A Testimony of Freedom From Codependency
The decision had been made. It was radical. It went against everything I had been taught and in turn had taught in my nineteen years as a Christian. The last five years with Mike as an alcoholic had been a type of hell. It was like living on a roller coaster that was out of control. After eleven and a half years of marriage, I had finally told Mike that he had to move out and that I never wanted to see him again. I was exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially.
During those five years, I had tried everything I knew of or ever heard of to help Mike quit drinking. I lived walking on eggshells trying to not irritate him. I took over his responsibilities. I had almost become a non-person in my pursuit of hanging on, trying to fix him and tolerating wrong behavior. He was more miserable than I was. He wanted to quit. He had tried everything that was ever suggested to him. Just before the drinking started we had renewed our wedding vows. I had promised God that I was committed to Mike and to our marriage. In these last five years I had tried and tried to hold it together. Did God really want me to live this way? I had been determined not to give up. I had finally realized that I needed to try to salvage the little bit of sanity and self-worth I still had. I needed to pull the emergency lever of this roller coaster while I still could.
Mike was gone. January of 1985 was bitter cold in Birmingham, AL. Mike was living in a Christian Treatment Center in North Carolina for two months. Our marriage was over. Even though my heart was heavy, it felt good to have made a decision and carried it through. My motions were mechanical as I went to work, ate tasteless food and faced life alone. Night after night I built a big fire and sat in front of it. It was a relief to not worry about Mike drinking and driving. That he would kill someone with his car had been one of my worst fears.
I wanted to believe that God was with me and that He did love me even if my life didn’t show it. I felt like I had failed God yet I desperately wanted to mentally crawl into His lap and be held. Would He let me? Did God really love me? If so, why was my main goal in life — to have a happy home and marriage — destroyed? My first husband, Bradley Fulkerson, Jr., had died in 1969 after a three and a half year battle with cancer. We had become Christians during those years so I knew he was in heaven but my dream life had been cut short. God had proven sufficient for me and had taken care of me and my little boy in the years after that as I learned to be very dependent on Him. I often spoke at Christian Women’s Clubs telling our story of faith and trust in God.
Then I met Mike at our church. We seemed to have the same desire for a godly marriage. He had given up a successful business to go to seminary. He was gung-ho for God. He seemed to be the perfect husband for me! Now I had concluded that God had let me make a huge mistake. Either He didn’t love me much or I was so wicked in my heart that he had to keep allowing difficult situations to keep me on my knees before Him. It was very confusing and depressing to me.
I thought about the bitterness I had hidden in my heart for many years, bitterness against Mike and other people that I felt failed us. I hated facing the deceitful way I had been with family and close friends, although they all knew about mike’s problem now that he was gone. It seemed like I had “worn a mask” of godliness and contentment for years. My deception was now uncovered.
Night after night I sat by the fire alone. Gradually God helped me see that the sin in my heart was just as displeasing to him as mike’s outward actions had been. It was startling to realize that even though I thought I looked like a wonderful Christian and even more so compared to Mike, in god’s eyes we were on the same level. Sin was sin and I was forced to look at mine.
When Mike called, I would slam down the phone. I needed to stay emotionally apart. I didn’t want him to interrupt what God was showing me. He started writing me. One day he called and before I could hang up, he begged me to listen just a few minutes. I did, reluctantly. He said God was teaching him about why he had failed as a husband. He was studying a book, The Marriage Builder, and he wanted me to read it. I was insulted! After all I had done to salvage our marriage and all he had done to destroy it! He wasn’t demanding though. I bought the book.
After a few weeks, he asked me to visit him. Was he crazy? What if God really was working in him? I honestly wasn’t ready to face the possibility of living with Mike again. I wanted his life cleaned up, but I didn’t want to let him back in our house. I had been hurt enough. I told God I knew it was He who works in us to will and do of His good pleasure (Phil 4:13) and that if this was the direction He was heading, He would have to work on my “willer”. Over and over I prayed for Him to make me “willing to be willing to be willing to do His good pleasure”. It had taken almost five years to get to the point of making him leave. It seemed too easy for him to go away for a couple of months — then come right back. But I kept telling God I was willing to do what He wanted.
The weeks alone were wonderful in a way. A healing slowly worked in me. My reason for feeling insecure, unsettled and apprehensive was gone. The fear and strife that tore at my emotions from all the tension and verbal abuse began to ebb and I began to rest and relax. After several weeks, Jack and June Fagan, our dear friends in Atlanta who had known what was going on with us all these years, said they would drive me up to visit Mike. I was nervous about seeing him again, especially in that environment. When I saw him, I was surprised that he didn’t complain about where he was and what he was doing. He laughed a lot. The change intrigued me.
