Hope is warranted.

Sometimes it is hard to continue working through recovery with a mental health issue in the same way that I work my recovery for my addiction struggles. I wonder at times if I am kidding myself. How do I recover from something that doesn’t go away?

For my addiction struggles I can say I have not had a drink or misused a drug for over 10 years. That is easy to track. At the moment I feel myself fighting off a depressive episode knowing that there is a really good chance that it won’t work to fight it; it is going to come anyway. But at the same time I know I can’t just crawl into bed and pull the blankets over my head like I want to.

And the truth is I don’t know FOR SURE that it will set in, maybe it won’t this time. It has happened in the past where I thought I was sliding down and I didn’t. So just accepting my fate is not helpful when I don’t know that it will actually be my fate.

In reality I know that if I am truly honest (and I do work an honest program) recovery has been tremendously helpful in managing my mental health. Working my recovery means doing the things I need to do so that I can live a life that matches up with what God has planned for me.

For instance. In the past when I felt myself sliding I would have isolated myself. I would have let anger be the driving force behind my attitude. I would have self-medicated. I would have worked to destroy my body.

Now I reach out for help. I take medications as prescribed by my doctor that helps me manage my symptoms. I take better care of myself because I know that fitness and diet play a major role in my mental health. Admittedly I could use some more work on the diet and exercise thing, but it is still better than it was! Progress not perfection! (Or I could step out of the denial)

When I take care of myself and I reach out for help I am able to get out of my lows faster. I am able to have hope that I won’t always feel this way. I can see a future that won’t be horrible.

The definition for insanity that is often used in recovery is “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  But I want to challenge that. What if I look at recovery at as doing the same things, the same healthy things, and knowing that I will get a different result, a better result. Not based on wishing but based on the results of those I have seen go before me. On the results I have seen in myself after putting in the work. I can live differently.

A good different. A life filled with purpose. A life that has mental illness involved in it but still good anyway. My diagnosis is not something I have to look at as a death sentence. My diagnosis doesn’t exempt me from living a life that is extraordinary.

Today I can see the slide begin but I have the ability to see the reason to hope as well. And I know you can too. Maybe not right now, I get that. But please trust me, it can happen. Just know that you don’t have to give up. It will be worth it, you’ll see. I’m not doing anything you can’t do. Let’s get through this together.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving, But I don’t feel thankful…

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Today is Thanksgiving! A most wonderful time of the year. A time when families get together, the smell of all kinds of foods and sweets fill the household, the sounds of children’s laughter and baby giggles, dogs barking, cats hiding, upbeat music playing in the background, maybe even a gathering of people in the yard to play a family tradition of football before watching the big game on the big screen. Family is such a huge part of the feeling of Thanksgiving. In every family there are traditions, certain things which are done year after year. For my family, we would always travel to my grandmother’s house where everyone would meet, and you could always bet what was going to be on the menu because we had the same things year after year. It was so comforting to know that I would be amongst family, laughing, playing, talking, and we always ended up playing cards until late into the evening, after other family members had gone home or gone out holiday shopping. The smells, the sights, the memories, THAT’S what I’m talking about when I am talking about the feeling of Thanksgiving.

The Bible also talks about Thanksgiving. However, it is far from the fleshly expectations, sights, sounds, and feelings that I have talked about. Instead, there is a greater, more powerful feeling of thanksgiving. I’ll mention a few of those verses to draw an idea of the kind of Thanksgiving that we are to have in the presence of the Lord, to give thanks to a good, good Father.

