13 Reasons Why I Don’t Look Like An Alcoholic

JoyOn October 19th, 2015, by the grace of God, I welcomed in 13 years of freedom from the dependence on that which once enslaved me, alcohol.

When given the opportunity to share my story I always hear the same statement from at least one listener with a confused look on their face, “…But…you don’t look like an alcoholic.”
My response remains the same, “What does an alcoholic look like?”

Knowing full well that I have my own mental image of what an alcoholic looks like and it’s motivation for me to never go back to the life I once knew.

Her hair is matted and her clothes unkempt.
There are deep creases in her face from years of neglect.
She wears her wounds, making no attempt to hide them.
All forms of dignity have been stripped away.
She appears to be around 60 years old when in reality she’s 42.
She looks…well…tired. And she is.

Her children, if any, have long since given up on her and moved on with their lives.
The family she once knew has disowned her.
The church has overlooked her.
Society has pitied her.
Friends have deserted her. (They had no choice really. She stopped trying years ago.)
She’s an inconvenience, with bad teeth, no concern for personal hygiene, flammable breath, and a reputation that precedes her.

People say things without regard for her humanity, like, “Why haven’t her foolish ways killed her yet? She’d be better off dead and so would everyone else.”
Or, “She probably drinks mouthwash or rubbing alcohol. What a waste of space.”

Is my description harsh?
Have you ever seen an alcoholic in the grips of their disease?
To say it’s ugly is an understatement.

Throughout these years of recovery, I have visited treatment centers, held the shaking hands of the one in detox, claimed my seat in the rooms of A.A., accompanied a scared mother to a court hearing, listened to teary family members nightmares of living with an active alcoholic, and attended too many funerals for the seemingly hopeless one who never saw their 30th birthday.
I have seen what my future could look like if I allow my disease to dictate the direction of my life. Quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me. I hope it continues to scare me enough that I never pick up that first drink. That’s where the stronghold begins. The very first drink.

It’s a bummer. I don’t want to be an alcoholic. I didn’t grow from a little girl to a young adult dreaming of one day being a blackout drinker. I never aspired to be dependent on alcohol.

Not once did my parents say to me, “Now Joy, strive to be the best alcoholic you can be.” But I definitely gave it my all for several years. 

The reason I don’t look like your stereotypical alcoholic is because;
1.) I’m not homeless
2.) I’m a wife, mother, and productive member of society, and most days I’m pretty dang good at it.
3.) I have all my teeth (some natural ones and some designed by a dental artist).
4.) I’m obsessive about hygiene.
5.) My family is still speaking to me. Some of them actually like me.
6.) I have incredible friends who know me and aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
7.) I love and care for my children.
8.) My children love me, except when I’m driving them crazy.
9.) I don’t willingly participate in self-destructive behavior.
10.) I pay my bills…on time.
11.) I am of service to others and I love it! It’s one of my favorite things to do.
12.) I’m not a liar.
13.) I have a relationship with my Creator that everything else in my life centers around.

Most of the things listed above were not true of me 13 years ago. It has been a journey of faith with unpredictable twists and turns. Trust, especially in close personal relationships, has been earned and restored over time. I know and embrace the meaning of “Amazing Grace.”

We all have something in our lives that wants to destroy us. Mine happens to be alcohol. Maybe yours is food or sex, compulsive shopping or depression? No matter what it is, you know that the moment you become complacent in this particular area, you’re in trouble. There is a solution.

Do you know what the best defense against complacency is?
Gratitude.
I call it my complacency repellant?

I am more aware (than ever), going into this 13th year that I better be thanking God in the first few moments my eyes open and my lungs draw a sober breath. Before my feet hit the floor, praise must already be on my lips. It will be the first thing on my tongue in the morning and the last thing I taste at night.

Here’s the big takeaway… Beginning the first few moments of your day with a grateful heart has the potential to change everything. Guaranteed. If it works for me, it can work for anyone, anywhere, no matter what.

Do you believe that?

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. Whether you struggle with addiction or you love someone who does, you don’t ever have to be alone again.

