Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Needle marks and an identity crisis.

"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

Have you ever had an identity crisis? Have you ever doubted- even just for a moment- who you were? Doubted who you have been? Doubted who you will become? An identity crisis is  confusing and disorientating, and can come out of nowhere. It can be sparked by the breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or position, the loss of respect by someone close to you, your own thoughts, guilt and shame over actions that are out of character, regret over wrong decisions,  the criticism and judgment of others, messages from society, the way that people treat us, or a host of other issues can lead us to doubt who we KNOW we are in vulnerable moments. 

This weekend, I had quite an unexpected, short term identity crisis that really shook me. 

I went to the emergency room because I was having trouble breathing. While in the emergency room, they gave me a breathing treatment and took some blood for lab work. They discharged me and sent me home with steroids. No big deal.

The next day, however, I started having problems breathing again (which, I know realize, was from using excessive amounts of bleach in cleaning my basement a few days before). I went into urgent care, where they decided to give me IV steroids. When the nurse lifted up my sleeve to inject the steroids into my vein, she saw the mark on my arm from the night before. She sort of gasped and looked at me, then looked at her chart, and commented "oh, I see that's where they drew blood last night."

For a split second, I felt the condemnation and judgment that I used to feel when I WAS an IV drug user. Years of feeling unworthy, unwanted, hopeless and disgusted with myself when I was using heroin came rushing back like a ton of bricks. I haven't  been looked at that way by anyone in almost a decade, and I was not expecting that gasp and judgmental glance to hit me the way that it did, because I knew what the mark was from, and so did the nurse, so there was no reason for me to feel condemned over it. I wasn't doing anything wrong, I hadn't done anything wrong. If anything, I should have been appreciative that the nurse took the time to make the observation, since there is a very real, very big heroin problem in this area.  I brushed it off, and the nurse started to try and administer the steroid shot.

What people who haven't been addicts don't understand is that anyone who has ever been an IV drug user will always have some sort of trauma when needles are injected into your veins for medical procedures. Using intravenous drugs is an experience that is intimate in a way that I can't even put into words. The very ritual of using a needle becomes an addiction of its own. Addicts will shoot water when they don't have drugs, just because they are addicted to the needle. And the thing is, that even after long periods of time without touching a needle, once it's injected into your vein, your body remembers. Your mind remembers. Your addiction remembers. And, the hard thing is, in that moment, your mind doesn't differentiate between the fact that the needle is in your vein for a medical procedure, and not to get high. It just knows that there is a needle in your vein, and once you've had a romantic affair with the needle, floods of emotion come back no matter the reasoning.  

Usually, when I get blood drawn, it is over so quickly and I have been clean for so long that it doesn't affect me too much anymore. As long as I don't participate in the ritual and let my head go to a bad place- watching the nurse look for veins, watching them put on the tourniquet, watching them insert the syringe and pull back the blood- I'm alright. As long as I close my eyes through the whole thing, the actual poke doesn't bother me too much. 

However, this is where things got bad for me in Urgent Care. I closed my eyes, and the nurse tried using the vein that the ER had used the night before, and she couldn't get it. She inserted the needle four more times into the same vein, and still couldn't get it. Then she tried a vein in my hand, not once but 3 times, and couldn't get that either. She moved to my other hand, got a vein, but blew it out- meaning that the vein rolled and she shot the steroids into my tissue instead. She got up and said she had to get another shot- all the time saying that she never misses, and she didn't understand what was going on. 

I had managed to keep my eyes closed the entire time. However, when she came back in, I couldn't keep my eyes closed anymore. I was so tired of getting poked with needles that I was going to watch her and make sure she was doing it right. I was praying that God could let her get this, because it was really, really starting to mess with my head. 

I watched the whole thing. She put the tourniquet on, and went to use my "good vein"- the one I had always used when I injected heroin. I watched her insert the needle, and try to pull back blood- in the same spot I myself had done it for years decades earlier. She couldn't get it. She inserted the needle twice more in the same spot, and still couldn't get it. I had an overwhelming urge to scream at her to just let me do it- that I know how to inject things into myself. I had years of practice. I had been a junkie. I know what I am doing. I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted to get out of there. My resolve was starting to wear to a scarily thin place. 

In that moment, I forgot who I was. Who I AM. I was remembering what I had once been, and it scared the life out of me. Feelings and emotions that I never thought I would experience again in my life as long as I stay clean smacked me upside the head like a semi truck. I was transported back to a time in my life when I was a junkie, when I was desperate to find a vein in order to get high. My adrenaline was pounding. I was sweating. I was watching very intently to see blood drawn up into the needle, the same way that I used to look with excitement to ensure that I had gotten a vein before I injected my heroin, so I didn't waste my drugs. 

