Recovery


Today marks another milestone along my journey of recovery. The abuse I experienced which resulted in PTSD, trauma, and many years of struggle occurred six years ago today. In some ways it feels like six decades of struggle I have walked through, but in other ways it feels like it just happened.

Each year has held milestones along my journey, but this year more than any other has been the turning point. It has been a year of big steps, significant change and healing, and moving clearly in a new direction.

  • Joined the core leadership team of a church plant, one that really wants to reach the lost and broken
  • Started actively serving with six organizations in my community (most of these organizations sought me out which was an answer to a prayer that the Lord would open doors when he felt I was ready)
  • Began networking with people in my community and all over the nation
  • Helped run a major medical/dental clinic to serve my community
  • Joined with a group addressing human trafficking and hoping to raise awareness in the church about trauma
  • Started a book about what I have learned through my journey
  • Recognized the roots of my issues come from deep shame and started that recovery journey
  • Began openly speaking about and sharing the testimony of the changes Christ has brought into my life this year+
  • Last week I was notified that the pastor from my last church is finally ready to meet and attempt to reconcile

As I move into next year I already know of two major milestones that lie ahead

  • I will be leading a recovery group for abuse and trauma
  • I will be a part of a special program. Through that I hope there are outcomes that raise awareness of trauma and recovery, and teaches that brokenness and “not being okay” are beautiful things.

Tonight I had a chance to share part of my testimony with a friend who didn’t know anything about my past. He listened and personally identified with parts of my journey of trauma and recovery.

As I left, he stopped me and going out of his way to make an impact he looked he straight in the eyes and said, “You are a hero. It is incredible to hear the story and learn more about the depth that exists. You truly are a hero.”

To those of you who are also on this journey of recovery, and who face the daily struggle to recover from abuse, I want to say “You are a hero!” You daily face challenges that others don’t understand. You find courage to keep trying. You stand up for others who face injustice. You take steps forward, even when you don’t want to. Thank you for your courage and strength. You are heroes, and you are making an impact and a difference.

You are right. I’m a mess.

I know that. I live that.

You see, I am a mess, but I choose to believe.

I believe in a big God.

I believe in a Savior

I believe in new life

I believe he can and will turn it into something more

I believe I can be changed

I believe that he can use a broken, messed up, anxious, hurting, life in huge ways

I believe that he can redeem

I believe in second chances

I believe I am not forsaken

I believe I am not lost, but am found

I believe that there is a plan for my future and my hope

I believe, and I choose, oh how I choose

I may be broken, messed up, and anxious, but

I KNOW I am saved, chosen, and anointed.

I choose Him. He already chose me.

My God is an amazing God, and I will fight for his glory.

Even if I have to limp, crawl, cry, and make a mess along the way.

Sometimes circumstances leave you behind a rock and a hard place, and no option looks or feels good.

That is how it may feel to be authentic and transparent about your life.

You know your past, you know the story, you know the good, the bad, the lame, the extreme, and you know the parts that might live better hidden under a rock. Do you have any of those pieces? Pieces of your story that you are not proud of? Pieces of your story that you may be coming to terms with, but others don’t want you to tell? Do you have pieces of your story that could hurt others, and therefore you are not sure what to do with them?

When my life intertwines with others, then my story becomes our story. My story no longer exists alone.

It is hard to learn to own our story. We may be willing to accept the parts of our story that we feel responsible for, but not those parts that are imposed or inflicted upon us. When our stories involve others it is difficult to know how to own our story, and what to share with others. That is especially true if the story could hurt others.

Some of us have stories where we are hurt, disillusioned, and victimized. Church and spiritual abuse typically occurs at the hands of leaders, and many people feel it is wrong to speak against leaders or to say anything that might damage their reputation. However, not being allowed to share our stories can leave us in silence, shame, and bondage. Those things are not healthy, and they keep us from being authentic and transparent. They keep us from growing and having healthy, mature, and authentic faith lives.

Sharing our stories does not need to be a black and white issue. There are some guidelines that can help in knowing when, where, and what to share.

1) Own your story: Are you willing to accept your story for what it is? This includes being realistic about what happened, and not denying it. Accepting it means being able to state facts about what happened with little to no shaping of your own perspectives and agendas. It also means taking responsibility for your part of the story and accepting things you did wrong. In my story I had to accept my sin, my failures, my false theologies and beliefs, and my poor communication and relationships.

