Life can be messy, chaotic, and overwhelming, but when you change your perspective, you can see something truly beautiful, much like the inside of a kaleidoscope. When you turn the kaleidocope just right and look towards the light, you can see the most beautiful, intricate, unique picture, created out of a random array of beads and broken glass, or a mess.
Last year, at 36 years old, I got my first tattoo…quickly followed by second tattoo. I wrote about it here: Mountains and Valleys. I started thinking more about metaphors, symbols, and also I had learned about about leaning into the pain and leaning into the season.
After a series of many dark years, I learned that I am someone who likes to push forward or avoid my current situation in an effort to finding more pleasant experiences. I think that is rather typical for human nature: avoid pain, seek comfort. But, all this hiding from pain, or dreaming about the next thing, left me missing out on the current thing, even if the current thing is pain.
Through my heartache of depression and alcohol addiction, I learned that that by hiding from pain or suffering, you are not escaping it. Eventually, when you come out of the hiding space, it is still there, and oftentimes in a much more layered pile. Ugh.
Eventually I had to face it all.
Eventually I had to be present.
Eventually I had to learn the beauty and the growth that comes in the suffering and in the still.
There is beauty in all the seasons.
Life is a series of seasons.
A series of growth, abundance, death, rest.
A cycle of new beginnings, flourish, harvest, and still.
It is so fiercely rhythmic that it cannot be denied there is a gloriousness in the way our days unfold over time.
But still, we often forget about the roots in each of these seasons. The roots that spread, give life, and hold us up strong. Our roots do not disappear in the dark days. The growth does not cease, it is just not visible from the surface. Roots are essential to growth and to life.
It is so challenging to the human design to stay planted in our current season. We keep wanting to move ahead, or at least this is how I am wired. So, last year, with my new tattoos on my arms, I was paddling with my husband, sitting on the paddle board because the wind and the current had taken me a bit downstream, and I mentioned to him that I want to stay grounded in my current season. If it is good or bad, challenging or easy, I need to stay grounded in it because there is a lesson to be learned in it, plus life has taught me that the season will change. We have to show up for the lesson and suffer well.
I began drawing this preliminary series of four lines and a flower in all the stages of seasons, being sure to always have a root present. I have drawn this several times, always with the understanding that I am not an artist, but this is what I want and I want it on my foot as a reminder to stay grounded in my season. Keep my foot planted in the season. Stop moving.
Fast forward to this April, I got that tattoo.
And…since I am all about balance, I got a tattoo on the other foot too. I got an arrow. I had been thinking about this idea for a bit, but nothing as deep as my seasons, or my mountains and valleys, or my garden… but a simple arrow that reminds me that sometimes in order to propel forward, you have to pull back.
There is a story in everything. Each season teaches us so much. Share your stories too.
Plus, for anyone keeping count, yes, I have gotten 4 tattoos in 9 months.
I have never denied having an addictive personality.
Thank you for sitting with me and hearing my story. I am so grateful to have shared the darkness of my journey and put it in the light. None of this is easy, but as we’ve learned, the easy stuff doesn’t help us grow.
We have walked through my fall, the valley and the rescue, and my climb. But, before we finish up our conversation, I think it is important that we glance back to know how to move forward. I say glance, because a glance is a quick look, rather than a deep stare, focusing on the past. I do not think it does anyone any good to live in the past, but we do need to look to the past, learn the lessons that seasons taught us, and move forward. Move forward.
This season..this fall, valley, and climb has taught me some pretty big life lessons. Lessons that shape how I view the world now..and hopefully how I continue to view the world as I grow in years.
Lesson 1: It is sometimes necessary to fall, to break, to crumble.
As I sit here with you, I am filled with gratitude for this journey. I know that sounds counter-cultural. But, genuinely, I am really grateful to have been brought so low because it was in this experience that I was able to rebuild and realign who I am and what I value.
Lysa TerKeurst writes about this breaking in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way She speaks of how when we are shattered from big moments like this, we turn to dust.
What if, this time, God desires to make something completely brand-new? Right now. On this side of eternity. No matter how shattered our circumstances may seem. Dust is the exact ingredient God loves to use.
