Sunday, May 04, 2008

Negotiating distance

Susan is free. That's my friend who's been in the county jail for the last 4 months. I haven't spoken to her yet, but I know that at midnight last night, she was released. One of her sons was going to pick her up. He told her she could stay with him for 3 days, and that's it. And so it begins for her ... the process of negotiating distance. Her children have lost hope in her, and so they have built their inpenetrable emotional fortresses, their barbed wire resolve to keep her at a distance.

She told me once, "They don't understand addiction." I'm certain she is 100% correct. I confess I don't understand it much either, even though I have a collection of books on my desk about it as well as several years of ministry experience.

And personal knowledge.

"Carol" called me yesterday, lamenting that her daughter and husband are ganging up against her. (Carol is my alcoholic friend, deep in the throes of her addiction.) It was 2pm. I let her rant for a few minutes about how she is not being permitted to attend any of her daughter's graduation activities. Then I asked her, how many drinks have you had already? 10. "But they are only the size of dixie cups..."

As difficult as it is for a recovered addict like Susan to negotiate distance, it is truly impossible for someone like Carol. Emotionally, her family members are holding their palms up before her, "Talk to the hand." The family members of addicts are worn out, and for good reason. They have no reason to trust, to believe, to hope that things will be any different. The only fruit that has come from entertaining thoughts of hope in the past is more painful, debilitating disappointment.

And yet Carol doesn't get this. She only sees her pain. She's worn out, too, she says. And she's tired of being disrespected and verbally abused. I don't doubt it. Even a drunk deserves some dignity. But the treatment she is receiving is understandable; not necessarily justifiable, but understandable.

1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and buckler;
arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul, "I am your salvation."
4 May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
7 Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,
8 may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin. -- Psalm 35:1-8

At the risk of sounding disrespectful or "less than sacred," I have to say that David sounds a lot like the addicts I have met in the last 2 1/2 years. No, I'm not suggesting such a thing; merely that the "voice" sounds familiar. It seems someone is always pursuing them, abusing them, making life difficult for them. Interestingly enough, it is they who have chosen to take that first step away. As they enter their anesthetized worlds, they run a marathon to distance themselves from those around them. Do they realize that their loved one's reaction over time ... the "I am done with you" -- is nothing more than negotiating distance?

I reasoned with Carol that as long as she is drinking, her daughter will never let her in. She has to decide, I told her, whether she wants to have any part of her daughter's life or not. It's just that simple. Otherwise, the chasm between them will only deepen and widen. The earth between them will be swallowed up and the ensuing, gaping cavern will never be negotiated. Whether or not her pickled mind could really grasp that, I'm not sure. But like most addicts, she is very practiced at pretending yet totally oblivious to the obvious -- that everyone in the room is on to her.

I'm remembering a little lyric from a song that says, "There's a cross to bridge the great divide," that divide being the chasm we ourselves trench out between us and God. Yes, the cross bridges that divide, and even though this sounds like "Jesus of the gaps" theology, it is true all the same. God pursues us and we run, because we're not sure what he's going to do when he finds us. What so many hurting people out there don't understand is that God isn't pursuing us in order to unleash his wrath and anger. He is pursuing us to unleash his forgiveness and love, deliver his salvation on a silver platter, declare in the strongest words possible, "I love you, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Distance is painful. But God is always near.

1 comment:

Inspired said...

I don't understand addiction either. I know it is a powerful opponent. I have seen it change lives and take lives. It is unforgiving and relentless. It is powerful and sly. It knows every weakness and works incredibly hard to make a person feel worthless, angry, bitter, helpless and alone. It knows how to isolate to gain control. It's strong enough to hold you down no matter how many people are outstretching their hands and hearts to love you.
I'm not sure how you became interested in being a part of the lives of these recovering women. I'm sure you are keenly aware that not everyone will listen to your message, unfortunately. I feel, however, that you have a strong force working through you that gives you the desire and conviction to help these women. I guarantee you that you are making a difference, that you will change lives and that more than likely you will save at least one life. Sometimes it just takes one person that will listen without judgement, and that will give their love unconditionally, to save a soul.
I truly wish you well.
Cindy from MN