God’s grace dispensed through people
Yesterday was a powerful reminder of the unfathomable, steadfast love and trustworthiness of our heavenly Father.
This past week has consolidated my understanding of a tactic the enemy has been exploiting relentlessly in his quest to win companions for the pit that is his destiny.
This past half year has brought me to the point of acceptance and a place of learning that although we – the elect of God who have chosen to put our hope in Him – are not of this world, we are most definitely in it. In other words, the things that happen in this world will touch us at one time or another. What differentiates us from those who have not hoped in God is the way we deal with the things we experience.
All in all, the 2017 leg of my journey has so far been a rollercoaster. It has been a time of exploding long-standing mind-sets, a season for shifting old but firmly-held perspectives, and best of all, a period of relief that has encouraged me to dare to crack open my eyes and discover a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Let’s start with yesterday.
Attending the “passing out” preaching assignment of the latest student to complete her one-year programme at the faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre where I teach crochet was humbling in the extreme. I did not have time to seek permission to share her story, so let’s just call her Angi. As I listened to Angi graphically sharing her personal testimony of her dark days in active alcoholism that were spent drowning in shame and hopelessness, it took a gargantuan effort to contain the tears that these days flow so easily when I hear stories of hurting people. She gave a vivid description of the moment when she reached her individual rock bottom, as everyone recovering from addiction inevitably does. The day she was forced to borrow money from her mother to pay school fees for her children was her big moment of shame. Demeaning though this might have been on its own, a source of even more disgrace was the fact that she ended up drinking half of the money.
During her testimony, Angi apologized more than once to her mother who attended the ceremony. It was intensely moving to witness first hand such unmistakable evidence of a transformed life, as well as a healed family relationship that brought renewed optimism and hope of a return to order in their home.
Angi’s story touched me deeply in a spot that is still raw. She could have been telling the story of our own daughter who shares a similar history of powerlessness to resist the false promises of alcohol.
As the staff at the centre recounted their memories of Angi’s journey of transformation over the year since she arrived, belligerent and resentful, at Teen Challenge, each painted a glowing picture of what we read about God’s nature, His power and His will for those who follow Him. Truly God’s compassion, loving kindness and goodness surpass knowledge. The withdrawn introvert whose family delivered her to the residential rehab a year ago is today a gifted orator and communicator; a trophy of God’s awesome grace.
As those of us in the congregation then listened to Angi’s mother recall the questions she asked when her daughter was admitted into the programme: “Do you take such people to hospital for detox?” “Will she ever get back to being a normal person?…” it took me back to the days when I, too, despaired of ever seeing a change in the life of a child with so much promise but who was badly derailed from fulfilling the potential within. It was heart-warming to see the mother’s joy and relief at finally seeing her child whom she had all but written off, standing in front of a room full of people to share an inspiring message of hope out of the overflow of a heart changed not by medication, but by the Word of God. It was heartening to witness gifts, kept hidden during the season in the wilderness, come to the fore and be used to bless those present.
Angi’s mum got to finally say, “I can hardly believe the person standing here is the one I brought to this place in such a sorry state. Naringa na yeye (I’m sooooo proud of her!)”.
Thank you for being a symbol of hope, Angi.
To learn more about the Teen Challenge Women’s Centre, go to http://teenchallengekenya.org/centres/women-centre/
This past week I have raced through an enthralling book by author Chris Lyimo entitled “My Side of the Street: One Man’s Journey from Alcoholism to Sobriety”. It is a candid first-person account of his experience leading a life in bondage to alcohol and the situations that consequently arise. His story about the effects of alcoholism on an individual and on those in his or her circle is not new. But it is uniquely his, and this is what he shares very honestly with us. The careless living, the self-centredness, the violence and wasted years; the whole sorry mess. Through a book like this, we learn what goes on in the mind of a person addicted to alcohol. We get to reach a point where we can view with compassion this suffering person whose “malfunction” has caused a major fall-out in their life and relationships with frighteningly far-reaching and irreversible consequences.
