Guest Post by Randy Riverstone Graves
Randy is a former United Methodist minister who stepped down from pastoral ministry when his mental illness became too much of an impairment. After several years of deepening depression, made worse by self-medicating with alcohol, his life spiraled out of control. He says, “I was in a spiral to the grave. Although I still struggle with mental illness, I thank God that Jesus has delivered me from the death grip of addiction and given me a new life in the Spirit. I have been restored through Celebrate Recovery, and I’m 17 months sober.” Randy now serves as a Worship Leader and Training Coach at a Celebrate Recovery ministry. What follows is his witness and wisdom.
I’ve been actively resisting a depressive episode that I feel coming on. It’s not full-blown, but I know the early warning signs. I have bipolar disorder, and in the past, feeling like this caused me to just surrender, and give in to the inevitable days or weeks of unrelenting gloom. I would begin drinking hard liquor. Alcohol only made it worse, but in the grips of addiction and a crisis of mental health, I sought relief where I could find it. Alcohol would a least numb me for an hour or two before I had to tilt the bottle again to make the world go dark.
Thank God, I’ve found a way out of that darkness. I have a new life in the Spirit that has equipped me to face this with a different perspective. Through Celebrate Recovery, a comprehensive Christ-based 12-step program, I’ve learned better ways to cope, and not just to cope, but to overcome. For others who may be dealing with mental illness or addiction, I want to share a few things I’ve learned to help resist walking over the edge of the cliff.
I Reach Out
One of the worst things about mental illness and addiction is how isolated one can become. The worse things get, the more I tended to retreat into the dank corner of my cave. When I am struggling like that, it is important to reach out. I let my friends and family know what I am going through.
In Celebrate Recovery, we are deliberate about forming “accountability partners” or sponsors — people who agree to provide mutual support for each other during difficult times.
While I do not feel even the slightest desire to drink alcohol right now, I have been around the block enough times to know that it is times like this I need to be on hyper-alert against the possibility of relapse. I have to be proactive and reach out to my support team. I send a text or a Facebook message to people I trust. These are people who have my back, people who will pray for and with me.
It is so helpful just to be able to say to someone, “Hey, I’m going through a rough time,” and to know that they understand and truly care. I could call them if I needed to, and I know without a doubt that they’d meet with me. But for the most part, it is enough for me to simply reach out and touch base with people who understand what I’m going through.
I Seek Professional Help
Mental illness is a medical condition that usually requires medication to treat effectively. There still remains a stigma for people seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. It’s time to put an end to that stigma. There is no shame at all in seeing a psychiatrist or other healthcare professional to treat mental illnesses. People with Type 1 diabetes have to be under the care of a physician to take insulin. People with heart conditions see a cardiologist. And people with mental illness see a psychiatrist.
I regularly see both a psychiatrist and a therapist for help in dealing with my condition. This allows me to function as a husband and father, and to serve the Lord in various ministries. Without my medications, I would not have a very high quality of life. I’d be trapped in constant mood swings and delusions. My medications bring me stability and allow me to have a sense of purpose. My therapist is also very helpful in dealing with problems related to mental illness and alcoholism. Seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means that I care enough about my life and my family to do whatever it takes to be healthy.
I Lean In
I’m learning to lean into the Holy Spirit. For me, this is a major difference in my life now. A year ago, I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I’d never experienced before. In my tradition, we call it being “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” but the terminology itself isn’t important. In a desperate time, I leaned into Jesus, and suddenly the Holy Spirit was flowing through my own spirit in an ineffable experience of the immediate presence of God both inside me and all around me. Soon after, God began to produce good things in my life through the Spirit: things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so forth. The Bible calls these things the “fruits of the Spirit.”
However, the Spiritual life contains some hard truths. There are still some really hard times. People will leave us. Loved ones are going to die. Hurtful things are going to happen. At times, depression can pile on like heavy snow.
My experience is that the Holy Spirit isn’t there with us just during happy times. Whether our hands are raised in praise or pulling our hair in weeping, the Spirit is there. One word the Bible uses for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete” — a Greek word that emphasizes that God comes along right beside us as a friend, a comforter, and an advocate to speak on our behalf.
When the challenges come, I find it essential that I lean into the presence of God. I pray. I read a few verses from the Psalms. And even if I don’t feel joyful, I still offer words of praise and gratitude. Even if all I can do is mutter, I mutter a prayer.
I Keep Moving
No matter what, I keep moving. I get out of bed; I take a shower, and I get dressed. There are days that that becomes the most courageous thing I do. In the past, there were days I didn’t get out of bed. But that just made things worse.
Yesterday, was one of those dark days. So, I got up, got ready and joined some friends on a beautiful hike. They probably couldn’t even tell that inside I was struggling with deep sadness, because I did my best to keep moving and experience the glory that was all around in nature. Even though I felt terribly sad, for one clear moment I had an experience of God while sitting near a waterfall that brought the whole universe into clear focus. I felt my spirit expand in interconnection with all the droplets of water in the air, every grain of sand, and every particle or wave of light flitting through the green and yellow leaves.
If I had stayed home, I would have missed the glory being poured out on the world around me. I suppose the real trick is to learn how to notice that glory in my own home, too. But to experience it at all, I know that I have to keep moving.
I Share the Good News Of Celebrate Recovery
Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. It provides a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling our life. If you’re interested in learning more about this ministry or would like to launch Celebrate Recovery in your area, here’s the link to their web site: https://www.celebraterecovery.com