction recovery that works."  The camera zoomed in on my face and my shirt.  And then it just sat there.  Like it had fallen asleep on the job.  I screamed, "Get the camera off of my face!  Show something else!", and I sat in pure agony and humiliation as I wondered how many people watching the news back home would recognize me.  I wondered if anyone from home was watching.  I mean, wasn't the news a thing of the past?  Did anyone really even watch it anymore?  Oh shoot.....I bet all of those gray-headed people I knew from church still watched it.  They probably didn't have internet and still relied on cable TV to provide them with information regarding current events. 

In that moment (in my mind), the headline may as well have read: 

Breaking News!!  Local mom/worship leader/preacher's daughter/recovery leader's wife/PTO Officer/Bible study coordinator/business owner spotted sitting on a park bench earlier this afternoon in the downtown area of Huntington, West Virginia.  Suspect was wearing a hot pink butterfly shirt that said something about addiction, and she appeared to be under the medical care of a registered nurse.  Although it has not yet been confirmed, it appears that she is, in fact, a resident at a local treatment facility, which, presumably tells officials that she is.....wait for it........a drug addict.  We will have reporters on the scene later to solve the burning question:  Was she attending the National Day of Prayer, or, on a darker more believable note, was she instead appearing inside a court room for what we can only guess was a horrific crime committed as a direct effect of her addiction.  Witnesses who wish to remain anonymous are stating that she was seen only a few weeks ago being released from a nearby mental hospital.  We hope to provide you with more details and answers later tonight.  Stay tuned for more information regarding this breaking news story.

Okay.  Maybe that was a tad dramatic; but, then again, so am I.  I thought life as I knew it would be over if my cover was blown.  Little did I know, what cover I did have left was tattered and torn, full of holes that I had repeatedly, to no avail, tried to patch. It actually provided very little shelter from reality. 

Turns out, very few people ever saw the news that evening, and I eventually outed myself.
I blew my own cover. 
That thing was useless anyway. 
And, in the process, I learned a very simple yet life-altering truth.
It feels so much safer to have my true self exposed rather than hidden, and I have found more freedom in my honesty than I ever did in my secrecy.  I'm much more "ok" with who I am now that I am not ashamed of it.

Furthermore, I now realize that I looked like a total idiot walking around hiding underneath a cover that was full of holes and virtually transparent; thinking that I had everyone fooled.  And, even though it was torn apart and unraveling at the seams, that darn thing was heavy. 

And, that, my friends, is this evening's breaking news. Stay tuned for more developments in this story. 

Misty Monroe, former closet drug addict/recovering addict, signing off.