Our theme at Reach 10 lately is #redefinerecovery – especially seeing that all of us need recovery from something at some time. Understanding that recovery from pornography use is similar in many ways to healing from other challenges helps us be more compassionate and understanding. This author shares what she needed in her own recovery – and a lesson we can remember as we respond to those who are struggling with pornography.

Quick! You find your friend lying in a ditch, bruised, bleeding, and barely breathing. What do you do?

A. Fix it: perform surgery to open up her lungs and prescribe a few pills while you are at it; why bother the busy doctors when you already know what to do?
B. Ignore it: keep walking; she will probably be fine in a few minutes, and until then you do not know how to help anyway.
C. Empathize: injure yourself too; you do not want her to feel alone, and misery loves company, right?
D. Be smart: call 911 and perform basic first-aid to keep her alive until the professionals
come; you knew lifeguard training would come in handy one day!

Since you are a reasonable person, you probably chose D. Good job! You may have just saved your hypothetical friend’s life. In a physical accident, you knew what to do almost instinctively, but what if tears replaced the bruises and instead of accidental injuries you saw self-inflicted scars? How would you respond in a psychological crisis?

Options A, B, and C may seem ridiculous on paper, but I have seen real-life responses to mental health issues that are too much like these.

Surprised by depression

When I consider my family history of mental illness and perfectionism, I have to admit that it is not surprising I became depressed, but it shocked me at the time. I was sixteen when I started seeing my mental bruises appear. I tried to fix myself by self-medicating in true millennial fashion: binge watching Netflix.

Hiding from the pain of my life by watching others live theirs did not help for long. A few months, my sad, oppressed, ignored, and lonely mind rebelled. A panic attack hit me with enough force to send me reeling into my mother’s arms. She calmed me down at the time, but then chose Option B: ignore the issue. According to her, my perceived psychic problems were just normal stress. I trusted her and berated myself for lacking the strength to deal with the same issues that I thought everyone else handled so easily.

No one to turn to

I continued trying to heal myself, and my mother kept walking. Over the next few months, I refrained from crying out again, but I did, occasionally, whimper. Some of the friends and family members who heard me chose Option C and took empathy to an extreme. They tried to help me by feeling my pain and taking over my problems. I felt like I was hurting them by sharing my burdens, so I stopped.

My mangled mind began whispering to me that life was not worth living. I plead for help once more. When my mom asked why I wanted to see a psychologist I told her the truth: depression was on the hunt for my life and I feared I could not hide much longer.

Getting real help

Finally, we were smart. Regular appointments with a trusted counselor taught me to see life differently and brought me back from the brink of disaster. I do not blame myself, my friends, or my family for responding inappropriately to my mental health issues. We learned through trial and error.

Your story can be easier than mine if you consult professionals earlier. Trained professionals can support those who struggle with mental illnesses in ways that friends and family members cannot. For example, psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses, prescribe appropriate medication, and develop personalized treatment plans. If you take advantage of these resources, then they can facilitate an easier healing process.

How you can help

If you have a friend struggling with mental health issues, you are like a first responder on the scene of an accident. You may not be able to resolve the problems, but you can get the injured person to the doctor
and perform psychological first aid.

What does psychological first-aid look like? I did not know until I met Maggie, my best friend at college.

One good friend makes a difference

Talking with Maggie felt different than talking to other people. I shared my problems without fear of burdening her, and she seemed to understand the weight I carried and somehow helped me hold it up on my own without proposing any solutions.

One day I worked up the courage to ask for her secret. She introduced me to the concept of holding space. Heather Plett, an international speaker, writer, and coach explains that “Holding space means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.”

This concept as practiced by Maggie was like a soothing balm on my wounded spirit. When Maggie held space for me she gave me room to be who I was in the moment. She listened to whatever I told her without pressuring me to share more or judging what she heard. Because she did not try to fix me, I did not feel like I should be ashamed of my cracks.

Instead of putting a quick bandage over my broken heart to hide the parts of myself that I believed could never be accepted, I looked for real healing because I began to love myself. The psychological first aid that I needed did not require my friends and family to patch me up. I only needed their love, patience, and charity to provide a
safe haven for me to rest.

Holding space for healing

You can help your friends and family in the same way. When you hold space for others, you let them remain in control of the situation and their problems. They might choose a different path than you would have advised, but your goal is to make them feel safe as they walk their own path, not to force them to follow yours.

Holding space takes practice, but it can strengthen your relationships with everyone in your life – compassion is not just for people with diagnosed mental illnesses, after all.

Holding space for others is difficult, maybe impossible, if no one holds space for you. You have sadness, joy, problems, and pain too. You need someone to stand by you, support you as you are, and permit you to confront your own issues independent of their agenda. If you learn how to hold space for others and surround yourself with people who know how to hold space for you, then you will be prepared to withstand the winds of mental illness if they ever shift in your direction.

Compassion is the key

You hold the power to fortify everyone in your circle of influence. You promote their mental health every time you hug them, share a smile, make them laugh, or let them cry. You can hold space for them and be vulnerable enough to let others hold space for you. When you choose to respond with compassion, you can improve lives, like mine, that are affected by mental illness.

What have you needed recovery from?

 

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