“Hi. My name is Faith and I am a recovering addict.”
No, I’ve never uttered those words at an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting. I’ve never felt the anticipation of a needle going into my arm and feeling the exhilarating warmth of a drug entering my veins. I can’t tell you what it’s like to breath marijuana into my lungs or any substance for that matter. I don’t know the agony of detoxing from alcohol or heroin or the insatiable desire for that “one more” hit. I’ve never been arrested or lost everything because I let a substance take control of my life. But I know these stories all too well.
I am a therapist, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and a licensed addictions counselor (LCAC). I have been working with those trapped in the bondage of addiction for almost fifteen years. I have heard clients’ tragic stories of loss and brokenness. I have heard the unthinkable things they have done in the quest to get their next fix. I have seen the catastrophic consequences of drug addiction and alcoholism and the ravenous way it sinks its claws into its victims and their families. I’ve known those whose “one more” hit was tragically their last. I’ve witnessed mothers lose custody of their children forever because she couldn’t rip free from the clutches of meth or heroin. I have seen addiction rob an individual of their pride, their confidence, self-esteem, their identity. I know addiction well and I know the signs, symptoms, the course, and the end results—very often tragic results.
Even after being trained to identify these symptoms, and seeing them play out in the lives of my clients, it took me a quite a few years to come to terms with the fact that addiction had found me, and I had been held in its grasp. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks, ironically as I was facilitating one of my substance abuse groups at work. Imagine my shock as I made the mind-blowing discovery that I, myself, was an addict even as I sat leading a group of them. Somewhere deep down inside, I’m sure I knew this all along, but it hadn’t been made conscious even as I started to take steps towards recovery.
I came to realize that I was no different from the clients who sat before me in my outpatient addictions groups. I fit all the criteria that I used to diagnose these clients with an addictive disorder which led them to be referred for treatment. As I made this realization, I began to see my clients in a new light. I had experienced loss and pain like the group members that I met with every day in my groups. I had the exact same thoughts and feelings they did. My cravings, my behavior, and my relapses took on the same patterns and impacted my life in extravagant ways, as did theirs. The only difference was that our “drugs of choice” took on different forms. They were addicted to a chemical. While I was addicted to love and finding my happily ever after, but like them, I was looking in all of the wrong places and I had lost myself in the process. Instead of a fairy tale, my life had become a romantic tragedy, a train wreck.
In the beginning, I’d say I had the fairytale of a childhood. “Princess Faith” was born into a Christian family, and I asked Jesus into my heart at the early age of four years old. I was first baptized when I was in junior high by my parents who were both ordained ministers. Yup, I was a pastor’s kid—a “PK squared” as I liked to refer to myself. I attended my church youth group and Campus Life every week, and I went to church camp every summer. And it probably goes without saying that, as a “PK squared,” I was in church every time the doors were opened, and I was involved in every church event. My childhood was a fairy tale filled with unicorns, rainbows, and pots of gold. Ok. Maybe that’s taking it too far. We didn’t have a lot as far as material things; definitely no pots of gold, but my childhood was happy and simple.
As I reached the dating age, I didn’t have many “princes” come my way. Although I did have a lot of crushes! Well, one mainly. The dreamy blonde-headed son of a prominent family in the church. Thinking back, maybe I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends in high school because I was the poster child for the “True Love Waits” campaign that encouraged teens to wait to have sex until they were married. I remember the blue post card that boasted “True Love Waits” at the top with a declaration of commitment to wait until marriage for sex. I proudly signed my name on that dotted line in 1995. But really, I was literally a poster child for chastity. I, along with some friends in campus life, was chosen to do a full color, full page photo shoot promoting the value of saving sex for marriage. After it ran in the newspaper, I remember an awkward conversation between me and a boy I hardly knew who sat behind me in psychology class. He had never uttered a word to me before, but that day I had his full attention and he asked, “Wow. You are waiting until you are married? That’s pretty weird. But I guess it’s kind of cool.” Yeah, I would never be getting his phone number, that was for sure.
I didn’t do drugs, even when some of my friends were experimenting with marijuana at parties on the weekends. I didn’t even drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. There’s that old saying, “I don’t smoke or chew and I don’t date guys who do.” It rang true for me. Unless you count a guy I dated briefly in high school who hid the fact that he smoked. But, when I found out, I broke up with him. He ended up calling a bomb threat into the school a few months later, but other than that, my record was pretty squeaky clean. I didn’t do much wrong at all. Like I said, a pretty boring upbringing.
