I believe in a thing called love.

Do you trust him? she asked.

We were at the lake house, sitting around the fire, and M had been gone for a short time. His cousin asked where he was and then, the trust question. I smiled and nodded, “Yes. Oh yeah. He’s doing good.”

That what I said aloud. In my head, a million thoughts. The answer is so much more than yes or no. It’s so much more than trust in one person. What does that even mean? Do I trust that he won’t use again? Do I trust that he’ll never hurt me again? Do I trust the person he is when he’s in recovery? Do I trust the addiction? Do I trust his love for me and my love for him? The answer, then, is not just yes. It’s no, no, yes, no, yes. If a good marriage is built on trust, then what the fuck am I doing?

I used to think that building a marriage on trust meant handing over my whole heart to my husband and knowing that it would be safe from harm, betrayal, judgment, lies. There is a part of me still hanging on to this way of thinking. The part that wants to answer her question confidently: “Yes, of course!” Proving that our marriage is normal, that I’m not weak for staying with a husband who lies, that we’re doing great, just like everyone else.

But… it’s complicated. I’m learning that trust in a marriage, in any relationship, is more about trust in myself and something greater. Trusting that my heart will be okay when I open it up to someone else because I take care of it myself – not simply handing it over and relying on another person to make it whole and happy. We are all human. Most of us don’t even know how to take care of our own hearts, so how can we promise not to hurt another’s, even if our intentions are good?

This doesn’t mean that I just take the hurt, tend to my wounds, and get ready for more. This does not give him an excuse to lie to me because it’s human nature to make mistakes, to get distracted by dark tunnels, to hurt other people without intending to. Honestly, this is where I’m stuck right now. I’ve learned to separate my husband from his addiction. I trust my husband, I don’t trust his addiction. But his addiction is a disease from which he will always suffer. It’s a part of our marriage, our family. A family disease. Sometimes the separation is not so clear.

“I cannot know what the future will bring. My best hope is every bit as likely to occur as my worst fear, so I have no reason to give more weight to my negative assumption. All I can do is make the most of this day. Today I choose to trust my recovery, the tools of the program, and my Higher Power, and to recognize how very far I have come.” // Al-Anon’s Courage to Change p. 169

I have to trust the process. The recovery. The work we are both doing. I have to trust that my Higher Power will reveal the truth to me when the time is right. Above all, I trust in love. The love in me and the love in him. I’ve seen that love in action and I see it every day. I’ve seen him work so hard to make changes in his life. And I’ve seen the progress.

I’ve made a habit of reflecting back each month, each year, in my journal. I write it out with colorful pens and doodles and lines and shapes, all the things that went right, the books I read, the crystals I carried, the places we went, the things little m said, the things I struggled with, my fears. 2019 was a two page spread, each item bordered by a different- colored box, and when I looked at it, the joy could not be ignored. Two boxes in the corner, one containing “two known slips” and the other read “at-home drug tests.” The rest of the pages were filled with so much good. It’s hard not to be grateful, to not see the progress, when it’s staring me in the face like that. The good outweighs the bad. Light washes away the dark.

So what do I trust? I trust that my husband is human. I trust that as a human, he will lie again. He will do things that hurt me. He will do things that hurt himself. Just as I do things to hurt him and myself. I trust that we are not perfect, and we will have challenges and fears and struggles. And I trust that he loves his family. I trust love – the love within me and within him and within the universe. Love will heal us, no matter what happens.

Lean in and pray.

The summer of 2017, M relapsed. And by relapse, I mean he went full force back into using regularly and lying to me about it. After a weeks’ long stay in rehab that past December, months of intensive outpatient and nearly a half a year of clean, hopeful progress – we were back to locked doors, missing money, refusal to open up and be fully transparent, suspicions, fights, tears.

I had coffee with my friend S that summer, someone from my old food blogging days. Although we were not the closest of friends, we could always open up to each other so easily about the deep stuff that had us wondering about the everyday world and the relationships we keep. She had moved out of state but we still got together for coffee now and then when she came back in town.Her faith in God was something that I once ignored about her. Not because it turned me off, but I realized we might never be the friends that I thought, or hoped, we might be because of this difference in values. I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t believe that God didn’t exist, but I didn’t welcome him into my life, either. I didn’t think I needed him.

So we had coffee and caught up on writing life, motherhood, navigating adulthood. Before we started saying our goodbyes, I opened up to her about my current struggle. I had been thinking about it during the entire date, wondering how to say it – just blurt it out? My husband is a recovering addict and our marriage is hanging on by threads and I feel very alone and confused and scared and the everyday that I once celebrated so much has now become my own struggle. There is no good time in a conversation to bring it up.

But I said it briefly – M had been in rehab, and it brought me to searching for something higher. I told her I admired her own strong faith, that she could just put her life in the hands of God and knew it would be OK. I had had one brief feeling of spirituality, of believing in something larger than me, in Japan, standing before a giant sitting Buddha. Was that what I was looking for? Does God exist in different forms? Is he the image of a man, or is he the energy all around me? I didn’t know. I felt like I was chasing something and I didn’t even know what it was or if it existed.

Lean into those questions, she said. Ask him for a sign.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time. I decided to try.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. // Al-Anon Step 3

I liked the idea of praying, but a part of me felt like I didn’t have a right to do so. Because I’d rejected God for so long, how could just ask him for help now that everything is falling apart? Because I’d always judged people who found God this way – who couldn’t figure out a way to solve their problems themselves, so they just relied on God to fix it, and tell them what to do, and answer all the questions that they didn’t know how to face themselves. And if I did ask him for a sign, how would I know? Would I just be looking at everything after and thinking, is that it? Is that Him? If I did believe in God, did he have to be in the form of a man, and Jesus, or could I continue to believe that he is everything around me, that he is the energy flowing through me and my breath going in and out? Could it be what I wanted to believe, or is it another way? Is that what he would show me?

Lean into those questions. Ask him for a sign.

I didn’t know how to pray. So I wrote a letter.

Dear God,

I’ve been avoiding your name. I’ve been asking lots of questions, and searching, and buying books and not reading them, and meditating, and feeling like I’m forcing spirituality onto myself while also remaining doubtful and pushing away for fear of being a phony and a hypocrite and weak.

I want you. And I’ve been avoiding talking to you because a part of me does not want to be a person who prays. But a part of me wants to embrace prayer.

I need help.

Life is hard, and if I believe that we are all connected somehow, that the breath of life that flows through that tree that I’m looking at through the window also flows through me, that you are that life, that you are everywhere, not just some man looking down at me from the heavens above, listening to me, but that you’re wind blowing through the leaves and birds chirping and the blue, blue sky, and my son’s laughter, and the light shining through the window – then I have to be able to look to you for help.

Because you are life.

And I don’t know what it is you do – make things better? Tell me the answers? Give me a sign in the form of thunder and lightning, some clear vision that floats out of the sky, or maybe something smaller that falls into my path and just works somehow?

I realized that the one thing I haven’t done is let go.

Surrender.

To finally put my faith in you.

To stop trying to answer the questions myself and to let you tell me.

To be completely vulnerable, and to talk to you, and ask you for help, and admit that I don’t know the answers, and that if you’re everywhere and everything, then it will all be okay.

Please give me a sign. And I will be yours truly.

October 8, 2018: The new moon.

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I got lost, confused. There were three houses around a circle driveway, with farmland beyond. Two other cars parked in the lot. I wandered around the driveway, yoga mat and blanket tucked under one arm, wondering if I was in the right place. One house was marked “Office,” another “Private Residence.” There was another house but I felt awkward, worried about embarrassing myself. I get anxious in situations where I don’t know exactly what to do or where to go, and when I think it may seem obvious to others. I worry I’ll look stupid. 

I went back to my car, checked the confirmation email, read a line instructing me to go to the education center. Took a deep breath, shut the fear down, and approached the last house – which was marked “education center” on google Maps. Opened the door. Inside, voices. A long hallway and to my right, a room with two women and a beautiful circle of crystals, flowers, light, poetry, tea. One of the women asked me to remove my shoes, and did I want to be smudged? The space was peaceful, inviting, friendly. Exactly where I wanted to be.

Exhale. Breathe fear out.

This was my first new moon circle. It is something I want to continue to attend – to carve out space at the beginning of each moon cycle to be with like-minded women, meditate and journal, share our stories, set intentions and share positive, loving energy.

A couple of years ago, when I first found out M was using again, I told myself that I had to learn to love myself again. I never in a million years thought that I would one day find myself meditating in a circle with a group of women I didn’t know. That M and I would spend date days crystal shopping, or that I would be lighting bundles of white sage in my home, wafting the smoke with a feather, praying for these spaces and myself be cleansed of negative energy.

I never thought my husband’s addiction would lead me to question my beliefs, to start searching for something greater within this world and within myself, and to find it alone, on my knees, crying in pain, praying in desperation. I never thought I would be one of those people who “found God.” Who believed that miracles do happen. Whose answer to every question has become prayer. Who craves connection with others who feel that same magic when they look up at the moon – others who have suffered and found hope in the synchronicity of the universe. 

“My husband is a recovering addict,” I told the circle of women as we gathered around the alter, sipping rose tea, journals open, goddess cards laid out before us. “The past few years have been hard, and I learned to welcome spirituality into my life – something I had never done before, but I found that when you’re feeling alone and hopeless, prayer becomes the only thing you can turn to.”

I don’t think of my Higher Power as God, although sometimes I refer to God for lack of a better name. My Higher Power is the energy within every living thing, that makes up each body and soul, that is the same energy that makes up the stars. We are vibrations, patterns, cycles, flowing through each other, giving life to one another. 

I feel closes to my Higher Power when I look at the sky.

The moon is my compass. The moon is always there, always listening. The moon knows what to do.

There is still much to learn, but what I have learned so far is that the new moon energy is best for new beginnings, setting intentions, while the full moon is often a time to reflect and release that which no longer serves us.

On this new moon, I intend to balance my energy between my three greatest relationships – myself, my husband and my son. We are a family, and we are all a part of the recovery process.

8.

Eight years married. Last year, the significance of seven was not lost on us. Seven chakras, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of creation. And then: 8. The first day of the new week. A never ending flow. Another beginning of our infinite cycle.

Today is also a full moon, and your first day back to school after our small nightmare. We survived it. Yet another. After eight years, we’ve survived more small nightmares than most people. Looking back, it was probably around our fourth year, our halfway mark, that we hit a peak of our marriage. We got pregnant. We got ready for the next step. And then, our sweet son came to us in the middle of the night in the most unexpected way imaginable. We survived his 10 days in the NICU. Our first survival as parents, as a family. I don’t want to say it all went downhill from there, because the day he came to us, we learned the true strength of love. And then, life got hard. Maybe that’s why the universe put our son in our lives when it did – because it knew we would need that strength to help us get through the next three years as we completed our first full cycle of marriage. As the waves seemed to pull us under and we continued to find our way back up for air.

We ebb and flow. The waves of the ocean are influenced by the cycle of moon, and so are we made up of water and energy and vibrations, our bodies and minds and spirits in a constant state of ups and downs. We grow toward the light. Like the leaves on our house plants that have been drawing me in lately. Watching as new growth stems from the top, small baby leaves peeking into life. We pull away the dying leaves and make room for the new. We place crystals around our home and marvel at their beauty, their magic, their knowing. Their sacred patterns that help balance our vibrations like a tuning fork, bringing us back into the flow of the universe. We let love in. We breathe love out.

Who knows where this next cycle will take us? A part of me wants to lean toward fear – we barely survived the last one! How can we do it again? Well. First, we’ll take a deep breath. We’ll recognize that within our cycle of marriage are our own journeys to love and light, our own reflections and intentions, our own unique vibrations, our own purpose. And we’ll take each other’s hands, and let go of fear. Nothing can ever prepare us for what is to come. I go into the next with no expectations. But I know more now than I did then. And I know, my love, that as the next cycle pulls and pushes and feels as thought it’s weighing us down; in the moments when we may forget about our strength – we can be a lighthouse for each other. Let’s always leave the light on to guide the other home – back to infinite comfort of the other’s circling arms.

A journal entry from April 29, 2018.

I struggle with expectations. I set these expectations, then when they aren’t met, I wonder – don’t I deserve what I want to happen, to happen? Why let go and settle for less?

But there is a difference between expectations and needs.

“Attaching our well being to a particular action or outcome is very risky. In essence, we make that situation a kind of higher power – we give our power over to other people and circumstances… We have the ability to change our attitudes. We can detach from our [expectations], anchoring our well being and peace of mind our Higher Power rather than any external situation.” – How Al Anon Works

Do not let your expectations become your Higher Power.

These past two days, this past weekend, I’ve woken up with this idea in my head of what the morning would look like. Maybe it was the Instagram posts of a local mother, a photographer who manages to make suburban mom life look so perfect – her family stylishly dressed, going to hipster cafes and taking perfectly candid photos in front of painted brick walls. So I wanted a morning spent in our little downtown, at a park and then for a meal or dessert. I wanted to make it out by 11, so we could grab a small breakfast and have time to talk and play. M got out of bed at a decent time but took nearly two hours getting ready. We didn’t make it downtown until 12:30. By the time we left the house, I was crabby and short with M and m. Looking back, it seems so silly to have been so angry after having such a nice day.

A delicious bacon sandwich and iced mocha at a new-to-us cafe. A walk in the sunshine along the river, m pushed on his trike. m running around the park with no fear. His laugh. We made it back to get m down for a nap by 3, then I listened to a podcast while making pasta and roasting vegetables for the week. Shawn Achor was on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, talking about happiness and how worry can be a waste of time. They’re just thoughts, noise, taking up space that would be better used for something that brings joy rather than negativity.

Why focus on what’s going wrong? On how my expectations aren’t being met? Why do I let running late get to me? Even when I set the time frame – when I tell myself we have to be somewhere at a certain time for no real reason, and then I let that dictate my attitude. M will take longer than I like, and I take it out on him. Even though he got out of bed when I asked, and even started getting ready without first going out for a cigarette. I still grumbled about it, and got so impatient and frustrated. I yelled at m and he felt my anger. I saw him get quiet and upset as a reaction to my crabbiness. And for what? Everything turned out fine. We had such a nice day. And I regret those few hours when I was just so upset for no good reason.

I have been confusing my expectation for my needs.

What do I need? To spend quality time with my husband and my son. A husband who wants to spend time with me, who loves his family, who takes care of us. It can’t be about what I expect our days to look like before they even begin. Because by the end of the day – there is a little boy playing in the backyard with his daddy, asking questions and saying things like, “Oh, I have an idea!” when he thinks of something new and exciting on his own. There is laundry clean and dry and waiting to be folded. There are windows flung open and a house that finally smells fresh and clean and full of new again. There are plants with fresh soil, watered and green. There is a just vacuumed carpet and pasta sauce bubbling on the stove. There are healing crystals at work around the house, and a full moon, and a clear sky.

Also feeling today:

  • Scattered. I kept starting chores and then getting distracted by another task. I started to hang dry laundry, then got half way done and started clearing the floor to vacuum, then came downstairs and realized I hadn’t finished the laundry.
  • Mom guilt. Totally felt guilty for letting m watch TV while I vacuumed, when outside, it was beautiful. He wanted to watch TV, and he played outside in the morning (and then again after TV), and how else am I supposed to clean without interruption?
  • Letting go. Of my expectations of what I think my writing should look like. What I actually got out on the page today was not what I wrote in my head earlier. But I got it out.
  • Paying attention to my plants. I actually started talking to them, and I noticed I felt better after I gave them some attention. I realized we all share the same energy in this home. If I put more energy into caring for my plants, maybe they’ll help bring more positive energy to our space.
  • Crystals. Charoite was brought to my attention after finding it in my crystal book by mistake. I read the description and it’s what I have been looking for to help with my fears of relapse, as well as letting go of expectations. Prehnite is a stone I just bought last month because I kept stumbling upon its description. I read today that it’s good for connecting with nature – explains my new connection to my plants!
  • Prayer. Please help me to let go of expectations. To keep a positive attitude. To be grateful for all the ways in which my needs are met every day.

A journal entry from March 30, 2018: We are all struggling.

I know a mom whose husband recently told her he doesn’t want to be with her anymore.

Another mom whose 1-year-old is undergoing chemotherapy

A friend at work, with a son M’s age, just went through a divorce.

Another woman at work left her husband.

A family friend was diagnosed with ALS. The doctors say he has two years left to live.

A girl I know from college who I follow on Instagram just delivered a 20-week stillborn child.

My old roommate’s mom died suddenly. They found cancer in her brain. Days later, she was gone.

My husband is a recovering addict. Every day I fight fear and pray for peace, love in our lives.

There is suffering everywhere. I don’t know if I notice it more now, or if I am more sympathetic to those suffering, or life just gets more difficult the older we get, or all of the above. I hear these stories, and my heart aches. I feel pain. I know what it is to feel helpless, hopeless, alone, like my world is crumbling down around me. And I want to tell them it will be okay. I want to tell them to let go. Take care of yourself. Surrender to love. But I don’t know that everyone wants to hear that when they’re struggling.

How did I find my path? I picked up an Al Anon book and I started reading. I opened my heart. I prayed. I cried. I let go, and I became very afraid, but I stopped letting the fear take over. I breathed in, and put my future in the hands of the universe. It was hard, but also easy because I felt I had no other choice. I felt so alone.

I am still here. We are still here. We are happy and healthy. We are always working to be good.

We are meant to suffer and struggle. It makes us stronger. It heals us. And for me, it creates connection. Especially when we become vulnerable enough to share that struggle. To open up and let people know that we are hurting, that life is hard, that we are sometimes lost and alone, and that we need support. It’s that vulnerability that breaks down walls of perfection – the Instagram exterior that showcases a happy life . The highlights reel of life, the corner of the kitchen that is clean when just out of the frame, chaos. And when you show that mess, you open up to show the real you.

I crave transparency and meaningful connections. Conversations about faith and God and the universe. About pain and love and prayer. About writing, and mothering, and adulting. Connection. Community.

At one of my first Al Anon meetings, a woman said that eventually, whenever something went wrong, she looked forward to seeing how God would fix it. “Oh goody,” she said. I almost wanted to smack her. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing for her to say to a newcomer whose husband was still using. But I think I understand now. The universe is amazing. In a way, it is exciting to see what else it has in store. Because in the end, it will all be okay.

A journal entry from October 25, 2017.

I watch the map. Would he be moving east or west on 88? West meant he was going to his counselor. East meant into the city for drugs. He merges heading west. A sigh of relief.

I sit in my car in a parking lot not far from home. I just made an appointment with a new therapist. I miss those evenings in C’s office – a safe space to talk about all of it. Lately I have been feeling anger. And although I am often aware of it, I still hold on to it. I research which crystals help me let go, but when I’m feeling it consume me, I hang on. Like I own it, like I have a right to keep it.

I held on last night, and again this morning. As the day went on, fear set in. I checked his location at lunchtime. A suspicious stop.

What if?

I can’t control it, I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it.

Then, hurt. Why hadn’t he texted? Shame. Why can’t I just suck it up and tell him I love him? Guilt. He kissed me this morning. He’s trying to let go. He’s going through so much. We both are. Why can’t we just see eye to eye?

I slept on the couch. I didn’t know what else to do.

I pray. I admit my powerlessness, my confusion. Take this pain, this anger, this darkness. Please show me light and love, toward him. Toward myself.