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Bernice Recovery StoryHello, my name is Bernice. I’m a grateful believer who’s in Celebrate Recovery for emotional eating and explosive outbursts of anger.

Before recovery I was frustrated because I didn’t understand my inner struggles, let alone know how to deal with them. I felt like a big ball of rolled-up emotion that I couldn’t break down or pull apart. I felt like I was all alone with these emotions because if I didn’t understand or make sense of them, then who could? The pain of this was so deeply hidden from myself it was almost impossible to tell where it was coming from. My willpower wasn’t enough to control these areas of my life, but I would grit my teeth and try to take back control –  all to no avail.

It felt like this was bigger than my God. In my head I knew that God was all-powerful and almighty, but I lacked the tool to translate that into overcoming what was controlling me. I blamed others for my problems – so I became the victim. My husband, Greg, became the cause of my struggles. I felt if he changed or maybe even left me, the struggles would disappear, too! My Dad was the cause of the balance of those struggles not ticked off by Greg. I found myself becoming what others avoid and what I myself did not want to be.

But what brought me to this point and way of thinking?

Looking Back

In our family home my Dad expressed his own struggles through anger and control as a way of dealing with his pain. When he would come home after work, if were having a chat over a coffee with Mom, we would split to our rooms to be busy studying so we didn’t have to deal with him; it felt like walking on eggshells at home. I internalized these hurts and over time they grew into compensating sinful behaviours. My parents came from a conservative Christian community and I grew up in the evangelical church. They taught strong values of faith and family but as a child I saw all this as being very rules-based. When I was 16 this way of thinking was balanced out when I realized I could have a personal relationship with God because the Holy Spirit wanted to make my heart His dwelling place. I loved knowing a God who, as Isaiah 43:1 says:

“… created and formed me, redeemed me, summoned me by name, and calls me His own.” 2 Cor. 6:16 says, “For we are the temple of the living God.”

How great is that?

At 28 I married Greg who was easygoing and had a love of life and people that I admired. We shared a strong faith and common life goals. Starting out with high hopes and enthusiasm, our life was not without its challenges or always in our control. After moving to 5 cities in 6 years for education and work, and on returning to Calgary, Greg dealt with depression. Through this, I started to detach myself from him because I saw his depression as a sign of weakness. Our 2 children were growing quickly and we enjoyed having our families in the same city so they could know their cousins and grandparents. We were self-employed and working together in commercial real estate which came about from Greg’s education and work experiences. We loved being in business together for 12+ years, but became more like business associates than husband and wife.

During this time we had a hunger to know God and His scripture better and joined a formal Bible study group, the guys attending on a different night than the gals. We were involved for over 10 years, both leading small groups. I became the teaching leader of the Bible study group for the evening women’s class, preparing weekly lectures and guiding small group leaders. I grew in love, knowledge, and understanding of God and His Word; but even so, it did not touch my hidden sins. The poet Seneca says, “sins of others are before our eyes: our own are behind our backs.”

My Inner Battle

My inner struggles and emotions were escalating because I couldn’t control them through my own willpower. Financial challenges added to my tension and with my inner volatility increasingly bubbling over, I became the victim, blaming all the negative things in my life on Greg. So now, I isolated myself to keep pain at a distance. I didn’t know how or who to talk to about it as I would be judged, thought of as weak, and my reputation would be at stake. Inside I was raging and ready to explode if one more thing was added to my volunteer time. So food became my best friend because it was my comfort. I would swallow, then wallow with guilt and low self-worth thoughts. I felt utterly defeated by it, while gaining 80 pounds. I was in denial about this part of my life, so God was not in it. But, He was there in it all with me. Isaiah 43 continues on to say:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you … For I am the Lord your God, your Saviour.”

Through a friend Greg found and diligently worked on a 12-step recovery program to deal with issues and bad habits resulting from his formative years and earlier depression. I envied how he was working through his issues and growing. Now, he was leading in Celebrate Recovery and God was transforming him. I begged him to tell me the formula, or at least what was wrong with me so I could fix it. But he said I needed to attend myself and allow God to work on it with me. In 2017 God directed my steps so that I could resign from numerous commitments and I began my own healing journey.

