When Recovery Means Saying Goodbye

REEL

Goodbyes are hard.

They are hard enough when made seamlessly – a  Bon Voyage before a long trip, planned and executed with love and attention to detail.

Goodbye is difficult, even under the best of circumstances, but there is closure to a well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again.”

When I got sober, I said goodbye to alcohol in all it’s forms. It was a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We snuck around, alcohol and I. We had memories, a history. Goodbye to tart Chardonnay and mellow brew. Goodbye to neon beach drinks with little umbrellas. Goodbye Nyquil.

The parting was long-wrought but swift. Abstinence – unlike mere absence – does not make the heart grow fonder. The further I separated from my lover alcohol, the clearer it became that I was better off without it. Good riddance.

But a funny thing happened during our breakup. Not unlike the separation of any two coupled entities, our friends took sides. But instead of Team Alcohol and Team Jana, my loved ones seemed to belly up to one of two bars: Team Drunk Jana and Team Sober Jana. And I wasn’t expecting that development, honestly. I had naturally assumed that the people who loved me would rally behind Team Sober, but that is not what happened.

My whole world changed, one tenuous moment at a time. Every single nerve in my being was on high alert, but everyone else just kept living as though nothing was happening. As if nothing had changed. It was at this juncture that I had to erect those pesky boundaries. But boundaries with others are only good when they are respected, and as we know – people in the throes of addiction themselves are not great respecter of boundaries.

Sometimes, that means saying goodbye to people we love.

In truth, “everyone else” did not become more dysfunctional as I grew in recovery. The dysfunction just became clearer to me. It is a testament to my level of disease that I had not realized it before. I developed a mental allergy to high drama, and an emotional allergy to the abusive drinking and using of others.

The sad truth is that there are people I’ve known my whole life that will always prefer Team Drunk. They found me more laid-back, easier to manipulate, and less confident when I was active in my addiction. But the problem with the former me is that I was a dumbed-down, numbed-down version of myself before I got sober. I am a new creation in recovery.

Where does healthy acceptance of others meet healthy self-care? I don’t purport to know.

Is “you make me want to drink” enough of a reason to cut ties? I think it can be.

Is “you hurt me” enough of a reason to distance? Team Sober says unequivocally, yes.

My heart still longs for a connection for some of the people to whom I have said ‘goodbye.’ It is  a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We had a history. I love them dearly, dearly.

What to do with the jagged, messy edges of goodbye in recovery when the amends I’ve tried to make with others don’t match up with the edges of self-care in a nice, neat seam? When the closure has no well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again?”

Team Sober says to approach it just like every other recovery issue – this Bon Voyage before the longest, best journey of recovery – planned and executed with love and attention to detail for the sake of my life.

One single day at a time.

 

A Tree Grows in Prison – addiction and the harvest of God-seeds

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By: Jana Greene, thebeggarsbakery.net

Hebrews 13:3

“Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” – Hebrews 13:3  (MSG)

 

God,

I’m thinking today of all the saints in the early church who prayed to you from the cells of prisons. Wrongly persecuted, they mustered their faith and lifted it to you, because they had been stripped of everything else they owned.

I know you’ve gotten your fair share of letters from prisoners.

Jails and prisons are often the venue in which lost souls lift their last remaining possession to you – faith – but the truth is that many have been stripped of that possession, too. Many, before even arriving for intake to be processed by a legal system, were already processed by another captor – Addiction – before ever setting foot in jail.  Addiction is a thief of hope.

Today, I have a broken heart for a dear friend and Sister in you, whose adult son is both literally, and figuratively, a prisoner. He is addicted to drugs, God. He has reached the end of himself. Right now, he seems a shell of himself.

But a long time ago, this friend raised this man up by filling him with God- seeds. She took him to church, and youth group; she talked out her active faith in you….all the way forming rows as she raised him, and planting  seeds in the soft soil of youth.

He is familiar with you. But he has made some bad choices, covering that fertile, planted ground with all the world has to offer, including substances that distract him from You. He has filled his life with all the plastic distraction that keeps the sunlight from getting in; that keeps the water of life from reaching the seeds.

Society sometimes has very little compassion for those who bring woes on themselves. Society forgets that it is only made up of infinite units of just the same kinds of people – sinners.  It’s easy for them to open their bibles to the letters that Paul wrote as a prisoner, and feel compassion.
But you don’t forget to be compassionate, because you never forget that we are infinite units of people who sin, but whom you love dearly.  All people must come to you from their knees on the floor of a prison cell, its only a matter of what four-walls constrain us.