We can see dust as a result of an unfair breaking. Or we can see dust as a crucial ingredient.
Dust doesn’t have to signify the end. Dust is often what must be present for the new to begin.
And that’s one of the most devastating realities of dust times in our lives. We need the world to stop spinning for a while. We need things to pause. We need the celebrations to cease long enough to work through our grief.
Lysa TerKeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, chapter 2, Dust
I am totally okay with the fact that I was broken down to to dust to be restored into something new. My life, the path I was on, was not healthy. I had gotten off from the path that was designed for me. I needed a massive crumbling to be restored.
Sweet friend..if you feel everything around you crumbling…let it fall. Let it break. Stop trying to glue it back together. Rather, let it shatter so that it can be created into something brand new. Let it break and then rebuild.
Lesson 2: Suffering can show you your strength.
I was feeling so weak, so broken, so lost. When asked to use words to describe myself in therapy, a cycle of self-deprecating words circled around my head. I could not think of one kind word to describe myself. But now, on the other side of the valley, having fought through the climb, I have been shown just how strong I can be. How fierce I can be. I needed to be reminded that I can fight for better. I had to lean heavily on God for strength when I was far too weak to help myself. With each success, each small win, I gained momentum to know that I could do things.
You can do things too. You are strong. And if you aren’t feeling that strength, then yoke on to someone else’s strength until you can start to feel your wins. Search for your wins. Build the momentum. See how incredibly resilient you are.
I have lived and overcome something that was debilitating to me. Now, when faced with challenges, I am reminded of what I have done and how far I have come. Then this new challenge is not as challenging anymore. I was once crushed but I am okay now. When another valley comes, which it will, I will remember this time and remind myself of the strength I had to get through this. I will be better equipped to handle the next climb. My struggle happened before the pandemic hit. So, when the pandemic hit, my heart was ready for it. We could do this. This wasn’t my hardest season…but my hardest season had prepared me for this hard season.
You glance back. Remember the strength. You keep going. You keep moving.
That just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
We can do a lot of things. Our freedom will allow it. But at the end of the day, it will take our life from under it.
Consider your holiness-versus freedom issue, even now. If you know somewhere deep down inside that something is coming between you and God, in any season, do you pursue getting rid of it, or do you justify keeping it for as long as possible?
Lisa Whittle, Jesus Over Everything, Chapter 4, Holiness Over Freedom
Boundaries and saying no to things you have the ability to do, is hard. Setting firm lines on what is good for you and what is not is hard. However, once the line is drawn, knowing this is not serving me, helps make all the other decisions much easier.
I do not drink. I can drink. But, I know that it clouds my judgement and I do not like who I am when I drink. I know that I most likely will not just have one drink if I have a drink. Therefore, I have chosen that my tight line is no drinks for me. Since I made this clear boundary for me and those close to me know this line, decisions are easy. I can go places and I do not wrestle with “should I?” The decision is already made.
These boundaries help me to be the most peaceful me. I used to think that denying myself something was punishing myself, but now I see them as ways of protecting myself and also loving myself. This is freedom.
Lesson 4: Everyone is struggling with something.
Everyone has a struggle. Life is hard and no one gets through without having to tackle some deep valleys. While some have very visible struggles, many struggles occur behind the scenes or in their hearts. If you know that everyone is struggling than it helps you set your heart to have a posture of love and grace for them.
We do not need to know, or have really a right to know, what that person’s story is.
If they chose to share their story, cherish that privilege, and respect their vulnerability.
Respond with love.
But, most likely, we do not know everyone’s story. Yet still, we need to strive to respond with love. I know I fall short on this often, but I am really trying to respond with love. See people first as people, not their title or their duty or their shortcomings, but as a person. Show love, grace, and kindness because being a person is hard.
Lesson 5: You have to show up for the lesson.
Life is going to take you to some hard places and each one will teach you something, grow you in some way. But, you have to show up for the lesson. You are going to go through the hardship either way, so please do not let it be in vain. Let it teach you what it is meant to teach you. Let it grow you so that you are prepared for whatever season is coming next. Pay attention. Feel the feels. Learn the lessons.
