How Fentanyl changed my view of addiction!

I have felt for some time now that I need to write about my experience with Fentanyl but haven’t, not out of fear of what others may think, but more out of dread due to the pain that I suffered. I feel I should start from the beginning.

The Beginning:

Three years ago I had surgery to replace a disc in my neck and I had/have several other discs throughout my spine that are worn and on their way to pinching the nerve conduit that runs through the spinal vertebrae. Even though the surgery was successful the pain was still present from all the other discs that weren’t at the point where they qualify for surgery, but still yet very painful to say the least. After a few years of taking pain medication as sparingly as possible, I asked the doctor for some kind of alternate ways of managing the pain as the meds were tearing up my stomach. After spinal injections failed to work, my doctor recommended patches that contain medication that is time released over the course of three days and I would no longer need pain medication taken orally. It turns out that I was given Fentanyl and honestly I thought it was a gift from heaven, I felt better than I had in years! I would end up getting an increase in dosage twice over a two year span.

The Turn:

Over time I started to slip into depression very gradually and found myself retreating away from being around people which is really difficult for a pastor. Things that used not to bother me started to really affect me and I would get stuck dwelling on these small issues to the point that it would make me sick. From there I would end up on a downhill spiral and it wasn’t until I started to see name Fentanyl in the news. as it gained popularity in the world of opioid addiction, that I realized I was on something more powerful than I thought. It was then that I started to research this drug and was floored at the potency and strength of this drug that my doctor, whom I adored, had given to me. I was using it just as prescribed and honestly never once felt a high or mental buzz during its usage but had found that near the end of the third day (they are 3 day dosages per patch) I was aching really bad to the point that I felt worse than I had when initially going on them. I had found out what being “dope sick”, as it’s called by those who understand addiction, was and it’s worse than any day of pain that arthritis had ever delivered to me. I knew that something had to change. This up and down wave of pain had affected every part of me and I was in a place darker than I had ever remembered feeling and honestly, if it wasn’t for my faith in God, I would have eaten a bullet for dinner and ended the whole ordeal. However, I believed that any and all pain has a purpose and I knew that through Christ, I could endure anything but I was on the edge of despair and about to quit everything including pastoring. I didn’t feel I could turn to anyone and tell them what was really going through my mind. I had close friends who knew something was wrong and loved me whole heartedly but there are some things you just can’t explain. When you add in an overactive mind with an OCD tendency, I was a giant disaster about to happen.

The Bottom:

That was it, I knew I had to do something or I would end up doing something I would regret or something with an eternal effect that would crush my family and my church family. I talked to my wife and told her I was done with the meds and that if I didn’t quit right then she would have to hide the firearms and anything like that because I couldn’t fend off the demons much longer and prayer was getting harder to do. That day I took the Fentanyl patch off and never put on another. Little did I know that the valley I was in would get even deeper, I mean MUCH MUCH deeper! The first few days were rough but about the fourth or fifth day a new pain that I had never felt would set in and all hell broke loose. I would spend days and nights aching from every joint and even what little hair I had felt like it hurt. The nerve pain that I had already experienced from the bad discs pinching them would now be magnified by what seemed like a thousand times worse. It was no longer the burning sensation that I had gotten used too but now it would feel like my skin was crawling or as if bugs or worms had been injected under my skin and allowed to crawl around and this was all over my body. My legs would get restless and I couldn’t keep them still, I had to keep moving them or it felt like they would explode. There were times that I would get up and walk around outside just to try and get my mind off of it so I wouldn’t lose it all together. The aching, itching, active nerves and overall flu like symptoms would just take over my body and render me almost useless to my family, my church and my employer. This all came to a head on abut the third week.

