I am a follower of Christ who has struggled with depression, anxiety, fear, anger, unforgiveness, jealousy, rejection and unworthiness (feelings of being not good enough). When I look back over the years, not only can I see where the enemy had tried to, from the beginning, keep me bound in fear of advancing forward in anything, but I can see where God started to build me and set me on the path and prepping me in doing His work.
I grew up in a very loving family and was the youngest of 7 children. We were and still are very close. Our parents brought us up believing in God and going to church, plus we attended Parochial schools so we did have a foundation in Christ built.
My feelings of rejection and hurt began when I was in junior high school. I had gained weight and of course sometimes you get a little ribbing from family. I knew they loved me and although it wasn’t constant, the teasing did hurt. At times I received the same teasing in high school and again although it wasn’t a lot it was there and it hurt. Feelings of not being good enough was always there. I remember in 9th grade one boy would tease me here and there but when I returned for 10th grade and lost the weight, he complimented me and just that one compliment wiped away the hurt from the previous year. People don’t realize the power they have in their tongues…their words. One word can either cut a person down or raise them up. I soon realized that it didn’t matter how good you looked, there would always be another person that would come along and cut you down which another guy did. So, you learn to have a thick skin and ignore much, but it never removes the feelings of rejection and hurt. You just learn to live with it. Why is it that although we could have an enormous amount of friends, we tend to concentrate on the ones who cuts us down? If I only knew then what I knew now I would have saved myself a lot of pain as would many. Also while in school, I realized that I had some difficulty remembering things and retaining some information which made taking tests difficult for me. I would have to study three times harder and longer than others just to maintain a B/C average. I also realized I didn’t care for school (like many kids, I’m sure) and looked forward to the day I could get a job. I did think about going to college and my high school guidance counselor would talk to me about getting into Social Work as I did enjoy helping others. I wanted to do this but the fear of continuing school and struggling through tests and such kept me from going. Not to mention I was dating my husband at the time and at age 20, we married and moved to Germany as he was in the Army.
Other than my difficulty in taking tests, I was a strong minded person as we were brought up to be independent and to take care of ourselves. From the moment I moved to Germany I loved it and enjoyed the travel and friendships I made. In 1989 we had our only child, Sarah. It’s funny the thoughts you have sometimes. I remember being pregnant with her and laying on my bed and fearing “what if I don’t love her like I should?” So I prayed for God to help me to love her like a mother should. From the day she was born, I have had such intense love for her it is, at times, overwhelming. She has given me some gray hairs over the years but those are nothing compared to the joy she has brought to us. After she was born, and I lay in the hospital, I now realized I had my first bout with anxiety. I had high blood pressure during my pregnancy and in my 8th month they realized not even the medication was helping so they had to do an emergency c-section. Even after delivering her my blood pressure was dangerously high and not coming down so medication was given. I did worry about it but prayed and tried to concentrate on other things. One night I could not get to sleep and felt not right. I say that because I had never experienced intense fear and anxiety before. I would fall asleep and wake up to even more fear. I figured the fear was from worrying about my blood pressure but I now know different. At one time I woke up and looked over to the corner to see what looked like a form crouching in the darkness and watching me. I sat up, rubbing my eyes and looked again and saw nothing. Intense fear and anxiety gripped me and around 4:00am I asked the nurse to call my husband. As I was in the German hospital, I did my best to get her to understand. He did come but by morning my nerves were shot and every time the doors shut to the room, it would startle me. In time I did rest, we brought our daughter home and all was normal.
Around 1991 my husband, Ken, went to Desert Shield/Storm. I now realize I went through depression although at the time I thought I just wasn’t feeling well. It started before he left and lasted a while after he returned. I had all the physical effects…wanting to sleep all the time (I could sleep for 12 hours and 2 hours later be tired enough to go back to sleep), I was dizzy, my thinking was unclear and I just couldn’t seem to focus, etc. Our daughter was almost 2 years old at the time and we had moved back home to be with family while Ken was overseas. I went to doctors but they could find nothing wrong. It always felt as though I were in a dream state…like nothing was real and for those who have suffered through depression, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In time the depression lifted and life went on. I now realize my depression came during extremely stressful times. Although I prayed, I never totally put all my faith in God which meant I didn’t turn everything over to Him by leaving my concerns at the foot of Christ’s cross. If I had done this, my bouts of depression would have been shorter, but then again, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I had. There is a reason for everything.
