Around this time last year I listened to an episode from Pursuit with Purpose podcast, where Sunny Lenarduzzi shared that she writes herself a letter about how proud she is of herself. I wrote a similar journal prompt last year and you can read it here. In this season of uncertainty, it is absolutely imperative that we reflect on what we’ve endured and persevered through because we have, you have. Even if we’ve lived like this for nearly a year, its a year that we couldn’t have fully prepared for physically and mentally. I invite you to sit down in a quiet space where you cannot be disturbed and write this as honestly as you can to yourself. Be vulnerable. Celebrate what you are most proud of about how you handled 2020. Write about the tough moments. Tell yourself you are proud of how you kept pressing forward and why this is important to you. You deserve to remember that you are resilient, brave, and strong.
While I normally don’t share journal entries, I am sharing in hopes that you write yourself a letter too.
So here goes…
Dear Maryann, Well shit. This year was awful.
I’m not quite sure how you survived this year in a decently coherent state but here you are – bruised and bent but not broken.
This year has exposed more traumas, shame, and mom guilt like never before.
You had the biggest miscommunications and arguments with people closest to you this year. This was one of the hardest years for you. It was extremely for you to swallow your pride to admit you were wrong and apologize. Hey guess what – you did something that you were never taught to do. I am proud of you for that. Its not easy to be that vulnerable, hold space for other people’s feelings, acknowledge that you wronged them and then move forward with a fresh set of eyes and new understandings. Unlearning and relearning isn’t easy. Be kind to yourself. You know change doesn’t happen overnight.
This year, your marriage was tested to its absolute breaking point but you managed to extend compassion along with a hard boundary. You and Chris became more emotionally intimate with each other with the help of therapy and radical empathy. Supporting a recovery addict is complex and overwhelming but I think you are continuing to handle it beautifully. Like you say often – you are an amazing wife. You deserve trust, respect, and unconditional support.
Can we just talk about how you expanded your brands The Filipino Mom blog and Maryann Clark Coaching: Radiate Life!?!? Like whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…..and how did you do all those things in the middle of a pandemic. Like is it sorcery or what? I see you doing the work to heal yourself on a daily basis and it shows in how expansive your brands has become. You are a worthy of all the success. You are worthy of the accolades. You are worthy of being seen – scars, imperfections, and all. This work is invaluable to our community. Continue to follow your inner knowing and creating safe spaces for everyone to feel seen and celebrated.
Last but not least, you have leaned into your faith more than ever before. Looking outside of yourself and leaning on Christ was truly how you managed the year that is 2020. Revile in how you utilized all that faith and hope. When you felt overwhelmed with life’s struggles, you listened to His still small voice. You knew the answer was always to love first and lead second. Being bent and bruised in a broken world is not easy but you did it anyways. You continued – believing that God will see you through it. He did. You did. Amen
I encourage you to reread this letter next year to remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished. 2020 was an unspeakable mountain to climb and you’ve handled it with humility, grace and grit. Let’s growwwwwww!!!!
This is part of a series: Wife of a Recovering Addict. If you haven’t read the introduction, click here to catch up!
If you have ever attended an Al Anon meeting or Celebrate Recovery meeting, my statement above is a normal way to introduce yourself. It allows me to accept my flaws and move towards more healthy habits/boundaries as well as state that I am a believer in Christ. One of my unhealthy habits is being a codependent, also known as a people pleaser. It is still something I struggle with today but I have learned how to navigate the feelings and thoughts around this boundary in a way that still allows me to fill my cup – as they say – with desires, interests, and passions.
Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.
My entrepreneurial spirit has caused me to have my hands in many things. Not only do I create content for this blog and its corresponding social media platforms but I also run my own business, Maryann Clark Coaching: Radiate Life, and co-host a podcast – Filipino Momcast. I also serve in our home church in as a certified discussion group leader for our MOPS (Mother’s of Preschoolers) mom’s group, co-led Moms for Mental Health, and community outreach. Oh yes, my everyday life also includes managing a home and relationships with my husband, five kids, two dogs, 2 hamsters, 1 cane toad, and 1 sulcata tortoise. Eeeekkk!
When I list everything out it is no wonder I am exhausted all the time. To be truthful, prior to the pandemic, I was serving in more church ministries. I love serving our community but with the pandemic, I had to be truthful with my true capacity was/is especially as I supported my kids, husband, and myself mentally. I’ve honestly said ‘no’ more this year and its been hard but I know its for the best. Understanding how much I can juggle physically and even more important – mentally – has been my greatest challenge.