Lesson 6: new mountains…new valleys.. and God is greater than it all
This is where I am today. On this side of the valley. I would not say that I have conquered this mountain because, well, I think it would be naive to think that one can conquer a mountain such as this. However, I am comfortable with where I am in the climb.
Life is a series mountain ranges….peaks and valleys…climbs…rest…growth..sorrow and joy. To think this is the only hard thing I will face is naive. Life just is not like that. But, I will use this story to help me fight through the next one. I will use this story to teach our children about perseverance and struggles, as they will have them too. I will use this experience to be a reminder of how big God is and how He is so much greater than the highs or the lows.
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction or abuse, I urge you to find your people to help you.
If you are walking beside someone with alcohol addiction, I urge you to walk with love, truth, and grace. The person you love has already filled themselves with enough judgement and self-deprecation, that they do not need to hear any additional hurts. Be their strength while they find theirs. Be their advocate.
Resources that I love:
Jesus Over Everything by Lisa Whittle
It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst
The climb. Have you ever been hiking and trying to get from the bottom to the top…and just know that at the top you are going to feel so elated that you did it, but getting there…oh getting there is hard. The difference between the valley and the climb is that now you are fighting for better. Fighting to climb out of the darkness and to the light. Fighting to conquering this dang mountain.
I wish I could tell you that after I made the decision to stop drinking that it was all easy. Each day was easy. But, that would not be true..and we are here to share the truth.
I went six months without a single drink. I fought for each day. I came up with this line that I still tell myself today:
I don’t know when I will have a drink again. But it is not today…and most likely, not tomorrow.
And then, I had a series of todays which led to six full months without a drink.
It is imperative that I pause here and say, friend…if you need more help than this to stop, seek it. My alcohol abuse was at the level where I was able to stop without detoxing or needing the additional support of rehab, but truly, had I continued on the path I was on, I fear that I would have need these additional supports. If you need the additional supports, seek them. There is no shame in admitting you need them. Share what is on your heart with someone you love and trust, but also someone who will not enable you to continue on the destructive path you are on. Someone who will fight for you, when you have stopped fighting for yourself.
In my story, I still had not come to piece with a label of what I am/was. Am I an alcoholic? Am I “just” abusing alcohol? Is this a forever thing or just something I needed to pause from? This internal battle and seeking to define who I was now was causing a lot of rocks in my climb. I spent hours processing this with my therapist trying to figure out what exactly this all is.
My therapist helped me to understand that there is a spectrum when it comes to alcohol abuse. One can be abusing alcohol in a way to numb whatever is going on in their life, in a way that is no longer healthy. This can lead to an addiction to alcohol and the numbing feeling you get drinking it. Along the way, if you do not rein in the habit, it leads to full alcoholism, which when left untreated, does cause for a detox and rehabilitation for healing. Either way, name it or not, when alcohol is doing more harm in your life than good, it is time to be done with alcohol.
We worked through that… in my case, we thought, I was someone who needed to just reset some boundaries and then I could try to drink responsibly again. So, in January, after six months without a drink, I had a drink. I handled it fine…but…the internal battle of, “Did I say something inappropriate?” or “Did I cross the line again?” or “How did I act?” would beat me up. It was exhausting to have this after recap payout in my head, especially when I knew I had only a few drinks and in full control.
Then in March, my husband and I started whole30 and on whole30, you cannot have alcohol. That was fine for us. It was a good line in the sand for me. But, then when we finished our 30 days, I had a few drinks again. It was now spring…in a pandemic…and a Summer Shandy at night sounded good.
But then it became a Summer Shandy each night. Only one or two, but I did not like where this was headed.
In my mind and I have cross checked this with my husband, I do not feel I had any situations in that spring that were like before…no blacking out…no falling down…no hurtful spew to others…no ick. But, I do know there was one occassion where I had more than my alloted few, but I did not wake up with regret. However, I did wake up and replay every. single. interaction to make sure I had not done something that was ick.
How exhausting to constantly be replaying all my actions.
