recovery

In the Wake of Haiyan's Wrath

IN THE EARLY evening of Nov. 8, 2013, Arnel Montero convinced his mother, wife, and three children to evacuate to a two-story concrete house above the coastal area of Barangay 70, a fishing village in Tacloban City, on the island of Leyte in Central Philippines. He expected the worst, with the news reporting the arrival of super-typhoon Haiyan the following morning, and thought the house would be a safe place where his family could take shelter while he remained in their shanty by the coast.

Even though Haiyan’s fury hit the islands at speeds surpassing 200 miles per hour, the strong winds alone would not have created such a major tragedy. But Haiyan precipitated a storm surge that led to grave loss of life and massive devastation. Barangay 70 is located near the city’s main pier, and the tidal waters pushed cargo boats toward the coast, smashing shanties and buildings, including the concrete house where Arnel’s family sought shelter. Arnel managed to save himself, but the rest of his family perished.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as of mid-March 2014, reported 6,268 deaths, although the actual number could be double that. In Barangay 70 alone, there were close to 300 people who died. An estimated 12.2 million Filipinos were affected by the disaster that hit eight provinces in the Visayas islands region; close to 2 million houses were either washed out or partially destroyed.

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Making Once Enough

I RECENTLY saw a photograph of me taken on the day I was born: two weeks premature, swaddled, peaceful, vulnerable, beautiful—pure potential. I wanted to travel back in time to give the little guy some advice and protect him. Most of all I wanted him to experience the things I missed—those that only seem to come to our attention with the benefit of hindsight. I wanted him to take more risks for the good, not worry so much, be more open to receiving love, take more walks in fields and on beaches, and avoid a thousand mistakes. I wanted him to be different.

While wanting to undo history is probably a human universal, it can also be a kind of psychic violence, emerging from the notion that there is such a thing as the person we were “supposed” to be. Indulging this notion led to me projecting it onto three intriguing films. Short Term 12 is a lovely, painful story of recovery from childhood wounds. In Seconds, the newly restored melancholic science fiction tale of human engineering from 1966, Rock Hudson brilliantly imagines what happens when you convince yourself that superficiality is depth and exchange the life you have for cosmetic “transformation.”

Both touch on questions of how to live with what you have, and find their answer in About Time, the latest comedy from Richard Curtis, writer-director of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually. It’s easy to resist Curtis’ films—the privilege that his characters inhabit is rarely acknowledged, and their speech patterns are so monochromatic as to suggest they’re all auditioning for an Aaron Sorkin project. (I loved The West Wing as much as the next person, but nobody really talks like that.)

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Baseball’s Darryl Strawberry Buries his Past in New Career as a Pastor

Photo courtesy RNS
Former MLB player Darryl Strawberry, right, and his wife Tracy pose for a portrait at their home. Photo courtesy RNS.

The four-bedroom, two-story modest house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when this 6-6 muscular-toned man welcomes you inside his home, there is no evidence Darryl Strawberry the player ever existed.

There are no pictures of Strawberry in a Mets uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight All-Star Games. None of his 335 home run balls.

“I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,” says Strawberry, 51. “I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.”

'This Doesn't Go Away'

FOR SERIOUS AND chronic mental illness, there is no cure—short of a miracle. There is no “all better.” Even when well managed, such illness is a lifelong reality, and relapses can happen without warning. Even for episodic illness, the road to health can be long and mountainous. Walking alongside someone with mental illness may mean a lifelong hike over peaks and valleys, learning to grow in faith and in relationship with Jesus through an illness that clouds the view. That walk might cause mistrust of reality and of a person’s own thoughts. It might require extra patience for processing truth. It might repeatedly tax the resources of the church and its fellowship. And churches, like other organizations, grow tired of such taxation. Culturally, we expect people who fall down to pull themselves back up and put their hands to the plow. Sure, everyone stumbles occasionally. And we’re willing to give help in times of crisis. But when that time of crisis doesn’t seem to end, we start to wonder why we’re still helping. Why we’re not seeing progress. Why we’re not moving on.

The father of a son with bipolar disorder spoke passionately from his experience:

Attitudes have to change. This doesn’t go away. … that’s the issue that anyone with mental illness or anyone who is going to minster to mental illness is going to eventually wade into. Wait a minute. We helped you with this a year ago, two years ago. The problem is like telling a diabetic, “We helped you with your blood glucose a year ago.” Yeah, but guess what. They’ve got to do this every minute of the day until they die. So that is a daunting task … it has to fall to the whole body of Christ, because it’s only the body that can handle something like that for a lifetime.

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PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

As Onleilove Alston reveals in “Connecting the Dots,” in the April 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, Hurricane Sandy vividly demonstrated the relationship between climate change, poverty, and immigration. Healing is taking place as people of faith step up to coordinate recovery efforts and lead advocacy efforts to curb climate change.

To view some of the ways people are making a difference in communities affected by Hurricane Sandy, check out the slideshow below.

