by Dale & Juanita Ryan | see: Part 1
We resist getting help
In spite of the abundance of God’s love and grace and the many ways in which love and grace are available to us, we do not easily reach out for the help we need. Even when we have acknowledged our need for help, we may find ourselves hesitating, finding excuses, resisting. Resistance to getting help is often the result of a mixture of fear and despair and shame.
It can be frightening to get help. In the process we feel vulnerable and exposed. Jim’s Dad had made cutting remarks about him all his life. Jim was so accustomed to hearing that he was lazy and stupid and irresponsible that every time he shared in his support group, he expected to hear these same hurtful comments in response. Even though people didn’t respond this way, Jim imagined that everyone must be privately thinking these things about him. As a result, he would sometimes begin to share only to freeze with fear and find himself unable to talk.
Our own experience has been that many different kinds of fears surface when we start to reach out for help. We may fear that if we are known we will be rejected or judged. Or we may be afraid that our vulnerability will open us to the possibility of being hurt or even abused. Or we may be afraid that change will mean breaking long-established family rules such as “don’t talk,” or “don’t feel” and this could have unpredictable consequences. We may fear change of any kind – the misery we know may seem preferable to the uncertainties of change.
We may also resist help because of despair. Like fear, despair can take many forms. We may despair because we think of ourselves as beyond help. Or we may despair because we think of ourselves as undeserving of help. Or we may despair because we have difficulty imagining that help could actually be effective. One person we know put it this way “Just thinking about getting help increases my despair – imagine how depressed I will be after I’ve invested several years in recovery and there still is no hope for me!”
Where did we learn that our problems are unsolvable? Despair is often a sign that we have looked for help in the past and found none. We may resist help today because we have tried getting help in the past, only to be disappointed. Joe was sexually abused by a coach when he was ten years old. He told his parents. But they didn’t believe him. Joe learned from this experience that it doesn’t help to ask for help. Trying to get help and being hurt in the process can lead to despair.
We also may resist reaching out for help because we are full of shame. Shame is usually the result of experiencing rejection, judgement, ridicule or abuse from others because of our limitations, our weaknesses, our failures, our vulnerability. These things are unavoidable parts of being human. But we have come to see them as something terrible about us; something we need to hide and deny.
Sometimes we experience shame in very general ways: “What if people knew?!” But often it is specific people who we imagine in times like this. What if Betty knew? What if my parents knew? What if the pastor knew? Whatever the focus, this is the experience of shame. We fear what people will think of us, and what we will think of ourselves, if we are exposed as the broken, struggling, frustrated mortals we really are.
John put it this way “When I first went to the AlAnon group at church I experienced incredible shame. I had to walk past the choir room to get to the room where the AlAnon group met and I had this terrible sense that everyone in the choir knew exactly where I was going and why. I felt completely exposed – like everyone now knew all of my worst secrets.”
Is this an unreasonable fear? Unfortunately, no. Some people will shame us for getting help. It is a common dynamic in dysfunctional families and other dysfunctional systems that the first person to get help is often responded to like this: “Oh, I knew all along that something was wrong here. I guess I was right. There was a problem in the family – and it was you!” In situations like this it can feel like you are swimming upstream against generations and generations of shame.
It’s worth it to get help
In spite of our struggles with fear and despair and shame, it is worth it to get help.
First of all, it is worth it to reach out for help because if we don’t get help with our compulsions, addictions and unresolved wounds, not only will our problems not get resolved, they will get worse. Time heals few wounds. It is much more likely that the passage of time will increase the probability that a wound will become infected. And the destruction to ourselves and to our relationships that results can mean years, potentially a life-time, of tragedy. Without help, the denial, the blame, the addictions, the hurt, the fear, the shame, the despair will poison our relationships, and end up being passed on to another generation.
The second reason why it is worth all the struggle and risk to get help is that, when we do get help, we begin to change. We begin a process of transformation. In the process we give up our addictions and compulsions. Old wounds heal. We learn that we are forgiven. We learn that we are loved. We grow in humility, courage and hope. We learn greater honesty and vulnerability. Our compassion deepens. We become freer to be the person God made us to be.
It is, in short, worth it to cry out for help because the recovery process eventually leads to joy. When we cry out to God for help, we learn in a deeper way how much we need God and how much we need others. The goal of the healing process is not to get to the point where we no longer need help and support. The goal is to make dependence on God and interdependence with others a way of life. Jesus used a word picture with his disciples when he was talking to them about relationships and joy. “I am the vine, and you are the branches, abide in me and your joy will be full.” His point was that we need to stay closely connected to him.
We can no longer pretend to be self-sufficient. As we daily acknowledge our need for help – as we live increasingly in love and less frequently in fear, despair and shame – we discover to our amazement that we are capable of experiencing joy. We don’t mean the illusive pleasures that once helped us to numb our pain. We gradually learn, rather, to experience a real, deep-down joy that is not rooted in denial but which has its roots sunk so deeply in the soil of God’s love that no wind or storm can threaten its vitality. And that’s a pretty good reason to get help. There will be times when the cure feels worse than the disease – but keep your eyes on the prize. God’s has plans for you – plans rich in grace and love!
see: Part 1
the parent organization to the NACR. Juanita is a therapist in private practice
at Brea Family Counseling Center. The Ryans are the authors of the Life Recovery
Guide series of Bible studies published by InterVarsity Press.