The Road to Recovery

Dr. Brian Allison

Have you ever thought about committing suicide? I know that this thought is not a very pleasant one. Last year alone, about 3,500 verified suicides occurred in Canada. During a ten year span (1970-1980) in the United States, well over one quarter of a million (287,322) verified suicides occurred. The suicide rate of men is 3 times higher than that of women in Canada. Of the more than one quarter of a million verified suicides that occurred in the United States during 'the suicide decade,' about 72 % were men.

For many, suicide is the final step in trying to deal with, and resolve, one's problems. For many, suicide has become the last solution in trying to cope with and manage one's personal pain. Jerry Johnston, the popular Christian speaker and evangelist, makes frequent reference to a young boy by the name of Jay. Jay was 16 years old when he died. One day his parents found his lifeless body lying on the floor of his bedroom with a bullet wound to his head. They also found a suicide note. It read as follows: "Dear World, I don't want to get my hair cut. I don't want to tend kids or see Tina at school on Monday. I don't want to do my Biology assignment or English or History or anything. I don't want to be sad or lonely or depressed any more. I don't want to talk, sleep, feel, move, live or breathe any more. Tina, it's not your fault. Mom and dad, it's not your fault. I'm not free. I feel ill. I'm sad. I'm lonely. One last request...all my worldly possessions go to Debbie as a wedding present." As Johnston notes, the suicidal person feels hopeless and helpless. He or she feels locked into an unmanageable situation. He or she believes that there is no possible way out. Everything has closed in. Life has become absolutely miserable, and unbearable. One exists in a state of deep desperation.

Desperate situations of life

In the summer of 1994, O. J. Simpson sped down the highway in his white Bronco, trying to escape the police. Sitting in that vehicle with a friend, Simpson apparently threatened to kill himself with a gun. He had fame; he had wealth; he had power; he had influence; but something had gone desperately wrong in his life – so wrong that he contemplated suicide. Interestingly enough, in 1978, when he was interviewed by People Magazine, he remarked, "I sit in my house in Buffalo and sometimes I get so lonely it's unbelievable. Life has been so good to me. I've got a great wife, good kids, money, my own health – and I am lonely and bored...I often wondered why so many rich people commit suicide. Money sure isn't a cure all!" When the stress came, when life became desperate, Simpson entertained suicide.

Maybe you are in a desperate situation right now? Did you lose your life savings in the last little while? Did you make a bad investment? Did you discover recently that you were molested by your uncle when you were young? Did you fail that crucial entrance exam and now the future seems bleak? Has life become desperate for you? In your desperation, you can choose death or you can choose life. You can choose suicide or you can choose change. You can choose the road to recovery.

Recovery requires self-realization

The first step on the road to recovery is that of self-realization. When someone clearly understands the dire circumstances which confront him, when he comes to clearly understand the dynamics of his present stressful situation, the wheels of recovery may begin to roll. There must be an 'awakening' in order for change to become a present possibility – a realization that something is desperately wrong and that the situation must change. More particularly, when one realizes the serious consequences and ramifications of his present desperate situation, and when he realizes that things can change for the better, then the seeds for change are planted.

Are you aware of the dynamics of your present circumstances? Do you see the serious consequences that will ensue if you do not act? Do you realize that there is a way out, that all is not lost? The road to recovery begins with self-realization. Recovery is never too late. It does not matter what your situation is, or what you are presently enduring; nor does it matter how deep the pain is. When you realize the consequences of inactivity and that the situation can positively change, then actual change is possible.

Recovery requires self-evaluation

The second step on the road to recovery is that of self-evaluation. One must be willing to take a long, hard look at himself. One must be honest about his failures and wrongdoing. In your desperate situation, are you being up front with yourself? Have you come to that point in your life where you are no longer going to deny the truth of who you are and what you have done? Denial is self-defeating and childish – denying that you have problems, denying that your family may be dysfunctional, denying that you have deep hurt, denying that you have been abused. Honesty can be scary. You may discover things that you do not like. But unless you come to that point in your life where you take personal stock and honestly evaluate yourself, you will not experience full recovery. You must have the courage to accept the truth about yourself, about your family, about your situation, even though it hurts; and in that acceptance you most likely will be humbled. Even though it may humble you, it may simultaneously free you.

Recovery requires self-engagement

The third step on the road to recovery is self-engagement. One must look away from, and outside of, himself. He must put his belief and hope in something beyond himself – something 'bigger' than himself. Belief and hope are absolutely crucial and foundational to recovery. I have discovered that for those who really want to recover, belief and hope comprise the impetus which guides him or her to the therapeutic goal. You must believe that things can change; you must have hope that things will change, or change will not occur. More particularly, you must believe that God cares for you; that you are not alone; that He is with you. You must believe that He has the power, the resources, and the wisdom to save you from your desperate situation or problem. Moreover, you must hope that God will actually make the situation better; that He will pour out His grace in order to sustain, strengthen, and restore you; that He will indeed bring about a brighter tomorrow.

