John Bradshaw - Happily Ever After?
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Everybody has dreams, and we like to think that our dreams come true, but they don't always. What happens when you have dreams, big dreams, life goals, and those dreams come crashing down around you? And when they do, what then? Is God able to give back to you what was taken away? My special guest today is Juliet Van Heerden. She is an author, public speaker. She is a teacher and the wife of a pastor. Juliet's story is a story experienced by many people all around the world. Juliet, thanks for joining me today and sharing your story. I appreciate you being here.
Juliet Van Heerden: Thank you for the invitation.
John Bradshaw: Hey, let's go back to about where you think the beginning is. Where does your story, it's a fascinating story; it's a moving story, a very powerful story, and a story that's going to impact a lot of lives as you share it. So where does this story begin?
Juliet Van Heerden: I grew up in a Christian, um, family, Christian home. My mom is a very, um, devout Christian woman. But I am the product of divorce, and my parents divorced when I was four. And then when I was 14, um, there was another divorce. And so I was a child who experienced the feelings of abandonment and the idea that happily ever after doesn't always turn out that way. And I made a vow to myself as a child that I would never get divorced. And I didn't want that legacy, and that was a promise that I made to myself and really ended up trying very hard to keep.
John Bradshaw: So, as you were journeying through life towards the fulfillment of all your plans and dreams, where did that journey take you?
Juliet Van Heerden: I graduated from college, and I thought that I was being left behind as I was the bridesmaid in several weddings and not the bride. And so I feel like probably I rushed God a little bit and pushed ahead and chose a mate for myself that might not have been the mate He would have chosen for me.
John Bradshaw: Walk, walk through that dynamic with me. You got married along the way. Tell me how that, how that came to be. Tell me about the circumstances around your marriage.
Juliet Van Heerden: I ended up making a decision to marry a person that I probably would not have consciously chosen, but sometimes, as a young person, we'll make a compromise. And I tell young people when I speak to them, "Be careful who you date. Be careful who you go on one date with because that person might end up being the person you spend the rest of your life with". And I tell my students, "Do your homework," but I didn't do mine, and I did not even know what questions to ask a potential spouse. I didn't, um, I just didn't research. I took everything at face value. I was a very trusting person.
John Bradshaw: I remember saying to my fiancée, "Check me out; do your homework. Go and talk to the people who make up the fabric of my life".
Juliet Van Heerden: That's right.
John Bradshaw: I was scared to death when she actually did.
Juliet Van Heerden: Ah, but it's good.
John Bradshaw: When she did that and then said "I do" was one of the biggest surprises of my life, but... So that's the sort of thing you're talking about, right?
Juliet Van Heerden: Mm-hm. Accountability.
John Bradshaw: Yeah. So how do you marry someone without really knowing them? You did.
Juliet Van Heerden: Right. Well, I mean, you get caught up in the moment. You, you believe a person. You take, you take what you see at this moment, and you don't realize that there's something behind what you see. So, I mean, I just felt, I felt excited that someone was interested in me, that they, um, enjoyed some of the same things that I enjoyed. Yes, we had a little bit different, um, background, but I was an optimist. I thought that whatever wasn't just right I could make right. And, um, I recently heard a sermon where, uh, someone said women need, need to not think of men as projects, and men need to not think of women as possessions. And, um, I think I like a project, and so that might have been part of it, um, a challenge that, you know, you can, you can change a person.
John Bradshaw: So in your experience you discovered you can't change a person?
Juliet Van Heerden: No.
John Bradshaw: Did you try?
Juliet Van Heerden: Oh, yes.
John Bradshaw: How did you try?
Juliet Van Heerden: Mm. I manipulated. I tried to control the person. I tried to, um, force them into my mold. And you can't take a person who is who they are and try to make them someone that you want them to be. But when I realized things weren't exactly, um, happily ever after for me, I was really trying very hard to make this person fit into, into what I thought was the mold for a good Christian husband.
John Bradshaw: So you've got to accept some imperfections, some limitations, right?
Juliet Van Heerden: Of course.
John Bradshaw: ...in a person. But there are some things you should never accept and think that you're going to be able to change. How do we know where that line is?
Juliet Van Heerden: Well, knowing ourselves is important, you know, knowing, knowing what I can live with and what I, what I can't, because no one's perfect. I mean, I wasn't a perfect, um, spouse or a perfect person, either, and I didn't, um, I really just, I wasn't sure what to do with the things that I saw that weren't right, but I think honesty is like a core foundational, uh, piece. If, if we have a question about a person's integrity or about their honesty, or if we catch them in a lie or something like that, then we really need to not brush, I would say that to any woman, don't brush that under the rug. Really have your radar up. If you get that feeling like something's fishy, something's not right, follow through with that. Don't ignore that. Because if we are, if we are dealing with a person who's not honest, then we're going to have serious problems.