2 Chronicles 5:13 reads, “The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang, ‘He is good; His love endures forever.’ …

2 Corinthians 4:15 reads, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Philippians 4:6-7 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 reads, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Thanksgiving—to give thanks. The Bible tells us that thanksgiving is giving thanks to God for ALL that He has created, and that “all of this is for your benefit.” He also asks us to pray to Him in every situation with thanksgiving. Given that definition of thanksgiving, I have a confession to make. I don’t feel very thankful right now. Even though the Bible commands me not to be anxious, I still struggle with anxiety. And the one that sticks out to me, asks me to give thanks to God for everything, regardless of what I am doing whether that be in word from what I am saying, or in my deeds, my actions and behaviors. On this Thanksgiving, I am hurting deeply, and I don’t feel as thankful to God today.

You see, last Thanksgiving was the start of an end. A beginning of a path that I did not wish to go down, a dark path which God asked me to walk down. The great thing is, I was asked to walk along that path with my Mom, so I wasn’t alone! Last Thanksgiving was the day that my Mom told me that they had found cancerous cells when a couple months before, they had found none. Last Thanksgiving was the last day that my Mom was able to eat anything and keep it down. It would be the last time she ate, and I had cooked that for her. What followed was a whirlwind of events, which spiraled down to me bringing her home for the last time. I had to walk my Mom to God. That was the journey which God had asked me to partake. I admit I was not very eager to walk this path. Yet, I had choices I could have made. I could have told God no. I could have refused to listen to my Mom’s wishes. I could have chosen to place my Mom in a care facility instead of choosing to sacrifice my time and my sleep during the week of Christmas. I could have chosen to hate God and become angry with Him again in a rebellious attempt for my Mom to stay (as if being childish and throwing a temper tantrum and telling God NO would have kept my Mom here.) No, I was not thankful to God at all during that time. And as the memories replay in my head, the same feelings of hurt are hanging around. How could I thank God for asking me to walk my Mom to him after He had helped me reconcile our relationship? How could I thank Him for asking me to hand over my Mom, my one chance at having the best friend I always wanted and dreamed of, the one thing I had ever wanted in my whole life—a loving relationship with my Mom? I was not Job, I was not David, I was not Jesus; so how could I look Him in the eye, be asked to sacrifice my Mom by giving her to Him, and then tell him “Thank you for taking my Mom away from me?” That was how I felt. I find myself still feeling this way. This is part of my recovery—forgiveness. Although I had the choice not to follow what God had asked of me, I chose to trust Him and I followed His direction. I kept my faith and my trust in God, even during the dark times. I still do.

How did Job give thanks? How did David give thanks? How did Jesus give thanks? They each made a CHOICE. Guess what? I ALSO have a choice. I have a choice to give thanks. I may not feel thankful at the time, yet if I read Romans 8:28, God can work ALL things for His glory, for His good. Even death. My feelings are just that…feelings. Feelings are not facts. Just because I am overwhelmed with feelings of grief, of memories, I can still CHOOSE to give thanks. God knows my heart. I am not feeling unthankful because I am selfishly angry at God because I did not get something I wanted. I am unthankful because I am grieving. I am enduring emotional pain. Even Jesus grieved. How can I learn to deal and cope with negative emotions if I never allow myself to feel them?

God, I choose to give thanks to you today and I trust that regardless of what has happened, regardless of what I feel, I know and have faith that you can work everything for your good. I know that I cannot do this on my own, and that I am powerless on my own. I am working to fully understand that I matter to you and that you have the power to help me through these times of unbelief and feelings of ingratitude. I am choosing to commit my life to you and your will and I understand that at times you will ask me to do what is difficult, not necessarily what I want or desire. I ask you to continue to remove my character defects so that you can make me more like you in every way. Restore my relationships, God. Help me change. Help my unbelief. Lord, I thank you for loving me during the dark times as well as the pleasant times. Thank you for trusting me enough to ask me to partake these difficult journeys. God, thank you for loving me.

God, I also pray that you will reach out to those other souls who may be broken and feeling as I feel, and I ask that you wrap your healing, comforting arms around them and remind them that they are dearly loved. I ask that you give them the courage to speak up even when the enemy tries to silence them. Lord, I thank you for the lives of everyone.

Amen.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

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