During the next few weeks, I decided I would trust God and let Mike come home. He resumed his job as a stockbroker but his heart wasn’t in it. People with addictive problems started calling him and he counseled them and sent them to Christian treatment centers. It was like a job but he wasn’t making any income. Since I was always the responsible one, I decided it was up to me to solve our financial problems. I got a real estate license and started selling houses. We were still off balance in many areas of our relationship, but it was better than it had ever been. We were surprised to find an openness and freedom between us we hadn’t experienced before. I learned to transfer my trust to God to work in Mike, not to trust in Mike not to mess up again. Mike was God’s problem, not mine.
Something was still missing though. God had done so much healing and we were accepted and loved by our family and friends. For three years I saw evidences that God was working but it became more and more difficult to overlook Mike’s restlessness and anxiety. Finally he confided in me and our close friends, Ruth and Charlie Jones, that he was still fighting the battle to drink. We were exasperated and felt helpless. I again started hiding my fears and my feelings and the truth of what was happening. “God, where are You? I’m trying to trust you! What is going on?” Mike got so discouraged after a night of drinking that he resigned from his ministry and from his part-time preaching job. Then he just sat in a chair in the living room in a state of depression for days on end.
Finally in desperation, Charlie gave Mike some tapes by Bill and Anabel Gillham. “Here, listen to these. Maybe they’ll help you,” he said. A few days later, he went out drinking again. I was devastated. I told him I needed a break. I suggested he go visit Jack and June who were now living in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He called me as soon as he got to the Fagans. “God has shown me THE answer!” “Not another one,” I said, slamming the phone down. He called right back. “Please listen to me. I’m free. I’m really free.” “Sure, sure Mike”, I said. “I don’t want to hear about it. Give me a break. Quit bothering me. Don’t call me back.”
When he came home a couple of days later, he was more excited than I had seen him in years. He wanted me and everyone else to understand what had happened. It was like he had found a pot of gold — only better. He said he had finally learned the key to life and peace and victory. He listened constantly to the Gillham tapes. I got interested from his enthusiasm. His freedom from the bondage to alcohol and depression drew me. I wanted to know what was changing him.
I started listening to the Gillhams’ tapes myself and hearing teaching I had never heard. I was dead to sin and alive to God? Jesus loved and accepted me just like I was? I didn’t have to perform for God? There was nothing I could do to make Him love me more? Nothing I could do to make Him love me less? The light came on for me that my good looking flesh is just as smelly to God as mike’s bad flesh. God isn’t interested in strengthening either kind of flesh. God wanted to exchange His life with me. What great news! The Gillhams helped me see how I had known Jesus as my Savior and even my Lord but not my LIFE. What a difference!
In January Mike and I, along with Ruth and Charlie, attended a three day Exchanged Life Seminar in Montgomery, AL. We hung on to every word taught. This truth began changing us individually and as a couple. All the years of suffering and strife and confusion and unrest and madness started melting away as we renewed our minds in the truth of our identity in Christ and our position and authority in Christ. Why hadn’t we been told this before? Mike was the seminary graduate, the Bible scholar, the one who spent hours and hours in the scriptures. We had been asking God to show us the way out of this hell for years. Why did He wait so long? For a while I was plagued with questions. To know more of this truth became my focus.
The Gillhams became my daily companions by tape and video. I listened on my Walkman when I walked and anytime I was in the car alone. It became a continual daily feeding on this truth. So much that I had been taught and even had taught didn’t line up with this. I had known that Jesus died for my sins but I didn’t know that I died with Him to the power of sin (Rom. 6:6,7). I learned that He gave His life for me to give His life to me so He could live His life through me.
We gathered a small group to watch the Gillham videos on Friday and Sunday nights. God was slowly teaching me. I saw that the things I thought were “normal Christianity” were law and that I had lived under law for years. I saw that what I considered “me” was my flesh and that my natural way of responding to life was in my flesh, and that I didn’t have to let my flesh control me anymore. In January of 1990 we moved to Atlanta when Mike joined the staff at Grace Ministries International. As we became friends with the staff families and interacted with them, God bathed my scarred heart and mind and emotions with His truth and His love through these people.