My next bout with depression had a couple tag-a-longs this time…anger and anxiety. This came about 2-3 years later while stationed in Germany again. I came upon a situation with someone who seemed to wreak havoc with everyone and caused many problems. I did not know how to handle my feelings and soon intense anger set in followed by depression and anxiety. The anxiety was so bad I would wake up during the night feeling as though I were having a heart attack. Ken was always good to me, patting my back and pulling me back down to bed and holding me until I fell asleep again. It got so bad, however, that I feared sleeping at night and would stay up all night and sleep when I could during the day. Our daughter was about 4 or 5 at the time so when she would sit down to watch a movie I would get in a nap. I found myself crying constantly. There were times I’d be sitting there and would all of a sudden shake uncontrollably. I now realize that everything I was holding in was causing me to implode, hence the anxiety attacks. Unforgiveness and anger cause this and I for one can tell you that these two emotions will eat a person up like a cancer if not taken care of. Anger and unforgiveness can wreak havoc on a person physically and emotionally. I had heart palpitations so badly it felt as though my heart would pound through my chest. Not to mention my blood pressure skyrocketed. So, for a few months I went through anger, unforgiveness, depression and anxiety. I remember Ken telling me “do you think this person is sitting home worrying about you as much as you are worrying about what she has done to you (and others)?” He was absolutely right but when you are in the midst of depression, it’s hard for the realization of that thought to seep in. Finally, on Christmas Eve 1993, as my family slept, I sat on my couch in my living room in the darkness and began to pray. I prayed for God to help me get over these feelings I was suffering from and if He did, I would help His people the same way He had helped me. I now realize that this was a verbal contract with God which He would hold me too. From that point on He would set me on a path that would lead me to where I am now. Now, I know we are not to test our God, but I did ask Him for proof of His help. It was Christmas time and I loved snow (growing up in Upstate NY you have no choice sometimes). So, I prayed “God, please give me a sign that You will help me out of this. Please let it snow tomorrow (Christmas day).” Now, there were many things that went against this request. There was currently no snow on the ground, we lived in southern Germany, and no snow was even predicted in the forecast. But I put in my request and decided that I would trust God no matter what. So after a while I went to bed. The next morning I woke up, ran to the glass door like a kid and looked out to see…no snow. Ok…I was a little disappointed, but I still was firm that I would trust in God to help me. I shared with Ken what I had prayed about and of course he was supportive. Later in the morning my family took a cab to our friend’s home for Christmas dinner. As we were taking our supplies out of the trunk of the cab, I felt something wet on my nose. I ignored it and continued on. I felt another wet drop on my face. I looked up and saw small snow flakes coming down! I looked over at Ken in amazement and smiled widely as it began to snow! I could feel tears start to come. Well, it snowed not only that day but for the next week! When God does things, He does them in a HUGE way! From that day on my faith was tested many times over the next year but I continued to put my trust in God. Over the next few months my depression and anxiety lifted but I learned that if I wanted God to do His part, I had to do mine. I had to learn how to forgive and continue moving forward. Forgiveness had always been difficult for me but if i wanted to live a happy life, I had to forgive just as God forgives me many, many times.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
So, I learned how to forgive. It’s not always easy, but it’s something that must be done. Unforgiveness eats away at the inside of a person and turns their hearts bitter. Hurt and pain is most always the cause of unforgiveness and we have to learn how to turn that hurt and pain over to God and allow forgiveness back into our hearts before we turn bitter. This was the first step in my recovery…forgiveness. It was a major healing step as well and I have thanked God often for allowing me to go through that difficult time so I could learn how to forgive. I did forgive the person who hurt me although I was not able to tell her and that’s ok. God knows and that’s what matters. It was also at this duty station that one of my husband’s Soldier’s challenged me in my thinking regarding God. His name was CPL Bush. I remember my daughter and I were sitting at the snack bar on post and he came over and sat with us. He was a really nice guy as we had gotten together with him and his family a few times. I remember that day clearly as he sat across the table from me, and as we talked, he hit me with the following question which many have heard before: “If you were to die today, do you feel you would go to Heaven?” I sat there and, feeling a bit uncomfortable, said “well, I think so…” thinking to myself “I go to church and try to be a good person”. He briefly talked to me about salvation before he had to leave. I have learned over the years that God sends people our way to plant seeds of learning, information and encouragement to make us think, while others come along and water it and God is the one who makes it grow. On that very day, CPL Bush planted a seed that made me think but it would be a few more years before I would understand the true meaning of that conversation regarding salvation. It’s funny how God works because I don’t think I’ve ever added that moment in my testimony before until now as I’m writing it for this website. It is an important part of my testimony so now it is added to it.
