Someone is suicidal. What do I do?

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Anyone and everyone can struggle with thoughts of suicide and suicidal ideation. I myself have struggled and sometimes still have those thoughts. And you know what? It’s OKAY to have those thoughts. It does not make anyone a bad person to admit they are having those thoughts. In fact, it shows a great sign of strength and courage for someone to come up to us and admit they are struggling. We have the potential to be the first line of support for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. The great thing is that we don’t have to be professional experts to be able to help someone who admits they are struggling. We just need to be willing to be present with them and listen. Here are some tips to help you if someone admits to you they are suicidal.


  • If someone tells you they are suicidal, DO NOT ask them why. As much as I know you may be curious to know why they feel that way, the truth is, it doesn’t matter why they feel that way. All that matters is that they do. The “why” part is something that will be explored when the individual is in therapy with a professional. In fact, the person may not even know themselves or cannot explain it to you. By asking “why,” this can further isolate the individual through being perceived in a negative, condescending tone as if being asked “why are you suicidal…when you shouldn’t feel that way?” SAFETY is the main concern. We want to ensure that individual is safe and remains safe.
  • Do not promise to keep it a secret. This is one specific circumstance where confidentiality may be broken to keep the individual safe. You may need to reach out to someone else such as a close family member or emergency crisis personnel to be able to ensure the safety of the individual
  • Be direct. If they have not come out and said it, ask them “Are you thinking of suicide?” or “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” You are NOT going to trigger them to think about it or to do it because chances are, they are already thinking about it. By being direct, we can help them voice their thoughts by speaking openly and matter-of-fact about it, showing the individual that we are willing to talk about it and hear what they have to say.
  • Do not judge what they are saying. Actively listen to what they have to say without interruption. Often they feel as if they are not being heard and this may be their one chance to feel heard, to be safe. If they are willing to admit to you that they are struggling, then they are trusting you enough to be a safe place for them to talk. Don’t tell them whether suicide is right or wrong. Don’t tell them whether their feelings are valid or invalid. Their feelings are valid whether you believe they are rational or not. Their feelings are REAL to THEM. Don’t lecture them and try to force them to see your views or try to lecture them on the value of life. Remember, safety and creating a safe place for them to talk is the most important idea right now.
  • Do your best not to act shocked or surprised to hear that they are thinking of suicide. I also realize that this may also be difficult. However, do what you need to do to maintain a neutral, supportive stance if someone tells you that they are thinking about suicide. If the person sees that you are shocked, this may come off as judging and may isolate them further.
  • Don’t give them advice, try to fix how they are feeling, or try to fix their problem. It is not our responsibility to fix their feelings or their problems. It is our responsibility to love them unconditionally and provide them the support and care that they need. Just by listening we are giving them support. By keeping them safe we are giving them support. We are showing them that they matter, that they are important, and that they are worthy of our time, because they are. We are showing them that we care.
  • Ask them if they have a plan, and if they have the means to do it. If they do have a plan, ask them details. Ask if they intend to carry out that plan. The more you know, the more you will be able to assist in keeping them safe. If they have a plan, and they have an intent, DO NOT leave them alone. If they have the means to carry out their plan, take action to remove those items from them as peacefully as possible.
  • TAKE ACTION! This may be offering to call the Lifeline with them, or the crisis number that is available in your area if you are international. The Lifeline is routed to the closest one to your location and can assist with finding local crisis resources in your area (US only). This may be calling an emergency crisis response team. This may be contacting their closest relative or someone who will ensure they get the help they need and stay with them. The action will depend on each situation and each individual risk.

Helping someone who is suicidal does not have to be frightening and is not something that only mental health professionals can do. We can ALL be the light in someone’s darkness. Still want more experience? Speak with and interview a mental health professional who can give insight and additional experience on situations and what to do. Going through Mental Health First Aid class is also very beneficial. You can find local classes by clicking here.

Stay tuned the entire month to get more valuable information on suicide education and prevention. #nomorestigma

Crisis Lines:

National Suicide Lifeline1-800-273-8255 (In the United States)

Crisis Text Line: Text HELP to 741741 (In the United States)

*International crisis lines may be unique to certain areas. Be sure you know the crisis lines and resources in your area.