Taking Steps Toward Recovery

For the first time I was using a tool to work through struggles in my life. In a small study group of 6 women, we studied the simple principles based on the Beatitudes, each sharing things we had never spoken of before. The women came to be my lifeline, my close confidants because it was a safe place where I could share without judgment – and in this, gain understanding of what was going on internally. I admitted my inner struggle out loud and in doing so stripped the unspoken stuff of its power over me. As I worked through the 8 Celebrate Recovery principles, they worked their way through me.

In the 1st principle I was almost offended to learn I was in denial of my problems. Wasn’t I an open, transparent, and honest person? But I learned I was this person when it was convenient or made me look good. Pride was at the root of my denial.

In the 2nd principle I learned I was powerless to help myself work through my hurts and habits. But God gives the strength to change, to set realistic expectations, to trust others in this process. I now acknowledge this daily, because it keeps my focus on Jesus Christ, my higher power.

In the 4th principle I learned that we don’t dwell on the past, but we need to understand it so we can begin to allow God to change us going forward. I openly examined and confessed my faults to myself, to God, and to a sponsor as I processed my personal inventory. This is the part where I had aha moments of honest understanding of myself. Doing my inventory I thoughtfully worked through questions like: What do I feel guilty about? What or who do I resent or fear? Where am I trapped in self-pity and alibis? What are my family secrets? What effect did this have on my life and what damage did it do to my behaviour and relationships? and … here it is … What role did I play in this?

Through this process I learned I had anger because people close to me had hurt me; employers and teachers had belittled and not listened to me. I wanted to control what I couldn’t change. I realized how past hurts had led me into bad habits and compensating behaviours. I’d become so accustomed to and comfortable with my hurts that I confused them with who I was. Initially, the good changes made me uncomfortable, because of their newness. I wanted to hold onto my old friend – food – because it was my comforter. It was easier to be compliant, accept co-dependent behaviours, and blame others than work on the stuff on my side of the fence.

But now I was moving toward healthy relationships and habits. It was reliance on God’s power, not willpower, that carried me through. I came to understand the triggers behind my eating, and began to lose weight. I took responsibility for my actions by owning my stuff. I was amazed at how quickly I found release and healing from angry outbursts. The emotions were untangling so I could name them and then trace back to work on the root issue.

Moving Forward

After all this hard work, I never want to relapse into old patterns again. Thankfully, this is covered off in the last 2 Celebrate Recovery principles. Today, I intentionally continue the journey while changing years of wrong responses and habits. My daily walk with God is one of complete dependence on Him by submitting to His control and power each day. I’m growing deeper with God because He’s stripping away layers of denial and replacing them with a new honesty about myself. I promptly make amends and offer forgiveness as the Holy Spirit reveals it to me by taking my daily inventory. With this comes an unburdening, a freedom, and a peace I haven’t had before. For myself, sanctification – or becoming more like Christ – is the process of working the 8 scripture-based principles; my recovery and spiritual growth are one in the same. I’m healing the damage of sin and enjoying a deeper relationship with God.

Using Celebrate Recovery as a “tool in my kit” resulted in transforming relationships – with the biggest being my marriage. I’m getting to know Greg as my husband and confidant; we laugh often now. In other relationships I’m at ease because I’m being real and honestly enjoy friends for who they are without trying to fix or judge them.

I’m glad to be on this journey because I have a new understanding of how God works in me by appropriating His power in my life. I know it’s unstoppable because of the promise we have in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” – or, until I’m called home to be with Him in Heaven.

Now I’m serving in Celebrate Recovery as a leader and working with an amazing group of new friends. This keeps me accountable and ingrained in the principles which we recite each week. Joan Chittister says it perfectly in her book, God’s Tender Mercy; that when I admitted my arrogance, faced my dishonesty, named my weaknesses I was consumed with kindness. I came to know what God knows: that there’s no one who is not struggling with the same kinds of things we are. There’s no one who does not need and deserve my care. As I serve, I see God at work in the lives of others in my church community, healing and growing them. This is of eternal value, bringing true joy, satisfaction, and contentment that nothing else can compare to.

-Written by Bernice

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