05 Feb SNAPSHOTS, part 2
*Welcome back for part 2 of Johanna’s story! These are some of the snapshots of her life that she has felt compelled to share with others through her own social media outlet. We are so encouraged by her bravery and vulnerability to share hard parts of her life with others and hope that you will be as well! In case you missed it, be sure to check out part 1 from last week.
On unconditional love and support…
When I was little, my dad often traveled for speaking engagements and missions trips. I remember his coming into my room in the morning, when it was still dark, to say goodbye. I would take his face in my hands and kiss his bald head, and then I would feel so sad. Because when he was gone, I couldn’t hear his alarm clock go off at 3:45am for the paper route, or hear him down in the kitchen a few minutes later, cracking open his Pepsi. His presence and everything about him were a comfort to me. Whether he was reading a book, doing the newspaper Jumble, pretending to be sleeping so he didn’t have to answer you, or asking you to do something he was perfectly capable of, just so you’d stay with him; he was always there. Steady. Unwavering. Fiercely loyal and protective.
In the first photo, at my sissy’s wedding, I was mostly healthy, mentally and physically. Neither the migraines nor depression were chronic at that point. The second photo is of one of the lowest points in my life. I was frail in mind and body, heavily addicted to anything that would numb me. I cared about little else than fueling that addiction; I was willingly, some days happily, dancing with death. I would enter rehab three months later.
But my dad. The constant in both. Possibly about to doze off in the first, doing his crossword puzzle in the second. Not saying much in either; just there. Always there. His presence ever a comfort, his Pepsi always within reach. Then, just as now.
On October 31, 2013, I entered rehab. I felt equal parts shame, exhaustion, and relief. I had just taken a 12 hour car ride while going through withdrawal. I was weak and I was weary. Immediately, upon entering the facility, someone took my suitcase into another room and removed anything that could be used to harm myself, including my hairspray. Do you know how hard it is to find hairspray free of any alcohol?
After I finished checking in, I was driven to another part of the building, and staff walked me into a bright, sterile, shiny, hospital-like hallway. As I turned around and watched the heavy metal doors close me in, I caught a glimpse of my husband carrying our baby, walking back to his car. I almost fell to the ground. I’d never felt such emptiness. I started to look around my new surroundings, and to my left was a station of nurses with their carts, and a line of people getting their meds in a little cup. They would swallow them and then open their mouths to show they had indeed taken the pills. I looked straight ahead, and a battered-looking woman was walking toward me, staring at the ground and muttering. At that point, for a split second, I wanted to turn around and run out the doors. I thought, “What am I doing here? Surely I don’t belong here.” Then I took a deep breath, looked at the woman again, and thought, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” I said to myself, “Johanna, that’s where you’re headed. This is exactly where you need to be.”
I shared a room with a kind, outgoing paralegal who would stay up late until the cart came out with the sleepytime tea. She would bring me back a cup with honey, because she knew I just wanted to stay in the room. In that treatment facility I would meet some of the funniest, smartest, most insightful people I’ve ever known. They were grandparents, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, attorneys, physicians, accountants, nurses, and engineers. As I came to learn, addiction is no respecter of persons.
One of the many people I would talk to upon admission asked me what I wanted out of my stay. I said, “I want my eyes back.” What did I mean? she asked. Well, I explained, the light was gone, like a candle that had been snuffed out. My eyes were dark, empty, hollow; a true window into my soul. They were glazed over, oftentimes my pupils so dilated that my eyes truly looked black. I *hated* looking in the mirror. (If you know me, you know I’ll never pass up the chance to look in a mirror. I get it from my dad.) But I hated my reflection. I hated the person looking back at me. I pitied her. I felt disconnected from her. I didn’t recognize her. But as the days went by, as I nourished my body healthfully and showered everyday, as I talked with counselors, attended classes, shared in groups, made friends, and most importantly ceased my use of narcotics, the light slowly came back. One day I found myself dancing down the halls, singing. And for the briefest moment, I recognized myself. When Jimmy visited me a few days later, the first thing he said was, “Your eyes look so good.”
