I’m a Survivor

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This Saturday, November 17th, is the International Survivors of Suicide Loss day. It always falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year. It’s a day where people all around the world can come together and meet locally and even online in groups to share stories of hope, loss, and to share in the grief of losing someone to suicide. I myself am a suicide loss survivor. At the age of 16 my cousin whom I was close with ended his life. There was no warning, no note, no indication whatsoever of what he was going to do. To this day I still grieve in my own way, thinking what it may have been like to speak with him about it to try to get an understanding of his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions.

There are many Survivor Day events that you can find by clicking HERE via the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

Just today I was talking with a friend on the very topic of suicide. I have found myself on the side of the one who is contemplating suicide. I have also found myself on the other side of the one who has lost one to suicide. Fortunately for me, my friend was too. Just having someone to listen to me, to talk to me through my grief was something that I did not have when I was going through suicide loss. I still find that I experience feelings and emotions tied around suicide prevention and suicide survivor loss that is difficult for me to process, especially at times such as now during which I find myself struggling to maintain my mental health.

Also today, I read another story of a child who ended her life due to bullying. Yesterday I read about another child who ended their life. Tomorrow, the reality is that I will also read a story of someone who has ended their life. Someone ends their life every 40 seconds. Someone also becomes a survivor of suicide loss every 41 seconds. We are not here to judge their thoughts, their rationality, their feelings, or tell them that thinking about suicide is wrong. If we are to help prevent the grief from suicide loss, then we must be proactive about preventing suicides. How do we do that? Through love. Active listening. Being there for someone going through a rough time. Providing them with effective resources to help them find strong supportive systems and effective treatments. Through the CR Mental Health Initiative, we are striving to break the stigma that bound us to the shame and guilt of talking about things such as suicidal thoughts. We are working to make it okay to talk about mental health. We are working to empower others to be able to sit with and listen with love to those who struggle with mental health issues even when they don’t know what to do.

We don’t always know what to do. Even so, there is always love. If you are a survivor of suicide loss, I encourage you to share your story, to listen to the stories of others, to help others find hope and healing and even yourself find hope and healing. Celebrate Recovery is a wonderful program to help find a strong support system to help us through our mental health journey, and to talk about the difficult topics.

We are changing the way we view mental health, one story at a time. If you’ve got a story to share, we’d love to hear it! You can email it to mncrnate@gmail.com. You can remain anonymous and we won’t share anything you don’t give us permission to.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

It’s not just me. It’s her too.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate, along with a bunch of family and friends of the family, the 50th anniversary of my parents wedding. 50 years of marriage! These days that is hard to come by. I hear about divorce all the time, but 50 years, that is a pretty big deal. Good job Mom and Dad!

This coming weekend I will be officiating a wedding. Getting to be a part of day one in this kind of journey is an honor. And it is always fun to watch a couple as they are kicking off their life together. They are always so full of hope and dreams for the future.

As a result of these things of course, marriage has been on my mind. Back in the middle of July I celebrated 19 years of marriage. And I am happy to say that we still like each other! But, this journey has not been an easy one. Not because of a lot of the things that many couples really struggle with such as money, kids, in-laws or any of the millions of things that couples fight about though. Sure we have had to deal with all of that stuff, but the largest part of the struggles we have faced, have revolved around my mental health.

When a person has a mental health struggle it is not just their struggle. Mental health impacts the lives of those who are closest to them as well. When I hurt, my wife hurts. We are in this together.

During the Celebrate Recovery Summit of 2017 I had the opportunity during one of the mental health workshops to bring my wife on stage with me and have her share some of what it is like to live with someone like me. I love serving with her so it was an awesome experience but at the same time it is really hard for me to talk about some of the things that she had to deal with on account of me.

One of the things that was the hardest for me to come to terms with happened about 12-13 years ago. My depression had hit an all-time low. I worked in sales and because of what I did for work; all of my people pleasing was used up by the time I got home each night. I would come home, crack a beer, and stare at the TV. My wife said I had basically turned into a zombie. I didn’t realize what I was doing and since I was still bringing in a paycheck and I was in the house instead of running around with my buddies I thought she had it pretty good. What I didn’t realize is that she would lock herself in the bathroom and cry while begging God to give her back her husband. I was not the man that she had married.