The Realization:

I had finished preaching (yes I was still preaching, I say this to my shame) on Sunday morning and retreated to my living room and ended up in a spell that included blacking out (not sure what to call it) to which my wife thought I was having a stroke and called an ambulance and our dear close friends who stayed with me all the way and loved me through it. This is when I had an epiphany, realizing just what happens to folks who need help in these situations. The details of that day are still fuzzy to me and I couldn’t recount that entire situation even if I tried. However, over the next few days my wife would take me to two other emergency rooms trying to get help and what I found was that as soon as the word Fentanyl was mentioned, things changed. The willingness to try and find a way to help me and figure out what happened with the spell seemed quickly gone. My wife brought the boxes of the drug with a clear sticker showing that they had been prescribed for me but it was ignored and I felt like the worse human being in the world. My doctor was out of the country and I felt like I was on a deserted island and even though my wife, my dear friends and especially my God were there for me, I still felt alone with nothing but darkness around me. I was going to resign the following Sunday but my wise friend/deacon asked me to take some time off and just get better before I made any decisions. He knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to decide anything and I agreed to do so (I took off a month). Finally my doctor returned from her vacation and I went to see her and she hugged me and then told me I was crazy for going off that drug cold turkey as I had done. She also said she was proud to know me because she had never met anyone who had that kind of willpower. It was one of the worse experiences I had ever experienced but I wouldn’t trade it because it changed my heart. I do need to say that I have friends in the medical field and they are precious folks who care deeply for their patients and when I tell them of this experience, they apologize and also explain what it’s like for them and how poorly they get treated in many of these situations. They also tell me stories of how many “repeat” customers they get that swear they will never take another drug only to be back days or weeks later in the same shape they were in before. I can imagine that dealing with that over and over again would severely desensitize even the softest of hearts. It’s a catch 22 and I don’t have any ill feelings for anyone that I dealt with during this time but that doesn’t change what happened and how painful it was both physically and emotionally as I couldn’t get help when I felt I needed it most. Why didn’t I contact my friends who are in the medical field at that time? I was embarrassed, and even though I didn’t get this way through illegal means, I felt like a complete weak failure.

My Change of Heart for Addicts:

If a known pastor with a prescription for a legal drug gets treated and feels as if he is the scum of the earth, how much more would someone who finds themselves in this downward spiral illegally feel? How would he or she be treated? When I say “finds” I mean that no one ever sets out to be an addict, instead it usually starts either as recreation or to find a temporary escape from some painful situation whether it’s physical or emotional. I just can’t get past how bad I was made to feel when I sought help. I am not saying everyone is bad, I am saying that I had a terrible experience with those I dealt with and my wife was there through it all and said that I wasn’t just fabricating this in my mind, it was very clear that I was being treated differently. That’s not the only thing I learned through this ordeal! The dope sickness was an experience I wouldn’t wish on the worst of people! I don’t have the vocabulary to describe the pain and agony I was in as my body was screaming out using pain as its megaphone that it wanted,….. No, more like it needed and HAD TO HAVE Fentanyl. It had to have it right NOW! You see I hear people ask all the time, why do they (addicts) keep using when they know it could kill them. Why? Because death is welcomed when it comes to that kind of agony. When it gets to that point in addiction, the fun of the high is over and it’s just about getting your hands on something to ease the pain and make it go away for just a little while. I am sure (based on interviews with addicts) that it starts off as a high that feels good and relieves the senses for a while and allows no pain to be felt, but that period of “fun” is short lived for most. It becomes a matter of survival and trying to keep your body from attacking you from the inside out because you are denying it the drug it needs to function painlessly.

What I now see and desire:

I no longer ask why when it comes to an addicts willingness to throw anything and everything away for one more hit. I no longer see them as weak minded people with no will power who are so self-centered that they don’t and can’t care about anyone. Now I see people who are trapped into an endless reoccurring nightmare that replays every day until someone is able to help them see that there is hope, and that the power needed to overcome can only be found in Christ. My journey through the pain and agony was worth it because I had a deeper sickness in that was my heart. I was indifferent towards those who suffer addiction and I saw them as weak minded people who never cared for anyone but themselves. Thank you Lord for allowing me to experience this pain so that I may see others as You see them and I pray that I never again discount someone’s spiritual worth due to addiction. If this thorn in my flesh must continue to deliver pain, then let my arthritic pain be a reminder of Your sufficient grace and Your love for my neighbors so that I may be able to partake in loving them too, regardless of any circumstance or sin.