John Bradshaw: Now, if you detect dishonesty before you walk down the aisle?
Juliet Van Heerden: Run.
John Bradshaw: If you detect it after you walk down the aisle, what do we do then?
Juliet Van Heerden: Pray. I experienced it. I experienced it, shortly after I walked down the aisle. Um, I was, I was able to catch the person in the lie. And it was devastating. And I really didn't know what to do. I wanted to undo what I had done, but remember the vow that I made to myself: I'm never going to get divorced. So what do I do? Well, then you kick into this "I can change this person. I can fix this person". Uh, and your prayers become all about "God change this person," and you forget that you're also a broken person in need of a Savior.
John Bradshaw: You say the thing to do is to pray.
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: But I'm certain you would advocate some other concrete steps. Who do you talk to? I know it will, I know it will depend on what your spouse is involved in.
Juliet Van Heerden: What's going on, of course.
John Bradshaw: But who are the type of people you can turn to when you're in a marriage and you think to yourself, "Oh, my goodness, this is not what I signed up for"?
Juliet Van Heerden: No, I would definitely find a trusted, um, friend, counselor. Um, I advocate for recovery groups and a support system where, where we can be transparent about what's really going on. I wish that I had been. If I had been honest and transparent and listened to godly counsel, I might have made some different decisions, but I just walled up and kept everything close to me.
John Bradshaw: How do you advise a young woman or a young man who is staring the rest of his or her life in the face and now realizing, uh-oh. How do they go about extricating themselves from that?
Juliet Van Heerden: Taking a break from the intensity, the emotional intensity of what's going on, and sometimes if things are wrong, um, it's more intense. There will be pressure from a person to make a quick decision: "Let's just do this". You know, that's when you need to raise your eyebrow and go, "Wait a second. We don't need to rush this thing". If it's really a solid thing and a good thing, it will still be there. But give yourself a moment to breathe, to pray, to listen to people you trust, and, um, and come back and say, "Is this, is this true? Or is this emotion I'm riding"?
John Bradshaw: In just a moment, when we come back, I wanna, I want to walk with you through your experience, your experience that led to divorce, what went wrong, what might you have done better, and, uh, in doing so, your story's going to be a help and a blessing to many other people. We'll be right back with my conversation with Juliet Van Heerden in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw, and my guest is public speaker, author, and teacher Juliet Van Heerden. Juliet, let's go back to, we spoke to the issues surrounding about, surrounding marriages and mistakes and who to speak to and when and so on, but let's talk about your experience. You walk down the aisle. You said "I do". You were the happiest girl in the world.
Juliet Van Heerden: I was. And I thought that I was doing right because I did marry someone who was a Christian, and, um, who had promised to come to church, and we did pray together. So there were, there were a lot of things that were positive and right and good, and we had a relationship that I felt was real. And, um, then I started noticing that things were not always what they seemed to be.
John Bradshaw: What did you notice that really bothered you?
Juliet Van Heerden: I call him "John". It's not his real name, but we'll call him "John" because I want him to be like a real person, and, um, I'm definitely not wanting to vilify him as a person.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Juliet Van Heerden: He was, you know, a human being. But when, when money wasn't accounted for, when, uh, things didn't add up, stories didn't add up. Uh, we started getting into debt. He would have unexplained illness a lot of times. A lot of accidents would happen to him. He worked in construction. And sometimes weird things would happen that, you know, the staple gun went through the hand, or you know, just, just too many accidents.
John Bradshaw: And what was it?
Juliet Van Heerden: It was cocaine.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask this first, and then I'll ask for your response. When did you realize you were married to a drug addict?
Juliet Van Heerden: Yeah, it was basically kind of all around the same time.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Juliet Van Heerden: But he was so addicted by that time that he was, like it was kind of life or death at that point in time. And I had reached out to someone, to a substance-abuse counselor, and they said, "Look, it's going to be the cemetery or the rehab. Your choice". That's what they said to him.
John Bradshaw: What did he choose?
Juliet Van Heerden: He chose the rehab.
John Bradshaw: How did it go?
Juliet Van Heerden: I thought it went great. I thought it went great. He checked in for, for 28 days, and he did stay clean.
John Bradshaw: So things turned around?
Juliet Van Heerden: Mm-hm.
John Bradshaw: For how long?
Juliet Van Heerden: For a while.
John Bradshaw: Yeah?
Juliet Van Heerden: For a while. Um...
John Bradshaw: And how did you notice?
Juliet Van Heerden: I...