Thankfully our story has continued well. I have medications I take. I don’t drink or use drugs to numb myself. I talk about what is going on inside my head instead of holding it all in and hoping it would go away. I work my recovery. Make no mistake about it though; this has been a long and difficult road to get where we are. And we certainly didn’t get here on our own.

If you are reading this and either you or someone you love is struggling like I was, please know that there is hope. You can get through this. I am not going to kid you and say it will be easy. If anything I think it is probably a pretty safe bet that it won’t be. But there is hope.

If you are struggling yourself, seek help. Talk to your Pastor. Talk to your Doctor. Talk to your spouse. There are so many options that are available to you for help.

If you love someone who is struggling, seek help. Just because you are not “the one with the problem” you need a support system around you as well. I am so thankful for the support and friendship that was shown to my wife during those days (and the days since for that matter). You are not betraying them by getting help for you. You can’t fix your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, relative, etc. So do what you can do. Get some support for you. Find someone who is willing to pour into you. Someone from a Celebrate Recovery group or a Bible study or a therapist or Pastor, just find someone you trust and take care of you. This journey is hard enough you don’t have to do this alone.

Because we have done this, because we got help, our love is deeper.  We are far more connected than we ever where 19 years ago. There is hope. As hard as the struggle is, as impossible as things may seem, there is a reason to hope. God will carry you through this.

Sherawn…I love you!

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

In order to heal…

This past Saturday, I found myself at the Raleigh, NC One-Day Training here in my own backyard. Not to mention Nate came all the way down from Minnesota to help rep the CR Mental Health Table! How cool is that! We got to speak with a bunch of people answering questions about the Initiative as well as explaining our mission, handing out information. One of the fun things we did was do a Facebook LIVE video during that One-Day, and for me it was a lot of fun!

The previous night was chip night at my CR at which Nate was in attendance. It also happened to be the night that I received my 3- year coin for “Saying YES to God,” which was me starting my journey of stepping outside my box. You see, I struggle with social anxiety, which means for me it is difficult to be in crowds and around others in social situations. In fact, when meeting new people I feel inferior and inadequate, which leads me to say awkward things or to be awkward at times. Most people just laugh at me, but I’m the only one not laughing most the time. For the longest time, it caused me to avoid social situations, especially driving places I’ve never been to arriving to meetings and appointments and not knowing where to go or what to do. It almost kept me from attending CR or even stepping foot inside the church. One other struggle I deal with is making eye contact, speaking in front of others, and eating in front of people. A good many people would have never known this about me. Also, doing LIVE videos is a struggle. Yet, as in my testimony, I must do the thing I think I cannot do, so I continued to place myself in those situations so I could do what God has called me to do in this CR Mental Health ministry.

Speaking of that Facebook LIVE, Nate happened to ask me a question that I was not prepared for at all. What caught me off guard even more was my answer to his question. The question he asked me was along the lines of “Before starting CR, what do you wish people would have told you?” It only took me a brief time before I blurted out my answer, “I wish someone would have told me that to go through recovery that I would have to go through pain. That pain is part of the process” (paraphrasing). Go back and watch that Facebook LIVE by clicking HERE.

Looking back on it, it still shocks me that I gave that answer. Yet, it’s an answer that is full of truth. You see, I’ve been going through my own mental health recovery, and I’m finding myself right in the middle of the messiness of it, and I’ve been going through quite a bit of emotional pain, pain that I have kept myself from feeling for SO long, and I’m talking at least 20+ years. Pain that I’ve gotten so well at pushing aside, in the corners of my mind, the back of my mind, into this dark closeted fortress that I tend to place all my yucky, painful memories and feelings. However, God wants to clean up that room, too. And guess what? I’ve had to make my way towards that room. I still am not in that room yet, but I’ve made great progress. And yes, there has been emotional pain involved.

 

In order to heal, we must feel.

 

As a physical wound needs air to heal, emotional pain needs to be brought out into the light so we can heal. I’m going through the journey of learning just how much pain is a necessary part of my healing process. I’m learning to feel my pain, to sit with my pain without judging myself, without trying to force logic upon it, to extend myself grace and patience in that I am learning a completely new language of love and healing.

How has pain been a part of your healing process?