2) Check your heart: If you are going to share your story, take time to ask why. If you are only telling your story because you need to work through issues, then choose an audience who will help you do that. This will typically be people you see face-to-face, and I believe it is best done in community and relationships and not just in a counselor’s office. A time may come to share your story (or elements of it) to a larger audience like a bible study, a church group, in a written newsletter/article, on a blog, or in a book. Knowing the condition of your heart and why you are sharing are critical when you start to speak beyond those who are closest and most intimate with you. If you are not sharing for the right purposes, then please stop and take your heart to the Lord to have it changed.

3) Guard your words: When our stories intertwine with others, anything we say can reflect poorly on others involved. Checking our heart is the first step of guarding our words, but even if our intentions and purposes of sharing are correct, we still need to be very careful that our words are shaped in a way to redeem, build up, strengthen, give life, and encourage. Our words can hurt and destroy. Take time and make very determined effort to speak words that will bring life, hope, and healing. You do not need to tell everything to express your story, and if you are testifying about what God has done your focus will be his work, and not the deeds of other humans and how they might have failed you/God/others.

4) Seek to bring God glory: What better purpose is there in sharing our story than to bring glory to God? This actually might be the only reason to share our story beyond our closest circle, but our stories are also a work in progress and always changing. If all we do is seeking to glorify God and to bring him glory then our words, our purposes, our heart will all be focused on that. We will not have room in our heart or mouths to speak things that lash out, destroy, or bring malicious damage to others.

5) Give grace: Give others and yourself a great deal of grace. Even in the best of situations there is room for things to be misspoken, misunderstood, or shared with a perspective others do not share. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Be willing to correct and change things in your story if needed to clarify so others have the correct understanding. Be open when others are critical about you sharing, and allow them to speak their disapproval. It might be that their disapproval will change if voiced, or there could be room for compromise. Also, give grace to yourself. Sharing your story may open the door for shame, guilt, criticism, anger, frustration, or denial to surface. Take the time to feel what comes up, and to walk into the painful and difficult parts of the journey. Be realistic that you are a broken person who needs a savior, and even with all the Lord has done in your life up until now, there is still more that needs to be done.

If it is time for you to share our story and the situation is correct, then share it with a heart to glorify God. Speak with boldness, grace, and love.

Tell of how the Lord has brought you through, opened your heart/eyes, and how he is writing you a new story. You do not need to live in silence, shame, guilt, or secrecy. Be honest, be transparent, be authentic and real. Your story is your own, all of it! Sharing your story and confessing things might be the door that opens your life up to the freedom that only Christ can bring.

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

It begins with Children’s Mental Health week May 1st to May 9th.

Depression is one of the greatest issues of mental health. One in every three people will suffer from it at some point in our lives. It is not a sign of weakness. It is an illness that can be cured. Depression is something that people of all ages, all genders, all races, and all religious may experience. It is not a sign of a weakness, nor is it something that we should be ashamed of. Often it is a sign that someone has been trying to be strong for too long, carrying the load alone for far too long.

Spend some time this month growing in your awareness of mental health this month:
  • Educate yourself and/or others about mental health issues
  • Attend a workshop/seminar/discussion group/support group
  • Assist someone who is working through an issue with their mental health
  • Talk with someone who either has or is working on an issue with their mental health and learn about their story
  • Serve a charity or organization in your community that provides mental health services
  • Encourage others to grow in their awareness of mental health
  • Uplift and support others in their pursuit of good mental health
  • Become an advocate for children, including their mental health
  • Look into what the Bible says about mental health, healthy living, and how powerful God is to change even those who are struggling with depression, trauma, PTSD, and other mental health issues

I received information today about the “charges” from my last church. The information still is not concrete with specific actions that I did and how that was sinful, but instead are vague generalities about the pastors’ struggle to communicate with me and how he had heard from others in the church that I was sharing that there were communication difficulties between us. So I have been charged with 1) lack of submission 2) spreading discord.

