I learned how to scream for help way before I learned to ask for it.
It happened one summer when my husband Dave and I were staying at a vacation rental house on the Oregon coast. We just so happened to be in the bathroom at the same time -- Dave in the shower and me drying my hair -- when I heard a very loud crash. Alarmed, I tried to open the bathroom door to investigate. But it wouldn't budge.
"Honey?" I called to Dave, "I think we have a problem."
A half hour later, using a metal towel bar as a lever, we had finally managed to pry the upper part of the door open about an inch. Stuffing a towel in the crack to save our progress, we now had a narrow view of our predicament. A sliding door on the closet across from us had inexplicably escaped its track and fallen onto the bathroom door, jamming it shut. The more we tried to force the bath door open, the tighter the closet door wedged us in.
Naturally, this bathroom had no windows. Our cell phones were on the couch in the living room. None of our family or friends knew where we were. We could hardly believe it was happening. We were trapped? In a bathroom? The only contact we could count on was a cleaning lady who would come to clean after we checked out. In five days.
Trying to find the humor in the situation, I pointed out to Dave that we had water, so we wouldn't die. And we'd lose a lot of weight. I had brought my Oprah magazine into the bathroom with me, so I settled on the toilet (lid down) and started reading aloud to Dave about how to live your best life.
Dave didn't think it was funny. Actually, he'd brought work along on vacation. How was he supposed to write devotionals about trusting God when he was stuck in a bathroom?
And then it hit me. My own big problem. By now, my alcoholism had progressed to the point where I drank copious amounts nightly just to feel normal (a third in front of Dave, the rest in secret, usually guzzled in the bathroom with the door locked. Oh, the irony!). Forget food -- without a drink, I'd eventually go into withdrawal. Shakes. Sweating. I'd have to pretend to Dave I had the flu.
Regalvanized by my private terror, I went back to the crack in the door. This time, I realized that I could actually see into the bedroom down the hall. Dave had opened the window a few inches the night before. Even though it was rainy and windy, the people renting the house next door might hear us if we yelled loud enough.
Dave thought I should go first. "I think a woman's scream is louder and more alarming. People want to save a screaming woman."
I hesitantly put my face to the crack in the door and... I just couldn't do it. "Like, really loud?" I asked Dave, suddenly shy. "At the top of my lungs? But what do I say?"
"Try 'help,'" Dave said. "The loudest you can. Louder than you've ever screamed in your life."
It took me a while to work up to a Psycho-sized scream. I felt like an actress rehearsing for a horror movie. A few times, I started laughing. But soon I was letting loose with ear-piercing screams while Dave huddled in a corner, plugging his ears. When my throat got sore, I made him take a turn. But asking a grown man to scream for help is like asking him to run in the grocery store when you're at the register and realize you forgot something. It's beneath his dignity. He will only stroll.
Given that it was so hard on his pride, I won't even tell you that Dave can scream like a girl.
We continued taking turns on and off for at least an hour. Then, my eye to the slit, I thought I saw a motion. A flash of yellow. The people next door were walking past our house!
"You!" I screamed. "You in the yellow shirt! Help! You in the yellow! Help!"
The yellow stopped. It came toward the window, but slowly. Hesitant. I kept screaming. Finally, a woman's face peered in, and we were saved. As soon as she saw our predicament, this heavy-set older lady shoved open the window and climbed through like a firefighter. It was dramatic and hilarious and something I never want to do again.
Recently someone asked me about recovery meetings. What were they really about? And why do I keep going if I don't drink anymore?
"It would take a while to explain," I started. And then I realized it was really very simple. "At first, we go there to ask for help," I told her. "And then we keep going so that when someone else asks for help, we're there to hear them."
There's more to it, to be sure. But asking for help is in some ways the main part, probably because it's the hardest part. When you remember that addiction is by nature an isolating phenomenon, it's no wonder the solution requires us to move in the opposite direction. For many of us, getting trapped by an addiction is our first experience of something we simply can't conquer on our own.
We're all but forced to learn how to yell for help.
Of course, even whispering, "I need help," or "I'm stuck and scared," or "I'm trapped by my obsession," is never easy. But in a way, that's the point. As soon as we give up hope that we can save ourselves from ourselves, as soon as we're willing to put down our pride and cry out for rescue, God shows up in a yellow shirt. And we are saved.
I'd love to hear about a time when you had to ask for help. How hard was it?
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