139: How to Break Free From Hopelessness and Find Hope in Times of Despair with Julie Sanford

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How can we find hope when times are difficult?  We may have hope when times are easy, but what happens when that hope turns to despair and we’re plagued with negative thoughts of hopelessness? Even if we have faith in God, when there is something so terrible, so difficult, so unimaginable happening in front of us, hope can feel really far away. 

Today we are talking about how to break free from hopelessness and rise above hard times to find bravery and courage and to believe that God is going to come through.

How can we find hope when times are difficult? Learn how to break free from hopelessness to find courage and to believe that God is going to come through.

Today’s podcast guest is my friend Julie Sanford, and Julie is sharing her story about a period when her family was walking through addiction.  A deep sense of hopelessness began to invade her heart, and she will share what she learned from that experience as well as how she helps other women walking through a season of addiction with a loved one.


  • [1:29] About Julie Sanford
  • [2:32] Julie’s family’s journey through addiction
  • [5:03] How feelings of despair made it difficult to find hope
  • [7:00] The impact of hopelessness on Julie’s relationship with God
  • [9:09] The turning point: putting faith in God in order to find hope
  • [11:46] Julie’s advice for someone struggling with a desire to control or fix a difficult situation
  • [15:47] What not to say to someone going through a season of despair or hopelessness
  • [23:03] How to encourage someone to find hope during a time of despair
  • [25:36] Knowing God and His character can help with finding hope and building trust
  • [26:57] Scripture that helped Julie to find hope during her family’s difficult season
  • [32:58] TODAY’S LISTENER SUBMITTED QUESTION: How can I get past the fear of even looking at some of these negative thoughts I have?  What is the first step to take?

[1:29] About Julie Sanford

Julie is a wife, and a mom of three who found herself in a situation that she never wanted to be in: the wife of an alcoholic. After navigating that incredibly difficult road for several years, and walking with her husband through the darkness of addiction and into sobriety, God called her to use every bit of it for His good. Julie now helps other wives of alcoholics navigate their husbands’ addictions without losing themselves in the process.  She also shows them how to restore their often troubled relationships with God. I love her story, I love her ministry, and I love her willingness to be vulnerable and share about some of these really dark moments.

Even if we can’t relate to Julie’s story completely, we can understand and relate to the sense of hopelessness that she felt. Someone walking through a difficult season will be encouraged by what she learned, and how God brought her through that season and gave her hope when things seemed hopeless.

Note: In this episode, we talk about sensitive topics surrounding addiction and its challenges.

[2:32] Julie’s family’s journey through addiction

At the time we recorded this podcast episode, Julie had been married to her husband for almost 13 years. When they met, they were both casual drinkers. It was a small part of their relationship and didn’t seem to be an issue at the time. 

Fast forward several years, and her husband lost his dad. That was the turning point when Julie started to wonder if there was a problem. After her husband lost his dad, he experienced depression. He would go through periods where he could barely get out of bed, and his addiction overtook his life and his family’s lives. Through his recovery process, it was discovered that he had bipolar disorder. This was likely an underlying factor to his alcoholism, in combination with the impetus of losing his father.

[5:03] How feelings of despair made it difficult to find hope

Julie remembers feeling a lot of confusion, because no one really knew what was going on. Her husband told her that he was drinking because something else was wrong, but they didn’t understand what else could be happening. They weren’t able to uncover it for quite some time, and Julie would go back and forth between sympathy and anger. Alcohol affected her husband negatively, and of course that spilled out into the rest of the family. It changed who he was and how he reacted to his family. There was a lot of fighting, because Julie felt completely unequipped to deal with the situation.

Julie recalls going back and forth between wanting to help him and being so mad at him. She had a lot of anger and resentment toward him, as well as toward God. She had been raised in the church and she wondered why this was happening to her, to her husband, and to her family.  It was a confusing time, and there were a lot of different emotions at play.

[7:00] The impact of hopelessness on Julie’s relationship with God

During that time, Julie admits to feeling completely distant from God. Before her husband got treatment, they struggled with his addiction for over two years. Two years may not seem very long in the grand scheme of life, Julie admits. But she says when we are dealing with trauma day in and day out for over two years, however, it feels like an absolute eternity. 

Although she grew up as a Christian, Julie remembers doubting God and thinking, “You can’t be real because you’re not showing up”. She wondered why He wasn’t showing up, and why He was taking so long. 

