Progress Not Perfection

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24

When I meditate on this verse, I can see how different my old self, active in addiction, was from who I am today. For starters, I don’t wake up hungover panicked about decisions I had made the night before or wondering how I am going to get through the day until my next drink. I am not constantly consumed with fear and crippling anxiety (Praise God!) and like who I am and feel good about the choices I am making. (At least most of the time.) It still amazes me to reflect on the minutes and hours that my days were consumed thinking about alcohol. Even when I wasn’t drinking.

I wish I could say that the day God’s grace saved me from my obsession with alcohol, that I was free of the obsession of the mind entirely but unfortunately that is not the case. Addiction is not curable but it is treatable and the antidote for me has been spiritual. Although I aspire to be a “positive vibes” only thinker and have a completely renewed mind and heart that is god-centered 24/7, I am not there yet! (Let’s be honest, I may never be.) I am just learning to accept my humanity and have a lot more growing in humility to do before the control subsides. I don’t believe that is just a struggle for addicts but human beings in general. Maybe you can relate? I am certainly a sinner and needed a Savior yet regardless of this relationship I have found with God, I still struggle to rely on him fully. I have learned that, for me, the most important decision that I face every day is: am I going to be in charge or is God? I have tons of evidence proving why God’s way is so much better than mine, but relinquishing that control is not my inclination, even six years into sobriety.

I have recently hit an emotional bottom that I want to share about to help communicate the struggle of an addict mind/battle of the flesh and to share how God has used these struggles to show me that I deserve so much better and can replace the “more” of addiction with more of Him in my life to take care of every need and desire in my heart.

What is mental obsession and when did it manifest in my life? Honestly, before I ever picked up a drink I had this “overthinking” problem accompanied with obsessive compulsive patterns of behavior. It started as early as 3 years of age. I would want to watch the same movie over and over again, Frosty The Snowman and Dirty Dancing are the most memorable that come to mind. In order to calm down when I was dropped off at pre-school I would have to eat bread and butter sitting by myself over the heating vent. Every single day. I know now it was a coping mechanism to feel safe and in control. Even bizarre compulsions I developed such as counting trees/light poles that we would pass while driving in the car. It made me crazy at the time but I didn’t know how to stop doing it. As I got older my thoughts would be so loud and repetitive, mostly fear based. I worried about what people thought of me, if they were mad at me, if they liked me, so on and so forth. By the time I took a drink at the age 13 years old it was mostly to quiet all the noise in my head. That worked for years until there wasn’t enough alcohol to make me feel better and the noise in my head was so amplified without alcohol that I couldn’t stand being in my own body. The negative thoughts were overpowering and shaming, it was unbearable. Getting through that first day without the crutch of alcohol was painful and difficult but I made it through and realized that if I could get through that one day, I could do it again just for a day again. I learned new coping mechanisms such as talking, praying, meditating, reading, writing, running, even yelling and crying. I made a start at navigating my life without numbing my feelings. I began living out of my comfort zone and started growing and developing into a new version of myself as a result.

Whenever we remove a habit in our life, we replace it with another habit. I have replaced with a lot of great habits but over time get sick of discipline and start to think I don’t need the structures in place in my life, reading the Bible for example or reaching out to my support systems. It is so vitally important for me to be conscious of who I surround myself with, what I watch/read/listen to, and how I speak to myself. My mind believes what I tell it and can be easily influenced. Being a believer in Christ also doesn’t make me immune to temptation either or to relapse. Although that hasn’t been a part of my story so far, I am always moving towards a drink or away from one. The further I get from God the closer I am to a drink or just simply bad decision making. I found that out the hard way and it is what led me to my recent bottom.

I found The Orchard Evangelical Free Church (in Barrington, IL) back in 2013 shortly after I got sober and it was the first time I really came to understand who God was and develop a conception that matched the relationship I had already been developing through prayer. Hearing sermons that discussed the Bible and how to apply it to my actual life was a new concept to me. I experienced a major shift in my understanding of myself and life. I joined a life group, started making friendships with believers and starting reading the Word of God, well sometimes I opened the Bible. I guess if I am being 100% honest I would do it when I felt like it. This was my biggest pitfall and where I have discovered is the most vital piece of my mental health because like I said, that obsessive thinking doesn’t just go away. after I quit drinking. I can replace it with negative or positive habits. The negative ones are usually the ones that feel good in the moment and instantly fill a void but long term become destructive or painful just like drinking did.