-April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Be You

Being a part of Celebrate Recovery gives me an awesome opportunity. Not just traveling around the country. Not just getting up and speaking in front of thousands of people. Not being invited to speak at churches and events that allow me to share space with some of my heroes.  These are all really cool things, but my greatest opportunity is witnessing change.

I get to interact with people every day that have lived their life in one way; often isolated, hopeless, ashamed, and fake. And then I get to see what has happened in recovery when a transformation has taken place and people who are isolated find community. People are finding hope and saying goodbye to shame. I see people becoming a better version of themselves; someone they are proud of being.

Especially over the last 2 months while attending the 2018 CR Summits, first in Tennessee and then again California, I had the opportunity to hear from hundreds of people who said that since the mental health initiative had begun in 2016 their lives were completely changed.

I had several people share with me that they finally felt like they were able to admit that they were taking medication without feeling that somehow they were failing God. I had people tell me that their marriage was able to be saved after hearing some of the things I had talked about in my story, that matched their own story, they went out and got assessed and received a diagnosis that for the first time explained some of their behaviors, and were now receiving treatments that allowed for real lasting change making room for restoration where only resentments had existed.

I can go on and on listing all of the amazing things that God is doing in the lives of people around the globe. And with every story I can rejoice because I see people realizing a value that they didn’t know they had.

But there has been one issue through this entire journey that has plagued me. For all of the change and hope and purpose I am able to see being realized in the lives of others, I often find it hard to realize that change in my own life. From a logical perspective I can say that yes I believe that I have purpose and value. And from an emotional perspective I can say that I have indeed felt the touch of God on my life and it is a wonderful experience. To know that God is using me with all of my shortcomings to effect change in this world is beyond words for me. The struggle that I keep running into is that my mind and the mental health issues that I have are easily my own worst enemy. I can go from feeling great one moment to feeling like a failure the next because my mind, my physical brain, does not function properly. I have to battle on a daily basis to keep myself on a path of health.

I also know that I am not the only one who struggles with this whether there is a mental health issue exacerbating the problem or not. Often it is easy to see the positive in the lives of others but not the positive in our own lives. To prove my point I suggest making two lists. On the first list write out all of the things you don’t like about yourself. This one tends to be pretty easy to do. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Next make a list of all of the things you do like about yourself. Suddenly this task is getting more difficult. It is difficult because it isn’t practiced by the vast majority of us. But it should be!

I am not saying we have to walk around with our chests puffed out as if to tell the whole world we are awesome. We shouldn’t be arrogant. We should be humble. The struggle that I think most people run into is a misunderstanding of what humility actually is. Humility is having an accurate view of one’s self.  This doesn’t mean thinking that you are lowly and pitiful because that is self-focused and as a result prideful. This doesn’t mean you think you are the best at everything because that is self-focused and as a result prideful. This means realizing your place in this world as one of God’s creations; equal in value to those around you. It is ok to think that you are good at a task or bad at a task if it is accurate in regards to your abilities. But our ability to perform dose not dictate our value. Our Creator gives us our value! And if I cannot understand my value then I will struggle to see the positive that is in my life.

I need to practice this. I need it to be a part of my daily walk. I need to make a conscious choice to remember my value on a daily basis. If I want to combat the lies that are in my head that say, “I don’t matter”, then I need to have a realistic understanding of why I DO Matter.

Walking around the church campuses during summit this year had nothing to do with me getting my ego stroked. I am able to appreciate the work that God is doing in me which in turn allows me to serve Him in the way I do. And it is ok to agree with someone who acknowledges that work with a thank you. God has given me tools and an opportunity. It is not prideful to acknowledge what I do with those tools if I remember the source of those gifts. And if I recognize that there are gifts that God has given to everyone specifically for them to do some really cool stuff. We all have a purpose and we all have value equally and uniquely.

I urge you not to fall into the lie that you are the only one in the world who doesn’t matter. You do matter! And you have opportunities to use your God given abilities. You may just be having a hard time seeing those opportunities through the clouds of lies that float past our eyes. If that is you I want to offer a couple of things to help you start to clear out those clouds.

