It was very hard for me to hit “publish” on this one.
* * *
In October of 1999, Zane was born. Phil was driving our semi over the road and he was home one day out of every thirty. That year, Jill and I spent New Year’s Eve together afraid for Y2K. We survived.
In 2000, we filed bankruptcy on that semi and moved back to Indiana and lived with my parents for a short time. Phil found a driving in job in Chicago and he was home two days out of every seven.
In 2001, 9/11 happened and I was scared for our lives. I’d never, ever heard it so quiet outside as when all planes were grounded. That month, we found a duplex to rent, Zane turned 2, potty-trained and I was still trying to decide if I was a good mom or not.
In 2002…Phil got a local job hauling fuel and was home EVERY night.
In 2003, Phil and I bought the Knox house. I started attending a church for the first time since I was let down by a different church back in 1992.
In 2004, doctors thought Phil had cancer. He didn’t. He did, however, punch a wall and break his hand and have to have pins put in.
In 2005, I was reading my Bible daily, active in Women’s ministry (and Phil in men’s ministry) and I was really getting to know God. Jill told me she had breast cancer and had already been battling it for a year. She’d already had a mastectomy and chemo and radiation. She made me get a breast exam. And I think they thought I had cancer. I then had an ultra sound. Then a mammogram (and platypus poop.) Then I had to see a surgeon. He told me I didn’t have breast cancer.
In 2006, I was called to write. “Write.” (I noticed I posted that on 12/02/06. Wonder if that has anything to do with 12:26?) That year, I also lost my Uncle Ed. I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when I felt as close to God. And that’s also the year my church gave me a wake up call–lying about me, accusing me of ridiculous things, and leaving me alone during a time of huge, monumental need. Phil thought he was having a heart attack. Our fridge broke. Phil lost his job. Phil had double hernia surgery. We almost lost our house. 2006 was probably the hardest year of my life. I felt so alone that year. And God taught me more about His love than I could’ve ever expected.
In 2007, my thyroid completely shut down and I’ve been trying to get my brain (and my body and my life) back ever since. It’s also the year I was asked to be on the editing team at The Midnight Diner.
In 2008, I lost my best friend, Jill in January. She might have survived Y2K, but she did not survive breast cancer. And then my grandma passed away in September. I was asked to be Editor-in-chief of The Midnight Diner.
In 2009, We were taken on a trip of a lifetime to Key West and Marco Island, Florida in March. Phil quit truck driving altogether! He started working as property manager for a local retreat center. We were blessed with a grandson in April. Around May, I finally started feeling like myself again with the help of some replacement thyroid hormone. We moved in June and I’ve been trying to figure out what life is now that Phil’s home all day, every day and now that everything has changed.
* * *
I started this post with the intention of talking about how I feel separated from God right now. I mean, I know He’s there, He just feels distant to me and I remember hearing people talk about feeling this way and I distinctly remember thinking, “I will NEVER feel that way. I will always feel as close to God as I do at this very moment.”
I was going to talk about this new Bible I got, The Books of the Bible–with no verse references–and how I was going to start reading that for the New Year.
But I got caught up in looking at the way things got so ugly during the time I was closest to God. I remember what I went through and the lessons I learned after I did Beth Moore’s Believing God study. Things I haven’t found the courage to write about.
And though God says, “Do not be afraid.”
I am afraid.
I’m afraid that if I get close to Him again, something worse will happen. And I don’t know how to let go of that fear.
I know I’m the one keeping the distance from God.
I said it.
Here’s Part 1
Chronologically speaking, I’m not doing well here and I’m going to have to back things up a bit. Most of the story I’ve told has been from 2005 until now, but there’s a pretty big event that I skipped right over, it was what put me in the hot seat.
There’s so much backstory that its hard to really know at this point what is important and what’s not. Uncle Ed was only thirteen years older than me, he was my big brother that I didn’t have. When mom and dad got married, they bought a house across the alley from Grandma and Uncle Ed and I spent the majority of my childhood there because my grandma spoiled me. She bought me Cocoa Puffs and microwave chicken patties and took me to the bowling alley on her league nights and let me have all the Coke and fried mozzarella sticks I wanted on top of giving me pocketfuls of quarters to play Ms. Pac Man. Uncle Ed and his buddies treated me like the kid sister. In one of his old yearbooks, all his friends signed messages to me. I was two at the time. I remember one said, “Give me smoochies, Michelle” because I’d toddle around kissing all my big brothers. I wish I had that yearbook now. Most of them were at the funeral and I miss them.
