catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 5 :: 2012.03.02 — 2012.03.15


Cards for every occasion

Every year in early November, I go to a grocery store and wander down the greeting card aisle. I usually look at the funny anniversary cards, the rock-‘n-roll-playing cards, and the “just because” cards. But eventually I always end up at the Bar/Bat Mitzvah section. Even though the sign at the end of the aisle usually says something to the effect of, “Cards for every occasion,” they just never have what I’m looking for.

So I substitute. I sift through the cards that say ridiculous things like “You really rocked the Bimah!” or have pictures of camels in yarmulkes, and I pick out the craziest one. Incidentally, they all say “Mazel Tov!” just in case you forgot that this was a Jewish occasion. I take my card home, I scratch out anything that says Bar Mitzvah, and I write in “happy anniversary.” (I leave “Mazel Tov” because I like it.) I then mail the card to my best friend. It’s become my tradition, and at this point, the tradition is so fun that I wouldn’t send her a more appropriate card if they had one.

But every year, the fact that I can’t find the kind of card I’m looking for gives me pause. I wonder: will they ever make cards that say, “Happy anniversary of the day that you admitted to having an addiction?”

For five years now my best friend has officially been a recovering pornography addict. Like most addicts, she goes through patterns: hills and valleys. As I write this, she’s walking so steeply uphill, carrying a pack stuffed with a lifetime of emotional problems, that it seems like she’ll never make it. But she’s still walking, so I keep sending cards.

She called me earlier today to ask for my help.

“I have a new friend,” she explained, “and I want to be honest with her and to trust her, but I don’t know how to tell her the truth. I don’t mind telling people about who I used to be, but I hate telling people about my struggles that are still happening. I just don’t know how to say it. How do I tell them about something so hard that is still hard now?”

The only advice I have is simple and cliché.

“Just start talking. Tell the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“You say that like it’s easy.” She laughs exasperatedly the way friends do when they know you won’t be offended by their doubts and frustrations.

“No,” I say, wanting her to understand. “No, I know it’s not easy. But the more you do it, the easier it gets. And I didn’t say that the truth will heal you or make you happy. It will set you free.”

Later, after we have both gone on with our day, I start to wonder, what exactly does that mean? The truth will set you free.

I don’t actually know what it means.

But I believe it. 

Our culture doesn’t talk about addictions much. It’s a symptom of the “happy society,” the people who smile and say, “Fine, thanks.” But it’s also a symptom of shame — shame from something you can’t beat: a weakness, a coping mechanism that you can’t replace. Something sheer willpower can’t overcome.

Opening those weaknesses to the light makes the shame twice as painful, but it also makes it half as powerful. The knowledge that someone knows you, knows the worst parts of you, and still cares about you and how you are doing, gives those worst parts less control over the rest of your life. That’s freedom.

But it’s a slow freedom — a melting away of the chains, a steep mountain path slowly leveling out to a paved highway. You still have to shoulder the pack and keep walking, but the truth eventually does change something. I’ve seen it in my own life, although I don’t have anything as easily labeled as an addiction. My struggles have been smaller in magnitude, but just as life-ruining if I let them.

Interestingly enough, my biggest weakness is for lying. I could lie about anything, for no good reason. I still remember the day that, over a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese, I explained to a friend how often I stretch the truth. Her response was nothing remarkable; she just listened. But it taught me that speaking those words out loud got the weakness out of my head, where it makes the rules, and into everyday conversation, where the rules are made by love and truth and acceptance.

I wish we had cards for the hard truths — cards that speak love when things are not great, when anniversaries aren’t happy, and when walking forward is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I wish everyone could remember that the truth will set us free. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep saying, “Mazel Tov.”

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