Julie’s husband tried to take his life twice during his struggle, and it felt like the pain was never going to end. And if it did end, she was convinced the situation was going to end badly. It didn’t seem like God was anywhere, and Julie struggled with her faith quite a bit. She now assures other women that this is normal. It doesn’t make anyone a horrible Christian or a horrible person. If we don’t return to Him and to our faith at some point, it ultimately will make the whole journey that much harder, she says. Even though she struggled with her faith, it ultimately was what sustained her in the long run.

[9:09] The turning point: putting faith in God in order to find hope

Julie was back and forth with her faith, and as the time went on she felt herself pulling away. There is a turning point, however, that she remembers clearly. She felt like she had tried everything, done everything, and researched everything. She didn’t know what else to do, and she had nothing left. She was at the end of her rope. She had no faith or hope left.

One day, she was in the shower and she was so angry and so distraught. She turned the water on as hot as she could stand it, and she stood in the shower and screamed at God asking for help. It wasn’t long after that, that her husband agreed to go to treatment and things started turning around. Julie felt as though He was waiting for her to get out of the way in some regards. He knew she had been struggling with her faith, as well as struggling to fix the situation and control everything.

She felt like she’d finally come to the end of herself. She fell on her face and said, “We can’t do this. You’ve got to take over,” and it felt like the turning point. It really was just letting go and letting God, and Julie shares that she wishes she had gotten to that point earlier. She feels like they struggled longer than they needed to, because her voice was louder in her husband’s ear than God’s voice for a long time. She was trying to run the show and change things, but ultimately faith ended up sustaining them and changing things. God showed up. It was just a matter of timing, and letting Him do what He was supposed to be doing in the situation.

[11:46] Julie’s advice for someone struggling with a desire to control or fix a difficult situation

Julie sees the desire to control and to fix situations as a knee-jerk reaction. She describes herself as a “fixer” – whenever somebody comes to her with a problem, she wants to fix it. She wants to put together a plan. She also sees it as human nature, to some extent. When a problem comes up, we want to know what we need to do. It’s almost like fight or flight.

Julie notes that some of that is normal, but we need to temper that by saying, “Okay God, what am I supposed to do?” instead of jumping in and doing it from our human perspective. She says often what feels like what we’re supposed to do is the absolute opposite of what is going to be effective or beneficial. Without consulting God or trying to get any guidance from Him, we are just jumping into action. In Julie’s experience, that usually doesn’t turn out the way we hope it will.

It can be really hard to break out of that initial response pattern. Julie says, first and foremost, before we react we need to ask for help and guidance. We will then start to see things popping up – whether we see it in the written word, something someone says to us, or a change in the situation – and we will recognize that as potentially being direction from the Lord.

In her experience, Julie thinks it would have been really important to take a second and just take it to prayer. She adds that if we just give ourselves a minute to take that deep breath and take it to the Lord, it can give us the space to separate ourselves from our heightened emotions and counterproductive reactions. It is difficult to stop in that moment and stay quiet, but sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all.

[15:47] What not to say to someone going through a season of despair or hopelessness

We often want to give advice when someone is going through a difficult time. It’s well-meaning advice, and we have that person’s best interest at heart. A lot of times we say things, however, that are not helpful in the moment. Julie shares that a lot of people told her that she needed to leave or she needed to kick her husband out. Period.

There are a lot of layers to addiction, and it’s not really a cut and dry decision like that, she says. She encourages women to hold back on unsolicited advice because that our voice could be adding confusion to what they are ultimately supposed to hear from God. God is that person’s compass – not a sister, a mother, a friend, or anyone else, she says. 

In Julie’s situation, she was aware of the stigma and judgment surrounding addiction. She and her family tried to hide a lot of what was going on from their family and friends, making it hard to ask for help. Yet there were times when Julie needed someone to watch her kids, or pick one of them up from school. So she says instead of offering advice to someone struggling with hopelessness a good thing to do instead is just to say, “How can I help?”  If we ask someone how we can help in a non-judgmental way, that can make a huge difference, she says. 

Julie thinks there is definitely a place for trusting God through times of despair, but noted that telling people to just “pray away the problem” is to only acknowledge one piece of the puzzle. 

Yet, as a Christian, Julie knows that thoughts can run through our heads like, “Am I not a good enough Christian? What have I done wrong? Why is God mad at me? Why is God punishing my husband?” She says asking someone how we can pray for them is huge, because they really just need our prayers and not our judgment.