From Germany we moved to Texas in 1995 and this is where God began planning my course and setting me on the path to where I am now…helping others. I of course wanted to keep my promise and help all I could. So, what is the one way we all want to help? Volunteer at a homeless shelter! Well…that’s not what God had planned because no matter how many times I tried to reach someone there I was always deterred. So I simply left it in God’s hands to lead me where he wanted me to go. One day “Red Cross” came to mind. The only thing I knew about Red Cross was they had swimming lessons. I went on post and asked to volunteer. I had grand thoughts of volunteering at the hospital and cheering up the day of all the sick people. Obviously God did not have that in mind because I was asked to attend the Military Casework course they were having as they needed another person to take the class. I was told if I wanted to volunteer at the hospital after that I could. I took the course and loved it! For the next 10 years, I volunteered and worked for the American Red Cross as a Military Caseworker and Disaster Services worker in TX, GA and KS until 2005 when we moved back home to NY. This work gave me experience in many areas plus allowed me to do what I love best…helping others. It was also the path God had placed me on to get where I am today. It was around 1995 when I began watching Dr. Charles Stanley on tv, a minister out of Atlanta GA, and learned more about Christ’s salvation. He said a prayer of salvation at the end of every service and one morning I said that prayer of salvation and became saved. Here is where I began to feel a spiritual peace I had never felt before. Ken and I had many talks regarding God but he wasn’t at the point I was at yet so I just prayed for him and put in a special prayer that I prayed for the next several years…for God to have Ken and I do something together to help others. I wanted us to walk down this same path together and many times included our daughter in that request.
I can’t say that depression left me forever, but the bouts were few and far between and would turn to God during difficult times. I did go through a difficult period in 1998 while stationed in Georgia, when at least 6 people raging from relatives to close friends, passed away in a 4 month period. When my best friend died during that time, that was extremely hard for me as my husband was on duty and my daughter was in bed and I was alone with my thoughts that night as I heard the news. I cried myself to sleep and the last words I remember saying out loud was “God this hurts”. I had a dream that night that I saw her and of course she looked well. She grabbed my hand as I cried and she said the following words “I think I’m in Heaven now. I’ve got two things to tell you…don’t dwell on the pain and don’t be mad at God”. God reaches out to us in many ways to get His word across and He used a dream to get across to me. I remembered those words which have gotten me through many difficult times and those words I have passed along to others. If we dwell on the pain of our hurts, soon we turn bitter and can become mad at God for allowing this pain and not helping us the way we feel He should. I’ve learned that the difficulties I come across in my life sometimes happen due to myself and sometimes happen because God allows it, but no matter what, these difficulties are learning experiences that make me stronger spiritually. God makes good out of every bad situation in our lives…we just have to open our eyes to see it.