My life was pretty simple and life was going according to plan. My life verse that I had chosen as I graduated high school spoke of this. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). I had graduated high school with honors, graduated with a BS in Psychology and Addictions Counseling from a Christian liberal arts university, and a week after college graduation, I married Mark. Throughout high school and college I wore a purity ring to remind me of my commitment to wait until I was married. As part of our wedding ceremony, I gave the ring to Mark as a symbol of the gift I had saved for him for our wedding night. I had kept the commitment that I made years before on that blue “True Love Waits” commitment card. Yes, I was a virgin on my wedding night. You could say that life was pretty much perfect, and I was full of hope about our future.
Not So Happily Ever After
After all, we’d done everything right as far as setting our marriage up for success—we went to pre-marriage counseling, we didn’t live together before we were married, we waited until our wedding night to have sex, we were active in our church, and I thought all would be right with the world and our marriage. So, I was shocked when four years into our marriage my husband uttered the words, “There’s another woman.” Devastation doesn’t even come close to explain the wave of emotions that washed over me, but even so, I felt I needed to honor him and our marriage even in the midst of my heart break. We went to counseling, and worked through the issues as best we could. He ended the relationship with the other woman and committed to love, honor, and cherish me “til death do us part.” A year later on our anniversary, in a small ceremony with our pastor and a good friend, we renewed our wedding vows as a symbol of our renewed commitment to each other. That horrific season in our life was over and we picked up the pieces and moved forward.
Despite that season, things continued to go as planned. Mark was successful in his career at the sheriff’s department. I worked full-time while going to grad school. I graduated with my Master of Social Work degree, and two years later, I passed my licensing exam on the first try and added more letters to the end of my name as a now Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
After a couple years of struggling with infertility, we had two beautiful girls who were just a little over two years apart. We enjoyed the lazy summer days floating on rafts in our pond as we gazed up at our two-story dream home that we built together. It was the home we would raise our children in and the home in which we would grow old together. Life was good and I felt blessed to have the life we had. Most of our friends looked at us as the perfect couple with the perfect life. But our perfect, simple life came crashing down nine years into our “Happily ever after.”
The Kingdom Crashes Down
Six months after the night that changed everything, I reflected and wrote about those heart-wrenching moments:
- That dream came crashing down and my world crumbled on October 14, 2009 when I got a call from my friend that changed everything. She said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there’s a car in your driveway.” My heart sank and I thought I was going to throw up as I drove my girls to church. I told the girls, “Mommy is sick and we have to turn around and go home.” A million thoughts raced through my mind as I turned the car around, and I raced home. I was in a dense mental fog, but reality hit me head on as I fought back tears: There was another woman at my house. My husband was having an affair! January 30, 2010
There was no big confrontation when I got home. The car in the driveway was gone by then, and everything seemed to go on as normal that evening when we got home. In hindsight, I think I wanted to hang on to one last moment of “normal,” because I knew that nothing would ever be the same after the truth came to light. I put the girls to bed and watched my favorite TV show, which was my ritual on that evening of the week. He said nothing to me, and I went to bed. I tossed and turned all night as my mind continued to race. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? What were the signs that I missed? I had felt him distance himself from me and the girls, not wanting to do things with the family, constantly texting, acting suspicious and not letting me see his phone, hanging out with “friends” and coming home three hours late. I think I had a feeling of what was going on long before because it was the same way he acted during our last dark season, but I didn’t want to entertain the thought that he would do it again. When I confronted him the next day, he denied it, but the truth of what he had been doing slowly seeped out over the course of weeks as he continued to lie and tell half truths. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I have never experienced that level or intensity of pain and anguish before in my life. After all, up until this point, I had pretty much lived a perfect life tied up with a pretty ribbon.