I never want to let anyone down, cause them to not like me or make someone upset. These are the symptoms of my codependency – making everyone around me feel comfortable even if I feel extremely uncomfortable. If these sentiments feel very familiar to you, you may need to learn how to say ‘NO’.
In Celebrate Recovery, I learned that my codependency and people pleasing was a destructive behavior that enabled my husband to continue his addiction. I know enabling isn’t a common term to understand especially if you haven’t heard the term before. So I will try and explain it to you in the best way I know how.
enable – give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something.
I was allowing him to continue the unhealthy behavior because I didn’t want to cause a fight or create any type of rift between us.
I didn’t follow through with boundaries that I set for our relationship when it came to drug use. I would it to continue to happen.
Why was I enabling him?
I was enabling him because of past childhood needs that weren’t met. I learned through recovery, that my unhealthy codependency and people pleasing was a way for me to ensure that I ‘felt’ loved from him even if it went against my moral code. Since we have kids together, I wanted to create an environment that had a traditional dual parent household even if that meant that I wasn’t standing up for myself and my children. I just wanted to be validated, loved, and accepted – at all costs. Which was unhealthy, damaging to my mental health, and to ruining our marriage.
The art of saying ‘NO’
Did you know that the word ‘NO’ is a complete sentence. I learned that and I was floored! In the beginning of my recovery. I had a really, really hard time stating what my boundaries were in our relationship.
A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you.
The hardest part about setting boundaries is the reaction you will be receiving from setting that boundary. Know you don’t – I repeat do not – have to change your boundary just because someone reacted in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. The boundary is for you not for others. My greatest fear what that if I said what I truly felt, my husband would leave. At the same time, I knew wholeheartedly that his drug addiction would ruin us if I didn’t hold fast to my boundaries.
Here are my boundaries:
If you use again, I will take the kids and leave.
You must get help for your addiction for us to stay married.
You have to look within yourself for the reason you are using for us to continue to stay married.
My boundaries weren’t unreasonable. They were what was best for our family. The person who had the hardest time was me because I was terrified he would no longer love me but he stayed. We both stayed. We went to recovery meeting weekly and worked our own programs. Recovery saved our marriage. It continues to save our marriage today.
If any of this resonates with you, I want you to know that you are not alone. I am sharing my side of our story because our story isn’t unique. While some partners aren’t addicted to drugs, there may be other unhealthy consuming behaviors damaging your relationship. While it may seem impossible to put up a boundary in fear of guilt or shame, know that you are doing the best for you and possibility your family. This behavior needs to be address and your partner needs help.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room. We are in a full blown pandemic and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. So celebrations will look different right now. Everything looks different this year. To be honest, we will probably be in this season until the end of 2021. So learning how to clearly state your what you are comfortable or what your boundaries are during this season is very important especially for your mental health.
This year has taught me how to choose what functions, events, and meetings I will say ‘no’ to. It hasn’t been an easy to say that simple sentence. ‘NO’, triggers all of my codependent feelings and thoughts. So I have learned to say a simple statement that I use on a regular basis –
“My plate is full right now.”
This statement allows me to put a boundary while still giving a vague explanation of what my schedule is like right now. Truthfully, we don’t need to explain ourselves. Like I said, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. It may be obvious why we aren’t gathering right now and if others can’t respect your boundaries – that is not your problem.
I know in the Filipino culture, it is frowned upon to say ‘no’. Moreover, boundaries are more of a western concept so learning to politely decline isn’t always easy. As it is part of the bayanihan spirit to always lend a helping hand. I have lived my life this way for as long as I can remember – helping those around me. I have also taught my kids the bayanihan spirit and they are the type of kiddos who will always lend a helping hand. This collectivist culture has its benefit as we will always help other but it can also be hard to set boundaries on what we can help with because it is ok to say ‘no’.
Bayanihan. Pronounced like “buy-uh-nee-hun,” bayanihan is a Filipino word derived from the word bayan meaning town, nation, or community in general. “Bayanihan” literally means, “being a bayan,” and is thus used to refer to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation1.
Questions to ask yourself
I have learned over the last few years questions to ask myself before I commit to another event/function/meeting. The next time an opportunity arises and you are presented a function you are unsure, please ask yourself the following questions:
Are we still in a pandemic?
