Wendy McLellan's Story - Fall 2008
Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m a believer in Jesus Christ celebrating recovery in the areas of physical & sexual abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, co-dependency, divorce, childhood dysfunction, and a variety of losses. I am currently in recovery for overeating.
I was not raised in a Christian home. My father was a workaholic and my mother was a very self-focused, depressed woman with no parenting or coping skills. She also abused prescription drugs & I only remember her as either sedated, or raging. This was expressed in emotional and physical outbursts of abuse. Only in adult counselling did I come to recognize that at about the age of 4, I had already accepted the fact that I was on my own in this world and I had begun to shut down. The oldest of 6 children, I was the caretaker of my mother and my siblings. I felt like a prisoner.
I was only a little girl, but with all my responsibilities, and the deep loneliness I lived, I felt like the world was on my shoulders. Suicide never entered my mind, but I clearly felt life wasn’t worth living. One particularly dark time, in my early teens, I had escaped to my secret place by a stream and I don’t think I could ever describe the hopelessness I felt at that moment. Suddenly I heard the voice of God say, “You are not alone, I am with you, and you will never be alone”. And it felt like He wrapped His arms around me and just held me. Tears came from somewhere deep inside me. I had not gone searching for Him, but the God of all creation came down and revealed himself to a little girl who had no hope and no safe people in her life. I would like to say I committed my life to Him at that moment, but I knew nothing of those things, and there would be another 25 yrs of lessons to learn first.
At 17 I left home and moved to Toronto. I was ready for life to be ‘all about me’ for a change. I found myself pregnant almost immediately, and getting married. I knew that he had a problem with both drugs and alcohol, but I believed that once we were married he would ‘straighten out’. Besides, alcohol was a form of ‘recreation’ for both of us.
We were married 2 months after I turned 18, our first child was born 6 months later and before I was 20 we had our second child. Neither of us were equipped to deal with marriage, children and problems and the fighting would soon tear our hearts apart. On top of his addictions, I become addicted to Valium. I was terrified of becoming like my mother, and so after a couple years of heavy use, I quit cold turkey, and it took a physical toll on me. Although I had won that battle, the marriage was not as successful. We divorced, but it would be another 25 years before I grieved that loss.
I rebounded into a second marriage. It turned out that this man was a violent alcoholic, and the scars left on my children and I would surface long after that marriage of five years ended.
Still seeking someone to genuinely care about myself and my children, I married for the third time. Sure he drank a little more than I liked, but it was only because he was lonely, right? One minute I was looking for bottles, and the next minute I was drowning myself in them as well. I was not yet 30 yrs old, but I felt about 80.
My children hit their early teens and were running the streets, into drugs, alcohol, breaking the law. All attempts to reach them were of no use. Then one day my daughter came forward and revealed to me horror stories of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of my second husband in past years.
It felt like the floor beneath me dropped away. I thought that when I walked away from my second marriage, we had left the terror behind. Broken relationships littered the path of my past and I was beginning to see the cost.
Over the next few weeks, more stories of physical and sexual abuse came out from both of my children, as well as stories of failed attempts at suicide on both of their parts. I knew we needed help! I arranged for counselling for my children, and I found recovery. A year after entering recovery, I found Jesus!
My daughter responded quickly to the support she received, but my son was too angry and wounded to accept the help he needed yet. My son’s anger grew and he began having anger black outs. He cared less and less about himself and others.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do was call the police and charge my son with theft. This drove a deep wedge between us but looking back I can see that it was the beginning of his bottom.
The last attempt my son made to take his own life happened in 1992. As I held him in my arms that night, I cried out “God, Why did my children have to suffer this way”. I placed my son in the arms of God that night knowing that I did not have the power to save him. I was finally learning to give my children to God their Father, and to trust in Him.
The tools of Celebrate Recovery saved our family. I let it ‘begin with me’, and as God changed me, my family started to come back together again. It was a painful journey for all of us, but one that we look back and realize was not ‘optional’ for us. I wanted to break the cycle of dysfunction, and my family wanted to be rid of the pain that had dragged them down. The biblical tools of Celebrate Recovery showed us how.
While all 8 Principles were critical to my healing, three things in particular were the most freeing.
In Principle 4 I confessed my sins to a Christian sister and she prayed for healing for me. Even though God had forgiven me many years before when I accepted Him as my Lord and Saviour, I had carried the guilt and shame with me. This confession removed the power that guilt and shame had held over me, and I cannot begin to tell you how light I felt after dropping the last of that baggage.
In Principle 6 I made a direct amend to my second husband for the sexual abuse of my daughter. I had prepared well for this by praying every day for him, as I was guided to do, until I felt truly ready to let it go.
One day at the courthouse, I felt a nudge by God that ‘now was the time’. I was not supposed to go near him, but all of a sudden the opportunity presented itself. I walked up to him and said, "in spite of what you did to my family". He cut me off and said "I didn't do anything to your family". I very calmly re-stated "In spite of what you did to my family, I forgive you". I know that I said it with true compassion.
Suddenly I saw the steel grey in his eyes drain away, and his blue eyes well up with tears and he started to shake. I had not expected any response at all, but at that moment I knew that God had done a work in Him. I walked away and have never spoken with him since that day but I also know that my forgiveness had a profound affect on him as well as on me.
The final thing that gave me the most freedom was that I made a decision to go back and reclaim the little lost girl (myself!) who I had shut down so many years ago. I began my search for her. I had to go back a lot of years to find her, and even then I had to prove to her that I wouldn't abandon her again before she would trust me. Then the miracle happened; one day she placed her hand in mine and we began our journey together. I took the time daily to ask her what she wanted, how she felt, and what I needed to do to protect her. As she felt safe she often raged at life, and sometimes raged at me. Other days we coloured or danced in the rain. You see, she had never known freedom before and had never felt safe and loved.
That journey was painful and there were times I wanted to stop the whole process and flee; but I would not abandon her (me) again. In remaining faithful to that commitment, something critical began to change in me. I began to feel what real love might be. It scared me.
One day God said to me "Wendy, I want you to love openly, and love extravagantly". I said, "but God, I might get hurt that way". He said, "Yes Wendy, sometimes you will. But loving is part of an abundance of life that comes as a package. THAT is where you will find your true JOY. People WILL hurt you at times because as human beings they are fallible but I am perfect, trust me". Through that, I learned how to love with a depth that I never knew existed. I started first with my children, and then others. The freedom to love was one of the most amazing blessings I received in recovery.
I am living out my Step # 12 today by passing on all the healing that God has given me. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, SO THAT we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (emphasis mine)
It is a gift we are meant to ‘give away’. I have sponsored many women over the years, and served in every capacity that I was asked. There is no amount of service that I could do that would ever repay what God has done in my life.
God is still working on me, and my husband and children are all serving the Lord and call Him their Saviour.
Last summer, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of community before this devastating news. In fact, I thought I had learned quite well about how to ‘receive’ from others. I have since learned that when life paralyzes you; when your heart is so broken that you can no longer form words into prayer; when your strength is gone, and you really believe that you can no longer face the pain of the day, that is when you finally realize that no preparation, skills, or training can prepare you to meet your own basic needs as well as people who will weep with you, feed you, and walk with you over the long haul as our Celebrate Recovery family has done.
I will close with one of my favourite passages, Isaiah 61:3: (my paraphrase)
“He comforted me as I mourned
And bestowed on me a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair
Today He calls me His ‘Oak of righteousness,
For He has planted me for the display of His splendour”.
Thank you for letting me share.