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Why “New Kid by Friday” dvd series was a bust for our Blended Family Small Group

I have found that ministry in general is very messy and only those who are willing to get messy actually have an impact. I found this to be even truer when it comes to blended family ministry. When we start to get involved with these beautiful folks and try and help them it sometimes gets very intense and almost scary! I have never intended to do anything but help but there have been a few times where I thought that I had actually made the situation even worse and that broke my heart. Nevertheless, God provides healing and in those cases things worked out through love, prayer and communication.
I recently decided that the “New Kid by Friday” series would be a good idea to help our blended family group and purchased the DVD series taught by Dr. Kevin Leman personally. While the series itself is very well thought out and very well delivered, it fell way short of our intended goal. You see, it seems that one of the number one discussions that constantly occur in our group revolves around the children and discipline. So naturally, me being a Dr. Leman fan and having read a few of his books, decided this is the way to go. Notice that I said that “I decided”, I didn’t put near as much prayer and thought into this as I should have. While I take full responsibility for this, I will elaborate on why this series missed the mark for us and I also believe this really applies to many nuclear families and not just a blended family.
The first thing you need to know and understand about the series is that the title is a misnomer. When rubber meets the road it’s not really about having a new kid by Friday as much as it is about creating a new environment for your child by Friday which is absolutely necessary. I think that Dr. Leman was a genius for naming it as he did. Think about it, parents unhappy with their child’s disobedience and behavior see this book and can’t wait to get to the checkout line. They get home and start reading immediately only to realize (which is much needed I might add) that little “Buford” is acting the way he is because they have allowed it, I give Dr. Leman five stars for that part of it. That is brilliant and couldn’t be any more true! I know what you’re thinking, so what’s the problem?
Maybe it’s not that something is missing from the book/dvd series as much as maybe there should be a prerequisite for reading/watching the series. You see, there is a huge assumption in my opinion, that makes all the difference in the world as to whether you can really enact the principles and practices that Dr. Leman lays out. The huge assumption is that Mom and Dad are on the same page and actually agree on the condition of the child, the severity of the child’s behavior and what’s to be done. I have found the lack of “oneness” in marriage has direct effect on the “oneness” of parenting! The lack of unity causes a disparity in the plan of parenting and so mom and dad are arguing over parenting ideals and philosophies, all the while the children are getting worse off by the day. One parent says yeah, the other says no and next thing you know the kid plays two end to the middle and now both parents are mad at the kid and at each other….. sound familiar? So now what? We get back to work on the real problem which is working on the mom/dad – husband/wife relationship by nurturing it in effort to reflect an Ephesians 5 marriage. We work on communication skills and putting the needs of the other spouse ahead of their own as found in 1 Corinthians 7.
Without a healthy marriage, it is impossible to unite in parenting. Dr. Leman’s series is great but for our group, much work must be done in the marriage relationship first.

Ministering to Blended Families – Tearing Down the Walls

In previous blogs we have discussed how walls are built that hurt our marriages, now let’s dive deeper into the mechanics of how to avoid failures in our marital relationship (parenting will come later) and tear down these walls. Now keep in mind that even if you are a spouse that hasn’t been married before, you still bring baggage to a relationship in that you have concepts in your mind already as to how a marriage ought to be and that can be just as hindering as the baggage brought in from a previous marriage. There is also the baggage brought in that is derived from watching your own parents’ marriage unfold as a child in their home, this can also leave a negative impact or at the least some ideas of how it’s supposed to be done that may not be agreeable with God’s design for marriage. So, all that being said, the following steps work for marriages period!

The first step to a great marriage is for each spouse to be honest with themselves about their weaknesses as well as insecurities they have; they may be one in the same or they may not. Having come from a home where a parent was abusive to the other may be a weakness because they don’t have a good idea of what a loving marriage may look like but it doesn’t necessarily cause insecurity. On the other hand having come from a home where one spouse left the other may cause a weakness in not having a good role model as well as causing an insecurity by shaping your mind into thinking that there is no such thing as true love and that sooner or later the one who says they love you will leave. Sometimes this process is tough especially for men, we think these things don’t have an impact on us because we are tough but they really do and the more we suppress it, the worse it is.