First…don’t talk to yourself the way your enemies would. Something my wife has helped me with over the years we’ve been together is calling me on my negativity by saying, “Don’t talk about my husband that way.” She wouldn’t want anyone else saying the things I say to myself so why should she allow me to do it either? Accountability in this is huge so ask someone for help in treating yourself better.

Next…If you get a compliment then accept it. Don’t call the person a liar by brushing off what they said because that is what is being done. Responding with thank you is also saying I value your opinion and your right to have an opinion. It is respectful of the other person as well. I also had someone tell me recently that it is hard for her when someone says “Oh it was all God.” when she gives a compliment. She said she wants to reply to that with, “Please, it wasn’t THAT good.” I know it is hard, but accept the compliment.

Lastly…Share your gifts. The first time someone gave me a microphone and asked me to speak publicly I did a horrible job. I mean just awful. Then the person gave me a microphone again and I stunk it up less. Now people compliment my sharing. I still have a long way to go before I would say I am really awesome at speaking but I don’t think I suck anymore. Gifts are refined over time. Use them and see how God is shaping you. Take a chance. It may take a while to feel comfortable doing whatever it is you are doing but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have gifts to offer.

This whole concept is hard to put into practice, that is: understanding your value. But please hear me when I say this, YOU DO HAVE VALUE! YOU DO MATTER! YOU ARE LOVED AND THERE IS REASON TO HOPE! So thank you in advance for being you, because the you that you truly are, is really, really cool!

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

 

Easier said than done

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to give advice than to receive it? I had a conversation with someone in which they admitted that they were struggling, and I was listening to them. A person I had reached out to many times before in my dark moments, a person who had sat and listened to me, provided empathy and support, and was there for me. That’s the beauty of accountability and sponsorship. This particular day, they had reached out to me. During that conversation, one particular statement they said stuck out to me: “I hate being on this side of the conversation.” Hearing this from this person, this vulnerable, outspoken person, I would never have expected to have heard it. However, I did not even have to ask “why.” I already knew the why.

Giving advice internally produces within us a level of power, of understanding, of coming from a place of stability. When we give advice, we are telling someone about something that hopefully we already know about, where we’ve been, and what we know. When someone asks us a question that we know the answer to, there is a level of confidence in being able to answer that question correctly, to avoid appearing incompetent to others. On the flip side, receiving advice can internally produce within us a sense of helplessness, of powerlessness, a fear of misunderstanding and instability. It is this fear of appearing incompetent, helpless, and powerless which often keeps us from reaching out and asking for help. (When I am talking about advice, I am not talking about fixing someone. I’m more talking along the lines of guidance and support, much as we do as accountability partners and sponsors. We ask the difficult questions, make sure they are on track, and provide support and guidance when needed. Just wanted to clarify.)

So when my friend said that they hated being on that side of the conversation, I completely understood. Many times in my recovery I have been afraid to reach out for help. I have been afraid to admit that I am stuck, that I am emotionally drained, that I need someone to help me break the cycle of insanity that I have found myself in yet again. After being so used to being the one to provide guidance and support, I oftentimes fail to realize when I need to be on the other side of the conversation.

I have had to really work on learning to be open to the support and guidance that others have had for me instead of pretending to be a know-it-all, to know what I am doing in my recovery. I mean, if I really knew what I was doing I wouldn’t be stuck in the insanity cycle would I? If I knew what I was doing then I would in fact be playing God and we all know how dangerous that can be. Therefore, I had to learn to open up to others, to actively listen to their words of guidance and support. That meant I had to TRUST them. After years and years of hurt and pain, I did not want to trust anyone else. Being able to trust others is easier said than done. Actually practicing the advice we are given is easier said than done. Even following the 12 steps on a daily basis is easier said than done.

“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 19:20-21

If I continue to provide advice yet refuse to accept it myself, then I am not working my recovery. To be a leader, one must learn to be a follower, and thus I must also continue to listen to advice and accept discipline so that I may be counted among the wise. As Nate has said before, I cannot ask someone to do what I myself am unwilling to do. Regardless of my own plans, my own self-advice, my own level of stubbornness, the Lord’s purpose is going to prevail as He has promised. If I am to be more like Christ, then I need to continue to listen to advice and accept discipline, not fight it. Working recovery is hard, so very hard at times. Yet it’s the daily persistence that keeps me coming back, the daily reminder that hardship is the pathway to peace just as the Serenity Prayer says. This is my recovery.