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Mind and Body

A message on a barn at Dawn Farm.

Did you like our March issue’s interview “Across the Board, Peace” with addiction-recovery worker, supporter of the consistent-life ethic, and all-around character Jim Balmer? Wait, there’s more!

Below are some of his additional thoughts inspired by years helping others recover from addiction. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed Balmer early last year at the Consistent Life conference in Washington, D.C.

How did you get started working in addiction recovery?
I got sober in 1971; however I actually spent the first years of my career, until I came to Dawn Farm in ’83, not working with addicts. I worked for a number of years for the local community mental health center and had a fairly diversified career. I worked with couples and adolescents, I consulted to an emergency room, and I was on the local police hostage negotiation team. Mental health people often aren’t very literate about addiction, and addiction treatment people are often not very literate about mental health. I had the opportunity to straddle both worlds.

What are some of the misunderstandings that happen there?
I think it just tends to be a lack of understanding—addiction professionals often don’t have a good framework for understanding mental health issues, and I think mental health folks suffer from the same problem.

Realistically, if you’re an addict and you’re anxious and you show up at your average psychiatrist’s office, the chance of being diagnosed bipolar and being put on meds is pretty high. The misdiagnosing or underdiagnosing or overdiagnosing on both sides is an ongoing problem.

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Across the Board, Peace

JIM BALMER, president of an addiction-recovery center called Dawn Farm in Ypsilanti, Michigan, has been an antiwar activist since the Vietnam days. His engagement with nonviolence has taken him to some unexpected places, from the antiabortion group Operation Rescue to working with addicts. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed Balmer early last year at the Consistent Life conference in Washington, D.C.


Elizabeth Palmberg: What was your work for peace during the Vietnam war?

Jim Balmer: I had been part of Detroit-area draft resistance. I went through almost all the conscientious objector status [process]. And it was 1970—what can I tell you? I was under the influence of substances one night, and I wrote the draft board in Pontiac, Michigan, and told them off; I just said, "come and get me." They never did. I suspect that, as the '70s progressed, they got more and more tired of putting us in jail.

The Detroit-Ann Arbor area was a hub for political activism. Students for a Democratic Society was founded there. YPFJ—Youth for Peace, Freedom, and Justice—there were all sorts of organizations. We would protest. The first time I got actually picked up was at a George Wallace rally—Wallace was a terrible, racist candidate from Alabama.

I started being interested in nonviolence. I was reading Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and I took King's nonviolence pledge when I was in high school.

How has King's pledge affected your life? I found myself in a couple of situations where I had the opportunity to practice nonviolence, to be assaulted and not return force. In a protest, during the Vietnam War, I got assaulted by a couple of guys.

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From Shame to Grace

PASTOR T.C. RYAN spent 40 years haunted by the shadow life of compulsive sexual behavior. Despite the challenges, Ryan never gave up hope of trying to reach the fullest recovery. He tells his story in Ashamed No More.

Compulsive sexual behavior put Tiger Woods into the headlines and made him an object of ridicule, as it has for so many others. In telling his own story, Ryan tears back the curtain to reveal the fuller story of painful realities, challenges, and hopes for those faced with the daunting task of recovery from similar compulsions.

“Those who are not addicted to sex understandably assume that the addict at least experiences enjoyment from the sexual activity, but this is not the case,” Ryan writes.

As Ryan describes it, he was living a divided life. In one arena he was a capable and gifted pastor. In the other he was plagued by shame, self-loathing, and an inability to stop destructive behavior. His extensive explanation of the cycle of addiction, the lies he had come to believe from childhood, the role that therapy and other supportive measures played in his recovery, and his hopes for how the church can become the ultimate 12-step program make every chapter of this book essential.

Ryan explains the cycle of addiction, with each stage setting up the next: faulty core beliefs lead to impaired thinking, which then triggers the addiction cycle of preoccupation (being obsessed with escape), ritualization (routines for acting out), compulsive sexual behavior, and despair. This feeling of being “despicable,” where “the compulsive person [is] awash in despair, shame, and pain,” is unmanageable. It reinforces the starting point of faulty core beliefs and the cycle runs its course again in a slow downward spiral.

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LifeBuilders: Help Rebuild Lives (and Souls) in Detroit with the Click of a Mouse

Image from www.lifebuildersdetroit.com.
Image from www.lifebuildersdetroit.com.

When Marilyn and Larry Johnson sold their computer business in suburban Detroit about a decade ago, they figured they'd settle into the next phase of their lives with ease. Retirement meant more freedom, fewer pressures and ample time on the golf course. But a life of leisure turned out to feel terribly hollow for the Christian couple.

"I remember coming in from a golf game and Larry asking me how my game was, and I just started crying," Marilyn told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom recently. "I said, 'My life has no purpose.' "

So the Johnsons began volunteering at shelters, treatment programs and soup kitchens. On Thanksgiving eight years ago, they wound up serving turkey dinner to the homeless. It was a turning point.  An epiphany.

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