When I stress the need for belief and hope in order to experience recovery, I am not advocating mechanical, positive thinking, or mere wishful thinking, or psychological visualization (for God must even help one to believe and hope). I am pleading for the legitimate assumption of a Biblical disposition which is empowering, and will subsequently motivate, sustain, and even insure the desired recovery. Belief and hope do not create the recovery, but rather they prepare for it, and help to secure it. As long as you have belief and hope – belief in the love and mercy of God, and hope in the grace and goodness of God – your inner person will be fortified and empowered, helping to assure actual recovery. Those who have stopped believing and hoping have begun to choose death.

Ellen Bass and Lauren Davis write extensively on childhood sexual abuse. In their book, Beginning To Heal, they have included a number of testimonies from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There is a testimony by Janel Robinson who was molested at two years of age by her two grandfathers. There is a testimony by Eva Smith who was molested, from the age of three through to eight, by her great uncle. There is a testimony by a girl named Anna, born in Hong Kong, who was molested by her alcoholic and pill addict mother. These are the testimonies of courageous people – those who believed and hoped – and as a result recovered. Here are the words of one of the testimonies from this book: "My friend Patricia gave me hope. She would basically talk me into wanting to live. The thing that gives me hope is remembering what my therapist kept saying to me, over and over, 'This is part of the change process.' I held on to that when there was really nothing else to hold on to. I was a nun in a contemplative order. Because I had lived that life style, I knew things took a long time. I knew the process of becoming holy, of knowing God, was very slow. Day by day, I just knew I was growing closer to God. It was the same with the incest. I just trusted that something was happening, that there was a hidden growth going on. My sister inspires me through her struggle. She had it alot worse than I did and she is struggling to live. My own inner strength gives me hope. I just won't quit. Period." Your belief and hope in God will be the anchor and permanent mainstay as you journey down the road to recovery.

Furthermore, in self-engagement, you must be willing to accept the consequences of your actions and behaviour; and you must be willing and ready to correct or improve the situation. As the aspects of belief and hope are crucial and foundational to recovery, so equally are willingness and desire. You must want to get better; you must want to change the situation. You must be willing to change; you must be willing to do what it takes. These four sentinels – belief, hope, willingness, and desire – will safely escort you to your haven of rest and healing.

I have discovered, as a counselor, that the counseling process breaks down – it grinds to a screeching halt, and you begin to 'spin your wheels' – when the counselee has no desire or willingness to help himself. He or she knows that things need to change, but they have not reached the critical point in their lives where they really want things to change, that they have had enough of 'the crap', and thus are really determined to change things.

Recovery requires self-action

The fourth step on the road to recovery is that of self-action. You must be committed to change before effective change will occur. There is no recovery – emotional, relational, or situational – without a well-thought out and executable game plan. You must have realistic strategies in dealing with the problem. You must have goals and objectives which you can clearly outline to improve the situation or fix the problem. For instance, if you are suffering from an eating disorder, you may decide to make an appointment to see the doctor or you may arrange to visit an eating disorder clinic and become involved in its program. If you are having marital difficulties, rather than stewing about it, you may plan, for example, to set aside 15 minutes each day just to talk with your spouse in order to improve communications; or you may plan to attend marriage seminars; or you may decide to inquire about marriage counseling; or you may decide to become accountable to some other couple. Or if you are feeling socially awkward and intimidated, you may decide to take a self-assertive course. Problems require spelled-out and executable solutions which are Biblical, practical, and common sensical. You have to have an action plan. You will not magically and mystically get better. The approach of wishing away problems only works in Alice's Wonderland.

If you have a problem, a desperate situation, you will not be helped by brooding or ruminating over it. You must have a game plan. Again, things will not automatically change. You must make them change. Brooding and ruminating accomplish nothing, except to rob you of sleep or give you indigestion. It does little good simply to realize that you have problems. It does little good simply to realize that things can improve. You have to actually do something that will bring about the improvement. You need to take courageous initiative. Positive and effective change demands action.

In summary, there are four crucial and basic steps to recovery: self-realization, self-evaluation, self-engagement, and self-action. Recovery is your responsibility. By God's grace, you alone make it happen or you do not make it happen. You can really change. Things can really be different. You can really recover. It does not matter if you are struggling with pornography, you can change. It does not matter if you are struggling with uncontrollable anger, you can change. It does not matter if you are afflicted with insane jealousy, you can change. It does not matter if you have been physically or sexually abused, you can change. It does not matter if you suffer from substance abuse, you can change. It does not matter if you suffer from inferiority feelings, or from sour marital relationships, you can change and things can really be different.

Yes, life can be very desperate, but certainly manageable. Everybody has a choice in his or her desperation: the choice to die or to live, to 'go under' in depression and defeatism or to rise courageously to the challenge, and press on. What will you choose? You too can walk the road to recovery, God being your guide and companion.