I want to share a piece with you that I wrote for Stigma Fighters.
When I first started to tell my story publicly, I spent a lot of nights awake and stressed. Sharing something so personal and filled with so many different emotions is hard. I started sharing my recovery journey on this self-titled blog, twitter and instagram. Places I knew most of my friends and family didn’t frequent. I wanted to tell my story but at the same time, I dreaded anyone I knew personally finding out. I was fine with the world-at-large knowing but my friends? My family? Not so much.
So I worried about it. Every time I wrote a post, shared a photo on Instagram, sent out a tweet, a little part of me wondered who might see it. I wondered what people would think of me, would they judge me, stop hanging out with me? Would they start talking behind my back? Would I suddenly become known as the girl with the problem instead of the Susanne they always knew?
A couple of very wise recovery trailblazers gave me much-needed advice, either directly or through their writing. The lovely Jean from Unpickled told me to take my time and only share what I was comfortable with sharing. The writer-I-want-to-be Laura McKowen writes so beautifully and openly about recovery, she inspired me to crack the door to my secret and put my writer’s hat back on. Veronica Valli, also lovely (people in recovery are overall the most spectacular I’ve decided), shared that being open about her story has been overwhelmingly positive and she has never regretted sharing. There are so many others. Look around. You’ll find them.
I was still wavering about this whole “public” recovery business when God started making His desires known. The only way I can describe it is that I kept feeling this nudge to start talking.
I don’t want to tell everyone. nudge nudge I want you to.
There’s absolutely no way I’m going to just come right out with it. nudge nudge Yes, you are.
No, I’m not. nudge nudge Yes, you are.
I’d really prefer just to recover on my own and not tell anyone. nudge nudge I know but that is not what I’m calling you to do.
I spent more than a few weeks arguing with this nudging. I prayed about it. I fretted about it. I dreaded the answers. But in the end, I gave up. Turns out arguing with God is exhausting. Plus I love Him and after all the years I spent running in circles and not giving Him my best, I decided it was time to obey. Plus we all know what happened to Jonah when he tried to run from God’s plans for him. I didn’t want to end up inside a whale. 🙂
So here we are.
God has called me to recover out loud. He carried me through two nightmarish decades of self-destruction and delivered me safe and sound on the other side. He blessed me with the gift of writing. He blessed with me a supporting and loving husband who is my biggest cheerleader. If God wants me to tell my story publicly, who am I to say no?
Not only am I sharing my story here on my blog, I started Christian Recovery Community as a place for Christians to share their stories, find fellowship and support each other. I’m not sure where God is calling me from here. My prayer every morning is for Him to use me as He needs me.
But one thing God.… I absolutely do not want to, will not do it, under any circumstances at all, start speaking in front of groups. No, no, no. So please, pretty please, do not ask that of me. I doubt that will do any good but I’m putting out there just in case.
WHEN GOD CALLS YOU TO RECOVER OUT LOUD
I’ve been a lot of things and had a lot of roles in my life. Model, farmer, business owner, author, blogger, wife, mom, Christian. I’ve been a Vacation Bible School leader and Children’s Ministry leader. I’ve sat in the pew every Sunday for years, prayed, read my bible, attended bible studies, and worshiped the Lord with song and thanksgiving. But one thing, one huge part of my life for over two decades, remained my secret. No one knew I was also a person battling drug and alcohol addiction. That I completely kept to myself.
My journey into addiction was not unique although it took a long time showing up. In my early 30’s, a doctor prescribed me opiate pain medicine for my migraines. They worked. I liked them. Actually, I loved them. Too much. I spent the next several years in a never-ending cycle of trying to get them, using them, white-knuckling through withdrawals and back again. My life revolved around where I currently was in that cycle and existing in that constant whirlwind was exhausting. I finally got tired of living like that and quit. One day I just quit.
But I didn’t quit drinking. Back then I sometimes drank a glass of wine with dinner or a few glasses if we were out at a social function. Our relationship was casual and simple. I liked wine but I didn’t love it. Wine didn’t control me. I didn’t hide wine bottles in my closet or under my bed. I didn’t plan my entire life around wine, missing out on social events and time with my family. I didn’t wake up night after night at 3 am, sick and hungover, sneaking out to the garage for more wine to calm the shakes and help me get back to sleep. I didn’t put wine first in my life: before my husband, my children, my health and my relationship with God. That would all come later when my love affair with wine kicked into high gear. And when it did, the wine controlled my life in every way.
But I never told anyone. I didn’t tell my husband that I was struggling. I didn’t tell my friends or my pastor. I didn’t tell because I didn’t want help. I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to drink how and when I wanted and I absolutely did not want anyone, including my husband, interfering. I made sure not to drink and drive because I knew a DUI would ruin everything. I made sure not to buy from the same store twice in a row so the grocery store clerks wouldn’t think I had a problem. The amount and frequency of my drinking escalated and I knew, deep down I knew, it couldn’t go on forever. I knew there would come a time when I had to quit, if only to save my life, but I methodically pushed that thought aside anytime it came up. I didn’t want to quit so I kept on drinking, and I showed the world a perfect and happy life.
For many, many years, my world looked normal from the outside. I homeschooled my children. I wrote several best-selling children’s books. I went to church every Sunday. I worked hard to hide my growing addiction from everyone I knew. I attended prayer meetings where my sweet friends shared their hearts and their secrets but I never shared mine. I never shared that I was slowly falling apart. People knew me as a church-going, successful Christian woman. I kept the fact that I was also a high-functioning alcoholic to myself.
