Thursday, May 26, 2016

Recovery and the Three Legged Stool

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ~2 Corinthians 12:8-9

We all have experienced the need for recovery. For some of us, it is a once broken heart. For others, a hard childhood or traumatic event that caused some damage and left unhealed wounds or painful scars. For many, healing from a chronic illness or injury is what is needed. As human beings, we all have something that still requires recovery.

I will never forget the sermon I heard, where the pastor told the congregation that complete healing would not take place until we were fully in God’s presence. Of course that means when we are with Him in eternity. At the time I didn’t agree with or totally understand what he meant. Over the years, through gaining a deeper, more insightful walk with The Lord, I have changed my mind. If we grew, healed and matured at that rate, wouldn’t we be perfect? God is certainly perfecting us, by molding and shaping us through our experiences here on earth, but we will not be perfect while we are still here.

“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”.  ~1 John 3:2

So our quest for healing to our best potential which we call “Recovery” is ongoing throughout one’s lifetime. It is part of our walk with the Lord. The model of recovery is much like a three legged stool which looks like this:  

When we are trying to recover, meeting our maximum potential and maintaining recovery requires three necessary components: faith, social support and medical intervention. What degree of each that is needed is different for each person and his or her situation. Many Christians would argue that we need God alone to recover: “By His stripes we are healed.” ~Isaiah 53:5. That is true, but God works directly and indirectly. Sometimes he works through people and medications.

If you broke your arm and had a complex fracture that required surgery but instead had your arm set in a simple cast, your bones would not heal properly. They wouldn’t be right until they were fixed correctly. How many things inside of us have not healed properly? How many things from the past affect our view of life, relationships, people and ourselves?

Your stool may be unbalanced. Is it possible that you were or are missing what you need to move forward and heal to your fullest potential? I know I don’t want to go through life wobbling, waiting to tip over and fall down. Many still do this over and over again. It doesn’t have to be this way. If we are willing to take the steps we need for the fullest, life filling recovery possible, each one of us can have it. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

                                          Each Leg of the Stool

Medical Intervention           Social Interaction               Faith
Diagnosis                           Outpatient hospital             Personal relationship Treatment                                                                     with God                        
Medication                          Counseling                         Church                                  
Therapies                           Group Therapy                   Bible Studies                      
Follow Ups                          Support Groups                 Faith Groups                        
Tests                                    Friends and  family            Prayer                                                                            and more     

For someone who is experiencing a chronic illness, it is vital to fully have all three legs of the stool firmly planted in order to have a solid recovery and a fulfilling life. Medical intervention is essential not only to diagnose and treat what is wrong, but also to maintain the physical aspects of recovery. If one is trying to recover from an emotional injury or a trauma, it may not necessarily require medical intervention. Deep or chronic stress can deplete chemicals in the brain to the point that medication may be needed, even temporarily to restore balance and get the chemicals regulated. If this has happened and it remains untreated, symptoms of anxiety or depression will not go away regardless of what else is done. In order to be able to have a successful recovery, this must be managed.

Many times, people don’t realize the need for social interaction. Healthy interaction is a vital part of the recovery process. In some cases, especially when mental symptoms manifest, counseling and/or group therapy may be needed for a while. It is a way to help one sort through their thoughts when they can’t do it by themselves. Having an outside party (counseling) or parties (group therapy) in a confidential setting where one can talk candidly can be so helpful when trying to establish a path to recovery. It is not a matter of someone else giving a person answers as having someone help that person find their own answers. Support groups are a great way to have the confidential interaction with outside parties in a casual way. Many find friends in these support groups and usually can find groups that pertain to the specific issue they are facing.

Friends and family are of course the foundation of social interaction. Sometimes, when facing recovery, close friends or family members may not be on board. This is found to be especially true when facing invisible or misunderstood illnesses (illnesses that don’t necessarily show on the outside such as many auto-immune diseases, some rare diseases,fibromyalgia and mental illness.) When people don’t understand, they don’t know what to do, and many times feel lost for an answer. This so often comes out the wrong way to the person who is trying to recover.

For us, it is important to surround ourselves with people who will reinforce the positive. What about those who are toxic to our recovery? When it’s a family member, it may be better to see that person less, or if that’s not possible, to get help in establishing healthy boundaries. Two excellent books on this subject are “Boundaries” and “Christian Boundaries,” both by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. For friendships in which the dynamics change it may be good to reassess the relationship. I found that I lost friends when I got sick. I was very upset at first, but eventually realized our friendships were conditional and not a big loss in this part of my life. That season was over. I made friends who accepted the whole package including my illnesses, which are just a part of my life and not who I am.

The third leg of the stool, which I personally believe is the most important is faith. When I think of my own journey through chronic, progressive illness, I cannot imagine making it without my faith. In my darkest moments, it wasn’t my friends or a counselor, and it wasn’t my medications or treatments that lifted me out of a black hole. It was the hope and the faith that I have in my God that kept me going.  It was the knowing that He is the one who is in control that gave me hope. It is so hard to be told you are not going to get better, or having to process a trauma. Whatever the case may be, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. Having faith allows me to do that. The only way I can let go is by having something to hold onto. That something for me and for so many others, is the One who never goes anywhere and will always help us through. He never promised we wouldn’t have hard things, but He did promise we would never face hardships alone. 

The Three Legged Stool approach to recovery results in the most fulfilling recovery possible. When we cannot heal fully, we have to process loss. Grieving takes time and is hard. When there is no closure, we will continually revisit those cycles of grief. Having a balanced approach to recovery gives us what we need to get back up and move forward. For me, it has meant new dreams and goals, new friends and visions, new perspective, and a new beginning every morning.