Long and painful story short, he wasn’t willing to break off that relationship and take the steps of repentance or reconciliation. We ended up divorcing just a couple months after. A few days after our divorce was final, I wrote this in my journal:
- The rest of the story is a blur. The days that followed were so crazy and surreal, but I could feel God’s hand guiding me and opening doors every step of the way. That fateful day in October was the first day of a spiritual journey and an amazing faith building adventure. Don’t get me wrong, the last few months have been utter hell and the worst days of my life. But through it, my relationship with God has grown and my faith and hope in Him has grown as well. January 30, 2010
Although the divorce and rejection was the most crushing and painful thing I have ever experienced in my life, most people would say that I handled it like a champ. In the months after my divorce was final, I decided that I was going to take this life by the horns and train for a half marathon. I had never been a runner, but I was determined to push myself to be better mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Running became my therapy during those dark days. I literally cried out to God on those country roads with hard questions and raw pain. It was out on the open road, just me and God, that I came to understand things about myself and my circumstances. A couple days after a pivotal run, I wrote:
- It just hit me that I’m tired of being controlled by Mark and this situation. I want my life back. I want a new life. I want to throw off the hurts and the pain and the fear. I want to feel like I’m living again! I’m tired of always thinking about it, I’m tired of being afraid. I’m just tired! I want to have a day where I don’t think about him and what he’s done. I want to have a conversation with friends where Mark doesn’t even come up. I’ve had a few like that lately and it’s so nice. I’m ready to move on!! And so after all the tears were out, I ran harder. I ran with more perseverance. I ran with more purpose and determination. It was symbolic of how I want to run my race called “life.” I want to run harder and be stronger. I want to persevere. I want my life to have a purpose, and I’m determined to make this the best life I can for me and my girls, with the help of God and my amazing friends and family. I want people to look at my life and be amazing by God’s faithfulness and his never-ending grace. Thank you, God for bringing me this far. For guiding me moment by moment. I know you have so much more in store. I can’t wait to see the miracles and the things you will do in my life and the lives of my girls. I have never felt so close to you or felt so much like I was in your will. Continue to work in me and make me the person you want me to be. March 30, 2010
My faith in God’s promises and my life verse that He had given me fourteen years earlier in high school rang more true than ever. Through all of it, He still had plans to give me a “hope and a future.” Over the course of a couple years, I worked through the anger and hurt. I let go of bitterness and vengefulness, and I forgave Mark and the other woman. I slowly put my life back together and embraced the life of a single mom and fought to be the best mom I could be for my girls. I even committed myself once again to sexual purity after the divorce because I knew that regardless of the circumstances I found myself in, God created sex for marriage. Period. A woman at church even noticed the work God was doing in me less than a month after our divorce was final:
- Faith, As I watched you last Sunday with your precious girls I thought to myself just how beautiful you are. Yes, you are gorgeous on the outside, but your inside is what makes you glow. I just wanted to share with you that I am praying for you. Most of all I want you to know something, that you are not defined by someone else’s decisions, comments, or actions. God created you to be so much more and it shows. Don’t ever let someone else’s actions define who you are. There is only one definition that matters. I want you to know that you glow beautifully. Jen February 18, 2010
Peace in the Kingdom Restored
Most people looking at my story can’t believe that I could actually forgive Mark and his girlfriend. A few months after our divorce was final his girlfriend, Lauren, was now living with him in the house that we built together for our “Happily ever after.” Up until that point, I had never met her or seen her face. This was intentional, because the pain was so deep and so intense that it literally took my breath away thinking about seeing her face to face. Even in that pain, I eventually decided that I needed to meet this woman and look her in the eyes. Not to go all “Jerry Springer” on her, although part of me wanted to, but I needed to make peace with her for my own sanity’s sake. I needed to forgive her because I knew the bitterness, anger, and overwhelming anxiety were going to be the death of me if I didn’t do something soon. I knew enough from being a therapist that part of overcoming our anxiety and fears is facing the exact things that we are afraid of. And I knew for a fact that forgiveness and letting go is crucial to personal growth and moving forward. And so, I wrote the following letter and asked Mark to have her come out of the house, so I could meet her that evening when I picked my girls up after work:
- I hope you know that by meeting, this doesn’t mean that I want to be friends or that I approve of what you and Mark have done or the decisions that you have made that have drastically affected my life and the life of my girls. I do not agree or approve but it is something that I have to accept. Wanting to meet you is part of my personal process and accepting what has happened and moving on with my life. I also wanted to meet you because you are influencing the lives of my girls. I know this is awkward, but I hope that this can be the first step in moving on for all of us.
I journaled about it afterward:
- I felt a huge weight lifted. I no longer had to fear running into her. I did it on my terms. That was the huge burden to let go of, and I felt no anxiety, depression, and no guilt. I held my head high driving away that day with my girls in the back seat. I know I couldn’t have done it without God’s strength and grace. God was glorified. I am amazed at how God is working in my life, bringing healing, and doing the “impossible.” Later, I shared with Lauren, “I also wanted to meet you because it was important to my girls that I meet you. It made them happy. Thank you for being kind to my girls and for treating them well.” God has taken the hurt and anger away so I can say all that and actually mean it. May 22, 2010
Even though I made that huge step, I still struggled with being flooded with anxiety when I saw them together. To make things more difficult, Lauren’s kids went to the same school as my girls, so I had to face them at all of the school functions. But as time went on that school year, I came to accept it and find peace. About that time, Lauren reached out to me and informed me that Mark had cheated on her with another woman. Bet you didn’t see that coming. But just a few weeks after their break up, we ended up on a school field trip together. Talk about a perfect storm for some “mama drama.”