God knew though and I knew God wanted me to stop. So many times, I would feel the Holy Spirit nudge me about quitting, but addiction is powerful and smart and insidious. I was completely in its clutches. I wouldn’t stop for my children. I wouldn’t stop for my marriage. I wouldn’t stop for God. When it became clear that I wouldn’t stop on my own, God brought me to my knees and made me stop.
Last summer my husband spent several weeks out of the country on business and I lost all control over my addiction. I started drinking in the morning and never stopped the entire day. Then I broke down. My body broke down. My heart raced and skipped and I couldn’t feel my face. I convinced myself I was having a heart attack. My husband was on the other side of the world in Australia and I was home, alone with the kids, scared, frantic, and desperately afraid. I knew I was dying. I didn’t want to sleep because I thought my children would find me dead in the bed which would scar them for life. I was running out of wine and Sunday was fast approaching. We cannot buy alcohol here on Sunday and the thought of going through withdrawal on top of dying of a heart attack and not being able to feel my face did me in.
I finally called a friend and reached out for help. I don’t remember why I picked this particular friend or what I said to her on the phone but I know it was late at night and I know she came over and I know I told her my secret. We called my husband and he immediately started the long trek home.
The next day was Sunday and my friend and I spent the morning rocking on the front porch of my farmhouse. I heard a car coming up our ½-mile long driveway, started crying because I thought my husband was home, realized it couldn’t possibly be him already and then panicked because I didn’t want anyone to see me falling apart. Why was anyone at my house anyway on a Sunday morning? All my friends should have been at church.
This friend had been at church. This precious sister-in-Christ was sitting in the pew waiting for the service to start when she suddenly and overwhelmingly felt that I was not okay and that she needed to come see me. So she got up, left her family at church and drove out to my farm where she found out that I was in fact not okay. I’m incredibly thankful that she answered that prompting and came to help rescue me from myself. She called a few other friends, including my doctor, and I spent the day wrapped in love and prayer and concern and being assured that I was not actually dying. My poor, exhausted husband finally made it home late that night and I took my first step on the long road of recovery.
I woke up the next morning facing a new reality. For the first time in 20 years, people knew the truth. They knew I was not the perfect wife and mom and Christian I portrayed to the world. Worse than that, they had seen me crying and babbling and acting hysterical. As embarrassing and humiliating as I felt that day, I also experienced a huge wave of relief. You don’t always realize how heavy and suffocating a secret is until you let it go. I lugged around the secret of my addiction for two decades and now the time had come to let it go. Realizing that was both frightening and freeing but I no longer had a choice. I had to get better. I had to start healing. People knew now. I wouldn’t be able to lie or hide or get away with drinking like I used to. My secret was out and my cover was blown. It was time to recover.
For years I dreaded anyone knowing the truth about me and my addiction. I couldn’t imagine that happening. Thinking about it made me sick to my stomach. I thought people would be disgusted with me, think me weak, judge me, shame me, exclude me. When my coming out finally took place, I found the opposite to be true. People embraced me, encouraged me and supported me. They don’t understand what I’ve been through, what I continue to go through every day, and that’s okay. They do ask questions. They listen. They pray for me. They love me. And that’s more than enough.
I wanted to recover quietly with only that small handful of people knowing my story. But God has other plans for me and I’m not ignoring Him anymore. He has called me to recover publicly, to be a light bearer for the broken, to share my journey with others doing the same. I’ve started a Facebook Group called Grace Rising to provide a safe and loving place for God’s people to receive encouragement and support. I’m now a sobriety crusader and a recovery cheerleader.
Part of my silence came from not wanting people to think I wasn’t a good Christian. That if I loved God more or prayed more, I would have been healed from my addiction or wouldn’t have faced it in the first place. I see now how wrong that was. I fully believe that God heals. I also fully believe that God never loved me less or left my side at any time during those long years of addiction. He carried me through those years, kept me safe, and brought me through to the other side.
As hard and miserable and ugly as those years were, and believe me they were, I wouldn’t change them. Jesus showed us that you can’t have the resurrection without the suffering. I’ve suffered, I’m recovering and now I’m working to love and encourage others to do the same.
So that’s the start of my story. Over the last several weeks, people have found out the truth about my recovery. Every time, every single time, the response has been incredible. From “I love you” to “I’m so proud to know you” (thank you, sweet Claire!), not one person has been even the tiniest bit negative or ugly.
Will people talk behind my back? Probably. Will this change my relationship with some people? Maybe. Do I regret being open with my story? Nope. Not one single bit.
The ones who will talk don’t really matter, but the ones I help do. The relationships that change will hopefully be for the better. The people who loved me then love me even more now. Let’s be honest… I’m a lot more lovable sober. The best part of opening up is all the wonderful and amazing people I’m meeting along the way. From other sober bloggers to people just beginning to write their recovery story, I am so grateful for each and every one.
God was right as always. Recovering out loud is healing for me. Every day I heal a little bit more.
If you are where I was and need help or support, check out the resource page or contact me. I assure you that life in recovery is wonderful and 1,000 times better than life in the whirlwind of addiction.
And if you ever come across me speaking to a group, please know that I’m likely freaking out inside and come give me a hug. I promise you I’ll need one.