Learning To Ask For Help

I never struggled with believing in God. I never doubted that God could do what God said God could do. In fact, I believed so firmly that God could save me from my alcoholism that I did the only thing I could think to do:

I never asked God for help.

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Have you ever known something was the right thing to do, but you were just too stubborn to do it? For example, have you ever lost something–glasses, car keys, cell phone–and you know the best way to look for it is to be methodical and organized? But instead, you just go crazy through every room throwing everything everywhere hoping to find what you are looking for.

Or if you are feeling sick, you know the best thing to do is lay down, rest, stay hydrated, maybe even call a doctor. Instead, we often push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion just because we can.

Just because we know better does not always mean we will do better.

I always knew, deep down, that I should not drink. I could look at my family and see people struggling with alcoholism and other addictions. I could see the ways in my life I had participated in activities almost compulsively. I was able to at least call to mind the thought that I should not start (or continue) doing something that had such dangerous potential consequences.

So why did I do it? Because I convinced myself that I was stronger than everyone else who had gone before me. Why should I think that I couldn’t handle it just because people close to me couldn’t? It did not matter that I knew (on an intellectual level) the dangers inherent in my decision. At that point, all that mattered was that I thought way more highly of myself than I should have.

I always knew, deep down, that I needed help. There was a time early in my drinking life that something happened that raised some red flags. I had not been drinking much. And when I drank, it was only a small amount. But one day, I had a difficult shift at work. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get home and I’m gonna drink more than normal to make this day better.” Having that thought alerted me to the distinct possibility that something might be wrong.

But that didn’t stop me. I didn’t tell anybody. Why would I have this knowledge that something may be terribly wrong and keep it to myself? Because I convinced myself that the shame I would experience if I admitted my need for help was not worth the potential safety that telling someone would bring. I felt a greater desire to protect myself from shame and embarrassment than what alcohol was doing to me.

I always knew, deep down, that I should turn to God. I was raised going to church. It has always been part of my life. I have never known a period in life when I did not believe in God. I have always believed in the power of prayer and have had practiced praying regularly. But I was always careful in how much I would talk to God about this particular problem. I had an intellectual awareness that something was wrong. I had a belief that there was somewhere I could turn for help.

But I didn’t. I made the conscious decision to not seek help. I knew that if I did, I may not continue to get my way. I might have to make some changes. I might have to admit weakness, failure, and an inability to control my life. I made the choice to continue on a path that I knew could lead to my destruction because I was too stubborn to admit my own limitations.

So for me, I did not have to start a journey of belief. I just needed to tap into that belief I already had. I had to admit to myself that I had finally had enough and that I actually wanted to get better. There was no magic formula. There was no grand epiphany. There was just a realization that what I was doing wasn’t working anymore. There was a realization that I did know better. It was just time to start acting like it.

The Illusion of Control

I used to know the mail delivery schedule well enough to know when I needed to leave work to get home for mail carrier dropped the mail in our box.

I used to know the date our credit card statement closed each month, what day it would be sent, and how many days it would take to arrive at our house.

This may not be odd information to have. Probably many people are so well-organized and structured they have this type of knowledge and recollection handy. Here’s the thing: I’m not one of those people. I am not well-organized and structured. I am repeatedly surprised by the monthly arrival of numerous bills (Didn’t we just pay that one a few weeks ago?).

The only reason I knew about the credit card bill and its arrival in the mail is because I was hiding those purchases from my spouse. I did not want her to see how I was spending money (that we didn’t have).

The funny-not-funny element in all of this is that I thought this was a sign of how much control I had over my life. I mean, if I put that much effort into hiding what I was doing, I must have it all together, right? It couldn’t mean I was spiraling out of control, could it?

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My life in addiction was not only marked by an inability to stay sober. It was also marked by the outrageously arrogant belief that I had everything under control. Unfortunately, too many things worked out in my favor to bolster that belief. I got away with it. I could cover my tracks. I could hide what I was doing. I never missed work.

But every day (Every. Day.) I had the thought that I was worthless, useless, weak, and awful. I had momentary thoughts of wanting to stop or at least recognizing that what I was doing was not good. Yet each of those momentary thoughts could be quickly washed away and drowned out.

The illusion of control allowed me to continue doing whatever it was I wanted to do. The illusion allowed me to believe that I was in charge. The illusion allowed me to close my eyes to the reality of what I was doing to myself and my family.

And here’s the thing: I don’t think you have to be an addict to fall victim to this illusion. How many of us are controlled by our desires yet think it really isn’t such a big deal? That extra trip to the buffet line, that impulse item you buy on Amazon, that movie that you know shows stuff you really shouldn’t see, that juicy piece of gossip you can hide behind a “prayer request” or “I thought you should know.”

