This was the message I saw written as I entered the bathroom stall on campus:
“Why can’t I fit in anywhere?”
The next day a new message was written underneath it that said:
“I can’t do this anymore. Everyone would be better off without me.”
These messages hurt my heart because I felt helpless to reach out and let this person know that there is someone ready and willing to listen to them. Their voice does not have to be stifled inside a bathroom stall. I know this for a fact because for 18 years I worked as a phone counselor on staff at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Volunteers and paid staff work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year answering the calls and chat messages from people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, fear, rage, and suicidal thoughts.
I understand the pain and fear behind the words in the bathroom stall because I have felt them myself. I spent most of my life living with anxiety and depression without having a name for them. I grew up experiencing abuse and neglect. I used anything I could find to numb my pain-food, religion, sex, alcohol and drugs. After losing everything and everyone in my life, after becoming someone I hated, after believing all the words that had been said to me over the years, I decided to end my life. I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, and everyone would be better off without me.
One very lonely Saturday night, I tried to drink enough to kill myself with alcohol poisoning. That isn’t an easy task when you are a full-blown alcoholic. I tried cutting my wrist, but I was too drunk to do it. I couldn’t find anything sharp enough to do the job. I was even a failure at killing myself. I tried calling the one person I thought I could count on, and she told me she couldn’t do this with me anymore. She gave me a phone number to the Crisis Suicide Hotline and begged me to call them. I can’t explain why I called them, but I did.
A counselor stayed on the phone with me for close to three hours that night, listening to me cry and tell my story. She gave me some resources for help including the name of a therapist. Someone from the Crisis Suicide Hotline called me the next day to follow up. I did get into therapy, got help for my addictions, and slowly began crawling my way back out of the black hole I knew as my life.
That was in March 1987. I have been clean and sober for 32 years. I worked with a therapist and found that I was one of the people who needed medication for my anxiety and depression. Even now, life isn’t always easy. During the past 32 years, I have been married and divorced, lost jobs, had my best friend and my mother both die unexpectedly, and dealt with all of the things that life tends to bring.
What I have learned is that life is worth living despite all the challenges that come with it. I found ways to deal with all of the craziness in this world. I don’t have to hide from pain; I can handle it with the help of family and friends. There is hope no matter how deep the darkness. My voice is no longer silenced behind all the things I used to numb my pain.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or dealing with anxiety, depression, fear or anger, there are ways you can help. Learn the warning signs and how you can make a difference in that person’s life. If you are the person who feels their voice can’t be heard, take a chance and call, text or chat with the groups below. Most colleges also offer peer counseling.
September 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week.
Here are some resources for help:
To talk, text or chat:
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine 800-273-TALK or Chat online
Crisis TextLine : Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.
IMAlive : IMAlive is a live online network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis.
I need to make a confession. Late last year, I surrendered to the pressure of my classmates and watched the Netflix Sci-Fi series Stranger Things. It is a Stephen King’ish scenario set in the 80’s. In season one, a young boy disappears, and his friends soon discover that he has been taken to the “upside down.” The “upside down” is a parallel dimension to our world; it is a dimension that is a dark reflection of our world filled with monsters and despair. Spoiler Alert! The young boy does get rescued and returned to the world as we know it because of the efforts of his family and friends. However, there were still things that haunted him from the “upside down.”
I could spend some time presenting the spiritual and religious allegories of the show, but I will save that for another time. Several theologians have written about it already. I am more interested in the “upside down” because I found myself trapped in a place very much like it. My world had become dark, filled with hopelessness, and haunted by monsters that I didn’t want to go on. In late February, 31 one years ago, I felt there was no way out. I decided to end my life. The sermon in church today reminded me of this time in my life.
Much like the young boy in Stranger Things, I would be rescued. My rescue came from strangers at first, not family and friends. I had driven them all away. I was really alone, or so I thought. I knew God thought I was a hopeless case and had moved on to other things. I had one person who still accepted my calls. She was a friend from seminary days and a pastor of a small church in Maryland. Drunk and angry, I called her at 2:00 am. It seemed she was finished with me, just like God. She told me she could not go through this with me any longer. She made me write a phone number down and promise to call it. Then she hung up. I was devastated. I just told her I was trying to kill myself. How could she hang up on me? (I had no way of knowing that she had been going to AlAnon.)
