Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pain is Determined to do It's Job

The other night I was doing my normal nightly routine, channel surfing and checking my email/facebook etc., when I saw that Hallmark had a movie on, and I thought, “oh another corny Hallmark movie…well there’s nothing better on so I’ll give it a shot.” Then, I realized about 20 minutes into it, it was the story of Lois Wilson, co-founder of Al Anon, and her husband, a recovering alcoholic, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Needless to say all of a sudden I found myself completely locked-in. I’m a sucker for a true story of someone who overcame insurmountable odds.

As I watched the memories started coming back. I started thinking about how addiction is associated with so much pain - pain for the one that is drowning in their addiction, and pain for the one who has to watch. I have been in both positions in my life, and the memories can still bring tears to my eyes.

Growing up I had a mother who was an alcoholic. I had a very painful childhood filled with uncertainty and questions. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand back then, like what kinds of emotional issues my mom was facing, or what codependency was, or what having an addiction meant. But I do remember vowing to never become a slave to addiction. Sadly, I was not able to uphold that vow. By the time I was 18 I was on a path of self-destruction including sexual promiscuity as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

Near the end of my 2nd year of college I discovered I was pregnant. It was a definite turning point for me. Now my choices didn’t just affect me negatively. There was a baby growing inside of me, and he didn’t do anything to deserve alcohol poisoning or birth defects. For some people, for reasons I don’t quite understand, that is not enough to end addiction for them. Try as they may, they won’t be able to quit even when what they are doing threatens the life of someone they love. I don’t know how I was able to do what I did, grace? My crisis pregnancy not only was the leverage I needed to turn my life around, but my son Nick, who is now 12 years old has been one of the greatest blessings in life up to this point. The world will try to tell you that an unplanned baby will destroy your life; therefore you must abort it. For me, having a baby saved my life. I can’t imagine where I’d be today if I hadn’t had those tough decisions to make. Would I be alive? Would I have made it through? Would I be the person I am today, would I have the family I am madly in love with? No one will ever know, but deep inside, I fear the answer to all those questions could very possibly be “No.”

The root of all addiction is pain - and not just any old ordinary pain. I’m talking about deep, horrendous, searing hot pain…the kind of pain that you will slowly kill yourself to get away from. I always thought that pain should be avoided at all cost. Until someone tells you otherwise, it is natural to move away from pain. No one likes it, it’s uncomfortable to say the least and our instincts tell us to run from it. I’d like to suggest however that pain is a good thing.

I remember quite a few years back I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that featured the story of a little girl who had a disease called Hereditary Sensory Neuropathy. This disease affects the sensory nerves that would tell you when something hurts, or when you’re in pain. She had come to the ER with severe injuries, and the doctors found out later she had been taking beatings at school from the bullies, to protect her friends. This episode greatly impacted me because at the end of the show, her injuries are so severe she ends up losing her life. Imagine that. She lost her life because she couldn’t feel pain. In some of our worst moments, I wonder how many people have wished the pain away. How many have begged and bartered with God, willing to make any deal if they could just get rid of the pain. After watching that show, I got the revelation that for my whole life I had been afraid of something that was there to help me. I finally surrendered to the idea of embracing pain. I can’t explain it other than it was like a light switch turning on for me. I suddenly didn’t see pain as the dreaded thing to avoid at ALL costs. Pain was there to direct me, to guide me, to point out what needed change, what wasn’t working for my life. We need pain, without it we die.

I challenge you in this. Change your mind about pain. Watch the video I’ve attached at the bottom of this blog, and decide that from here on out, pain is a tool in your toolbox that is going to move you towards freedom and feeling powerful. Because when you embrace pain, when you listen to it, and let it tell you what to fix, the amazing thing is, it goes away! Drowning it in alcohol doesn’t make it leave, smoking it out with mind altering drugs doesn’t make it go away. Eating until you’re as big as house doesn’t make it go away, and neither does sleeping with a different person every weekend. You can sometimes suppress pain for a moment, but the harder you push it away, the stronger it comes back. Pain is determined to do it’s job.

I want to dedicate this blog to you Mom. I am so proud of you! It’s 2010 now and you’ve been sober for 7 years! I am so filled with joy when I think of all you have been able to concquer. Keep it up, we all love you and I’m so glad I got my mom back!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Strength and Vulnerability

Women by nature were designed to be responders. We are not the head, we are not the covering, we are not by nature the stronger sex. At times we can fulfill that role for a season, but deep inside we know we were not designed to operate that way (just ask a single mom). We flourish when we are covered, protected, known, understood, cherished and empowered. We feel most safe when we are connected to someone who will fight for us (preferably our husband is playing that role), and someone who will go to the ends of the earth to partner with us in our destiny and what we were born to do on this earth. There are so many things that can mess up this equation, starting with the environment we were raised in.

Did our father cherish us and declare our beauty? Did he protect us when the world felt scary? Did he love our mother with intense commitment? Did he establish firm boundaries in the home and strong leadership? Was our mother a powerful woman? I’m not saying was our mother aggressive, I’m saying did she know who she was, did she know she was loved, and did she know what she was born for? Sadly, for most of us we’d have to answer “no” to many of those questions. So right off the bat as women we find ourselves deeply insecure, afraid of the world, feeling unprotected, invalidated and powerless. Let me give you a few examples of how that can lead to a very bad choice for marriage:

Scenario number 1, the Bad Boy: When a woman is on a desperate hunt for strength, sometimes outward aggression, or the appearance of danger and risk can be a deceptive imposter. The problem with the Bad Boy is he is just as insecure as the deeply afraid woman, and he has no true identity. He is living life for the thrill of it, he is a taker and not a giver. He is self-centered and looks for a woman who is a high nurturer who will do and do and do for him without ever requiring anything in return. He is not dependable, he is not a protector and he is not strong. He is weak. His default tools are control and intimidation. The only way he feels powerful is to crush everyone around him. At the end of his life he will have left a trail of destruction including broken hearts and burned bridges, or worse, broken bodies and spirits (for men who take the aggression to the extreme and become physically abusive). A woman in this marriage will feel terrified, oppressed, hopeless and extremely isolated.

