Monday, March 9, 2020

When You Are A Slave To Fear

I have been obsessed with the band I Am They over the last few months.  Their lyrics speak to my soul and the music is so soothing.  There are many songs that I feel like could be anthems for my life.  One in particular, No Longer Slaves, is a favorite.  It starts out speaking directly to my heart.  Listen: music is powerful.  I can't explain it.  I feel everything in music.  Not just the beat, not just the instruments, and not just the words.  Those all combine and they do something deep in my heart.  There are times that it unravels me and leaves me weeping.  So when I hear the first part of this song, I feel it.  So strong.  Deep in my soul.

You unravel me, with a melody
You surround me with a song

I don't know about you, but I am so so grateful that God surrounds us through music.  Many people look to creation - the land, the sky, the seas.  It's easy to see God in the mountains or a rainbow, or feel him in a cool breeze.  Music is also creation.  God can be seen through music, art, or theater.  The art that God speaks through the most for me has to be music.  Hands down.

There is another line in that song that says this:

I'm no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God


Look: I have been a slave to fear for as long as I can remember.  My earliest memories of my childhood are rooted in fear.  From a prison escape near the house where helicopters were flying over and radio announcers were telling us to stay inside and lock the doors, to general fear of the dark, fear has been my constant companion.

When I first came home, 8 years ago, I began to work on identifying what was keeping me enslaved, both to sin and to fear.  You can't deal with your "stuff" and get healthier if you don't face it.  So, I threw myself into facing myself.

I had to dig deep and look at myself for who I really was.  A sinner.  Broken.  Guilty of so much hurt and betrayal against so many people.  It was almost enough to overwhelm and overpower me.  Honestly, if not for my faith in God, it would have been too much for me to handle.

When you live in fear, every decision you make is rooted there.  I hate being outside at night.  I actually hate nights in general.  Something about the darkness has been offensive to me from the time I can remember.   I used to be scared to eat Sunday dinners, scared to be in my house alone in the dark, scared someone would shoot me through the sliding glass doors that I had to pass in order to get to my childhood bedroom.  Some of my fears, as you can see, are completely unrealistic.  Why would a sniper be hiding out in the middle of nowhere Indiana, in the country, waiting for an opportune time to shoot me?  What is that?  At the time though, as a young child, they were very real to me, and if I didn't do things just right, if I didn't have these mantras I would say or didn't have certain behaviors I used to cope, I wouldn't have survived the fear that was all around me in my childhood.

While we are talking about fears, here is something else that I have just always worried about or thought or feared would happen to me.  I have always just believed I would be raped, and killed, and on particularly bad days, torture would also be a part of my departure from this world.  At 41, it is still a fear that is very real and it plagues me.  And honestly, I think it has impacted every aspect of my life.  So much that until recently, I was oblivious to just how much.  I am not sure if I can adequately explain this, but I will try.

When I was a kid, the only thing I ever wanted was to be a wife and a mom.  So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone that knew me that I got married at 19, had a kid at 20, one at 21, one at 22, and one at 25.  I got and did exactly what I had always wanted.  But here's the thing I realized recently.  I never saw myself old.  I never even saw myself middle aged.  I saw myself with a husband and with small children.  But never, ever did I think I would live to be old enough to see my kids graduate high school or get married, as two of them are doing very soon.  I've never thought I would have grand kids.  Sure, about 5 years ago, I started thinking, "Wow, I could actually have grand kids some day."  And anyone who knows me presently knows that I would find it really hard to be mad at any of my kids for giving me a grand baby, now or in the future.  Sure, Olivia is WAY TOO YOUNG, but the others are 17 and up, and it isn't out of the realm of possibility.  But I never envisioned a future for myself. 

I realized this about myself only about a month ago.  And upon putting words to it, I immediately tried to figure out what the heck was causing that.  I still don't fully understand it.  Except to say that at some point in the last months, I have begun to see a future for myself - beyond this present moment.  I see myself attending graduations and weddings, having grand kids and growing old.  Honestly, it has been a bit of a strange experience - to realize that I never thought I would live past maybe age 28?  Now that I am well past that, I can finally see myself in the future.  I've been suicidal a handful of times in my life, but I don't think depression or suicide is a life I envisioned for myself.  It was this constant companion-this thought that I will be raped and killed.  When I say that it is an obsessive thought, unless you have had obsessive thoughts, you just might not understand how consuming it can be.

