When I was a little girl, I struggled to understand my conflicted emotions about my relationship with my mother. Around the age of 10 or 11, my older sister and I found ourselves running down the hall of our single-family ranch. My mother fiercely pursued us with a butcher knife in her hand, waving it menacingly and yelling threats of slicing and stabbing. My sister had wittingly nabbed the cordless phone off the wall, and as soon as we cleared the doorway into our room and secured the locked door behind us, she dialed 911. Because that’s what you are taught in school. You have an emergency . . . you dial 911. I don’t recall what was said on my sister’s end of that conversation, but I remember hearing my heartbeats exploding in my head as we cowered behind that thin, wooden door. I remember the feeling of sheer terror that we wouldn’t survive the night.
And then . . . my father came home. He soothed, sweet-talked, took the knife from my mother’s hand, coaxed us out of the room. The cops showed up at the door. I remember his words were something like this:
“Oh, you know how kids can be.” Calm. Cool. Collected.
The police left, and with the closing of our front door, I bought into several false truths – that I would never be safe, that society had lied to me, and that denying the truth would make it easier to live with. My mother was a broken woman. She was unwell, and my father, who was a Pentecostal preacher and a deacon of our church, would appease and cajole. He would strive to maintain the balance and the appearance of our family, but he never faced the truth during our childhood.
So, as I matured, I followed in his footsteps. When my relationships got tough, my denial grew stronger. As I had done with my mother, I made excuses for the abuse in my relationships. I denied until I couldn’t face myself anymore. I couldn’t face myself because I was lost in a false reality.
And that became my number one drug of choice. . . denial.
It seems that I have spent the better part of my life living ahead of my time, so stuck in the future, that I couldn’t see the present moment. I subconsciously chose daydreaming over reality, wishful thinking over acceptance, sedation over experiencing pain and heartache.
I chose to live a sedated life.
When I say sedation, I mean I found ways to sedate myself when facing tough emotions and experiences. Instead of facing conflict and digging deep inside of myself – being curious about my choices and reactions – I chose to ignore the lessons life tried to teach me.
We all have our drugs of choice. Yes, drugs. That phrasing is purposeful. Drugs sedate. They numb. They put you to sleep. Your drug of choice may be different from mine, but I guarantee you – you have or have had them in your lifetime.
The problem is that addiction maintains the illusion that life is good. Those close to you can see your life falling apart, but you are in your isolated space, numbing yourself into a coma. You have lost yourself, and you are a shell of a person, stuck in limbo and unable to accept who you really are and where you have landed.
My Drugs of Choice
Number Two – Living to eat . . . not eating to live
My mother grew up in poverty in South Korea. She spent most of her childhood starving and scavenging food out of trash cans only to come home to her drunken father, a man who abused her in unspeakable ways. Her mother resented her deeply and contributed to the abuse already inflicted by her father. She lived in this hell for years, her only solace was the comfort of her older brother. They bonded in their fight to survive and in the caretaking of their younger siblings.
Because of the life she lived in Korea, she always made sure our family had a healthy meal on the table and clothes on our backs. I remember helping with laundry many weekends only to see that my mother’s underwear was threadbare and full of holes. Only later did I realize that she sacrificed to provide for us. She went without, so we could have. My mother loved us immensely.
During my childhood, I found solace in her food. Her love poured into each meal. She was determined that her daughters would not go hungry. She would work long 12 hour shifts overnight only to return home and cook for hours on end. Our house smelled like a Korean BBQ most nights. How could I not eat every bite and then some?
Until I entered a recovery program, I didn’t realize I had used food as a comfort for so many years. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t normal to gorge yourself to the point of throwing up or spending hours in pain. Food helped me sedate. It helped me deny the truth. It helped me forget about myself.
Number Three – Hoping, wishing, and praying
Recently, my sons and I were packing for our summer vacation to St. Simon’s Island – my friends live there and offer an open invitation year round. To this hard-working mom, it’s the only way I can afford vacation for my boys. I am beyond fortunate to have endearing friends who have given me so much love, acceptance, and support throughout the years.
My oldest son kept interrogating me.
“How long until we leave? How many hours? What time will we get there? How long is the drive?”
He was driving me nuts. This is my oldest son. He tries to rush life; he wants what he wants right now.
“Josiah, can’t you just live in the moment. You always rush through everything, and then you can’t enjoy anything.”
“Mom, I can’t wait for things. I can’t enjoy right now because I want what’s coming.”
It was like a slap in the face because, in that instant, I realized that living by this philosophy for so many years might have caused my son to pick up my bad habits.
I can list about a hundred ways I had tried to rush through life. Here are a couple of examples:
“When I break up with him, I will be able to find someone who treats me better.”
“When my mom has her surgery, taking care of her won’t be so difficult.”
“When I move into my own place, I’ll feel peace.”
“When my kids are older, taking care of them will be easier.”
Rob Bell aptly said, “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.”
I have spent years of hoping, wishing, and praying for the next thing – only to be disappointed, only to miss out on the joy of the small moments I am living, only to repeat the same cycles because I refused to face myself with brutal honesty. A lesson I’ve been learning, a lesson brought home by my 12-year-old son.
Number Four – But . . . I’m just the victim
One of the easiest, most common sedatives to self is playing the victim. Life is not easy. It’s not meant to be. We are living a human experience. It’s easy to feel like a victim, to justify and blame people for the difficult times in our lives, to rush past ourselves in the mirror and jump to the bigger picture around us, looking for a scape-goat. If we are constantly focused on everyone else, we don’t have the time or energy to take an honest look at ourselves. Just look at the constant turmoil in the world, everyone so overcome with the need to be right.
I have realized that I am not alone. My ego, my innate need for conflict and validation, these things deeply ingrained in the human experience, work diligently to lead me down the path of vindication and justification. However, the spiritual path is one of self-reflection, awareness, acceptance, and constant re-evaluation. The path towards enlightenment isn’t so far-fetched. It’s not a bright light deep in the cosmos that appears to us in a vision to bestow on us the secret meaning of life. Enlightenment is inside of us; it is the hope that we have in ourselves, our relationships, the deep connections we find through life and love.
By playing the victim, we rob ourselves of the grace of self-acceptance. We rob ourselves of the curiosity to understand who we are. We rob ourselves of becoming the best version of ourselves.
At the other end of withdrawal . . .
The thing people don’t realize when they sedate? You aren’t just missing the gut-wrenching moments that come with life, you are also missing the joy. You can’t see it. You are self-absorbed but unaware of self. It is a conundrum. How can you be so blind to self when you are so isolated and withdrawn into self? The simple answer . . . ego . . . that part of you that thrives on conflict and justification and denial. You are at war, two selves. As long as the ego is winning out, your best self can never shine through.
I can choose to keep ignoring the beauty and honesty in front of my distracted gaze, or I can choose to live this moment as it passes into the next moment. I can do deep work, whatever that looks like. For me, it meant a recovery program, meditation, therapy, and writing. It meant becoming aware of the coping patterns that no longer served me well. It meant recognizing these destructive behaviors in the moment. It meant acknowledging myself and giving myself permission to feel. It meant treating myself with the same grace and dignity I treat others. At the other end of withdrawal, there is the start of a journey towards peace and reconciliation. It is an adventure of curiosity and self-love.
By facing my addictions, I have become stronger.
I have finally been able to face myself.