I don’t know why I made the call to the number she gave me, but the Hotline counselor stayed on the phone with me until dawn. It was the beginning of my rescue from the “upside down.” Because of that call, I found my way to a therapist, who after two years of therapy would become my closest friend, confidant, spiritual mentor, and guide for the next eighteen years. I became part of the fellowship of a twelve-step program where strangers became a family who showed me that God still and had always loved me.
Although I have never returned to the “upside down,” I know it still exists. Many are trapped there without any hope. I often share my story with others, and I write about it on this blog because I want those who have lost faith to see that there is life on the other side. I want them to hear someone say that God always has and still loves them.
I have been given everything back everything I lost and more. I was blessed for many years with a job working on staff for the same type of Hotline that I had called. I was able to listen and talk with those who had lost hope. I am now in college about to finish my undergrad degree, hoping to pursue my masters, and begin a journey to follow where God is calling me. I am going to begin even though I am not sure where that journey will lead. I have genuine friendships, a family that continues to grow, and on top of it all, I have peace and serenity knowing that God is with me.
During this time of year, I hold tightly to my faith. While I escaped the “upside down,” much like the young boy I am sometimes still haunted by memories. As February ends, and March comes in to welcome spring, I am faced with the tenth anniversary of the death of the woman who was my closest friend as well as the anniversary of the death of Mama Pearl. Mama Pearl was a second mother to me throughout my life. While there is profound pain in these memories, there is joy in my remembrances of them. They will be with me in spirit as I celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety in April.
I got lost in the “upside down” a long time ago, but God pulled me back through grace and love. I know I never have to return-even during periods of questioning or suffering. Anne Lamott wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” God met me in a place of darkness and despair and brought me out into a new life. I am excited to see where God leads me next.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It was created in 1949 to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all. This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is – Tools 2 Thrive-providing practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation. and will call on individuals to share what life with a mental illness feels like for them in words, pictures and video by tagging their social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike (or submitting to MHA anonymously). Posts will be collected and displayed at mentalhealthamerica.net/feelslike.
I am 1 in 5. I find it easier to tell you that I am a recovering alcoholic and addict than it is to tell you I have a mental health condition. I would almost rather admit to being a cat burglar. Even in our more enlightened time, mental illness still carries a huge stigma. A friend who works for our local mental health department says, “I wish we could put a huge band aid on the fore head of people with mental illness. Maybe then people would really understand it is an illness.”
I have heard people say there is no real test for mental illness. It is all just something a psychiatrist or therapist labels you. I want to take a moment to explain those “labels” to you. Mental health practitioners make a diagnosis based on the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and covers all mental health disorders for both children and adults. There is another manual called ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.) Both manuals contain very strict, complicated, and definitive guidelines for diagnosing.
I was 36 years old when I received my first diagnoses (plural for diagnosis). It should have happened years before. There were several reasons for the delay. Mental illness wasn’t as treatable as it is now. Most people were afraid of being sent to a mental hospital. Doctor’s weren’t as knowledgeable as they are now. I also grew up in a household where mental illness was a taboo subject. My grandmother sent my great grandmother to the state mental hospital. They told her she was going for a ride in the country and then lied to everyone about where she was. That is what I understood happened to people who didn’t behave properly. She also felt that mental problems were from the devil. They were perhaps even punishment for a lack of faith and bad behavior.
When I was in my early twenties, I told my doctor some of the things going on in my life. He smiled. He said it was just my nerves. He said “all us women” didn’t cope well with stress and pressure. He gave me a prescription for Valium. Then he gave me another prescription. And then another. This went on for a couple of years. Valium was actually one of the worst things he could have given me. It was my first “drug” addiction.
As I told you, I have several diagnoses. My first was “Alcohol Dependence” That code is 303.90 in case you were wondering. There was also 304.10 (drug dependence for short). They didn’t come first in my life but were my first diagnoses. You can’t get to the problem when you are covering it with alcohol and drugs. I also have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and Panic Disorder. I have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), BiPolar II, Clinical Depression (which is actually covered in BiPolar II), and PTSD.
Wow, that looks like I must be a total mess. Truth is that I WAS a total mess. I don’t have time share all of that here, but let me assure you, my life was a mess. I tried suicide at one point. However, medication and therapy have changed my life. Prayer and faith play an important part as well. I can’t make these things go away. I live with them. I make adjustments. Most of my friends learn the hard way not to come up behind me without warning. I don’t know who jumps higher, me or them. It really isn’t any different from someone with diabetes. They watch their sugar, they exercise, they check their sugar levels, and do whatever treatment it is that allows them to lead a normal life.