If the answer is yes, please follow CDC and state guidelines. This is the only way we can mitigate the spread of the virus.
If I do this [insert event/function/meeting here] am I ok with missing [family time/self care time/etc here]?
If the answer is no, then do not commit to the event/function/meeting
Is my answer an absolute ‘YES’?
If not, it’s a no. You will hold resentments towards the individual who invited you.
The Christ Follower caveat to this is to listen to what God has told you about this event and if it is in line with His promises. His promptings will always be in line with His Word.
What am I willing to give up if I commit to [event/function/meeting here]?
Again, if its a ‘no’ then don’t do it.
There are many versions on these questions but you generally get the point. Sometimes saying no means sacrificing time with those most important to you and most of the time, I am not ok with doing that. So I will decline the invitation. I recently decline an opportunity to lead a women’s bible study table as well as attend a women’s bible study at a friend’s home. I politely decline the first invitation but agreed to the second invitation. Committing myself to the second invitation proved to be too much for my schedule, so halfway through the bible study, I politely removed myself from the group. It was not an easy decision and I don’t regret the interactions I had with the ladies in the group but I had too many things on my plate (see above) and I was beginning to feel very very overwhelmed. Once I left that group, I was able to focus more on my current obligations.
How to say ‘NO’
This might be an easy thing to say to people but for me it is the hardest sentence to muster. Here are a few ways I have said ‘NO’ in the past few months.
I’m sorry my plate is full.
I don’t have the mental capacity to add another thing to my schedule right now.
My schedule is jam packed right now. I can’t.
No but thank you for thinking of me.
I am not able to right now but please keep me in the loop for the next opportunity to serve.
Theses statements allowed me to say ‘NO’ in the most polite way possible without disclosing my current schedule as well as my feelings towards the event. I challenge you to use one of these. They work!
I’d love to know what resonated with you the most.
Remember…its ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!
This is part of a series: Wife of a Recovering Addict. If you haven’t read the introduction, click here to catch up!
Chris and I were your typical 1st generation Filipino American couple in the late 90s to early 2000’s. He was bald, listened to Bay Area hip hop, lived in Daly City, and drove an old Toyota Corolla. I wore tube tops or something that showed my mid-section, mastered the black cat eye liner look, lived in Milpitas, listened to Wu-Tang and DMX; and drove an old Toyota Corolla. If you know anything about the Bay Area during that time, you know that basically all the Filipinos lived in two cities – Daly City and Milpitas. Our matchmaking was conceived on an AOL chat room by one of Chris’ friend, Jeff. He had a ‘friend’ who was going to San Jose State and pitched that he needed someone to hangout with. As a newly graduated high schooler, I was open to anything especially meeting a guy from ‘DC’. So we met in my parents’ driveway and went to the every mall in The Bay. From that point on we were inseparable.
At 22 years old, we got married at our home church in San Bruno, California surrounded by our family, friends, and the church congregation. We also dedicated our daughter to the Lord the same day. It was a day full of commitment, hope, and love. Our lives were on the fast track to a large family, we had four kids in a six year span. At one point we had three kids in diapers. I basically breastfed babies for nearly 4 years. I was in the depths of child rearing while Chris worked full time and completed the rest of his bachelor’s degree online. We were both pushing towards a better life for ourselves and our family.
While we looked like everyone else, our lives were anything but ‘normal.’ What people didn’t see was the torment of real life emotions as young adults who were just overwhelmed by life, work, and constant relationship dynamic changes. My day to day was engulfed in keeping tiny humans alive and providing some type of structure. During these formative years, Chris was shouldering the burden of financially providing for six people on a meager salary. We only really saw him for a couple hours on weeknights and a few hours on the weekends. Most nights after work, he looked exhausted but tried his best to spend time with the girls before he sat behind his laptop for the evening to finish his latest course. It was an exhausting season where we didn’t connect on a deeper level of communication.
It was right there
Looking back, there were red flags that indicated Chris was using. Obviously during those early years, I was focused on the four people that depended on me. Chris never really drank alcohol on a normal basis and drugs were something that I never really thought about but the signs were there right in front of my face. There were times when ‘money was missing’ from our joint bank account or somehow we would ‘miscalculated’ our expenses and we were short for the month. It never dawned on me that our money was going to anything else but to our family’s needs. There were also times when I would ask Chris to go to the store. It would take him a long time to find the product at the grocery store and get back home. He used the excuse that the grocery store was overwhelming and it took ‘a long time’ to find the specific thing I was asking for. I chalked this as a ‘normal’ occurrence since he didn’t do the groceries. I was the main grocery runner – ‘of course he would get confused or overwhelmed.’ Why would it be anything else.