Think you have a problem with alcohol? AA is a group of individuals from all walks of life, who share the same ism. It’s a program to which I owe my life. Learn more in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 

To the One Who Loves an Alcoholic

There is someone in my life who I adore. I love her so much that my insides ache when she’s hurting. Unfortunately she is in love with an alcoholic. And as some of you reading this have experienced…we are capable of causing the worst kind of pain. 

Looking back over more than a decade in recovery, free from alcohol and all it brings with it, there are things that I know to be true. Things I can see now that I couldn’t see before. Things that just, are, no matter how much I wish they weren’t.

So, I wrote her this letter and now I’m sharing it with you.
Not to provide all the answers for what you’re going through, but to hopefully shed some light on the person whom you have continually given the ability to hurt your heart.

I will be removing any personal information with generic wording and adding quotes so that you can insert the name of your person.

Friend,” this is truth…

He” is married to alcohol. Drugs are his mistress. Anything else…anyone else, is just a side thing. He always returns to what he knows. Alcohol.

It’s one of the most difficult relationships to sever. It can be done, but it takes more work than most people are willing to put in.

It’s not you.

Truly. It isn’t.

It’s that cunning, baffling bitch known as alcoholism. And without a Higher Power, complete Surrender, and the Willingness to change by dying to self, there is no hope.

You’ve laid awake countless nights, bartering with God.
Your bartering has turned to begging.
Your begging has turned to weeping.
Your weeping has turned to exhaustion.
And just when you’re about to give up…there he comes…back in the picture…full of empty promises that you want so badly to be true.
And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

This has gone on for years.
You say things like, “…but I love him! When you really love someone, you don’t just give up on them.
That may be true, but…
as a human being, a beautiful child of God, born with great purpose, you must see the wasted moments on this person who is blissfully unaware of your worth.

You don’t, do you?
You can’t.
Something in you, like in all of us, grasps on to the smallest ounce of hope and we refer back to that speck even when we are surrounded by the mountains of proof that say otherwise.

This is where I have done my share of begging God.
For reasons unknown to me, He hasn’t lifted the blinder that covers your eyes.
I know He can.
I know He wants you to be whole and live in the light of His glory and grace.
And yet knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

There is a reason why so many alcoholics lose their battle with alcohol, at times taking entire families down with them.
Like the blinder you wear, he too wears a self-inflicted blinder.
The difference in yours and his is that he can remove his at any time.
All if takes to begin is a choice to change.
One choice can change everything.
After that one choice is when the real work begins.
I can’t even call it rebuilding. That can’t start until all of the wreckage is sorted through and hauled away.
This is a grueling process.
It’s the part where most people give up.
After all, it’s much easier to have a drink than to feel the weight of our current reality.

Here’s that most difficult part for you and for most people…
Are you ready for this?

There is nothing you can do to change him.

You can’t wish him sober.
You can’t force him to get sober.
You can’t make him see the disaster he leaves in his wake every time he comes around.

Here’s what you can do.

You can accept that nothing is going to change until he actively participates in recovery. (By this, I mean, pursues it like he would his next “fix.” It’s the only way to freedom.)
You can acknowledge and release the time you have given him and that he has squandered.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and say 2 words, “Not Anymore.” followed by 4 words, “From this moment forward.”
You can sincerely speak into your child’s heart and mind that you are her protector, provider, greatest advocate, teacher, mother, and that you will do whatever it takes to provide a life that’s healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. One where she can grow and thrive, because you know the time that you have with her is short and you will lay a solid foundation that she can always stand on without worry of losing her footing.
(The way you can be 100% confident of this is because it’s what Christ does for you…and for her…everyday.)
You can recognize that even though you didn’t plan for your life to play out this way, there are so many people who love you and want to come alongside you, if you will let them.
You can cry when you need to cry, scream even, when staring at the difficult truth that your child’s father isn’t present. (This is no place to linger. You feel the feelings and move on.)
You can look in the mirror, straight into your own soul and breathe in the grace that you will need on a daily basis to do life.
You can repeat in your head and out loud as much as needed, I am not alone. I am capable. I am strong and I am worthy of love.”
You can say these same affirmations to your daughter. She will need to know them. There may come a time in her life when they seem the only thing to cling to in the midst of the storm.
You can put one foot in front of the other and know that there will be days when you are in a groove and moving like a champion as well as the ones where every step towards tomorrow seems to sucker punch you back into yesterday. That’s okay. We appreciate beauty all the more when we see the purpose of the rain. (Didn’t you tell me that?)