John Bradshaw: How did you notice that things were no longer going well?
Juliet Van Heerden: Oh, man, I never knew. Like, it was, I never knew. Even those first six years of marriage, like, sometimes he was using, sometimes he wasn't; sometimes he was clean; sometimes he wasn't. I never knew where he was because I think he didn't want to be the slave to this, either.
John Bradshaw: What would he be like when he relapsed? How would that affect him emotionally and physically?
Juliet Van Heerden: Well, once he got clean and sober, he was back to normal, and we would just try to go on with life, you know, back to church, back to work, back to, you know, tried to have some semblance of normalcy in our marriage. And, um, and then when he would relapse, he would just disappear. He would disappear, sometimes for days, usually on a Friday because that's payday, and, um, you know, come home when the money was gone.
John Bradshaw: You've said you like a project, and you like to fix things.
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: So did you get about fixing him?
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Did you think, "Okay, we're gonna fix this"? How did you endeavor to fix it?
Juliet Van Heerden: So, I was afraid that he was gonna die. I was afraid that he was gonna OD. I was afraid that someone would find out about our dirty family secret. And so I tried to control everything. I tried to control every penny. You, you have your boss write the paycheck to me. I'm going to control the finances, and I'll give you an allowance, just what you need. But that was the way that I coped. Um, crack down and control. Well, then you're not a spouse; you're, you're a mother, a bad one, you know.
John Bradshaw: And, and evidently that's not what you planned.
Juliet Van Heerden: No.
John Bradshaw: What was that doing to you?
Juliet Van Heerden: No. It was tearing me up. I was, I was sick. I had ulcers. I was, um, constantly stressed out. I was... The controlling thing just didn't work. But I couldn't stop being controlling.
John Bradshaw: How many people, I'm getting ahead of myself here, how common is this in church? Not just in society, in church, for families to be dealing with someone who's battling addiction issues, how common?
Juliet Van Heerden: I would venture to say every family has someone that they love or care about who's addicted to something, either chemical dependency, um, pornography.
John Bradshaw: As your husband was descending into self-destruction, and your marriage was starting to unravel, what was this doing to you spiritually?
Juliet Van Heerden: I was really having a spiritual awakening. I was, I was learning to trust God and to love Him and to know that He loved me. I, it makes me just emotional just thinking about how God opened my eyes to His love for me. And I grew up knowing about God's love, singing "Jesus loves me, this I know". I knew what God's Word said, but through that experience I learned to trust Him.
John Bradshaw: See, I can imagine a person saying, "Spiritually I was devastated, and I felt like I was a million miles from God," and I know that happens to people. It didn't happen to you. What was going on that this experience drew you closer to God? This, I think is a, is a very key point because a lot of people end up adrift and without hope.
Juliet Van Heerden: Right.
John Bradshaw: What was it about you or your experience or your upbringing or your faith community that saw this experience draw you closer to God? What made the difference?
Juliet Van Heerden: You know, I should have spoken with others, but I didn't. And so God was who I talked to, and I talked to Him, like when I was driving to school, I would have to put myself together because to be able to smile and be sweet to first grade children, you know, you have to, you have to get it together before you get to school. And so that was my time where I would just pour my heart out to God as I'm driving. Like, "Lord, I, I've got work to do today. I need You to help me. Help me focus on loving these kids". And He would do it. Like, I could just feel the peace of God come over me, and I could do my work; I could do my job. I could, I could love on the kids at school. And, and when I poured my heart out to the Lord, He came, and He was very real to me.
John Bradshaw: So where would you be now, do you think, if you didn't have God to lean on?
Juliet Van Heerden: I would have driven my car off a bridge or slit my wrists or done something awful.
John Bradshaw: And something kept you from that?
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes. I didn't, I didn't want to hurt Him. I didn't want to hurt my friend God. And I believe that you're not ever alone. We are never alone.
John Bradshaw: We're going to talk about that in just a moment. He's always there, and He's always for you. More of my conversation with Juliet Van Heerden in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. My guest, Juliet Van Heerden, is sharing her story of addiction, codependency, recovery, and the miracle of God's restoration in her life. Okay. Your husband is drug-addicted. He's lying; he's sick; he's in and out of rehab; your home has been robbed. You were divorced. How'd that happen? How did you finally get to the point, or how did circumstances bring you to the place where this is over and it's not getting better?
Juliet Van Heerden: Um, well, "John" just said to me, "I am tired of living the double life. I don't want to be the Christian husband that you want me to be. I want to drink what I want, smoke what I want, watch what I want, snort what I want". And I was able to walk away feeling relieved.
John Bradshaw: I wanted to ask you about that. When he says, "I'm done".
