by Dale Wolery
It is so unequivocal. Straightforward. Obvious. The answer is not a complicated one at all. What is the question? Why would any one get help? Why would anyone choose to go to a recovery group meeting? If only your spouse knows about it, why go to group? Why would a normal person like me call a therapist? Why would a successful pastor see a counselor? Why get help?
The answer? I have a need. . . so I go get help. It is so simple isn’t it? Yes, it is simple. Then riddle me this: why do we resist getting help so intensely? Why did I oppose it for so long?
My wife, Sara, mentioned it often in our desperate moments of marital soul searching. She used those words that I now know created incredible anxiety in me. I had them memorized. When they started to fall off her anxious, sad lips I could finish the sentences for her. I never did. I didn’t want to hear them so I wouldn’t dare let them out of my mouth. They went something like this: “We are growing farther and farther apart emotionally; we really do need to get some help.” Or: “If we don’t get some help we’ll wind up divorced.”
Almost anything with the phrase “get help” in it resulted in the same response from me. I argued. I felt the thought like a heavy weight in my stomach. I felt weak. I felt paralyzed. I felt uncomfortable.
I held out. Why? Why resist? The truth was irrefutable. Unequivocal. Obvious. Simple. We needed help. We need to get help. Yet I resisted. Why? Why would anyone resist getting his needs met?
In retrospect I know some of the answers to these questions but I can only share them as one who is still in the struggle. I still find myself resisting recovery. I still wish there was some other way.
Getting Help Means Letting Down our Defenses
First, before getting help I functioned in an illusionary, self-protective, defended world. As a pastor I had built a whole biblical theological system supporting the illusion that because I was a leader I was more together. I had the answers. I didn’t need help. I gave help. I didn’t have needs. I helped people who had needs. I was, of course, aware that I was a sinner. . . at least in some theoretical sense. I know I had a shadow side and I felt bad about it. But I was absolutely certain that the rightness of my theology meant that I could not be part of the problem. There could be a problem. But it couldn’t be my problem. It couldn’t be me. It must be somebody else. Any convenient target would do. My wife, my congregation, my colleagues. But it couldn’t be me. I didn’t need any 12 Steps, I didn’t need any ‘higher power’ . . . what could I possible learn from them? I was deeply entrenched in good old fashion denial. Pure, sincere, defended, out-of-touch and undeniably in denial.
Getting Help Means Change
For me, the second reason for resistance to accepting help was my level of comfort with the status quo. Well, I wasn’t comfortable really. I was miserable. But I was more comfortable with the pain I knew than the recovery I didn’t know. Being miserable seemed safer to me than the embarrasing scrutiny that therapy involves. I expected it to be mostly about pointing out my flaws, asking me to change and shaming me for how long it was taking. That’s what I thought therapy was about. Besides I didn’t think it would work. After all I had the Holy Spirit, I had the Word of God, I had the Truth. Why did I need anything else?
In Robert Ringers’ Million Dollar Habits he says “Homeostasis, the tendency to cling to the status quo, or to existing conditions and avoid change is a common human trait. Unfortuantely, it is also a self-defeating and self-destructive habit.” It is amazing, isn’t it, how we can try the same faulty strategies over and over and over again even when there is no reason to expect them to be successful. I resisted change because I feared the changes.
Like many, if not most of us, resistance had it’s limits. Eventually I exhausted myself. The energy required to maintain all those emotional defences is enormous! Eventually the resistance yielded to a flood of tears and the recognition that the obvious was true: I needed help. I was so full of shame on my first trip to my therapist that I took the elevator to the next floor up from her office. I didn’t want anyone seeing me select the floor that was full of counselors. I prefered to go a floor up and then walk down the stairs! As I think back on it I can feel the burden of shame! Such a heavy load to carry in life!
Change is now at least conceptually okay with me. And, although I am not living `happily ever after’ yet, I can see and celebrate changes that I never thought possible. I am changing. I am not stuck. The defensiveness and grandiosity can still surface, but they are not the central feature of my journey anymore. And I am grateful.
I have come to appreciate what God’s grace can do in a community of believers, in a skilled therapist’s office and in a recovery group. God’s grace is powerful. More powerful than my resistance. More powerful than my pain. May God be praised.
Hope Happens! It’s something we say often around the NACR. Hope happens! Not wishful thinking. But the deep-down hope that comes when we open ourselves to being helped by God.