Lessons Learned at the Clinic: Part 1
I could hardly believe the words that came spilling out of my mouth: “Can you find me a residential treatment center? A Christian one?” Within minutes of blurting that out, my husband found me just such a place–one that specializes in mental health issues–and he placed the call. A week later, I was on board a flight to Florida to spend the next 30 days in treatment, scared out of my mind and wondering what I had just done.
I’ve taken many leaps of faith in my life, but this perhaps was the biggest one. After all, this episode was not the worst I’d ever had. I’ve had a lot of good therapy over the past couple of years, and have made many gains. I’ve experienced a lot of freedom and a lot of healing. But even still, there were things I just couldn’t seem to shake. I couldn’t pull up enough out of my initial nosedive to really soar above the things that hurt me. And I had so had it. Had it with the inner turmoil. Had it with not feeling in control of my emotions, and at times, my behavior. I was done, and I wanted change. I’ve always said that if you want to live a radically transformed life, you will have to prepare yourself to get a little radical. This was radical, alright.
As I sat in the backseat of my ride to the clinic, I stared out the window, not wanting to make small talk with the driver. Hot tears streamed down my face in time with the questions that raced through my brain. I wondered what level of ‘crazy’ the people at this clinic were. I wondered what level I was. How panicked and trapped I would feel while I was there. And, most importantly, would this all work? What if it doesn’t?
The lessons I learned at the clinic were many and began as soon as I walked through the doors that fateful day. And they began here:
- The path to radical transformation begins with submission and humility. We might as well begin with possibly the hardest challenge of all, but really…if you can do this, the rest comes so much easier. Checking yourself into a mental health clinic is a pretty good exercise in both. Then, having to give up some of your personal freedoms furthers it along. For example, I could not have my flat iron (at first), or a pair of tweezers, a razor, or any type of hair product containing alcohol. I had to surrender my wallet for safekeeping. I was required to submit to a strip-search and a drug test, and to turn over any medications I had to the nurses’ station. From now on, if I wanted Tylenol for a headache or needed to take anything else, I had to ask for it and take it in the presence of the nurse on duty. I was treated with the utmost kindness and dignity in all these things, but even so, it was hard. It’s hard to be a grownup and have to give up some of your autonomy. But if I wanted help, I had to humble myself and submit to both the rules and the treatment plan. I’m going to state the obvious here and say that these lessons are not just applicable if you go away to a treatment center. They apply to any area where you need to learn and grow, butespecially when you need help in the areas of mental and emotional wellness.
- The path to radical transformation requires your acknowledgment of your brokenness. If you want to get better, you need to admit your life is a mess (inwardly, outwardly, or both) and that you can’t fix it on your own. This is the first step in any 12-step recovery program: “we admit that we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable.” These facts are easier for some of us to admit than others. For me, it was easy. My problem was that admitting I was powerless and my life was unmanageable equalled my being a failure. They are NOT the same things. Not one bit. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) ALL. That’s me, you, and the person who looks or acts like she’s got it all together. We’re all broken; some to a greater degree than others, but that doesn’t make us failures. It means we are imperfect humans living in a very broken world. Being surrounded by other patients at the clinic who freely acknowledged their own brokenness was a sacred, even surprisingly healthy, environment to be in. (More on that later.) But this acknowledgment of my brokenness, coupled with the act of submission and the posture of humility, felt like taking a deep breath of peace and resolve. It made me feel ready to tackle the work ahead of me. It was actually a great place to be in, a perfect starting place to usher in radical transformation.
- In order to best position yourself for radical transformation, set good boundaries for yourself. Establishing a safe zone is especially important. For me, it was my room at the clinic (and now, my office at home). I set up my room the way I wanted it and kept it a warm and welcoming place to be in and to return to. I established certain routines that I stuck to throughout my healing process, because that predictability brought a level of comfort and safety. When you’re challenging yourself daily to dive deep emotionally and take on difficult things, you need a safe zone to return to at the end of the day, or when it all becomes overwhelming. There also needs to be a safe zone around you. Sort of like an imaginary bubble. The healing work you are engaged in is sacred, both because you are working with the Lord, and also because what you are endeavoring to do is to restore the ‘you’ God created before all the hurt and brokenness. You don’t want anything or anyone to puncture that bubble at this time. So you protect yourself and the work you’re doing. That, aside from your relationship with God, is your first priority right now. And as with your relationship with God, once you have that settled, all else will fall in its natural place of priority.
As the title of this article indicates, this is the first of a multi-part reflection on some really important stuff I learned during my 30-day stay in a mental health clinic. There’s so much I could say and write about my time away–it was profound, precious, and very healing. I really did walk away from that experience a different person, in the best way possible. I’ve struggled my whole life with emotional pain and its consequences (if you’re wondering, my main diagnosis was PTSD), and I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed that I not only struggled with it, but couldn’t get rid of it either.
The incredible patients with whom I shared my month-long journey have shown me so clearly how a person and their struggle are not one and the same. That you can embrace the you that still struggles, while being wholeheartedly committed to finding and embracing the you that exists without it. And you can indeed find that person. I did. And now I want to break the stereotype and the stigma that comes with mental illness. It isn’t who you are or who you’re destined to be. There is help available if you’re willing to pursue and receive it.
And there is hope.
More from me next week, but let’s have a conversation. Your comments below are welcome.
***JUST ADDED (see installment #3 for a complete explanation)***
I’ve created a Disaster Recovery Plan template here that you can download and use to make your own plan. Print as many pages you need to make it customized just for you. Again, I did not author the plan itself, it is the work of my wonderful therapist (thank you, Anita!) and her many years of skilled practice. I’m just sharing what I’ve gleaned, and putting it into a form that might make the process more clearcut for you. It certainly won’t replace the need for therapy, but it’s a huge asset nonetheless. I’m excited about my own plan, and that you might have one too.
Be sure to drop me a line and tell me if you have found it to be helpful!