Some time ago I wrote a post about the importance of using help when we need it. I received several requests for me to write something about actually finding good help. So this lap-letter is about finding, using and keeping the help.
A few years ago when I left the ministry, I felt numb for about a year. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in shock. After about a year, my wife Lisa finally pointed out to me how unwell I actually was. I thought I was okay because I wasn’t feeling any pain. In fact, I thought I’d never felt better. The truth is that I wasn’t feeling anything. I was emotionally shut down. I was in a state of spiritual stupor. I was, as Lisa put it, dead. She insisted I get help immediately. She insisted because I was in danger and putting us in danger. I was breaking things, metaphorically, in my life, including my relationship with Lisa. Reluctantly, I finally admitted to myself that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t well and needed professional help.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to look for a counselor locally because, well, I have a bit of a reputation around here as the nakedpastor, which is part of the reason why I ended up where I was. There was no one I could trust. Plus, there was no one I could trust with my story. What kind of counselor out there would “get” me… a person who is a Christian, was a pastor for 30 years, involved with crazy shit like the Vineyard and the renewal movement, who loved philosophy, who quit the ministry and drew cartoons critiquing the church because he is still passionate about it, who is accused of being both a nutcase believer or a rampant atheist? Who would get me? I didn’t think I could find someone who would get and appreciate my whole story without dismissing parts of it, none of which I could reject and all of which I embraced as an essential part of my journey.
So I put my feelers out. I put in the research. I approached a few people online with whom I’d developed a relationship and perhaps could lead me to someone. Eventually, after a couple of months of searching, a person contacted me with a name. She sounded okay. So I gathered up as much nerve and shed as much pride as I could and approached her and she graciously agreed to counsel me, mentor me, or “coach” me by phone since she lives in another country. We started talking. We clicked. If we hadn’t I would’ve said, “Thanks for your help, but I need to keep looking.” We talked maybe every week or so through the worst of it. I paid her with Paypal. She got me. Or, actually, she “gets” me, because we still talk. What a gift that connection was.
I’ve had many friends who have taken medication for, say, depression. As soon as they started feeling better they quit. Bad idea! That’s the drug working. Don’t stop! I determined, under the auspices of Lisa, that I would talk with my counselor every week and not stop until Lisa and my counselor decided I was somewhat healthy again. I wouldn’t stop when I thought I was okay because I now realized that I was the poorest detector of the status of my own mental, emotional and even spiritual health.
When we decide to trust someone, we are in essence putting ourselves in their hands. Like a good doctor, we entrust our body to her and silently agree that we will do as she says until we are whole again. We agree to not interrupt their care because she knows when we are whole again better than we do. That’s if she’s a good doctor. Do everything they tell you to do. Take their advice. Apply their suggestions. If they’re good, they’ll work! Use them until the counselor, mentor, coach or spiritual director says, “You can do this on your own from now on. If you need to check in, I’m here for you.”
One of the biggest lessons I learned through this whole process is that I, like everyone else I judged, have blind spots. I couldn’t see how sick I was. So I carry that forward to assume that I will always have blind spots. When I get rid of one, another one develops or gets discovered. The mind is the trickiest organ on the planet. Trickier than any dick! It will always find a way to protect itself, fortify it’s defenses, and manufacture a false sense of security. The brain’s number one purpose is to keep the organism alive, safe and sound. It resists death like a cornered wild beast, especially the death of itself and its thoughts. It will fight you for supremacy without mercy. So as soon as I think I’m doing awesome, it’s crucial that I check in with people I trust to see if that’s true.
Did you know that doctors won’t do surgery on themselves but will put themselves under the knife of another doctor they respect and trust? Did you know that in many jurisdictions professional counselors are required to have their own counselors? Did you know that even the most advanced monks submit themselves to a confessor? Yes, even Thomas Merton, one of the greatest Christian thinkers and mystics of all time had a spiritual director. Actually, he had several around the world from different religions he would confess to. Why? Because he wanted to grow, not just be stroked. He wanted transformation, not affirmation. I plan on talking with my coach throughout my life. In fact, I should make another appointment soon.
There. That’s my lap-letter for today. Find good help. Use the good help. And keep the good help.
You will be better for it.