There is a special area I feel I need to address in this area of dealing honestly with our self. I have found in my dealing with people from failed marriages is that the spouse who was the victim of a cheating spouse will sometimes not take ownership of their own issues. I fully understand that there is nothing that a spouse can do that can justify the other spouse stepping out on them and sleeping with another person. However, it also doesn’t mean that the faithful spouse was innocent in the matter either! I find many times that the sexually faithful spouse will play the victim card and never come clean about their portion of the failed union and so they bring that mindset into the next relationship which can be toxic.

Taking inventory of one ’s self can be difficult but it is necessary for the sake of marriage that each spouse deal honestly with their self so that they can be honest with their mate. The second step, after taking inventory of our own self and listing (in writing) about our failures, fears and all that encompasses; we then share this with our spouse. If we can’t share with our spouse that which hurts us, scares us and gives us trouble; how do we expect our marriage to survive? We stood before our friends, family, the minister and most importantly God and promised to love each other and become on flesh! If we can’t be honest with the other half of our own self, we can’t be honest with anyone, including God.

One of the greatest benefits of being in a marriage is now you don’t have to go through life alone; there is someone to be there for you to help you through life. This was the design of marriage from the very beginning when God made Eve for Adam.

Genesis 2:18 Then  the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

However, when we don’t share with our spouse the things that weigh us down, the things that scare us, the things that cause us to be insecure then we have basically discarded the very design of marriage and live alone in a house that is designed for two. Look what Solomon said about what two can do:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?

So what does this look like in real life? Maybe your ex cheated on you and used a cell phone to communicate to their lover and now every time your current spouse leaves the room to take a cell phone call it makes you cringe and gives you uneasy feelings of insecurity. Don’t yell at them or question them as if they are being interrogated by the FBI, share with them how it makes you feel and why! I know this sounds so easy but trust me when I say that many arguments in a blended marriage start off as insecurity or anger that is generated from something that happened in their previous relationship that the current spouse has no idea why what they did just set you off! This is no way fair to them because you have not communicated to them about how this makes you feel and that is on your shoulders not theirs. Just telling someone that you don’t like something or that is pisses you off is not sufficient, this is someone you promised to be “one” with, you must share the intimate reason why and dig deep into your feelings so that they know EVERYTHING!

Now in closing, when someone shares this information with you, you are now responsible for protecting them. This may cause you to have to NOT do some things to protect their feelings BUT this is part of what being in a marriage is about, if they can’t rely on you to protect them….. why be married? Based on the previous scenario, maybe you might have to show them the caller ID before leaving the room to talk because it’s too loud in there to hear OR you may have to allow them to randomly look through your phone from time to time, if there is nothing to hide; it shouldn’t be a problem. We didn’t get married to have private space, we married to SHARE our life with someone. Back to the responsibility, I want to leave you with a verse from Philippians that states that we should put the interests of others before our own, clearly our spouse should qualify!

Philippians 2:4-5 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

Once we share with each other the intimate details of our hurts, failures and fears, we should do all we can to protect our spouse from have to experience those things if at all possible. This my friends, will help tear down the walls we have built to protect ourselves and instead build a wall around our marriage to protect it!

Ministering to Blended Families – Walls Continued

After some reflection and private messages from some wonderful folks, I feel the need to explore the effect of “building personal walls of protection” deeper before moving on to the next problem area. So in our last discussion we talked about how walls are formed as a result of failures and pain we have experienced in our lives, but what do those walls look like and how do they affect us in our new relationships we are currently involved in?