Today, this man – this addict – is on the floor of a cell. I like to think he is calling out to you right this minute, but I know how stubborn addicts can be (being one myself) – I know how insane the cycle is, and how hard it is to let go of that tarp of denial we keep covering ourselves in.

But I am asking you – right now, in Your Holy Name, to crouch down on that prison floor with this man. Scrootch up so close to him that You feel familiar, that the seeds planted in his spirit in his growing-up-years feel like beads under his skin. Crack them open, and as they are opened, let him feel surrounded by love.

The supernatural feeling all addicts crave, that many addicts are willing to go to prison for – to die for – is only just a craving for you, Lord.

This young man is feeling the pain of the chemicals leaving his body, as we speak. Let the suffering he is experiencing  be for the cause of one little Seed of Faith germinating. Fill up the space left by the chemicals, the hurt, the loneliness, the shame and pain. I’m sure he will remember you, God.

Be with his family, who is suffering beyond comprehension. Fill them up, too.

Since this precious son of my Sister in You is currently  in no position to “write letters” in your name, and lift prayers from his broken spirit, mind and body, today I am interceding on his behalf. I ask that everyone who reads this to pray along with me.

For the addicts, the prisoners. The broken, the sinners. For my friend’s son.

Remind them that they are full of seeds of Truth, let them receive water and light, in their own personal prisons, and let those seeds grow healthy and strong and take root in You. So they can go out and tell other prisoners that there is life waiting to be lived.

Give them HOPE, Jesus.

In the name of the Father God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN

What We Cannot Do for Ourselves – recovery meetings and the bravery of surrender

 

LIFE

By: Jana Greene

A man walks into a bar.

No, wait. That’s the wrong story.

A man walks out of a bar. The establishment has been his “safe place” for years. He knows the owners and they keep a seat waiting for him on the end, where the bartender can lean in to listen when he talks without knocking over the high-ball glasses. They know his story and keep pouring, and those two things have always made him feel understood. Loved. He went to the bar every day because he wanted to be cared about and he wanted to just be left alone. Drinking is a funny thing – it makes both seem possible simultaneously.
He was incredibly brave, he thought, to work so hard and provide for his family, to deal with all the drama and dealings of life. Wasn’t he due this time? Didn’t he have it coming to him?

Until very recently, when it became obvious that his safe place was a dangerous place, he thought he would keep drinking. As his wife was leaving for the last time, and he had not been willing to follow her. He had not been willing to ask for help. The path to help was a rocky, treacherous road. The way to the bar was paved with familiarity.

As he slowly became more  lost, lost, lost, it became increasingly clear that pouring did not equal understanding; that having someone lean into you and listen did not always equal love. Over the years, he chose this seat over relationships, over passions. Everybody knew his name here, but not a single soul knew his heart.

He is sick, in mind, body and in spirit.
He doesn’t know how to stop. How do you stop? Someone somewhere has to know how.

There must be magic pill to stop the drinking, and there was. There were lots of pills, all supposed to make him better,  but they only made him worse in time. Perhaps he needed another diversion? A few days without drinking made possible by strange women and dirty, secret deeds. And then drinking again. What about sheer willpower? Alone, in his room, shaking and sorry, he had no one but himself for company. Nothing is working. He asks God for help, if God is real….if he exists at all.

 “Love me and leave me alone,” he wanted to tell God. But instead, he searched for a support meeting nearby. Because, at the end of himself, he had no other choice.

Before the first meeting, he sat in his car, debating with himself about going in at all. Because the rooms are full of “those people” and once you walk in, you are one of them…no turning back.  But he knew that he already was.

He thought of the bar, but he made another choice. And stepped into a new place.

Inside the building, worship music filled the space. He filed past others – men, women of all ages, all races. The stereotype represented was very specific: The Human Race. As he took his seat and the speaker began to share her experience with substance abuse and recovery, he leaned in.
I am lost, lost, lost, he said in his spirit.

In that most-alone place, God made his presence known.

There were relationships among hurting people in those rooms. There was a passion for living. He took small glances around the room as the meeting wrapped up. Over cups of coffee, there were tears, but laughter, too. There was palpable joy, something he’d forgotten existed.
And nobody knew his name. Nobody knew it until the men gathered alone for small group.. There, in a small circle, he shared his name.  He told a little of his story, when it was his turn.

At the end of the meeting, all of the others knew why he was there, and why he didn’t want to be there anymore. And no-one turned away from him. His eyes met with love.

 There was a pouring-out of himself and all of his drama and dealings, and he filled up that space with hope for a future, because here, “those people” have one – a future.