I can remember talking to my mom growing up and I never felt like she understood these irrational fears I experienced.  I think she thought I was just sensitive or being silly.  Through no fault of her own, I learned from my mother to be ashamed of my fear and to internalize it.  To shove it down and try to live as if it didn't affect every aspect of my life.  I want to make something clear.  I do not blame my mom.  She did the best that she could, with the resources she had and the emotional strength she had available at the time.

But we live in different times today.  It's okay and encouraged to look at mental illness and its role in peoples lives.  It's okay to seek treatment and therapy now.  It wasn't okay 35 years ago.  It was a shameful or secret thing to be bipolar or struggle with depression.  There was such a stigma surrounding mental illness that I began to internalize a lot and the fears became bigger in my life than they ever should have been.  Most of those closest to me know that I was adopted by my aunt and uncle as a baby.  So when I refer to my mom, I am referring to my adoptive mom, who is biologically my aunt.  I have never known my biological parents as mom and dad.  I have always seen them more like and aunt and uncle.  My mom and dad who raised me, they are my parents.  I've never wrestled with this.  I've never had bitterness over being adopted and I think one of the best, healthiest things my parents did was raise my sister and I with the knowledge that we were adopted.  We also knew that our biological mother was sick.  She was diagnosed manic-depressive and it was really severe.  She was incapable of raising us in a stable and safe environment.  But remember, this was at a time when it wasn't really okay to talk about mental illness.  Thus, my aunt and uncle, suffering from their own traumas and tragedies, took my older sister and I in and raised us as their own, with little to no knowledge of how to even deal with mental illness, much less help me or my sister in our own struggles with it.

All of that background to show you that mental illness was a very real present thing that affected my immediate family.  It also meant that I would be more susceptible to suffering myself.  I had some issues in high school and was suicidal at times.  I would self-harm and it feels so weird to tell people about it now.  It wasn't cutting.  That never occurred to me.  But when life was really hard and my emotional pain was too much, I would hold out my arms and run through the woods as fast and as long as I could, slamming my arms into trees and branches as I ran.  I did this regularly, scratching up my arms in an attempt to make the pain stop.  Either that, or I would bang my head back against the wall, or something that I carried into adulthood - I would dig my fingernails into my hands as hard as I could, feeling the pain and leaving marks because somehow, it would drown out the noise in my mind.  It quieted the crazy I often felt.  Even though it hurt, it was comforting.  I don't talk about it often, as I have a tendency to minimize things I suffer through, because others have it way worse than me.  But something I am trying to be more conscious of is NOT minimizing my pain.  Because my pain is real and it affects me very deeply.  Maybe it looks different or more desirable to the person next to me, but I can guarantee none of us are equipped to handle any of what the person next to us is going through.  To any degree.  We are flawed humans, incapable of perfection this earth, and to compare ourselves with anyone else, regardless of what they are going through, is foolish.

All of this has been swimming around in my brain for weeks.  I am almost 8 weeks post-op.  Honestly it was a really difficult surgery and an even more difficult recovery.  Kris was told after surgery that my bones were soft and the surgeon was concerned the fusion would not take.  At discharge, I was told that I would be in a hard neck brace and not be allowed to do anything strenuous with my arms for at least 12 weeks.  Initially, I was banking on a 6 week recovery time.  It was quite disappointing to learn it would be 12.  The entire experience has been hard.  The first 3 weeks home were horrible.  I was miserable and began to fear (shocker) that I would never turn a corner and start feeling better.  Finally after 3 weeks, I started feeling a little better.  But the next 3 weeks were still a constant struggle. 

The opiate epidemic is so bad that they now restrict how much pain medication they can give you and each week, I was barely making it without having to call in another RX.  For reference, they gave me 30 pills each week.  The RX was actually a lesser dose than I was already using while in pain management.  The RX allowed me up to 8 pills a day.  1 to 2 pills, every 4 hours, as needed.  Here's the thing.  In pain management, I was up to 2 pills at a time because 1 just wasn't effective.  So my dose was lower AND they were only giving me 1 in the hospital, despite numerous discussions about how pain wasn't improving with it.  When I finally started taking 2 at home, I was able to get some relief.  But in doing so, if I took as prescribed, I would run out in about 3 days.  Instead, I only took up to 4 a day (which means I was rationing and only taking it twice a day, so my pain was basically unmanageable the entire time), and was able to make the RX last a week.

