Weathering the Storm

Regardless of where you live, your area is prone to some type of natural disaster; mud slides, earthquakes, drought, blizzards, tornados etc.  Here is south Mississippi, especially from the months of May through November, it’s hurricanes. Now that I live in the beautiful city of Ocean Springs, a coastal city in Mississippi, I have a heightened awareness during hurricane season.  Growing up in my lovely home town of Columbia, MS which is about 90 miles inland, hurricanes were not much of a concern. As a child and young adult my parents would gather flashlights, batteries, non-perishables and water anytime there was a storm headed our direction. Invariably that meant I would be drinking water and having Vienna sausages as a snack for the following three weeks. So, in August 2005 when my mama began prepping for a storm, I made jokes about it. I remember telling her all we were going to get was some wind. At least I would finally be able to fly the kite they had gotten me at The Kite Shop on one of our trips to New Orleans. A breeze would be a welcomed thing in the suffocating August humidity. Needless to say, Hurricane Katrina brought a lot more than a little wind with her. It was the first hurricane I actually remembered. It was a such a slow-moving storm. It felt as though it lasted all day. I believe the eye passed right over Columbia, because I recall a break in the destruction for a short while. I was terrified. I had two small children I was responsible for. I remember trees falling all around us. After it was over I was exhausted from the anxiety. We had to cut our way out of our dead-end street because trees had fallen across the road. We were left with no running water for three days. We managed to buy a couple of generators about three days after the storm, but full power was not restored to our area for two full weeks. After it was over I just wanted to leave. But, because I had refused to listen to good advice, I had not even purchased gas. So, I made it to the National Guard distribution center for our family’s rations of MREs on a quarter tank of gas and a lot of prayer. Slowly our community cleaned up, adjusters came in to assess the damage, and we began to rebuild.

Storm Prep

If you have someone in your life that struggles with a mental illness or substance abuse, you may feel like your life is an endless cycle of preparing for a storm, picking up the pieces and trying put a life back together.  I know that is what I felt like for almost 5 years married to a man that battled an addiction to prescription pain medication and pornography. Now for transparency purposes, I have to say that I myself battled chronic depression and alcoholism for years. During that time, I suffered mainly from my own choices. It feels a little different when you believe you are the healthy (and “innocent”) one in these circumstances.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to advice and accept discipline, and in the end you will be counted among the wise.

I could have saved myself a lot of discomfort had I only listened to the experts.

With regards to my husband’s addiction; he was the expert. He told me honestly before we married “I’m not good with money. You can handle that.” He also told me he had been clean for 2 years. Since I had only been sober for a year, I thought he was in the clear. So, I completely disregard his self-imposed boundary and added him to our savings account. I failed to appropriately prepare for the storm. He told me what it would take and I didn’t listen. periodically, money would disappear from the savings account. I knew why he was taking it. Rarely could I prove what he was using it for. He always had a “reason” why he took the money. I still did not remove him from the account. Then we moved to Ocean Springs for a new start. Every once in a while money would disappear from our checking account. He wasn’t on the account but he would take my debit card from my purse and sneak off to an ATM and take money. I knew what was going on but I couldn’t prove it and I didn’t take all of the steps I could have, and should have, taken to protect myself and our family. And so the pattern continued. I could not figure out why he wouldn’t stop.

There will always be another storm

I based my responses to him, simply on my own experiences. I did not try to understand his addiction. Even after several cycles of relapse and sobriety, I still did not attempt to understand “his” addiction. I just wanted it to stop. I knew another storm would come. Unlike the hurricane tracking system, I would have little or no warning when it would happen.  So, I lived in a constant state of anxiety. My mind was consumed by trying to figure out what, when and how he would have the opportunity to act on his addictions. If I could figure that out, I could figure out how to prevent those opportunities from happening.

Does that sound familiar?

If that sounds familiar, I must tell you something you already know. That type of behavior isn’t helpful to you or anyone around you.  And it certainly isn’t healthy. You need to do something different to expect a different outcome. If nothing changes in their behavior or your preparations and response, then nothing changes. Everything will continue as it has always been.

So what can you do?

What you can do is educate yourself. If you have a better understanding of how addiction and/or mental illness works, you can be better prepared to address it. You will have a better idea on what to expect and real ways you can help yourself and your loved one. The better you understand the warning signs of an impending “storm,” the better prepared you can be before it hits. If you understand what triggers these storms in your life, you may be able to prevent, or at least minimize, the storms.

You should also find someone who has weathered these storms before and can help you navigate the emotional, spiritual, and legal issues that arise. Having somebody that understands addiction and mental illness show you how to best prepare for and endure them helps you protect YOU.

You must understand that there is a difference in understanding what is going on with the intent to protect yourself versus you trying to control the addiction or addict. Thinking you can control or cure the addict is codependency. That topic we will discuss later in a different post.

Damage assessment or Damage Control

When I found myself in the middle of this crisis, one of my first questions was “what have you done?” Of course, that was in a literal “explain this decision to me,” kind of way. But it was also a question of what damage was done, and what am I going to have to repair it.

All too often we choose to go for the quick fix. The cheapest and easiest fix, just to make it stop. It’s like patching a hole rather than replacing the roof. The first strong wind, and you find yourself dealing with the same problems.

If you are looking for real solutions and real change, you need to seek professional help. Not just for the addict, but for yourself. At the root of almost every addiction is trauma. And guess what, loving someone with an untreated mental illness or addiction has caused YOU trauma. For successful recovery the entire family needs to heal.

Rebuilding is a long and difficult process

Once the problem is addressed properly, the journey to recovery can begin. It will be a life long journey, but the life that you build can be better than anything you ever imagined it would be.  God has this beautiful way of taking all the ugly broken pieces and creating this incredible masterpiece. I had no idea that I was being prepared for what God would call our family to. It isn’t always comfortable, it is rarely easy, but it is always rewarding!

Will I ever find myself in another storm? Maybe. At least this time I will be better prepared. I will have people there to help me rebuild, and in the meantime, I can help provide disaster relief to others who have lost everything in the storm.

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