As the title discloses, I would like to share with you in this post what my greatest struggles were and now are. Of course these things can and do change with time, so I will discuss my two greatest struggles from my past today and my two greatest struggles now in tomorrow's post. I hope that this post will give you some insight into what goes on in the life and mind of the one you know and/or love who may have similar issues to battle.
As I think I have discussed here earlier on, I had a period of about fifteen years in my twenties and early thirties where I was in an indescribably dark depression. This depression was worsened by the fact that I had strangled the only existing Voice which could have given me any inkling of hope. Whether we are aware of it or not, Life, without God, is painful, unfair, and pointless. We can busy ourselves with toys and careers and family but the truth is, if you have the guts to examine it, we have nothing to look forward to but suffering and death...All of our efforts in life, in building families and career and amassing fortunes or struggling with poverty--ALL of them are futile and without purpose or future. The grave stands victorious over the most successful lives.
I had closed my ears to God's voice; I was angry at Him for the injustice of my lot in life, so my response was to cut off my nose to spite my face! I extricated myself from His embrace and showed Him the door to my heart...the EXIT door. Having rid myself of Hope, I found myself (obviously) to be hopeless and broken. In an ocean of hallucination, false ideation, paranoia and guilt, I swam without mooring, firm footing, or a destination. Afraid to die and yet longing for death, I flirted with death and more than once almost attained it.
We all have days when we feel blue or down. The depression of the clinically depressed magnifies that one hundred fold. I lay awake all night, striving with thoughts and psychotic images that are like terrible nightmares, but all the time, I was awake. If I did drift off into a medicated sleep, it was usually restless and horrible, only trumped by the horror I felt when I opened my eyes and my nightmares seemed happy in comparison. That hopelessness and sleeplessness was one struggle that was a brutal agony in my life.
Because I was so depressed and miserable; and because back then, in psychiatric hospitals EVERYONE smoked...I was eventually drawn to cigarettes in search of relief. In the rooms in the hospitals hung a fog of smoke. Nicotine stained the walls to an even dingier shade than they were originally. But the cigarettes, as horrible as they smelled, seemed to bring some pleasure and relief to these patients. I was twenty two when I first tried a drag on one of them. ...And I was IMMEDIATELY hooked...I began to smoke over a pack a day right off of the bat. I was so desperate to feel better in any way, that I pitched all of my hatred of cigarettes and my determination to not ever smoke and leapt, head first into a land of smoky oblivion. While it was true that they offered some small enjoyment; they rapidly went from being an escape to being a prison from which there was no escape.
In years where I lived in a community residence (a group home), we were allowed to keep $36 of our Social Security Disability money each month to use for our personal expenses. Cigarettes then cost over $20 per carton and I smoked, at times, over a carton in a week. Now, you do the math! You'll quickly see that not only did I not have money for personal care items; I did not even have enough to sustain my habit. This meant at least two weeks of misery in every month.
My greatest struggle was the slavery in which I found myself as a result of cigarettes. I was not "happy" unless I had a cigarette...and I did not always have a cigarette. Add to that the fact that some hospitals would take our cigarettes and use them to bribe us to behave the way they wanted us to behave and you have, yet another recipe for hell.
I had a love/hate relationship with smoking. While on one hand, I would give my last dollar for a cigarette, I also hated the image, the smell, the control it gave other people over me, the cost, and the fact that I always seemed to have bronchitis while I smoked. So I was almost always embroiled in some wild scheme or other to try to stop. Much like people pursue odd diets and strange ways of trying to control their appetite, so I would try thing after thing to try to quit.
I smoked through my pregnancy...I smoked outdoors when I was married and when I was at my parents' house, shivering through snow, wind and torrential rain. I smoked in medical hospitals, I smoked in psych hospitals...None of my schemes to quit every lasted even a day. This bondage increased my sense of entrappment and hopelessness as well as took away every last shred of self respect that I had.
In every hospital I have been in, I have encountered people who are either struggling to quit; or struggling to supply their cigarette habit ...or both. I have found this to be a common denominator among psychiatric patients and I have read studies which link mental illness to cigarette addiction.
I am glad (and proud) to say, that in 1995, after having smoked for about 12 years, I finally (PRAISE GOD!!!) was able to quit with the invention of nicotine patches. I know that it was God's grace alone that enabled me to say goodbye to that prison....and to do it before I had a severe case of mycoplasmic pneumonia in 2000 which left me with a horrible case of asthma. I know that if I continued to smoke at that point, I would have died long ago. And I know that if I hadn't quit prior to getting sick, I would have been equally unable to break the habit even with the asthma and my life on the line.....I was THAT addicted.
Perhaps you have a loved one who struggles with either despair or with cigarette addiction...or both. Please try not to judge them for either thing. They are both bondages which only God's grace and mercy can break through...and I'm sure that your loved one would not choose to have either one of these if they felt they really had a choice. The reason I wrote this though, is to say that even in the darkest dungeon, God's power can shine and break chains... The most powerful tool and weapon you have to battle on behalf of your friend or family member is prayer. God can reach them where nothing else can. And there is no weapon that Satan has formed against us which can stand--especially in the face of an army of prayers. Do not lost hope. Do not condemn. Do not give way to despair. Your beloved one needs for you to hold tight to the Hope that they are struggling to find. Let the light of God's love shine through you into their darkness. Remember that love hopes all things, believes all things, always trusts, always perseveres.....You be the hands that cling to the hand of the Father on their behalf....with one hand hold tight to the Father and with the other, hold tight to the one who is suffering so intensely. Be the channel that God's love can flow through to reach the one who is floundering.