Yes, recovery is easier said than done. But…isn’t a better life worth a little struggle?

Thank you for letting me share.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Hurry up and Rest

Today marks day 210 in which I have worked straight, and I’m talking 7 days a week. I don’t say this to brag or to boast, or to emit pity or sympathy. I say this because if I am going to work my recovery, then I need to continue to follow the steps. Step 5 states that “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Principle 4, “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.”

You see, I made a conscious choice to work 7 days a week because I wanted to get through my graduate degree as quickly as I could, and to get a lower tuition bill because let’s be honest here: education is very expensive and if carrying a full course load was going to save me a lot of money, then hey, let’s do that right? So for 2 1/2 years I’ve been attending school full time and working full time. About a year and a half into it, I began to burn out, become weary, yet I refused to back down and take a break. So I pushed myself, ignored my pain detector, and ignored the increasing warning signs from my body that I was pushing a little too hard. I just knew that I could manage a full time work schedule, full time graduate school schedule, part time CR volunteer schedule, and still maintain my home and family life. I put off spending time with my parents and my sister because I knew that as soon as I got finished, they’d still be there and I’d have plenty of time after school to do it. So about a year and a half into it, I was really falling apart. My pain was so loud at that point yet I had ignored it for so long that it became a necessary way of life. It became a comfort. God screams to us in our pain…yet I was completely ignoring it. Little did I know what message God had for me.

The well known verse of Matthew 11:28 “Come me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” I kept hearing the whispers of that verse yet I refused to acknowledge it. Rest? I couldn’t rest, I had to keep going! In my stubbornness, I was in denial that I needed to rest. There’s no rest for the weary, right? I had a goal, a plan, and nothing was going to stop me, apparently not even God, as I stubbornly continued down that path, refusing to rest. In fact, I didn’t even know what it meant to rest. On the seventh day God rested, after He had finished all His work. I misconstrued this in my mind to reassure myself that I could not stop until I was finished. But…I failed to define what it was that needed to be finished. It was a cycle of insanity…that would never end.

After those 1 1/2 years, things began to happen in my life that blind-sighted me, things I never thought would have happened. I wanted to end my life. I wanted to end my life at a time it was revealed that my Mom was fighting for hers. Talk about a heavy blow. I was pretty much forced to slow down at that point. God yet again saved me from myself. Instead of focusing so much on myself, I was asked to follow a different path, a different plan than the one I had already set my heart on. God asked me to walk my mother to Him, and told me that I would be walking back without her. It was as if I was living out Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

 

You would think that would have slowed me down…but it did not. Still, I stubbornly pressed on until my body physically began to break down. I began to get sick. I began to struggle deeply with my mental health and emotional regulation. I rarely get sick. However recently, I found myself out of commission for a full week with a very nasty virus which ended up in pneumonia. I had no choice then, I HAD to rest. I physically could not get up anymore. That’s what God had been trying to tell me all along. I’ve been so busy trying to play God and follow my own path, that I have failed to listen out for Him and His messages to me. God did not give up on me. I finally asked him what it meant to rest, and He told me. And now I confess this fault in my stubbornness to listen to God and the truths that He had for me. I have found myself astray and now I am working my way back to making a daily time with God.

For me, to rest means that I need to take the time out of my busy schedule to talk with God, to listen to what He has to say. To ask Him for discernment for HIS will in my life, not the will that I had been executing on my own. I’ve been trying to do this on my own for so long I forgot that I had left God behind. Instead of listening when God told me to rest, I stubbornly told God that it wasn’t good enough, that there was more I could do. I had begun to play God. And this, my friends, is what I am admitting to you today. It’s time to revisit that step and take that daily inventory.

