No, no. Not that road to recovery.
I didn’t have surgery, and no, I’ve not been to rehab either.
When I speak of the road to recovery, I’m talking about recovery from the abuses, burnout, and depletion of a renovation project that lasted 1,797 days. That’s twenty-eight days shy of five years when you do the math. I’m not sure if there’s a Leap Year in there or not. If so, add a couple days and let me know.
There were not people carrying hammers and saws and paint brushes at the house all those days. But to some degree, for each of those days, I worked on the problem of our forced renovation. There were plenty of days when I worked with a hammer, but most days I worked in my soul.
Some people look at their house, or their prospective house, and say, “Let’s renovate.” I wish that was our story, but it’s not.
As I wrote last, our renovation was forced upon us by an underground water leak that lifted our house and broke just about every flat surface and joint.
Maybe I’m obsessive. Perhaps I’m just diligent.
To fix the immediate problem, the plumbers cut through our kitchen floor right in front of the sink. They also jackhammered through the master bath floor, right at the end of the short hallway.
I patched both holes and covered them with rugs—and I did a good job. No one fell through either hole. But these rug-covered patches were just two of numerous, daily reminders that I had a major issue to resolve and that it was going to cost a lot of money.
I didn’t exactly worry. I knew our ordeal would work out and at the end of the day, our home would be lovely. But I did fret, and calculate, and run various scenarios. Okay, not various. Endless scenarios. Maybe I’m obsessive. Perhaps I’m just diligent. Either way, this worked to our advantage in that we completed the project and the house is lovely. It worked to my disadvantage in that it wore me out.
The trial of our renovation didn’t wear me out physically, although there were plenty of nights I slept well. No, the demand of these 1800 days wore out my soul, depleted my reserves, damaged my confidence, and created hostility.
When I speak of recovery, this is what I mean—recovery from a worn out soul.
Not to beat a dead horse, but to define what I mean, let me give you a couple of examples. To be reimbursed by the insurance company, I had to supply receipts and pictures.
Ten days after sending the information via email, I call and ask if they have everything they need to reimburse me. “No, Mr. Gillham, we do not. We need a receipt.”
“Yes, I understand. I attached a scan of the receipt to my email of March 3rd.”
“Right. I see that email, but there is no attachment.”
So, I resend. I wait ten days and call again. This time they say there are no pictures. I resend. Call in ten days. No receipt. Ten days later, no pictures.
I used up all my cash-on-hand.
This obstruction tactic happened over and over with outright denials of receiving the email to claims that receipts go to one office and pictures to another. All the while, my cash account is getting smaller and smaller. My cash outgo far exceeded the reimbursement, in other words. There was never a dispute over whether my expenses were covered by my policy, and there was always a promise to reimburse by the insurance company… just as soon as they got my receipt and photographs.
Eventually, I used up all my cash-on-hand. Since I had no money, I either left our home broken and in disrepair, or I did the work myself until I could get the money owed out of the insurance company.
On those occasions when I did get a check, it came made out to Dianne, and me, and the mortgage company. To cash this check, each party had to endorse the check and I had to include a copy of the insurance claim with each check. In our case, the initial claim was twenty-seven pages long—and only got longer as the claim progressed.
Knowing this requirement by the mortgage company, the insurance company dribbled checks to us for $13, $27, $145, $21, and so forth. Once in a while, there was a big one: $5,200. Toward the end, I received a check for $.10.
Do you know how long it takes to make a copy of a twenty-seven-page document on a home copy machine?
Do you know how demoralizing it is to have important work to do, work that you believe God has called you to do, and instead spend your day making copies and sending duplicate emails of duplicate emails?
This proved to be death by a thousand cuts. Not literal cuts, but cuts to my soul, cuts to my morale, cuts to my psyche, cuts to my confidence that my work matters. By the time 1,797 days were completed, I was bled out.
My mentor taught me that burnout doesn’t occur due to a big, demanding job, but it is the result of a small job. To be clear, there isn’t anything small about manual labor and large about what I do for a living. Rather, work is sized by calling and giftedness.
It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. If you are in a job that is not suited to your skills and calling, that job is too small for you and you will suffer in it. If you persist in a small job, you abuse your soul.
Yes, of course I prayed. And yes, I know better.
I persisted, and I knew I was expending beyond the red line of my soul’s health, but I couldn’t get away from the work, or more accurately, the type of work required of me. By the end, I was mad. I wasn’t spitting, stomping, cursing, and throwing things kind of mad. At least, not most days. Rather, I grew hostile internally.
There were times my short fuse was directed at Dianne or the dog, but mostly, and frequently—nearly daily—my anger poured out at me for not being able to figure this out and for letting it get the best of me. Oy vey! It was soul-withering.
