Monday, March 22, 2010

Recovering Me: The Process of Restoring Your Life

One of the saddest situations I've ever witnessed during my career as a Professional Clinical Counselor was in an hospital emergency room. The patient was unkempt, bandaged and alone. His wrists were bandaged due to self-inflicted wounds. His "suicide attempt" wasn't lethal, but it was a cry for help and attention. After being debriefed by the ER physician about this gentleman's repeated visits to the hospital I called his parents to ask them to come to take him home.

"We're done with him", they said. "He's done this so many times, and we've given so much. We actually consider him dead. I'm sorry. We're not willing to do anything."

Ummm....beyond hope, beyond help?

Initially I was angry with the parents. "How could they?" But then I realized that this man was the proverbial 'boy who cried wolf' or the 'prodigal's son'. Time after time he'd been offered the best in life (His family said so), but he'd lied, stolen, and otherwise squandered the opportunities he'd been offered. Sad.

I left the ER that night wondering what might happen to this man. It seemed that there was no one there for him. I called churches and most shelters were full. The ones that had space said no after hearing his history.

While I'd like to believe that people can have an infinite number of opportunities to "be whole" and to "get well", it simply isn't true. After a person defiles and degrades themselves enough times, it becomes nearly impossible for them to crawl out of the garbage dump they've created. Addictions, abuse, lies, broken any point the harder decision to live clean in healthier relationships and with integrity could be made...but none of us can make such decision for another. We can only invite, suggest, support, hope and pray.

The reality is that each of us has "own life responsibility"; we are responsible for our own lives. And, there is a point at which we, and no one else, must shoulder at least a portion of the burden by ourselves. We must be the one to say yes to the counseling appointment, the recovery group, the friendship that is offered by a caring friend, or the supportive love of a family member.

Jesus asked several if they wanted to be well. When they said yes, He gave instruction, "Stand up". Notice that He didn't lift them to their feet against their will. He won't do that, and neither should we.

People helpers can become frustrated and tempted to compromise healthy boundaries when those they are trying to help don't cooperate with their efforts. The rule of thumb is to never work harder than the one who says they want help. That doesn't mean that we won't work hard. We will. But we mustn't work harder than the one who "owns" the problem; the desire to recover their life.

I like to give responsibility to my clients for their recovery and healing process. This puts responsibility where it belongs, builds their self-esteem, and ultimately strengthens them as a better leader of their own life. One practical way to do this is to have a client draft a comprehensive plan for their treatment. "List all of the issues you want to work on and the desired outcome. Include all of the people that you would like to involve to support and encourage you and the services that you know of that could be helpful." This isn't abdication of responsibility by the professional, but rather appropriate challenge to the client to dig deep for the resources and opportunities of which they are aware. Then, I collaborate with them to form a plan that we both think will work and that they are excited to pursue.

It is possible to recover from the depths of despair and to be free from psychological trauma, emotional entanglements, and debilitating symptoms of emotional and mental disorders. Is the process easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Working as hard as you will,


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to Handle Relational Hit and Runs

“Hey Coach, do you have a minute? I have a few questions about the game?” I stopped walking toward the bus with my football team, and turned to prepare to honor the gentleman’s request. My Vice-Principal knew better. “Keep walking Jeff. This won’t be good.” Because I was confused by his counsel to refuse the conversation, and because I was trained to respond politely to requests, I turned to the man to indicate my willingness to hear his questions. “Sure, what’s on your mind?” This angry heckler proceeded to ask rhetorical questions to make several points of disagreement about how I’d handled the game. After a few failed attempts to respond (the heckler didn’t play fair by giving me an opportunity to be heard), the Vice-Principal put his hand in my back to move me away, and said, “I told you. He doesn’t want to have a conversation. He only wants to take his anger out on you.”

Coaching that Jr. High football team between 1992-95 was an eye-opener. Looking back, I was naïve about some things. When people asked to converse I assumed they came with good-will. But that experience as well as some others has provided reason for caution.

Have you had the experience of having your words taken out of context, being unfairly accused or receiving a verbal or written account of the way things really are and then being blocked from responding? That’s what I’m calling a Relational Hit and Run; when someone makes their point but then leaves the scene by refusing dialogue to clarify and resolve the disagreement. It’s anything but healthy, but it can be handled well. Wisdom and self-control are two of the key components in deciding how to respond.

Such an incident happened to me again recently. The offender fired their salvos in writing and concluded, “Do not contact me.” Jill was privy to it, and it infuriated her. “Are you going to tell _____” she asked. “No, I’m not going to respond at all. What’s there to say? And why add more fuel to the fire. I could have the best intentions and still things are probably going to be twisted and thrown back at me. I know what’s been in my heart, and what I’ve done."

It takes two to make a relationship work. That’s obvious, eh? But what isn’t as clear is how often and how long to reach out to do your part. It’s like handshake. How long do you leave your hand dangling in thin air to await the other person’s grasp? You can do your part to reach out, but if they don’t reciprocate, there’s no connection.

Unjust accusations, refusals to engage conversation, absence of openness to clarification; they are all indications of an absence of good-will, and killers of relationships. How sad. It doesn’t have to be this way. Give and take, speak and listen, struggle through misunderstandings…when both parties are willing. When one is and the other isn’t willing is an untenable situation.

Consider Jesus.
Thankfully He provides a stellar example in such circumstances. Remember, he was a man familiar acquainted with suffering, even relational suffering. How he handled accusations and maltreatment gave us a great template for responding to hit runs in relationships.

I Peter 2:23 (NIV) - When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Have you been hit recently? Did the hitter run from the scene? Are you left to recover after the assault, without clear recourse to further engage the relationship in a helpful way? Keep your eyes open. Don’t become hardened by the offense. Remember, hurt people hurt people, and God may give you an effective way to engage the person who left the scene. In the meantime, my counsel is to ask God to set a guard on your lips and to respond like Jesus who did not retaliate and who made no threats. Rather, entrust yourself to Him who judges justly.