I wasn’t a very nice kid growing up and I caused my parents dump trucks full of problems. I don’t know why. Can you imagine me…being rebellious? Ha! I haven’t ever been able to deal well with rules, its something that is just in my blood, something that makes me fight to break out. When I’d fight with my parents I’d go to grandma and Uncle Ed’s. But the time I started driving, Uncle Ed had married and moved, so I’d drive to his house. I’m pretty sure I spent more time at his house than I did my own. Aunt Tammy had to go back to work weeks after Andrew was born and they paid me to come straight from school to their house to watch the boys, Frank was a toddler and Andrew, newborn. Uncle Ed worked midnights and slept from the time I got there until it was time for him to leave and then Aunt Tammy would come home. I can’t remember how long I did this, but it seems like it was quite awhile.
I moved to Missouri in March of 1995 and Uncle Ed’s third son, Kyle was just a little tyke. The week after I left home for the first time, Kyle was admitted to the hospital for a rare blood disorder and I got a call that I might have to come home for a bone marrow transplant if no one else matched. I was mortified that I was 600 miles from home, there wasn’t anything I could do. Things worked out, Kyle’s a teenager now and healthy as ever, but I still have a hard time with the whole not being there thing.
Zane was born late in 1999 and I wasn’t clear on what religion I was and Catholic ritual says you baptize a child around six weeks of age. So I told Phil that I thought I should do it, otherwise I’d never hear the end of from my grandmother. This was the first time Phil and I had spoke of God, religion, denomination, etc…it didn’t go well. At.all.
Phil refused to be part of it.
His grandmother, Grandma Barnes, wanted to meet my family so she drove with me to Indiana for the Christening and Phil met us there (he was driving the semi). I think the only reason Phil came was because Grandma Barnes was there and I often wonder if that’s why she asked to come with me?
Phil refused to even come to the church. Uncle Ed stood in Phil’s place. I understand now why Phil was so dead-set against the Christening, but I didn’t then and that’s a story for another day.
When we moved back to Indiana in 2000, we lived with Uncle Ed for maybe a half a year or so, I really don’t recall exactly how long it was, but I loved being with him and the boys. I had missed them so much the six years we were in Missouri.
By 2004, which is the year I’m trying to get to for this event that was so pivotal in the story, Phil and I had bought a house about an hour from the rest of my family. Uncle Ed’s downward spiral had started maybe in the previous year or two? Until September 2004, I was pretty unclear and had just heard stories of him acting strange and taking a lot of over-the-counter Rx narcotics.
He’d have withdrawls, which none of the doctors or hospitals saw for what it was. Sometimes I wonder if my brother, sister-in-law, Phil and I were the only ones to see things clear? Uncle Ed would take a ninety day script of Vicodin in just three or four weeks and shortly after develop “symptoms” uncontrollable shakes which he said was nerve pain. Please don’t think I’m crass, cold or unsympathetic to his actual pain. Uncle Ed did suffer a horrible accident and several complications, and I know in my heart, he did have pain. However, I’m convinced that his shakes were not nerve related. They were the direct result of coming off of highly addictive narcotics. This is the kind of stuff I learned in September 2004.
It was a big weekend for our family. My cousin Jen was getting married! You know how Catholics love weddings, it was something all of us were looking forward to. In telling this story now, I realize that no one in the family really knows what happened that night except me. Uncle Ed didn’t feel good. He didn’t want to go to the wedding and told my mom he was going to stay home, my mom called and told me.
My stomach sank and a feeling of dread like I’ve never known wrapped me up and squeezed, breathing was difficult. I told my mom I wasn’t going to the wedding either, I said it before I even knew the words were coming out of my mouth. I don’t think she really thought it was necessary for me to stay with him, but I knew if I didn’t he’d be dead. I saw it as she was telling me he was staying home, but I couldn’t tell her that.
After a phone call to Uncle Ed, I was on my way to pick him up, he’d stay a couple days at my house. He’d just had something–a surgery, a hospital stay, I can’t remember, but he wasn’t released to drive, although he made short trips to the grocery store, etc…so it wasn’t like he was completely disabled. Insisting that I be in control of his meds, I took charge. Things were already at a point that some of the family was aware he was abusing his medication, but from my perspective, no one really seemed to do anything. He handed over the pills willingly and we had a great talk, about God even, on the drive to my house. He started to dose off towards the end of the hour trip, so I let him sleep.
Phil had dinner ready when we got to our house and we ate together and talked, Phil had to work five in the afternoon until five in the morning, so he left shortly after Uncle Ed and I arrived. On our property is a place we have huge bonfires. In the summer and fall, Phil and I often have a fire and sit with a glass of wine for me, a beer for him and watch the fire, the stars, listen to the frogs, and talk. Uncle Ed wanted a bonfire and I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to relax and talk, but it was too early to start the fire. He asked if he could get on our riding lawn mower because it was relaxing for him and his yard was so small he couldn’t enjoy the wide openness of the country. So of course I let him. Figured it couldn’t hurt anything.