I had just filled it again right before my 6 week check up.  Everything was actually looking so good that the surgeon threw away the hard neck brace and told me I could gradually start easing back into normal activity, with the note to give myself a day to recover when I added something new back in, so that I could make sure I wasn't doing anything too taxing, too quickly.  When I called Tuesday of last week, I expected to be told it was the last time he would fill the RX.  Instead, they waited two days and called me on Thursday to tell me that the surgeon would not fill the RX any longer.  After a naturally-occurring meltdown, I came to terms with it and last Thursday, took 2 of my last 4 Percocet.  And I haven't taken those last 2.  Instead, I was really sick all weekend.  Likely detoxing, though I'm not completely ruling out a stomach bug...

All of this has made me face the fear that I can't keep living the way I do, consumed by fear.  In this case, I have been so afraid of the pain going forward.  But this morning, I woke up and felt more like myself than I have in probably 2 years, without the aid of any kind of medication, RX or otherwise.  My pain was at a 6 when I woke up, but simply getting up and moving around knocked it down to a 5.  This is huge and tells me that some of the morning discomfort is likely my age.  But because I am feeling more like myself, and because I have been so introspective lately (because what else am I supposed to do after surgery?), I sit here writing it all down finally.  I feel like I should apologize now for the length, but I write this blog for me, and splitting this into two posts would only benefit the few people who read this, so this is just what you are stuck with.  ;-)

So, I have been thinking about these fears for quite some time.  It was only a month ago that I started wondering about and researching OCD.  After just reading one article, I realized that perhaps my fears are more closely tied to OCD, and not anxiety.  So as I learn and understand more about OCD, I feel like I can get a better handle on these fears that constantly bombard me, and the hope would be that I can begin to cope with them in a healthy manner.  I don't believe they will ever go away, but I have to stop letting them control me.  I've never been able to fully understand where my anxieties come from, until recently.  I have not ever been diagnosed with OCD, but when I reflect on my repetitive behaviors growing up and the obsessive thoughts that haunt me, I think maybe that's the root of all of this fear.

Yesterday at church, the sermon was called "Do Not Worry."  It was your typical extrapolation from Matthew 6:25-34, about how God cares for us so much more than the birds and flowers and he adores them!  In this passage, Jesus tells those listening not to worry about really any aspect of your life.  Those are harsh words when you every breath is filled with worry!  Talk about a gut check. 

Remember my fear that a sniper would shoot me through the glass doors going to my room?  Do you know how I would cope with it?  At the bottom of our stairs there was this plaque with a Bible verse that said, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee."  King James was big back in the 80s and 90s and so I memorized that verse exactly as it was on the sign early on and from the moment my foot hit the first stair, I would obsessively recite over and over "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.  What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee." 

It didn't really comfort me or make me less afraid, but it gave me what I needed to be able to keep going up the stairs.  And once I reached the top, when I could be seen through the glass doors, I would take off running through the small hall and across the balcony entry way where the glass doors were, until I was safely in my room.  And in my running, in my mantra, I still had this crazy fear that I was going to be shot.  This happened every day.  Multiple times a day if I had to go up and down that stairway and cross in front of that entry way more than once.  While I had less fear when it was light, the fear was still there, heightened greatly once the sun went down.

I was even terrified to take my dog outside in the dark while I was in high school.  I was convinced that someone would be hiding behind one of the trees, ready to shoot me, or take me so they could rape and kill me.  And that mantra, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" repeated until I was safely back inside with the doors locked behind me.

I ask Kris almost every night if he has locked the door and armed the alarm.  Every. Night.  And if he has gone to sleep already, I get up and check it myself, convinced that if I don't, that one night will be the night an intruder breaks in while we are asleep.  For years, Kris has had to deal with my particular brand of crazy.  It is amazing he loves me the way he does, given how much he deals with on a daily basis with me.

As I sat in church yesterday, I just heard God say that it is time to lay down the obsessive thoughts.  It's time to deal with it.  And I thought, "But God, how will I remember?  You have to remind me when I'm spiraling."  And here's the thing:  I believe that He can and that He will give me the presence of mind to identify these fears and thoughts when they come.  I've watched him do it in other areas of my life.  Declaring this doesn't mean I am no longer going to wrestle with fear or obsessive thoughts. 

