Keep Walking

“You ever feel pressure to be perfect? Like, once you start in your steps you can never fail again? We all have the ability to become robotic in our recoveries and avoid feeling. Nobody likes to be tense, uptight, or stressed. Celebrate Recovery can help people recover from perfectionism or control. We all make mistakes and will continue to make them. We need to have grace for ourselves and others… just like God has grace for us. You are not a robot.” (quote from February 1, 2022, post on Celebrate Recovery Facebook page)

This year, I volunteered to co-lead a Journey Begins step study in my local CR. I was honest with my other co-leaders that I had come to realize that my first step study really dealt with my own self-hatred and the issues I was dealing with when I first entered recovery. As I have dug deeper into my heart and sought to bring ALL my hurts, hang-ups, and habits to Father, I realized that there was a lot of pain I had still been suppressing. Those have been rising to the surface in a desire to find the same freedom and healing that I initially experienced, and I have been hard-pressed to continue to ignore them. In fact, I did try for quite awhile, but there is still a hurting little girl inside me who demands to be seen and taken care of, and I have learned I am not loving myself well if I neglect those hurting parts of myself. I feel like I am clinging with all ten of my toes to a precipice overlooking deep pain, and I have no idea how I am going to react once I step off that ledge. There is a part of me that fears that possible reaction. I am afraid that it will be more than I can handle, and that I will shut down or even have an emotional breakdown. I wanted to be upfront with them, even though a dear mentor and one of the leaders of my very first step study assured me that would not happen. It’s so easy to fear the unknown, even when that is one’s self.

As I have gone further into our first Participant’s Guide answering each question honestly, I have seen my anxiety, my co-dependency, and what I am calling my control-freakiness explode. It took me awhile to realize that a lot of this is due to the fact that I was caught unaware by all the pain that I still have lurking, including, to my dismay, things I thought I had already worked through. My sponsor has encouraged me that I HAD worked through some of those things, but as I access deeper pain I also am bringing to surface the coping mechanisms that I developed in order to be able to survive that pain when I was not ready to deal with it. One of those things, I am finding, is perfectionism. I’ve always known I had perfectionist tendencies. That tends to go along with having a critical parent whose love seemed to be conditional upon my performance. Failures were always noticed and criticized. Achievements were rarely acknowledged. I have lived my life with a debilitating fear of failure. If I was uncertain if I would be able to learn to do something quickly and proficiently, I would not even try. Failure was not an option. It was too great a risk to try something I might not be good at, or even worse, FAIL in doing. And I have come to realize that my fear of failure is rooted in an intense fear of rejection and abandonment. The whys of that are for another time. What is relevant to me right now is that taking a step to lead this step study has been a huge risk. What if I FAIL? I have spent my life perfectly content to be in the background, on the sidelines, out of notice but also out of responsibility. Now, there are women looking to me to lead, to be an example for them to follow and learn from my experience, strength, and hope. Becoming a sponsor was terrifying. This is on a whole other level. What happens if I lose it? What happens if I fall apart? What kind of an example am I then?

The truth is, which I would tell any sponsee if she asked me the same questions, I WILL fail…in some things. I am NOT perfect… and that’s okay. In fact, I am incapable of being perfect. In recovery, relapse is not the end. All I need to do IF I relapse is go back to that first step. Choose again to admit that “I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors and that my life has become unmanageable”. The great news is that I have travelled this road before. The steps are familiar, and I know the way. I just need to release the control, “consciously choose to commit my life and my will over to Christ’s care and control”, and work the steps again…one at a time. I don’t know what the future of this step study holds for me. I don’t know what my next inventory will dig up. I do know a few things. There are a whole lot more positives on my inventory this time around. I have experienced healing and freedom from the pain of addiction before, and there is HOPE that I will do so again. Father hasn’t changed. He is the same God who took me through the pain of my sexual abuse and equipped me to truly forgive my perpetrator. He is the same God now who can heal the wounds of emotional abuse and neglect and be the constant and unconditionally loving parent that I lacked. And IF I fail, as long as I don’t give up, as long as I start with that first step again and keep taking one step at a time, I am not a FAILURE. The road to recovery is full of starts, stops, rabbit trails, resting, sitting down by the road, going back to the beginning, but still moving in a forward direction. Recovery is “Progress, not perfection”. And no matter which way this goes, I know my experience will still be able to help and encourage others along the road.

Keep walking.