Juliet Van Heerden: Mm-hm.
John Bradshaw: Was there pain by that stage? You said "relief". So, it wasn't as painful as if he'd said that a number of years earlier?
Juliet Van Heerden: I just felt like I had done my absolute best and given it everything that I could possibly do, but a person is free to make their own choices.
John Bradshaw: Offer a word of encouragement to somebody who might be in the situation that you were in then, and they feel like, "If I don't hang in here to the grim death, then somehow I've let God down". How do you know, how do you know when you've done your best, and it's time to let go?
Juliet Van Heerden: Well, I think, I think the Lord lets us know. And sometimes we hang on... beyond the point where God has released us. And it is not God's desire for anyone to be in an abusive situation. And I had a very difficult time using the word "abuse" to describe, um, my marriage. But, as I look back, I can say I was in an abusive marriage. I was being financially abused. I was being emotionally neglected, verbally abused. And, and so, as I look at that, I know that's not God's will, and that, and that's not God's plan for us. We need to be safe. And sometimes God makes provision for, for people. Um, He says He hates divorce. Yes, He does because it's painful and devastating. But there is provision. There are, there are times when it's a relief.
John Bradshaw: Back up a few years.
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: You were worried that someone might learn your dirty little secret. Now, years later...
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: ...the secret's out, and yet people embraced you.
Juliet Van Heerden: They embraced me, and they loved me. And they loved "John" through it, too. I mean, once we started sharing, we found that people embraced us and loved us through it. And it was beautiful to just be like, oh, I don't have to carry this burden of a secret anymore. So, I would encourage people: Please share. Find a safe place and share with somebody. Don't hold it.
John Bradshaw: Along the way, you wrote a book.
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: "Same Dress, Different Day".
Juliet Van Heerden: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Why did you write the book?
Juliet Van Heerden: Believe me, I didn't want to. Um, for, for doing public speaking now and for being a teacher, I'm actually an introvert, and I'm a very private person. And that's why I kept my mouth closed for so long about things. I did not want to write this book. I am a writer. I love to write. But I was, you know, journaling and writing for myself, never thinking I would tell my story to other people. But the Holy Spirit just kept on me about this, that, that you need to share this story because it will bring hope to others. And as a pastor's wife, I started hearing the stories of people in church who were suffering, families that are suffering with the same kind of problems that I experienced. And I really had so much compassion for them, and, and a few people said to me, "You need to share your story. You need to write your story. You need to write your story".
And I kept putting it off. And I knew it would be difficult because I was happy; I was living the happily ever after. Who wants to go back and think about that stuff? And in order to write well, you need to relive it in your mind. But, um, Andre, my husband, he gave me permission to do it. He set me, it was very gracious of him as a man, he gave me permission to go back and to relive that pain and to write about "John" and to, um, to share my story. And it took me about three years from start to finish, um, because it was hard. I would write a bit, and then I'd take a long break. But it was published in 2015, and the responses from readers has been... It hurts me so much to hear what they have to say. They say to me, "You're telling my story".
John Bradshaw: Give some advice to that, that woman especially, doesn't have to be a woman...
Juliet Van Heerden: Mm-hm.
John Bradshaw: ...who's in a relationship that's just spiraling downwards. Nothing he or she can do about it. There's addictions, or whatever the case is. Where should they go?
Juliet Van Heerden: No, and, and Dr. Larry Crabb says, "Healing takes place in community". So we need to find a community of people where we feel safe, and where we're not alone in our suffering; our suffering is, sorrow is divided. Um, and I would, I would suggest finding a local, um, Christ-centered recovery, um, group, recovery community. Al-Anon is a wonderful resource. Um, find a group that meets regularly for codependents. There's Codependents Anonymous where, uh, that's those of us who, who get caught in the cycle of rescuing that loved one. Um, not everyone can afford counseling, professional counseling. It's a wonderful resource, if you can. But if you can't, there are people, um, who meet regularly and talk and share and, um. And be a reader. Um, learn about addiction. Learn about boundaries. Learn about codependency. Find out, um, about yourself and what you can do, and then find a safe place where you can share and grow and heal. There is hope.
John Bradshaw: Juliet, let's pray together. Let's pray:
Our Father in heaven, we are grateful that You are the God who gives. You don't take away. You give. You restore. You remake. Thank You that You are never done with us, that You always love us. You don't turn from us, even when we turn from You. Our Father, I want to pray right now for that woman, that man, that young person, who is struggling as life crashes down around them, and allow that the challenges of this life would only turn us in Your direction, to embrace You, and never to turn us away from You. Lord, we thank You, and we love You, and we pray in Jesus' name, amen.