gratitude

Dissonance

I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

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With my friend Nicole in 2009, not long after I began working the Steps

A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.

I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.

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How I spend my time today

Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.

I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.

Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?

Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?

I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly. 

I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.

“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”

I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!

Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.

When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.

Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?

Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.

 

 

gratitude

Any other way

Today’s post is written by Jessica Nicol, a former student of mine, who has truly had her fair share of traumatic experiences this semester. In the midst of them, she has managed to maintain her composure and serenity to the best of her ability, and I think she’s become a stronger person as a result. I’ve always heard that the situations and problems we face in life either make us better or bitter–the choice is ours. Thankfully, Jessica seems to be making the better choice.

February 12th, 2015:

“But you’re not. You’re not selfish, you hit the nail on the head, you’re human. Plus, your life is way more put together than mine. At least you have a job. At least you know what you want to do with your life. I don’t have a clue. My goals in life right now are 1) Not die and 2) Love Jessica with all that I have.”

“I love you.”

February 13th, 2015:

“I didn’t see Taken 3 playing at this theater online.”

“Checked Searcy, too, and not playing there either.”

“Are you ever going to answer me? We have plans tonight. You do remember, right? :/”

About this time, I got a call from my boyfriend’s mom asking me what I was doing and if someone was there with me that she could talk to. I knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. You see, my parents and his parents have not yet met; yes I know, we have been dating over a year now, and our parents haven’t met. Anyway, I knew when she wanted to speak to one of them that something had happened. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched my mother’s facial expressions change with every word that his mother had uttered. “Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?” As she hung up my cellphone, she told me that Nick had been in an accident and that he was medflighted to UAMS and was in surgery as we spoke. I felt nothing just completely and utterly numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I could do nothing. I just stared into space. At one point my mom told me I could cry, but I really couldn’t.

The night before, I had been upset with him because he hadn’t told me that he was going to be in South Carolina helping his sister move for five days and that he was leaving that Sunday. I had only learned that night, and I yelled at him and asked him if he’d forgotten to tell me something. He was almost in tears. He tried to apologize and said he had forgotten. Of course, I didn’t understand because how can someone forget to tell their girlfriend that they were going to be 12 hours away for a week? Was he going to just up and leave and I was supposed to find out after he left? We had plans the thirteenth to go to dinner and see a movie because we didn’t get to have date nights often since I had taken a full-time key holder position at work. I missed being able to see him when I wanted to. Of course, plans changed.

Once I learned of this news, I was scared. We didn’t know his condition or whether he was going to make it through. All I wanted was for him to live. Before the accident, I had not been completely certain of this relationship. I had loved him, but I was reluctant to give it my all. I had a lot of pain in my younger years of living, especially with men, and I just wasn’t completely trusting. When I heard he was in critical condition, all of that washed away. I wanted to be able to feel the touch of his hand on my face again and hear him tell me he loved me again. Everything was all a blur. I had finally known that this relationship was the one I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. He may have been struggling to find a job and get his life together, but that was only temporary. That was not going to be forever. How dare I let someone who loves me so much and would never hurt me for anything go? How could I even want someone else to have my happy ending?

On Valentine’s Day, I was able to go to UAMS and spend some time with Nick. I was given orders the day of the accident to stay home until his parents knew if he was going to be okay or not. I understood that they were trying to protect me. I was so relieved to arrive at the hospital and walk into that hospital room and see Nick again. I sucked in my tears and tried to be strong for him. I knew he was in an enormous amount of pain because of all of the injuries he had sustained in the collision. I won’t go into all of his injuries, but the one that is the most pressing right now is his hip. His right hip was shattered in the accident and had to be put back together. Because of this, his sciatic nerve was bruised. That nerve and his hip are healing well, but he feels flares of pain in his toes, and his hip hurts often. I hate to see him hurting as much as he is. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes involuntarily.

I’ve been so afraid that he is going to become tired of me or not want to be in a relationship with me anymore that it’s unreal. I’m sick of feeling insecure all of the time, but it’s always been a problem for me. I do know that Nick wants nothing more than for me to be happy, and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I have sat next to him nearly every day since he has been home from the hospital and taken care of him as best I can. His parents leave me with him sometimes when they need to go out for church or something. It’s nice to feel like I’m needed and useful. In some way I’m thankful for this incident because it has made us closer and stronger. It’s hard, yes, but I think it was God’s way of giving me a wake up call. I was told that if I had been with him that morning, I would have been killed. So, in a way, both of our lives were spared. I guess that means we both have awesome things that are going to happen in our lives. I hope one of those things is for us to be together. I’m so happy we found each other. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.