Monthly Archives: November 2013

Food For Thought, Part III

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As I moved through high school, I experienced periods of healing along with periods of simply getting worse more slowly than before. Sometimes I took two steps forward, one step back. Other times it was ten steps back, then two steps forward, then just crawling forward inch by inch. By graduation day, I knew that I was sick and needed help. I began to recognize some of my disordered thoughts and behaviors for what they were. That didn’t mean I stopped, many times I didn’t know how or was too wrapped up in the illness to care. But I saw that some of my thoughts and behaviors were abnormal and unhealthy. Sometimes I was afraid, sometimes I just wanted to be normal, but I wasn’t quite to the place of wanting to fully heal just yet. I’d been sick for so long that I felt it was a large part of my identity, and I wasn’t ready to let it go.

After graduation, I went to my second-choice college. In orientation, the counselors from the health center each spoke about some of the common problems new college students face and what resources were available on campus and in town to help us navigate these challenges. One of the things covered was eating disorders. My heart fluttered as I listened and heard specific things about myself included in the descriptions of disordered thinking and behavior. I was sicker than I’d thought, and I was not alone, not by a long shot. Things I thought I owned were common.

I left that orientation session a little shell-shocked from the new information. I tucked the resources away in the back of my mind, in case I ever felt ready to use them. But the disease had so consumed me, I wanted to see how sick I could get before I had to start getting well. How thin could I REALLY get? How hard could I push my body? How long could I deal with the blackouts and other side effects before collapsing in public, and thus “getting caught?”  This is how sick I was. I actually thought those things. I wanted to push my body to the brink of death, just to see where the brink was. I didn’t care if I fell over the edge. I didn’t consciously want to die, but if I did, I thought I was OK with that. I wanted to stop, to be free, but I didn’t care about actually getting better. I didn’t think I could. I just wanted to be free from the strict litany of rules and the urges and the fun-house mirror distortions. But I didn’t want to be fat, to be noticed, to get hurt again.

Deep within me, the Holy Spirit had been whispering to me for a long time. No. Beloved. Stop. No. Sometimes louder. This is wrong! You’re hurting yourself! It hurts ME when you do these things. Can’t you see I have plans for you? Beloved.  And I would tell him Lord, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Please don’t make me. This is MINE, I don’t want to give it to You and anyway, I don’t know how. I do not trust You with this part of me. Don’t let people see me. I just don’t want to hurt anymore. This doesn’t hurt. Let me have this. It’s mine. I want to serve You, but I don’t want to get hurt so that means keeping people out. If they can’t see me they can’t hurt me. Just let me do this. Let me disappear. And then God would be silent, and I was alone. I’d feel empty. So I’d try to fill the emptiness with runner’s highs and hunger.

Those first few weeks of college, I reveled in my new-found freedom. With no family meals to worry about, no friends holding my spot at our lunch table, I ate less than ever before. And with a beautiful campus where I could run and hike and a free gym with all kinds of equipment, I was in anorectic/non-purging type bulimic/ED-NOS heaven. I rarely went to the dining hall. I lost weight more quickly than I’d ever been able to at home. And I loved it, but I felt like crap. And of course, it wasn’t enough to appease the disease. It demanded ever more, more pounds shed, more ticks on the pedometer, more time in the gym, fewer calories. I began to black out more frequently. I couldn’t concentrate in class and frequently skipped class to exercise. The numbness and tingling in my extremities got worse. And one day, I finally collapsed during a run. Just blacked out and fell, mid-stride. Fortunately it happened in a well-populated area of campus and a cute boy came to my rescue. He scooped me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to his car, then drove me to the health center. He asked if I wanted him to stay with me, but I told him I’d be OK and gave him a winning smile. I never saw him again.

As I waited to see the nurse, I filled out the necessary forms and took in my surroundings. The medical scale in the corner naturally grabbed my attention. There was a large plant by the check-in counter, and a book shelf filled with those clear plastic brochure holders.  Any mental health-related issue you can imagine a college student dealing with, they had a colorful brochure for it.There were some on eating disorders I made mental notes of; some on depression, learning disorders, pregnancy and STDs, drugs and alcohol. Then it was my turn to see the nurse.