But my hope, my goal, is to get to a point where I recognize the fear for what it is, and ask God to take those thoughts captive, making them obedient to Christ, instead of letting them be obedient to my fear.  Something the preacher said yesterday kind of stuck with me.  I don't even remember exactly what he said, but it was something to the affect of God cares about our fears.  He is with us in them.  He wants us to know his peace and be able to trust him, even in the fear.  So, this is my commitment:  that when the fears come, I will learn to identify them, and then view them through this lens-God is with you and nothing that happens is outside of him.  You can and will get through this, because my word is true and I have told you that I love you and I am with you and I have a place prepared for you.  So if the worst happens, if I get abducted, tortured and then killed, I will be able to handle it, knowing that God suffers with me and if I die, I get to go home.

I'm not long for this earth.  None of us are.  We are here for such a short time, and I believe what matters sharing Love and Truth with others.  We weren't made to live in this life alone.  That's why Eve was created, as a companion and help-mate for Adam.  It's why God made a way for humans to reproduce.  We were intended to live in community with one another.  And as much as I rail against it because I have issues with people in general, it is vital to my survival.

While thinking about all of this yesterday, my first thought was, "But what if one of the kids dies?  What if you lose your husband?"  But what I heard in that moment was that my God is big enough to carry me through even the most devastating circumstances.  My friend Shawn has been on my mind a lot lately.  He lost his wife and 2 of his boys almost 15  years ago.  He has walked a road that has always been a fear of mine, and he trusts God.  When push came to shove, he could give in to the grief and let it overwhelm him, or he could put action to his faith and trust God that no matter what, God had a purpose for his life. 

Not that God intended to take away half of his family.  Not that God took delight in it.  But that God was there, suffering and grieving in the same exact way Shawn was.  He was next to Shawn in the deepest pain, right there so that when the grief became too much, he could just be held.  I think this is a beautiful picture of what it is like to grieve.  Shawn hasn't shared that part with me directly.  I have just watched him live out Romans 8:28 these last 15 years and have been amazed at his faith and trust in God in the darkest times.  And I am sure there were days when he was angry or ranted or begged God to help him understand the WHY.  But that doesn't mean he doesn't have his faith firmly planted in God.  It just means he is human and grief comes to all of us. 

We have to decide how we will face it.  And I want so badly to be able to face the death of my husband or children that way (or even my own demise) - knowing that the God who has never failed me will never fail me, even in death.  He will carry me and sit with me and cry with me and love on me.  He will quietly listen while I rant and rave and question why.  And then he will tilt my face to his and say,

"You are my child.  I love you.  I have always loved you.  And one day, you will see them again.  But for now, trust me.  Know that there is good that can come from even this.  You saw how I rebuilt your marriage and gave you a tender, responsive heart where before there was nothing but stone.  Know that I've got you, and I've got this.  Trust the miracles you have already seen.  Trust me and know that I have a plan and even though it doesn't make sense now, one day it will all be revealed and your faithfulness to me and trust in my promises will yield a harvest you can't even imagine."

Look, I believe that with my whole heart.  There is not a single piece of me that doesn't wholeheartedly agree with that.  I feel it, passionately.

I can only pray that the next time I am faced with fears, obsessive thoughts, or even worse, tragedy, that I remember this and that I am able to trust what I have already seen God do.  Because his miracles in my life have been crazy amazing, even in some of my darkest times.  So if I face darker days, may I QUICKLY remember all the ways God has been faithful and has fulfilled his promises in my life.

Today, I wanted to share a song that I have loved for a while, but heard in a new way recently.  I've always been inconsistent with spiritual things: prayer and Bible reading specifically.  Consistent being the key word here.  I struggle.  I always have.   It's not like it never happens.  But I'm no where near where I want to be.  I have loved what this song represents in terms of how we stand before God guilty, but Jesus steps up and says, "No.  This one is mine.  I have her covered.  I will defend her."

Jesus is the champion of the underdog! 

And thank God for that! 

His love, his blood - it defends us. 

But what struck me today, as I was thinking about all the little things I don't do that I should - even in those tiny things where I know I can be and do better, Jesus defends me.  He doesn't see the guilt and shame I feel when I realize I am not at all where I need to be.  He sees his child who he wants to lovingly take into his arms and reassure her that it's okay.  That her best is good enough.  And it always has been.

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