“Friend,” You are so very loved.
We see you.
We hear you.
You matter.

And…it’s time to walk away.
We’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

Love and Grace,
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My Nonviable Pregnancy

Last night I had a dream that I was pregnant.
My baby was born with complications and did not live long after birth.
In the dream the mourning process was so intense, I was sure it was actually happening to me. You know those dreams where something in your mind keeps saying, “This is just a dream. It’s not really happening. Wake up.” I had that somewhere in the background, but it didn’t matter. The pain felt real.

I was so sad and no matter what anyone said or did, it wasn’t helpful or comforting.

In 2005 I experienced a traumatic miscarriage. One that could have taken my life.
I remember the look on the tech’s face while staring at the monitor. It went from relaxed to furrowed. I said, “What’s wrong?
There was silence followed by her reply, “Let me get the doctor. I’ll be right back.”
Why? What do you see?” I begged.
“I’ll be right back.” she responded.

It’s amazing how quickly, pure unadulterated joy can turn into confusion and emotional chaos.

You can guess what happened next…the doctor came in to say that there was no heartbeat and it was no longer a viable pregnancy.
I watched her mouth move, not really hearing a word she said.
I don’t understand?” I said.
“These things happen all the time.” she answered.
Not to me, they don’t! This has never happened to me!” I screamed almost in a whisper.
“You’ll get pregnant again. Don’t worry.” she said as she patted my knee.

She then explained the procedure they would need to do to remove all the tissue that made up my “nonviable” pregnancy.
We walked to the checkout counter and scheduled the appointment for the next week.
That was a Friday and the appointment was the next Tuesday.

What happens between now and then?” I asked.
“Maybe nothing…or your body may decide to start the process on it’s own.” she responded. “Either way, we will need to perform the procedure to ensure safety for you and future pregnancies.”

We walked through the door marked exit.

For the next little while her words played over and over in my mind.
“These things happen all the time…You’ll get pregnant again, don’t worry.”
It was surprising and upsetting to me how quickly this life was dismissed. Though present only for a short time in my womb, surely it deserved a little more acknowledgement?
Is it okay for me to be sad?
Is it silly of me to cry and feel like I’m losing my baby?
Is it ridiculous that I cannot even think about getting pregnant again while I’m still sorting out the details of restoring my body to normalcy after this miscarriage?

The next few days played out like a movie.
I began cramping at work, knew something was wrong, left work and drove home. By then I was hemorrhaging. I had never seen so much blood.

Chris was on his way home to take me to the ER.
I remember the nurse on the phone saying, “Stay with me until he gets there.”
She said an ambulance would take just as long, maybe longer by the time they found the house so it was better to wait on Chris. I remember asking her if I was going to die. She said, “Not if you get to the ER in time.”

I did get to the ER in time.
I didn’t die.
I went on to have beautiful, healthy, children.

When you ask me why I take pictures of families experiencing the loss of a child, I think this is part of the reason. My loss is nothing compared to the way some families experience losing their baby, but it was still my loss.

It hurt.
It was lonely.
It was scary.
I needed someone (preferably a girlfriend) to walk alongside me and just be.

Do you know a woman like that?
The kind who will just be with you and doesn’t require small talk or entertainment? They are content with the beauty of silence.

I think I had that dream last night because it prompted this post and someone needed to read these words today.

So for that someone…no matter what stage of pregnancy or postpartum you experienced your loss, all of the feelings you feel are valid. Feel them deeply and for as long as you need to. I am convinced, now more than ever, that is the only true pathway to healing and peace.

Stepping Into the Light

My Friends,

I have been completely overwhelmed (in a good way) by the outpouring of concern and support from my last post. Thank you for caring so deeply and reaching out to ensure things are okay.

First of all, I am okay.
Yes, I was very sick.
Yes, it was a tough time.
I will be recovering for the next 3-6 months (according to the Endodontist) Every day brings improvement.

I think people were most surprised that I had not posted updates on social media about what was happening. That’s not how I do things that are as personal as this was.IMG_7549 I was in frequent contact with family and close friends who I knew would pray on my behalf.

