Once again the media has exploded with the disturbing story of a sports figure and celebrity who has been overtaken by their addictions. The arrows of blame are flying at everyone whoever came into this person’s life as he too is blamed for being a weak person. And as the arrows of shame fly, so does the misunderstanding of what it is like to watch someone who is slowly killing themselves and the painful decisions that their loved ones must make if they hope to survive and keep on living.
The Lamar Odom saga is one that many of us live outside of the spotlight. We do it in our own circles and often without sharing our drama with those closest to us. These past few days I feel as if my healing scar has been ripped open again as I remember the frustration that I could not save my husband from his demons. Like Odom, he suffered a horrific childhood of abuse and at an early age was introduced to self-medication for his pain by his foster family and doctors. My husband, Dan, would live his life in and out of treatment programs, praying for relief. Unfortunately, he also suffered from bipolar disorder and even when he was clean and sober, he felt he was going crazy. He did things that made absolutely no sense to anyone—including him.
People would say to me all the time—if only he had Jesus he would change. If only he would commit to a program he would be ok. If only you were tougher on him. If only you weren’t so hard on him. If only…
You see friends, those of us living with the addict and mentally ill, we do all those things. We cry ourselves to sleep praying that God will deliver them. We become hopeful when they fall on their knees and accept the Lord into their lives. We celebrate when they agree to enter a long-term treatment program. We watch them count the days of sobriety and we think, “This is it.” We all do all that we can and yet sometimes the demon inside wins the battle here.
And sometimes, we let go and let God take over.
Letting go and watching what happens outside the protective boundaries of our homes can be almost as unbearable as struggling with them inside where no one sees the battle. This is when our faith is tested as we see them rise above only to slip away. AA talks about those who may never fully come clean and how we need to keep them in our prayers. Often those prayers are for deliverance—a deliverance that may only come with death. And that’s when the blame game really kicks into gear, as we see it being played out in social media today.
You see I lived this for many years. My husband lost his battle. I made tough decisions to protect myself and my daughter that few understood. We too had a legal separation that I sat on for several years hoping that I would never have to file the final papers. When Dan was hit by a car and left with severe brain damage, I had to go ahead and finalize our divorce so that he could receive long-term care. That didn’t mean it was over for me though. He was still my husband despite what some legal document declared. We still visited him in the nursing home. I was still his emergency contact. And when he died, I was still the wife that arranged for his funeral and led the family to say goodbye.
There were those in my family and in the recovery community that didn’t understand how I was still in the picture after all those years and after finalizing our divorce. Why hadn’t I walked away and pretended it never happened? Even at his funeral, my brother went around asking people why they were there for such a loser, a liar, a thief, and drug addict that had caused so much pain. You see, that is the gift of grace and mercy that my faith brought me. Many of us loved Dan and could see beyond the actions his drugs and mental illness led him to take. We could see the same man that God saw. We could weep, as I’m sure God did, at Dan’s pain and torment. We could love the man that was made in God’s image and who despite his deepest beliefs in that same God, just fell short. We could see our own imperfection and still love ourselves because we were willing to love Dan as Jesus loved the sick and mentally ill.
So as this story unfolds in the press, let us stop criticizing a woman who made choices to protect herself while still loving her husband. Let us pray for the family and friends who gather around a man they love for who they know he is. Let us pray for the man who hurt so much he could never find peace. And then let us open our eyes and our hearts to our own families and friends who are walking this same walk in everyday life. Let us reach out in understanding and compassion as their hearts are torn apart because their lives are being lived out in front of them, even if they suffer in silence. And let us keep trying to help the helpless and lost, just as Jesus did when he walked the streets.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.