The counselor who communicated this to me has again asked for specifics from the elders about who I spoke to and what discord I spread but as it took eight months to reach this point I doubt we will get anything more. They have stated that I am not repentant and that my communication to others about what has occurred is clear evidence of that. They are very upset that I have expressed to them that others who I have turned to for counsel feel I have been abused, and that there are unhealthy and inappropriate things in how the church is lead and how I have been treated. Those are not my statements, but have come from others. The leaders will not communicate with me directly, but they do not want me communicating to others to process through things, seek input about what I have done and how I can change, or even share my story and glorify God.

I again struggle to know where that line is between sharing openly and transparently about our journey and story, and not spreading discord. It seems like it comes down to the heart that it is shared with. If we are sharing with a heart to hurt others or slanders their name then that is wrong, but if we are seeking to be open and transparent it seems like that is honest and can be used to help others grow and heal. I recently heard someone express that we are called to be open and vulnerable, but we don’t need to be naked (share everything).

Does anyone have thoughts about what is appropriate to share and in what settings?

I don’t want to hurt anyone or cause disunity but it doesn’t seem right that I never am able to share about my story either. I want to glorify God and be obedient to him in all I do, and I feel like my story could bring hope and healing to some others who have walked through similar paths of pain and disillusionment.

One of the battles that a lot of people have to work through during recovery and restoration is realizing that they are not victims to others, or to themselves. We have the ability to change our lives, change our circumstances, and most of all to change our thinking. When our thinking changes we can then change behaviors, perspectives, interactions, etc. While this is good solid philosophical truth to believe that we can change things, I have also found that it is Biblical truth.

2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This passage clearly states that we have the ability to take our thoughts captive and change them. Not everyone does, but once we walk with Christ we do. He empowers us to have that ability. He empowers us to stand up against everything that is against the knowledge of God. When we are confused, deceived, searching, questioning, etc. we have the ability to turn to the Lord and ask him to make this Biblical truth a reality for us.

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. This passage isn’t just a suggestion that Paul made to the Philippian church. Again, it was a promise that we can draw on. He was telling them that we have the ability to focus our thinking on these things. We do not have to be discouraged and disillusioned. We can concentrate our thoughts on those things that will lift us up and encourage us. Right before this verse he tells the church to rejoice always, not be anxious, and to know that the peace of God guards our hearts and minds.

We can change our thinking, and my encouragement for this week is that the fact you can change your thoughts and take control of them is clearly in scripture. We can depend on that, trust in the Lord and lean on his understanding of it (Proverbs 3:4-5). As we begin to believe that we have been empowered to control our thoughts we will find new strength and hope to walk in that more every day.

At the beginning of the year many people make resolutions to do something differently in the coming year. Often these are made with good intentions but are not followed through upon. Another thing that often accompanies the change over of the year is looking at what has occurred during the past year and the marking of milestones.

Identifying and marking milestones is something that can be very important in the recovery process. It helps you to identify that you have made steps forward toward healing and away from unhealthy actions or thoughts. It does not matter if they are big milestones or small, but identifying them can help find a sense of accomplishment, success, and hope.

How you mark milestones is up to you. You may want to keep a list of them, celebrate them, record them in a journal, share them with close friends, reinforce them through some reward, or something even more creative. The important thing is to notice them! On my journey it has not always been a milestone of doing something, often it has been marking a milestone of the absence of something such as no more nightmares, no more fear of being in a church, and making it 4 hours/24 hours/2 weeks without crying. Sometimes when the negative aspects of our grief, sorrow, and journey go away, when the temptations to drink, sleep, or cry disappear, or when our anger, bitterness, hurt, and broken-heart begin to heal we feel better and do not even realize it. Take the time and make the effort to recognize those milestones. They truly are important so that you can see how far you have come, and you can stop looking at how far you still have to go.

In the Old Testament it was common to bring together a pile of stones to mark a spot of rememberance and to identify the location of something important. It was a symbol of what had occurred. You also might want to create a ritual of something like this. Place a stone in a dish or jar every time you can mark a milestone. You might want to use money instead so you can purchase something or do something to reward yourself. Even keeping a tally on the wall or in a journal can give a physical action to marking the milestone which then gives it more significance and helps lend itself to a feeling of success.

You are on a journey, but there a journey has many things to see, do, visit, accomplish, and note along the way. Don’t pass by all the scenic overlooks and picturesque spots. Take a moment to celebrate you have made it this far and all you have to do it make it to the next milestone before you get to celebrate again!

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