Shape shifting

Learning about myself and my addictive behaviour patterns is one of the greatest investments that I have made in my recovery.  Some of the things that I do are so ingrained that I need help to notice them and bring them into the light so that I can work to make changes.  Some of that help is through a trained counsellor, some comes through my husband and friends, and sometimes through prayer and reflective times with God, the Holy Spirit reveals things without need for human help.  This post looks back at the last 3-4 months of revelation, reflection, and change.

I am going to talk about addictive behaviour patterns.  The more I read about the mind of the addict, and moreover the addictive power of sin, the more I realise I don’t know.  I remain quite fickle, balanced between the two main schools of thought in the spiritual understanding of addiction, knowing it isn’t possible for them both to be right.  To put it at its most simple, the 12 step understanding, which is where I started, and through which millions have achieved sobriety, looks on alcoholics/ addicts as “different” to “normal people” in the way that their brain chemistry responds to substance(s) and therefore also in the way they tend to think about themselves and the world.  An alternative, that I first found in the writings of the evangelical American Edward Welch, is that the way addicts think and behave is really no different to any other sinners: neither in neurology nor in psychiatry but only in the far reaching consequences that their particular weakness to temptation has.  I need to read more and pray more to reconcile this for myself, but I think whatever way you personally think about this and whatever you believe, you can see “addictive thinking” to be equivalent to “temptation thinking” and “addictive behaviour” approximately correlates with “sinful behaviour”.  I might come back to this, to revise my theology, and subsequently my medicine.  For now, knowing in part will have to do.

One thing I do believe is that addicts are shape shifters.  Once people have used something to make themselves feel better and take the pain away, they are always vulnerable to other addictive substances, or processes.  To illustrate substances: the heroin addict who relapses with alcohol, and processes: the high rate of co-dependant relationships formed by addicts in early recovery.

 

Last year, I put on 3 stone, and it’s therefore easy to see what I used as my second ‘drug of choice’ – overeating.  In terms of life events, I had two major orthopaedic operations leaving me immobile and had to say goodbye to my daughter.  I got through all of that without a drink, and the chocolate was certainly killing me more slowly than picking up a drink would have done.  Overeating is a process addiction, according to addiction theory, whereby the action is what is addictive rather than the substance¹, but my experience suggests to me that it is a bit of a hybrid.

Facing what I was doing to myself was the first and hardest thing.  In fact, immobility is not really implicated in weight gain², the reason I’d gained weight was, quite simply, greed.  I was using sugar-containing food, in particular, to produce feelings of temporary fullness and happiness and to reduce pain, because I could or would not live with the emptiness and physical, emotional and spiritual pain I was having.  It was habit, as my husband is a great lover of puddings, and I am a lover of baking, and so the withdrawal, if you like, had to be done surrounded by the substance itself.  All the ways in which I was justifying it, minimising it, and particularly in denial about it, were all old friends – these were thinking patterns that I’d burned well into my neurons, and it seem to take a life of their own, to preserve the status quo above all costs.

Obesity is more common, and more acceptable perhaps, than alcoholism.  It kills you more slowly, but in the end, it will kill you.   The obesity epidemic is probably the single biggest challenge facing Western Medicine not just this decade but probably this century,  and unsurprisingly research opinion is beginning to see Type 2 Diabetes as essentially a physical complication of addictive illness³.

 

Whilst I was immobilised over Christmas and New Year, I started reading about the addictive power of sugar in particular² ³, and it really rang true for me.  What has followed is 11 weeks of a second recovery – and quite a meaningful one, because more than days counted there is health gained, pounds lost (23 and counting) and most importantly, the blessings that come with not being enslaved to something that previously had a hold over me.  The counselling work that had begun has more effectiveness because I am no longer papering over the feelings with chocolate.  I am amazed at how my hunger has decreased, how little I miss carbohydrate-rich foods, how my blood sugar and moods and food cravings have levelled out and left me, and how my eating has become so much less about feelings.

Where do I go from here?  I long to be better-thought-out about these things; about the science, the theology, and to gain wisdom on how these can be applied to all that long to follow Christ and wrestle daily with temptation and sin.  The battle against sugar is far from won, and I expect that having worn the neurological path of quick gratification well and persistently, I will have to continually wear a new path by choice for a long time – whether drinking or eating or shopping: my first response, or default setting, remains pain avoidant.  Continually looking at what I put before Christ is the only true way to daily take up my cross and follow Him.

