Thursday, July 12, 2018

Know the Difference

“Know the difference between those who stay to feed the soil and those who come to grab the fruit.”

This sobering statement recently came to my attention. I don’t know who originally said it, but it resonates, all the same.

It has personally factored in heavily as I have learned, firsthand, who was a part of my healthy support system...and who was NOT.

Indeed, this concept plays a MAJOR role for each of us as we navigate our addiction/recovery journeys. It is usually not too long in life, before we encounter the all too common cliché dysfunction of co-dependency, narcissism and/or exploitation.

To protect the “guilty,” the parties I mention shall remain nameless. Nevertheless, their actions reveal much.

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

Long story short: much of my experience involves me only hearing from certain people when they want something from me. And yes, the majority of that “something” is money.

Nothing brings this more into view than the context of family.

As I have addressed before, I don’t have a close relationship with most of my relatives. That is not, ideally, what I would want. However, experience has shown me how high I exist on various family members’ priority lists. Often, I’m not even ON those lists in the first place. I know this because there have been decades of time which have passed since I have last seen or spoken to certain relatives. That is even with social media’s prevalence. Come on, now. In today’s world, it’s not THAT difficult to “reconnect” if you truly desire to do so.

Yet, I have absolutely NO family members as my Facebook friends.

So, from that, I glean relationship with me is just not that important to them.

And yes, I understand life is busy. Marriage, family, career and health challenges are keeping us occupied. We are ALL inundated with the stuff of life.

But that does not jive with the next phase of my family interaction pattern.

With years, sometimes, decades, passing and no communication, let alone, no exchanging of contact information present, it’s a little strange then, when “out of the blue,” my phone rings. The initial “pleasantries” attempt to spill from my particular relative’s mouth for the first few seconds.

And then, here it comes: the question, the financial, and/or the “can-you-help-me-out-here-and-now” question.

It would be one thing if it was the emergency phone call, life or death. But it is not. I’ve learned (the hard way), upon granting a request, I cease to hear from that person again... until the next time, that is.

“...In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”

Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

My phone rings again. “Can-you-help-me-out-here-and-now?”

Suddenly, I am important to them... again.

An old saying usually springs to my mind here: “Use things and love people, not the other way around.”

(I wonder if any of my family have ever heard that statement).

Regardless of whether or not they have, the important distinction here is I HAVE.

And, because I have, it is imperative I check the fruit.

“You will know them by their fruit.”

Matthew 7:16

If I come to the same rescue here, will I have to come to the same rescue again?

The answer’s not too difficult to reach.

Therefore, within the last seven years, I’ve become best buddies with the word, “No.” I have had to.

And, it shouldn’t be too surprising the reaction I got when I introduced this best buddy TO my asking family.

Expletives were hurled; I was called a quite common, unflattering name used against many a female.

 And I didn’t hear from that person again.

In that extreme, unpleasant moment, I learned with acute clarity, how to “know the difference.”

I have heard it said you know who a person truly is when they hear- and respond to- your no. Judging the reaction of my relative here, there was no respect for any answer that was not what he wanted to hear.

Nothing new under the sun about that: human nature.

However, an unexpected, surprising wrinkle developed after this incident. And this crossed from clergy.

Upset by this abusive phone call, at the time, I contacted a pastor for counsel. On staff for years at a church I attended, he seemed to be a committed shepherd. Therefore, I sought his help. I hoped to receive prayer, wisdom and advice.

So, it felt like a FURTHER slap in the face when he bluntly responded to my request with, “This is not my area.”

“...‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”

Genesis 4:9

What? Are you not a pastor, a shepherd, purposed to help the flock?

I walked away from that encounter, feeling like I was discarded. I could not even present my case. I was shut down. I was dismissed.

Why am I mentioning this? Because, it leads to the next “know the difference” phase of an education I received, albeit, this time, from the Church.

For, a short time later, low and behold, I hear from this same pastor. And He has a question: will I contribute financially to his church project?

Before the necessary advent of his particular project, I was invisible. Even while reaching out for his help, I was invisible.

But now, that he needs something from ME, I shoot to the TOP of HIS list?

I know I come across as a sheep who has, very much, her wooly axe to grind. But this underscores a troubling, yet, too real and common issue, even affecting those of us who need, in any way, help/recovery.

Certain people, including, unfortunately, certain family members, pastors and even churches themselves, are not to be counted on as part of healthy support network.

In an ideal world, yes, they would all be there unconditionally.

But is this world ideal? No.

So, the discernment NEEDS to kick in.

Basic questions need to be asked as we build our recovering lives.