 

-April Brantley, CR Mental Health X-tra Special Factor

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I can do ALL things…

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” reads Philippians 4:13. This is perhaps one of the most used and quoted verses from the Bible. I mean, who wouldn’t be lifted up by such encouragement as to be told that I can do ALL things? I can leap the tallest building in a single bound! I can go out and spend as much money as I want to! I can fly to the moon and back without a space suit! I can quit my job and live off of love alone! I can go out and battle a fierce dragon and come back unscathed! Right?!?!?!

Nope.

Nuh uh.

You see, often, we read this verse and we misuse it heavily. I myself am guilty of this. Instead of its intended meaning, we read it as “I can do EVERYTHING through Christ who strengthens me…” and this is not true. We cannot do anything. We cannot do everything.

I’ve been trying so hard lately to catch up on what I have let fall behind. I have been trying so hard to complete all the tasks and ideas that are roaming around inside my head. I’ve been trying so hard to do everything that I think I should be doing and in the past, anything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve been trying so hard to live the life that I want to live, that I’ve been neglecting to live the life that Christ wants me to live. I’ve been using this verse as an excuse to get what I want for so long. I’ve been using it as a shield to hide behind what God is calling me to do, what He is asking of me.

The context of this single verse is what brings the meaning to it. Here is the passage in its entirety Phillippians 11b-13:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives , me strength.

Here’s where this comes into play into my recovery. Paul is saying here that he has learned to be content with what he has. This verse relates to contentment not abundance. This verse does not give me permission to go out and do what I want to do. This verse does not mean I can go out and do everything, or that I can do anything. It also does not mean I can do nothing. This very powerful verse means that Christ within me allows me to be content with whatever situation in life I find myself in. In this lies within the struggle I now find myself in. Struggling with my mental health issues, I do not feel CONTENT to be struggling. I do not feel CONTENT that I cannot just stop my mental health issue, or that I may struggle with it for the rest of my life. I am quite often not CONTENT that I can’t seem to get my brain to stop shouting obscenities at me or to stop telling me all the horrible things that I’ve done wrong. I am not CONTENT with having a mental health issue. At all.

The beautiful truth is although I am not content right now right this minute does not mean I will never find myself content. This verse means that I will learn contentment through Christ who will help me learn. Where I am weak, being content through my struggle, Christ will help me. This means that if He will help me, then He will help you too. I hold onto the hope that Christ will help me be more like Him in that I will learn to be content with the resources and the life that I have been given. He will help me follow the calling He has asked me to dutifully perform and He will continue guiding me to learning His will.

 

Principle 5: Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and
humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.

 

Lord, help me to be more like You in every way. I submit to the changes you want to make in my life. Please remove my character defects and give me the strength to overcome my reluctance, doubt, and lack of trust I sometimes have. Lord, I trust that you will help me be content in Your will of helping me manage my mental health issue. I am trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. Thank you for loving me even when I don’t love myself. Amen.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

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I trust God. Just not me.

There is an interesting struggle that comes with being a follower of Christ who struggles with mental health issues. One the one hand I trust God. I believe that He has my best interests at heart and wouldn’t lead me astray. On the other hand, I don’t trust my own brain to do the same thing.

My brain has tried to fool me before. I often want to do impulsive things that seem wonderful at the time. Not reckless things or things that might harm others, just impulsive. For instance, I like to start things. I am an entrepreneur at heart. I have a million ideas in my head. I can think of ways that I could make a large impact on a community. I can think of ways that could make a large amount of money.  I can think of ways to do both. But just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

I want God to guide my steps, and to do that I have to do my best to hear from and watch for God. Usually I get it right. Sometimes I don’t. For me when I don’t get it right, I struggle. With a brain that is full of self-defeating thought I often will spiral down into a depression really quickly. I look at myself as stupid. A screw-up. As someone who is just put here to get in the way and mess people up.

I understand from a logical point of view that these things are not true. Unfortunately there is a very real pain that I feel, and that pain will tell the truth to sit down and shut up.

The way I see it I have two options. I can continue to move forward and try to accomplish the things God has asked of me. Or I can let fear guide me and allow myself to freeze. So what do I do?

First I remember what the safe option is. The safe option is to move forward. This is safer for a couple of reasons. If I am trying then I have an opportunity to succeed. If I remain frozen, I never have that option.  Do I have the opportunity to fail? Sure, but that is still a safer option. Failing, while trying to do what you believe God is calling you to, is always redeemable.  God will use what you and I may see as a mistake for His glory. It is not the action that determines its success it is the motivation behind the action. If my motives are godly then God will use my mistakes.