Recovery During a Season of Grief

Recovery is hard. I’m not going to sugar coat it as anything other than hard work and tenacity. There are seasons of rest and joy and celebration when the work pays off, but there’s also a need to be honest with myself about the pain that has driven me to do the things I do and make the choices I make and a willingness to work through the pain I’ve spent decades avoiding because the only real way out is through. But those times I get that victory, and those hurts get healed…it makes every step of the journey worth it.

And then, I suddenly find myself an orphan. And the one person who had been there from my first memory isn’t there anymore. Suddenly, recovery becomes like trying to drag a 50-lb. boulder tied around my waist up a steep mountain on a path I can barely see anymore. It takes concerted effort just to put one foot in front of another. It takes a lot of setting aside time just to sob uncontrollably in a safe environment so I don’t lose it in a public place. It takes relapsing and running back to food to find some comfort when there’s none to be had. And then it’s shame because I feel like I failed, and I’m right back to step one…again and again and again. Recovery is hard. Recovery in the midst of grief is a battle. I lost a few skirmishes along the way. But I kept fighting. I’ve been bloody and bone-weary and felt like giving up. But I kept fighting. I’m still so very sad, and I miss my mom so much sometimes it is a palpable pain. But I keep fighting. I keep taking one step at a time, even if it is just an inch, because I know the fight is worth it. I know there is still hope and healing in honesty. I keep trusting the process. And I put my hand into the hand of the only Parent I have left because I KNOW He cares for me, and He will never leave me. And the journey continues.

Recovery is hard. Grief is hard. But I do not walk through either one alone. I have a team. I have encouragers. I have those who just sit with me and let me cry. I have people who pray. I have a coach who tells me the truth even when I don’t want to hear it and never gets upset when I say I’m not ready to talk about something. I have mentors who have walked the path before me. I have those who reach out when they haven’t heard from me in awhile because they know my tendency to isolate and shut down when I’m hurting. And I have a few friends that stick closer than sisters. I am not alone. Because I know I’m not alone, I know I can keep fighting. I can do the hard, “one day at a time, one moment at a time”.

Firsts

Firsts. There are happy firsts and difficult firsts. My son’s first smile, the first time my husband told me he loved me, the first time I realized I was no longer depressed; those were all great firsts that brought an immensity of joy. The first time my son had a seizure, the first time I was rejected by someone I loved dearly, the first time I realized I was repeating unhealthy parenting patterns; those are incredibly painful memories. Those firsts, the ones I wish had never occurred, those are embedded. The pain associated with them makes their memory rise to the surface so much easier than the happy ones, as if they are permanently tattooed on my brain so I can NEVER forget, no matter how much I might want to.

Grief is a little different. I remember that first Christmas, just three weeks after Daddy died. It was hard, but there’s a film over it, like I’m looking at the memory through a clouded window. I was still numb. I feel the same way about the dinner we had for Mom’s birthday just one month after she’d gone. I remember it, but it’s hazy. And maybe that’s a blessing of grief. It causes the one experiencing the loss to be numb enough to not feel the full weight of all those firsts. They are hard enough.

This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom. In looking through some pictures to share with a family member, I found a Mother’s Day card from Mom and realized I would never receive another one. I would never again receive a card from her telling me all the things she found it hard to verbalize. So, there are also lasts. But we don’t recognize the importance of those until after they have passed and those firsts bring them to our awareness.

I am thinking anew of what it means to live each moment as if it were my last.

1,095 Days – One Day at a Time

Three years ago, I could not have imagined where I am today. I walked through those double doors on a Friday night, absolutely petrified. I didn’t like crowds. I felt uncomfortable around strangers. And I had no familiar person to hide behind, which was my preferred place to be. It had been a long year to get to that point. A year of Father prompting and nudging that these were the steps (HA!) that I needed to take. Even after I decided I was desperate enough to seek help and shared with my best friends I was finally going to start this journey, it still took three weeks of loving (annoying) prompting from one of them (“Are you going this week?”) before I finally surrendered. And truth be told, I went that first week just to shut her up. (I did not realize yet how much of a people pleaser I am.)

Walking through those doors into that cavernous room filled with a cacophony of voices, I made a beeline for the outskirts, my favorite place to be. All the way to the left, as close to the wall as I could get, buried in the middle row so I wouldn’t be too far forward or visible from behind. A wallflower; invisible. My comfort zone.

