Recovery Room: The People Pleaser (by Shawn Smucker)

Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers as they step into the Recovery Room. It’s not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It’s more about the thing–whatever it is–that supplants inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?

Today, welcome Shawn Smucker, author of my son’s favorite book, The Day the Angels Fell. I hope you’ll enjoy his words. (And then, grab a copy of his book for your children, grandchildren, or friends’ children! You’ll be glad you did. And today, the Kindle edition is only $3.99!)

Welcome to the Recovery Room.

*****

He probably thought he was dying – my 5-year-old son, that is, as he made his way from the bloody bathroom sink, through the middle-of-the-night hallway, and into my dark bedroom. I don’t know how long he stood there in the shadows and the loud humming of the fan, trying to decide what to do. But somehow I remember that feeling, as a child, watching with fascination a sleeping parent, wondering what is the appropriate way to awaken them.

I woke up that night to Sam’s words whispered through held-back tears.

“Dad, I have to show you something.”

But even after I heard him, I was still groggy. 4am groggy.

“Sammy, what are you doing? You can show me in the morning.”

“Dad, come here! I have to show you something.”

Normally “I have to show you something” is not nearly reason enough for me to get out from under a warm comforter, especially when it’s 7 degrees outside. I hesitated.

“Dad!”

Something in his voice convinced me, and I found myself stumbling over pillows and blankets, rubbing my eyes, wondering if I would ever get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep again. (Of course, with five children, I know the answer is no.)

When we got to the bathroom, any remaining sleepiness fled. The handtowels held dark red spots. The floor was covered in drips of blood. Sam must have sneezed or spit at some point, because flecks of blood covered the white sink, red stars in a white sky. He had blood on his shirt, his face, even his socks.

*****

I thought I was dying recently. Not literally, but figuratively, as I came face to face with my addiction to approval, my incessant need to please everyone. To say the right thing. To be who I “should” be.

The first step in the death of that addiction was self-publishing a children’s book, The Day the Angels Fell. It may not sound like much to you, but just the thought of doing that had me lying awake at night, stomach churning, mind racing.

What if people don’t like it?

What if people think I’m really stupid?

What if the writing is terrible?

I thought about it from a million different angles, tried to talk myself out of it, or at least wait. There were many good reasons, none of which I can remember anymore. Then, one October day, I stared at that addiction to approval, closed my eyes, and hit the button to start the Kickstarter campaign that I hoped would fund my novel.

Can I be honest here? Part of me hoped the campaign wouldn’t be funded. Part of me thought that if I put this idea out there and it didn’t gain traction, then I could somehow escape putting myself out there. I could bypass sharing my creativity. I could retreat back into my cave, where I never took a risk and everyone approved of me.

The Kickstarter campaign was funded in 48 hours.

Everyone congratulated me. There were pats on the back, encouraging emails. But I was terrified. Now I had to publish it. I had to share it. I had to open myself up to the very real possibility that people wouldn’t like it, that they would find it mediocre, that I would be rejected.

Then the book came out, and I realized that this thing I had created had nothing to do with what anyone else thought of it or thought of me. My need for approval did not have to taint the story I had written. I realized these things as I held the book in my hands, or when my two oldest children raced through it, or when the people I had dedicated the book to spoke to me with tears in their eyes.

I stared a kind of death in the face, and I was okay. It was a step in the right direction for me, a step away from addiction. A step towards sobriety.

*****

My son was terrified when he sneezed out that constellation of blood, but you know what? It was just his first nosebleed, the result of a very dry house on a very cold night. Nothing more. We spent the next 15 minutes working together, cleaning up the mess. I gathered the towels and the blood-stained bedsheets. I scrubbed the carpet.

Engaging an addiction is similarly terrifying. Cofronting an addiction is scary, like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and our first bouts leave us shaken and panicky. But I can now say that I have been to the other side of my fear, and it is not death. Or maybe it’s the other side of death, the opposite end of the passageway. Maybe facing our addiction is like facing death, dying, and then rising again.

Life waits for us there, on the other side of that death, on the other side of that addiction. Freedom waits for us there, cloaked in sobriety.

*****

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  • “Life waits for us there, on the other side of that death, on the other side of that addiction. Freedom waits for us there, cloaked in sobriety.” Yes. So true. Looking forward to more in the Recovery Room series.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks for reading along, Kelley.

  • pastordt

    Oh, I get this, Shawn. And I will read your lovely book – very soon, I hope. the holidays, you know? And the end of one year, the beginning of another. . .I will do it.

    • shawnsmucker

      No pressure, Diana. You’re a good friend, one of the encouraging voices in my life. Thank you for that.

  • i love that you’ve talking on addiction in a broader sense. So often when i’m visiting with my drug addicted friend i find that at the core we are struggling with the same stuff-we’ve just chosen different addictions-unfortunately hers is damaging her brain and body, but both of us are damaging our souls.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Melony. For me, the idea of expanding the recovery narrative is crucial to building a more authentic community. I’m glad it’s resonating.

      Thanks so much for reading along.