References:

¹www.processaddictions.com

²Escape the Diet Trap – Dr John Briffa

³Why we get fat and what to do about it – Gary Taubes

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A year since we said goodbye.

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And they do insist you say goodbye. I wrote her a letter using photos of her life, and did as I was supposed to, sat down and broke both of our hearts a little more.  This is the last photo of both of us I have.

The grief over the year that has followed has been the hardest and most awful thing I have ever experienced, and all the worst for being private, unnatural and atypical.  This grief is so complex, grieving despite my girl being alive and, as far as I am allowed to know, thriving, settled and happy. Despite even the hope of seeing her again one day – a hope of which I do not allow myself to live for, because I have no control over how things are explained to her, how black I am painted, or the different person who by 18+ she will be.

Losing my mum less that 3 years ago has taught me a fair few things about grief.  It taught me that grief changes.  Not in logical progression through the grief cycle, although that describes some of the places it takes you.  But it shifts as the months pass, and when you look back over bigger sections of time, 6 months, a year, 2 years, you can see the changes in feeling and thinking.  To lose a parent is in the natural order of things – although my mum at 60 was younger than most of us hope that our parents will live to, it is right for us to mourn the passing of our parents.  But just as no-one should ever have to lose a child, sometimes the worst grief is of the intangible, the things you never realised you had until they were gone, like health, and purpose, and what might have been.

C.S.Lewis’s ‘A Grief Observed’, which I read after my mum died, has actually been far more useful since my daughter went.  He writes:

I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

This resonates with my experience – and whilst there have been some joys this past year, they are always tinged with the sudden remembering that this ‘living with grief’, like a greyness that shrouds my soul, is never far off.  I wonder if getting to resolution (or acceptance) requires being able to shrug off the “why?”s and the “what if”s.  The “why” – why me, why did a certain person behave like they did, why is addiction so hard to understand – I think I do ok with.  The”what if”s can be excruciating.  I’m not proud of these thoughts, as I think they walk too close for comfort to self-sabotage, or playing God, but they are slow to remove, moment by painful moment, guided by an excellent counselling relationship through which the Holy Spirit is most powerfully at work.

I talk about her in general conversation less these days.  Initially I couldn’t help it, and it made clear the difficulties of reconciling in the listeners’ minds that I was the parent that potty trained my daughter alone, and handled being left at nursery anxieties, and was pretty clued up on which way to cycle with your little one at what age, and also that same person that could not stop drinking under Social Services scrutiny even when the greatest reason for motivation hung in the balance, and then let that little girl go, for a life that I felt I couldn’t provide.  Admittedly I haven’t got to meet many birth parents, and I am sure there are many that don’t have quite such a dichotomy in their actions, and seemingly within their souls.  But I have found where my safe places are, with those who can sit with spiritual unrest that has no glib answers, where I can let myself feel and remember this beautiful little girl, who remains my greatest pride and joy, and express this odd, hot, painful, twisted grief, for a girl that is gone and yet still there, a grief that, unlike my other experiences of grief, is resolving incredibly slowly, and still burns intensely and deeply.

Where is God in all of this?  He remains my comfort in the anger and pain, my defender against Satan having a field day with my guilt and shame, and my heavenly Father, who hears me when I cry, praying for my daughter’s peace, growth and joy in her new life, and with whom I can be utterly vulnerable in my bewilderment at losing my “best big girl”, praying she is in His safekeeping, both now and always.

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One word for 2014 – Gently

I first read about choosing one word for the year, instead of a list of resolutions, about March of last year, before I was really writing, or doing anything focused and therapeutic.  The idea, I think, was started here: oneword365.com and the site is worth a read, and as they explain the idea of choosing a word is like this:

One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.

It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your one word will shape not only your year, but also you. It will become the compass that directs your decisions and guides your steps.

After prayerfully considering it (and a brainwave in the shower – that’s the Holy Spirit, right?!) I have chosen “Gently“.

Gentle is a word used in both testaments, usually to describe God in the old testament (eg. in 1Kings 19, God appears to Elijah as a ‘gentle whisper’) and Jesus in the new (eg. Matthew 21, Jesus is ‘gentle and riding on a donkey’).  It is also used by Paul and Peter in their letters as an exhortation that it should be a mark of believers, and a way that others both in and outside of the church should know that God is working in them (Eph 4:2, Phil 4:5, Col 3:12, 1Tim 3:3, 6:11, 1Pet 3:4,15).  It is something that the Holy Spirit can work in us all if we are willing.