[23:03] How to encourage someone to find hope during a time of despair

The first thing Julie would say is that we have to understand we are going through trauma. We have to give ourselves some grace and some space. If the dishes don’t get done, they don’t get done. If the laundry isn’t clean, it isn’t clean. If we need help, ask for help. Don’t hide. She encourages us to not try to manage it all ourselves because it isn’t going to work out. 

As far as encouragement and hope, Julie never would have believed that she would be where she is now. When she was sitting on the floor of her closet for the 55th time in a row, with tears streaming down her face, trying to get up the courage to go downstairs and be a normal mom for another two hours, if we had told her that she would be on a podcast someday talking about how her husband had been sober for four years and their marriage had been restored, she never would have believed us. No matter how dark your place is right now, there is hope and there is restoration, she says.

Of course, Julie can’t know what is going to happen in any particular situation. She says, “If you’re in a place where you never believe that that’s coming, I was there too and now I’m here.”  She encourages us to keep the faith, and recognizes that it feels really hard to lean in closer to God while going through something like this. He feels so far away, but if we force ourselves to lean in and ask for help, He will meet us where we are. We weren’t supposed to carry this by ourselves, so we need to muster the courage and strength we need to surrender to Him, she says. He will step in.

 [25:36] Knowing God and His character can help with finding hope and building trust

Even when Julie doubted God, deep down she knew it was going to be okay. Nothing around her looked like it was going to be okay, but there was always a tiny (sometimes, very tiny) knowing of reassurance somehow. She wasn’t tapped into that all the time, but looking back now she thinks that was her faith. She knew that God was living inside of her on some level, in her spirit. That anchor was there the whole time, giving her courage to get through the day to day – even when it felt like the hardest thing to do.

[26:57] Scriptures that helped Julie to find hope during her family’s difficult season

Because God does his best work in weakness Julie says 2 Corinthians 12:9 is a powerful verse for her. She reminds us that God doesn’t wait to show up, and then pat us on the back for being strong and fixing things. We need Him to show up in weakness because that is where we need a guide.

Julie also shared about the power of Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” That rest is the supernatural rest, she says. It’s rest for the soul, and it’s peace of mind that we can’t get anywhere else. It doesn’t matter how dark things are, or what is going on in life, we can rest that way with God. He can give us what we need to make it through another day.

We talked about how rest is a great gift when we are going through something so overwhelming and challenging. When we feel like there are no answers and we aren’t sure how to keep going, that’s when God gives us rest. It’s that supernatural ability to let everything go: all the worries and cares inside of us. We feel safe and held, and we know that God has this. It’s a deep place of comfort, peace, and protection from what is happening. We usually have to be in a place where we are broken and weak before we really learn about that kind of dependence on God. When you come out of these kinds of seasons, you know the intimacy of what it means to walk with Christ.

[32:58] TODAY’S LISTENER SUBMITTED QUESTION: How can I get past the fear of even looking at some of these negative thoughts I have? What is the first step to take?

This is a great question, because a lot of us struggle with negative thoughts and feel overwhelmed looking at them because they’re very scary. If we look at them, then something else could come up. We self-sabotage, and we find ourselves running away. This is why a lot of people never even really address these negative issues.

So first, I want to commend this listener for recognizing that there is a need to look at this, while also acknowledging the fear involved. I would encourage us to normalize the idea that we all struggle with negative thoughts. Every single person faces these, although our negative thoughts are different depending on our core broken soundtracks and traumas. That is part of being human, and there is a reason for them. Acknowledging them with compassion versus instantly shutting them down, is important. Understanding and recognizing that there are reasons for these negative thoughts can help us to move through the fear to the other side of it.

In addition, we need to acknowledge that God is with us through this. He wants to help us, and He can use this as an opportunity to grow closer to Him. This may be His gentle way of telling us how much He loves us. He wants us to grow in a particular area. He is giving us the courage to step forward, because we know God is with us.

After thinking through this process, we can start with something really simple. We can write out our thoughts in a journal, for example. We do something called “morning pages” in the Christian Mindset Makeover, where we write down whatever is in our heart or on our mind every day. It doesn’t have to be profound, but it moves the thoughts around in our heads and gets them down on paper. It’s “mental flossing”, so to speak. We do it just to see what is there.  We can analyze it in our heads, but we see so much more when we get everything out on paper.  This is a great first step. 






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