I have received emails and comments from readers asking why I wouldn’t send a social media request for prayer and to let people know what was going on. The best way for me to answer this question and ones like it, is this…

It would have raised more questions had I posted in the middle of all that was going on, which is why I waited until I was feeling better and knew things were improving.
I’ve chosen to say, “No” to unnecessary drama. I love my online community. I appreciate everyone who reads my writings, but I will not participate in the kind of posts that alarm everyone for the sake of attention. That said, I feel like that is exactly how my last post was received by many.

Please hear me, I would not have posted anything about this most recent illness if I didn’t feel compelled to do so in order to help someone experiencing a similar struggle. Everything in me, that makes me human, was fighting the willingness to put my vulnerability and weakness on display.

Tulips from HarperGod is working in and around me in ways I have never experienced and while it’s incredibly exciting, it’s difficult to explain and often defies all logic, which is why I resist posting anything relating to my current spiritual state. Honestly, not everyone can process things of this nature and so for some of us, we keep quiet as to avoid appearing crazy. 

I let a little of my most recent “crazy” show through by documenting it for anyone to read. There was a time when I would have found it intimidating and terrifying to speak of the things that I believe and yet do not fully understand. I would have held back and resisted at all cost to avoid losing readers or being viewed as “strange.”

However, I have discovered that by stifling what is ready to be told, I am doing a grave injustice to my spiritual development. By silencing the obvious voice inside begging me to stop giving in to fear, I am removing all hope of going beyond a surface level relationship with Christ and moving into a deeply personal relationship with my Savior.

When I consciously remove the filter of skepticism, I am able to engage and be of the most use to others. And I have never been more sure that the purpose of my life and time here on earth is to be of the utmost use to others by directing them to Christ.

For me, that means admitting defeat. Exposing loneliness. Verbalizing doubt. It means claiming and living sold out to Jesus while recognizing my own humanity and shortcomings and being okay allowing others to see them as well.

I believe that the only way to walk into the light is to come through the dark. If I am always in light, I begin to see it as the norm and not as the blessing that it is. I stop sharing it with others, because I assume they already have it. There is no introspection or assessment and before long I am comfortable and complacent.

For me, for the life I have chosen to live, complacency is spiritual suicide.

My Darling Readers, I appreciate each and every one of you. I am so grateful that you would come here and spend a few moments of your life with me. I made a commitment from the very beginning to avoid any “small talk” and speak directly from my heart, no matter how raw. I will continue to. When you have questions or concerns, I welcome your comments and emails.

For those of you who I have not responded to personally about my last post, I hope this message will suffice. I never could have predicted the response from that particular piece. I’m grateful, if for no other reason, that it started a conversation.

I look ahead with great expectancy, believing that 2015 is a year for positive change and growth in ways we’ve not seen in recent times. I look forward to continuing this journey with you.

All Blessings,
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How to Know She’s Your Person

It’s the person you’ve known as long as you can remember having memories.
The one who holds your hair while you barf and tells you when those jeans make your butt look big.
She’s the same one who will say (in a non-embarrassing way) “You gotta little somethin’…” as she slides her forefinger across her face pretending to wipe her nose.
She’s the one waiting when you come out of a public restroom to ensure that you didn’t tuck your skirt into your spanx.
She’s the one who stays by you when you’re not worth staying by.
She’s the first one you call when something tragic or fantastic happens.
She encourages you to pray when you’d rather rant and take a deep breath when you wanna scream.
She believes in you when no one else does and tells you all the reasons why, even when you won’t listen.
She laughs when you act ridiculous and patiently answers every neurotic question you have about germs.
No matter how old you get and how much time passes, you always pick up right where you left off.
She’s your person.

Vi, thanks for being my person all these years. I’m so grateful.
photo 3Who’s your person?

5 Reasons to Spend Time With a Mother and Her Young Children

JCP-8081I had the opportunity to spend part of my morning with my friend Melissa and her two children, Alex (2 years) and Eliana (10 months). I’m so glad I had my camera, because what I captured tells the story better than my words can.

1) Be curious. Wonder. Participate in life from the ground up. Don’t be afraid to mess up. You can always start again.

