It was Samantha’s 8th birthday. Her mom walked in and said “happy birthday, now get up, I have to go to work.” It was like any other day for Samantha. Because finances had been so tight for her mom, she never knew she was supposed to feel excited about the day she was born. That it was normal to be celebrated and loved. She learned that she better not have needs, since they wouldn’t be met anyways.
Samantha’s dad was no longer a part of her life. After the abuse, the court made sure he would never be able to hurt Samantha again. It helped, but it wasn’t as if it made life much better. The neglect and bullying she experienced daily left her traumatized and lonely.
A few years earlier, her kindergarten teacher gave her a blanket as a birthday present. Mrs. Gonzalas was a life saver and was the first person she truly felt loved by. The blanket became a symbol of relief and comfort for little Samantha. After the abuse her father subjected her to, it was the one thing on the planet that made her feel safe and ok with herself. When she couldn’t find it, she found herself spiraling in fear. Having flashbacks to moments when she was completely helpless to her fathers abuse. But with the blanket, she was safe.
As she got older, kids at school started to tease her over her blanket. Shaming her for it. Not understanding the blanket wasn’t just a blanket, but was her entire sense of safety.
One day a teacher got frustrated with her and yelled, “you need to be more mature! I’m getting rid of this blanket.” She grabbed it and threw it into the garbage.
The act horrified Samantha. Even though she was now 17, she had never learned coping skills to deal with painful emotions. The act of the teacher sent her spiraling, and she eventually dropped out of school.
When you tell someone who is battling some type of addictive issue (substance or behavior), to stop, you are taking their blanket away. Their addiction helped them survive trauma. And telling them to stop, without having the patience to help them unlearn decades of coping skills (this can take years), is incredibly ignorant.
As a person who has been in church culture and battled addiction myself, I can say several of my interactions with well intentioned Christians did more harm than good. Many forget, that church is not the magical place where mental health and addiction do not exist. I would say it can be worse in church because they can be interpreted as a spiritual issue instead of a brain disease (another blog post for another day.)
People only change in the presence of unconditional love
I was talking with a therapist one time and I confessed to her that I failed again. I had a situation that left me feeling really sad, and I drank, instead of doing something healthier with the feelings I was uncomfortable with. My therapist responded to me and said “Well of course you drank, Clint, you’re trying to survive and alcohol and drugs have kept you from feeling like you were going to die. I completely understand and I believe in you.”
I was shocked at her compassionate response. I had never heard anything like it. Many times when I brought my failings to people in the past, I got what felt like a shaking finger and you better shape up talk. In fact, one time someone told me, “God has mercy for you, but that mercy is going to run out.…” I found out later that not only is that statement unbiblical, but is spiritual abuse.
There are many people struggling with pain in their life who are doing the best they can. I think this will help if you or someone you love is battling an addiction. Here are three keys…
- You are not bad- It isn’t a inner strength issue. Depression takes away our ability to say no to things. It actually short-circuits the left frontal cortex of the brain. The part of the brain which allows us to put our intentions into actions. (this is why you keep doing what you hate)
- It might take a long time- We are all looking for comfort. If you are stuck battling an addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn, people pleasing, food, shopping), find a mentor or therapist who can help you walk through your battle. Be patient. It could take years of opening up to your pain, before you get break through.
- Get to the root- It has very little to do with character. Instead of hating yourself or someone else for “failing” again, find out what is driving the behavior. Addiction is a symptom of pain, and pain usually takes a long time to heal.
This is part three of the mental health series. Go check out the previous posts and share it with others. Lets get informed so we can help people walk through their pain.
Here’s to Loving the Process,