In the book, Chris calls his former self a “terrorist”. The things he did while drunk are things that no-one I know would ever contemplate publishing. He hit his mother. And not once, I suspect. He blamed everyone and everything else for the way his life looked, except himself. This, I have come to learn, is one of the ways this cunning condition deceives the mind in order to keep its victims bound.
An excerpt: “Looking back, I don’t recall once thinking that I was to blame or I was in the least bit responsible for my life’s circumstances. That’s how powerful denial in alcoholism is. Denial is not a choice an alcoholic makes. They do not have much choice in their addiction. Denial is the cunning defence mechanism that the illness uses. Without any understanding from family or friends, resentment, bitterness, despair and frustration result. Condemnation of the alcoholic is the order of the day. When the alcoholic says, ‘I don’t know why I did that,’ it sounds irresponsible and ridiculous. Yet it is the closest to the truth that they will ever get without help.” This is taken from page 38 and 39 in the chapter called ‘The Drunken Terrorist’.
I get it now. And it is also sadly evident that this author’s life is a microcosm of what we as a nation are yet to treat as an emergency that is steadily devastating families and wasting potential.
The beauty of this book is that it is so utterly relatable. It is set in Nairobi and not in the US. We all have an experience of that mlevi who just can’t seem to get his (or her) act together. Whose lies and chaos we just don’t comprehend. Who we laugh at and ridicule, unequipped to appreciate why they are the way they are.
Chances are that had I read this book say in 2011 when it was fresh off the printing press, I would have dismissed it and concluded that the author was just another loser. As it is, this is the very person who, in his Take Two life as an addictions consultant and interventionist offering referral services to clueless families, ended up shedding tons of light on our own encounter with the earth-shattering bombshell of alcohol addiction. Chris is a man with connections, a man who was available to offer an understanding ear, useful insights and practical solutions when we just didn’t know where to turn.
Thank you for your candour and courage in writing this book, Chris.
To learn more about alcoholism, find Chris at https://mysideofthestreet.wordpress.com/about/
Freda comes last in this story because she came first. She was used as the special key that, after five long and desolate years of trying to crack the baffling combination of the lock, this past January opened the gate that started my husband and I on our journey of acceptance.
Every fresh trauma tends to be related by a victim hysterically and indiscriminately to any available listener. Most on the receiving end are singularly unqualified to help, through no fault of their own. They will be eager to offer opinions that lead nowhere but to the pit of self-condemnation and deep isolation. Eventually, out of shame, one learns not to give in to the pressure to vent from that place of sheer panic and confusion.
They say it’s darkest just before dawn. This is what the start of this year felt like. Dark. Real dark. As a family, we had been through five years watching helplessly as one of us skated steadily towards disaster. All four of us were bewildered. Horrified. Hurt. Resentful. Overwhelmed. In classic denial. And eventually, splintered.
They call alcoholism a family disease for good reason.
Through a set of providential connections Freda, finally, was the listener with the ability to calm the drama. Those are her words up there in the heading, hence the inverted commas. She would repeat those words with patient emphasis at the end of each hysterical recounting of our child’s various bizarre escapades, each worse than the one before. And each time my mind would jerk spastically in rebellion against such a label. An alcoholic? My child??? Isn’t alcoholism an invention of those Westerners who have nothing better to do with their time and resources than cook up yet another “-ism” and “disorder” to describe what we pragmatic Africans considered to be merely antisocial behaviour? And moreover, as a Christian I would not paste such a label on my child and thus seal her destiny…
For us, it was more natural to latch onto causes that were understandable, easier to accept and whose treatment was more cut and dried. Like she had a mental disability. Or that she was persisting in keeping company with the wrong crowd whose questionable morals had rubbed off on her. We were even ready to consider that at age 24 she was undergoing abnormal regression into the phase of adolescent rebellion. We were deeply offended by her perverse behaviour and her constant flouting of our reasonable requirements, which soon deteriorated into ultimatums. We took this as a direct challenge to our authority as her parents. We were baffled by what simply looked like sheer defiance for reasons we just could not fathom.