I felt like a heroin addict again, without touching a drop of drugs. 

What made it worse, is that for the next few days, I was walking around with needle marks and huge bruises from being stuck so many times all over both of my arms and hands. It has been almost a decade since I have had to walk around branded with the track marks of a junkie. While in my head I knew that they were from the hospital and urgent care, my emotions were screaming something else. 

Some photos of needle marks after this weekend. 

It has been so long that I have had to walk around with needle marks on me, that I forgot what it felt like. Every time I looked down at my arms, memories of my addiction popped up. I remember when those marks WERE there because of drugs. I remember how hopeless and horrible and judged I felt. I was conscious of the fact that people could see the marks on my arms and hands, and I remember knowing how visible they were to other people when I was a drug addict, and that they read as a clear sign to others to stay away from me- branded as junkie garbage- even though what I desperately needed was someone to reach out and try to help. Someone to make me feel human. Someone to let me know that needle marks didn't define me. Someone to let me know that there was a way out- that Jesus could free me from my scars, from my hurts, from my hopelessness, from the needlemarks on my arms. 

I know who God is. I know what He delivered me from. I know His power. I know who I am in him. I know that I am no longer a drug addict, that I am no longer lost, that I am no longer enslaved to drugs. I remember what he brought me from. I look at the wonderful life that I have now, and can describe it as nothing short of a miracle. I know I am beloved and forgiven and saved and set free. 

But knowing that doesn't stop Satan from trying to convince me- or to convince you- otherwise.

He will pull out every attack that he can to make us doubt our identity in Christ, and the power that we have over every bondage, stronghold, and mistake in the power of Jesus. 

He doesn't want you to walk in freedom.
He doesn't want you to realize you are forgiven.
He wants you to give up hope.
He wants to distort God's power.
He wants to make you believe you aren't worthy to be called a Christian. 
He wants you to have a false identity- the one he has branded you with through condemnation and sin, rather than the one you have gained through Christ. 

That's why it is so hard for drug addicts to get clean and find freedom in Jesus. They live with the belief that the false identity Satan had them under is who they are, instead of who Christ says that they are. That false identity is just reinforced by the bad things they have done, the mistakes that people won't let them forget, the police records they accumulate, the judgmental glances from people, society writing them off as a lost cause. It is so hard to walk in a new identity in Christ when everywhere you look there is guilt, shame, and condemnation screaming that you are worthless, and that God would never want anything to do with you. Most people don't make it out of addiction because they can't hear God's voice telling them who they are in Him over all of the other noise their addiction and mistakes have caused. That can't hear who they are in Christ over the voices of the people that they have hurt who won't let them forget what they've done, people who want to keep them there.

The truth though, dear one, is that Jesus gave you His identity. No matter WHAT your identity was before, once you accept Christ, you are a new creation, and your identity is in Him. The trick is walking by faith in that truth, and holding God's word about who you are up as the only truth. God's voice and scripture are the only ways to refute the lies that the enemy uses to condemn you. And in order to recognize the lies, you have to tune into God. Pray without ceasing. Repent. Read your bible and study the scriptures and write them on the tablet of your heart, so you can recognize the voices and thoughts that don't line up with them and refute them.. Arm yourself for spiritual warfare- for identity crises that tell you you aren't who God says you are- because I promise you that they will come. 

The beautiful thing is, that even when you DO mess up, even if you relapse, when you make a horrible mistake, when you sin, when you act in an ungodly manner- when you repent and turn back to God- you are STILL His, no matter what you've done. His grace is enough for anything. Your identity is still in Him. Even if those needle marks on my arms would have been from heroin, Jesus still would have loved me. He still would have forgiven me.  The enemy doesn't want you to know that. He wants you to believe that if you fall, or fail, or sin, that you are a hypocrite. He will remind you of all of the horrible things you have done and try to convince you that Jesus wouldn't want anything to do with someone like that- and that if you were REALLY saved, it wouldn't have happened, and God doesn't love you.

The truth, though, is that Jesus came for the sole purpose of saving sinners. He came just for the purpose of saving people who screw up. People who sin. Drug addicts that relapse. Not perfect people, but people who need to be forgiven. It is all throughout scripture. Any voice that tells you anything else is lying, and satan is the father of all lies. 

Who you were- no matter WHAT you were- before God, does not define who you are now in Christ. Never forget that, no matter who or what tries to tell you otherwise.

Do you really know who you are? Where are you getting your identity from? Whose voice are you listening to? 

Listen to Jesus, and walk boldly in your identity in Him, because His voice is the only one that matters. 

"The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned." - Psalms 34:22

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:9

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." - 2 Corinthians 5:17