During this time, I felt this pull to be done with it all, for good. Just be done with it. I did not like how I was feeling with the emotional recap..I did not like the gray of knowing do I drink, do I not drink. If I go out with friends, should I have one drink or should I just have water and explain this whole thing? It was all pulling at me.
I had also been more honest with those around me about what had been going on in my life for the years before. Unfortunately, some people dismissed what was happening to me as not a big deal and made me feel like I was seeking attention by sharing I had problems with alcohol. Oh friend, if this is happening to you, it is not true. Share when you are comfortable and you know your story. You know what you felt and what you went through. You want to get better and sharing helps hold you accountable and encouraged. So share with the people who will love and encourage you. Brush off the ones who are making you defend how bad your drinking was. They are not going to be the ones who walk beside you right now. But, one day, they will probably come beside you or even look to you for strength when they realize that maybe you were shining a little bit of light on a problem in their own lives.
God and I had gotten really close during this year. He and I met every morning at five to share an hour together. I read the whole Bible. I journaled so many journals. He knows me, as He always has, and now I knew Him. I also now knew to listen to Him. He has really amazing plans for all of us and I want to see it through.
May 19, 2020
I know you’ve been pulling at me for a while for this. I’m nervous to write this because what if I fail? But, if I don’t commit it. to paper it won’t happen. So, because of grace, I am going to attempt.
This summer I’d like to try a sober summer. I’m nervous about failing but feel I have so much to gain. I don’t want to miss the memories or live in the regret I feel after drinking.
Lord, I’m asking for your strength to make this possible.
I think you’ve got incredible plans for my life and I do not want to miss it.
Here’s to the first day in a life of a few where I’ve not had a drink. I want the freedom that comes from this slope. I haven’t had any of the experiences I had last summer… and I would like to keep it that way.
“I don’t want to abuse your grace. God I need it every day. It’s the only thing that makes me ever really want to change.” *
There’s my last 2% Lord. But, you already knew that.
*Holy Water by We the Kingdom
This was eight months ago…yesterday. Sober summer came and went…then fall..now winter. I keep going. There is no angst in my head to replay what I might have said or did. There is no regret on what my kids might have seen me do. There are no pictures that I fear the world might see. There is only freedom. Legit freedom from the battle in my head.
Is life easy? No. life will not be easy. It just won’t. However, I have learned so much about strength and I have clear eyes to see navigate the hard. So many lessons that I want to share with you…
But for this moment, sweet friend who has sat beside me as I have laid this all out, lets just soak in the climb.
I do not know when I will have a drink again. But it is not today, and most likely not tomorrow.
It is a real bummer to know a problem but to not be able to fix it. Sometimes I wonder if it is better to not know that something is wrong because when you know and you cannot fix it…you feel defeated. again and again. on repeat.
Maybe you have never experienced this, but maybe you have and you know the pain of knowing something is broken and you can’t fix it. Now layer on knowing that you are the problem and you can’t fix yourself. Heavy. Each time it happens, whatever the it may be, the regret, the guilt, the shame just all piles on.
For me, this was months upon months of knowing I had a drinking issue, but not being able to get control of the drinking issue. It started with a very close friend taking me out to lunch and sharing her concerns. She did this layered in love and grace. I knew it was an issue but it was something that I had not said out loud yet. I was not ready. I brushed it off as though I could handle just having two drinks at gatherings…but that led to me creating elaborate math equations of how many drinks I could have verses the time I was spending verses what type of drink it was. Which all went away once I had a drink and my ability to make good choices weakened. Now I just felt embarrassed around this friend and tried to justify everything I was doing, or worse yet, I started sneaking my drinks around them.
Then it was the doctor appointment for my depression where they also ask you if you do drugs, which I proudly stated no…smoke, another no…alcohol…oh wait, say what? That humbled me immediately. Then the questions went on to ask how much and how often. Let me think of how small one can be. All that false righteousness immediately fled me.