I entered rehab on Halloween. My daughter wanted to be Strawberry Shortcake that year. We had already gotten her costume and the pink hair dye. Her Aunt Trina painted her face. When Jimmy showed me the pictures of her, I just sobbed. I thought she looked so sad. I felt like such a failure. I thought my husband and daughter were so embarrassed of me. Jimmy looked at me and said, “Are you kidding me Johanna? You’;re our hero. We need you and you’re getting better for us.” Yeah, yeah, he’s a saint. In that moment, I vowed to myself that I would be there for her next Halloween, trick-or-treating alongside her. She wanted to be an evil witch with orange hair that year, I tried not to analyze it too much. But there I was, healthy and fully present; and as we walked hand in hand, my eyes shone as brightly as hers.
On relapse, being a wife and mother…
Three months after I got out of rehab, I relapsed. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone because I felt like such a failure. It used to be that anything I put my mind to, I could accomplish. But when it came to addiction, I was utterly helpless; lost to its power.
There’s a saying in AA “that you’re only as sick as your secrets.” My deepest secret was that I wasn’t sure I wanted to get better. Because addicts are supremely selfish. And I was living for myself. And since I had shut everyone out, the guilt and the shame I felt were eating me alive. The aching and the loneliness echoed throughout my soul.
My biggest mistake was not trusting Jimmy with the truth. With my heart. Together, we have learned a lot about addiction and recovery over the years. But at that point, and to no fault of his own, Jimmy thought rehab had fixed me. How could I tell him it hadn’t? The addiction had already caused so much pain and driven a wedge between us. The worst part was that deep down, I knew I couldn’t be fixed. Yes, I was in constant pain, but I’d dealt with chronic pain for years. This was more. Something was wrong. I was angry all the time. I had no desire to live. I found joy in absolutely nothing. I fantasized about living on the streets, where I could take all the pills I wanted, sleep as much as I wanted; no judgment.
For most of my life, I thought being a stay-at- home mom was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Not one part of me found that to be appealing. But all that changed when Sophie was born. I loved every minute of being home with her, and had never felt more fulfilled. So what had happened to me? How had I become THIS?? A mother who longed for no responsibility, a mother who truly believed her daughter would be better off without her? But the thought I could never bear was of my little girl calling someone else Mama.
The truth is, there was something wrong with me. My brain was chemically imbalanced, and that’s putting it mildly. I was literally not in my right mind. I knew it wasn’t normal to want to live on the streets, but it’s how I felt, and I didn’t know how to fix it. No one did. A couple weeks after this picture was taken, a neurologist was finally able to determine what had been causing the migraines and depression. I felt hope for the first time in years.
I determined a long time ago that I would find meaning in all this. And I did. Because grace took my shame, and gave it a purpose. I know I’m not unique. I know millions of people suffer from chronic pain and depression and addiction. But I felt so alone. And it was no one’s fault, because you can’t know what you don’t know. But I share these things in case one fewer person can feel less alone.
I always wanted to like this picture. But the truth is, I don’t remember much about this day. I was in the heaviest part of my relapse and just 2 days later I would quit pills for good. It’s taken time, but I’ve learned to feel compassion for the woman in this picture. I mourn her lost years, and I never let her slip too far away. I honor her. Because of the fight she put up, I’m still here. I realize I’m talking as though we’re two separate people. But that’s how it feels. I’m not sure that will ever change.
When I think of Jimmy, I think of his smile. It had faded over the years, and I was terrified it would disappear permanently. And my baby girl. She wasn’t feeling well this day, but she was always smiling too. I couldn’t bear the thought of being someone or doing something that would forever negatively alter the course of her life. So I fought for them. I fought for their smiles. I didn’t care about myself yet, but I did care about losing them. And the rest came in time. I hit rock bottom. A couple times. But I thank God every day that these two were the rock at my bottom.
On recovery, redeeming love…
Every once in awhile I still wake up in cold sweats, panicked. I feel like I’m right back in the middle of it all, consumed with guilt over the last foolish choice I made. Then I take a deep breath and remind myself. It’s over. I made it to the other side.
My daughter was 3 when I first started taking pills. I was a functioning addict for a year and a half before it consumed my life. I used to be filled with shame, wondering what she would think of me when she discovered what I had been. Then I realized something: I control this narrative. If it’s something I hide, it inherently implies shame.
Sophie is 10 now. She knows about addiction and depression. But she also knows about Jesus. That His yoke is easy and His burden is light. All we have to do is come.
This photo was taken at our daughter’s Christmas assembly this past December. Our life isn’t perfect by any means. It’s messy and busy, but it’s also full of laughter and love.
Some days I’m stopped in my tracks, in awe over what God’s done in my marriage and family. And just when I think it can’t get any better, there’s another baby boy on the way.