 

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If I am to be more like Christ, then I need to honor Him by resting. Thank you for letting me share.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

Infallible Fortress

I’ve spent a huge majority of my life in isolation. I’ve felt like a weed among beautiful flowers. I’ve tried to please others, to figure out where I belong, and to fill a deep void within my soul that seemingly can never be filled no matter how much Earthly stuff I shove into it. I’ve worshiped false idols, idolized other people, and turned my back in anger, pain, and frustration against God during my darkest times. I’ve felt lonely, alone, afraid, worn out, exhausted, and apathetic at times. I fear being rejected. I fear being abandoned. I fear being replaced. Growing up, my environment taught me to believe that it was every person for themselves, that people were most likely going to hurt me, and that I should just save myself the trouble of working towards a relationship or friendship with someone because it was going to end horribly.

In my isolation, hurt, loneliness, and pain, I had built up a wall, a fortress. A massive structure so thick and so large, with no doors and no windows, that no one or no thing could be allowed in. I had felt the sting of the words thrown like daggers towards me. I had felt the solid hardness of the cold stares and glares like rocks hurled towards me. I had endured the overbearing extreme temperatures of the heated anger and the ice-cold rejection of those who had claimed to be my friend. So what else could I do but protect myself from those attacks? I even built a moat around that fortress.

Over time, I realized that not only did that fortress keep out all the stuff I wanted to keep out, but it was keeping out all the stuff that God wanted to give me, that God wanted to show me. I was keeping out God’s love. Very recently I was made aware of the fact that I still have that fortress to this day, and it’s still standing. I have found myself cowering in that fortress, trying to protect myself from the pain of change. I had asked God to change me, but what I have not been prepared for is the amount of pain it would take to fulfill that change. I had not realized just how far I had stepped back into my fortress until a loving soul bluntly pointed it out to me. And of course I took it gracefully, giving them a look of disbelief, questioning the validity of their words, refusing to take them seriously. In fact, I might have lovingly told them that they were sadly mistaken and that they were wrong. In all actuality, I was lying right to myself. I guess that’s the beauty of denial.

Shortly after that I had a visitor come knocking on my fortress. I refused to let them in. I didn’t ask who they were, I didn’t look out to see who it was, I didn’t even bother to acknowledge their presence. I went deeper into my fortress and silently hoped they would go away and leave me alone. I didn’t want to go out and play. After a while, after I thought the visitor was gone, I came back out a little further towards the door to enjoy the peace and quiet. I came out, and then I heard a soft knocking at the door. What? It’s been this long and they are still here? I froze, not wanting to move, still wanting to pretend that I didn’t hear anything. After what seemed like hours, I heard a soft voice call out to me,

“April, why are you hiding from me? Why are you afraid? Why are you ashamed to come let me in?”

I felt the tears forming in my eyes. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t want to speak. There was nothing that I could say that would make sense of what was going on inside my head. Again, I waited, telling myself that I hadn’t heard anything. Again, after what seemed like hours, I heard again,

“April, let me in.”

Me: “I can’t.”

“All you have to do is let me in. Just let me in.”

Me: “I don’t want you to see what the inside looks like. I don’t want you to see all the chaos, the clutter, the disorganized mess which lies about. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say that I have not been doing a very good job as of late with maintaining this place. I can’t allow you to see what a horrible mess I’ve made. So if you would please just come back some other time, maybe it will be better then. Please, not now. I’m not ready for you right now.”

Another long bout of silence ensued, and I thought my visitor had left. So I settled back down in the darkest corner of my fortress, and closed my eyes. Until I heard this:

“My child, I don’t care what it looks like. I don’t care what a mess it is. I don’t care that it’s not picture perfect. I’m not here to look at some picture perfect place as in those places I don’t belong. There’s nothing for me there. But here, among the chaos, and the mess, and the clutter, THIS IS WHERE I BELONG. You see, I’m here to help you clean it up. I’m here to sit with you when you need to take breaks. I’m here to do some of the harder things for you. I’m here to fill that hole you’ve been trying to fill, the hole that was created just for Me. I’m here to remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

“My child, my love for you overflows the oceans. Overwhelms the skies. Lights up the darkness. My love for you moves mountains. Fills the air with beautiful sound. All for you. I know you feel unloved, unimportant, alone, afraid, and that you want to give up. I hear the pain in your heart as if it was my very own. My child, I’m not here because you’ve got it all together. I’m here because I want to be here. Because I want to draw you close to me and provide you the love and protection that you need. Take my hand, my child.

