I want to talk to you this week about why people, are such an important part of our trauma recovery. It’s so easy to isolate with our stories and our pain. It’s just as easy to stuff it down with a bad habit – especially during this time of social distancing when people are seeing each other less. But we have to get out of our cocoons and reach out and at some point we’ll be able to go back into those cocoons for a time, but for healing in a healthy way and I’ll talk about that today too.
If you’ve seen the articles, or you’ve experienced it yourself – you know that this epidemic is causing a surge of mental health problems across the country – depression, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD and suicide. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus is harming their mental health. We talk a lot about the number of cases, but not enough about the mental health issues happening in our homes. I believe this is the enemy working, trying to defeat people in their minds – his favorite place to work – so they don’t seek the light of Christ.
We are people, and people need people.
I love this quote from Henry Cloud who writes on boundaries. He says, “Mature, healthy people need other people; they don’t isolate themselves. Needing love isn’t being immature. Rather, it gives us the energy we need to go out and slay our dragons.”
John 15:12 tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
We need each other in order to love, and to lift each other up out of our pits, because slaying dragons isn’t easy.
When we’re struggling with reacting to life out of trauma we want to isolate, especially if we struggle with something like social anxiety or panic attacks. I sure have, and it is not fun. We want to protect ourselves, stay in a bubble, not let other people in.
Now, there is a time for this and I’ll talk about that today. But first we have to come out of our shells and reach out.
I am a big believer that if you are willing to look and listen for God’s guidance, he will put the people in your life at the time you need them to pull you out of that pit.
Henri Nouwen said this, “Pay attention to the people God puts in your path if you want to discern what God is up to in your life.”
It all starts – with Jesus. He’s the one who pulls us out of the pit when we’re done isolating. Psalm 40 verse 2 says, “He brought me out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,”
He pulls us out of the pit of our self-destruction.
When He did that for me I just knew it was Jesus. I knew it wasn’t the God I grew up with. It was Him, and from that moment I went from knowing God only in religion textbooks and Sunday masses to being in relationship with Jesus.
Slowly but surely, he guided me and walked with me because it was not easy for me to get to that place. So don’t think when I say, “Oh, It’s Jesus,” I’m saying that lightly. I know how difficult and delicate that journey is if you haven’t known Him this way. So it’s okay if you are hesitant to let Him in. He knows. He just waits. There is no one more patient and loving than our God. Revelation 3:20 reminds us of this, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” He’s not banging on the door. He’s waiting for us to hear his voice and open the door.
The second part of that Psalm 40:2 says, “And he set my feet upon a rick making my footsteps firm.”
The day I surrendered was the same day out of the depths of my heart I said, “I’ll follow you Lord. Wherever you want me to go, I will go.” From that moment on, he put the situations and people in my life to lift me out of that pit. He was making my footsteps firm.
So how did he do that?
Well, first of all let me say the journey back to letting people in looks different for all of us so I’m only sharing my perspective here. Yours will look different.
First, he put someone I’d known my whole life that had been in recovery for a long time. That person had been where I was and understood the journey. They could tell me like no one else could – “You don’t have to live like this anymore,” and I would hear it.
Then he put someone else in my path – my father. Years before, he’d walked closely with someone who’d struggled with addictions as well so he got it. He had a different perspective but heard me when I told him, “Dad I’m falling apart on the inside and I need help.” He didn’t understand it necessarily because he thought I was “the most put together girl he knew,” but that just showed how great the front can be that we put up. I was so grateful he’d had some experience with someone he loved, so he could have empathy.
When my Dad asked me what I needed and how he could support me, I just KNEW I needed to go somewhere to get help. I couldn’t just take a vacation. This was going to take serious work. And then the Lord put the place in my life that would be safe and healing for me to recover.
And in that place, he put the professionals I really needed to pull me out of the pit. These people would help me navigate my mental health so I wasn’t stuck in my own head anymore. They provided a safe community for me to process my feelings, an apartment where I could learn to rebuild my life again without alcohol and healthy food choices, and they gave me the ability to go to 12-step meetings where I could be around other people who struggled with addictions as well and wanted recovery so that when I got home, I would continue to remain in recovery by going to meetings. It was there I’d build a foundation so that the day Dad passed I’d be in a meeting instead of picking up my old addictions.
I remember the last day of treatment. My therapist said to me, “Are you read to fly the nest?” And I was, because I’d gotten the tools I needed to help build a new life. My wings were rusty, but I was ready.
