Overcoming fear. Freedom from the idol of addiction.

When I first started penning this post in my head, I knew I wanted to write about a time that I overcame fear. I wanted to share with you the tools I used to help me overcome my greatest physical, emotional, and spiritual battle. I heard a song recently called Clear The Stage by Jimmy Needham. The lyrics are so true to what I had to do to survive quitting my 20 year addiction to opiates. You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/6smGew7dGto

I’ve overcome many fearful situations in my life. Specifically, in the past 2 years, I’ve overcome the fear of leaving a decade long abusive relationship and marriage, the fear of leaving a good job, the fear of leaving my home, my husband, my dog, my town, and the fear of moving home (again) and telling my family the truth about how I had been living.

I also recently overcame the shock of being verbally abused and pushed out of my home church by pastors I love and respect. To be fair, they didn’t tell me I had to stop coming to the church. They did, however, call me names and treat me inappropriately, and so I chose to leave. Praise God that I never had much fear about telling my family why I wasn’t going to that church anymore. I actually had a great peace about it. That peace came from God and from knowing my family loved me so very much. I’ve heard horror stories of families and friends disowning and turning on loved ones because of their sexuality. But I had no fear about that with my family. After all, with everything I’d been through, the least of their worries was who I chose to love… as long as it was a healthy, loving relationship. There was some fear about telling certain friends; friends in the church, my friend who is a pastor’s wife, my friend who is a pastor’s daughter, my mentors and women I consider spiritual mamas, and my friends at work who didn’t know much about me. I am so blessed that in each of these instances I’ve been met with nothing but kindness and love. In fact, all of the above was fairly easy compared to the fear of quitting my addiction.

Absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done is quit my 20-year addiction to opiates. Quitting was a decision I had to make. It was hard. I knew what was ahead of me once I quit using the drug that prevented my withdrawals. I was under a doctor’s care and being prescribed a medication to prevent withdrawals. It was a band aid medication. I wasn’t abusing painkillers anymore, but I was now addicted to this anti-opiate medication. What a lot of people don’t realize is that stopping that medication would bring on the same sort of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms as quitting heroin. I knew what that meant because I had tried to quit many times before on my own. I knew the weeks and months of physical pain and sickness and emotional turmoil quitting a 20-year addiction would take. I had tried to quit dozens of times before. I knew the fire I was walking into. I also knew that going through the fire was the only way to get sober. It would burn me inside and out. But it would also refine me and heal me, burning out the old and replacing it with the new. And I wasn’t going into that fire alone; this time I had Jesus and my loving family.

The first line of Jimmy Needham’s song says “Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze. If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols.”

That is what I had to do. My addiction had become an idol. I had come to know Jesus years before I quit. I was going to church, doing Bible studies, listening to worship music, going on Christian retreats, reading my Bible and praying daily… all while being medicated everyday just to maintain “normal”. But as the lyrics go “you can sing all you want to and still get it wrong; worship is more than a song“. I had to clear the stage, clear my life of all the stuff that was preventing me from quitting drugs. I had to leave my co-dependent abusive relationship. I had to quit my job where being high was the only way I could function. I had to set ablaze all the things I thought I wanted, and set them at the foot of the cross, entrusting myself to Jesus. I had to humble myself before my family and Jesus. I needed help and I couldn’t do it alone.

I was very sick for weeks; weak, malnourished, depressed, not sleeping … all the typical opiate withdrawal symptoms. My memory was awful and my moods rollercoastered. I was a terror to live with and a sad sight. One very specific thing I remember is that at 39 years old I was too sick and weak to load a dishwasher. I knew that in time I would heal physically but that it would take even longer for my brain to heal. It can take the brain a year to begin healing from the type of addiction I had. And so I waited.

“Take a break from all the plans that you have made and sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper. Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak, and pray for real upon your knees until they blister. Shine the light on every corner of your life until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.”

During that time of waiting, during the sickness and pain of withdrawal and healing, I turned to God. I put a battle plan in place. Sick as I was, I laid in bed for weeks reading the Bible. Weeks turned into months. Tired as I was, I wrote the Psalms (specifically 34, 116, 23, and 91) out on paper over and over and read them aloud over myself. This was a very good tip from a dear friend, and I recommend it to anyone dealing with a difficult situation. I still do this today when experiencing difficulties; it calms me and brings me peace. There is something about writing the Word out on paper, not typing, but slowly writing, paying attention to each Word and reading them aloud over yourself as if God wrote them just for you. I prayed and had trusted friends praying for me. I listened to worship music and praised Him even though I was hurting so bad.

“Then read the Word and put to test the things you’ve heard until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.”