Imagine getting your house broken in to and a prized possession being taken from you that means the world to you. As a result of this intrusion and pain, you decide to have an alarm system installed in your home that included everything from room sensors to outside motion detectors and automatic lights. NOW, you feel like you are protected, right? The problem is that now anytime someone gets close to your house an alarm will sound off and the lights automatically come on and now you tell the intruder to “state your business” BECAUSE, anyone who comes onto your property is now being judged based on your prior experience and ALL are a possible thief until they can prove otherwise! This is the same way we protect our feelings on the inside, by building a protection that includes alarm triggers that sound off anytime there is a potential for our getting hurt again. The problem here is that we judge everyone against the action of one individual and may miss out on a great friendship or possibly more (no I’m not talking sex either).

Now, sooner or later the defense mechanisms start to chill out a little and quit sounding the alarm so quickly and things start to return to some normalcy. Eventually we start letting people back into our protected space and we may even declare we have fallen in love again and now decide to again take the plunge into the marriage world again. All is good now, right? Think again, if we haven’t dealt with our pain and created a good line of communication with the new spouse, things could get worse (and faster I might add) than they were in the first marriage. Why? Because of our protection mechanism, we leave less room for error than we did the first time. Consider the robbery analogy I used earlier, you may have let someone in your house now and may even feel like you can trust them to be there even when you aren’t home. But, that can all change in a minute when they start looking at something you have that is valuable and say something like “wow this looks expensive” and BAMM your senses are triggered and now there is a potential thief in your home once again. It’s not that they are a thief, it’s that they said something that seems out of place to you and now you are judging their motive based on a previous experience that had nothing to do with them. Sound familiar?

Let’s put in another way…. Say your ex hated your cooking and it was always a source of contention and was always causing a fight. Now, your new spouse simply says “can you pass me the salt, this dish needs just a touch more”. What happens next? Do you say something like; “what’s wrong with it, you don’t like it?” OR maybe something like; “I can’t do anything right for you!” Just because they asked for some salt doesn’t mean they don’t like it or that they think you are a horrible cook, it could just be that they like just a touch more salt that you like! When we judge someone using a paradigm that was based on a different individual, we will never succeed in that relationship.

Communication,  marital love and commitment based on Ephesians chapter 5 is the only jack hammer I know that  bust through the walls and provide the healing necessary to bring your marriage to a place that exemplifies Christ and the Church.

Eph 5:24-27  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ministering to Blended Families – Walls Created by Previous Failure

Today we want to start taking a look at what creates difficulties in blended family marriages. So often when talking with couples of blended families, they automatically want to go straight to the topic of the issues with the children when in fact the real issues lie in the marriage. It may take more than one session to address it but we will walk our way through the process. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional counselor, I am a pastor who has been in the trenches with many families dealing with these issues including my own blended family.

How do we get to the point of having a blended family to begin with? In  most cases it’s when a couple decided to marry who has been in a previous marriage that resulted in having a child(ren) together, that failed and now life goes on and they are rebuilding their lives with a new partner. There are some blended families where both spouses have children from a previous marriage or in some cases (as in mine) only one spouse had a previous marriage that resulted in a child(ren). I just want to state the obvious so we are all on the same page of music in our discussion.

We have to look at the past to understand where we are today for a clear understanding of the feelings we have that cause us trouble in our current marriage. Anytime there is a divorce, it is a failure. I know this sounds callous of me but it’s true! Today’s society wants to act like its normal and divorce is just two people who decided to move on in a different direction. The problem is that in your heart you don’t feel like it was a casual decision to move on n a different direction, there were many tears shed and sleepless nights spent leading up to this decision. Maybe you didn’t even want to divorce but the other half didn’t want to work on it anymore. I have even dealt with individual’s whose spouse came home and just said I’m leaving you for another person, goodbye! No matter how you cut it, it’s a painful experience that leaves you broken and feeling hopeless and it’s FAR from casual and normal. It’s also a failure, the two of you stood before God and friends and vowed to spend the rest of your life together only to not carry out that promise, it’s a failure and it sure feels like it. Even the individual mentioned earlier whose spouse came home out of the blue to leave, still felt like somehow they were a failure because they didn’t see it coming and will always wonder what they could have done to avoid it.