I started therapy to work on my depression and also to admit that drinking is an issue for me. This was also humbling…but then freeing. I said it. It was in the world now. But, I am a grown adult and really got caught up in this idea that I might be a grown adult who cannot have alcohol, at all. My internal dialogue went something like, “I am a grown adult. If I want a beer I should be able to have a beer.” However, later I realized that I was forgetting the next piece of the sentence, “if it is only one beer.” I wrestled this for months. Months. So many therapy sessions trying to wrestle whether I could be a person who could drink or not. Trying to balance how I could drink in moderation and each time I failed, I felt worse than the time before.
The regret piled up.
The guilt layered on.
The shame covered me.
I would sit at church, which we had been regularly attending for a few years at this point and hear messages, covered in grace, and feel like a fraud because I knew I was doing something that was not honorable, respectful, life-giving. I knew I was making self-destructive choices each day.
I kept trying. I started to sit with my Bible on my front porch and I would write…crying out to God to help me.
April 28, 2019
Thank you for your love, your grace, your patience for the millions of times I let you down. I know you worked in me to keep my words honorable this week, please continue to do this in me and make me stronger Lord. Help me to gain more self control in all areas of my life to better honor you and support and love my family.
I’ll try to be honoring, leaning and walking with you this week.
and the patterns continued… shame, piled onto regret, piled onto guilt.
May 19, 2019
Lord, I pray…
Help me to make chocies to honor you, to glorify you.
Help me to teach our children about your love and grace.
Give me the strength to make choices to show your love and grace, Lord.
I have fallen so far…help me to grow and strengthen to honor your love and grace. I know I’ll get better, Lord because of your love and grace.
Thank you for your faithfulness and not giving up on me.
I know you will see me through this for your glory.
Thank you for placing Godly women and families in my life to walk beside me in growing my relationship with you.
I wanted to be able to drink appropriately but also to be able to keep drinking. I was not able to just give it up yet. I wanted to find a way to do both. I could not give my life over to this call I kept feeling to be done with it. That drinking had a hold on me and I was allowing it to run my life..not the other way around. I had not gotten there yet. This internal battle was dark and lonely. Isolating and full of self-hatred. Why couldn’t I be someone who has self-control and is strong enough to live life balanced? I was terrified to give up what I thought was my control. I did not want to surrender.
and the patterns continued… shame, piled onto regret, piled onto guilt.
But then…after months in the valley….a rescue came.
I made one last bad choice and a friend spoke truth and grace to me. She heard me apologize. She listened. And…she told me there was better for me. She told me I am better than the choices I am making. She never once told me my actions were okay. Never once. But she told me she loves me, that God loves me, and that there is so much better for me.
And that day, I stopped drinking.
August 20, 2019
I’ve been praying for change and to get out of the hole I have been in for the past year and a half. I keep praying for grace and self-control, yet I keep falling short and hoping with prayer for a change… and dealing with my own demons of guilt each time I fail.
Yet today, I’ve been 3 days without a drink. At one time, that was nothing, but today that’s a celebration. We also hosted a party to celebrate a friend today and I didn’t have a drink. I notice I talk much less…I still miss conversation not because I am drinking but because one person cannot be everywhere. I also was done with the party before the party was over…and my dishes are done and counters are clean. So here I am, sober day 3, in the books.
Walking home today the stars were so bright. I stopped and thanked God for the beautiful world He created and for the gift of being sober enough to appreciate it.
So Lord, I pray you continue to allow me not to be tempted. Continue to show me my own strength, that is a gift from you and Lord, I pray you’ll help me to forgive myself for the past two years …. and that my babies are not forever ruined because of it.
I surrendered. I gave up trying to fight for this arbitrary thing that was destroying my life. Destroying everything designed for me. I decided to follow that call in my heart and see what the plan was for me. The following set of verses just echoed throughout my summer and finally, I resigned to not being able to do it myself. I wanted to live the life God had planned for me, not this destructive path I kept taking.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Each day forward was a day forward. But that is the climb out of the valley. We will get there. But, finally, my rescue had come. And it came when this song below just hitting the radio…and I felt like it was speaking directly to me..as though God gave her the words just for me to hear.
So many tears brought forth by the lyrics.
Every single word right to my heart.
and this is when our children started seeing me fall madly in love with Jesus…for He rescued me.