We all need that foundation, in some way. We all need that space where we can begin to heal from this. No we don’t all have the luxury of being able to go to treatment. But we do have resources. We can reach out for help to help us in that healing space.
That journey out of the pit looks different for every single one of us. For some of us it’s going to meetings and seeing a counselor. For some of us its treatment . Whatever it looks like, is how it’s supposed to look like for you.
As long as you aren’t running the show, God will guide you.
That is why it’s so important to trust Him first, because He has to be the one to put those people in your life – not just the ones on your social media feed, but the ones who will really show up and take your hand, and be the hands and feet of Jesus in your life.
Many times in Scripture, we are reminded of how the Lord reaches out his right hand to us. Isaiah 41 tells us twice in verse 10,
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In verse 13 he says,
“For I AM the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”
He reaches out his right hand and I believe puts those people in our lives to take our hand and walk with us.
Here’s the thing though. We need those people to walk with us in some way. But we also need sometimes on this journey to return to our shell where we can be restored. Whether that shell is physical or just mental, it will keep us safe on the journey. It reminds me of a a place in nature where God demonstrates this just beautifully.
And that is when he turns a caterpillar into a butterfly.
When you are at the beginning of this recovery journey, you feel like the caterpillar getting ready to go into the cocoon. You have no idea or really belief that you will actually turn into a a butterfly, you just have to get into that cocoon so you can protect your heart as you begin this journey.
Now, listen to what God does with the caterpillar.
When it goes into the cocoon, the caterpillar digests itself. (Now that’s a pretty gross image and we don’t do that, but it almost feels like that because the emotions are so overwhelming it churns our stomach and we’ll talk more about emotions next week.)
But that process of digesting themselves allows them to release the enzymes that dissolve all their tissues. (Kinda like feeling like doodoo and releasing our emotions makes them feel like they are just all over the place, right?)
And that process produces this gross ooze that if you were to open them up when it’s doing this would just ooze out. (Kinda like our process of healing is messy. It gets ugly. It’s just gross and we don’t want anyone to see it.)
Then they form these little discs that combine with the ooze to become the body parts of the butterfly that eventually emerges from this cocoon. (And how true is that about our lives and recovery from trauma? Sometimes we have to let it all fall apart so God can put our pieces back together, right?)
But then we become this beautiful butterfly. There are a few awesome quotes about butterflies I just want to share with you:
“Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she began to fly.” (We think our life is over when we’re pushing through that, right? But then somehow we begin to fly.)
And this one – “Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that too.”
Even if we don’t see it. Others can.
And, this one:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” That’s Maya Angelou.
If you are brave enough to walk through that transformation process? You are exactly that – BRAVE. Healing takes work.
The world may not acknowledge what you went through and only see your wings, but we know what we went through in that cocoon. We know how ugly our process was. We know God worked HARD on us. And we are GRATEFUL.
But we also know we didn’t get there by ourselves. There were people who helped us get there, who helped put our pieces back together. We would not have gotten to that place of being ready to heal if it wasn’t for Jesus, and the people He puts in our life.
So let’s get back to that – the people, because relationships are hard and we need to touch on that.
Let’s talk first about FAMILY.
Ironically God used two people from my family to begin the journey. The reason it’s ironic is because I came from a broken family. The image of family had become a crumbled mess.
How many of us come from family that isn’t quite family the way we see others have it. It’s maybe not safe. It’s maybe broken into pieces. So the idea of connecting with family is just crazy to us. But if we trust him, God will restore that concept of family – at least that’s what he’s done for me.
See, when we feel like orphans, Jesus comes near. He says in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans; i will come to you.” In Psalm 68:6 it tells us, “God sets the LONELY in families.”
When we believe in Him, we receive him.
We live in a world today where the spirit of the antichrist is everywhere. The world doesn’t recognize the Lord. But to those who will recognize him?
John 1 verse 12 tells us, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born NOT of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but BORN OF GOD.”
So it doesn’t matter what our family situation was growing up, if we believe and receive Him, we become children of God.
Of course the enemy wants us to have this ruined concept of family so we never heal, but GOD can change it.
And the beautiful thing about family is that it doesn’t matter what you come from, what happened, or how broken it was – you are invited into the family of God, and you can create a new concept of family because you are a child of God.
You can also choose a different family as you recover. You’ve heard the quote about family.
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”
So family can be the people you choose – your church family. Your recovery family. It’s okay if it looks different.
Then there are the professional people.