A number of wise people in my life have encouraged me to go gently over the past year.  They could see my pattern of ups and downs, peaks and troughs, physically, emotionally and spiritually, could if flattened out lead to more growth, less drama, and a better return to this elusive “normality” that I’ve been longing for.  I guess everyone has seasons in their lives, but this is mood swings beyond that.  I am probably almost cyclothymic, but I am not in any rush to gain any more labels than I already drag around, and I also think that part of it is personality too.  It’s common in addicts of all variety to (think they) have greater highs and worse lows than anyone else, and we become addicted to the drama and the attention that follows.

I do believe I will always cycle but I also think in my ‘toddler years’ of sobriety I can make changes in my behaviour and my thinking that will help me adapt to living sober, and taking an honest look at the part I’ve played, and can take responsibility for altering, is at the heart of that.  Like all toddlers, I won’t always get it right, I’ll get distracted by better toys and fun things to do, and when I fall over, sometimes I’ll still think it’s the end of the world, but gently…. gently, I can direct myself back to the better way.

I start the year in a difficult place of immobility, temporarily cut off from not just the world in general but my church, much of the fellowship and friendship and activities that I enjoy, professional links, my counsellor, and an independent sense of self.  There is much to be regained but if I don’t learn from my mistakes then I already know what the process will feel like.  There could be a great difference in the journey. Toddler steps into the year with no list of resolutions, just one word: Gently.

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Immobility and Christmas competitivity

Out of commitment to the counselling process I’m going through, I’ve not written anything here for 3 months, focusing instead on journalling, and taking the raw form not the formed thoughts.  But currently, I’m during an enforced break – no, not Christmas, but at least 6 weeks immobilised with my left leg in plaster.  It was unexpected, disappointing, difficult, but holds a few blessings in disguise.

I struggle with Christmas.  Unlike most, I don’t struggle with the apparently logical impossibility that some 2000 years ago, the son of God was born to a young Jewish virgin.  I marvel at a God who is both inconceivable and completely empathetic.  Wow.

But it gets drowned, despite churches everywhere trying to keep the message out there, in competitive consumerism.  I’m guilty of some of that, of setting budgets and then breaking them, of seeing and reading perfect family portraits and feeling envious, of feeling pressured to be cheerful and fit everything in.

But like many, just hearing the word Christmas, and from early November, I experience feelings of dread, anxiety and fear.  The reasons are two-fold, one is that my experiences of Christmas as an older child were very negative, and secondly my daughter’s birthday falls on Christmas Eve.  Back to them in a minute.

Much newsprint and blogprint have been devoted to the struggles that many face to make Christmas seem and feel like family-centred bliss.  These impossible expectations cause many, not only but mostly women, to feel inadequate, and lonely.  But on the other hand in the few weeks before Christmas, I have seen or been on the receiving end of this Christmas competitivism being applied to those who find Christmas hard, as if there’s some sort of “my pain and distress is worse than yours” competition that I didn’t know I’d entered.  This just isn’t the way to go about it; what will work is empathy and mutual support, remaining available physically and emotionally to each other through the holidays, and remembering that our Biblical model came from pain and family discord.

I think the difficulty with the “lots of people find Christmas hard” defensive line is the unsaid “and they get on with it!”.  My gut reaction many times in the last couple of weeks, is that, you know, it’s really not a competition.  I find spending my daughter’s birthday without her, the day before Christmas, incredibly hard, and sometimes overwhelming.  I am honest about it in advance, not because I don’t see and empathise with what others are going through, and not because I think I’m special or different for struggling, but because this is my truth and I will not pretend it’s all ok.  What I’ve been learning is that I don’t need to put “I’m sorry but…” in front of “I get very upset on Christmas Eve/ I can’t manage x or y”, or to feel the platitudes of “it’ll get easier” are remotely helpful.  I sincerely hope it will get easier, but just now I need to sit with it.