The problem is that failures cause pain and fear that will follow us if not proper dealt with. In many cases we tend to build walls to protect those deep recesses of our being where we once allowed another person to share but that is now damaged. That trust was betrayed and the giving of our whole self now seems silly and that is most likely not going to happen again. Lots of times these walls don’t really become pronounced until we are in a new marriage and it may not happen until well after the newness has worn off. However, sooner or later an argument will come and then BAMMMM he/she says that one thing that the former he/she used to say and then GAME IS ON! Now it’s “I’ve been through this and I am NOT GOING THROUGH IT AGAIN”! All seemed great but now the hurt, pain and fear from the previous failure has now just re-surfaced! While you thought you could fully give your heart and soul to another, turns out that it isn’t as easy as you thought. Anytime we receive damage, it leaves a damaged spot and those areas are more sensitive and we tend to protect those areas from getting hurt again, BAND AID has made a fortune on this very concept!

So, what arguments occur now in your current marriage that bring up those old feelings of hurt and fear? Have you talked (not when you are arguing) to your spouse about these areas of pain and how these wounds seem to be re-opened when certain things occur? If we don’t learn to communicate in real truth and learn to be transparent with full disclosure, we may never really be fulfilled in our marriage. Marriages will always have days of disagreement and some turmoil from time to time but if every time this happens it also brings up our painful past that hasn’t been dealt with, the chances of our marriage surviving will be slim. It may take a counselor (I recommend you research and find a good Christian counselor) to help you open up and deal with your feelings of pain, fear and regret.

The next discussion will be about instilling confidence in your spouse while still having to communicate with your ex for the sake of the children.

Ministering to Blended Families Introduction

I have finally done it…. I have entered the world of blogging! I don’t know who if any will read it but it feels good to let out what’s inside of me for the purpose of helping other leaders. When I say help other leaders please understand it’s not that I am wise or educated, I just have real world experience as a bi-vocational pastor, husband and dad! I have made many mistakes along the way and am still making them but I am closer to Christ today than I was yesterday!

Let me give you a little information about me so you can decide whether reading anything from me is worth your time. First of all, I am not a college graduate and my writing skills (English UGHH) are not equal to those of whom I read; so if that bothers you then reading anything I write may be more of a hindrance than a help. I am a husband to the most wonderful woman in the world and dad to two great boys who are 16 and 23yo. It important for you to know that we are a blended family, yes I said blended! My wife’s first marriage was annulled (long story that I had to share with the ordination board and we will leave it there) and I met her when she was a single mom and her son (our son) was 2 years old. We have been married for 17 years now and love our life together. I teach HVAC technicians for a day time job and pastor Heritage FWB Church in Inwood, WV for my real job!

So why tell you all of this, it’s a set up!! A set up for a series about ministering to blended families! What is your church doing to help blended families survive and thrive? IF you look at the marriage statistics you can’t ignore marriage failure rates are scary BUT what worse is how the failure rate INCREASES in the second marriages! Our church has many blended families, actually more than half and they need help and reassurance. Sure, I want to help people to avoid divorce in their first marriage but in many cases we are meeting people long after the first failure has occurred and now they are looking for help because the second one isn’t doing well and they don’t know where to go from here! I know that God’s plan for marriage didn’t include divorce but are we going to look down our noses and shame them or do we see ourselves in the same boat as all have sinned and fallen short? IS the ground level at Calvary? If so what are we doing to help them? I have learned a lot by experience in this area and have been engaged with many couples over the last few years and it’s tough BUT there is hope and as in all things CHRIST is the KEY! I feel that churches spend a lot of time telling people what not to do but not much time mentoring and making disciples and that is just sad! The church has gotten lazy and judgmental; we need to get back to making disciples and lifting up the hands that hang down! I do not, in any way, shape or form advocate watering down the gospel, it is what saves and gives hope to the hopeless!

The next installment will address the walls that form from failure and how this hinders the next marriage from establishing an Ephesians 5 marriage! Many problems arise with blended families and they may seem to revolve around the children (who disciplines them and how much is too much) but most problems come back to the marriage relationship!

Talk Again Soon!

Hope to hear your comments!