Holidays are an interesting time for people in recovery. Everything we see around us tells us that holidays are the best times of the year.Holidays are for celebrating, for spending time with family, etc. etc.
The problem for people in recovery is that holidays represent a vivid reminder of some of the most painful experiences, memories, and relationships in their lives. Spending time with family is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t feel wonderful for the person who was verbally abused for years by both of his parents. It doesn’t feel wonderful for the person who was sexually abused by her grandfather. It doesn’t feel wonderful for the person who spends every holiday alone because his addiction cost him his family.
As we approach Thanksgiving, how can these people give thanks? How can people, who acknowledge the hurt associated with family, truly give thanks? What do they have to be thankful for?
Pain is a step in the healing process. When a body stops having the ability to feel pain, that’s never a good thing. Pain is part of how the body tells us that something needs attention. Pain also has a way of waking us out of a stupor. If you try to hammer a nail while you’re falling asleep, and then you smash your thumb, you wake up pretty fast. Emotional pain is an opportunity to wake up and become more aware. We can become more aware of where we are, what has gotten us here, and what we need to do moving forward. This is all positive, even though it’s painful.
Our awareness of the people and situations that wounded us are evidence that we’re getting better. Many people have spent many years making excuses for the people who have negatively contributed to our lives. Others have just avoided those people and situations because it’s too painful to deal with them. There is a lot of denial that goes on, related to family of origin wounds. Holidays tend to bring these feelings out, and we have a choice to acknowledge them or to bottle them up. Discovering that God can give us the courage to acknowledge how we have been hurt represents important movement in the right direction on our recovery journey.
The consequences of our actions are part of what God uses to draw us to Himself. We need not only to acknowledge how we have been hurt, but also how we have hurt others. Holidays are very lonely for the person who lost his family because of the effects of his acting out. It hurts, and there is a distinct temptation to check out to avoid the pain that come s with the gravity of what has happened as a result of prior choices. But there’s an opportunity as well. An opportunity not to avoid the pain, but to choose to stay in it, to experience it, to grieve what is lost, and to accept the embrace of a Father who does not reject His children no matter what they’ve done. A time of loneliness can become a sweet (maybe bittersweet) time of solitude with God.
Still, it’s hard, and seems counter-intuitive to give thanks in times when we are so in touch with our pain. But here’s the thing. Remember when we were NOT in touch with our pain, or anything else honest, for that matter. Recovery is a journey in which we learn how to feel the entire range of life’s emotions – the good, the bad, the extremely painful, and the unbelievably joyful. We can’t pick and choose if we want to get better, because getting better requires of us that we get honest.
Maybe this Thanksgiving, your most honest prayer is something like…
“Father, I don’t feel very thankful. I feel [sad, alone, afraid]. I’ve gotten in touch with so many things in my life that are broken, and I don’t like it. Being honest sucks sometimes because I can no longer deny or hide the pain I feel. But being honest is also wonderful, because I believe that you’re bringing me to life in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I don’t have to hide anymore. I don’t have to live my life in fear of ‘What if they find out?’ I can show up for the people in my life and life in a truly authentic way. And even though I can’t control the results, I can begin to feel confidence that I’m discovering who You made me to be. And for that I am thankful. While you’re rebuilding my life – better than it was before – help me to remember what You’ve done, what You’re doing, and what you promise to do as I surrender to you every day. Help me to really be thankful that you will never leave me.”
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Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.