She examined my ankle and felt like it was probably just a sprain, so she splinted it and issued me a loaner pair of crutches. She gave me some samples of Aleve and told me to visit the hospital in the morning for an X-ray if the pain got worse or wasn’t improving, and gave me my discharge information. And then she flipped to a new page on her clipboard. She asked how I was liking school so far, if I was making friends, had I tried any of the clubs or extra curricular activities. She said they ask any student visiting the health center for any reason a few standard questions and smiled. I was caught a little off guard by some of her questions, and the fall had scared me, so I answered more honestly than I otherwise might have. She looked a little concerned and asked if she could introduce me to one of the staff counselors. I said yes, and immediately regretted it.

 

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Food For Thought, Part II

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The girl I was would not recognize the woman I am. She would find me repulsive and mystifying. She would think me crazy, and would turn away from me in disgust. At my sickest, I often ran my fingers over my bones, mesmerized by their shape. I felt frustrated and angry at myself when I could only feel part of a bone, when stupid, ugly flesh, even organs, got in my way. I pinched and poked and wrapped my bony fingers and hands around parts of me, trying to gauge their size and create new unrealistic goals. I saw fat girls, some who were actually overweight, but most of whom were probably healthy or even too thin, eating ice cream or mashed potatoes. They repulsed, mystified, and confused me. WHY would they do that to themselves? Didn’t they know how disgusting they were? I could not imagine liking myself, appearing happy like they did, while eating like THAT, looking like THAT. I am truly, deeply ashamed of how judgmental I was. It pains me to remember these cruel thoughts, and to think of the friendships and opportunities I missed out on.

Oddly enough, some of my closest friends were very heavy. Their attitudes and behaviors confused me, but their genuine friendship, their true beauty in spite of their weight, their acceptance and love for ME,  softened my heart and my thoughts. These girls showed me the love of Christ in the way I most needed it, and that love and joy for life overshadowed anything physical. When we were together, we laughed. We prayed. We studied. We shared secrets. And we ate. I let my guard down and began to trust, and to eat. And when we were together, eating wasn’t so bad. When I was alone later, assessing the damage, it wasn’t as bad as I’d previously believed it would be. It was still unpleasant, but it was not Anathema.

Even though I was beginning to heal, I was still very, very sick throughout my teen years. I would frequently black out when I tried to stand. I’d lose feeling in my feet and legs. I was always cold. At one point, my hair began turning grey. I felt high when my blood sugar got low, and I liked it. The goal of my bedtime workout session was to push my body until it literally could not go anymore. Then I’d claw my way into bed and do whatever exercises I could, lying there, until I literally could not move. At some point early in high school, as I started making friends, I began to see that there was something wrong. And over time, I knew I needed help. I had no way to get it, but I knew that if I kept on living the way I was living, I was going to die.

Food For Thought, Part I

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Every crumb that entered my body consumed me. Every morsel occupied my entire mind before it entered my mouth. Every calorie crowded out the important and the mundane. Every bite required atonement. To live was death. To think about anything real was pain. So I stayed hungry and focused on that. I thought about what I could see and touch: my legs, my stomach, muscle definition and hair and what I could pinch and where and how much. I believed somewhere deep inside that if I could just shrink down small enough, I’d be invisible. And if they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hurt me. If nobody saw me they couldn’t punish me for crashing through glass walls. Not my parents, not my peers. If only they couldn’t see me, they would just leave me be.

Clinical anxiety is largely misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. An undercurrent of anxiety ran through my consciousness every waking moment. When I had nothing to worry about, my brain would find something. As I went through puberty, the changes in my body became an easy target. I was an early bloomer, and so went from a socially awkward child to a socially awkward adolescent who stood a head above her peers and whose developing breasts were, therefore, at eye level for her pubescent male peers. I went from being a target who could hide behind her books and stay out of the way, to a giant target with acne and frizzy hair with nowhere to hide except in giant tee shirts and hoodies.

