Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Silence.. And Breaking It

Before I continue with our story, let me make a few disclaimers.

I'm sharing this not because I want pity or attention. If you know me personally, you know that nothing could be farther from the truth. I would much rather let things blow over and focus on trying to figure out how to balance being a solo parent while Zane is in jail and running four businesses in addition to trying to manage our personal stuff. I'm sharing this because it's a conversation that needs to be had. We need to talk about the hard stuff, and people need to know that they're not alone in their struggles. We need to change the environment we live in, and if sharing my story can help just one other person, one family, one community... it's worth it.

Disclaimer #2: This post doesn't talk about the girls in the photos. People seem to jump all over me if I don't talk about them so let me just say this: That is not my story to tell. My heart 100% breaks for them, and my motherly instincts want to protect them as much as you do. But I don't know their story, and I have nothing more to expand on the subject than that they and many others are victims to a very dangerous industry that I would love nothing more than to shut down. But what can I do about it? I certainly can't fly to Asia and search for them. What I can do is try my hardest to help foster a society that stops addiction and gets people help before it's too late. That is what I am trying to do here. By not bringing them up, I am not ignoring their pain. By forgiving Zane and showing him grace, I am not making light of their suffering. Pity for the victims and grace for Zane are not opposing ideals. They are equally necessary. If you are one who feels so passionately about their suffering, I would invite you to do something that actually makes a difference. Reminding me over & over that they suffered does nothing but continue the shame and remorse. However, showing love and grace to people will absolutely make a difference. Talking to our children about the hard things has the power to save them. People might just feel safe enough to reach out for help, and we might just prevent a dangerous cycle from starting.

Also... this may be a very long post. Sorry about that.

After finding out about Zane's addiction, my priority became his healing. Luckily for me, this wasn't something I had to push. Many men would have responded in a defensive and self-protectant way. Instead, Zane opened up completely. He not only admitted his faults/sins/crime, but he rushed to be rid of them. Like I said previously, he had fought a pornography addiction for 16 years and had tried time after time to get rid of the habit on his own. Now that he had been found out, he became so focused on getting his mind free of the disease that had been tearing him down. He began growing and learning and I watched the miracle of a changed life unfold before my eyes.

From that moment on, Zane started on an uphill climb to healing. His spiritual life got stronger as he was finally able to be free of the one thing that had held him back for so long.

I knew that above all else, Zane needed my love, my grace. He needed to know that his addiction did not define him in my eyes. I continued to ask the hard questions, and I certainly took control of monitoring & limiting any of his internet usage, but did all this with the motive of rebuilding Zane, our marriage, and my trust in him. For the next 10 months, I put everything I had into loving him.. and into protecting him from judgemental opinions.

The same stigma that kept Zane from asking for help also kept me quiet. While Zane met with our pastor and saw a counselor, I didn't speak to anyone about what we were going through. Zane even encouraged me multiple times to talk to someone. Call it survival mode perhaps, but I was so focused on making sure he got better that I ignored my own need for support. In retrospect, it was probably not the smartest decision. I held a lot in, and even my closest friends and family had no idea. But... that's what you do for people you love. Their needs go before your own.

For 10 months, we wondered what would happen next. The officers had the evidence. They would turn it over.. but it was hard to say what could come from it. They told us there was a chance the case would get buried and we'd never hear from them, and there was a chance that he would be prosecuted and go to jail. For ten very long months we had no idea what our future would look like.

During that time, I closed on real estate for a second business location and in doing so formed a third business- a property management company. We began plans for renovations and started making staffing decisions. In my 30th week of pregnancy I flew to Atlanta for prom market and swelled up in a slightly alarming way. They started monitoring me for signs of pre-eclampsia. By week 33, I went in for a routine checkup and was admitted to the hospital for sky high blood pressure. I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and considered high risk. The next morning, I flew to LA for bridal market. When a good part of your success depends on the inventory you buy, you don't put that responsibility in anyone else's hands.. you pull yourself together and do what needs to be done.

Upon my return, I was put on bed rest. To say I was under a bit of stress would be an understatement. After a particularly stressful event in week 35, I went in for another checkup. My blood pressure had gotten dangerously high and I was diagnosed with HELPS syndrome. I was taken by ambulance to Bangor where I had an emergency C-section. The whole thing is a story for another time, but the last month of my pregnancy was a particularly hellish experience.

