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Celebrate Recovery

Nate’s Story: Celebrating Recovery While Living with Mental Illness

Hello, my name is Nate. I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with addiction and mental health issues.

My parents did a great job of raising four boys in a loving home.  But when I was 10, my father, a pastor, felt called to serve the Lord in a small town. It was a three-hour drive from Minneapolis, MN, where I had grown up. In that three-hour drive I might as well have stepped into another world. My 5th grade class in Minneapolis had a higher population than the entire Wisconsin town.

I felt isolated. I tried to adapt but the emotional stress was too much for my body. I was missing school quite a bit. And depression set in. Looking back at all of this it was obvious to recognize what was going on, but at the time, people didn’t talk about mental health. I was just a kid, having kid issues.

Over the next couple of years I developed unhealthy coping skills. I didn’t let people in. I tried to hide pain and anger behind humor. Until, that is, I discovered that if I misbehaved I got noticed. It didn’t come out until years later that I have a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). One of the symptoms of BPD is an exaggerated thought process; for instance if people would pay attention when I threw a spitball across the room, why not throw my desk out the window? Being undiagnosed, this disorder wreaked havoc on my life.

Around the same time I started using alcohol and drugs to ease the tension in my brain. As a young teen my lifestyle was already out of control. This continued with increasingly destructive behavior until just before my 21st birthday. I had hit my end. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t know how to continue living. I tried to end my life. After my suicide attempt I spent some time in the acute mental health ward of a local hospital. It was there that I was finally assessed and given a diagnosis. It was not the diagnosis however that made the largest impact on my life. It was during one of the many downtime moments that one of the clinicians sat next to me. He asked if I would be willing to do some brain teasers. I was not aware that he was actually giving an IQ test. After the test, he paused, looked at me and said, “You are a waste.” His comment seemed harsh, but he continued with, “You are the smartest person in this room right now. If you don’t go to college, if you don’t make something of yourself, you are a waste.” For the first time in my life, that I could remember, I had someone with no stake in my life tell me that I had real value. I grew up hearing I was loved, but hey, parents are supposed to say that. This guy had no reason to say I had value, he just saw it to be true. Now this did not fix me. But it had an impact. Over the next couple years, I started using some of the healthy tools I learned. Taking the medications prescribed helped, but I was still mixing in my own form of therapy.

It wasn’t until a series of people started making a spiritual impact in my life that I started to make a change. My girlfriend, now wife, had become a follower of Christ. She wanted to make sure I was saved as well. I wasn’t so sure. Then I started to work fixing railroad cars. It was there I met this “holy roller” named Ted. Occasionally I would find myself down inside a grain car with Ted who would sing hymns while he worked. And after what seemed like a constant barrage of God I wore down. I decided to let God in. He worked in my life and I started to see real changes. I stopped getting drunk whenever I could. I started going to church. I even got involved in church.

I gave up the coping skills that I had since I was a kid. I had to face my problems head on. For the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t going it alone. Paul the apostle said, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” And because God knows every part of me including the thoughts that flooded my brain, I learned I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I can be myself and God still loves me!

The 23rd Psalm describes what it’s like for God to care for us. It’s been in these last few years that I have been able to see that chapter for what it is. I don’t have to give up. I am able to go on because God is with me. Does he take it all away? Not always. But he takes enough.

He gives me places like my church home and Celebrate Recovery. Before, I felt that I had no real value and was not worth caring about. Today I earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him and that he has the power to help me recover. I have a reason to exist. God has placed me here with a purpose. I still struggle at times and my mental health issues can be brutal to live with. But I will never suffer alone. Matthew 5:4 says, Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  I have a Savior who sees my tears and wipes them away. And when I stumble, he picks me up. God has shown me how to live.

When I see myself as deficient, God sees me as extraordinary. Where I have seen pain, God saw purpose. By sharing my struggles I have shared hope. My diagnosis doesn’t define me. Jesus Christ defines me.

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