Tag Archives: recovery

Living a life of SUBSTANCE

14 May

Second blog post in a week! I must be on a roll! But this is back to a “let me tell you about the dramatic saga that is my life” post. Because I haven’t written personally in forever! And so much has been going on lately. I went through about a six-month lull in my life where basically I was just focusing on getting through the work day and not much else, so I didn’t have much to write about. But just over the last few months things have literally exploded. I’ve always been a pretty busy person, but lately my calendar has been full to bursting in the absolute best sense, I’m so excited about everything that is going on!

Let’s start at the beginning. First things first, this winter I knew I needed a new church. I was hardly ever going because the church I started attending when I moved here was about a 35-40 minute drive from my apartment, which brought me through both St. Paul AND Minneapolis rush hour traffic, on a Friday evening. Not only was it hard to get to weekly services, it was virtually impossible to get involved with anything else. So, after multiple relatives and family friends had suggested a church called “Substance” to me, I thought I’d check it out. I started going mostly because I just had a feeling that I SHOULD be attending church regularly and getting involved during the week as well, and that if I was going to be doing that again I wanted it to be the most fun church I could find. I definitely enjoyed my first visit: the praise band rocked, the announcements were funny, and the message was pretty relevant (even though, at the time, I thought the pastor could probably stand to lay off the caffeine for a week or two). Regardless, it was super close to my apartment which was convenient, so I kept coming back. That was about five months ago, and it was right around that time that my life basically took off running underneath my feet.

The next thing I have to say is that by week two or three, Pastor Peter definitely grows on you (Keep reading, I got to meet him!). His energy level makes it so obvious how passionate he is about the message, and it is impossible to not get pumped up yourself! The church I had attended prior to Substance had a great, Godly pastor, but he had a more somber approach to the world. His messages were applicable, and I thought that I loved how “real” and “raw” the church was, and when I first started attending Substance I thought that everyone seemed just a little too happy-go-lucky. I tend to get a little pessimistic about the future, and I thought there was no way that this many people could be so happy about trying to be a Christian in today’s world. As it turns out, they really are that happy and like I said, the attitude definitely catches on. Instead of being just another obligation, I would find myself literally counting down the weekdays until Sunday because I was so excited to go to church! I got involved in a recovery subgroup, which has been absolutely amazing and completely revolutionized my recovery, and I started the 8-week beginners course that the church offers. Since then, I have felt genuinely called by God to do things in my life for the first time in so many years.

For starters, I felt called to finally allow myself to wipe my slate clean and start my life fresh. Completely. Now, that meant letting go of something people and things in my life that were really really hard to let go of. I tried to hang onto some of the things that meant the most to me, but I could not shake that voice in the back of my head that kept telling me to just trust in God and quit hanging onto my own will. So finally, I relented. I cleaned house. Literally, I actually went through my apartment and got rid of a lot of random sin paraphernalia that I had been hanging onto “just in case”. I ended a relationship. I quit regularly attending AA (Now—I know this part is controversial to some. So give me a quick minute to explain. Don’t get me wrong, I am still 100% supportive of AA. I needed that program to keep me sober and act as a spiritual grounding point for the majority of my recovery. However, as my spirituality is growing into a strong and distinct belief system, and as I have begun building a community in a solidly planted church, I believe that I’ve been called to bring my faith to the next level and pursue God himself in a group of other men and women who are also pursuing God himself, not a mix of self-appointed higher powers. I felt that AA was beginning to hold me back spiritually, and I also believed that God could and would free me from the bondage of my addiction, including the bondage of having to sit in a circle and discuss my addiction three times a week. I do still attend various AA events that are of interest to me. And I regularly attend my faith-based recovery meeting, which provides me with a totally positive and encouraging atmosphere. So I have not quit working on my recovery, I have not gone back to drinking, I have simply changed my approach.) I even severed contact with certain friends. All of these things were hard to do. I mean, SO hard. But in literally a matter of days my anxiety had almost completely dissipated and I felt a freedom that I have never before experienced. Another place I felt calling in my life for the first time in many years is in missions. Nothing is official yet but I am working on getting involved with a mission trip to Thailand with Substance Missions this winter. I cannot even express to you how excited I am about this opportunity! It’s huge to me, and I feel like in the last month I’ve uncovered this part of me that I thought I had lost over five years ago. It’s like, ever since an abusive boyfriend tore my life apart, I have spent years searching and searching for the ticket to a “normal” happy life again. I’ve searched high and low and in all directions, without ever just looking up. That’s the awesome thing about God, it doesn’t matter how many circles you’ve walked in, how far you’ve travelled in this direction or that direction, no matter where you are, you can always look up. You don’t have to make the trek to the top of a mountain, or get out of a storm, or move in ANY direction first. All I keep thinking is, why didn’t anybody tell me this sooner?! How did I not know that it was this easy?! But then I remember, I’m an extremely stubborn person, and someone probably did try to tell me. I just had to figure it out for myself.