Once worship started, I was able to set aside my fear briefly (for the most part). People around me weren’t paying attention to me. They were worshiping! It was glorious! I was able to lose myself in the singing for awhile, but soon the music was over and the lesson began. I don’t even remember what the lesson was that night. All I recall was sitting in that seat completely certain that no woman there in that “Fellowship Hall” was struggling with what I had been battling for three decades. I felt alone, hopeless, and fairly sure this place couldn’t help me.

Anyone’s first night at Celebrate Recovery, they are encouraged to go to a one-time group called CR 101. This is a group that educates newcomers on the small group format, what group options there are, and answers any questions. After large group, I dutifully filed into the room where CR 101 was held and sat down in the very back. I don’t remember processing consciously that it was so I could make a quick getaway, but having come to know myself a bit better, I’m pretty sure that was definitely a consideration. CR 101 has both a male and a female leader, and the group starts with each leader giving a short 2-3 minute testimony of their recovery. The woman that was leading that night began to share her story, and all I could do was sit there in shock, tears coursing down my face, as she told my story. In fact, her story was more horrific than mine, but there she was, boldly proclaiming that she had sought recovery for much of the same that finally drove me through those double doors. And I began, just a little bit, to have hope that maybe, just maybe, this WAS where Father wanted me to be.

The next week I returned, a little more hopeful, a little less afraid. I went to a small group I thought might fit (it didn’t). After small group, I went to Solid Rock, a gathering for meeting new people and developing relationships. I had skipped it my first week because I was so overwhelmed, but this time I was determined to track down that lady leader from the week before. When I found her, I expressed to her how much it meant to me that she had shared her testimony, that I had been convinced I was the only one. She listened to me then shared how she hadn’t even been on the roster to lead CR 101 that night. The woman that had been scheduled to lead had to cancel that afternoon, and she was the one asked to fill in. I don’t think I will ever forget the immense awareness of Father’s love for me in that moment.

I could not have imagined the amount of healing I would experience over the next three years. After decades of being depressed, I had no concept of what it would feel like to NOT be. I didn’t have a clue of the number of tools I would gain to help me learn new strategies for processing my pain, or that one day I would be sponsoring other women and helping them learn those tools. All I knew that night was that, for the first time ever, I had a sense that there was hope, and that I had taken that first step.

And I’ve never looked back.

Who Am I?

It never ceases to amaze me the contemplation that often arises for me from the fanfiction I read. Maybe it is because I am drawn to fiction about the broken characters with whom I relate in entertainment media, whether it be literary, television, or film. After a long stint in Star Wars (Reylo stan, that I am), I have returned to Sherlock and my beloved Sherlolly ship. I have been reading a two-parter by LaMorenaReina on AO3 entitled, “Molly Hooper, The Reigning Queen” (I want to give her the credit she is due), a post-TFP fic where Molly spent time finding herself after she realized that she had completely lost who she was in loving Sherlock. After their friendship is restored, Sherlock expressed how he felt like he had reached a “crisis of identity” where he is struggling to figure out what is truly him, and what is the persona he had put on for self-protection. Molly acknowledged that she understood, and that it was “scary and frustrating”. I have been processing a conversation I had with my sponsor the other day about how IMPERATIVE (she usually emphasizes that word) it is for me to find out what I like and who I am, and it suddenly dawned on me that this is exactly where I am.

I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with a family member who told me that I was starting to “rediscover” that strong, independent, happy child she remembered as a toddler, and I was dumbfounded because she was describing me as a person I do not remember. I still struggle so much to see myself as someone who is not weak, scared, and unwanted. Yet, if the perfect storm of situations in which I have found myself the past few months have proven anything to me, it is definitely that I am NOT weak. I have discovered many things about myself over the past three months; I am stronger, wiser, and more capable than I ever thought I could be. So, what do I do with this influx of new information about myself? How do I let go of this view of me I have had for almost four decades in the face of such contradictory evidence? I have this real fear I do not know myself at all. To what level, in my desire to be known and accepted and loved by others, did I give up my own personhood?

To be continued …

Recovery During Covid-19 – Part One

How do I recover in isolation? The purpose of joining a recovery program is to realize that I’m not alone. That there is a community of others with similar experiences, hurts, and habits who help me have the courage and hope to keep pressing on. How do I do that during a pandemic? 

Celebrate Recovery has been fantastic! We have daily videos from the national team available on YouTube. Our local CR group posts a large group video every week. Now, even small groups have the ability to meet online in a way that still protects anonymity and confidentiality. We are blessed to live in a time where we have such unfettered access through media to things that are helpful. I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunities and connections that we do have available.