I went through all the challenges new moms do.. lack of sleep, feelings of total inadequacy, struggles with not being able to breastfeed. I had a baby in the NICU and had to leave him at the hospital while I went to a hotel. Luckily, we were able to go home after a week. Due to some unfortunate events, I had to get back to work within days of returning home. I was barely able to get in & out of bed due to post C-section pain but had no choice but to work.

Behind all of the outer struggles, I still held the weight of this enormous secret and impending legal repercussions. I slipped into a postpartum depression and sincerely struggled to feel any connection to my new baby. I held it together and even did a live segment on the morning TV news a couple weeks after giving birth. I carried on and only admitted my feelings to Zane and my mom. Again.. no one wants people to know they're struggling. We would rather suck it up & put on a smile than be real.

Six weeks after having Jonah, I hired the management for our new store. A few weeks after that, Zane had surgery to get his cochlear implant (his damaged hearing is a result of his accident in 2010). A few weeks after that, we got a small second floor studio apartment (in very rough condition) in Bangor (2 1/2 hrs away) and moved a bunch of our stuff down so that we could spend half the week there and half at home while we got the new store opened. Zane was fortunately able to work out of Bangor during that time. Every Saturday night we drove to Bangor, worked Sunday-Tuesday and drove home Tuesday night. With a newborn. In the middle of the winter.

At the end of February, the store was doing very well so we decided to move home. Our relationship had grown, and although we had been working like crazy people, we were doing what we loved to do- building our dream alongside each other. Zane had grown immensely and his counselor was thrilled with his progress. We were approached about buying a store in Portland and started considering that possibility. Things were looking up. A lot of time had passed and we began to hope that maybe we'd never hear from the authorities.

Then one night in March it all changed. Zane got a letter telling him that the feds were going to prosecute. My parents had been over visiting and when they left he shared the letter with me. I broke.

The weight that I had been carrying was just too much. My world, that I had been trying so desperately to keep afloat, came crashing down around me. I called my parents and told them to come back. I told Zane it was time to tell them. He called our pastor and asked him to come too.

As our sweet baby boy slept, Zane explained everything to them. I sat silently as my pain made it's way down my face in the form of tears. They were stunned. Confused. Completely blindsided. And very concerned for my mental state, as I fear it became quite obvious that I was no longer "okay".

They responded to Zane with love. I am so blessed to have parents that not only taught me the values of forgiveness and grace, but actually modeled it. They reassured Zane that they loved him and that they would do anything they could to support both of us. Zane broke too as he felt the freedom of forgiveness from the person he feared would judge and disown him the most- my father.

I knew Zane would be okay. He had gotten to a really good place. I didn't have the same confidence in myself. I knew I needed some space... to process, and to feel things that I hadn't let myself feel previously. I packed a bag for myself and Jonah, and I took him to my parents house. I sat in my old bedroom and let myself come completely undone. I felt the one thing I hadn't allowed myself to feel yet- anger.

I was so angry at Zane. At God. Because of Zane's choices and mistakes, my life as I knew it was ending. I mourned that loss. I screamed at God, "Haven't we been through enough?".

I had almost been a widow at 21, but I had stayed faithful to God the whole time. I had sincerely tried to live my life in a way that would honor God for my whole life. And this was my thanks? Nearly losing my husband to a freak accident and then finding out that he had an addiction that was going to ruin our lives? I let all those emotions out, and I'm pretty sure I swore in front of my parents for the first time.

I let myself be angry and work through those feelings, but I never lost my love for Zane, or my respect for how he handled this situation. After a night alone, I asked him to come join me at mom and dad's. We were both quite depressed.. a feeling neither of us had ever struggled with before. I went through periods where all I could do was hold him and periods where I couldn't be near him. We were both too emotionally distraught to do much and my parents stepped in to help with Jonah.