We look just like you
An addict isn’t always someone who is homeless, looks grungy or couch surfs from house to house. Most of the time, addicts are people who can carry on a normal life while using on a consistent basis. These individuals are dubbed “high functioning addicts.” These addicts “don’t fit the standard definition of an addict. They may not drink or use drugs every day; they may drink only the finest wines and liquors; and they may have avoided the serious consequences that befall other addicts and their families. Because they don’t fit the stereotype, high-functioning addicts can spend years, even decades, in denial. If they manage a family and career and fulfill their daily responsibilities, they reason, there’s no way they could have a drug or alcohol problem. Even if they acknowledge that they drink or use drugs more than they should, they may feel entitled to indulge as a reward for their hard work.” – Psych Central
As per the advice of American Addiction Center, “if you want the high-functioning addict in your life to get help, discuss your concerns at an appropriate time. Wait until they appear remorseful over bad behavior…not while they are inebriated or recovering from a hangover. If you think it will help, you can also stage an organized intervention where a small group of loved ones can let the addict know how their behavior makes them feel. This should be done calmly, but firmly. Although it is up to the individual to admit they have a problem and seek help, your influence can help steer them in the right direction. Knowing they have people who care about them could be all the motivation they need to seek appropriate treatment.”
Through the years I have had many hard conversations with wives and girlfriends about their significant others’ bad habits. The first question they ask me is always the same – “Are you sure he’s an addict?” My answer is always the same – “You wouldn’t be asking me these questions if you thought otherwise.”
Trust your gut.
Lean into the uncomfortable truth that they need help. Lean into the hard feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. Reach out to those who have walked this road before because you can’t go through this alone. Just as substance abuse is [usually] a group activity, recovery must be a group effort because we cannot be left to ones’ own will to stay sober. I have added resources to help you support yourself or someone you care about.
I was unloading the trunk of my husband’s car packed with party supplies. It was a day full of preparation as we were celebrating the dedication of our third child at our home church with a reception immediately following the ceremony the very next day. Its been a jam packed week as I prepped for this celebration with three kids under the age of five in tow. After I unloaded the last grocery bag, something told me to lift the cover of the spare tire. In the center of the spare tire was a container that I’d never seen before. It didn’t look like anything car related so I opened it – there in plain sight was my husband’s drug stash and paraphernalia.
The world stopped.
Standing in the light
This wasn’t the first time my husband has been caught with a drug stash. In our 20+ years together, he has relapsed a few times. I am sharing my side of this recovery journey because of the spotlight on Dax Shepard’s relapse after 16 years of sobriety. More importantly because of Kristen Bell’s honest statement about supporting her husband through his recovery. I appreciate the transparency they have with the public surrounding their marital and mental health struggles. Their vulnerability urged me to stand in my truth as a fellow wife of a recovery addict. This emotional road of ongoing recovery isn’t easy. It is an evolving process that is held up by our faith in Christ, an enormous amount of grace, compassion, and healthy boundaries.
Our story is important to share because of the stigma surrounding the inability to process feelings and generational cycles of addiction especially in the Filipino community. I have seen far too many drunk Titos (uncles) and absolving Titas (aunts). I’ve experienced first hand the wrath of an emotionally unavailable and alcoholic parent. This destructive behavior has been acceptable for far too long in our culture. The only way we will be able to break this generational mental enslavement is to begin to heal ourselves, address our feelings, slay our inner demons, and live an authentic life with a higher purpose.
My first boundary
On that day pre-celebration almost 14 years ago, I vividly remember storming into our home and pushing that container into Chris’ face. We argued for what seemed like hours and deciding to put this fight aside to prioritize one of the most special days of our lives as a parent – dedicating our daughter to the Lord. I can still relive the shame I felt during that time. Ashamed of not realizing what was going on right in front of my face. Mortified of the fact that the father of my children is an addict. All of my dreams and expectation of what my life should be were annulated the moment I found that container. It felt like my life was over.