If I am completely honest, however, even the abundance of resources we do have doesn’t feel like enough. In our first small group meeting online, I could not contain the tears that overflowed from just being able to see the faces of these sisters who have come to mean so much to me. And I am struggling with the lack of physical connection. I am a hugger. I thought that was just part of my personality, but I am finding it to be an emotional need. This physical isolation feels like I am wasting away and something vital to my health and state of mind is missing. I took for granted the number of hugs I received on a weekly basis, and now I am aching at their absence.

I am also struggling to find the drive to do anything other than just hide until this all goes away. By hide, I literally mean retreat back into denial and try to pretend that none of this is happening. Is this a great time to grow closer to Father and focus on growing in my knowledge and capacity? Sure, I see that. But I am at a loss as to what steps to take in order to actually do that when I feel completely lost and empty. Two years this month I have been in recovery, and I have not felt the temptation to go back as strong in all that time as I have the last two weeks. I was hoping to be celebrating this month. Instead,I find myself hanging on with everything I have because I don’t want to lose all I have worked so hard for.

Just Be

Find rest, my soul, in God alone. His love never fails. 
When the darkness closes in, His light, alone, prevails.
There is no other refuge When the storm is raging strong.
Only God can calm the wind, Lift my troubled heart in song.
When I am lost and broken, and I cannot find my way, 
He is the One who rescues me and drives the dark away.
When I wander from the fold, get lost and feel alone,
He never fails to seek me out and carry me back home.
I have not known another love so faithful and so true. 
I’ve tried to have my heart be known by everyone but You.
The more I seek to find someone to see some worth in me,
The more I find in You, alone, is everything I need.

Nicole A. Bartell 2-25-2020

GOOD News

So, it’s been awhile since I posted anything. I can’t say it has all been bad, or I’ve been depressed, because thank Father, that has not been the case. And I’m thinking how I posted I was going to share the reality of recovery which includes the good and the bad, and yet, I haven’t been doing that. I want to change that.

The work of recovery is hard. Is it as hard as not dealing with my junk? I waffle on that. Gaining victory is worth it, and I am always glad I did the work when it’s in the rear view mirror. When I’m in it though, I still struggle with the desire to hide away from it; the pain, the work, reality. I struggle with taking that first Step. I recognize that I spend less time hiding than I used to, but it is still my first response. I have hope that one day that will not be the case.

This week has been filled with trigger after trigger, and I have not always dealt with it well. But I have been using my recovery tools. One of those tools is an exercise my sponsor taught me to take my fear (specifically in this case, although I guess it can be used for any emotion) and continue to break it down by what comes next if that fear comes to pass until I get down to the core belief that is driving the fear. Almost every time I do this exercise (which I have made abundantly clear to my sweet, patient sponsor I absolutely HATE doing!), it comes down to the same core belief. I do the things I do out of fear of rejection because somewhere deep down I believe I am unwanted and not worthy of love. So many choices I make, often unhealthy for me, in regards to other people are done to please others and keep them from rejecting me. I spent years unhappy in legalism because I wanted to be accepted and loved. When my unhappiness couldn’t take it anymore, even then my husband had to be the one to make the decision to get out of the situation because I could not bear the thought of losing people I loved. And I did. I’ve made multiple financial decisions that have been detrimental to us because I thought I needed to “earn” love, or I wanted to shower those who did love me with my appreciation in the hopes that they would stay. I didn’t say any of these decisions were rational. In fact, I am learning that lies that have become core beliefs rarely operate logically because they come from a lower part of the brain function, more automatic response.

All of that to say I came face to face with this particular core belief multiple times this week. I realized just today that I hate doing this exercise so much because it causes me to see a part of myself I don’t like. And I struggle with wondering if it really is a lie. And that’s the crux of it, the reason I don’t like seeing it…because of that little voice that whispers, “What if it’s true?” So I asked Father, “Is this true?” Scripture after scripture flooded my mind:

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:14‬ ‭

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
‭‭I Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭

“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
‭‭I Peter‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:29-30‬ ‭

All of these Scriptures combine to tell me one thing…something spoken by a dear old saint that has resonated with me ever since I first heard it… “God doesn’t make junk.” The mere fact that I am alive and breathing conveys worth to me. The fact that the Son of God willingly gave up His rights to come to earth as a man, suffer humiliation, rejection, torture and death in order to return me to relationship with Father conveys value to me. The fact that I am redeemed not as a slave or a servant but adopted as an heir, a co-heir with the King of heaven…what does that say about my worth to an infinite and holy God? And not because of anything that I have done or haven’t done. Simply because He made me. That is a concept I am, really for the first time, beginning to contemplate and try to get my head around.