“When you feel unloved, unimportant, undeserving, and insecure about your place and your purpose in this world, I need you to remember one thing. I NEED YOU TO REMEMBER TO WHOM YOU BELONG. That, my child, will never change.”

 

It’s amazing what we hear when we open our hearts and our souls to God.

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April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

To be seen or not to be seen…that is the question…

I am definitely not a person who wants to be seen, and often I don’t want to be heard. In fact, I’m quite comfortable sitting within the shadows, hanging out in the background, doing the behind-the-scenes work. I’ve never been one who has wanted to be in the spotlight. I’ve never wanted the credit, to be called out publicly, or to put myself out there. I’ve been helping Nate out with the Initiative for a year now, and I’ve only just now started to put my name on things. Originally I had asked Nate not to call me out or give me credit for things because I didn’t feel worthy enough to be recognized. I didn’t feel that I was that important to be recognized. Fear has held me back. Fear that I wasn’t going to be accepted. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. Fear that I was going to mess up, do something wrong. In fact, I didn’t even want to put my name on the bottom of these blog posts, but I kinda had to.

The irony in what I had set out to do, to hide in the background, is that God didn’t call me to be silent. God didn’t call me to be in the background, in the shadows. God called me exactly for that purpose…to be seen and to be heard. And when I say this, I don’t mean in a way that is flashy, or all about myself, or self-centered. What I mean by this is that God has called me to share my story, share my testimony, share my passion. Through my story, through my pain, God is writing my story not so that it can be put on a shelf, but so that it can be taken up and read, and passed along for others to read. When they read my story, they are going to be reading about God. So if I continue to hide in the background, in the shadows, then I am ultimately hiding God, and He recently called me out on that. How can I shine God’s light when I am reluctant to show it?

If it’s one thing that I have learned throughout my recovery journey, it’s that vulnerability begets vulnerability. However, with vulnerability comes risk, and it’s terrifying to overcome that risk. It takes courage to overcome that risk in order to bear our hearts, our truths, our feelings, our story. It takes courage to come face to face with our fears, our denial, and to embrace the painful journey of recovery, of change. It takes vulnerability to stand up and ask for what we need. All too often vulnerability is seen as weakness, portrayed as something in which exposes us to being destroyed. Yet, it’s that same willingness to risk vulnerability that shows our willingness to trust God. To be faithful.

It is through our vulnerabilities that we are saying to God, “Here I am God, and I am trusting you. I am trusting you not to destroy me. I am trusting you to heal whatever inside me is broken, and to heal the pain and the hurt that has built up within these cracked walls. ” You see, when I share, or when I talk, or when I put myself out there, I have no idea what the outcome is going to be. I could say something and knock it out of the park, or I could share something and hear crickets chirping sweetly in the background. Either way, it’s me being vulnerable, continuing to trust the process of recovery. It is through my vulnerability that I am able to explore my darkness, and expose it to the healing power of the light. I cannot heal what I cannot see. And God cannot effectively heal what I refuse to show Him. And others cannot see the light of Christ within me if I remain in the background, in the shadows, unseen.

Armed with that knowledge, I began to step out of my comfort zone and further into the vulnerability zone, quite like I am doing writing this blog post. I think my first step to being more vulnerable began with my trip to the East Coast Summit. There I sat, in a room full of people I don’t know, and all I wanted to do was sit in a corner, away from everyone, yet I found myself at a table pretty close to the front of the room. I sat and listened as I heard my name called out in front of hundreds. Again during that same day, my name was called out and I remember shaking my head in disbelief. I didn’t deserve to have my name mentioned! During the mental health workshop, Nate was talking about a mental health champion and then I guess something came over him and he called me out and drew attention to me, giving me as an example for the other mental health champions who had attended the workshop. I distinctly remember him saying that he was going to be in so much trouble for that… I think that’s the exact moment that it finally hit me. That I couldn’t hide anymore. That I needed to be vulnerable and allow myself to be an example, to allow others to put a name to a face, to allow others to come up and ask me questions. To be vulnerable and lead by example. It’s not just about getting all the credit, it’s about being the hands and feet of Christ. Being available to be used as God needs me to be. (I guess I should also clarify that no, he did not get in trouble for calling me out although the verdict is still out on that. I should probably thank him for doing it.)