But the more Freda opened up about her own history as a former alcoholic, the more similarities I could see in our daughter’s story, and the more the internal defences I had erected were chipped away, creating space to accommodate the possibility that our child was not the only person in the world behaving as she had been doing for years. Her behaviour was a well-known syndrome signalling a well-defined phenomenon. Alcoholism, it appeared, had set up camp right in our home in its characteristically insidious manner. We denied the first danger signs: evidence of drinking too much, too often and being powerless to stop. With time it ensnared all of us in its powerful and sinister clutches and set us on a slippery downward slope. We each became part and parcel of that macabre dance, a merry-go-round that blamed yet enabled, aggravated then condemned, manipulated and provoked.
Our previous interventions had involved endless parental guidance on the perils of careless socializing, which morphed into no-nonsense lectures geared to get her to “snap out of it”. We roped in various relatives, then her peers to “talk to her”. When it became clear that these measures were having no effect, the approach escalated to psychiatric assessments, talk therapy with psychologists, and rehab. Yet the situation became ever more dire, with multiple suicide attempts now becoming part of the equation.
This was scary territory. This was expensive territory!
Freda taught us that addicts take hostages – and that’s what we were: daily at the mercy of whatever ungodly hour our child would come home, jumping to do her bidding each time she would call to say she needed fare to get home (code for “send money to finance my next drink”) or sick with anxiety whenever she pulled a week-long disappearing act after calling to say she was on the way home.
“She’s an alcoholic,” Freda would insist with laboured calm, stopping just short of saying, “Let’s move on, shall we?”
When acceptance finally settled within us after countless telephone conversations with Freda, initially a complete stranger, followed by a couple of meetings, denial flew out the window and the next step was trusting the network of yet more specialists to take over the management of our child’s journey to sobriety. In the past few months, through our interactions with professionals in the arena of addictions, we have come to learn that alcoholism is widespread. It is not “out there”, but it is busy ensnaring our own spouses, parents, siblings, children friends and colleagues. Decades of study provide us with the language to describe not just the awful behaviour that alcoholism leads to, but also the responses of those who love the one under its vice-like grip. Like the denial; the self-blame; the hopelessness.
We have also come to appreciate the language of recovery. I like what Al-Anon’s* Three C’s teach the families of addicts about Alcoholism: “You didn’t CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it!”
Thank you for giving so freely of yourself to set others right, Freda.
To read Freda’s story, which so resonated with our daughter’s story, go to http://madwomanofnairobi.wixsite.com/themadwomanofnairobi
Through Freda, others and yet others continue to walk alongside us to shed light and to provide concrete support in various ways. From my new involvement in the community of warriors battling in this arena, I have discovered that there are multitudes in anguish, asking God, themselves and anyone who will listen whether there is any hope for them or for this person of theirs who is a mere shadow of who they were created to be. That child of God, as we all are, who showed such promise, harboured such great dreams, who had such high standards and expectations of themselves, of life. That one who carries within them the classic signs of the “-ic”, as Freda so colourfully calls it in one of her blog posts.
I have a secret confession: those inverted commas on the heading up there serve another purpose. They are not my words. Personally, I still struggle with the idea of calling my child an alcoholic. More denial? Perhaps. Because of my life-long obsession with words, I prefer to describe her situation as “dealing with alcoholism”. I might even be willing to stretch out of my comfort zone and call her a “recovering alcoholic”. To each his or her own.
And as for our child Waihiga, who up to this point has been nameless so that we can focus on the issue and not on her, if you are curious about her journey, read about her wrestling match with alcohol addiction at https://waihiga.wordpress.com/. She has been brave enough to put it out there, warts and all, just in case there was someone going through similar struggles and didn’t know where to turn.
We thank God for keeping her alive.
Romans 11:33-36 provides the best expression I can find for this moment of gratitude. The New International Version (NIV) puts it like this:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Love and blessings,
*Al-Anon is a worldwide (affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] though separate) fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. Members gain comfort and understanding through sharing their experience, strength and hope. Its purpose is to help families of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with alcoholism.