With all of these awesome changes happening as a result of finding Substance, and the amount of inspiration I’ve gained from listening to literally hours and hours on end of Pastor Peter’s messages online, I became completely determined to meet him. Now, I knew I wouldn’t get to tell him about everything that had been happening, after all, across all of Substance’s campuses there are literally thousands of members listening to the sermon every week. But still, I just had to shake his hand. Not to mention meet his wife, Pastor Carolyn, who I had heard speak at a women’s event, and is also (not surprisingly) an amazing messenger of God who brings some pretty great sermons to the pulpit herself!

So a few weeks ago I went to the Saturday night service at Substance since that is the live-recording service, in hopes to cross paths with at least one of the Pastor Haas’s.  After the service my friend Mindy and I went on a hunt for Pastor Peter, and later learned that he had to leave early for another commitment. Dangit. So I was pretty bummed out. I went to church again on Sunday because I had some things to do at the Northwestern campus, and I accidentally stumbled into a baby dedication going on between services. I was about to sneak back out, when in the front row I spotted Pastor Peter’s unmistakable hair, and next to him, his wife Pastor Carolyn! SCORE! I was super happily surprised because they aren’t usually at this campus! So I acted really creepy and went and sat right in the second row so that I could catch them as soon as the dedication was over. And I did! I grabbed Pastor Peter first, and as I introduced myself and shook his hand I was kind of caught off guard by the fact that he continued to just stand there and smile at me as if he was waiting for me to say more. Now, there are a TON of things that I have wanted to be able to share with both Pastor Peter & Pastor Carolyn. But I kind of prepared for this introduction the way you would prepare for meeting someone famous—come up with just one really great sentence that encompasses the most important thing you have to say to them, because you know that that’s all you’re going to be able to blurt out before they need to scurry off and tend to everyone else. So when I realized I had room for more than just a one-liner, I was pretty excited. So I did what I do best… I just started rattling off things about my life. And Pastor Peter was fully engaged, smiling and nodding, and at the end of every little part of the story he’d throw out a fist pump or an “AMEN!” or something that just encouraged me to keep going. It was awesome. And normally when I’m invited to “tell my story” I end up stumbling over it or I focus on the irrelevant parts and then later when I think about it I realize that I forgot the most important things, etc. But as I was sitting at home later that evening I was replaying the conversation in my head and I was like man, I literally shared with him every single thing that I have been wishing I could tell him about over the last several weeks, and basically my entire life story. It truly was a great experience, like I already said I was just so amazed at the amount of time he gave me, how genuinely interested he was in the things I had to share, and that after the conversation ended (because I ran out of things to say, not because he had to hurry off to someone/something else, which is amazing in itself because since when do I run out of things to say?!) he just kept telling me how he was so honored to meet me and talk to me, and thanking me for sharing all of that with him. I just laughed like, whaaat? You’re crazy! So then he brought me over to meet Carolyn and she and I chatted for a little while too, not really as in depth as my conversation with Pastor Peter but still it was really awesome to finally meet them. I’ve talked to a few people at Substance in the last couple months about wanting to meet Pastor Peter & Carolyn and most of them were like “oh we’ve been coming here for years and haven’t met them, that’s what the campus pastors are for” and I was like NO I’m not okay with that! I’m from a small town and I’m used to knowing my pastors personally, and I think it really helps me take the messages to heart more when I have at least had personal interaction with the one preaching, so it was a really awesome experience to not only get to say hello and shake hands with the Haas’s, but actually get to know them a little bit.

Another huge thing I’ve been praying about, and one of my reasons for leaving some people behind in order to focus on my life in the Twin Cities, was meeting new friends. One of the main things that is stressed at Substance is the importance of having 4-7 amazing Christian friends. And I have, well, one. Who lives four hours away from me. So it’s definitely been a need in my life that I am very aware of. And literally I was at Substance for four months without meeting anyone, and in the one month since I have made a commitment to seek out God’s will instead of my own, I swear I cannot go to a single church service without being introduced to someone new! Not only am I meeting people, but they are people I’ve connected with on a deeper level and have already started to blossom into some really amazing friendships. It’s crazy! Not to mention I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for a year now and these are the first new genuine friends that I have made. It’s awesome. And there is no rational explanation for it other than that supernatural things can happen when you let go of the control of constantly seeking your own will.