The old question comes up about nature and nurture. Did my genetics cause all of this? I am sure it contributed to it. Was it the way I was raised? Not exactly, but childhood trauma and abuse does contribute to some of this. Scientists and doctors are learning more all the time about our brains and the way they work or don’t work.
Why am I telling you all of this? We need everyone’s help. Here are ways you can help.
- Fight The Stigma. Learn the truth about Mental Health. Often the media portrays people with mental illness in an untruthful, unflattering, and hurtful way. You can help set the record straight. Sites like NAMI http://www.nami.org/ or Mental Health America http://www.nmha.org/ will give you realistic information.
- Please don’t tell me (or others) these things: “Cheer Up, it will be OK”. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “You are so strong-you don’t really need that medication do you?” “Oh come on, we all get down sometimes.” “You have so much going for you. How can you be depressed?” “There is nothing to be scared of or worried about.” “Just eat healthy food and exercise!” ‘It’s not really that bad, is it?” “Everyone has problems.” If you want to understand, ask me and be willing to hear what I have to say.
- Continue to push for Mental Health legislation. The Mental Health Parity Act was a great step but some insurance companies are finding creative ways to try to get around it.
So there you have it. I have an illness that affects my brain. My serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are all out of whack. My reuptake receptors don’t function right. My prefrontal cortex didn’t develop normally and I have poorly integrated cerebral hemispheres. (Those two are attributed to abuse.) But I am still me. I am the person you hang out with, call or text, chat with online, work with, play with, and pray with. I am a mother, grandmother, and friend. I worked most of my life. I have been blessed with two wonderful therapists in my lifetime and have found the proper medications that work to keep me in balance. I have an amazing family and group of friends that support me. I am a child of God. God made me and loves me.
As Anne Lamott says: “You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you, and everyone, not because you believed in certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loved you no matter how crazy you felt on the inside, no matter what a fake you were; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee.”
How can you argue with that?
If you need help or know someone who does, there is help available…
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. (Chat available as well)
Mental Health America https://mhanational.org/ Much of MHA’s work is guided by its Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) philosophy – that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process. When we think about diseases like cancer or heart disease, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4—we begin with prevention, identify symptoms, and develop a plan of action to stop and hopefully reverse the progression of the disease. Like other diseases, it is critical to address symptoms early and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health.
Trevor Project: The Trevor Project also offers a 24-hour toll-free confidential crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Call 1-866-4-uTREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (799-7233)
To Write Love on Her Arms: Crisis Text Line Text “TWLOHA” to 741-741 www.twloha.com
NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Health-Awareness-Month NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
I was determined to take some time to catch up on reading for pleasure over the holidays. I looked at the titles of books I want to read or reread trying to decide what to start today. I was drawn to a book I “read” last year. When I first downloaded the book to my Kindle, I didn’t take the time to really read and focus on the book. I skimmed some and read some. It wasn’t that the book wasn’t good; it was that the book hit too close to home. I needed to really invest myself in reading this story. I decided to start “Peace and Freedom are My Names” by Irene Frances.
I “met” Irene on the internet last year. I read her blog and knew this was someone I wanted to get to know. I connected with her in reading that first post and made contact through the blog and facebook. I was excited to find that she, like I, at our delicate ages were both going to college. I am doing undergraduate work, while she is attending the Brisbaine School of Theology in her home country of Australia. I have loved watching her posts about studying Hebrew and taking tests. She has encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed at times. You can see her faith and genuineness in her smile.
I also connected with her in other ways. She is a survivor of an abusive childhood and learned to live with mental health issues, all while maintaining a strong and steadfast faith in God. We have both had our challenges with religion and church, but God has never given up on us. Her faith and journey have been an inspiration to me.
As I began to read her book again, I was reminded in the first paragraphs of the similarities in our stories. Many facts are different, but the feelings and ways of surviving were much the same. This passage pulled me in today: I was a nothing and a nobody. Nobody wanted me; I didn’t even have my own name. And I was worth nothing. It was a pitiable start to life of hell and torment that would eventually send me into a pit of madness from which it would take a lifetime to claw my way out.