He didn’t even make it around the yard once. This is the best picture I have to help describe the scene. Just to the right, where the tree is cut off in the picture…there’s a telephone pole. If you look at the road in this picture, you can almost tell there’s a ditch between the road and the yard, but it doesn’t look that deep, the picture is kind of deceptive. Anyway, right before the telephone pole, Uncle Ed crashed the riding lawn mower into the ditch and was hanging over the steering wheel, unconscious.
Here’s part 1
Except Jesus forgot one very important detail. He forgot to let Uncle Ed live.
The downward spiral of Uncle Ed’s mental and physical health began without many noticing, I’m afraid. To pinpoint an exact date or time frame would resemble an attempt to duct tape water to the wall.
My Uncle Ed is my mom’s baby brother. She was the oldest of four and at the young age of eleven, had to become an adult and raise herself along with her siblings.
I could surmise the downward spiral never actually started anywhere, it began before his birth with genetics. His uncle committed suicide, also.
I could presume that environment piled on genetics led to his demise. His mother was constantly saying, “I just wish I was dead.” They’d come home from school to find her down on hands and knees, head in the oven, trying to kill herself. His father was sleeping with his uncle’s wife. This is what led his uncle to suicide and the catalyst for his sister, my grandma, my mom’s mom, to stick her head in the oven and take up Vodka. Kind of a family tradition, huh?
He was around three when his uncle died, when his dad married his aunt while still married to his mother, when his mom and dad finally divorced. DNA tests later in life, proved that the kids Uncle Ed thought were his cousins were actually his half-siblings.
Hatred and bitterness were just a way of life in this family. Dysfunction exists to a certain degree in every family, seems like we got a bigger dose of it than most.
I could assume, which I did for many years, that the role of the Catholic church played a part in Uncle Ed’s ability to cope in a healthy manner. Maybe it was just my grandmother, the Priests, and the nuns twisting the Catholic doctrine, but really, when you’re told enough times as a child that you’re going to hell–you eventually believe it and then it doesn’t really matter what you do because you don’t have someone to save you, you don’t have a loving God. What you have is a God with a big whip waiting to beat you every time you fuck up and a dead savior hanging bloody from a cross.
Maybe it was the fact that Uncle Ed got into an accident on 80/94, captured by Chicago news stations on film that some of us believe was actually his first suicide attempt. The footage looked like he ran his car right into a semi on purpose. He survived however, life really headed south at this point. He was in and out of hospitals and had a doctor who thought narcotic pain killers were Tic-tacs and doled them out without guilt. Uncle Ed was definitely addicted to them. He had several overdose attempts. I think it got to be something like 6 attempts in 8 months.
In late April of 2005, I got a call around 7:30 in the morning. I hate 7:30 in the morning, it seems to be when all of our family emergencies occur. Anyway, my mom called me and told me they found Uncle Ed passed out in his bedroom, unconscious. They called 911 and he was at the ER, unresponsive. His organs were shutting down and the doctor was suggesting that the family gather because he wasn’t going to make it.
I live an hour from the hospital he was at. I woke Phil up, we prayed and I got in the car with my Bible.
Today Cara posted “God’s Ways Aren’t Necessarily Our Ways” and when I commented on her post, what came out took me entirely by surprise. Again.
I’ve got to hit this head-on–is there another way? It may be a one day post, it might be a series, right now all I really know is I need to get this out before it kills me.
I thought about journaling all this, but I felt like God was pushing me to do it here, live. Not for attention or sympathy, but I think because here, out in the open I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. If I journal it, I can keep avoiding the issue.
So here goes. Confession #2
The reason I’m writing this is because I went through an excruciating time one year ago today. It was really longer than a year, but the climactic ending was on February 20, 2006. This is about my Uncle Ed’s suicide. I’ve shared with very few people what happened leading up to that day. With my innermost, trusted friends I shared some disturbing journaling–I will not share that here. Ever. What I want to get to is this overwhelming fear I have, because I just can’t stand it anymore.
I fear that God allowed all of the events of my Uncle’s death to prepare me for something worse.
There. I said it. Out loud and in public. You cannot fathom how much I hate admitting that I fear something, but this is incapacitating me. All day, every day thoughts hammer my soul.
Who’s next? Will my husband die? My son? My brother? My sister? My parents?