2) Ask lot’s of questions. (Even if you think they’re silly) Life is about learning and growing, no matter your age.

3) When having a serious conversation, eat chocolate… and laugh… throw your head back and let loose. (Chocolate and laughing make everything better.)

4) Play and Explore (Be resourceful)
Build a drum set from the buckets you just took off your head when you were being a robot. Play hide and seek with the nearest blanket. Sit in the rocking chair backwards.

“Mommy, wanna go look for giants with me?”
This question from Alex diverted me from all other conversation.
“Melissa, did he just ask you to go look for giants?!” I asked.
“Yes. We look for giants at least once a day.” she replied.

 

5) Take naps. Even if you don’t think you’re tired…
Feeling grumpy? Chances are, ya just need a nap.

Children are the best teachers. And most of them don’t even use words. They use action. It’s not always the right action, but it’s action nonetheless. They don’t sit around, talking about it and wait to see what happens.

When did we (adults) stop learning by doing?
When did we choose to walk away from a challenge and instead immerse ourselves in a Google search or social media for the answer?
When did we stop playing?
Why don’t we laugh with abandon?
When was the last time you sat on the floor, observing your surroundings?
Some of us need to revisit childhood. If you don’t like the one you had, ask someone to take you back with them to theirs.
Come back and tell us about your adventures in the comment section.

Other things I learned on my morning excursion…

A single shoestring can transform a toddler into a giant-slayer.
JCP-8049Egg cartons double as very hungry caterpillars.

Robots get hungry too.

What are you learning from your kids…or friends kids…or nieces and nephews, grandchildren or students in your class? Have any great pictures that tell a story? Email them to me at joycannisphotography(at)gmail(dot)com

What Does It Mean To Be Truly Free?

I avoid writing this post.
I tell myself that you will think I’m ridiculous.
I convince myself that you will make assumptions and judge me.
Every time this insecurity surfaces I shove it back down in attempts to choke out its message.

Why do I invalidate those things that make me feel small.
Why do I continually dismiss my feelings?
What if someone else feels the exact same way and by my admission knows they are not alone?
Social Media sites
So, here it is…
There are times when I allow social media to determine, not only my mood, but my self worth.

As I scrolled through my “feed” this morning, I found myself becoming more and more hurt by the fact that someone I was once closer to than I am now, had not invited me to attend one of the most important days in her life.

The more pictures I saw from the event, the more upset I became.
What is wrong with me?! I thought.
I wouldn’t have been able to attend anyway.
Why is this such a big deal?

It goes back to the fact that I’m a people pleaser. I want you to like me even if I don’t like you.
I want everyone to want me to be at everything, even if I can’t be there.
I want the opportunity to decline.

I realize how this sounds, believe me.
I would understand if you stopped reading now.

However, it’s very important that I bring this hideous character defect into the light.
It’s crucial (for my own development) that I’m brutally honest with myself. Not mean. Honest. They are two different things though at times people confuse one for the other.

Here is what I’m discovering…
This all points back to my need for approval.
I’m an affirmation junkie.
The more I get, the more I want.
I become absolutely drunk on the approval of others.

And then, when I’m alone, I’m terrified that I cannot live up to my own expectations. Fear will make decisions for me if I allow it to. I will be spiritually paralyzed if I don’t act quickly and thoroughly.

The problem with this is that I want my life to glorify God. I want my spirit to reflect that of the Creator. I want to make Him known to everyone who comes in contact with me. And I’ve been in recovery long enough to know that, as long as I’m keeping a secret, I can’t do that effectively. As long as I’m hiding from a reality that affects my life and the way I interact with others, I can’t be useful. Not the way I want to be anyway. Not the way that’s relatable to others in different seasons.

So, here I am. Standing before you. Admitting weakness. Acknowledging feelings that I know will change. Emotions that I will probably not even have tomorrow. I’m feeling exposed and “found out.” because I am willingly admitting that most of the time I feel completely inadequate all while exhibiting confidence.

I may be mortified tomorrow at having posted this. But for today, I say to the woman reading this, feeling like I’m telling your story, “I understand. You’re not alone. You don’t have to be afraid. You just have to be willing to recognize the affliction (whatever it may be) and take positive actions steps forward.