I miss my daughter – although I know legally she’s not my daughter any more – every day, and especially more on these days.  I remember times of togetherness and they are like this thumping pain in my heart.  Without going into the specifics, things have been very difficult with Social Services the last 3 months with a lot of broken promises.  I have been typecast in black, the birth mother, from whom the child must be protected.  The adopters like white avenging angels are able to keep my court-promised letters from her if they deem it in her best interests.  And my own, repetitive, childhood-learned behaviour is to try for some sort of absolute ‘right’-ness, if you’re not for me you’re against me, chucking out all the shades of grey I’ve spent months learning to paint in.  My other cyclical thinking causes me to want to reject as ‘not on my side’ anyone who dares occupy the grey, and then self-pity can descend, “poor me”, as AA would say, “poor me another one”.  Deliberately, one thought at a time, I am unpicking this and burning some new neural pathways.  I am not bad, and they are being as reasonable as they are able.  Step back, leave it a while, and see how I feel then.  Talk selectively, neither bottling or oversharing, and don’t force others into agreeing.  Let those feelings out, acknowledging them as they are, but not being held captive by them either.

It’s taken quite some time to write this, started in the days before Christmas, because I’m out of the habit, and even though housebound I’ve had other things to do!  But 2013 is ebbing away, and it has been full of pain, heartbreak, and joy.  Not much normality, I’m still not sure what that looks like in my life.  As John Newton said “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, but by the grace of God I am not what I once used to be.”  Amen.

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Alcohol as evangelism?

Recently, a church I respect and hold dear in my heart, advertised an upcoming evangelistic event, for men only: Whisky tasting.  I’ve been asked what I think of this by a couple of people, and would I write about it.  I’ve thought about it, and come to the conclusion that I think this is part of what this blog is for – sharing what I’ve learnt about this killer disease that is so prevalent in our society – and our churches.  Despite my fear of confrontation I need to speak out so that people can hear what the issues are.

Before I start I’d like to confirm that I believe that church needs to be relevant.  I believe that we need to meet people where they are at, as Jesus did, eating with taxpayers and sinners, talking to those who weren’t Jewish and really… just weren’t all that savoury, or popular, in the culture of their day.  We are called to the poor and the sick.  I also know that Jesus drank wine.  I’ve read those bits too.

I know that mine and other churches use pubs for alternative meeting places, for after-church socialising, and for evangelism.

I think this is part of us being the church in the world.  I say part, I think it should only ever be a part, and at times it might be right to meet in such places more, or less.  It’s a slippery slope, and I might talk about that another time.  This area is all quite grey, but there are three issues with this direct use of alcohol in church social or evangelistic events that I believe are really quite a dark grey.  They cross over a bit – but these are my concerns:

Firstly, it dilutes the message given at the event

I’m sure the short gospel explanation will be accurate and heartfelt at this event, as it may be at others like it.  But before you get to the gospel message, you get all sorts of other messages, including: it’s not just ok but encouraged to get a taste for alcohol (or already have a taste for alcohol) (as long as it’s something sophisticated like whisky); we really want you to think we’re normal and relevant, we’re just like you really.

How is an event where the main draw to it is alcohol (and I appreciate at a tasting the amounts drunk are negligible, many people don’t swallow it, etc but the focus of the invitation is come and drink) and to gaining a taste for that alcohol with the view to drinking it again, more of it (like a candle-making event, say, encourages people to go away and enlarge these creative tendencies at home) so far gone from the Christian message that it’s not being the church in the world, it’s simply being the world.  Are we really so desperate and so unable to relate to the people around us both within and without the church family, and talk to them about spiritual things, and their spiritual wellbeing, that we need to hold an event centred around the world’s most addictive, dangerous substance, that if it were invented today would be a Class A substance?  Imagine it – a church evangelistic introducing the most sophisticated way to use crack.  If your objections to the above suggestion are greater than simply that crack is illegal, then if your thinking joins up, you should have the same problems as I do with this event, and others like it.

Secondly, the church ceases to look different

Our society has a serious problem with alcohol.  This is for another post (it’s in progress) but to summarise – 13% of people have a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives; it’s the second highest determinant of ill health in the developed world (behind smoking) with little respect for boundaries such as class, race, age and gender although, rates are highest amongst the poorest, and men.