It had been weeks, going on months of me lying around the house sick and weak. More times than I can remember, I thought for sure I would not survive, or didn’t want to. One day, as I lay sick in my bed, I opened my Bible to John 5:8 where Jesus tells the man to “pick up your mat and walk”. And so I did. I got out of bed and went for a walk outside. I had not been outside for so long. The sun felt good. I couldn’t do that every day. Some days I was too weak or too depressed. Some days the best I could do was go sit in a sunny patch of grass in the yard. It was springtime. The giant oak trees became my church, the flowers the stained glass, and the birds the choir. I just kept looking for God. I knew He was healing me.

“Then seek the Lord, and wait for what He has in store, and know that great is your reward, so just be hopeful.”

Then it happened. One day I was able to help my mom load the dishwasher without getting sick or too tired. Before I knew it I was able to unload the heavy dishes and stack them up in the cabinets. Who knew that doing the dishes would be one of the biggest memories and milestones of my healing? It meant I was getting stronger. It meant I could finally help my mom who had taken such good care of me even when it was extremely hard to do so. I was thrilled in that moment. Standing there over a sink of dishes in my mom’s kitchen I wept. I wept for joy knowing God had healed me. I was getting stronger and I knew I would continue to get stronger as weeks turned into months which turned into a year.

Today I am proud to say that I conquered my fear, crushing the idol of addiction, and I am 1 year and 7 months sober. The process drew me nearer to the Lord than I had ever been before. The tools I used, like writing out the Psalms, praying with friends, and leaning into the Lord through His Word and worship, are still tools I use to conquer fear today. I know I could not have gotten off drugs and remained sober for 19 months now without Jesus. I have not relapsed once. That in itself is a miracle. I was healed completely by God. It is my biggest testimony. Praise God; I am healed.

“We must not worship something that’s not even worth it. Clear the stage; make some space for the One who deserves it. Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol.”

(1st picture: 2016, 2nd picture 2018)

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Seasons

I haven’t written in a long time. Nudges from the Holy Spirit are telling me it’s time to start writing again. Bear with me, I may be a little rusty, but I have so much to share.

I’ve gone through huge changes in the past two years. Physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. As the seasons of life rolled through like summer storms, I always kept looking for the rainbows. Through all the trials and waiting and joy, I watched God moving, and it has been spectacular. To have been so lost and outside of myself for so long, and surrendered to Christ, is a joyful thing. Is it hard? Yes. But it is worth it. I am worth it. And so, like James, I counted it all joy. (James 1:2 NIV)

A season of surrender.

On November 20, 2016, I left my abusive marriage. It was not planned. I did not want to go. Two days prior, my husband had abused me physically and verbally worse than he ever had before. Yes, it had happened before. Many times. You might ask why I didn’t leave sooner. For every abused woman, that answer is different. For me, I was trying to save my husband. But I had heard from God that I needed to get out of His way. God would heal us both, but not while we were together. Also, I did not want to leave my comfort zone, where abuse, addiction, and lack had become normal to me. On that day though, God was having no more of my stubbornness. If I would not leave on my own, He would yank me out of there. No pit is too deep for God’s long arm of love to grab hold and pull you out.

Sitting in the house that day became impossible. God was literally shaking me to my core to get out. So, riddled with anxiety and tears flooding my eyes, I went outside, sat by a tree and called my mom to come and get me. I left with just the small suitcase I never unpacked from my trip to a Christian woman’s retreat just a week prior. Leaving it all behind, and surrendering everything to Christ; trusting Him step by shaky step. I left my job of four years with health benefits, left all my belongings, my husband, my dog, and my home (a tiny 5th wheel trailer with no heat). I had no car because I’d totaled it in an accident a few months prior. I moved back in with my mom in a different city. I was addicted to drugs, penniless, jobless, abused, abusing myself, defeated, and depressed.

A season of healing and restoration.

I previously wrote about the day I quit my addiction to opiates. On May 5, 2017, I started a long and painful journey through withdrawal, detoxing, and day by day sobriety. It was the most painful thing I have ever done. I kept a journal, and if you read it, you would learn that many days I did not think I would survive. I thank God for His presence through it all, and for my family who supported me through this time. In ten days, on November 5th, 2018, I’ll be 1.5 years sober from my 20-year addiction to opiates. And all the glory belongs to God.

The Lord healed me physically, is still healing me emotionally, grown me spiritually by leaps & bounds, and drawn me nearer to him through it all. He has restored all that I lost and more. I’ve had an amazing part-time job for nearly a year, and have accepted a full-time job that starts in the new year. I have a car and my own laptop. I’m paying my own bills, including my debts, my own car insurance, and my school loans. My credit score has increased by 50 points in the past 2 months and is climbing. I have money in my savings account. I’m traveling; vacations and women’s retreats. I’ve been to 10 states with friends this year. My father has said he “has his daughter back” and that he trusts me again. My parents are proud of me and excited with me about my future. And again, all the glory belongs to God. Some will say that I did the hard work. And I did. But I could not have done it without Jesus.

