But What Do I Know?

There is a fable which goes something like this:

A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corraled all 21 horses. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The first time I ever heard it, I was sitting in one of those rooms where we alcoholics go to share tales of the profound and the absurd. I believe that the tale is popular in these circles because it is a great illustration of the beautiful contradictory nature of life in recovery: “give it away to keep it,” “a selfish program for selfish people,” “surrender to win,” “our greatest liabilities are now our greatest assets,” etc.

We so often view life in terms of black and white with no gray areas. Either life is beautiful and fantastic or it is miserable and hopeless. Whatever our current situation, we believe life will be that way in perpetuity. If I have failed, I am a failure and always will be. If I have succeeded, then I am a success and always will be. We believe the only way to progress is to go forward. There is no such thing as a strategic retreat. We cannot appreciate the whole tapestry of life because we are so focused on watching our one thread weaving up and down.

A couple weeks ago, I was perusing the ol’ social media circle-jerk when I happened upon one of those missing kids posts featuring a picture of my 15 year-old stepson. The eldest child from my ex-husband’s first marriage, E was no longer a part of my life, but for seven years, he was as much my son as my own children are now. Immediately, I contacted my ex to verify the story and found that it was true. E had left school Tuesday morning and had not been heard from since.

I amplified the distress call and began helping in any way I could to track down leads. I kept in close contact with my ex for any new updates and worked with him to care for the other children, respecting his wishes to keep the news from them until E had been found or at least until his absence would be noticed at the end of the weekend. Gratefully, E was located and safely reunited with his mother after a couple of nights hiding out in a friend’s house.

But I’m an alcoholic, so I’m gonna go ahead and make this story all about me. Hey, it’s my blog; I can do that.

Since our divorce, my relationship with my children’s father has been… interesting. At first, things were going well between us, I had made my amends and we were getting along like good friends. After he met his current wife, though, it became apparent that he still had a lot of unresolved anger and mistrust toward me. Over the past four years, our relationship has been strained at best, mainly passive-aggressive and sometimes openly hostile. I have done my best to be patient, tolerant and kind with him, allowing him to work through his negative feelings in his own time. But, like any good alcoholic, I often fall short of perfection. He and I both dread times of necessary communication because even the most innocuous and well-intentioned discussions often turn into arguments and insults.

About a month ago, I became impatient with the slow, often non-existent, progress in healing this area of my life. Our children are getting older now, heading into that tumultuous adolescent period. Schoolwork and extra-curricular activities are becoming more complex. Social maturation, along with discussions of puberty and fights between BFFs, is beginning to take place. And it’s been four years already! Honestly, we needed to get past all this nonsense. I’d been up on this cross for long enough. It was time for him to take me down and stop blaming me for everything bad in his life. We needed to learn how to work together because the kids were going to have a hard enough time navigating middle school and young adulthood without Mom and Dad pulling them in two different directions.

I sucked up my pride, walked out onto a ledge and made a real effort to push us past our roadblock. And it worked! I had found an in. But just like a branch which has been pushed aside to allow passage, my new inroad snapped back to slap me in the face. Frustrated and hopeless, I broke down and cried. I did the whole Job-like, “Why me, God? Why do I always have to be the one in recovery, making amends?” I received a little guidance and support from some good friends and ultimately was able to make peace with the fact that try as I might, I simply can’t rush this thing.

The day before my stepson went missing, my ex and I were as bad as ever. I was still reeling from the insults his wife had hurled at me and the two of them had retreated back into their world of make-believe where I am cast as the Wicked Witch. When I saw that “missing child” post, though, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I picked up the phone to get the story and see what I can do to help. His response was swift, thankful and he even exposed his vulnerability a bit. Both of us were changed in an instant. Over three days of fear and worry, we continued communicating in this kind and honest manner which had been lost to us four years prior. In the end, E was found not through the attempts either of us had made, but by his mother’s. Neither of us could take credit, but we each were made humbly grateful that he was home safe.

After the crisis was over, I expected things to go back to how they were before between us… and they still might. But the strangest thing happened which has given me hope. While he was on Spring Break at his dad’s house, Munch had some minor medical issue that he’s had a few times before. My ex actually texted to ask my advice on the matter and thanked me for it afterward. This man who will avoid me for months at a time and has taken to acting in direct opposition to anything I suggest actually sought out my opinion on something and thanked me for it. Wow! Since then, there have been a couple of incidents that we’ve had to contact each other for and every time, he has responded to me in a prompt and courteous manner. Now, I don’t know that we’re ready to have a conversation by phone or in person yet, but we have gotten along better in the last month than we have at any point in the past few years.

Sometimes you have to take two steps backwards before you can move forward. Sometimes you have to really back up so that you can get a look at the whole tapestry before you can tell where to put the next stitch. What looks like a disaster could, in fact, be the blessing you’ve been praying for. But be careful, because what looks like a blessing could be a disaster waiting to happen. It is only through our limited human perceptions that events are judged as blessings or disasters, though. In reality, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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