Scenario number 2, the Nice Guy: For those who are smart enough to stay away from the Bad Boy, don’t be too quick to pat yourselves on the back. You may just find yourself in a leaderless marriage, and that can feel very scary. Maybe the Nice Guy would never raise a hand to you. Maybe he’s super polite and everyone loves him. Maybe he is very kind to the children and is very well mannered. And maybe he is just scared. Scared to set boundaries, scared to lead, scared to be powerful. Maybe he is scared to stand up to his parents and defend his wife. Maybe he is emotionally checked-out and spends a lot of time hiding from his problems. A woman in this marriage can start to feel out of control. She may start testing her husband by doing reckless and irresponsible things like spending enormous amounts of money, having affairs or developing addictions. It may seem like she is just selfish and crazy. But I have known women like this. And at the deepest part of their core they really just want to know that beyond the nice polite fa├žade, there is a strong man in there! One that is willing to say “enough!” One who is willing to grow up and face the issues. One who is willing to fight for her, fight for himself, and fight for their marriage! It’s not enough to be a Nice Guy. Women need strength. Without it we will flounder.

Scenario number 3, the Player: Sometimes when we haven’t been loved properly as little girls, we begin to find all of our identity in our beauty or our sex appeal. We feel so drawn-in to the handsome, charismatic playboy who is only conquered by the most beautiful woman. But what we don’t realize is his identity is all wrapped up in the thrill of the hunt and the chase. Once that’s over, he’s on to the next hunt. A playboy will never be faithful. He doesn’t have the strength for it. His eyes will always be wandering and his heart is never attached to one woman. Try as he may he doesn’t have what it takes to be loyal. A wife in this marriage will never feel like she is enough. She will always feel like she didn’t measure up, there was something wrong with her. Life in this marriage is very lonely, depressing, and humiliating.

Scenario number 4, the Life of the Party: We’ve all known a guy like this. He lights up the room as soon as he walks in. He is so funny, so charming, so disarming. It doesn’t matter how mad you are at him, he somehow manages to make you laugh. And let’s not forget how spontaneous and romantic he is. Mr. Life of the Party is probably one of the best boyfriends in the world, and also probably one of the most difficult men to be married to and build a life with. He doesn’t do long-term projects well. He bores easily. Commitment and responsibility for him is such a drag. After a few years feeling married to him feels like you’re married to a five year old. After you’ve caught him in about 100 lies or “exaggerations” you begin to doubt everything that comes out of his mouth. Life in this marriage can feel extremely unsafe, extremely discouraging, and some days you feel like the only adult, the nag, and the only one working.

So what does true strength look like? I can tell you this, it does not have one personality, it has many. True strength doesn’t have an age and it doesn’t have a certain type of career. A man who has found his strength is a treasure. He has not been emasculated by American culture. He is healed from any wounds of the past, he has a solid identity and knows who he is and what he was born for. He comes to a woman with something to offer, he is not looking to take away. He comes with strength. He is kind and gentle when appropriate, and also fierce and fatal when need be. He knows how to take risks, and he knows how to meet needs. He knows how to require respect, and he knows how to give respect. He is not intimidated by other’s strengths, he is motivated by them. When healthy women get around a man with true strength, they are inspired, they feel empowered and they feel safe. Strong men are not afraid of developing themselves and challenging themselves. Men with a lot of strength are not afraid to say no, and they are not afraid to say yes. And here’s the kicker, strong men look for healthy, vulnerable women.

What is a healthy vulnerable woman? She has not abandoned her femininity in order to survive this harsh cold world. She is healed from wounds of the past and she has a solid identity and knows who she is and what she was born for. She knows that being vulnerable does not mean she is needy or weak, however she is not afraid to admit that she needs the strength of a man to flourish. She is proud of her vulnerability, she knows it is what makes her beautiful. Does a flower wish to be a boulder? I would hope not! We need the beauty and delicate nature of flowers in this world. Can you imagine a world with no flowers? A vulnerable woman communicates what she needs and what she feels instead of giving orders or demanding change. A vulnerable woman is comfortable with herself and trusting when appropriate, she is also a queen who by her very royal nature commands the highest levels of respect. When healthy men get around a vulnerable and confident woman, they feel inspired to protect her, they feel alive with purpose, and motivated to provide for her and empower her.

If you are a woman who is dating a Bad Boy, a Nice Guy, a Player or the Life of the Party – take another look at what you really want out of life. If you married one, don’t despair. There is hope! I have seen these types of relationships healed and made whole again. It requires a lot of work on both sides, it requires a woman who is willing to get vulnerable again, and it requires a man who is willing to dig deep and find his strength. There are amazing resources for this. For women, check out “Captivating” by John & Staci Eldredge. For men, “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge.

I recommend for women to read Captivating first, and then Wild at Heart so she can understand herself, as well as her man. I recommend the same for men. Read Wild at Heart first, and then Captivating to understand yourself and your wife!