A lot of us don’t want to be vulnerable with people who can help us work on our mental health. We’d rather say, “I’m fine.” But in order to heal we have to be willing to let those people in who can help us work through the mess in our minds.
When you’ve been through trauma and you’ve felt the effects of it on your mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual health, you can’t walk through it on willpower alone because you are only in your own head. We need perspective from those outside of ourselves to get out of ourselves.
Now there is debate about what this looks like. Some would only use biblical counseling. Others would use a mix of church and psychology. Whatever your path is, is your path. Not all of us were rooted in the Bible or really have a trust in the Bible so we have to find our way back to it and clearing the way of our thoughts with a psychologist or therapist can help us. At least it helped me.
I knew Jesus was the one who saved me, but it was a long process to be able to trust him. The KEY was turning to Him, knowing that psychology would help but He was greater. I needed scripture and a relationship with Jesus to grow truly stronger and heal. The Lord says in Isaiah 55 verse 8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. That’s important to know when we’re stuck in our thoughts – HIS ways and thoughts are above ours. We don’t know that in our souls unless we turn to Him on this journey.
Some of us need medicine and counseling. Others need just counseling. Some of us need EMDR, a type of therapy that helps us take the power away from the painful memories. I know that helped me tremendously. But none of it ever took the place of God in my life. So keep your perspective. Believe me, I spent a time in my early recovery reading a lot of self-help books but I eventually came to the place where I got more into the Bible and that stuff just couldn’t match it.
So I pray wherever you are in process, you’ll consider asking for help and letting the professionals pull you out of the pit, but also leaning on Jesus for the healing because that’s where it will ultimately come from.
Finally, there is community.
I don’t know what that looks like for you. It’s especially weird in this day and age of social distancing. For a lot of people it’s Zoom calls or Facetime or getting together 6 feet apart. Whatever that may look like, you need it. We all have our issues. We all need a space to be in community with others who also get those issues, so we can recover – together.
One of my communities is the church. I can’t not go to church. It’s just where I go to worship and praise the Lord. He has given me so much and I want to go (which is a crazy concept because I never wanted to as a kid) and be surrounded by Godly people who have Godly wisdom and are part of the family of God. If you don’t go to church, I would recommend thinking about going, finding a place that works for you. If you have this idea of church having to look like what you grew up with, it doesn’t. It can be wherever you find the presence of Jesus.
Another community for me is my recovery community. I go to church, but I need those people walking the recovery journey beside me so I can keep walking with the Lord. He meets me where I’m at and the recovery community makes me accountable to that thorn in my side, to meeting Jesus where he meets me. I need those people who get that part of my life and struggle with the same things. They help me stay humble and keep my feet pointed towards Christ.
And then there are the relationships with my friends – at church, in recovery, from my past – just people who know me and check in on me. Those are the people we all need.
One on one relationships are so important at this time. Safe ones. You need people who have empathy, who aren’t going to judge you for where you are at or stare at you cross-eyed.
Brene Brown says this, “The power of empathy: I’m in it with you. I’m not here to fix you. I’m here to feel with you and let you know you’re not alone.”
Scripture tells us to encourage each other. 1st Thessalonians 5 verse 11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
John 15 verse 12-13, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Find those people who will walk with you, who will listen, who will encourage you, meet you where you are without judgement and just love you.
We need safe people around us who get us for those are the people who will show us how much God loves us. Those are the people who will help us crawl out of the pit. We need to pray for the Lord to reveal those people to us, to keep our eyes open!
You may be in that cocoon that’s keeping you stuck in isolation. I know it feels comfortable, but it’s not healthy. In that space you aren’t able to get better. There is another space, another cocoon of healing you can get into if you choose to surrender your will and get the help you need.
But you need people. You need Jesus.
I know how broken you can feel when that pit is so deep. But there is no pit so deep where God’s love isn’t deep still.
Spiritual transformation is a beautiful process. But true transformation has to come from the Lord so that we can have the courage to act.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conform to the pattern of this world,”(Especially not in this day and age, there is so much evil!)
“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.”
Dallas Willard said this, “Spiritual transformation into Christ-likeness is not going to happen unless we act…what transforms us is the will to obey Jesus Christ.”
So my friend, pray for the willingness to get out of your own head and Let Jesus into your heart so HE can renew your mind and reveal his will for your life. Pray for the willingness to see how he may want to pull you out of the pit, and to recognize the people he may have put in your life to help you out of it.