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The Spirit of Recovery

May 15, 2012

This article, written by Susan Lindsey, appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of our Journeys Magazine.

From the outside, Roberta W. appeared to have it all—a solid career, a strong marriage, a family that loved her, and a poodle that was constantly by her side. Living in Florida, Roberta was surrounded by sun and warm weather.

But on the inside, Roberta was waging a dark battle against depression that had lasted more than a decade. On the worst days, the disease immobilized her.

“I couldn’t leave the bedroom. I couldn’t face the world. I was so depressed,” Roberta recalls. “I was rock-bottom depressed and I couldn’t function as a human being.”

Roberta’s family was concerned, but her sister says they didn’t know what she needed to get better.

“We were there for her physically, but we didn't understand what was wrong, and we didn't know how to help her,” her sister, Diana, says. “Over the years, as external pressures mounted, the depression worsened. She did her best to keep a smile on her face and she wanted to be well— we knew that. The irony was, she had been regularly taking anti-depressants for a long time, so we didn't understand why her depression wasn't getting better. We just kept hoping she would improve when certain external pressures were lifted.”

But things did not improve. In July of 2011, Roberta woke up in the hospital after a suicide attempt.

“I really should not have survived that,” she says. “I began to believe that a higher power was out there, and that this higher power wanted me to stay alive.”

Helped by her siblings in Atlanta, Roberta left the hospital and came to Skyland Trail as a resident at the South campus.

“I remember right away a comfortable feeling, a feeling that this place was different. And it was,” she says.

While at Skyland Trail South, Roberta says she began participating in the weekly worship services led by Pastoral Counselor Reverend Adam Garner, MDiv, LAPC as a way to reconnect with her faith.

Pastoral Counseling is part of the holistic approach to recovery at Skyland Trail, playing an important part in addressing a client’s spiritual needs alongside a range of other therapeutic approaches. The program helps integrate the two areas of therapy and spirituality in people’s lives in healing and helpful ways. Although the interfaith program is voluntary, the majority of Skyland Trail clients participate in some way through worship services, weekly groups, morning meditation or individual counseling.

“The program is a spiritually supportive program and accepts people from any background of belief or non-belief,” Adam says. “Pastoral Counseling provides an opportunity to concurrently address the spiritual experiences, wounds, beliefs and questions a client may have, while also receiving other therapeutic experiences to address their recovery.”

Roberta says she noticed a difference in the strength of her beliefs right away.

“Adam went out of his way to connect to me, to let me know he was available if I needed someone to talk to. That was very different from my past experiences with treatment centers, where there was no one to turn to for help or guidance,” she says. “Every Sunday Adam came to South to lead a short worship service. I attended every one. I felt very safe and at peace in Adam’s presence.”

Adam says the Pastoral Counseling program allows the client to find what spiritual practices work best for them during their recovery, either through more familiar religious approaches like prayer and the study of the written text, or individualized practices unique to the client, such as creative writing and meditative exercises.

“There is a lot of power in the program being voluntary because the client can choose to approach it on their own terms,” Adam says. “The space is always open for a client to attend the groups or approach me if and when they’re ready.”

Roberta says she and other clients appreciated having a spiritual representative on staff who was an integrated member of the treatment team.

“It was important to know that there was something bigger than myself, something greater that I had forgotten about. I was able to reconnect with my spiritual side because of the pastoral counseling that I received at Skyland Trail,” she says.

Adam agrees that having a ministerial trained staff member at Skyland Trail is important to recovery for many clients.

“Often times the sources of greatest healing are accessed through paths similar to those that caused the pain—I work with many clients who felt they have been lied to, injured, let down or otherwise manipulated by spirituality and/or spiritual representatives,” Adam says. “It’s important to the recovery process that we have a place for those meaningful questions and concerns about God, religion and past spiritual experiences to be heard by someone who serves as an informed guide and who can help hold that spiritual space with the client.”

Roberta was also an active member of Adam’s pastoral counseling group, “Seeking Healthy Relationships,” which focuses on setting and respecting boundaries in relationships.

“Through this group, I gained the tools I needed to become a better wife, daughter, sister and friend,” Roberta says. “I left Skyland Trail with the ability to establish healthy boundaries with those around me. I no longer felt I had to just ‘go with the flow’ to maintain a peaceful environment. I could speak up for myself, knowing that I deserved to be heard.”

Roberta says she was much more prepared to re-enter the world with this new knowledge.

“Adam’s group offered a different type of self-awareness than I was getting in more traditional counseling groups, maybe because it’s on more of a spiritual level,” she says.

After five months at Skyland Trail, Roberta returned to her husband, Bob, and life in Florida, where she works as an optician for a private practice. Not only has she learned to manage her depression, but Roberta has learned to cope without alcohol.

“After being at Skyland Trail, the habit of alcohol abuse was broken,” she said. “My husband stopped drinking as well. Now, we are happier than we have ever been in 15 years of marriage. It truly seems like a miracle.”

Roberta now uses healthy coping mechanisms she learned at Skyland Trail, like exercise and yoga.

“Prior to Skyland Trail I had all but given up on life. I left Skyland Trail with a restored faith and belief that my life is worth living,” she says. “I am enjoying life, embracing myself and my marriage is stronger. I go for walks on the beach with my dog, Niki, every day.”

Roberta’s time at Skyland Trail has also helped renew her relationships with family members.

“I am so grateful to my family for believing in me, believing that I could be well. The support from them was overwhelming. Physically, financially and emotionally they were there for me each and every step of the way,” she says. “My recovery could never have been as great as it was without their love and support.”

Her family is also grateful for the difference they see in Roberta.

“Roberta has been given a new lease on life as a result of her treatment at Skyland Trail, and we, her family, have received peace of mind in knowing that she has been made whole again,” Diana says. “As her sister, I will never stop worrying about her, but since her early adulthood, I cannot remember her having the healthy frame of mind she seems to be experiencing today.

“She is still very much Roberta, only so much improved, that when we compare her attitude today with the attitude of so many years past, it is hard to reconcile the two. We are all so grateful to see her enjoying life again.”

Adam agrees that Roberta has undergone a dramatic transformation from her time of admission to when she became a Skyland Trail graduate.

“She was able to stay engaged in the process of treatment, even on days when she didn’t feel like it, and her commitment to recovery and trust of the process paid off in a renewed zeal for life and skills that help her hold onto her hope for that life everyday,” he says.

Adam says Roberta is a success story not only because she overcame extreme challenges and broke unhealthy patterns, but because she embraced her challenges and continues to choose the life she wants for herself everyday.

“It was a joy and honor to be able to be a fellow traveler with Roberta on her journey of recovery,” Adam says. “Being able to witness her courage to trust the process, find her voice and gain strength was inspiring for me as a Pastoral Counselor. Being a part of powerful work like what Roberta did is why I come to Skyland Trail everyday.”