Addictive disease is eroding our communities – the big 3 being smoking, alcohol use and obesity, increasingly revealed as a food/sugar addiction.  And the church… is silent.  When people look at the church do they see a radically different way to live, where they can bring these and other problems, and find the solution to their brokenness?  When doctors and social workers admit their powerlessness in the face of so much need, and an inability to save people from themselves, do those people see the church as somewhere they can go, with it’s Whisky tasting and post-church pub socials, and cheese and wine evenings?  Or does it see a closed club with people that have absolutely nothing to offer them?  This could be a whole post and there are many more qualified to write it than me.

Thirdly, it compounds denial

You know, in those people who are somewhere on the path to unhealthy drinking in your church.  Oh, you know the ones.  In a big church, there’s bound to be lots of them.  You haven’t got any?  Haven’t you?  How do you know?

You can’t hold out whisky tasting on the one hand, and hold out the hope that is in Jesus Christ to those people who spend endless energy denying their drinking.  If you think there aren’t any in your church, you’re probably wrong.  And if there aren’t any in your church, it’s likely because of the first two points, they never made it through the door.

Denial is powerful, it’s real, it poisons relationships, and it forms a barrier between ourselves and God.  It lasts for years, usually decades, and sometimes for life in an individuals drinking journey.  And there are people in our churches, crying out for help inside and putting a brave face on it.  Because, we don’t have alcoholics here – we have whisky tastings.  And even the preacher, at another local church, had had a heavy night at a party last night before the sermon, but everyone does that, don’t they?  We need to let Jesus into every corner – and so rather than being a way in to faith, these evangelistic drinking sessions, they form a barrier.

 

I’m not offended by alcohol-as-evangelism, personally – my own sobriety is pretty strong these days.  But having walked through the denial, I can see it now, and it pervades to all levels.  I certainly don’t write to criticise, but to raise awareness and break denial – and I hope I have done so.  I am grateful to two friends in particular who have helped me structure my thinking – any errors or inconsistencies are mine alone.  Please do feel free to comment, I would really appreciate others views on this whole area.

 

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Out of sync

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

I’m humming the tune now and Joni Mitchell’s lyrics read, to me, like poetry.  She says some beautiful, meaningful, brave and true stuff – and she sings like no-one else, even though this particular song has been covered quite a number of times.  There’s that little oft’ quoted phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” but I think the whole thing is worth it – I’ll get to the point.  And how I just feel in a different, not wrong, season, to those around me.  I’m not talking about the literal hasn’t-it-got-cold and look-at-those-leaves sense.

I had orthopaedic surgery 9 days ago, reconstructing my right leg with lengthening my right Achilles tendon, to stop me walking on my tip toes, and plastics for the keloid scars that formed whilst I was really poorly, in the hope that my now healthier self will scar much better and it’ll be less obvious.  I have a cast on my right leg, replaced once already, and had really very lacking care in the elective ward, meaning I had to withdraw myself off the painkillers at home in less than 3 days.  Opiate addiction as replacement – no thank you.

I was looking to these days of immobility as a real chance firstly to read, especially a few books that are extremely relevant to this blog, and get myself to a well thought out point of being able to comment on them.  Secondly, for creativity – except, rediscovering that I really can’t draw, and am not all that great at the kind of word based creating that I’d hoped to do, is not quite what I had in mind.  Not even settling on those activities that seem ok to while away hours in hospital, crosswords and the like.  Restless, except I can’t move.  Flitty – in a chair.

September is so often a time of beginnings and it’s even more the theme in life of those around me because my church has a newly installed Rector, and a wonderful feeling of hope and fresh starts pervades.  And then also the start of term, not just for the children but of courses, sabbaticals and diplomas in the lives of my friends.

For me, this last week or so has been a week of endings – the agonising pain that was my daughter’s final Adoption hearing in Liverpool Family Courts on Thursday, upon which I became no longer, in law, a mother.  It was just a week after my elective surgery, after I ended my ability to swim, potter, bake, visit, attend.  To be an independent person.

In trying to come to understand these feelings, and to live with them, I remembered something I read months ago via a close friend’s Social Media:

Sometimes you just have to keep going…I mean, just don’t give up, don’t melt down, do the opposite of what you feel.

It’s days like these that I have to fight to be thankful, stop feeling sorry for myself, and not let my feeling dictate how I am doing.

I remind myself that it’s a poor time to make a long term decision, tell someone what I am I really thinking, or buy something to help me feel better.