I obsessed about my weight and measurements. I weighed first thing in the morning, then over and over again throughout the day, before and after anything I thought might affect my weight by even an ounce. I measured various parts of my body morning and night, and replaced my tape measure frequently in case it stretched out with use. I studied nutrition, gleaning everything I could about what nutrients we require to live and what different ones did. When I ate, I ate things that I thought would not make me gain weight (this was of course the most important criteria), that would help me not starve myself into blindness or hair loss, things that were supposed to be good for my skin and nails and kidney function. I had an extremely strict, very limited diet and all kinds of tricks to stick to it without being found out. I had a trove of tricks for staving off hunger as long as possible and distracting myself from the pangs.

I tried to induce vomiting a handful of times, but no matter what I tried I physically could not do it. I’d gag and gag, but never could get anything to come up. So I gave up on that traditional method of purging and turned to over-exercising instead. I’d sneak in reps of different exercises throughout the day whenever I could get away with it, in addition to my regular after school session and my more private, secret hour-long session before bed. I researched the most effective ways to burn calories and fat. Towards the end of middle school and entering high school when I had been suffering from this disease for several years already, I got careless. I was finally making some friends, and some of them began to suspect and to worry. So I had to reevaluate some of my strategies. If I was making friends and spending time with them outside of school or church, that left me with less time to sneak in exercise and more encounters with food to navigate my way through. But I found that as I began to make some real friends, missed sets and reps bothered me less.

I would read about actresses and supermodels who were taller and thinner than me and think dammit, why can’t I get below x weight and y body fat? I’m just not working hard enough. I don’t have enough self-control. I’m not a REAL anorexic. But I realize now, I just am not built to get that thin. I have hips and broad shoulders, and no amount of diet or exercise will change your bone structure. But even when I could feel my bones, even when some of my unrealistic, unhealthy goals were met, it never satiated. It was a competition, I was losing, and that was unacceptable.

Those friends I mentioned earlier, the ones who began to worry and suspect, they accepted me and liked me for who I was. They were real friends, my first. God used them, among other things, to begin to rebuild my shattered self esteem. Through those friendships, He began to show me His love. Some of the goals, preoccupations, and lies began to slip away, just a little bit at a time. When I went away to college, the health center offered free counseling. I’d known for about a year that I needed help, but I had no way to get it. In college, away from the stresses of home, I found the courage to finally begin the healing process.

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Essential Fridays Linkup

Singed

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A couple of years after Nancy and Ellie came to live with us, we experienced a major tragedy together. Our home burned to the ground, along with most of our possessions.

It happened on a beautiful Fall day: crisp, cool air, just a few white fluffy clouds in the sky, leaves just beginning to change. While working in the kitchen, Mother caught a whiff of that awful stench: melting plastic. She frantically looked around the kitchen, but found nothing. Then we all heard a pop, followed by crackling.

Mother ran into the living room and ushered us all outside. She and Nancy did a headcount once we got to the curb and realized my brother was not with us. Mother ran back inside and found him hiding in the hall closet, clutching his blankie and crying quietly. She scooped him up and ran.

After depositing him safely in “Mommy Nancy’s” arms, she ran back in a second time, and then a third, and a fourth. Over and over, she ran back in. I remember increasingly large puffs of smoke pouring out the front door each time it opened. The neighbors gathered at the end of the driveway with us, watching in shock. Nobody tried to stop her.

After each trip back into the burning building, she ran to the end of the driveway to deposit an armload of things in a growing pile. Mostly photo albums and family movies, but she grabbed other things too: nick knacks, blankets and pillows, whatever she could snatch from the flames’ path. She only stopped when she went to open the door one last time and the flames singed her hair.

My dad came flying into the cul-de-sac around the same time as the fire engines. I remember him hoisting me up into a bear hug and asking Mom if everyone made it out OK. We watched the jets of water shoot into our crumbling house. It seemed like hours before the smoke began to slow. The flames won, rendering our home nothing but piles of black rubble. A neighbor brought blankets out to wrap around the children. She invited us in for cocoa to help us warm up while Mom dealt with the police, firemen, and insurance agent. I think I only took a couple of sips of cocoa. I remember staring into the thick, sand-colored mug in shock. Grown-ups were talking around me, but it sounded distorted, like I was under water.

We spent the night in a cheap motel, then moved into a rental house for several months while our house was rebuilt. I don’t remember much about the rental house except for drab, grey walls, and a window seat overlooking the back yard. It was my favorite spot in the house. Somehow cozy and magical, it made me feel safe, and provided the perfect spot to immerse myself in a good book or day dream. I’ve loved window seats ever since then.