ANYWAY that is my big advertisement for Substance as well as some updates on what has been happening in my life lately. I’m super busy and obviously everything hasn’t been rainbows and butterflies but I have a sense of peace about my life that I haven’t had, well, really ever. So that’s pretty cool. AND I have got some really exciting things coming up, the first thing being an entire week with my wonderful cousin Rachel visiting me here in the cities! I’m so excited! So I’m actually shocked that I’ve been able to get this writing done considering the fact that she flies in…TODAY. So with that, I’m going to end, and head to the airport :)

LOVE YOU GUYS, and also:

Here is a link to Substance Church’s website if you want to learn more

Here is a link to an AMAZING message series of Pastor Peter’s on dating/relationships

Here is a link to another amazing message series of Pastor Peter’s on DE-STRESSING



I Am Not Anonymous.

2 Dec

Alcoholism (as defined by Mayo Clinic): Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can’t consistently predict how much you’ll drink, how long you’ll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking.

More from MayoClinic.com: Alcoholism is influenced by genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors that have an impact on how it affects your body and behavior.

The process of becoming addicted to alcohol occurs gradually, although some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking. Over time, drinking too much may change the normal balance of chemicals and nerve tracks in your brain associated with the experience of pleasure, judgment and the ability to exercise control over your behavior. This may result in your craving alcohol to restore good feelings or remove negative ones.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And I’m at this age where it really sucks not being able to drink. Because I’m graduated from college, I’m in the “adult” world, I just moved to a town I barely know anyone in, and most of my friends still drink, yet it’s definitely toned down from college partying. Like, when I was in college I could look around me and everyone was getting sloppy wasted and I could tell myself, obviously that’s not a good scene for you. But now I look and my friends are going out on weekends, dancing, doing it more socially and staying much more put-together. So it’s hard to watch that and think that I couldn’t do the same thing. So I’ve been entertaining this idea like, I know I can’t drink. I know I won’t be able to drink next month, or next year, but maybe the year after I could. Maybe in five years I could. And I’ve been having these “what if…?” fantasies, where maybe eventually I could go out to the bar and drink without getting completely annihilated. What if? What if I end up discovering that this was all just a phase?

More on that later.

The Mayo Clinic is one of the most well known names in the medical world, right? So if they (along with most other medical institutions) are putting a label on alcoholism as a “disease” rather than a “choice” or a “bad habit”, why is the rest of the world having such an issue with it? It’s 2013 and everyone raves about “be you!” and “don’t be ashamed of who you are” yet the media screams the exact opposite in just about every facet of our lives ESPECIALLY in the area of mental health stigmas. Like, why is it that the media posts all these “this is heartbreaking” stories of kids who committed suicide and “I wish we could have helped him/her”, but in real life if you get stuck with the label of “that suicidal kid” in school then you’re the freak that no one wants to talk to, not the one everyone runs to help. And if you’re posting statuses and photos on Facebook of you binge-drinking every weekend then it’s okay because “that’s just college” but if you admit to being an alcoholic, suddenly there’s shame in that. The list goes on.

Obviously you’ve noticed that I’m very open about my recovery, and my sobriety. I know not everyone is like that. Maybe you see that as a good thing, or a bad thing, to be honest I don’t really care. Because I know that for myself I need accountability and I need transparency or I won’t get anywhere. I know that when my life was at it’s most unmanageable, when it was literally utter hell to wake up each morning, it was when I was lying circles around my life, when I was only telling people what I knew they wanted to hear about me, when I displayed an image of myself which, while never great, was what you would expect to see from an average college student. Now I’m not going around telling everyone the dark secrets of my life back then, but what is so wrong with saying that things were bad and when I peeled back the layers it was fueled by addiction and I’m getting help and now things are good? Like I don’t understand where the stigma came from?

For example, I’m working my first big-girl job and my coworkers sit around and talk about drinking any day of the week, to the point of one guy pressuring me and pushing back so hard when I would shrug and casually state that I don’t drink, that I was worried it was going to become an issue. But all the advice I could get on the situation was “oh just ignore him” because reality is that it’s socially acceptable in the workplace to pressure someone to drink but yet not to admit to being in treatment for a disease called alcoholism. It’s such a common thing. Everyone in recovery is so supportive of each other, but as soon as you step outside the rooms it’s all, “oh, but maybe don’t talk about that in public…” or, “you better delete that post about being in recovery in case someone from work sees it…” And again, the list goes on.