So I need to check my motives. Why am I doing what I am doing? Is it because I want to satisfy my greed, pride, power, or any number of selfish reasons? Or am I doing what I am doing so that I can get closer to God’s design for me? And that is going to look very differently for each individual. For some of us our tasks are high profile. For some of us our role is behind the scenes. The important thing is to do what God is calling you to do. That is ultimately where you will find satisfaction.

I also need to remember that satisfaction, or contentment, is learned. The Apostle Paul alluded to this in Philippians 4:11-13 New International Version (NIV)

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

For a person to be content we need to learn how to do that. Learning requires practice and learning is often most effective though using our mistakes as a teaching tool. I am not saying try and mess up. NO, try to do what is right; just don’t waste the opportunity that comes from making mistakes.

And if there is anything I have learned about figuring out God’s plan for my life it is that I cannot do that alone. I cannot trust my brain all the time. But If I know that, and reach out to trusted confidants, mentors and the people who are doing the things I feel called to do, then my weakness becomes strength. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Sometimes our ability to move forward is a supernatural gifting. Christ also uses other people in our lives to give us the things we need. We are not meant to live our lives in isolation. Lean on and learn from those around you.

I don’t know what my or anyone else’s future will look like. And trying to discern God’s will for our lives is at times scary. I get that, and really that is ok. Just remember this, God’s plan is ALWAYS better. Go for what He wants and you will get there. And do your best to enjoy the journey in the process. God blesses a heart that calls out for Him.

 

Nate Stewart

NTL Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Fall is awesome

Last week, Nate shared his heart on his thoughts and feelings on fall. This week, I’ve chosen to share mine. As I sit here typing, I am in pain. For once I am not in emotional pain. No, I am in physical pain. I have been since yesterday after having undergone a dental procedure that is going to be a beneficial step in my orthodontics journey. For the longest time, I resisted the option of having the tooth removed. I was comfortable with it. It had always been there. Yet, the longer time went on, the more physical pain that I experienced as my teeth shifted and change was coming about. I was experiencing painful TMJ in my jaw as my teeth were trying to go somewhere in which there was no room to go. So I had to make a decision. Mental health is often like this, as in we are not aware that there are certain things in our lives, certain thoughts and feelings that have made themselves at home and we have gotten comfortable with them, refusing to allow them to leave. What often brings about the change and the decision to extract those necessary items from our lives is the increasing presence of pain, except in the case of mental health, that pain is most often emotional.

Pain is pain.

The season of fall for me brings the start of change, the promise of cooler weather, beautiful nights out enjoying the stars without the presence of mosquitoes, bonfires, the gorgeous decorations of leaves and pumpkins and scented candles, and the turning of the leaves into the most beautiful of God’s handiwork. The sound of the leaves on pavement is a lovely sound. You see I LOVE the cool weather. I love the overcast days. I love watching the leaves change colors and fall to the ground. I love seeing the sight of the leaves falling because then I know that winter is coming. And I love snow! Every year, that change comes. For most, Fall is a season. For me, it’s a feeling. A feeling of joy, happiness, and contentment. For others, like Nate, it brings a feeling of dread. It’s amazing how two people can look at the same thing and perceive it so differently.

This year, I’m not so sure how I’m going to feel. Fall and Winter have always been my favorite seasons. I’ve always loved the fall decorations, and with it comes the holidays, near and dear to my heart. This year, the center around my holiday traditions will not be around. After being so used to the traditions of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with my Mom cooking and playing games, this year, I won’t have her with me. There is going to be an empty chair at the dinner table this year, one more empty chair than I would have wanted. You see, last Thanksgiving was the last time my Mom was able to eat anything and keep it down. Last Christmas was the last Christmas I spent with my Mom as I was taking care of her while she was at home under Hospice care.

What I do know is that this year, I have looked at those changing leaves differently. When I look at a tree whose leaves are changing, I see a life. I see a life that is changing. I see the life of a loved one, of an addict, of a codependent, or a child, of someone who is struggling with mental health. When I look at that tree, I see God and His promises. Just as the leaves will turn and eventually fall off, life on this Earth does end, yet for those whose life belongs to Him, life may end for them here on Earth, but it’s just beginning for them in Heaven. That tree is my life. Some years my leaves may be yellow, some years red, or even orange. However, my life will always change. I am the tree who will lose its leaves, yet by His promise I will gain new leaves back. Life changes. What am I choosing to accept in that change? Am I trusting God through the change? Change is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s inevitable.

