Thursday, April 7, 2011

Breaking Free, so I can fly!

I had the awesome privilege and honor to share my story recently to a great group of women at the annual growth weekend for LIFT Women's Ministry.  It's a little scary for me to be vulnerable in front a group of people, but when asked to speak, I didn't even hesitate in saying yes.  My spirit answered before I did.  God was at work!  In the lives of the women and in my life, too.  I started writing my story out on this blog but had kind of stalled in the process.  It's a really big story and I was breaking it up into chapters, but it's been a while since I updated it.  Even though I haven't finished that process, I feel like it's right to share what I wrote and spoke at the growth weekend.  It is long too, so I'll break it up into 3 posts.  That's sort of how God broke it down as I wrote it out....Step 1, Surrender; Step 2, Community; Step 3, Obey.  The theme of the weekend was "Excuse Me....But These Wings Were Made for Flying" and that's what I used to begin and end my story.

Excuse me…but these wings were made for flying.

How could I ever fly? Please. That kind of statement was written for someone else. Her, over there. The one with the nice, loving parents. The pretty one. The thin one. The one with all the talent. The one with the good job, the great friends, the well behaved kids. Not me. I could never fly. I’m not good enough to fly. And, yet, deep down I always wanted to, I longed for it…

I grew up in a home of massive dysfunction. Love was skewed and distorted so out of shape that it would take me a lifetime to truly learn what real love is. As I grew into a woman, when I encountered real love, I wouldn’t trust it. Instead I would destroy it out of fear. My father physically and verbally abused our entire family, on a very regular basis. Suffering abuse personally is devastating enough, but watching it happen to everyone love and having no power to stop it destroys you to a place that is difficult to explain. What was left behind was a shell of a heart, so broken, confused and hurt that I describe it as a black hole. My heart was a black hole of emptiness that desperately searched everywhere for something to fill it and make it happy.

That’s when I developed the core belief that if I had the things I thought all those other “flying” girls had…you know, a good job, a good husband, good friends, good kids…I’d finally be happy, well and content. I faked my way through life, a master of disguise. I pretended to be outgoing and fun, because when you feel unlovable, that’s how you prove you are having lots of friends. I pretended to be a leader; bold and outspoken. Because that’s how you show people you are confident and secure. No one would like the scared, insecure mess I really was. I was a perfectionist in every area of my life—spending hours a day getting dressed and made up just to leave my house. Making up for how ugly I really felt on the inside by trying to pretty up the outside. At work, I wouldn’t, couldn’t let myself make mistakes. Compensating for the incessant voice in my head that said you are so stupid.

Living this kind of “double life” was exhausting. I went through life feeling like the biggest fraud ever and using all of my energy to pretend I wasn’t.

And then somewhere in that messy life, I started drinking. At 1st it was just like any other 21 year old college student. Parties or barhopping on a Friday or Saturday night. I mean, I wasn’t a 21 year old college student, I was a 25 year old single Mom whose son was with his Dad. But the point is, when I started drinking, I thought it was no big deal and I had no idea where I would end up.

Now when I look back on my drinking I see that it became just another way for me to pretend.  To escape the voices in my head – the ones that said you aren’t good enough, you are ugly, you are stupid, no one likes you. The voices would stop. I could just relax, let go, let my guard down. In reality, it was just a new level of faking it. When the pretending exhausted me, I would escape into a night of drinking.

I went through many years of my life this way. Pretending, faking, drinking. And I was a master at it. So good in fact, that I even had myself convinced I was okay—almost.