Zane met with an attorney and was told he was most likely looking at 3-5 years in jail. That devastated me... absolutely shook me to the core. I watched as my mind played out the possibilities.. Jonah growing up without a dad, Zane losing his job, us losing our house, losing our businesses, the community turning on us, having to move away from the area... I felt as though my world was falling apart and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

We stayed with my parents for a week or two as I didn't feel strong enough to go home. I struggled just walking back into our house to get clothes. It somehow reminded me of the life we were supposed to have. I looked at my baby grand piano.. a heartfelt gift from my parents that I'd wished for my whole life... and I couldn't even touch it. It too was a symbol of a happy and simple life we had hoped for.

In those moments, there was one thing that kept Zane and I from taking our own lives- Jonah. That sweet baby boy was counting on us to take care of him and his giggles were often our only reason to smile. He became our joy. I had never been plagued by dark thoughts of such things, and I had never carried such baggage. I didn't know how to handle it, but now with the support of family I didn't feel alone.

We slowly began telling our family and friends.. and every single one supported not only me, but Zane. Many guys Zane told opened up about their own struggle with pornography. It was reassuring, freeing, and very therapeutic to be able to simply talk about the situation. It became clear that God wanted to use our situation to start a conversation. No one admits their own faults until someone else does first.

I went through a very dark period with my faith. I had never hit such a low before, and I openly questioned many things. I wasn't sure that God was good.. I wasn't sure He loved me.. I wasn't sure that I could trust Him. And honestly, there was no magical revelation that lifted me out of that pit.

Time certainly helped cool off my anger.. and as time passed I was able to start seeing God's hand in what was happening. Some may disagree with me, but here's what it came down to: I could turn my back on God and abandon my faith. I could focus on myself, my own pain, and the injustice I felt over what had happened to me. That was option one. Or, I could trust. I could "tie a knot at the end of my rope and hold on", as one of my sisters likes to say. It wasn't heroic or noble or even brave. I just simply held on.. because my past had proven to me that God had certainly taken care of me then. And facing an unknown future is much scarier on your own.

To this day I still don't completely understand the "why". I don't know as if I ever will. What I do know is this: Zane has a tremendously dedicated heart for God and wants so badly to do amazing things for Him. And the devil absolutely hates that. He is so intimidated by it that he has thrown a mountain of evil Zane's way. He trapped Zane into addiction, tried to kill him in a freak accident, and tried to destroy him with the threat of losing everything he loved- me, his son, our families and friends. And, I just happen to be married to him, and have felt the brunt of these attacks. If the devil is attacking, it has to mean you're doing something right.

I also know this: our earthly perspective struggles to grasp a heavenly view. We are so stinking focused on what matters to us in this life that we magnify our own problems way out of proportion. The reality of our situation is that our lives will go on. Someday our family will be reunited. This is not forever. We will survive. In those dark moments, it definitely doesn't seem that way. But, as the saying goes, "We must not forget in the darkness what we knew in the light".

I was listening to a song recently that completely convicted me about my heart through this situation. One part of the song says this:

If your eyes are on the storm
You'll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You'll know I always have and I always will

I don't pretend to have all the answers, and there are days that I still mourn the life we had. Watching officers cuff my husband and take him away is an image that will forever be burned into my mind. Local media shared that Zane mouthed the words "I love you" as they took him away, but what she left out was what he said first- "Have faith". During our phone calls and jail visits, Zane is the one encouraging me. He has all day long to read the bible and pray, and has been using this time to grow in his faith.

Society would like to label Zane in many cruel and judgemental ways, but they would be so wrong. They don't know the man I know, and they have not walked this journey beside us. The devil absolutely hates that I'm sharing our story and bringing light to issues no one dares talk about.. he would much rather keep people trapped by shame. He has tried to tear me down with harsh comments and so-called "well meaning friends", but God is bigger and has filled our lives with some of the most supportive, sincere, and kind human beings. For that, I am so thankful.

We're walking a difficult road.. one I pray you never have to walk. But, we're not alone. God is surrounding us with an army of love. Each day is a battle, but Zane and I are both fighters. We will not let the devil win. I often hate that I have to do this, but someone has to break the silence.

Sin, addiction, and struggle are real, and they do not discriminate. Chances are, there is someone you love struggling with something. What kind of a difference could we make if we admitted our own struggles and spread a message of love and forgiveness instead? Please help me break the silence.. I really believe beautiful things will happen.