Yes, of course I prayed. And yes, I know better—except when I don’t, or lose my way, or forget, or am distracted, or am so mind-numbingly tortured with inanity that I can’t think straight. And most days were exactly that, which means that most days I teetered on the sharp edge of personal failure to thrive.
Now do you see what I mean when I speak of recovery and the road that leads back there?
Now that we’re on the same page, and I suspect you have a similar story to relate from something going on in your world, let’s talk about what to do.
How do you get on the road to recovery and what are the weigh points to indicate you are making progress toward the goal of recovered soul-health?
Jeepers. I’m glad you finally asked. I’ve written 1100 words waiting for you to ask me that question (smile).
Before I finish this series of thoughts on how I reconstructed my soul, I will touch on replenishing, refocusing, and restoring. I won’t do all that in this article, but I will touch on each of these.
In retrospect, my recovery began the day I recognized that I was going under water and had a lot of rapids yet ahead. There was no consolation in this realization, but there was value attached to the severity of the tumult and the cost I was paying.
You might recall a few lines back that I described the impatience and intolerance I demonstrated toward myself. Of course, I wasn’t the only contender involved in these daily cage fights.
That’s a lot of fighters and fight in a confined place.
The cage was the circumstance itself, and unless I decided to walk away from thousands and thousands of dollars, I had no alternative but to stay in the cage. In truth, I could have walked away, and that would have extracted me from the immediate cage… only to cast me into another, tighter confine that would be a worse fate than the present one.
So, who else was in the cage? Who else is in your cage?
One contender was my adversary, the devil. Another contender: my heavenly Father, God. Yet another contender, the devil’s shrewd antagonist, the entity the Bible calls, “the power of sin.” As an aside, I personify sin in my book, “No Mercy,” with the character of, Jester. Of course, the Holy Spirit was yet another contender in the cage. Since He lives in me and I’m in the cage, He had to be in the cage as well. Then, there were other contenders from time to time, e.g. friends, workers, experts, and so forth. The final contender, a cage fighter from way back: my Older Brother, Jesus.
Folks, that’s a lot of fighters and fight in a confined place, i.e. my life. It’s important—at least, for me—to know what I’m up against. That’s why I just went to the effort to identify who’s who.
Recognizing the cage, the fight, what was at stake, and the price being exacted helped me validate that my struggle wasn’t just in my head, or that I was at fault, or that I was weak, or lacked endurance, or resilience. Rather, it helped me grasp that I was falling prey to condemnation unbecoming and untrue of me when I went hard on myself.
In retrospect, of course, this is perfectly clear. But so is the football game the day after, or the battle once it’s finished. In the midst, whew! In the midst, it’s confusing. So, declaring it to be what it was, was the first step in recovery.
Grant me tenderness toward myself.
Grasping the price, the degree of struggle, and the volume of intensity legitimized my battle and validated that it was a formidable fight. In a way, this made what I was up against honorable, and the price paid, honorable. However, the price was still going to be exacted.
Practically, this meant I took one day at a time. At least, this is what I did when I remembered and had my head together. There is a lot of grace and mercy necessary when you are in a place so susceptible to mistakes and regrets.
Sitting down at the conclusion of each day, or if necessary in the midst of the moment, and saying to my heavenly Father, “You know, this didn’t go the way I hoped. I’m disappointed in the way I handled myself. I understand why, and I can resolve to do differently next time, but Father, you know as well as I do that my resolve isn’t proving all that effective. I’m sorry. Would you please live through me. Grant me tenderness toward myself, based not upon my performance, but on your declaration of value in me, and guide me as I regroup and begin again? Thank you. Amen”
One day. One moment. One statement of trust, dependence, and confidence in the Holy Spirit’s power and comfort—and then another statement to Him, in the next moment, and that moment, until you are into the next day.
This is the first principle: Take one day at a time, requiring of each moment the obedience you know how to require of yourself when faced with confusion.
Here’s a passage from Scripture (2 Cor. 10:5) for you to consider: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The whole verse is too much for right now. All I need to take away, and I'm suggesting this dose for you as well, is the phrase, "...taking every thought captive...." Every thought. This one. The next one. The one after that.
And what of my work?
Before the water leak and breaking of our home, I spent my days writing blogs on spiritual transformation, books on spiritual development, and supplying guidance to people and organization so they operated more effectively. After the water leak, I dressed each day in ratty clothes, and as you know, I eventually could not write. I couldn’t write my next blog, let alone my next book.
I became frustrated—frustrated with the entire ordeal, and over time, that frustration took up residence in my soul and morphed into hostility, an internal seething that I was not getting to do what I felt called to do, what I wanted to do, what I am gifted to do.
Next time I write, this is where I will begin. I’ve written enough words for now. More soon.