Realistically, I know they’re going to die, we all are. But its the cause of death that is clogging up my days like cholesterol in arteries. The walls are closing in even though I’m fighting with everything I’ve got to get just one more inch further. I’m barely squeezing through and it’s constricting my breathing, cutting me off.
The fact that I’m still grieving is of no surprise to me. Here’s what gets me. My friend and I are going through Beth Moore’s Believing God, both of us for the second time. One of thing stressed is the need to believe God for miracles, to know and acknowledge that during the study you will see a miracle. The first time I went through the course, I believed that my miracle was being present when Uncle accepted Christ from his bed in the ICU after another overdose attempt. The date was 05-05-05.
My miracle happened very early on and I spent the remainder of the study basking in the warm glow of miracle beams. (Read the following in typical Baptist church lady-ese) Oh God is good! My Uncle Eddie found Jesus and he’d want to dive into the Bible, read, learn, absorb, grow, and be with me forever telling the rest of the family about Him and His faithful love. We’d tell them all how Jesus changed Uncle Ed’s life, turned it around, he’d be the poster boy for Jesus’ redemptive ways. Praise the Lord, Hallelujah and Amen. I believed God and He came through and now Uncle Ed and I, we’d be like Abbott and Costello–but for Jesus. Oh the fun we’d have bringing people to Jesus. Life was full, promising, and everything looked beautiful. Me-the former atheist and Uncle Ed-saved after a suicide attempt both of us now living for Jesus. (End church lady talk)
Except Jesus forgot one very important detail. He forgot to let Uncle Ed live.
Read Part One Here.
Read Part Two Here.
That’s what it felt like. He hit it dead-on. I was being accused and I had to defend myself. I was preparing my defense. I would be “on trial” Friday night.
The Exodus verse kept coming back to me and I kept questioning God, “How can I present my defense and remain quiet?”
God laughed and made me read the verse again. And again. And again. I felt a little silly after the umpteenth time and it hit me: THE LORD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU; you must be quiet. My focus had been on being quiet. I was still “preparing” for this meeting, this “trial,” when I should have been focusing on Him.
When I finally realized my detrimental mistake, I began to learn and a whole new level of understanding was born. God is tough on me. There’s no easy way out, no easy answers. If I want to follow Him, I have to understand that it is not all cotton candy and green grassy fields. Sometimes I have to follow Him into that valley–the dark place that scares the life out of me. I have to follow Him to places I’ve never been before. And I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing even when I can’t figure it out.
Now comes the part about the Psychosis.
Psychological researchers have tended to minimize the effects of sleep insufficiency, acknowledging that society may be getting too little sleep, but treating the effects of this sleep deprivation as nothing more significant than an inconvenience which makes people feel a bit tired now and then.
This view is incorrect. Recent research suggests that each day with insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt and, when this sleep debt becomes large enough, noticeable problems appear (Coren, 1996a).
If we’re not entering into REM sleep, we’re not dreaming. If we’re not getting enough REM sleep, we’re not dreaming enough.
The voices that psychotic people hear are often critical voices, telling them that they are worthless or they are doing something incorrectly. Michael Musalek, a psychiatrist at the University of Vienna, has suggested that psychotic symptoms reflect the core existential dilemmas experienced by ordinary people, and that really resonates with me.
VERY interesting article here.
Does it sound like the enemy has a grasp on what we, as humans, don’t want to admit?
Presumably, those who had the CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy], and were helped to think about relationships or other problems in a less negative or self-deprecating way, were the less likely to become psychotic?
I was in a situation in which I was being pounded by some made-up doctrine and this pastor I trusted was telling me that I shouldn’t be paying attention to what I dream and I shouldn’t be paying attention to my emotions. I’m not a scientist by any means, I know that. I’m a nobody with problems. I look to God for my answers and try my best to keep my blinders on while I’m looking at Him.
It bothered me a lot to be told that I shouldn’t pay attention to my dreams. It’s not like I was making decisions based on them. I was simply writing them down and reflecting the meaning.
The Holy Spirit lives in me, He guides me, comforts me, convicts me, and so much more. Was this pastor friend trying to tell me that the Holy Spirit doesn’t know what’s going on in my head at night? That He was somehow detached from my dreams? That He couldn’t use my dreams to teach me lessons? That He couldn’t use a dream to give me an idea?
That is exactly what this friend was telling me. And not just me. This is what he teaches in church. If God made us in His image, that would include our mind, dreams, and emotions. And I say that if I let Satan get a foot in the door, he has the ability to shut me down, discourage me, and fill me with lies. Which ultimately keeps me from doing God’s will.
Was this Satan trying to discourage me from writing or God teaching me a valuable lesson? I’ll explore more tomorrow.