I just need a little time with God and a good nights sleep, Tomorrow will be a better day because I plowed my field of dreams today with faithfulness and perseverance.

by Kris Vallotton of KVMinistries.com

It’s just so true I don’t really need to add anything to it.  That’s where I am.  I reminded myself this morning that it’s ok to feel like this, to drag myself before God with a soul that longs to praise Him yet is bringing a great deal of weariness and pain with it.  It’s a condition that sometimes lasts, feeling full of pain when you’re surrounded by joy, and with pain the depth that the loss of my daughter sounds, then it inevitably overflows.  Its messy edges take up space where I imagined creativity and serenity might.

I thought what I had before was less than perfect, because of it’s lack of space, and time to do lengthy reflective reading and writing, to create for creating’s sake, and not spend hours in the water, and at least as many hours again, getting there and getting dry, and presentable.  I was actually quite looking forward to this supposedly peaceful and serene time, after all, how tough can a lightweight fibreglass cast be?

But now it’s gone, many of the things that I thought hindered me are the things I miss.  Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.  Oh yes.  And now I haven’t got what I thought I was going to have, emotionally, I feel all wrong.  But that’s all right.

You know, it really is, because this morning in the company of God’s people I felt heard in how I am feeling, something I believe we all need, which gives me the strength to stand firm this week, and not give in to self pity, or despair.   There is a verse in Lamentations that is often quoted:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.  His mercies are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.

And with good reason, I think.  It is true of my life these past weeks.  He understands our frailties, that I want what I haven’t got, all the time, that I want to be what I’m not, that I dislike both my human limitations and my tendency to sinful thinking that I excuse by the strength or excesses of my emotions.  But I have choices – the choice to say no to continued use of painkillers, because I can be fairly sure where that will lead, the choice of gratitude, the choice to praise Him in the darkness, to persevere.  And… great is His faithfulness.

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Revisiting bad memories

I feel very conflicted about this – but haven’t quite learned to trust my own instincts. Do I not want to do this because I know it will hurt or because it’s not helpful, not time yet?  This is my “homework” from the psychiatrist I was referred to by the Chronic Pain clinic, and whilst it has been on my mind I have struggled to write anything at all.  My blog looks pretty blank.  My writing usually feels therapeutic, and I have had encouragement over the past month or two with where I am, which helps me to know I am in the right place.

From the time I was in AA, and reading the AA literature, I know it is not an uncommon experience to have entirely wrecked one’s instincts for what is right and wrong, to not be certain what will help you get well, to want advice and then feel frustrated and overwhelmed by that advice.  I know that when I was drinking, I ignored the Holy Spirit in my heart, screaming out “No! Don’t do it again” and went against it, ignoring my own instinct for right and wrong until I couldn’t tell which way was up anymore.  I became so desperate for human contact, for something that felt a little bit like love or support, because despite having damaged and misused my close family relationships and friendships, letting them down again and again until they needed to distance themselves for their own well-being.  I would latch onto anything that felt like love, especially if it felt like it might be unconditional, not caring eventually where that might come from, using people to make myself feel less awful about myself.

Ultimately I was so destroyed inside I realised that my only hope was to really, fully, trust Jesus Christ for my salvation.  This had to stop being just a belief that I kind of hoped might work out but wasn’t able to access on a day-to-day basis and be the hope that is certainty and is eternal.  That for all that I’ve done, and he can see into those dark places that I won’t share with anyone, there is eternal forgiveness, but also, daily encouragement, strength, and love.  There is inward change – by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am not who I was when I was drinking, and I am far from finished yet, but my instincts are still a work in progress.  So I’m doing it – maybe because I’m still a “good girl”, people-pleasing and doing as I’m told, not quite ready to let myself take charge and know that my decisions are good.

Even that is a justification.  I did it even though it doesn’t seem right for me.  The task is to blog about the following:  Remember, voluntarily, a bad memory with respect to my daughter, and imagine myself now, talking to my younger self, 4 years younger than now.  What would I say?  What mistakes did I make, and why did they happen?  Reassure your younger self as to how things turn out.    From here I’ll let what I’ve written stand as it is, except to say I’ve taken her name out, and it doesn’t read quite so well:

Some of the worst times weren’t the sober times, they were the hungover and recovering times.  I would get angry, irrationally so.  I have never been someone who verbalises their anger at anyone, but I would shout at my precious daughter.  I would be incredibly angry, over something that she could hardly help, being just a little girl, and take it out on her.  The anger would course through my veins and I would feel utterly powerless to react any other way.  I remember standing at the top of the stairs in the house where my alcohol problem solidified into dependent daily drinking, with daytime drinking at weekends – I was yelling, and throwing my phone so hard it shattered.  I would always apologise to my sobbing little daughter afterwards, saying Mummy loved her and didn’t really mean it, and we would cuddle together.  I feel so angry with myself, for continuing the cycle that I wanted to break, and for seeking absolution that I didn’t deserve, from a 3 year old.