Will this party commit to being there for me? What does that look like for me? What does that look like for him/her?

Is this person participating in healthy or unhealthy behaviors and choices?

Is this person good TO me?

Is this person good FOR me?

Does this persona have my best interest at heart?

Does this person have his/her own agenda? Are there ulterior motives for his/her presence in my life?

Is this relationship a one or a two-way street? Is reciprocity here?


“Know the difference between those who stay to feed the soil and those who come to grab the fruit.”

There is no shame in needing help, asking for help, expecting a relationship to be mutually beneficial.

Sadly, that is often not what we experience, even as we are at are most vulnerable. We must not sacrifice our recovery for any other entity. This becomes challenging as we are confronted with “should expectations” from this entity. Yes, in example, family expects things of us; Church expects things of us.

But really, the hard question posits, “Are these expected things healthy for me, supporting my recovery?”

Is our soil fed or depleted?

Is our fruit respected or trampled?

Know the difference. Discern. Test the spirits (1 John 4:1).

This, sometimes, can be the biggest spiritual work we do in our recovery.

Copyright © 2018 by Sheryle Cruse

Even if you're not

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My Fairytale Axe To Grind

I once came across some black and white stills for Disney’s animated film, “Sleeping Beauty.” The film studio’s artists drew the female model, dressed as our fairytale heroine, Aurora, as she flitted and spun around. From those drawings, we have the blonde princess we’ve come to know today.

And yes, there was the resemblance between human model and animated ingénue. But, what was, perhaps, more startling and disturbing was what was lost in translation: reality.

I understand that fairytales are for the purpose of escape, imagination and even, in some cases, cautionary tale telling. But it is, indeed, from that last point where I suppose I have my fairytale axe to grind. For, all of the focus on youth, beauty and “happily ever after,” where, oh where, is the actual preparation for real life when it comes to our real world females?

I can hear some voices out there saying, “Lighten up.” I understand that. These voices insist that it’s all harmless. It’s from the perspective of childhood innocence and fun. And yes, there is a place for that.

But now, we live in an even more unforgiving and demanding world. Therefore, let’s face it- the fairytale answer is not to be relied on. And, as I viewed the final product of this artist’s renderings, come on, let’s look at the actual preparation message being sent to our girls:

“After all, I am 16.”

Since when did age sixteen determine the apex of all maturity and wisdom? Disney princesses are notoriously known for being that magic age. “Sweet Sixteen” is when everything suddenly, perfectly and gloriously blooms for every single female who even walked the earth.

Disappointment in five, four, three…

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, so many years after “Sleeping Beauty” was released into the movie theaters, youth is still exalted. Aurora was not focused on college, on becoming a fully formed, intelligent human being. Nope. The next statement from her is more like it…

“It’s my dream prince.”

Easy, fellow feminists, easy. I know. It’s maddening.

And again, it reflects what is important and aspirational when it comes to training the female psyche. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the bridal industry.

 It’s no wonder we have a sci-fi horror film scene of “Bridezillas” on our hands. Everything targeted at our beautiful bride du jour emphasizes fairytale, perfect, princess and life- affirming dream. I, myself, barely got out of this alive. What is the expected bridal response to finding your prince, your dream and the sum total of your existence? Spend thousands of dollars to prove it.

Oh, goody. And, yes, it leads to the conclusion of our Aurora’s next statement…

“Everything is so wonderful.”

I understand human beings each have particular moments in which this is the case. But that is the point: moments, not constantly. Dizzy young females, often caught in a twitterpated love haze of everything being seemingly perfect, are, inevitably, set up for a great big fall.

I admit to being a hopeless romantic; I get the hearts, the flowers and yes, the princess dream being sold. But, we do our females a disservice if “princess” is the only thing we set before them as most valuable and important. Where are the doctors inventing cures? Where are the airplane pilots delivering food supplies to a third world country? Where are the soldiers fighting and saving lives?

In teaching “Everything is so wonderful” as the dominant message, we fail to prepare are females for when everything, sooner or later…is not.

And that’s where another image needs to present itself: the warrior.

I recently came across one such message. A little girl, dressed in warrior attire, with a “Predator” mask on her head, stood strong, ready for battle. And the caption read as follows:

“Not all girls want to be a princess.”

 In today’s culture, we’re getting better with this message, but we still have a lon-n-n-n-g way to go. We have to give our females more than one aspiration to look at. And, as we present them with multiple and varied choices, we have to make it completely acceptable for them to question, challenge and even reject the princess option if that’s what they choose to do.

What if, like the artist’s renderings, we were able to capture and create that?

Copyright © 2018 by Sheryle Cruse