Jason Wright: Another 57 reasons to be thankful
Sarah Van Dam has a lot to be thankful for this year. She’s blessed with a supportive husband and a network of family and friends who love and believe in her.
On Thanksgiving Day, she will celebrate another 57 reasons to be thankful. As in, 57 days clean.
Van Dam, a personal friend and member of my “early-readers” group, started struggling with a serious addiction to prescription drugs in the fall of 2012, shortly after giving birth to her third child. Because she suffered from back pain after labor and delivery, doctors continued prescribing painkillers. Before she knew it, the pills snowballed into an addiction no one could have predicted.
This good wife and mother, with absolutely no history of addiction, suddenly became an addict. Like dark storm clouds that moved wherever she did, Van Dam had a singular focus.
“I became obsessed with my next dose,” Van Dam told me recently. She also described her relationship with her husband, and how it morphed from husband and wife into something more resembling a parent and a child. “I relied on him to give me my pills every day.”
It was the Van Dam family’s new normal. “I was always out of it, tired, groggy and constantly wanting more. I was a slave to the drug. It became the most important thing in my life and I thought I needed it to survive.”
Van Dam, a devout Christian, admitted she needed help on the day she recognized she was losing what mattered most. “I lost faith in my Heavenly Father. I lost faith in myself.”
After prayer and family counsel, the Van Dams decided Sarah needed to check in to a residential treatment facility. “We also spoke with all my doctors and got their thoughts. We felt right away that it was the best thing for our family. We knew it would be hard, but that it would be best. I knew that Heavenly Father would be with me and with my family for the time I was away.”
Van Dam knows she went not just to detox, but also to learn tools and habits to help her become healthy again.
She came out a new person. “It was hard being away, but it was worth it. It made me stronger and made my relationships stronger.”
When I asked for the most important thing she took home, the positive answers spiraled almost as fast as the addiction. She learned to be confident in herself, to have faith, courage and strength. “I also learned to take life one day at a time and to not be so hard on myself. I came to know I can be a good mother, and that I don’t need pills to do it.”
Van Dam is adamant that her faith was a critical tool in the traditional recovery process. “I could not have done it without the help from my Heavenly Father. I found personal prayer and scripture study key to my recovery.”
She also participated in the LDS Church’s 12-step recovery program. “It opened my heart to the kindness of God. And the LDS missionaries that run the program are wonderful! Hearing others’ stories and seeing how strong they were gave me so much hope and strength. I really believe God always walks beside us and helps us through the good times and the bad. I know that he helped me through my struggle.”
Now, Van Dam hopes to help others by going very public with her private trial. “I want people to know that it’s all right to admit that you have a problem and to ask for help. As you do this, it’s important to rely on your Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ. They will guide you and walk with you through your hardest times.”
She adds the importance of an open mind and an open heart. “And forgive yourself. It’s the first step to recovery.”
With Thanksgiving on their minds, Sarah and her husband, Rob, have more to be thankful for than ever.
“Sobriety, health and, most importantly, our family,” she said.
The Van Dams know they’re not alone. During this holiday season, friends and neighbors all around us are working their way along the addiction and recovery curve. Like Sarah, many count the clean days in double, triple digits or more. Others are braving their way through treatment today.
But many — far too many – still remain in quiet struggles and have not yet asked for help.
“Please, don’t be afraid,” Van Dam says. “These challenges are more common than you think and there is so much support available.”
Van Dam pledges that for the rest of her life, she will express gratitude for all the temporal support she’s felt from this world, and heavenly support from the one that awaits.
Indeed, Sarah Van Dam has a lot to be thankful for. And because of her strength and so many like her, the rest of us have a lot to be thankful for, too.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at email@example.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com.