Daddy did not live in the rental house with us. This was one of the separations when we didn’t see him much. The fire took the only home he’d ever known and left him devastated. He lacked healthy coping tools, so he withdrew and sunk deeper into his addiction. As soon as our new house was ready, he came around again. I don’t know if he moved back in, but he was there every night after work, playing, reading stories, tucking in, eating dinner.

Some of our things were salvaged and professionally treated for smoke damage, including my favorite doll. I cried the day Mom brought her to the rental house. I hugged my dolly tight and didn’t let her out of my sight for months.

I developed PTSD after the fire. I had a recurring night terror about it for years where I was trapped in the burning house and couldn’t get out, complete with feeling the heat and smelling the smoke. I haven’t had that particular one in a long time, but I do still get occasional night terrors about fire. I’m still pyrophobic. If someone lights a match or lighter anywhere near me, it’s all I can do not to panic. I DID panic until a few years ago. I would scream and back away in terror, seeing the flame burst out of control before me. This got some weird looks, and I had to explain about the house fire to many friends over the years. None understood. I was never evaluated for PTSD until college.

Family Economics

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Mother had a stable but low-paying career working with children. Daddy worked at the family business, with a few short breaks. It was an extremely profitable but seasonal business. We maintained certain standards year-round: If we wanted a new toy or other luxury, we could either get it with our allowance or wait until Christmas/our birthday. We occasionally got a small amount of “allowance credit,” but were not taught anything about long-term planning. We didn’t go out to sit-down restaurants or order pizza very often (although we did eat a lot of fast food during the busy season.) We didn’t attend many movies, skating rinks, Chuck-E-Cheese, or other places that charged money for entertainment; except for special treats. And even during the brief time we were on food stamps, Mother always made sure to put a little something in the offering plate at church. My parents also maintained some luxuries whenever possible, even if that meant forgoing groceries or other necessities: Mom’s hair was always salon-dyed (as was mine once I reached the proper age), nails always painted, make-up always done. Mother forced me to have my hair dyed for years, but I could manage to avoid the nails and make-up if I really worked at it. She bullied me and sometimes withheld privileges if I failed to comply. We occasionally received hand-me-down clothing from our cousins, but we never purchased clothing or toys second-hand. Dad frequently traded his sports car or pickup truck for a newer model, owned the biggest TV on the market, and had a personal computer before anyone else on the block, in addition to the recreational drugs. We had a cleaning lady most of the time, but would occasionally cancel her services for a few weeks during the slower months. Even when the cleaning lady was on hiatus, we had very few chores.

During the busy months, Mom and Dad saved for the slower months, but it seemed they never put back enough. They kept a specific fund that could not be touched unless a dire emergency arose: the Christmas fund. Christmas was an elaborate celebration in our family. We wore brand-new matching outfits to the Christmas eve service at church. We opened our brand-new matching Christmas PJs Christmas eve, to wear to bed and then for pictures Christmas morning. Mother prepared a feast for our extended family on Christmas day. And the gifts, oh, the gifts. Each year we prepared a list of desired presents at Mother’s prompting. This list had to be long enough to share with the extended family and still leave enough to flood the house with gifts from Mother, Father, and Santa on Christmas morning. If the first list wasn’t long enough, we had to add to it. Gifts would be piled everywhere, under the tree, on the furniture, under the dining room table, around the hearth. Mother would choose the items from our lists that she found acceptable and would pass some of them on to extended family to purchase for us. The rest, if she deemed them acceptable she tried to find them at the best possible prices. If she could not glean enough gift ideas from our lists, she still felt compelled to drain the Christmas fund, so she purchased things seemingly at random, or things that fit her taste, things she wanted us to like.  As an example, once I reached the appropriate age, I usually received large amounts of make-up, especially kits, either from expensive department store brands or even occasionally drug store brands. Mother trained us not only to smile and say thank you, but to effuse over each gift and spend some time playing with it enthusiastically for the camera. Christmas meant more than just gifts, of course, but I will save the rest of the traditions and memories for another entry.

