Just a little recap…
I’ve been writing about some helpful steps I found from a drug rehab facility for recovering addicts who are entering back into society after their recovery program. I have found that these steps are helpful when thinking about my life after rehab–our Family Rehab. If you have no idea what I’m talking about…there’s about 9 months worth of blog posts for you to catch up on. 🙂 In short, our family has spent the past school year taking an intentional break from the rushed nature of our American lives. We pulled our kids out of public school and taught them from home. We were intentional about getting to know our kids, teaching them in a relaxed and deliberate way about Jesus, and spending time together as a family. During this time, my husband, a church planter in Buda, TX, was offered a position at a church 2 1/2+ hours away from family and friends. This proved to be just the kind of situation that required our family to come together even more and learn how to trust Jesus both as a unit and individually. We have wrapped up our school year and this time of Family Rehab, and are now focusing on Life After Rehab in this new environment with it’s new challenges.
We pick up with Life After Rehab: Step 4…
Step 4: Focus on Mental Health. ￼
“Returning to an old routine can bring stress and anxiety, especially if people are dealing with an intense craving for alcohol or drugs, and it can be easy to focus on the negativity. Sadness can build and build until a relapse seems not only possible but also certain. Finding a moment in each and every day to do something positive could be vital. A few moments of morning meditation could help the clouds of anxiety to part, for example, and that could bring the person the peace needed for the rest of the day. Exercise might also play a key role. While researchers aren’t quite sure how mental health and physical activity are linked, the Mayo Clinic reports that depression and anxiety levels can lower when a person exercises regularly. Taking a walk with the dog, swimming a few laps in the pool or lifting weights in the basement could all provide a little boost to mood, and these actions could also help a person feel just a little stronger and a lot healthier” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).
Life is stressful no matter what season we find ourselves in, but stepping out of a period of intentional rest and restoration and back into the rat-race can be an anxiety-stricken time. It can be overwhelming and turn the most optimistic personality into a scrooge of negativity. Our sobriety is not about resisting the highs of alcohol or drugs but is rather about maintaining a sober-mindedness and resistance to the all-consuming swirling world of tasks and appointments. Finding ourselves immersed in a culture that holds the value of productivity, speed, and business on a over-extended pedestal can be both depressing and fearful. Getting caught up in the pursuit to perform well can make the failure to do so detrimental to our outlook on life and our worth. Taking care of ourselves both mentally and physically is important in standing firm against the temptation to find our value and worth in our worldly successes and long list of to-dos. I think this is something that we have learned over our year of rehab. Again, keeping that appointment with Jesus and spending time meditating on God’s Word can change the entire outlook of the day. (See the last post about Step 3). Going on walks can take my frustration and fatigue level from a 10 down to a 2. It’s important that we find healthy options for guilt-free exercise, rest, and time with Jesus.
It’s important to supply this to our kids as well. The tension in our house goes down when everyone has had a chance to be physically active and they’ve had a good night’s rest. It requires sacrifice of time and sometimes money, but it is well worth it. It had been easier during Family Rehab to rest together and take walks together, simply because the sacrifice needed to do these things was been part of the designated goal. Now that we aren’t in “rehab” anymore, guilt creeps back in, convincing us that resting together or exercising isn’t the best use of our time. But it’s important to recognize that guilt isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. If we now commit to–and now believe that–rest and exercise are an integral part of continued “sobriety”, than we are more likely to reserve time, space, and money for it.
But if anybody reading this is the slightest bit like me, they will sympathize with me over the fact that exercise, rest, and meditation are areas in which I don’t have the best of luck. Just a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly excited about starting up a good fitness routine again. I found a bikram yoga studio here in Katy and was fully prepared to buy a membership after the first class. The day before, I had been overly ambitious at home and tried to rearrange some furniture on my own, tweaking a few places in my back. My thinking was that stretching out in a 90 degree room would be just the thing my aching back would need. It’s been a really, really long time since I have attended a bikram yoga class–so long, in fact, that I forgot just how much lower back and core strength is required. I was quickly reminded that it “ain’t” just stretching! But if any of you know yoga law, you know that once you start a class, you don’t quit. You can’t leave. So, I stayed and stuck it out. And, of course, with my pride and competitive nature in full throttle, I couldn’t just ‘take it slow’. I had to prove to myself that I could still do the things I could do pre-babies number 3 and 4. It was quite a humbling experience. Needless to say, that was what landed me in bed for a whole solid week.
That exercising experience didn’t result in a lack of depression and anxiety–it fueled it! I’m sure if done properly, with boundaries, and a healthy approach exercise does exactly what it’s supposed to do. The same goes for rest. When we rest with a heart that is trusting God with our time and our motives, rest can be an amazing gift. But, when we approach rest with anxiety about what we will be “irresponsibly avoiding” while we rest, we aren’t really resting at all. We aren’t resting fully. Or, when we use rest as an excuse or an escape it can result in unhealthy rest. This might look like indulging in a gossip magazine for us women or lustful pictures or videos for men.