The God he had doubted helped him to stop drinking when he couldn’t do it himself, and gave him people who loved his heart when he was at the end of himself. He had been incredibly brave to walk through the door. He was due this time, he had it coming – this life raft. This safe place.

Keep coming back, they said. Your seat will be waiting for you.

A man walks out of a bar……and into a meeting. He keeps coming to meetings because he feels cared about there, and he knows he cannot be left alone to his own devices. The road he is on – to recovering his life – is well-worn by others.

It is paved by hope.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.- Alcoholics Anonymous

Who do you say Jesus is?

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By: Jana Greene

Who do you say that he is?

Jesus, I mean.

He asked me to ask you…..who do you say that He is? He is quite concerned about what you think of Him.

Do you say that He is Historical Figure, criminal, prophet or ordinary man? Would you say that  He is the Son of the living God?

Writer and scholar C.S. Lewis, who was an avowed (and very vocal) atheist for many years before accepting Christ described him this way: “Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

This Jesus, who so radically changed the world, was brought up on bogus criminal charges at the end of his earthly life.  He was the first and only completely perfect human being  to have walked the earth. His reward? Death by brutal crucifixion, burial in a tomb from which He would rise in splendor three days later.

But what does that have to do with you? Why would it matter what one man did over two-thousand years ago?

You and I can never live as perfect human beings. I’ve tried, and it was the hardest seven minutes of my life! We need God’s help to secure our place in eternity. Jesus was the sacrifice that makes this possible. But God is not only interested in the “forever”; He is sincerely invested in the ‘here and now’.

Who do I say that Jesus is? He is my

Debt Settler: Jesus is not a debt collection agency, reminding you of every mistake. He is not in the business of setting up payment plans for all of your sin, either.  He settles the debt of all you have accrued  in the past (and I mean ALL of it!) and cancels it entirely when you ask Him to be your savior.  When asking His forgiveness,  no sin debt is  too big or too small. He is waiting to set you free!

Game Changer: Your rules? The way you’ve always handled challenges on your own…He doesn’t even need to see the playbook. He wrote a better one! He changes the trajectory of your life in ways you cannot imagine….in ways you will be so humbled by.

Name Changer: When you accept Jesus, your name is written in permanence in God’s book of life. It isn’t penciled in, jotted down hurriedly. It is written in Spiritual Sharpie, bold and eternal. Your name, and your life, becomes His as you are adopted into His family. The name He remembers you by when He thinks of you? “Mine.”

Life-Giver: I want the kind of life that is eternal, but let’s be honest…I’d like it to be pretty awesome here, too. Jesus doesn’t want us trudging through each day with just enough energy to survive until we get to heaven.  Here’s what Life-Giver Jesus has to say about that in scripture: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

Friend: Why the Creator of the universe would want to hang out with me, I have no idea. But for some reason, He does. If he were a great human teacher, that would be humbling enough; but no. Jesus, in dying on the cross and raising to life, bridged the gap between the Holiest of Holy Ones and puny, neurotic, recovering alcoholic, generally-all-around misfit and master of mistakes – ME. His Holy Spirit never leaves my side and calls me “friend”.  And that’s a miracle.

Who do you say that He is? It matters very much.

My name is Jana Greene, and I say He is also the Savior of the world.

Graft-itude – Becoming Community through Gratefulness

 

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By: Jana Greene

Church is a community of believers in salvation through the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.  We humans make it about other things so often. Throughout history, we have tried a thousand ways to make it about ourselves.

But what if the tide turned and God’s people made gathering for worship about our thankfulness to God. What if we would seek purely to know Him, because He has been so generous in His love for us?

There is a horticulture technique called “grafting”. Tissues from one plant are delicately combined into those of a healthier one so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together and thrive.

What if we could become related to the God of the universe via grafting? What if we could become brothers and sisters to one another by the same technique?

Many people who grew up in churches across the globe avoid joining a body of believers because they have been hurt by “church people” in the past or made to believe that church was about money, pretending to be perfect or pot-luck dinners. These things are not what Jesus Himself intended for His church. He sought out the ones who were broken and bent, cast out and hurting. The priests in their fine robes and the elite with their feasts did not impress Him much. These “church people” had no appreciation for God Himself in their very midst.

The ones who became Christ’s beloved family on earth all had one thing in common: an imperfect but genuine love for God, and a grateful heart. Because Jesus wanted so much to count us as branches on His family tree, he hung from a tree as sacrifice to make it possible.

He tells us to gather together still today and encourage one another, grieve with one another and praise Him.

God, I worship you because you never give up on me – not even once!

God, I thank you because you gave your life up for me so that I can be called “yours” forever.