As I understood more and more who I am in Christ and my acceptance and security in His love, I began to learn that I had been believing many lies concerning my situation. I had thought that as the Christian wife of an alcoholic
- I had to submit to and tolerate any and all bad behavior
- It was my fault that he drank or wanted to
- I could make him change
- I had to be perfect and do anything I could to prevent his drinking
- It was up to me to provide for us
- I had to cover up his irresponsibility by being more responsible
- I had to be Superwoman!
Are you in such a situation?
If I could sit down with you I would share some of the things that I learned such as:
- God didn’t make wives to be a doormat to a disobedient, drinking husband.
- God doesn’t expect a wife to put up with sin and irresponsibility.
- God doesn’t hold a wife responsible for her husband’s behavior.
- God doesn’t expect a wife to live in an abusive situation.
A wife can lovingly confront such behavior, not deny it is happening and hope it will go away. Only God can give us worth and value.
Our identity is in Christ and our needs for security and significance and acceptance can only be met by Christ, not by our husband or our marriage.
Having a godly husband and a happy home seemed like great goals — but they needed to be desires and not goals or rights. I learned that you can’t set a goal that can only be reached by someone else’s cooperation. Those were doomed to failure. Surrendering your rights to God is not dying to your desires and wishes. It is giving up the control of someone else’s behavior. I had a warped view of God and an inadequate understanding of grace. That began to change when I learned who God says I am in Him and how much He loves me. I had been a Christian for almost nineteen years before I started learning this. I thought the only thing settled at the cross was that my sins were forgiven. I had missed the other half that I was in Christ and He was my life!
A giant issue that I had to deal with was forgiveness. I felt like I had forgiven Mike 70X7 times as it says to do in Matthew 18:22, but it seemed there was always a need for more. As I became aware of god’s limitless forgiveness of me, I realized there should be nothing I couldn’t forgive Mike for. Not only forgiving for specific incidents though, but forgiving for all the effects of the incidents, to hold nothing back so that a root of bitterness wouldn’t grow. Forgiveness is possible even in the midst of the difficulties. Sometimes I would cry in the shower so I could have privacy. Then I would determine that I was going to choose to forgive him again. I realized that if I nursed the bitterness and anger, if I held on to it, I would be the victim more than he. It wasn’t worth it. Forgiveness is a choice we make. I needed an open relationship with Jesus and I didn’t want to block it with unforgiveness. I learned to leave the consequences up to God.
We can love someone and still not accept their unacceptable behavior. We can be loving by being tough. It took me almost five years to reach the point to tell Mike to move out. I don’t advocate divorce, but sometimes a separation is needed. You can’t ask for a separation though to motivate, manipulate or make someone change. I only chose it when I had faced all the consequences and knew that they would be better than the turmoil I was living in. It can’t just be a threat though. You must have your mind and your heart made up and be steadfast in your decision to carry it out.
As I look back on those awful years, I know God allowed them to mold me and make me and to teach me His truth. Sometimes I want to ask Him why He took so long letting me learn this, why so many mistakes had to be made, so many things had to be lost — but now I realize that so much more has been gained.
Now I know…..
- Who I am in Christ — I am a dearly loved child of God.
- That I have worth and value because I am in Christ.
- That God doesn’t require a wife to put up with sinful behavior.
- That I didn’t have to be a doormat in the name of submission.
- That sometimes love means saying no. Some love must be tough.
- That God is not impressed with outward behavior; He looks at our heart.
- That taking on someone else’s responsibility only fosters more irresponsibility.
- That emotional, mental and verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse.
- That if something is not true — then it is a lie and is from the father of lies.
- That only God can change someone else.
- That God did not want to strengthen my strengths; He wanted to bring me to the …end of myself and my resources.
- That the past is past and the pain can be dealt with, but only by forgiveness.
- That relinquishing my rights is the way to face the future. That God did know …and care about what was going on in my life.
- That I do not have to perform to please God and to get His acceptance.
- That I am unconditionally accepted and deeply loved by God.
- That God does work all things together for His good and His glory.
It is a joy now to work with Mike with Freedom In Christ Ministries and to pass on to other women this truth that sets you free. God is a God of hope and of restoration. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” has always been one of my favorite hymns. I have sung it to myself and to God many times. It is so true. Great IS Thy Faithfulness! I praise God He has taught me these truths plus much more. It was worth going through it all to learn this and to have the relationship with God and with Mike that I now have. Truly this is the abundant, victorious Christian life!
Julia also gives her testimony in session two of the Freedom From Addictive Behaviors Conference.