Real quality rest comes from Jesus. I’m not saying that healthy rest only looks like a bible, a pen, and a Starbucks. It can be a family game, a nap, watching some World Cup soccer (so sad to see the US go), gardening, painting, an evening stroll, or even an episode of a favorite TV show. However, I think it’s necessary for rest to be helpful–not destructive. Much like my bikram experience, it ended up not being helpful at all, and set my good desire for a healthier routine back a month or so. It wasn’t worth it! Neither is “rest” that results in guilt or shame. It ends up setting us back. It ends up being destructive. The time and emotional energy that it takes to recover and repent sucks away rest. Resting in Jesus looks like enjoying life but with sober-mindedness. If we approach exercise and rest with sobriety, taking time to consider our choices, then we enter into it with a greater chance of success. I’m not saying we have to spend hours laboring over what to do every time we have an opportunity to exercise or rest (that’s anxiety), but quickly assessing with 2 easy questions and 1 reminder could help.
Question 1: Is this what God wants for me and my health right now?
If the answer to the question is ‘no’, then you’re done. Figure out what He does want and put that first idea to rest. Hold it captive to Him and move on to another idea. Don’t try to convince yourself or make something that’s not healthy for others, somehow permissible for you.
If the answer to the question is ‘yes‘, then ask Question 2.
Question 2: Where is my heart in all this?
I hate to be a constant motive-hunter but these kinds of questions are the ones that in moments of sobriety seem so obvious and easy to consider, but in the moment they escape me. I wasn’t thinking about my motives at all when I had sweat pouring down my face as I was trying my hardest to contort my body into a yoga pretzel. If I had been able to think about the unhealthiness of my competitiveness in the moment, I would have just stopped and laid down like a pretzel stick saving myself from a lot of pain. But I am learning that I’ve got to ask myself these questions before I make plans from which I can’t just walk out of the room. Making the decision in the moment goes beyond my personal level of self-control. Maybe some of you are stronger than me in this area, but I’ve got to ask myself these things and search my heart before hand. If I feel like resting by flipping on the tv or surfing the web, I’ve got to check my motives and know where I could potentially lose my “sobriety”. I may not struggle with my yoga competitiveness when I watch tv or visit some favorite sites, but I might find myself comparing myself to the beautiful models in the commercials, or the super-moms and their ability to be innovative crafters of recycled goods. I’ve got to ask the question before I grab the remote or the smart-phone so I know how to avoid squandering my opportunity for rest or exercise. If I ask the questions, than I am more keenly aware of my weaknesses and can make better decisions. So often, things go horribly wrong when I mindlessly fall into these activities. It is impossible to be mindless and sober-minded at the same time.
Most of us also struggle with unique motives to exercise. The goal of exercise is health, not looks. The goal of putting on the running tights and shoes is to get your heart pumping, not that of the passerby in the park who watches you run by. In our society, the struggle to keep ourselves sober-minded in this area is tough. Women and men alike are encouraged to look better for the purpose of attracting others. If I see one more Gold’s Gym sign encouraging me to work out so that I “Look Better Naked,” I just might take them on their word and scare the living daylights out of them, showing up ready to hit the elliptical machine with nothing on. (Don’t worry, I’d never follow through.) Whether we struggle with the desire to look better, or we struggle with pridefully thinking we already look better, then we we need to check our motives when working out. The goal is to feel better both physically and emotionally, not simply to look better.
Then I have to remind myself…
Reminder: God is in control and I can rest in Him and His plan. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
I need help remembering that if this is what God wants for me right now, then He, in His sovereignty, will take care of all the other details of my time and my life. If I feel guilt about not using that time to get something else done, I need to remember that He loves me and wants the best for me. He controls the spinning of the earth! He surely can help me find the time to get that other thing done. I can remember that in His mercy and deep love for me He wants me to enjoy life to the fullest.
So, if you love hitting the gym, or running, or yoga and have an opportunity to indulge a little time towards it, live in freedom to do it with a joyful heart and carefree spirit. If you have time to take a little snooze, then remember that it’s a healthy way to spend your time. God doesn’t want you to squander opportunities for physical activity and rest by questioning yourself if you deserve it or not. It’s not about what you deserve. Exercise and rest are a requirement for healthy living and continued “sobriety”.
If you feel like you don’t have time for exercise, rest, or meditation, please seek out the help of friends and advocates who will help you make time for these. I know I need permission from my husband to rest, exercise, and spend time in the Word because I struggle in feeling guilty about the use of my time in that way. I don’t literally need his “permission”, but knowing that he supports that use of my time, helps me to also feel good about it. I need others to remind me about God’s love for me and desire for me to enjoy these things, not feel anxious about them.
This step to rest and exercise is a challenge for all of us. Let’s take comfort knowing that what is being asked of us is out of the love of the Father and His great care for us and our bodies.
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).