Aug 2, 2012

Thursday SHINE....

Good Morning, SHINE friends!  This is Rebekah and I want to introduce our fellow SHINE girl, Amy, who has a beautiful story to tell.  Amy is my sweet friend and without giving you the long story... our family has sort of hitched our wagon to her family’s wagon in every sense imaginable. Her light is as pure as pure can be.  I love Amy. Seeing her story all together here is awe inspiring and I feel like I am hearing it for the first time... So grab a cup of joe, girls, and be blessed so that we all may say, “Look what the Lord has done!”

 First, I want to thank Rebekah and Jill for asking me to do this. I was terrified but knew the Lord wanted me to share my journey. Rebekah is my prayer hero, I love her and my family absolutely loves her family. We all got to know one another in Small Group and we're so blessed by their friendship. 

My name is Amy. I'm a Christian and I'm an addict. I've been clean for almost 11 years.
I was raised in the Baptist church in Richmond, Virginia. My paternal grandfather was a deacon and a musician. He sang in church or in youth Sunday school every week. He played gospel bluegrass and every Friday night was spent at a nursing home or church playing music.  I memorized Bible verses and wasn't allowed to wear pants or fish on Sundays. I was never allowed to play cards because they were Satan's fodder. We read the Bible before bed and said long, fancy prayers. 

I spent almost every weekend with those grandparents and every week with my mom's parents (and eventually my mom and step-father) who were much, much less conservative but still went to church. I was allowed to wear the goofy fashion of the 80's (parachute pants, Forenza and men's boxers as shorts, anyone?) and listen to Michael Jackson. No one at school talked about God or being a Christian. It was like I had two lives.

My parents were high school sweethearts and got married after they graduated. They had a child before me, a boy, who died within days of birth, and then they had me. Their relationship didn't make it through the loss of my brother. I can't imagine that struggle. So, they divorced and I went to the grandparents where I was treated like a pretty little doll and spoiled rotten on a daily basis.

When I was six, my mom remarried and I was excited about finally having a "normal" family, like my friends, and even a sister my same age. My step-father worked hard and drank hard. He wasn't a mean drunk, he was actually very nice, but when sober he was verbally and emotionally abusive. Very strict, very manipulative. I was relieved when I was 15 and he and my mom divorced.

That divorce was when I first recognized the weakness and emotional demise of my mother. He took everything. One day we went outside and her car was gone. He let her stay in our big, beautiful house. But he took all the furniture. That was the trailhead to the bottom for my mom. She couldn't take care of my 7 year old little sister AND me so she left me to do my own thing. I remember so many lunches without lunch money and soccer and cross country practices with no ride home. It wasn't that she didn't have money to give me or couldn't pick me up at school, it was that she was such a stranger to me at that point that I couldn't ask her for anything.

My dad's mom had passed away and my grandfather, lonely and tired, had quickly remarried a woman who wanted nothing to do with his family. I hadn't seen my dad, outside of my grandmother's funeral, in years. I could count the times on one hand.

None of my friends were Christian. I'd had one in middle school but she went to a different high school and we lost touch. I was always envious of how comfortable she was in her faith. I had never been comfortable in mine. Christianity was a cute white church with red carpet, stained glass windows, butter cookies in Sunday school, a lot of rules, a lot of old people and a grandfather who turned his back on his family.

I had my first cigarette and drink when my mom was still married but I didn't get drunk until she was divorced. If I'd gotten caught drunk by my step-father he would have beat me raw and grounded me for a year. Literally. I had lived in fear for so long that I couldn't really manage my new found freedom.  I stayed out late, I skipped school (but never got caught), I dated, I drank and I began using drugs. I realized that other people didn't have all the freedom from their parents that I'd thought they had so I hated it when my friends had to make curfew and I had nowhere to go, nothing to do. I wanted to be anywhere but home. My life was so full with teenage girl stuff and I was so lonely.

I struggled with the freedom I’d had in high school so college threw me for a loop. More drinking, more boys, more drugs. And more bulimia. I had dabbled in eating disorders over the years but thought nothing of it. Living away from home, with 750 other women, really brought the devil out of the box for me.

I thought my life was slightly unmanageable then but couldn't put my finger on the problem. Enough money, new clothes, the right friends, the right amount of calories, the right music, the right combination of drugs and alcohol- Nothing could take away the constant fear, loneliness and feeling of impending doom.

I eventually met a guy that introduced me to heroin (and to needles) and I finally felt peaceful and calm... and the bottom began to drop out. I had always partied but never too, too much because I didn't ever really like the loss of control. Drinking made me sloppy and sick, weed made me a zombie, cocaine magnified all my problems by 100, pills made me blackout and tripping was like being locked in a closet with another me who wouldn't shut up. Even though I did a lot of drugs, I didn't really like drugs. Until heroin. 