One of the worst days of my life was the day I got truly honest with myself for the 1st time. I looked at myself in the mirror as I had done many times before and the feelings of self-loathing, unworthiness and hatred came rising up. And I thought, what is wrong with me? I have all the things I thought a person needed to finally be okay – a great husband who really loved me, a good job that I did well at, a few really good friends who I believed truly like me, I was even a good mother to a well behaved child. I was thinner than most other girls and most days even I could put up with my own appearance. Why then, when the outside was finally all coming together, did the inside still feel like the most black, deep, dark, ugly hole ever? Do you remember the scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch finally realizes that Christmas wasn’t about the presents after all? I had a realization like that too…only it worked out a little better for the Grinch than me. I finally realized that it wasn’t ever really about the outside – it was always about the inside. I walked over to our bed and lay down. I stared up at the ceiling and felt the most hopeless, most empty, most numb I have ever felt in my entire life. I didn’t even cry. I just decided I must accept that this is just how I’m always going to be. This is as good as it gets, Dawn, get used to it.

But God – my 2 favorite words in the Bible – but God had a different plan. I just had to be desperate enough to be willing to try it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there yet. I had been honest with myself that hopeless day. But I wasn’t ready to be honest every day. I had become too dependent on living a lie, faking my life.

The environment I grew up in destroyed the freedom and security we all should have to spread our wings and fly. Fear and insecurity clipped my wings. And that fear and insecurity that kept me on the ground became my comfortable, normal foundation. And over the years I began remodeling by adding my own design elements. But see I was working with broken materials, so instead of building a life I could live in, grown in, mature in, soar in; I constructed a cage that entrapped me. My drinking progressed from a Friday night escape, to a weekend escape and eventually to a daily escape. And it left me so full of shame, guilt and despair that I didn’t have the strength to face it. It was an endless cycle of despair and cover-up. I was getting desperate. Getting but not quite there.

But God – he was constructing too – somehow he got us to church. My husband and I decided it was time to take our children to church. God will use any method he chooses, you know, and through a decision to our children to church, God got me, his precious daughter, into church too. A few foundation shaking events in our life caused us to gingerly start exploring other ways of doing our life. One day in an act of pure genius on my part (actually, we know it was really a miracle of God) I convinced my husband that we had to join the life groups forming at our church. My exact words were – our life is falling apart, we have to do something different because what we are doing now is not working!

This was just the beginning of the process God was going to use to break me free from the chains that held me to the floor of the cage that I had constructed around my life.

In that life group I learned that there is a God who created me just the way I am. A God who loves me just the way I am. A God who forgives me just the way I am. And a God who saves me just the way I am. And I was just desperate enough to believe it. One night in my room by myself, I surrendered my heart to God in every way I knew how to at the time. And he gently, yet extravagantly started loving me. He loved me in such a way that made the promise of a life with Him irresistible. Even though it wasn’t where I felt comfortable, his love made it irresistible.

Shortly after that night, He started dealing with me about my drinking. I’d see scriptures about excessive drunkenness and not inheriting the kingdom of heaven, or how drunkenness leads to death. He’d speak quietly to my heart… “You know this isn’t good for you”; “you are better than this”; and the most beautiful one…”I made you for more than this”.

He was right. So I decided to stop drinking. Drinking wasn’t good for me; it served no purpose in my life. So I gave it up.

The next day on my way home from work, when I couldn’t stop myself from pulling into the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine was when I realized I had a drinking problem. And that began a nearly 4 year battle to break free from the bondage of alcoholism. Let me say that most people would never have known I was an alcoholic. Alcoholism is just like any other mischievous, malicious idol in your life. It’s sneaky and crafty and if you love it – you can learn to hide it well. And you have to remember that I desperately wanted my life to look perfect so being excessively drunk everywhere I went just wasn’t an option for me. Of course I would get really drunk at parties or when out to dinner, but that was around people who drank as much or more, so they never questioned it. And I held my life together pretty well outside of drinking. I had a good job, took care of my children, and had a great marriage. On the outside I looked just like any other busy wife and mother with a nice social life. A few times I thought, well, maybe I have a problem. I should slow down or take a break. And I would for a while. But it was when I made the decision to stop altogether and I couldn’t, that’s when I realized I had no idea just how bad my problem was.