Nobody wanted me. I felt that way much of my life. I didn’t even have my own name. I was reminded of that just this past week. A while back, I wrote a post about my name being changed a couple times in my childhood. You can read it here. My parents named me Carolyn Ann, but at the age of four my grandparents changed it to Cathy (Catherine Ann) when they adopted me. Just a short time before my mother died, she told me that while my name was Carolyn Ann, but they called me Lynn. I wasn’t sure if that was true or the imaging of an old woman. In the blog post above, I shared about finding my old shot records listing my name as Carolyn Ann and (Lynn) listed on one page. I also realized that I lived in Flat Top, W. Va. at my grandparents farm for a couple of years.
Last weekend, Jan and I were working on genealogy sites when I decided to try something to find an old newspaper article I remembered. The article was in the newspaper in W. Va. and featured a picture of my brother and I when I returned to W. Va. to visit when I was 8 years old. Imagine my surprise, when the article appeared in a site with filmstrip from old newspapers. I quickly signed up for the week long free trial and printed the article.
I decided to do a bit more searching when I discovered an article from 1952 about a meeting of the Flat Top Farm Women’s Club. After a brief description of the meeting and food served, the meeting attendees were listed. I froze when I read these names: Mrs. Grady Keaton (that’s my grandmother), Mrs. Joe Keaton (that’s my mother) and her daughter Lynn. LYNN…there it was in black and white…proof that my mother’s memory was intact, and that I was indeed called Lynn for the first 3 to 4 years of my life.
This has been on my mind ever since I found the article. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t let it go. And, then I starting reading Irene’s story again. In her book, she explains changing her name after her marriage. I am thinking about reclaiming my birth name of Keaton when I finalize my divorce, and I am now thinking about adding Lynn to that name in some way.
I know this will not make sense to many of you and that’s OK. You see, somehow, just seeing that name makes a connection to the childhood that was taken from me. I now know the truth about many things, in spite of all efforts by some to keep it from me. JanF. told me that my life was life a huge mosaic puzzle. I had the easy pieces in place; I had the outer edges. I would continue to add pieces as they were revealed, and one day I would see one of God’s most beautiful works of art. I asked her what piece of art that would be, and she replied, “Why, your life of course. ”
For more information on Irene Frances and her book available on Amazon, please check out her page on Peace and Freedom are My Names.
This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them. However, it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that is featured on A&E.
If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ. He has been banned from A&E for his comments. I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else. I am writing today because of what he didn’t say.
You see, I was raised by a grandmother who lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living. When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church. She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside. She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her. She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up. It was all for show.
She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking. She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others, and to control my behavior. One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did. Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff. I was a kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues, and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad. I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being imparted to me.
You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did. I remember when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it. I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story. The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us. This is what happened with Phil’s interview. He didn’t tell the rest of the story. He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage. Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage. Can you see the difference it makes?
1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Look at that list of sins! Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart? I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them. You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I hit bottom hard, and I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out. So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That is devastating news, almost hopeless.
Yet, just look at verse 11. That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article. “And that is what some of you were.” Yes, that is what I was. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” That was all done for me!
Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” I disagree. Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible. There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin. It is from the beginning to the end. What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us. Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch? Instead, He did something absolutely illogical. He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.
As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus. But, we need to remember the rest of the story. Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more. And, that is what He asks us to do.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
― Anne Lamott
I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture. Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.
In 12-step recovery programs, we are taught not to think about tomorrow. Slogans like “one day at a time” or “just today” are drummed into our brain. Another one that I hate is, “if you have one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you are pissing all over today.” That one just never made any sense to me. I understand and acknowledge the wisdom in “one day at a time” in dealing with alcohol and drugs. There were many times in my recovery that it was one hour, one minute, or one second at a time.
However, in the real world that slogan doesn’t work. If I truly lived “one day at a time”, I would get my paycheck and buy a new big screen TV or book a mountain cabin for a week, ignoring the reality that in two weeks I have to pay rent and make a car payment. I also believe that dreams of the future are a motivation to do well today.
When I decided to write about Christmas future, I had to think about what I would really like to see. So here is a brief glimpse of some future Christmases…
In a couple of years, I will have friends and family surrounding me as I prepare to graduate from the College of Charleston.
Not long after I finish my MFA, Oprah will choose my newly published best selling book as the gift to give for Christmas.
