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How Therapy and Faith Led to Self-Discovery

By Rachel E. Neelley

#emotionalhealth #marriagevows #faithbasedtherapy #healing #unconditionallove

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, I was married to a not so good man. Several years into our marriage, I began writing a series of books. They came to me in a dream, and they wouldn’t stop pinging around my head. I was so proud, and I was so jazzed and I said to him one day after almost finishing the first book, “Someday, I’m going to have these books published and tour around the country and be a successful writer.” His response was, “Yeah, and I’m going to be an eighth-degree black belt and pigs are going to fly.”

I wish I could say that this was the first and last time he hurt me like that. Yet I still stayed with him, believing that my marriage vows were more important than my emotional health or life success. I was desperate to continue growing, despite him constantly holding me down. I was a flower tended by a gardener who kept me rooted in fetid soil, watered only enough to keep me alive. Thriving was never going to happen in this relationship. He ended up finding someone at work who interested him more than me, and then he decided it was time to leave our marriage. I was cast off, alone, lost, confused, and deeply wounded.

While I was dealing with the shock of being on my own, I realized that I needed to find help to become the person I always believed I could be. The path to life and purpose led me to two simultaneous destinations: therapy and God.

Therapy taught me to set goals that I could work toward, including the realization that my married years were a battleground that I had to heal and grow from, and pursuing a better version of myself. Also, it helped me reach a life-long goal that you are witnessing right now. I am now a published writer with this article!

God taught me to understand that my struggles don’t define my life but can transform me into an instrument of healing for others in their darkest times. Most importantly, God provided me with the unconditional love that I was starved for. And God allowed me to realize that deep love comes from within.

The combination of emotional and spiritual healing refreshed my body and soul in a miraculous way. My mindset shifted from the negativity that had been ingrained in me through years of an abusive marriage, to an attitude of gratitude with a knowledge that I could accomplish anything I ever dreamed of because I had the power within me, thanks to how I was heavenly made. I got my college degree and renewed my relationship with music—something that I had put aside at the request of my then-husband. I prayed daily, saw a therapist weekly, and became someone I truly loved to say hello to in the mirror every day. In addition to my weekly job, I also play trumpet and other instruments at my church, where they encourage me to constantly heal and grow.

I hope that this writing touches your soul. I hope that, if you are in the position I was once in, it gives you comfort and strength. You are so worthy of all the beautiful things in this world. I’m telling you this because I’ve been there. I’m telling you this because if I can blossom after being held down for so long, I have no doubts that you can too. Healing is like climbing a mountain. It’s hard work and sometimes painful, but even a fraction of the way up, you can look back over your shoulder and marvel at the progress you’ve made. Your therapists, coaches, and mentors are your guides up the mountain, cheering you on, reminding you of your abilities when you forget. And then, at the summit, the magic happens. After taking in the astounding view of your life, you become a guide for the next climber. You get to share your wisdom, your pain, your struggles. And it is truly a sight to behold and an experience worth the climb. Each day is a new opportunity. So lace up your hiking boots. I’ll see you at the summit.

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The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA, Executive Director

Recently Samaritan added a life coach, Rachel Fagan. This is part of our long-range plan to become a more holistic center helping people heal and grow through a variety of ways. I’m excited about the potential Rachel can help us fulfill.

When Rachel and I spoke about her joining Samaritan, we had a lot of conversations about what coaching does. She said something that got me thinking. I asked her what was central to her practice. She said, “Helping people live to their fullest potential.” I’ve been reflecting on that: Can we live to our fullest potential? What does that even mean?

The answers are rooted in the elements of crafting a healthy and happy life, as revealed both through religion and social science research. We all share a great capacity for the elements that lead to a deeply content life: purpose, meaning, wonder, curiosity, joy, love, creativity, compassion, building, healing, encouraging, and So. Much. More.

When we’re living in the healthiest ways, we live lives full of these elements. We pursue a life of meaning and purpose rather than one of mere accumulation and self-indulgence. We look at nature, the world, and people with a sense of awe, wonder, and love rather than indifference. We become curious and pursue growth—especially growth that helps us embrace life and the good in it. We find ways to live more in joy and compassion. We find ways to live more creatively, building new avenues to experience life as we simultaneously become more encouraging and healing to those around us.

Unfortunately, we can easily make choices that cause us to stagnate and become cynical, skeptical, complaining, venting, angry, indifferent, and more. We look away from what’s possible and focus obsessively on what gets in the way of life. We focus more and more on what’s wrong with everything, which slowly diminishes our potential by obsessing over the obstacles in our paths rather than pursuing the opportunities they present. We squelch our lives rather than freeing them.

So can we live life to the fullest potential? The answer is yes, but it requires making choices to nurture new attitudes and perspectives. It requires looking at life differently from the ways that have trapped us in negativity, dysfunction, and depreciation. It requires making choices to focus on what’s possible, not impossible; what’s good, not what’s perpetually wrong; what opportunities lie before us rather than the obstacles that seem to be in the way.

Potential is just that… potential. The fullest potential are the possibilities we can choose. Whether it’s through counseling, coaching, or spiritual direction (Samaritan offers all three), our aim is to help people increasingly embrace choices that help them grow these elements in their lives.

We’re here to help you fulfill them.

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#christmas #triggers #slowdown #emotionalpain #perfectpresents #gratitude #grahamstandish #samaritancounseling

“This isn’t what I asked for!” “Why do you have to act like this on such a special day?!” “Can’t you stop being like this just for one day?” “For some reason this day always makes me sad.” “How long do we have to be at your parent’s house, . . . we’re always there too long?”

Christmas Triggers: The Christmas season is so full of triggers. What’s a trigger? It’s an event, a situation, a feeling, a series of thoughts that “trigger” emotional pain, conflicted relationships, or difficult behaviors.

As much as we may love the Christmas season and Christmas day, both can trigger pain, loneliness, sadness, conflict, and so much more. So here are some ideas that may help.

Slow Down and Be Intentional: As joyful as the holidays can be, they’re stressful simply because they add so much to our already full plates. We go to more events and parties. We consume more unhealthy food and drink. We feel pressure to find and give “perfect” presents. We rub against each in ways that cause friction.

Slowing down and becoming more intentional helps. This means distinguishing between I want to do, what I need to do, and what I should let go of. Be intentional about what you say yes or not to. Be intentional about what you’ll eat and drink. Slow down so you can make good choices.

Focus on the Positive: This is incredibly hard to do when things become negative, but we can choose how to respond to triggers. We can react in typical negative ways, or we can choose other ways of thinking. Focusing on the positive means appreciating what’s good rather than lingering on what’s not. Appreciate the lights, friends, what’s good. Don’t deny what’s not good but pay more attention to what is good and be grateful for it. Gratitude is part of my spiritual life. I’m intentional about thanking God for all that is good.

Mature Understanding: Can you be more understanding simply of how people are? I’ve found this to be a powerful tool for getting through the stress of anything. The more I recognize that others are responding to triggers, causing them to be sad, create conflict, and feel stressed, the more I can become patient, compassionate, understanding, and respond in more helpful ways.

Be Responsible for Yourself: There was a phrase that really influenced my life when I was being trained as a drug and alcohol counselor. It has to do with two Alcoholics Anonymous steps 8 and 9, which have to do with making amends to those we’ve harmed. A recovering alcoholic said to me, I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility to make amend and ask for forgiveness. But I’m not responsible for getting them to forgive me.

The same is true for Christmas triggers. We can only be responsible for how we react and respond to them, not for how others do. So be responsible for your own responses and forgiving for others.

We hope you have a great Christmas!


The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

Executive Director

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