Celebrate Recovery

This week started out pretty bad, but has turned out amazing.  I started the week by falling into a depressive state on Sunday afternoon (what I sometimes refer to as “being down”).  Lately I’ve had cycles of depression where I will go a couple weeks “normal,” and then fall into a depressed state for about a week.  I’ve come to expect these cycles, and the treatment I’ve received helps me cope and push through.  Usually I start going down over the course of a day, stay down for a few days, and then have a day in which I gradually come back up.  This week, I started to come back up yesterday, which was also the night of our weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings.

In case you aren’t familiar with Celebrate Recovery, it’s a recovery program (somewhat similar to other recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous) based on the twelve steps (and their Biblical comparisons) and eight principles based on the Beatitudes.  The typical format is a weekly meeting in which there is a short time of music and worship, a speaker to teach or give a testimony, and open-share small groups divided by gender.  Outside of the weekly meetings, people are encouraged to join a step-study group.  What makes CR unique are two things:  It is Christ-centered, meaning that Jesus Christ is the Higher Power we rely on for recovery; and it is not limited to people having a specific issue, like addiction or alcoholism.  CR is for anybody with a “hurt, habit, or hangup” – which is everybody.

Before I get into why this week turned out amazing, let me give you some background information.  I started attending CR many years ago because I was asked to be in the band.  I’m a musician at our church, and they pick from the pool of musicians for each worship service to have somewhat of a regular rotation.  So I found out about CR, and started attending, when I was scheduled to play in the band, which was every few weeks or so.  I stayed for the big group meeting, but I never went to small group.  I didn’t have a sense of belonging, because I didn’t think I had any problems (you can probably see where this is going).

Things changed in the fall of 2016 when my severe, major depression hit.  Every time I played at CR, I felt God tugging at me ever so gently, saying, “you need to be here.”  So one day, I went, even though I wasn’t on stage.  I went to CR to be at CR.  That evening, I got a lighthearted query from someone I knew:  “Hey Spencer… what are you doing here?”  You see, I didn’t have any outward signs of my struggles (which you can read more about here).  I responded with, “I’m here to be at CR,” and received a welcoming response in return.

After hitting rock-bottom, I finally started professional treatment for my depression on December 21, 2016.  That was the day of my first doctor’s appointment in which the doctor not only started me on medications for depression, but also convinced me to stop my drug abuse.  That date is my recovery (or “sobriety” if you will) date not only because it was the beginning of my treatment journey, but also because it’s the date I stopped abusing opioids.

CR uses “chips” (they look like poker chips on a keychain) that are handed out each week to anyone who celebrates a time-based milestone in recovery or sobriety.  The first is a blue chip, which is given to those who made the decision that week to start recovery.  Following the blue chip are chips for thirty days, sixty days, ninety days, six months, and so on.  Starting at one year, they give medallions at a special ceremony each month for those having a recovery anniversary that month (referred to as a “birthday”).

I attended CR the day after I began my recovery.  All day I thought about getting a blue chip that evening.  When the time came and they called for anyone to come forward to get a blue chip… I didn’t go.  I was frozen in anxiety and self-doubt.  Why?  Because I didn’t think my “problem” – primarily depression – was a “CR problem.”  I had never heard anyone at our CR say that they suffered from depression.  I didn’t consider myself an addict, and I certainly wasn’t an alcoholic.  I convinced myself that people would judge me, thinking that I had no right to get a blue chip because I didn’t have “real” problems.  I believed that I appeared straight-laced and successful, and by going forward I would be a viewed as a faker, that I was just pretending to have problems.  The truth is, my straight-laced and successful appearance was what was fake.

I regularly attended CR from this point forward, and I never got any of the other chips, either.  I still had feelings that I didn’t belong.  “Hey Spencer, what are you doing here?” kept resonating in my mind.  I was in a paradox of sorts – God was doing great work in me through CR and I recognized the healing and support through my recovery that CR brought, but I didn’t feel like I belonged.  When I reached my one-year recovery birthday, I didn’t even think about getting a medallion.  I never got any chips, what right did I have to get a medallion?

Now I will tell you why this week turned out amazing.  I had shared in my small group my issues with acceptance at CR (let me be clear – I didn’t feel accepted at CR because of my own self-doubt, not because I wasn’t welcomed).  Last night, before the large group meeting began, one of the leaders and a close friend asked me, “what would you think if I presented a one-year medallion to you today?”  Granted, it’s a couple months late and it wasn’t the monthly medallion night.  But I knew it was time to say yes.  As I was on stage and he spoke truth and encouragement to me, I felt accepted.  I felt like I belonged.  I felt like part of the CR family.  In response, I shared that the medallion meant two things to me:  first, a marker of one year in recovery, and second, acceptance into CR.

CR is truly a place to find recovery from any “hurt, habit, or hangup.”  Your problems are CR problems.  I would not be at the place I am today if it wasn’t for CR, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

Thank you for welcoming me into your family.

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