But here is the thing friend, maybe the idea of Jesus is not your thing. I can get that. I can understand that. In my story, Jesus totally saved me. But, in your story, that may not be what you are open to hearing, feeling, going to. And that is okay right now. If you have made it this far, sitting by my side, cuddled up cozy and sharing our stories together, I would tell you that the first thing you need to do, is find the people and the place in your life that support you with being sober. Where do you feel safe? What is holding you back from trying to go without drinking? Write a pro and con list. Make a decision to get into therapy, see a doctor, tell a friend, tell your spouse. Take an action forward, because sweet friend, your life is so much better than this.
To tell any story, I guess we should start at the beginning. I am sure there are a lot of people reading this wondering, what happened?! See, I do a half-decent job of covering things up because I am an Ennegram 3 and care far too much about appearances and how people see me. So, I did the things needed to play the role of a middle-class, thirty something mother, wife & teacher, until I didn’t.
I suppose we should go back to 2015. I was pregnant with our third child and also in school to get my administration license. We thought doing both these things at the same time was a good idea. It was and I am grateful for it, but still, it was a lot. After the birth of our daughter in the dark days of November, I noticed that it was really hard for me to snap out of postpartum depression feelings. Mostly because you cannot snap out of postpartum depression. It does not work that way. But, I tried.
I also was invigorated by career opportunities that were coming my way with my administration license. These opportunities gave me the drive to keep going. I focused heavily on my career because I felt like I could do that. My emotions were spiraling but I could do this. I heaved ahead. And personally, I was able to lose the baby weight and seemed to feel like things were coming together. But they weren’t. I had just buried my emotions under piles of distraction.
The next school year I had an amazing opportunity to become a literacy coach. It was huge for me. Dream job. I dove full in. I had to travel away from my family, which is a big deal for a teacher and a mother of 3…with our baby less than a year old. But, I was in. I was in, in. I gave it all to this opportunity for a full school year. I was feeling good about everything and pushing through. I had distracted myself from any of the ick in my heart of postpartum feelings by only focusing on work.
and then it fell.
After a year of training, four weeks out of state away from my family, countless hours doing additional learning, countless days out of my classroom with a guest teacher…the position was pulled across my school district. Everything I had given myself to was gone.
along with it went my identity and my distraction.
Now, I think it is important to note here that now, a few years out from it, this is exactly what needed to happen. I am very happy in my classroom and love what I get to do. I am grateful for all the training I have had because it helps me in so many capacities within the classroom. And my family… I am so grateful for the lessons I learned about priorities and to shift the focus back to my family. I know that this situation had to happen for my heart to realign some priorities. But, at the time, it was devastating.
When everything was pulled, summer was just beginning. Summer meant no structure. Summer meant Summer Shandys. So, Summer Shandys I drank.
Fall came and I switched to Blue Moons.
Winter came and I continued with Blue Moons.
Summer came and I learned about White Claws.
All those feelings of postpartum that I had buried under my work? Well, they grew into full depression..also because it is hard to say it is postpartum when that newborn is now a year and a half old. Now I also got to add shame and regret for my misalignment with my priorities to the layers of negative emotions I had. Regret from all the time I wasted away from my family. How can one pretend there isn’t any depression?
That baby weight I lost? It came back and then some. Which also led to more depression especially with my history of being 23 years old. 300 lbs.
Heavy depression that was getting heavier each day.
Things started small with a drink because it was summer…then a drink because it was a less than great day…then a drink because it was a great day…then a drink because it was the weekend…then a drink because it was Tuesday.
And somewhere along the way… a drink turned into six.
I had fallen. Fallen hard. It was now 2018 and I was in the worst depression of my life. I have had two hard depressions and this one shook me the hardest because now I had a husband and children. It was not just about me anymore.
Should a career blow cause this much devastation? No. But, my heart was misaligned. I allowed that role in my life define me. This needed to be adjusted and it took this fall to show me that.
Should I rely only on myself to fix myself? No. But, I thought I could…until I clearly couldn’t and then I felt compounded shame that I was not strong enough to fix this myself.
Should this have happened? No. But, I am grateful it did. I’ll explain…