My first void filler: people pleasing. I completely began consuming my thoughts with other people’s problems. I really believed that I was being caring and generous by worrying about other people when in reality I was trying to replace God in other people’s lives. I was judgmental and my ego (or Satan) had me believing that I knew what was best for others and it turned out that the more opinions I gave about how others should live their lives, the further I pushed them away, the less in control I felt, and the more angry and miserable I began to feel. The more I tried to help solve others problems, the more I was enabling them from experiencing breakthroughs that they needed to discover to change. God taught me that people pleasing is really selfish and that my focus belonged on Him. So, naturally I put my focus on Him, right? No.

My focus moved from the things I learned I couldn’t control to things I could. I decided to become a business owner. The ultimate way to take control of my future and finances. I threw myself so far into work that I had no life. I worked 24/7. I prioritized work above my relationships with friends and family. I sacrificed my self care, time, and marriage to chase an endless cycle of never ending checkboxes. When my brother unexpectedly passed away in April 2017, my entire life came crashing down. I realized how fragile life was, that I would never get back the time I lost working and that the most important aspect of my life truly was my relationships, including my relationship with God. So, naturally now I put God first, right? No.

Then I became a mom, in August 0f 2017 and it was the first time I ever had to slow down in my life. I had 3 months of maternity to rest, reflect, and just simply be. I was not content. I wanted to be doing. I missed working and traveling and couldn’t wait to get out of the house and regain “control” of my life. As time went on I believed I was some sort of super human that could work 80 hours a week, be present at all times when with my son, continue to travel for work while breastfeeding, see friends and family, maintain intimacy in my marriage and all on a couple hours of sleep a night. I had these expectations of myself, LOADS of them, that no one gave me, but myself. I thought I could overcome this all while grieving the loss of my brother and finding a new norm as mom, business owner, and wife. The more out of control I felt the more I would find myself with a need to do more. Clean the house, double my income, buy my dream home and all of this should happen in the snap of a finger. It was unreasonable and completely unmanageable. All this perfection chasing left me feeling worse than ever emotionally.

Thankfully, Jesus is a healer, comforter, and Savior who has already won this battle for me and only asks for my repentance and faith in Him to put off this old self. Sanctification is the process in which we become more like Christ and it is a lifelong process. These changes don’t always happen overnight. Although it did with my craving for alcohol, my thinking is a battle that I face daily. God’s word is giving me the strength to overcome negative thoughts and encouraging me to trust His promises and accept my humanity. His kindness and goodness is so incredible. When I was finally willing to surrender control in these areas and ask Him for help, He was there waiting to. He sent me messages every corner I turned. It started through a devotional that was spontaneously sent in the mail by a church member I hadn’t seen in over a year. God is wild like that! The Armor of God study has helped me prioritize God and teach me about the deception of perfection. I was finally able to take an honest look at how I was living my life -in total exhaustion- and see the bottomless pit of idolatry I had been caught up in. There I was again trying to fill a void that only God was capable of satisfying. It was no different than being consumed by alcohol. My thoughts were consumed with doing more and being more. What was worse as I saw the truth, was that I had the pain crushing realization that I have been doing a disservice to God by exemplifying someone who needed to be perfect which is the opposite of my belief and the truth of the gospel! I was able to see how trying to please God was rejecting the gift He gave me by dying on the cross. God also spoke through people in my life whom were believers that I didn’t even know, some of whom I had just met for the first time! A married couple began counseling me on a phone call about trusting and depending on God instead of trying to solve my own problems - they were financial advisors that I had never previously spoke to. My business coach who I had only just begun to work with began preaching to me about my energy being consumed and burnt up by social media and working instead of pursuing God’s plan through my writing and public speaking. It seemed as though everywhere I turned, He was answering my prayer by providing me answers of truth through love and his people.

I am happy to report that I have received the memo! God didn’t create me to be a slave to alcohol, work, people pleasing, “doing”. He created me in His image to enjoy all that he is and all that he’s done. So naturally, I am going to put God first now, right?

One day at a time. He is renewing my mind, spirit and creating me into His image.