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:32‬ ‭

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.””
‭‭John‬ ‭8:32‬ ‭

Hoping for Bendemption

In the last few years, since the release of The Force Awakens, I have been a little obsessed with Star Wars (my family would argue that the adjective “little” is a gross understatement).  One of the reasons I have been so fascinated with the Sequel Trilogy is because of the character of Ben Solo, also known by his alter ego Kylo Ren.  This character has to be one of the most complex characters ever written in Star Wars, and I have devoured every nuance, every piece of back story I could find.

What does this have to do with recovery?  There has been quite a bit of hate and vitriol spewed on social media towards those who consider themselves Reylos (those who like the idea of a romantic relationship between Ben and Rey).  Because we like to ship these characters together we are accused of supporting abusive and toxic relationships.  A Twitter friend of mine was accused of this and posted about how, as an abused person herself, this was extremely offensive to her.  It got me thinking about why I am so drawn to characters like Ben Solo, and Erik (the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera), and BBC’s Sherlock.  I have always, as far back as I can remember, been drawn to broken and hurting characters.  Maybe it is my co-dependent nature.  But what I’ve been ruminating on for awhile, and finally posted on Twitter today, is that the real reason I am drawn to these characters is because I see myself in them.  I have spent years in self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness, just hoping to be accepted for who I am and loved for the same but never quite being able to believe I deserved it.  I’ve been working with my sponsor for about a week now on the fact that I still feel like I don’t deserve Father’s love and therefore have a very hard time receiving it without feeling as if I need to earn it (which of course I am incapable of doing).  These broken characters have a part of them that they see as ugly, a part they feel no one wants or loves, and they believe this so much about themselves that they lash out and hurt as they themselves have been hurt.  I see myself in them.

Our family just finished reading John Eldredge’s book Epic, which puts forth the idea that we, as human beings, are drawn to stories, and the desire for the adventure, drama, romance, etc., of a good story, because we were created to have a part in The Story.  We long for our own “happy ending”, our “Happily Ever After”, yet struggle to believe that is available to us, so we settle for trying to live vicariously through fictional characters in books, movies, television shows.  And this is at the crux of why I am drawn to these broken, hurting, angry characters, and why I long to see Ben Solo find redemption and then to be happy with Rey.  He’s had a scarred childhood.  He has had this evil man in his head whispering lies to him since he was a young boy.  His father abandoned him.  His mother neglected him.  His legendary Jedi uncle didn’t believe in him and, in a moment of weakness, considered killing him.  I can SEE why he turned to the dark side.  I have lived, to some extent, the reason he turned to the dark side.  And I long for him to have a happy ending, redemption from his sins and to be loved for who he really is by someone who sees the good in him when no one else does.  I long for him to have it because I long for me to have it.  If fiction truly is, in its simplest form, an essay on real life, then that is my story.  And I want a happy ending.

How I wish I could wax eloquently about how I have found that happy ending in Jesus.  To some measure, I have.  I have found acceptance and love for who I am, right where I am, dirty deeds and all.  But deep down, I still have this core belief that I might still be abandoned, turned away from, that if I struggle just a little too long with a particular sin, that may be the “final straw” where He throws up His hands and gives up.  I can say I struggle with this feeling less now than I used to, but it hasn’t completely gone away.  I hope one day it will.  That I will be able to joyfully see myself as who I am declared in Scripture to be; special, beloved, chosen.  Until then, I keep fighting my demons that tell me I am worthless, ugly, unloved, and ask Father to replace those lies with His truth and allow me to see my place in His Story, the part specially designed for me to play.  And hope for my happy ending.

Celebrate Recovery, even when I don’t feel it

I’ve had enough for today. I am feeling very overwhelmed. Leaning on the knowledge that I go to CR two very specific times…when I want to, and especially when I don’t. I would rather crawl into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and stay there the rest of the day. Maybe sleep until a new day dawns. But instead, I will take a shower. I will brush my teeth. I will get dressed and drive across town where I will rehearse with the praise team. I will sing to my Father because I know He loves me even when I struggle to feel it (thank you, Lauren Daigle, for putting that into a song). I will rest in knowing I am not alone, and I am with people who understand, maybe even some who feel the same. I don’t feel it, but I am doing it anyway.