A few weeks back I got a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection. I was miserable but I wanted to try to beat it without taking an antibiotic, so I called my doctor to ask what I should do. The nurse said to do a sinus rinse 4 times a day, take a boatload of Mucinex, and a nasal spray called Afrin.
I had heard of the brand name before, seen it on the shelves at CVS, and it kind of seemed like one of those “Really?” things that seemed like it’d probably just be a waste of money. But I followed the instructions, and the first time I sprayed that bottle into my suffocating nasal cavity I was like OH WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!?
I honestly couldn’t believe the relief. Within 20 minutes of taking it, I could breathe through my nose and felt more normal than I had in weeks. Hours later I’d need to repeat the dose, but it worked like a charm again.
I did this for 10 days, and it felt like it was getting worse, not better. The medicine still helped tremendously for a time, but the how-you-feel-when-it-wears-off feeling was much worse, so I called my doctor back.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 days and the medicine still helps but overall I feel like I’ve been getting worse, not better,” I said.
“You’ve been taking Afrin for 10 days?” a different nurse said, like I’d just told him I had been snorting crack.
“Um, yes,” I said.
“You’re not supposed to take Afrin for longer than 3 days,” he responded, like this was some universal elementary school knowledge. “Your nose has become addicted to it and it is causing something called rebound congestion now.”
I wanted to be a lot meaner than I was, but I settled for somewhat politely telling him that the nurse didn’t give me that very helpful information when I called the first time.
Like any good Millenial I googled this and couldn’t believe what I found. Scores of people in online forums talking about this miracle drug Afrin and how some had been trying to break free from it for years. There were online support groups and tips and tricks for how to break the addiction and some who’d just resigned that they’d just have to be on it for the rest of their lives because they didn’t want to face the doldrums of withdrawal.
It was like a beacon of hope for my breathless nose. Others gathered and attesting that they know the terrible hole I’d fallen into and found a way out.
I’ve led a Recovery ministry for several years now, and this was such a good reminder of what addiction does to us. We trade fleeting relief for long-term slavery to our addictions and convince ourselves that it’s a worthwhile trade. And when the claws get in you–they get IN YOU. It feels “unbeatable” as we say often in Recovery.
I hadn’t been on it for that long, so I decided to take the cold turkey approach. And LET ME TELL YOU the next two days sucked. It literally felt like my nostrils were entirely glued shut even though I had no drainage coming out of them. I hated every second of it and pitched more than my fair share of pity parties (you can ask my wife, she’s a trooper). Then one morning I woke up and I could breathe a little more, then a little more the next morning, and so on.
I saw author Anne Lammot post this on Facebook the other day about her struggle with addiction, and it rang so true to me:
On July 7, 1986, 29 years ago, I woke up sick, shamed, hungover, and in deep animal confusion. I woke up this way most mornings. Why couldn’t I stop after 6 or 7 drinks? Why didn’t I have an “off” switch when I had that first drink every day?
Well, “Why?” is not a useful question.
I thought about having a cool refreshing beer, just to get all the flies going in one direction.
I was 32, with three published books, and the huge local love of my family and life-long friends. I was loved out of all sense of proportion. I gave talks and readings that hundreds of people came to. I had won a Guggenheim Fellowship, although, like many fabulous writers, I was drunk as a skunk every day. I was penniless and bulimic, but adorable, and cherished.
But there was one tiny problem. I was dying. Oh, also, my soul was rotted out from mental illness and physical abuse. My insides felt like Swiss cheese, until I had that first cool, refreshing drink.
So, not ideal. The elevator was going. It ONLY goes down; until you finally get off. As a clean, sober junkie told me weeks later, “At the end, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.”
And against all odds, I picked up the 200 pound phone, and called the same sober alkie that my older brother had called two years earlier, when he had hit his coked-out bottom. The man, a Jack Lemmon type, said, “I will come get you at 11:30. Take a shower, and try not to drink till then. The shower is optional.”
I didn’t; when all else fails, follow Instructions. I couldn’t imagine there was a way out of all that sickness and self-will, all those lies and secrets, but God always makes a way out of No Way.
So I showed up. Before I turned on Woody Allen, he said that 80% of life is just showing up. And I did. There were all these other women who had what I had, who’d thought what I’d thought, who’d done what I’d done, who had betrayed their families and deepest values, who sat with me that day, and said “Guess what? Me, too! I have that too. Let me get you a glass of water.” Those are the words of salvation: “Guess what? Me, too.”
Then I blinked, and today is my 29th recovery birthday. I hope someday it will be yours, too, or at least your 1st. Don’t give up on yourself. In recovery, we never EVER give up on anyone, no matter what it looks like, no matter how long it takes.
Because Grace bats last. That spiritual WD-40, those water wings, that second wind–it bats last. That is my promise to you…
Don’t. Give. Up. Because guess what? Me too.
“Grace bats last.” I love that image so much.
Are you struggling with an addiction, or know someone who is? What you need or what they need, ultimately, is that grace she speaks of. That better way that Jesus offers us, the true version of whatever need or desire we are trying to fill in our addictions. He offers it freely, without price.
But in my experience, the way a person often experiences that grace firsthand is through the community that that grace creates. Someone with a knowing smile and enough gospel confidence to say “Guess what, me too.”
There is confounding grace in those words, when we learn that others share the same brokenness we find imbedded in us, the same proclivities to cling to our abusing addictions, when we hear that they’ve found a Way out of No Way.
There are many powerful words you can say to another human seeking a path through their self-made destruction, but often none are more helpful or powerful at the start than “Guess what? Me too.”