A season of stretching and standing up for myself.

In the middle of all of this, God led me to a church that helped me grow spiritually by leaps and bounds. They poured into me and I soaked it all up like a sponge thirsty for water. I was so thirsty for the Lord. I was at church anytime it opened. I served as a greeter, served on the prayer team and the intercessory prayer team. I loved it all and made new friends there. God stretched my already big faith and began to teach me about my self-worth and spiritual gifts. I received my prayer language, which was something I had been asking for from God. I never wanted to leave that church. After about a year God began to gently whisper to me that my attendance at that church was only for a season. Of course, I didn’t want to hear that and so I kept attending. Again, God nudged me: this church is only for a season, and that season was coming to an end. Again, my stubbornness kept me there – in my comfort zone. I kept going, sitting in the front row each Sunday, worshipping and serving … until I couldn’t anymore. Slowly, church leaders pulled me out of different service areas. I reconciled it to myself as “it’s their church, their rules. I’m just here for Jesus anyway”. Within a few months, I found myself in the middle of the hardest spiritual battle I’d ever faced. Up until then, the church leaders thought they could fix me with niceness. Surely, they wouldn’t lose their “miracle of 2017” to what they considered a mortal sin. As I listened to the pastors, whom I deeply respected, I also insisted on digging into the Word myself. When I wouldn’t simply bend to their beliefs because I had my own interpretations of the living word of God, they become hostile. They will tell you they did it out of love, and I truly believe they loved me the best way they knew how. But God doesn’t love with fear and verbal abuse. They told me I was no longer allowed to sit on the front row, where I had been sitting since my first day there. Why? Because they needed to protect their reputation. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Oh, and I guess don’t let the sinners sit on the front row. Thank God that when the verbal abuse started, I immediately recognized it as abuse. The very church who helped me realize that I was, in fact, abused by my ex-husband, was abusing me now, and I was having none of that again. God had already yanked me out of an abusive marriage and healed me from abusing myself with drugs; I wasn’t about to stay at a church who abused me because of my sexuality. Today I thank God for the friends I made there who did not abandon me as I thought they might. I thank God for the knowledge, growth, and support I received from the church during the season I was there. But as my best friend told me out of love and support, “season over”. I never stepped foot back in that church again.

Restored to more.

Seasons are never just about us. All of this was never just about me. It’s so much more. People are always watching. My family and friends have watched me walk this out. People I have never met have heard my testimony. I surrender to the Lord daily and take each new step slowly but surely. I have been restored to more than I was before, physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. And all the glory belongs to God.

Before We Go On

Hi, it’s me, I’m still here. I’ve been journaling in paper journals since summertime. I was working through a lot of life changes and honestly did not have the wherewithal to type it all out in this blog, nor was I ready for everyone to read all about this part of my journey.

I found my journals and read through them. I’m not quite sure what to write about yet because the past six months have been such an amazing, refining, difficult, and fulfilling journey for me. A journey of surrender, pain, discovery, and restoration. My journals contain a lot of Scripture, a few letters that I wrote to myself from God reminding me who I am (His daughter), and so many words that are really hard to read about how I was feeling and what I was thinking at the time. Many pages are crossed out with the word “LIES” written across them. I realized that I was writing down lies about myself because as I went through this trial I learned more and more about what God says about me. I learned the truth.

I want to tell you all about the journey I’ve been through in the past six months. I want to share about hardships overcome and friendships made; about sickness and brokenness, and faithfulness, God’s and mine.

This coming Sunday, November 5th, I will be six months free from my drug addiction. That is a huge milestone and I’m very proud about that. On that day at church I’ll be getting re-baptized. I was baptized when I first came to Christ five years ago because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do – and that’s not wrong, that’s okay. But now I want to do it because I’m more aware of who I am in Christ. I agree with my friend that baptism should be about you and Jesus and not a work that’s done to prove something.

For right now I want to share this that I wrote at the beginning of August:

When you decide to acknowledge a hard thing that, until today, you didn’t realize had been stuffed so deep down inside for so long, but it comes bubbling to the surface and makes your eyes all watery; when you decide to do this hard thing, go ahead and crank up the worship music and dance before you do it. Praise and dance and sing; pray thanksgiving to God for going in before you, coming along side you, and going in with you. Because this is no cakewalk. You are going to be hugging the fireball, which is exactly what you need to do for God to refine you; burning out the old and making space for the new.

Photo taken by Holly Waugh.