Fast forward three years, some compromised morals, some arrests, lots of overdoses and ambulance rides, a breakup, countless detoxes and a couple trips to rehab. I was facing a year in jail and decided I'd rather do a year in a strict recovery home for women in Northern Virginia. Rules. So many rules. And I didn't like rules. If I used drugs and got caught, I went to jail. I had gone to 12 step meetings over the years but never really wanted to stop using so they were never really effective. After almost getting kicked out a couple of times, I dove into recovery. 10 meetings a week, a Higher Power, a sponsor and some step work. I finished the program and moved out. Lived with a boy (surprise!), relapsed (surprise!) and got him hooked on heroin (surprise!).  It didn't take long to get to the bottom of the bottom that time. I cleaned up, moved out, lived on my own and could finally see my life coming together. I wanted out of DC and Atlanta looked like a practical option (and was the hometown of a guy I'd been dating). A new start! With the same old Amy.

I celebrated my first honest year clean in Atlanta. I was feeling human and like maybe I could do this life thing. I made it to 19 months clean before relapsing. I still had the relationship, a good job, my own apartment (just me!), money in the bank, a relationship with my Higher Power, friends in recovery. I still went to 12 step meetings.  It was a beautiful summer Saturday and I woke up thinking about using. It didn't take long to find it in Atlanta and it didn't take long for me to realize I wanted nothing to do with that way of life. One bag of dope, which was two shots, lots of puking and lots of depression. That was how I spent that beautiful summer Saturday. I went to a meeting the following day, picked up a white chip, surrendered and told God I was done and asked Him to please help me.

That was the last time I used drugs and alcohol but it surely wasn't my last bad decision. I ended up marrying the boyfriend and having two children. He was emotionally and verbally abusive so when my daughter, Schuyler, was a little over 3 and my son, Caid, was a little over a year old, I gave myself permission to leave the marriage. I had developed a prayer relationship with God and I absolutely believe that the day I woke up and felt strong enough to leave, the Lord was carrying me. I had struggled with the decision for a long time and having come from a (twice!) divorced home, I didn't want that for my kids. I wanted them to believe in the sanctity of marriage and the importance of commitment. I eventually realized that my marriage wasn't one I wanted my children to model theirs after. A boy learns how to love and treat a woman from his father, a girl learns how to love and treat a man from her mother. My marriage was loveless and filled with anger, resentment and ugly words. It wasn't fixable and though I was 100% sure divorce was the right thing for me to do, it was also the most difficult thing I've ever done. 

I left with nothing. No money, no job (I'd been a stay at home mom since Schuyler was born), no place to go. I prayed a lot and rebuilt my life. Rented a friends condo, got my pre-kids job back, bought my first car. While still very emotionally unavailable, I met my (now husband) Josh. He was kind, he was gentle, he was smart, he was honest. He treated me and the kids well. The first time we really struggled through something in our relationship, he asked to pray with me. I was still OK with my Higher Power (which was always God), but my 12 step program had told me it only had to be a God of my understanding and I didn't have to define it.  Years into recovery with lots of meetings, steps, sponsors and sponsees under my belt, I began to feel like I did need to define that Higher Power that had carried me and literally saved my life so many times.  

We started searching for a church home and finally found one that clicked for the family. We looked at one another on the way home from our first service and agreed we'd found it. Finally young people who loved God and lived Christian lives, a pastor who didn’t once mention fire and brimstone and the music was good. Looking around at all those strong, Christian woman, I began to change things in my home and in myself. No profanity, ever. Praise music in the car (most of the time). Prayer before bed, meals and during difficult situations. Bible study as a family. We participate in Advent and Lent as a family. My son plays travel baseball and has Bible verses on his helmet and on his bat. My daughter swims year round and writes Bible verses on her arms in Black Sharpie before meets. They are strong and confident in their faith. Hallelujah!

All my life I had believed in God and recovery helped me build a relationship with God. My church, family and Christian friends made me fall in love and build a relationship with Jesus. Jesus is Christianity to me today. Loving, serving, forgiving.

I was able to go to my paternal grandfather's funeral when he died and I was so proud that the first thing anyone could say about him was that he loved the Lord and liked to talk about it (his love of baseball was a close second). My path to Jesus wasn't the path he would’ve chosen for me but I got there and I'm so grateful to him for planting the seed of faith so many years ago.

I was also able to build a relationship with my father before he passed. I was able to forgive him and he was able to be a father and a grandfather. He passed away from cancer less than a year ago and he died in a hospital holding one of my son's game balls. The Bible verse of the day on my iphone app that morning was 1 Thessalonians 5:17-  "Pray without ceasing." I had no idea that he would pass that evening and how important that verse would become in my life.

Looking at my life today, it's hard to remember the Amy that was so ravaged by sin and addiction. I'm a completely different person. The Lord put recovery in my life to bring me back to Him. He knew I needed rebuilding and He walked so patiently beside me for all those years until I finally sought Him. I'm still a work in progress but my prayers today are asking to be more Christ-like. I no longer have to pray for survival in the darkness and I'm no longer scared of death. If I go today, I go forgiven and surrounded by the light and love of Christ.

Shine on, sweet friends. Thanks for letting me tell my story.

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