I will visit my great grandchildren who are the most beautiful and amazing children ever to be born. I will, of course, be visiting my children and grand children as well, but we all know it will be the great grands that take center stage.
The day after Christmas, I will visit the Culpeppers (Either in Charleston or within a 4 hour drive 🙂 ) and the next week I will go to Baltimore and New York to visit my brother and some other friends as I begin my book tour.
I won’t miss my mother, my best friend-JanF, my Mama Pearl, or any of the other friends/family who have passed away nearly as much as I do now. (OK, that one isn’t really going to happen.)
I will notice that as I grow older, I learn more about the gift of Jesus and the joy of celebrating Christmas. I might just become “Jesusy” as Anne Lamott says.
I spent a great deal of life dreading the future and believing that nothing good would ever happen to me. I was always waiting for the next bad thing. I have learned that the next bad thing is going to happen no matter what; it happens to everyone. It’s called life. I have also learned that the next amazing thing is going to happen as well. Sometimes, the next amazing thing comes as a result of that next bad thing that happened.
Anne Lamott said in one of her blog posts, ” We religious nuts say, ‘I no longer know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.” Of course, I can’t really predict the future, but I can dream. I no longer see my future thought the eyes of nightmares. So, I will continue to dream about my future Christmases celebrating the birth of the One who holds the future.
My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”
I saw this picture/statement on a facebook post from an organization that works with families and individuals facing challenges of mental illness. Often, we read these simple statements, smile and say, “Oh, isn’t that sweet,” without really thinking about the message. What I read in this statement is, “Suffer in silence, don’t ask for help, and God forbid, don’t tell anyone!”
I was raised with that philosophy. Tears and fears indicated lack of faith in God. Accepting help was a sign of weakness and asking for help was a sign of a failure. Accepting help made you a slave to the one who gave the help. In my family, there were definitely strings attached to accepting help and in some cases ropes or chains.
Fighting battles no one knows about was a way of life as a child. I learned to cry in private or not cry at all. I learned that God didn’t like little girls who were afraid. Adults who abuse children make sure the children don’t tell anyone or ask for help. Depression, anxiety, fear were all from the devil, so there was no help other than perfect obedience and faith. Seeking mental health help was admitting that your faith was weak.
I grew up strong…according to the definition in the quote here. I learned to always put myself last. I almost died because I was so strong. I was 35 years old before I learned to ask for help. Walking into a room of people when you are disheveled, hung over, and smelling like alcohol (not because you were drinking right then, but the smell coming from your pores and breath), and looking at people through squinted red eyes makes it difficult not to ask for help. Yet, I didn’t ask for help or want help from anyone. A wonderful therapist and 12 step programs taught me to ask and accept help. I am 62 now and still find asking or accepting help a challenge.
I also know that friends and family who love and care about you want to help. It gives them joy and pleasure. When I offer help to someone, I get so much from the experience. At the same time, when I offer help to someone and they refuse it, I feel as if they don’t trust me or feel connected enough to accept what I offer. When I don’t ask for help or refuse to accept help, I do that same thing to others.
PAUSE…I was going to go into a rather lengthy theological and philosophical discussion, however, I think I will leave that to the philosophers and preachers.
The past year has put me in a place where I have needed help. At times, I reached out and asked for it and in other cases, it was offered without petition. It is still a challenge to admit that I need help sometimes. Pride and ego are powerful adversaries. I am a work in progress. I do not want to “smile through the pain, cry all alone, and fight in silence.” I don’t want to be “strong” any more.
My friend sent a link to a blog post today. She said it reminded her of some conversations we have had recently. The author is someone I haven’t read before. I took a minute to check out her site and quickly decided to follow her. Her name is Allison Vesterfelt and her blog is “Learning To Live With Less. ” You can find it on her website here.
The post my friend shared was called. “You’ll Never Have Enough Money for Your Dream.” I have been concerned about money and my financial future for about year now. It started when I quit my full time job with amazing benefits because…well, I was miserable. I won’t go into everything that happened that made me so unhappy at a job I had loved for more than 12 years. I prayed, I talked to friends and family as well as my therapist and I knew I had to leave. I decided the timing was right to pursue a lifelong dream of returning to college.