 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 

trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You
forever in the next.

Amen.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

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Fall is in the air. Blech.

For many people Fall is the best time of the year. There are colors changing on the trees. Summer heat gives way to cooler temperatures. Football is back on the TV. And of course there is the ever cherished pumpkin spice…everything.

For me though, Fall is my least favorite time of the year. It isn’t all bad; I do like the colors for what they are and my favorite sport is football. That is where my enjoyment ends. I haven’t liked this time of year for quite a while but I have to say, this year has been especially hard.

In fact, this year has been so bad that I actually have to fight back panic attacks when I think about it. And I am not exaggerating. Full blown can’t breathe, wanna cry and run away world spinning panic attacks.

I would imagine that there are people out there who might think that I am just being dramatic. “What is the point getting upset over a season? There is certainly nothing you can do about it. You can’t change fall.” And each week at Celebrate Recovery we say the Prayer for Serenity. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

So what is my problem? Why do I let this season get to me?

Here are a couple of reasons I struggle.

I hate cold. Hate is a strong word, so that is why I am using it. I hate cold. And I live in Duluth, Minnesota of all places. Duluth has been rated the worst place to experience winter for several years in a row now by a major national magazine using an assessment of snow, below zero temps, wind chill. And I live here! If fall is here then winter is coming.

“Minnesota! Come for the scenery, stay because your car won’t start.”

Another reason is because I love the sun. That is something I can’t see right now. The sky has been a steady stream of clouds and sadness for the last I don’t even know how long. When doctors are telling people here that vitamin D deficiency is endemic in this part of the world then I have to question why people ever settled here in the first place.

Lastly I love color. Now this may seem a little odd since I just said a minute ago that the leaves are changing. Shouldn’t I be happy about this time of year? No. The pretty only lasts for a short period and then all of a sudden those leaves fall and BAM grey. Grey skies, gray trees, gray grass everything is grey. Grey grey stupid grey. Ok, I will admit I am being dramatic on this one but come on!

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Why doesn’t he just move?” And that is fair. The thing is right now I am not supposed to move. I don’t feel like God has said that I am free to go yet. I am involved in a CR here. There is family within a couple hours from us. My daughter just started high school so I don’t want to pull her in the middle of that for a new school. It’s hard enough to be a teenager these days. I don’t want to make life any harder than it has to be. And the reality is, if I were to move just for the sake of moving then I am not moving TO something, I am running FROM something. There is a big difference.

Moving to something is done when there is a specific call on your life. Right now I know there is a call for me to be involved in ministry with CR and elsewhere, but not in a way that requires me to move. I would love to live in Charleston, South Carolina or San Diego, CA or any other number of southern cities in between. I have mentioned this before. But there is nothing at the moment yelling out that God is saying pick here. I wish there was. But there isn’t. Not right now anyways. So I wait.

The thing that gets me is that I don’t know how long I will have to wait. And for all the things I love about being here. Summer is FANTASTIC! Those other things I mentioned and a few others are not going anywhere while I am here. I will have to endure those things. Just because I believe that I am walking in God’s will for my life at the moment doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect.

For example in Luke 22:44 we see Jesus in such anguish over going to the crucifixion that he literally started sweating blood. Something called Hematohidrosis. No one could ever be more in God’s will for their life than Jesus and He suffered. Now before anyone starts worrying, no I am not in any way placing living in Minnesota as being on the same level as Jesus taking on the sins of the world. That would be dumb. But it goes to the point that having Jesus does not equal easy living.

So what is my point to all of this?

While God may be calling you to go through something, that doesn’t mean it will be awesome. But if God is calling you to do something He will make it possible.

My mental health is not in a good place with this weather. But through this God will do something good. And if God is going to do something good through this, then I feel it is worth it. And because it is worth it I can endure without building resentments toward God. I can continue to move forward without giving up. I can still maintain a hope for the future. Hope brings strength. So when I have a panic attack I won’t give up. When my depression is bad I won’t give up. When things feel impossible I won’t give up.

I will still follow the example of Jesus and ask “for this cup to pass from me” from time to time.

But I won’t give up.

Nate Stewart

Ntl. Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery