If you need the rest of the story, it can be found here. Happy reading. ~ Holly
From our interaction with Ellya at the clinic, I learned he had lost a wife and a child. Now he had a child with cancer. Without question, he had endured more heartache than I could fathom.
I have to admit that when I first heard about the condition his children were living in I was indignant. When one of our translators returned from the village where Ellya lived she reported a one-room hut that was falling apart and had no door. There was no food for them to eat and their clothing was filthy. As she questioned neighbors there were reports of the children being left to fend for themselves while their father spent what little resources they had on alcohol.
And that’s when I got on my high horse. I mounted it and proudly rode around looking down my nose at this man who I didn’t even know. He should be more concerned with caring for his remaining children than with getting plastered. I looked at him with disdain, feeling as though he were beneath me. Beneath me not because of his meager life in a third-world country but because he wasn’t caring for his children.
When interacting with him I tried to wear my non-judgmental face but my scorn simmered underneath. Thoughts of how he should be doing things, how I would handle the situation, and all the ways he was falling short as a parent kept me from seeing him as an equal.
I knew my thinking wasn’t fair but I couldn’t seem to stop it. No matter how hard I tried I could only see what he was doing, not who he was. He was a drunk. He neglected those who relied solely on him.
As Steve and I spent time with him one afternoon at Mulago Hospital, all that changed. I saw a father who wouldn’t go eat for fear he would miss Joseph coming out of surgery. I saw strong hands struggle to keep his son from falling off the bed as he writhed in agony. I heard quiet, tender words spoken to Joseph in an attempt to sooth him. As I looked into his eyes I saw the beginnings of tears. All these things were a wet blanket on my fire of indignation.
Then came the moment when it was all washed away.
“Thank you. Thank you for what you have done for my son. I received a diagnosis and took him home to die but you Muzungus brought him here,” he said with shame in his eyes.
In that moment I believe I was given a glimpse into Ellya’s heart. I had mistaken hopelessness for indifference, sorrow for selfishness.
All the feelings of haughtiness and superiority drained from me and I saw Ellya in an entirely new way. For the first time I saw him for who he was. He was a single father with 4 children. He was a widower. He was grieving the loss of a child. He had a son with cancer and no means to seek treatment. He was a man. He was a human – created in Gods image, just like me.
I had been cruel and unfair.
Do I want people who don’t really know me to swoop in and pass judgment on my life? Do I want to be seen only for what I do? Would I like for people to focus on my mistakes? Never! But that’s exactly what I had done. I had judged. It’s so tempting to criticize what we haven’t walked through.
That’s the lesson for me: don’t look at people through the lens of their choices. When I do that I see them as nothing more than the sum of their behaviors, and looking solely at behavior misses the heart. If I truly want to see someone I must be willing to look past their choices.
Not many of us will find ourselves on the other side of the world passing judgment on a hurting man. But each of us will be tempted to do the same thing in our circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. Whether it’s an addiction, deliberate bad choices, or simply failure to make any choice at all, there are many people on whom we pass judgment. Instead of callously drawing conclusions I am challenged to take the time and make an effort to understand the person rather than their behavior alone.
234567890-Note: This post has been sitting ready in my draft folder for 3 weeks. Although Steve has repeatedly given me the go ahead, I have procrastinated. From the outset we have been open about addiction, but it’s harder to do that when the days are messy and ugly. This post takes an honest look at exactly how messy things can get. If we are authentic about the good days, then we owe it to our readers to do the same with the bad. If you haven’t already read my 5 part series about addiction you may want to. For those who know us (or are related to us), we are fine; still fighting and clawing our way along the too steep path, and still thankful to be on the journey together. ~Holly
It has been here for weeks. Its roots probably go back to February. How can something that can’t be named cause so much angst?
Restlessness, suspicion, and indignation!
I have had a general nose-out-of-joint feeling shadowing my every step. I have nursed it, fed it, and allowed it to grow; resulting in my choosing to play the victim and I’ve felt justified in doing so.