I feel distraught at the memory, at what my lovely girl must have endured at my hands at times.  I would have had a drink, later, maybe not very much later, to “calm me down”, and drunk I was never angry, I would be sleepy, and cut corners, saying ‘you can have a bath in the morning’ and ‘no stories tonight, Mummy’s tired’.  The vision of the stairs, and of her crying, haunts me.  I go into it with no control over leaving it – usually what happens is eventually I get exhausted with sobbing, often with my fiancé there, and wrap myself up in a duvet, waking later with a congested head.  The grief feels uncomplicated at these, its worst times, and it is a raw pain of separation, gaping jaws of loss combined with this badness that is guilt and punishment and uncertainty.

If I could face myself as I was then – only 4 years or so ago – I would see this young woman desperately in need of a hug, a hand, and a way out of the denial.  I refused to see a problem then, just “don’t you know how tough this is, looking after a child in isolation and loneliness?” and this “me and my girl against the world” attitude that grew every time I tried to ask for help and was failed.  What I needed was love.  What I needed was God, was Him working through human forms, through people that would care, and show me that unconditional love without which I would never have got well.  There’s two things about that, though, the first being that the 28-year-old Sarah would have told the now Sarah to get lost, at the very least.  “I’m fine on my own” would have come out and denial, formed into defensiveness, would stand as the barrier through which any alcoholic tries to deal with the world, like spines of a hedgehog to push anyone away.  And the second is this understanding of forgiveness.  Because, if Christ died for me, for my salvation, then I have no business refusing to forgive myself.  Because, that’s not how it works.  My guilt, which leads to condemnation and death is paid for.  The slate is wiped clean.  To keep trying to write my sins on the slate is to say that Christ isn’t enough.  I live in the tension that is between ‘right with God’, which is utterly true because I have trusted in Jesus Christ for my salvation, and living in this world with all the consequences.  The separation doesn’t go away, and the other consequences of what I have done, the guilt, the recriminations, the fear that the pain will swallow me whole, still exist.  Of course underneath it all I have to admit – that I long for forgiveness from my daughter, and that is what I may never get, never know about, and I may have to live with the anguish that genetic predisposition and her early life circumstances lead her to experience addiction herself in some form with me powerless to help.

What else would I say to myself – to say that it all turns out well would be a lie, or at least, would be a language I didn’t speak then.  The only version of well that I was interested in was the one with ‘my daughter returning home and she and I living happily ever after, together’ description of turning out well.  I have no reassurance for myself on that score – just the promise of 12 months of agonising Social Services involvement until I gave in and said, yes, get on with it then, get her placed permanently and safely and I will stop slowing down the proceedings.  I could tell myself about the lies social workers tell and that I shouldn’t believe that I was responsible for slowing down her being placed, that one day I’ll learn that’s not true.  The version of things turning out well is like a jigsaw and I had half the pieces missing.  I’d learn sobriety.  I’d learn to line up over 400 24-hours in a row without a drink.  And that during that sobriety, slowly, I’ll get the pieces back, one or a few at a time, as I understand how to live in the Kingdom of God in the world.  I would tell myself that work isn’t everything, but it’s a big something.  I’d learn that actually, I had the whole jigsaw the wrong way round, not realising that what was wrong with my life was me, and that when I looked at the world, I looked at it with my broken vision, and broken understanding.  And that letting God back into my life was going to turn everything round the right way again.

My younger self wouldn’t have been reassured by these things.  But when I imagine being sat looking at her, I don’t have anger that matched her destructive anger, just compassion for her pain.  I have a meaningful way of understanding life, and such sorrow for her that things will have to get so much worse, that she will lose almost everything, to find it.  But that’s what I must hold on to: compassion for her pain, and let the agony for my little girl I feel and see when I have been remembering, and haunted by, go.

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