So even though an abundant Christmas fund sat in the bank, if the money ran out during the slow season Mother and Father would not touch it unless a true emergency arose. This meant that sometimes we ate nothing but pasta and hamburger for weeks at a time. Other times it meant we had three meager meals and no snacks, left with rumbling tummies for much of the day and night. Complaints about hunger elicited a number of responses, ranging from denial to charges of ungratefulness, belittling to annoyance. Meal and snack times and amounts were set and they had better be enough or we could “get over it.” Sometimes I would sneak food, even hiding boxes and wrappers in my room or in strategic places around the house. If I got caught I was reprimanded, and punished by missing the next snack or meal. As I got older, I would gorge myself in secret on grocery day so that at least for one day I wouldn’t go hungry.

We also had to wear worn-out and out-grown clothing and shoes until Christmas, and then whatever we got for Christmas had to last us until the busy season, growth spurts not being accounted for. This meant that some years we went without winter coats, appropriate shoes, and occasionally no socks and one fitting pair of underwear. If we got down to no underwear that fit, then mother would pick up a few pairs, but that was pretty much the only exception. Child Services got involved on a couple of occasions, but that would only fix the clothing situation for that year. The following winter we reverted to the old way of doing things.

During the busy season, we lived the high life. With Daddy’s first big paycheck or two, Mom and Dad would catch up on the mortgage and any other lapsed bills. Then, right before Spring Break, we’d go on a huge shopping spree for our Spring wardrobes. We shopped the sales racks first, but after exhausting those we paid full price for the remainder. We’d get new water shoes or flip flops, sandals (sometimes two or three pairs for the girls), hiking boots, sneakers, at least two pairs of dress shoes, at least two swim suits and a cover-up each, church clothes, school clothes, and of course, play clothes for the long summer. We’d also each get one especially fancy outfit just for Easter. After Easter, the special outfits might be worn to a Summer wedding, but we usually only wore them once or twice and then donated them. We always did something for Spring Break; sometimes just an inexpensive camping trip to the lake or a park, other years Disney World or the beach or a water park, depending on how the busy season started out that year. We would have another huge shopping trip at the end of the school year to replace any outgrown clothing and fill out our Summer wardrobes. During the Summer, we always made at least one trip to an exclusive beach resort or theme park. We stayed in luxury suites, condos, or even rented a townhouse. We attended lots of summer camps: some VBSes, some educational day camps, and some sleep-away camps. We did lots of what people now call “staycation” stuff, seeing local attractions and such. And some years, we took an educational trip, such as visiting Washington, D.C.; Colonial Williamsburg, VA; the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, to name a few. Some of these trips early in the season went on credit cards that my parents then ended up making payments on into the Winter, contributing to our economic difficulties in the lean months.

My parents saved for retirement, but a tragedy wiped out most of those savings in my teen years. More on that later. They did not, however, save for our college educations and even with an upper-class income between the two of them, they paid for a lot of things with credit for a long, long time.

My Junior year of college, Mother called me out of the blue one day to tell me that there was no more money. And that was that. I’d chosen an intense major and didn’t even have time to look for a job, let alone actually work one. It was too late in the semester to drop any classes without penalty to find work, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I paid for everything with credit. Car insurance and gas, cell phone, prescription medication, and any incidentals that came up. That semester I flunked out, mainly for unrelated reasons but it would be naive to say that stress had no effect on my studies. I don’t know how my brother managed to get by. My sister managed to pick up more hours at her part-time job, and allowed her boyfriend to help her make ends meet. Mother has no recollection of this. She and Dad managed to get through that Winter somehow.

Discipline

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My mother worked with children for over 30 years. She describes her disciplinary style as “nurturing but strict.” Between my dad’s strong personality, high intelligence, and his parents’ neglect, he found a lot of creative ways to keep himself occupied as a child. So anything we even thought about doing, he had either done or thought about doing. I think many parents probably believe this of themselves, but I digress. Of the three, Nancy stands out as the most reasonable and effective disciplinarian. Nearly as strict as mother, creative like father, but she bested them both in consistency and structure. During the first several years that Nancy lived with us, she left us with little time to get into trouble. She came up with appropriate punishments and applied them consistently to any child in the family. She made reasonable rules, and if she made changes, they made sense and did not apply retroactively.