But I have been wronged! I thought we were past this madness. We have lived in recovery for over 10 years and it’s not my problem.
From the beginning, we have been embarrass-your-family open about Steve’s struggle with addiction. We are like poster children for how to do it right. We don’t profess perfection, but we have stayed together. We have fought, clawed and scrapped our way through to preserve our marriage. Bearing the scars of addiction and co-addiction, our family has survived and even at times thrived.
Steve and I regularly speak about our journey and how we each played a part. Our marriage is healthy and we are closer than we ever have been. So we are over it, right? Please God, tell me we are over it! I thought so, but I was wrong.
February hit us and threatened to leave me down for the count. An innocent question at the beginning of a 12 hour journey was met with an answer I didn’t expect. I sat shocked, speechless, praying I wouldn’t cry on the plane. Truth is I cried most of the trip home – a gut-wrenching, sobbing, mourning cry.
I felt so betrayed. But why? I’ve been on this journey long enough to know that Steve’s actions aren’t about me. I didn’t cause them or ask for them. But they rocked me to my core.
This was not supposed to happen again. We are supposed to be past this. And why does it have to cause a palpable ache? It’s not my problem.
Or is it?
At the core… no, it’s not my problem. But I am not an island of me. Better or worse, good or bad, what Steve or I do drastically affects the other. If I’m in this for the long haul then I will have deal with it.
But I want to whine and cry, and feel sorry for myself! It’s been 10 years. TEN YEARS! When do I get to hurt him? Why do I keep doing the right thing? When do I get to misbehave? When will it be over?
However, I finally come to terms with the fact that it won’t, and it’s simply naive to think it will be. Steve can live in sober recovery from now until the day he dies and that won’t change the fact that I am married to an addict. I didn’t think I expected him never to slip but my reaction revealed the truth – I thought we were finished actively dealing with addiction.
It also revealed that I still have my own work to do. Bad attitudes, unrealistic expectations, & bitterness – these are a good place for me to start. And then there’s forgiveness. I can cling to my right to be angry or I can choose to forgive.
Forgive because Steve does the same thing for me every day.
But what I do isn’t betraying trust. What I do doesn’t flirt with unfaithfulness.
And then I realize as I write this that I want to categorize wrong. I want to say that his wrong is worse than mine. That’s the acceptable social trend; women marginalizing men’s suffering rendering themselves superior victim status. I want to pretend that the way he hurts me is more painful than how I hurt him.
But it is, isn’t it? Forgive or be bitter? If I forgive again, am I enabling? I battle this line of thinking everyday!
I forgive because I value a relationship more than being right; and because I am so very aware of my own imperfections, imperfections that are just as damaging even if I don’t want to admit it. I will take my advice and choose to forgive once again and remember that we will never be over it. Never!
The moment was surreal. Conversation flowed freely and laughter filled the air as Steve and I shared an order of nachos. A last minute date to a movie preview was followed by an impromptu late-night stop at Fuzzy’s Taco. As we recounted the movie we laughed so loud that other people began to stare. We were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company! In that moment, I couldn’t imagine being happier. For a moment I thought I was going to cry.
So what’s the big deal? Don’t all married couples enjoy times like this? I can’t answer for everyone, but I know that I didn’t. Stilted date nights and unmet expectations were the norm. Like being stranded on an island unnoticed by yet another passing ship, the lack of intimacy in my marriage left me disappointed and dejected. I craved a relationship where scenes like the one above occurred.
How did my marriage get from where it was to where it is? With a lot of hard work and determination! And, a lot of God!
As Steve and I began to deal with his addiction there were times I was completely overwhelmed. We both were. The issues were much deeper than just an addiction. We were actually dealing with an intimacy disorder. I wondered if we would make it. And honestly, there were times when I doubted the effort was worth it. Part of me wanted to give up because in addressing his problem I had to look in the mirror. The reflection was more wicked step-mother and less Snow White. I had to hear and own how my actions were contributing to the problem. I had to swallow my pride for the sake of my marriage. In reality, I didn’t have to – I chose to. And I am so thankful I did.