It’s just so frustrating because I feel like the basic response I get from people outside of recovery is: “Wow, you should really be proud of yourself! But, be proud of yourself in private please.” And I think that’s bullshit because you know what? I’ve come a long way and I’ve worked my butt off and I am so grateful for the grace of God to get me where I am and if I wanna talk about it, I’m gonna frickin talk about it. And I look around me in meetings and in treatment and I see all these amazing people, who have seen horrible things and been through battles that most people could never imagine. And they are so strong and have so much to be proud of yet all the world pushes on them is shame. Even in that paragraph from the Mayo Clinic it says, “…some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking”. How can you blame a person for that? How can you look at an alcoholic and say they brought the disease on themselves, when maybe the only mistake they ever made was picking up that very first drink, just like you did way back when, just like mostly everyone you know did at one point? But because their brain didn’t react the way yours did, that’s their fault? Twenty-three million Americans age 12 or older suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. And it is a devastatingly fatal disease. These people fight a life or death battle every single day, oftentimes with very little support from anyone else. When will the rest of the population start to realize that this is a problem? And that the solution isn’t prison, and it isn’t living in silence either. AA has been around for almost 80 years, and currently has an estimated 1.25 million members in the US, yet alcoholism is still this weird thing that no one wants to talk about.

If you follow this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I have this habit of demanding that people talk about things that aren’t talked about. But just like any other topic I’ve written about, if you think keeping a serious and deadly matter hush-hush is any way to encourage victims to reach out for help, you’re crazy. The media likes to talk about people actively using drugs and getting wasted, glamorizing deadly behaviors (think Lindsay Lohan, etc) and then saying “it’s a pity she can’t get her life together”. But look at what they do to those who try?! If you’re in college getting wasted every night and popular opinion is “college kids get wasted” and alcoholism is associated with shame, if you feel like you might have a problem what are you most likely to do?! Get help and either have to hide in the shadows and beat around the bush about your disease, feeling like there’s something wrong with you when you’re honest about it? Or stay in the “norm” and keep drinking until it kills you?! But there is so much more out there– there is a whole community of both young and old people in recovery, amazing people, every different kind of people you can imagine. Yet no one knows that, until they take that first step and dive in. Why don’t they know it? Because no one talks about it. How much easier would that first step be, and how many more people would be brave enough to take it, if they knew that there was a whole new world for them? Some of the coolest, craziest people I’ve ever met have been in recovery. Believe it or not, sober kids are the furthest from “lame” that you could imagine. Because they are all there for a reason. Everyone has a story, everyone looks at life completely differently than those who have never been on the brink of losing everything.

I have, however, seen the topic come up in a few movies lately. It wasn’t until I began my recovery that I watched “Country Strong” for probably the fourth or fifth time and realized, it’s not a movie about country music. It’s a movie about alcoholism. And a pretty accurate one at that, if you can find it under all the fluff in the plot. Even more so, I just recently watched the Denzel Washington movie “Flight”. Much more blunt in it’s portrayal, the movie might be a little intense for some, but I thought it hit the nail on the head; even directly referencing AA, addiction, and alcoholism. Country Strong showed more of the “Hollywood” version of the disease, public relapse and just being a complete mess in front of thousands of people, but Flight was a movie I think most of us in recovery could relate to. While movies like this might be somewhat difficult to watch for someone newly sober, I actually appreciate the way it causes me to revisit negative memories, rediscover that anxious twist in my stomach that I so often forget. At this point, I need a constant reminder of why I am where I am, and what could happen should I throw it all away. I like to ask myself those “what if?” questions I mentioned earlier, but the truth is I already know the answer. What if I go back into the drinking world again? I know exactly what if. It would be disasterous, quite possibly even fatal. I would be miserable. I would once again sever all respectable ties with the people in my life. I would have weekly panic attacks. I would be unreliable, untrustable, and absolutely unbearable.

I love speakers who share their stories on the general basis of, “What we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” Some people get sick of hearing each “drunkalogue” week after week, but I need it. I need the horror stories, I need to be reminded of where I came from, and where I could fall back to on any day I let my guard down. Which is why even movies, if well made, are good for me in that area. It’s been about two weeks since watching “Flight”, yet I have thought about it every day since then. It’s funny, I never thought a day would come when I could directly relate to a Denzel Washington character! But I did, every step of the way. Being a maintenance alcoholic. Pulling together a good face when it matters, convincing everyone you’re fine, saying all the right words and coming off as being completely on top of things while your life falls to pieces underneath you. Right up to when he cracks. He says near the end of the movie, “It was like I reached my lifelong limit of lies. I could not tell one more lie.” A revelation I believe most anyone in recovery can relate to. A point in his life where he knew that the truth may hurt him, but his lies would surely kill him. So he had one choice. Own it. Be honest. Stop living in denial, stop pretending he’s in control, stop worrying about what the label would do to him or his career. Refuse to be anonymous. And regardless of the consequences, it saved his life. And as he says later: “For the first time in my life, I’m free.”