My parents strongly believed in the punishment fitting the crime, but often disagreed on the details when it came to living out that philosophy. The rules of the house and the consequences of breaking them changed frequently. Sometimes a rule seemingly erupted from nowhere, with additional consequences for not inherently knowing how to behave. They enforced most rules sporadically. If one parent disagreed with another’s discipline, they simply overrode it with their own harsher or more lenient punishment, or disregarded it. Like most children of the eighties, we got time outs. We lost toys and privileges. We occasionally got  spanked. I think this one may be more of a cultural thing than an era thing, but we occasionally got “whupped” with a “switch,” or a long, thin hickory twig stripped of its leaves.  For the worst infractions, we had to select the switch ourselves. It had to be just the right thickness, color, and length. Then we had to strip the leaves from it ourselves. Occasionally, the entire punishment consisted of the mental anguish and anticipation involved in choosing and preparing the switch. Dad still kept that switch handy for a few days to help us remember not to repeat the infraction. When we got “a whoopin,” he aimed to leave marks and make it painful for us to sit the next day as a reminder of our wrongdoing, without breaking the skin. And he never did break the skin. I say he because although mother might occasionally prescribe the switch, she never implemented it herself. That task belonged to father. Mother preferred a wooden spoon.

My teen years brought many changes. My parents were trying to learn how to function as a stable married couple, and we all had to learn how to operate as a family unit without Nancy and Ellie (we still saw them most days, but it’s different when you live in different houses). My dad was adjusting to life without drugs, learning how to be a full-time father and husband, trying to get to know this God who pulled him from the very brink of death, and rebuilding himself and his entire life.  My mother was living with some serious health problems and had to take a prolonged leave of absence from work. And, there were three teenagers living under one roof.

Grounding became the punishment of choice. Grounding ranged from simply being confined to the house for a few days to losing everything in our rooms, including furniture, except for bare essentials, then being confined to our room for up to a month with no phone privileges, no visitors. This is where the inconsistent discipline really blossomed. Whatever level of grounding we originally received never stood. Within a day, the length of the grounding got extended or shortened, and might change again several times before someone decided we had learned our lesson and earned our privileges back. The severity also fluctuated from day to day and from child to child. My brother always received preferential treatment, but after Nancy and Ellie moved out in junior high, the favoritism exploded. He got away with things “us girls” never could, and when he did get in trouble he got off a lot easier than either of us. My sister and I felt like either she or I might receive favor while the other sister sunk to the status of “the bad one.” These roles usually lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before reversing.

We may have gotten jealous from time to time, but we never resented my brother for his position in the family. He did nothing to try to earn or gain special treatment, it was simply bestowed upon him. And whichever of us was on good terms with our parents always tried to help the other one out if we could without jeopardizing our own favor. We had kind of an understanding about that. On rare occasions, neither of us were favored and we just walked on eggshells together until they either decided one of us was worse or better than the other again, thus giving one of us the coveted position of Favorite Daughter.

“Heart Sisters”

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When I was three years old, my mother needed to raise three babies with no job, no family nearby, and a transient husband. She also suffered from a slew of medical issues. She needed help. Right around this time, a family friend’s sister lost her husband. She had nowhere to go. We had a spare room. Our family friend wisely put us together, and her sister and three-year-old niece moved in with us. So now our family consisted of two mothers, sometimes a father, and four children under the age of four.

Ellie fit in seamlessly with my siblings and I, and we grew up as a close-knit sibling group of four. We did everything together: vacations, family portraits, holiday celebrations, the works. And Ellie’s mother, Nancy, became fast friends with my mother and like an aunt to us kids. She and my mom shared the load equally whenever my dad left, each acting as a parent to all four of us. When Daddy lived at home, he treated Ellie as one of his own and she called him Daddy. Family meetings and discipline included all four children.

At some point, we decided we needed a special term to describe our relationships because, in our limited experience, there just didn’t seem to be a fitting term. “Oh, so you and your sister have different dads?” “Yeah, and different moms too. But nobody’s adopted, and we all live together.” Those discussions drew a lot of confused looks. So we coined the phrase “heart sisters” and “heart aunt,” terms of endearment we still use as adults. But mostly, we’re just a family, no modifiers needed.