Most of us have encountered multiple instances in our lives when we can polish ourselves up enough and escape consequences often enough that we think our lives are moving along just fine.

After all, if we are putting that much effort into it, we must have it all together, right? It couldn’t mean we are spiraling out of control, could it?

It’s not normal to follow the mail carrier’s schedule. It’s not normal to pass out every night and come to every morning. It’s not normal to eat to the point of heartburn and bloating every meal. It’s not normal to pay interest on impulse items just because we have to get them now.

All those things may be our routine; that does not make them normal. They are all indicators of the illusion of control.

So stop. Take a breath. Step back. Ask what is controlling whom? Ask if you can truly step away. Recognize what you are hiding and reflect on why you think it needs to be hidden.

And give up the illusion. It will be an important step in moving into a life of freedom.

Letting Go Of The Leash

Have you ever walked a big, energetic dog? The kind that seemingly has the strength to pull an 18-wheeler? Only you are the one holding on to the leash and the dog is pulling you all over the place. When you are done, it would be factually correct to say you took the dog for a walk. But honestly, who was in control?

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So many times in our lives, we find ourselves going about our daily routines and rituals thinking we are calling all the shots. But work schedules, and kids’ after school activities, and parents’ getting sick, and scraping together enough money to pay that bill come along and we are just being along behind the large dog that we can barely keep up with.

It’s exhausting when something else is in control. And let’s face it: we make our decisions, we make our choices, and we know there are consequences. I knew when my kids said at the beginning of the school year they wanted to be involved in choir, theater, service clubs, athletics, youth group activities, debate, and still be in the top 10% of their class that we were going to be exhausted all school year long.

So what’s the point?

Be they good or bad, we often make choices to participate in activities that carry certain repercussions. We often make choices that lead to something pulling us along the way.

I made a decision one day thinking I would be in total control. I would be fine. I could handle it (this particular thought developed into “I can stop at any time”).

It is not challenging for me to admit that my life is at times spinning out of control. The question I have to ask is if I am going to do anything about it. I know when I am in over my head. I know when I am too busy. I know when I am spiraling out of control. Today, that usually means I drink another cup of coffee and keep on going. Not so long ago, that meant I kept drinking something else.

But even then, I knew. I knew I was not in control. I knew the consequences of my decisions were leading me around like a big, active dog pulling me by the leash. So I was faced with a choice: I needed to decide if I was going to let go of the leash or not.

I held on to that leash for a long time. I knew I needed to let go. I just didn’t want to. But finally, I did. Finally, I realized I didn’t want to be pulled along by something else.

So I came to my senses and let go.

Grabbing Me By The Hand

I could not move. I was just standing there.  I was frozen. Bob grabbed my hand. He walked with me into the room. He sat with me.

I could not move.

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The time I remember my powerlessness being so manifested physically was the first time I went an AA meeting after my last relapse. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I felt I had let many people down.

I showed up at the meeting, but could not walk through the door into the meeting room. Instead, I went to the kitchen next door. My sponsor, Bob, arrived and saw me there. He asked me what was wrong. I told him.

And then he reached out his hand, grabbed mine, and we walked into the room together.

I honestly do not believe I would have made into that room on my own. I do not think I would have been able to speak up and admit what I had done.

I was powerless. Powerless to move. Powerless to speak. Powerless to confess that I needed help in my life.

And Bob showed up. Bob listened. Bob grabbed me by the hand and walked with me, sat with me. And he continued to show up, listen, talk, and sit with me.

I hate admitting I am powerless. But on that day, my powerlessness led me to rely fully on someone else.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

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People often ask me how they can help people in their churches who are in the early stages of recovery. I think Bob provides the greatest example: listen, show compassion, be present.

I remember sideways glances. I remember people shying away from talking to me because they didn’t know what to say. I remember people just flat-out giving up on me. But I want to stress this: there is no magic statement you need to speak to somebody. You are not going to cure them with your words. But your presence might make a difference.

Show up. Sit in silence. Or make small talk. When the person in pain decides to open up, be ready to hear what they have to say. Don’t offer solutions. Don’t feel like it is necessary to make suggestions. Listen. Maybe grab them by the hand and walk with them to a meeting.

As I reflect back on the morning a number of years ago, I only remember one thing Bob said to me. As I opened up about my relapse and what all had occurred, I told him I would understand if he no longer wanted to be my sponsor. Instead, he said, “I want to see you get better. And I want to be a part of that.”

I know Bob told me other things that morning. But that is what I remember. Especially since he showed that to be true by his actions in the following months.

Be present. Listen. Walk alongside.

I may be powerless, but you can give me strength.