I like my husband and I respect him. We enjoy being together and don’t need other people as a buffer. I don’t worry about how to appear sad if the police were to come to my door and tell me Steve was gone. We have awesome conversations, we have a fantastic sex life, and we inspire each other to be better. We can argue and it not threaten to ruin our relationship. And most importantly, we can just be. We can sit in silence without feeling the pain of a void. We don’t have to worry about keeping up walls to protect ourselves. We have dreams and goals and without wishing time away, look forward to an empty nest.
When I think back to where we were compared to where we are, I feel like we need some kind of medal. There are moments when I want to stop and shout to everyone around, “Do you see how amazing this is?! Do you see how far my husband has come?” But really, it wasn’t just him. It was both of us. We are reaping the fruits of labor from seeds that were sown in our tears. We made it. Do you hear me? We – made – it!
How? Because we didn’t give up! If I could give one piece of advice to a version of myself 10 years younger, that would be it. “Holly, don’t give up!” I can only credit God’s abundant grace with giving me hope and helping me persevere when I could only see the end. More days that not, I thought it was over. The last time we went to counseling, my motivation was to justify divorce. Today that sentence brings tears to my eyes. If I had given up, I would have missed the absolute best years of my life. Yes, it was hard, but worth every minute. Every tear, every fit, every day that I thought I physically couldn’t bear the pain anymore was worth it.
No, things aren’t perfect. But I know that there will be many more impromptu dates, moments of laughter and cherished memories. No matter what life throws, I have faith in us. We will get through it. Together.
The mind is an amazingly complex thing. I can remember with vivid clarity some silly injustice from kindergarten, but have no clue where my keys are on a daily basis. Given my ability to remember such unimportant things, is it really possible to forgive and forget?
And what if the faithfulness and honesty of a partner is involved? I think the answer is no… and yes.
When we hear the term forgive and forget I suspect we think it means to literally forgive and never think about, remember, obsess over or plot revenge about said incident ever again. Ever! Or at least that was the understanding I used to have. Why on earth did I ever put that much pressure on myself? It is literally impossible to not remember; especially when it involves hurts inflicted by our spouse. Telling yourself not to remember is like trying not to stick your tongue in the hole where a tooth used to be. The harder you try not to, the more you do it.
I have often heard the insecurity in a woman’s voice as she says, “If I’ve truly forgiven, why can’t I forget?” They doubt they have actually forgiven because they aren’t able to forget. I remember that feeling of guilt! I remember feeling that if I was a better Christian I wouldn’t keep thinking about something that I thought I had forgiven. That feeling is exactly what caused me to rethink the way I saw forgiveness altogether.
Life experience has taught me that forgiveness is a choice. It’s something I choose even when I don’t feel like it. And it’s a choice that has to be made over and over. It is a process – not an event. It’s much like the decision to lose weight. When someone decides to lose weight, they aren’t successful by making a one-time decision. It takes lots of decisions everyday to be successful; eat this – don’t eat that – go to the gym. And like forgiving, decisions regarding lasting weight loss are made over and over, day after day.
Over time, as I have continually chosen to forgive all the hurts that came from Steve’s addiction, I have been set free. I have been freed from the guilt of remembering. I have been freed from resentment and bitterness. And oddly enough, I have even been freed from seeing the hurts in a purely negative light. The more time that passes, and the stronger our relationship becomes, I find myself seeing those very hurts as a blessing in disguise. Remembering allows me to see how far we have come.
If you have chosen to forgive, whether the offense was big or little, don’t doubt the sincerity of it. Yes, you will remember from time to time. When you do, give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel in that moment; name it and move on. Then make the choice to forgive all over again and forget, at least until you remember it again.