Three years drowning
leaves one short of breath,
the waves dragging me down to the depths.
Every time I glimpse the shore,
every time I think I’m free,
I’m blindsided by those waves
that won’t lose their grip on me.
Yet one day I found myself
now safe on the beach,
incredulous, hesitant, hopeful to believe
that a new horizon was now within reach.
As I took a deep breath,
felt the sand under me,
the ocean looked like a peaceful, kind old friend,
and I knew I was no more a prisoner to the sea.
I wrote this poem in the fall of 2016, specifically about a relationship I had been in for three years. It was a one-sided relationship which lacked proper boundaries and had turned into an emotionally unhealthy situation for me. In many ways, it became like an addiction. I was so obsessed with an idealized notion of the relationship that I clung to it through a roller coaster of ups and downs. Over and over, the cycle repeated: good times and “evidence” of a future for the relationship would put me on a high, reality would bring me back to earth, I’d get fed up and frustrated and angry and I would cry and get over him… for a while… I’d even have other brief relationships… until we’d return to familiar habits and the cycle would repeat itself.
It felt a lot like the analogy of drowning in the ocean. Every time I would pull myself up and drag myself away from the emotional ties, every time I thought I was finally free of it, that magnetic attraction would sneak up on me like an undertow at the beach, dragging the ground right out from under my feet. It was an exhausting process, one that left me feeling trapped and short of breath. But God is so faithful. Not only did He rescue me from the prison of my negative thoughts and emotions, I also learned some important lessons through the process — lessons which I believe are applicable in a wide variety of addictions.
- Lesson One: One of the first things an addict learns is to remove themselves from triggering situations and people who could endanger their resolve to quit. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, staying away from bars, parties, and drinking buddies is crucial during the vulnerable first stages of recovery. If pornography is the problem, web browser restrictions and limits on private computer time are likely first steps. For me, it required a lengthy timeout from this person, and an awareness of which activities were “safe” and which activities left me vulnerable to having feelings stirred up. This is the first part of “learning to swim” in the poem’s ocean analogy.
- Lesson Two: Swimming lesson number two happened one day after the FINAL (and very uncomfortable) “breakup” conversation (I don’t give up easily…). I was very upset and went for a long walk and also wrote some poetry to get the hurt out of my system. During my walk, I had a lot of questions for God. Most of them had to do with my self-worth, as I came to realize exactly why this rejection bothered me so much. It turned out that I had been believing a lie. A lie that my value was based on a man’s opinion of me. That somehow I was deficient, I was coming up short, I was lacking in some area, simply because this particular guy that I had a high opinion of didn’t want to date me. This discovery was key because people and situations are not the only things that can make us vulnerable to our addictions. They merely provide the opportunity. Our thoughts, beliefs, and mental/emotional state are what drive our addictions. If I don’t believe that I am loved and valued. If I don’t believe that I have what I need, and that God will supply my future needs. If I have a low opinion of myself, if I believe it doesn’t matter how I treat my body and mind, if I believe I’m not deserving of the best… then I am vulnerable to my addictions.
- Lesson Three: At the end of the poem, I spoke of the ocean as a friend; something that I could enjoy freely without being afraid of. This makes no sense if the ocean in the poem represents my addiction. But the ocean is not my addiction. There is nothing inherently wrong with the ocean, just as there was nothing wrong with my friendship, or with my friend, who happens to be an amazing young man for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration. The “ocean” became my addiction, because I could not leave it when I wanted to. Sex is a beautiful thing that God created. It only becomes a problem when it is misused or applied in the wrong context. Similarly, relationships are highly beneficial and wonderful aspects of being the relational human beings that God created us to be. We do not need to be afraid of them if we know how to handle them properly, maintaining healthy boundaries and healthy emotions. I used to be very black and white in my feelings for people. If I liked someone, enjoyed their company, admired their qualities, and found them attractive, I immediately thought I “liked” them. If said person was off limits or out of reach, I felt it necessary to find a way to dislike them. So it was a groundbreaking revelation for me to realize that I could like people for their good qualities without being in love with them. This was a huge part of me finally getting over that three-year “friendlationship” for good, and continues to be helpful to me as I navigate social situations as a newly married person.