But thankfully, we were both wise and in control. And honestly, part of me felt bad for the poor girl. Strangely, we suddenly had some things in common with the news of her being betrayed and rejected by Mark. In a moment when our kids were playing together away from ear shot, she came up to me and in a quiet voice said, “I know this isn’t the place, but I’m really sorry for what I did to you and your family.” Hearing those words from her in that moment brought me even more healing and peace. My response to her was completely genuine and it felt so good to utter the words, “I appreciate that. But honestly it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. You did me a favor.”
She smiled, knowingly. Her friend who was nearby then and knew the situation, told me that it said something about my character and who I was as a person that I could forgive the woman who had a hand in destroying my marriage and my world as I knew it. So I would say that it was a defining day in my history, the day I made peace face-to-face with Lauren.
You can only imagine that forgiving Mark did not come as easy. But I knew that it was something I needed to do, or at least work towards. I had worked with enough divorced families in my professional career that I didn’t want to be “that” ex-wife. You know, the bitter, angry, and resentful ex-wife who stirs up drama everywhere she goes and leaves a path of destruction behind her. I knew that my kids needed me to be a strong, confident, forgiving woman who could find joy and happiness after such great pain and sorrow.
Forgiving Mark didn’t happen overnight. It was a long and intentional process. There were times, when I didn’t feel so forgiving. But nine months after that night when everything in my life turned upside down with the realization of what my husband had done, I finally came to the place where I could say to him, “I forgive you.” I had responded to a text he sent, and I confronted him about moving his new girlfriend in the house just days after Lauren moved out, and I informed him of what he was teaching our girls. I texted, “I’m not going to throw stones at you, but instead I forgive you.” After I tapped send, I wrote in my journal:
I teared up as I sent that to him because it was the first time I’d ever told him that, and I truly meant it. Does that mean I’ll never get angry again or forget? No. But I have let go. I really do care about his soul.
A couple months later, he accused me of not forgiving him because I didn’t want to get back with him. We had been divorced over six months at this point. He accused me of not caring about our children and their future because I wouldn’t go back to him. I journaled:
- I told him, “I have forgiven you. Doesn’t mean we get back together. Our relationship wasn’t good. It was unhealthy and I lost who I was. We didn’t work out. That’s in the past. Choices with lasting consequences were made. Nothing we can do about that now. Things happen for a reason and good can come out of bad. So we make the best of things the way they are and communicate and get a long and put them first in our personal choices. That’s the best we can do for the girls right now.
I had read a quote by Harold Graham, “Have you really forgiven? “Real forgiveness always brings peace. If you’re remembering something and you have no peace then it hasn’t been forgiven.” Harold Graham. I responded to this quote in my journal:
- I do believe I have forgiven on all accounts – I relate with people so well now and am blessed with rich relationships. I have never grown in my faith more than I have this year. I am involved with a wonderful single mom’s ministry at church that is impacting women, and my heart can truly worship again when a year ago my heart had no song.” Two years and four days after I found out about the affair I wrote, “I just realize that the second anniversary of one of the most crushing days of my life came and went, and I didn’t even realize it until four days later.
I had found healing. I was reminded of Philippians 3:13-14, “But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” From where I could see, my life was moving full throttle into an amazing future prepared for me. I had forgiven and was moving on with my life. I had even finished my first actual race by crossing the finish line of my half-marathon. What an amazing feeling that was to cross that finish line and see my parents and my two daughters waiting there for me, cheering for me with homemade signs. That moment was a beautiful metaphor of where my life was headed!!
I’m sure my story sounds too good to be true so far. You may be thinking, You forgave your ex and his girlfriend? You didn’t run your ex over with your car or have a hit man on speed dial to take out his home-wrecker girlfriend?
Yeah, my story was pretty unbelievable early on. But in hindsight, the deep pain and wounds from what my husband did were still there begging to be treated and healed, but I wasn’t aware enough to listen or to realize that below the surface of my heart, there were serious diseases and wounds that were growing inside me. A sort of cancer if you will, was undiagnosed and beginning to spread.