I remember calling my Mom and asking her for advice. She told me to do what was best for the children and myself. The only solution I could come up with was to leave. So I asked my Mom if I could live with her and my dad while we figured out our next steps. She immediately agreed. I took as much of our belonging as I could fit in my van and strapped the kids into their car seats. Chris was at work. So he would come home to an empty house. My parents welcomed us with forced smiles and played with the girls while I unloaded our clothes, the kids toys, and got my bearings of an unknown future. That evening I received a call from Chris asking why I left. We fought for what seemed like hours. The next phone call I received was from my In Laws. They were distraught and beside themselves that I was being a terrible wife and mother; ruining our family by leaving my husband because of my husband’s secret drug habit.
I was the problem.
I was the person bringing shame to the family.
The girls and I lived with my parents for almost a week before I moved back into our home to begin to reconcile our marriage with the conditions that we would go to counseling and Chris would get help with his addiction. The same day I returned home, we went to a church service. I asked for help from church staff member. I remember her handing me a flyer and showing it to Chris. I could feel in my gut that this was the answer.
The facilitator handed me ‘One Day at a Time Al Anon’ and told me to read it everyday. I came to the realization by the second day of reading the devotionals that I was part of the problem. I learned my inability of saying ‘no’ enabled Chris to do a he pleased. I had to learn how to set my boundaries. More importantly, be ok with how he reacted to my boundaries and stand firm – no matter what. Holding myself accountable for something I had never done before was extremely daunting and uncomfortable.
On this first meeting, I also heard the ‘Serenity Prayer’ for the very first time. It was something everyone recited joyfully. I recall thinking this prayer was ‘just another thing’ I had to do to fix my husband. After attending a months worth of meetings, this prayer was my saving grace. It helped me realize that I wasn’t in control of anyone but myself. My recovery did not was not dependent on Chris’ recovery.
We attended this recovery meeting for a few years, it was the main reason we were still married. It also solidified our individual relationships with Christ. We became a family with our recovery group. This group of brave, unconditionally supportive individuals encouraged us through the 12 steps. We loved on them hard and checked in on each other when times were tough. They helped us welcome our youngest daughter into the world. They also saw us through our first relapse.
Join me as I share how I handled our first relapse. It was our very first hard fall back to the beginning of recovery.
Have you experienced recovery? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below and what has helped you.
In the recent months, our home church spoke about pertinent topics that many struggle with as human beings of this earth. What I appreciate about our church is the focus on bible based teaching. As a former Catholic, I never really read the bible and remained focused on the traditions of Catholicism. Growing up, I believed that God’s truths for me were conditional. Believing that someone would love me just as I am was a foreign concept. It is still a struggle today but I know the truth and press forward everyday to build my relationship with Christ.
With all that is going on in the world, I wanted to create a complication of sermons our church has spoken about so other’s may find comfort in His truths. Being a person in 2020 is absolutely exhausting – mentally and physically. I am thankful for my faith in Him and not in my own willpower. If you want to read more about how I am leaning on Christ during this hard season, please read my article in The Brave Collective digital magazine – Who is Jesus? Jesus is my beacon of hope.
I have struggled with shame and guilt around my mental health as a Christ follower for years because I believed that I shouldn’t be sad or have hardships as a Christian, right?
Christ never said that we will be without difficulties, instead He gives us His grace, love, and new daily mercies – unconditionally.
I was told as a child that I should never doubt or question God. As a teen exploring world around me, I wanted to ask so many questions but was silenced very quickly. My curiosity was deemed as being unfaithful. In turn, I stopped asking questions and began to doubt any presence of a higher being. It wasn’t until I began my own faith journey as a young adult that I learned that doubt was ok and God wanted us to doubt. This concept blew my mind! It helped me grow my relationship with Christ.
I have heard many incorrect statements about mental health as a Christian.
“All you need to do is have more faith.” “Just pray the mental health away.” “You probably don’t believe in God enough.”
I want you to know these statements are not constructive for those who are struggling mentally. They actually do more harm than good. As someone who supports other’s in their mental illnesses, I would like to offer you a few helpful statements instead
“I’m sorry you’re struggling.” “How can I support you?” “How can I pray for you?” (Then pray for them right then and there)
I remain hopeful in this current season of unrest and uncertainty because I know who is in control. I pray these sermons have helped you and hope you even venture into other sermons our church has shared. It is through my faith in Him that I can share with you today.
I’d love to know which sermon resonated with you the most! Please share that with me in the comments.
As always – It’s ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!