There were several big “God” moments when I thought for sure He was really about to deliver me miraculously from this addiction. Moments of intense emotion, deep and real repentance, long walks down to the altar. But within days I’d be drinking again.

There were probably hundreds and hundreds of hours of quiet prayer and not so quiet prayer. Asking, crying, and pleading for God to deliver me. But I’d drink again, usually that very night.

Can you imagine how hopeless I began to feel?

There were a couple of times of confession to someone close to me in my life. Close but also just far enough away too – does that make sense? A person that was close enough that I could say, well, I confessed this sin to another person but not close enough that they could offer real accountability.

I dabbled in and out of AA. 30 days here, 30 days there. I never really stuck it out or took the suggestions of those who were actually walking out real, long term sobriety.

I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking. I wanted the easy way out I guess. I didn’t want to face the real issues or problems that caused me to drink in the 1st place. I was prideful; I wanted to do it my way. And when that didn’t work quickly enough, I wanted God to come in and wave His magic wand and erase it all from my life. I wanted to pretend and fake like I never really had a problem at all.

But God wanted something else, something better. You see, God is real and true. He isn’t a pretender or a faker. And He desires nothing less for His children. He wants the real you. The messy, broken, ugly you.

But my life had become even more of a fraud. We had become members at our church. I started volunteering, went on mission trips, we were even life group leaders! I was incredibly selfish and irresponsible. I so desperately wanted to pretend that I didn’t have a problem that I abused the trust people placed in me, especially where the church was concerned. The turning point came almost 2 years after that 1st decision to stop drinking. Late one night after my husband and children had gone to bed and I was still up drinking. I was in our guest bathroom about to wash my hands. I stumbled a little at the sink and place my hands on the sink to steady myself. I looked up into the mirror, deep into my own eyes and a whisper came up out of my own throat – who are you? Who are you? This person stumbling in the bathroom is not the same person who went to church earlier this week, who led a life group a few days ago, who prays for people to get healed, a mother, a wife. Who are you? I backed away until my back touched the wall and I slid down to the floor, tears running down my face, weeping. Quietly crying out to God in deep desperation – Oh God, please won’t you take this away from me? You are God. I know you can do it. You can deliver me from this right now. You can take it away. And ever so quietly He answered – You’re right. I could take it away this instant. But this, this, you must give to me. And all of sudden the fogginess in my brain and the tears cleared up and I said, I don’t know what that means! And His quiet voice said, you must surrender this to me. Then I remembered the scripture in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 about Paul asking God 3 times to remove the thorn in his flesh. And God wouldn’t take it way, all he said was, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” The thorn was a symbol of his weakness, to remind him to be dependent on God. And you have to remember, I wasn’t as super spiritual as I am now….I just sat there thinking, OH CRUD—well, that’s just hopeless isn’t it? If I don’t learn how to surrender this weakness to God it’s never going to go away, I’ll have to live with it forever. So a little indigently I said to God – well, if that’s what you want then you’re gonna have to teach me how to surrender, because apparently I don’t know how.

And, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, just like that the true healing started. Because finally, I said fine God, we’ll do it your way. The beginning of breaking free, the starting point is always surrender. It’s so opposite of what we, in our human minds, believe though. We believe surrender is weakness and capture. But to God, surrender is freedom and strength! Surrender it all to God and if you are like me, and can’t figure out how to surrender, go back a step further and ask God to teach you how to surrender. Only then can His power work. His power in your life is activated by your surrender.

Here's a great song about surrender

to be continued.....


faye said...

I love you my daughter. You have come so far in your journey to find peace and happiness, to read this and for me to be so blind to it all is inexcusable . Just know I am proud of you

mrs. V said...

This is a really incredible story. This takes tremendous courage and bravery to share this. I loved you then, as I do now! Warts and all. Because that is how God loves.

Dawn said...

Thanks Em! Thanks for taking the time to read it and to comment. It's truly been an amazing journey. And, as you say, it certainly has taught me how to love myself and others, just as I am, warts and all, because that's how God loves us!