I’ve started to put my name on posts that I help out with. I’ve started to receive feedback. I’ve started to receive questions and comments that if I had not put my name out there, people would not know that I am a resource to reach out to. It helps remind Nate that he doesn’t have to do everything alone. That he doesn’t bear the full responsibility. I’ve also started sharing other parts of my story, parts which I’ve kept hidden. Being vulnerable has allowed me to connect with others that I would not have connected with otherwise. My vulnerability allows God to reach that many more. I can only imagine how much more is going to happen with my new-found vulnerability.

I must be vulnerable to ask for what I need. To be able to reach those that God wants to reach through my story. To shine God’s light for others to see. Vulnerability is courage. It takes courage to tell my story with my whole heart.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health X-Factor

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Not what I planned

When I was younger I never imagined that I would be living in Duluth MN….married…and a father. I saw myself more as a bachelor living in a major city. Chicago or New York maybe. What I have now is not what I planned.

I love the energy that a major city offers. The hustle and bustle is something that makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger, greater. I remember as a kid sitting on the front porch of my Grandparent’s home in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago. Even when the Cubs were not playing there seemed to always be something going on. People coming and going. Cars driving down the street, often times too fast for my Grandfather’s liking.

I remember walking down by Montrose beach, looking at the skyline and just being in awe. So many buildings, so many people, so much life. Of course, I assumed I would be single, then I could do as I pleased when I pleased.  I loved the city. I loved the idea of not having responsibilities.

That is so not what happened. My plans didn’t just change they went on a complete 180! I just found myself looking at farm land online. Farmland! I’m looking for a place with rolling hills, a spot for some horses and quiet. I don’t need anything extravagant. I want a small house, a shop to work in, and a front porch to sit with my family and watch the sun set in the evening. I want a simple life. The opposite of what I dreamed of growing up.

In fact at one point in my life I was so opposite of this I hated to look outside. My family growing up moved to a small town in Northwest Wisconsin. All I saw was forest in every direction. I hated those trees. I hated the town. It took me all of about a month after turning 18 to move to the city I am in now. A city that was meant to be a pit stop in the road on my way to the big city back in 1993.

So what happened? Mostly, it was because I met a girl. Women have a way of getting a man to change his mind about things. This one changed my mind about everything. I never wanted to stay in a smaller city. I didn’t want to have kids. I didn’t want to get married. I definitely never wanted to live on a horse ranch.

Two days ago I celebrated 19 years of marriage to that girl by driving home from the Celebrate Recovery Summit in Nashville Tennessee, with a teenager in the back seat and a travel trailer behind my pickup truck. I found myself looking at open fields wishing I owned one of them and wondering how I got to that point. And how in the world did I get to being happy about being at this point?

The answer is God.

My wife didn’t fix me. I didn’t develop a love for the land on a whim. I didn’t learn to enjoy the quiet. God changed my heart to not be afraid. I wanted busy to drown out the noise in my head. I wanted to stay single because it seemed safer than to risk being hurt. I was afraid to be a Dad because I didn’t want my child to turn out like me.

I am not a different person than I was growing up. I didn’t lose me by becoming a Christian, by sobering up, by risking to love. I became me. I am able to realize who I am. I am able to realize who God created me to be. And here is the strange part. I like it. I like who God is shaping me to be. I haven’t arrived yet, but I can see where I am going and I like it.

If you are struggling to see where you are going. If you are struggling to see hope. If you are struggling to see purpose. If you are struggling to see your worth. Please hear me when I say that it won’t always be this way. I will never promise that life will be perfect. It won’t. You will get hurt, you will have loss, you may have to live in a small city that somehow manages to get 13 months of winter every year. However, if you hang on, if you let God have control, you will find your way. Something I never thought I would do. But the reason I couldn’t see it was because I was looking for it in the opposite direction. What I wanted was not what God wanted. And what God wanted is so much better. Please don’t give up. If you are willing, over time, God will show you a way. It may be just a different way than you thought. A better way.

We can’t force happiness, but God can cultivate joy. Don’t give up.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery