When the permissible becomes an idol

Not all sin is clear-cut: it’s often deeply tied to our motives and our hidden choices. I have zero judgement on anyone else’s choices. Conviction isn’t one size fits all.

After all, I was fine with drinking for a really long time until all of a sudden, I wasn’t anymore.

Sarah Bessey

I’ve been transparent about a period of severe depression after Henry was diagnosed. It’s not so much the diagnosis that causes depression as it is the extraneous details. It’s the devastating reactions from other people; the ridiculous amount of research, paperwork, and appointments; the difficult decisions; and the loss of sleep. Every parent needs extra care during this time, but for a person who already struggles with perfectionism and maintaining mental health? Well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

What I haven’t shared publicly until now is that I turned to alcohol. It began with one glass each night, but pretty soon one glass wasn’t enough. Two glasses of wine each night dulled the pain, took the edge off. Whatever words you want to use, it all means the same thing: I was dependent. I was never drunk. Henry was never in danger. I was dependent, nonetheless.

I don’t remember how or why, but gradually, my habit scared me. I didn’t need rehabilitation, but I needed a hard, honest look in the mirror. Jesus was calling me to lay this down. I felt a deep impression in my soul.

The drinking is not the problem. It’s anything you use in place of Me.

Did I just say drinking was my idol?  I think I did. I needed Jesus to deal with the pain, not wine. I needed more time on my knees and less with a drink in my hand. And it’s not that I wasn’t already spending time on my knees. I was a Christian. I prayed and read my Bible and cried out to God regularly. Sometimes hourly. Really. But I still drank every night, and that was not ok with me.

It wasn’t the first time I tried to dull pain with something other than God’s presence. In a previous season, I found myself losing weight rapidly, unable to eat or even look at food without feeling nauseated. There was no purging, no intention of losing weight. It was simply an inability to eat. The nausea subsided within a couple of months, and the pendulum swung in the other direction. One evening I found myself standing over my parents’ kitchen sink, spooning strawberry cake frosting into my mouth. Most nights, I stayed up later than everyone else and ate a second bowl of ice cream, even though I don’t crave ice cream. At the same time, I meticulously tracked every mouthful and weighed myself every day. I was both disgusted with my mindless sugar intake and unable to stop.

The sugar obsession disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. Not until years later was I able to see the reason for its disappearance was the reappearance of my mental and spiritual health. As dark and painful as they are to remember, these two seasons tell me everything I need to know about how my body handles intense periods of stress. I numb pain with idols.

Lay it down, Meredith. This has come before Me.

By the time I realized my drinking had become an idol, the nightly drinking had ceased, but the shock was enough to put on the breaks. Me? I’ve been outspoken about compassion and recovery for addicts since I was a teenager. Me? The one people tease for not drinking?  Yes, me, and since Lent was approaching, I could not think of a better way to make room for Jesus.  Those 40 days changed me, and it was the first time Lent made any sense.  Ann Voskamp says, “One needs to be dispossessed of all the possessions that possess us — before one can be possessed of God.” So, I dispossessed myself of what possessed me, to make room for God to fully live in me.

It is this part of my story that propels me toward both the women who still suffer in silence and the women who have fought and overcome the monsters in the deep darkness. We are a wounded bunch of recovering perfectionists and good girls. We clench tightly to our self-hatred like treasures in a buried chest, not daring to expose them to the light.  We turn to alcohol, under-eating, over-eating, exercise, sex, and shopping. We do so under the guise of what can be wonderful, harmless fun like “retail therapy” and “girls’ night out.” And it’s all ok, until it’s not.

Lay it down. This has come before Me.

Today, I endeavor each day to maintain a healthy mind and spirit. I am keenly aware of triggers and temptations. I seek help before falling into despair or turning to pain-killers. And I stand guard. If I feel I’m too close to an edge in any of my choices, I ask for help to step back to safety. I refuse to become possessed again, not by sugar or alcohol or anything else. I will be possessed neither by tangible things nor by attitudes like insecurity, anger, bitterness, resentment, or self-pity. I want my spirit to be fully open to God, to being renewed and transformed.

I used to have a problem. I used to be dependent. Now I am free.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

4 Comments

  1. So rich, Meredith. I needed to be challenged to think about my dependences today. Thank you, thank you for sharing so beautifully and vulnerably.

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