Prince Charming

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I grew up a total Daddy’s Girl. He was big and strong and fun and smart, and he gave the best hugs. I wanted to be just like him. He’d rough house with us, but I always felt safe with him. My Daddy would never let anything bad happen to me. I’d watch him and emulate the way he sat, stood, walked, even his posture when we rode an escalator. I would do just about anything to spend time with him.

As I got older, he spent less and less time at home. He and my mom separated sometimes, and he would still come play with us after work, but then would go wherever he was living after we went to bed. As a child I didn’t understand.  I knew that I missed him terribly when he was gone. I found out sometime in my teen years that he had struggled with addiction since before I was born. He left to protect us. Sometimes someone from his community of dealers and users would threaten his family, other times the drugs made him paranoid. For years, he kept the drugs from my mom.

My great aunt taught my mama how to go to war in prayer. They prayed that any bed but his marriage bed with my mother would feel like a bag of rocks. A couple of the times when he moved out he asked her if he could take their mattress with him because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anywhere else!

Near the end of my childhood, he stopped coming home to see us every night. This was new, and I hated it. I felt angry and confused. When I asked my mom where he was, she averted her eyes and made excuses. Sometimes we’d go nearly a week without seeing or hearing from him. I needed my Daddy. I began waiting up for him, sometimes falling asleep in odd places. One day, something happened at school and I really needed to talk to my dad about it, but I didn’t know how to reach him. It had been a few days already since he’d come home, so I hoped all day that he would show up that night. He didn’t. I was crushed. So I wrote him a note. I told him what happened at school, and how much I needed him there to talk to me and help me through it. How I missed him. I poured my little heart out into that note, and solemnly gave it to my mom, asking her to give it to him if he ever bothered coming back. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed her that pink envelope.

Since the letter was for my Daddy, I never thought that she might open it and read it first. At her desk she sat, weeping over my words, my hurt, late into the night. In the morning she called him and read him my letter, barely holding herself together as she felt my pain meet her own for the hundredth time. Where her tears and begging met with stony resistance, seeing the pain he had caused his daughter was too much. He came home that night and stayed for a couple of days. Then, he gathered us all at his knee and told us that he had to go on a trip. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but he promised to call every day and send postcards and letters when he could. My sister and I cried and begged him to stay, but he said this was just something that he had to do and that when he came back, he would see us every day. I believed him. I was willing to part with him again for a while if it meant getting to be a real family again.

For my dad’s “trip,” he spent a couple of days detoxing on the couch with the one “clean” person he felt he could trust. The detox nearly killed him before he finally gave in and let his friend take him to the hospital.

I remember visiting him in rehab. I didn’t like it there. It felt like a weird hotel, not a home. It bothered me knowing he had to sleep there. And I didn’t feel like we could be ourselves there. I wanted him to come home. But Daddy was sick, and this was a special hospital where he could get better. When we visited him, he’d read to us or we could play cards or board games with him. I liked that, it felt more normal. As time passed, he seemed different. I remember feeling hesitant and unsure about the changes I saw in him. Some days, he seemed sad and didn’t talk much. He’d be distracted while we played. Other days he was much as he’d always been, just my happy, fun, big strong Dad. But even on those days, something was definitely different.

I remember the day he came home. It felt like a dream, I was so afraid I’d wake up and he’d be back in the hospital. I wanted to never stop hugging him. But he was actually home, and he never left us again. He’d hit rock bottom and found Jesus waiting to pick him up. He started going to church with us, and soon we got baptized as a family at the church that helped my mother pray him out of addiction without even knowing what exactly they were battling.

My dad doesn’t know how to do anything half-way, so when he met Jesus he dove into the relationship head first and immersed himself in the Bible. After a few years, he felt the need for a solid Biblical education, so he went to divinity school and became an ordained minister. Now, he is my “go-to” guy for questions about the Bible and theology. He and my mother are deeply in love and devoted to one another. They’re that sweet older couple you see still holding hands in public, teasing and grinning at each other like a couple of teenagers. They’ve been that way, with surprising consistency, for over a decade. My dad has ministered to countless addicts over the years, some in prison and some on the outside. He’s performed several weddings and been a guest speaker in churches in three different states, telling his story. As a family, we have seen so many prayers answered, so many miracles. I hope to share many of them with you soon.

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