According to my well thought out plans, if I worked part time I would enough money to live comfortably until I was able to collect social security retirement the following year. Little did I know that my world was about to implode. My already shaky marriage ended. I moved in with family and cut expenses. Two major car repairs, several months of being ill, and a part time job that fell through at the last minute changed all the well laid plans I had in place. There is a saying, ” Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” (Yes, John Lennon did record a song with those lyrics but they came originally from Allen Sanders and were published in Readers’ Digest in 1957.)
I am still almost 4 months away from being able to collect my retirement and I basically out of money. I have started a part time job and I am grateful to be employed and back in the field that I enjoy. As of the end of last month, I am no longer able to afford the COBRA and keep my health insurance. I am living pay check to pay check and that is a place I swore I would never be again. Never say never.
The blog post made me stop and think about what is really important. It also reminded me that nothing is ever guaranteed to us. I have put off my dream of school for 40 years. If I wait until I have time and money, it will not happen. For the past few weeks, I have allowed fear to creep in. I have compared myself to others and felt that I fell short. It’s a place I visit far too often and I don’t want to stay there.
I hope you will take a moment and check out Allison’s website and blog. I am going to order her book, “Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.” Well, I will as soon as I have enough money. For now, I will read her blog and see what I can learn.
So, what you don’t have “enough” money for your dream? Neither do I.
Let’s do it anyway.
– See more at: http://www.allisonvesterfelt.com/#sthash.fpcb8uk8.dpuf
So, what you don’t have “enough” money for your dream? Neither do I.
Let’s do it anyway.
So, what you don’t have “enough” money for your dream? Neither do I.
Let’s do it anyway.
The challenge for Yeah Write today was to write a “list” post. I haven’t done one in a while and typically someone provides the list for the post. I debated for a while and decided to create a list of some things that have been on my mind recently. So here are five things I really want to accomplish, but I’m not sure how or if I can. #1. College Degree I recently started attending college. I have completed 12 credit hours. I have a long way to go. I can only attend part time since I still need to work part time. I left my full time job to make an attempt at this lifelong dream. Academically I am doing very well, however life has been throwing curve balls my way making it difficult to know what to do next. People often ask me why I am going back to school at my age and what I plan to do with a college education. I try to answer honestly and tell them I have no idea what I will do my degree but I am pursuing it because it is what I truly want to be doing. I love school-more than I have loved any job or other activity I have chosen to pursue. Money is the one thing standing in my way. Of course, without a full time job, I have not benefits such as health insurance. Some people suggest student loans and financial aid. There are many reasons I don’t qualify for either of those right now. I may be able to apply for those later. For now, I will continue to follow this path and see where it will lead. Oh, and I pray…a lot. #2. Actress No, I don’t expect to be in New York on Broadway, however, it might be fun. My dream for acting only takes me as far as a local theater in my community or at college. I have had to play many roles in my life to survive and I have played them well. Yet, the idea of playing a character on stage is thrilling. I envision myself as Miss Hannigan in Annie or as one of the sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace. I took an acting class last semester and fell even more in love with the idea. It will take going to many auditions and a lot of time if I get a part. School and a part time job along with rehearsals and performances may be too much. So, I will continue to pursue this dream. Oh, and I pray…a lot. #3. Size 14 I have struggled with weight most of life. I was overweight as a child and a young teenager. I gain a tremendous amount of weight with the birth of each of my children. I have lost weight in the past but never reached my target goals. Injuries, illnesses, or life got in the way each time until I reached almost 300 pounds about 3 years ago. I have been working hard to get the weight off but again injuries, illness and life keep interfering. However, I won’t give up. I keep working towards the goal. Oh, and I pray…a lot. # 4. Financial Independence I have had some brief times of independence with money but it has not been a shining example of success in my life. I have made huge mistakes in my life, some due to being undiagnosed bipolar disorder. For the past ten years, I have done well and managed to save money. Then I made the mistake of getting married. Yet in spite of that major error in judgment, I managed to preserve my finances to some degree. I am at a place in life at this time where money is a huge issue and concern. I have faith that I am doing what I need to do and will keep working toward this goal. Oh, and I pray… a lot. #5. Faith
I, as many people I imagine, have had struggles with faith. I was raised by people who presented faith and God in way that was confusing and well, downright wrong. I have followed many different paths to God. I have never lost faith but I have never really had the kind of relationship I truly want with God. Some may sneer and say, “Whose fault is that?” and then some rather tired and worn out clichés. I am back in church, I follow a twelve step program and continually work the 11th step, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” Oh and I pray…a lot.