God, I magnify you because you take time to nurture my spirit, loving me when I’m not too loveable.

We are the church. Cut off from one another, we run the risk of withering. Together the way our Brother Jesus intended, we thrive. All of us saints and sinners are drawn by God’s flourishing, vascular love for us. God’s people are us, you see. It is His will that not one of us be lost. We are black and white and every glorious shade in between. We are young and old, the clean-cut and tatted up. Haphazard branches going every which way, full foliage and a strong trunk, grafted and grateful.

God’s family tree.

Missing the Moon by Miles: a tale of perception

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By: Jana Greene

Perception is everything.

The other day, I took Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever for a long walk around the neighborhood. As is her way, she stopped every three feet to intently sniff one of the many olfactory neighborhood newsletters previously left by other dogs. I’m trying not to hurry her along these days. Her hearing is going and her vision as well, and I imagine her sense of smell is not what it used to be.

She takes a really long time, but when she looks up at me between sniffings, her eyes are so grateful that I am patient with her.

The sky just happened to be clear and blue, so I looked up to admire it to pass the time. The moon was out on the horizon in broad daylight, as if it missed the memo that it was not yet night. And from out of nowhere, a jet engine plane roared through the blue sky toward it, cutting the sky in half with its trail of white exhaust. From my vantage point on the ground, appeasing a poky dog, it looked as though that plane would fly straight into the moon and cut it in half, too.

If I didn’t have the most basic rudimentary knowledge about time and space and air travel, I would swear that the two bodies in the sky were set to collide. Because from here on earth, it would seem obvious. Inevitable. In reality, the moon and the plane are thousands of miles apart.

Only a few days before this walk, something wonderful had happened to me that I was not expecting. It really kind of came out of nowhere, an answer to prayer that I had wanted fervently and waiting for without knowing it was even on the horizon. But for a long time before this answer, I pleaded with God to make other things happen– things that I was SURE were right for me – and why wasn’t he making them happen? Why so much rejection over and over and can’t He see that there will be a collision unless He takes this matter seriously? Silly human, His timing is perfect.

My spiritual perception is not what it used to be – relying only on the obvious to determine the inevitable. But it is not where it should be, either – and too often forgets to take into account my vantage point. My perception is earthly, seeing the scene from the ground with possible solutions cut in half by my trail of exhaustion. Either things can turn one way or another way – from here, that’s all I can see.

I wait for the KABOOM.

And then….there is the sudden gliding through just as I wait for the explosion, and it becomes clear that He had better plans all along. As obvious as a daylight moon in a bright, blue sky, a roar of peace and gratitude. Danger was thousands of miles away, I just couldn’t see it.

God, surveying the scene, had been able to see everything from above and around and in. He is in us, you know.

He is so good, making better things happen than I could imagine. Appeasing my poky and impertinent soul, doesn’t rush me. He knows I’m learning. When I look upward at Him, I’m grateful that He is patient with me.

His perception is perfect.

“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.” – Isaiah 55:8

Not Fooling Anyone: Christians and the masquerade

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By: Jana Greene

I’ve always thought that masquerade balls are a little bit silly. The masks – small and papery – neither really obscure the identity of the wearer in full, nor allow for identification in full. They are ornate but flimsy man-made things, and all the glitter and paint in the world cannot make them anything but.

Of course, it is possible to masquerade in a more virtual manner. We humans hold up all kinds of masks to impress and mislead one another. The idea is to project our sameness to everyone else while protecting our tender faces. Sometimes we think that the glitzier our visage, the more we are fooling the world.

Christians, especially, are known for wearing masks.

But we are not fooling God. We are not even fooling each other. Hidden identities are false identities.

Life is not a masquerade ball, meant to be waltzed stranger-to stranger, emotionless. But a wild movement of fellowship meant to be danced barefoot in the dust that Jesus kicked up when He walked the earth. Barefaced and real, with the tears, smiles, sorrows and joys in full view of one another, and our God.

What of our ornately crafted masks worn to protect our identities? If we remove them, people might see the mess. People might see the pain.

But they might also see the Jesus.

God never made us with that purpose in mind. Jesus had big problems with mask-wearers. “Take them down,” He said in effect. “You are not fooling anyone.” The Apostle Paul – himself a believer in a kind of  recovery for mask-wearing – wrote:

“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original..” Galations 5:25 – 26 (the Message)

Our identities are God-given, not flimsy, man-made things. Don’t cover yours with same-ness paint. Take down the mask of glitter and glitz.  I see that your tender face is full of tears and smiles, sorrows and joys – emotion-full. It looks real and raw and beautiful like God intended.

It looks a lot like Jesus.