It was while stationed in KS from 2001-2005 that would be a major turning point in my life leading me to recovery work. I began volunteering at the Red Cross in the town I lived in and soon began working in paid position. This would turn out to be a big test for me as I had to learn 3 programs that I had no clue about and begin working on a Monday. Some people are book smart and some aren’t. I’m am not one of them…at least at the time I wasn’t. Soon, fear set in as I had to learn one of these programs in one weekend. Early Monday morning there was a client for this program and my fear got worse but I did what I could. By the end of the week with all three of these new programs not to mention the other work…I was quite the nervous wreck. Over the next year, although I learned these programs, I felt constantly stressed. My work day ended at 4:00pm but I was there sometimes until 6:30pm due to all the paperwork. I guess I should add that I can be prideful in my work and am a workaholic. I am not one to leave work for the next day because it just means I’d have three times the work to do the following day. So, I allowed my frustrations to get to me and in time I was back in a depression/anxiety state towards the end of that year. Many times I thought of quitting but something in me wouldn’t allow me to quit. I was not a quitter and quite honestly was a very stubborn person by nature. On top of this I was asked to start teaching CPR classes and my first thought was “WHEN?”. My job pretty much took up a lot of my time and I knew my boss was just doing her job in asking, but I also had another reason for not wanting to teach. I had a huge fear of teaching anything! I never felt smart enough or good enough and feared giving out wrong info, not having answers for people, etc. My fears always seemed to keep me from advancing. I would think to myself “teach CPR…that means I’d have to be responsible for peoples lives!” at least to a certain degree. I kept and continued praying for God to tell me what to do with everything else that was going on, to get me through the days, send me some help (there was only two of us working in the office and we each had our own jobs to do)! Day after day I continued on, sometimes feeling ill when putting the key in the door as I didn’t want to be there. Funny how you can both love and hate a job. God did hear my prayers and sent a wonderful volunteer, Bettina, and we became fast friends and are still good friends today. Soon the depression/anxiety left.
In 2002, Pastor Mickey, an Outreach Pastor, came into our office to invite us to attend a service at the Church of the Nazarene for Veterans Day as they wanted representatives from different agencies there. Although we had been going to a different church, we really hadn’t been spiritually fed in years. My boss and I attended this service and I loved it! Ok…although I loved the service, I fell in love with their potluck afterwards! I told Ken about their service and our daughter, Sarah, had been going to their youth program on Wednesday nights and loved it, so we began attending around June of 2003. It turned out to be the best move we could have made. Ken deployed for Iraq in Sept 2003 and I began attending their bible studies. Pastor Mickey was a big inspiration to us and answered many of our questions. She was always humble and turned the glory over to God, which is what a servant of God is suppose to do. The church and congregation was a huge support for us during the deployment. It was a very difficult year for my daughter and I as we both went through difficult times. I felt some of the depression come back but I kept in prayer and it was kept at bay. My daughter, however, went through depression and anxiety due to situations she allowed in her life, rebellion being one. She had been struggling with depression and difficulty in sleeping since around the age of 12 or 13 and now was experiencing heavily. We went through it together though and soon, once she removed these situations from her life, her anxiety left but the depression would remain with her. When Ken returned in 2004 from Iraq, we began attending bible studies together. In late 2004, it was announced in our Bible study that one of the men was going to start up a program called Celebrate Recovery which was a biblical recovery program for all types of addictions and problems. I thought that was a great idea and offered to help thinking I would be a paper pusher, copier, or whatever was needed. Well, I soon learned God wanted more from me…he wanted me to be a leader in this program and teach lessons! Yes, fear set in but I decided to go through the training. After all the training we had to do one thing that I found hard to do…get up in front of the congregation and give my testimony. I had never given one before and the thought of getting up in front of people, even ones I knew, scared me silly! But I did it and at one point I almost had an anxiety attack while giving my testimony but I had prayed before hand for God to keep His hand upon me and remove all fear and soon the anxiety left although my knees were knocking. I was told by others that I looked calm and they had no clue how fearful I was. I guess that was a good thing. After the program started I taught the second lesson…Powerless! If that wasn’t ironic I don’t know what is. I myself had to realize that I was powerless and only God was in control and when I surrender and do what He asks, all things fall into place. After my first class I discovered one thing…I loved teaching! I was told by the leader’s wife that I was a natural. Those kind words stayed with me and put me at ease. During this time I had tried to get Ken to help out with the program but he wasn’t at that point yet so he drove the church van to pick up people. I had only been in Recovery for about 6 months when we received orders to move to Ft. Drum, NY…our home! The night of our last meeting, the director’s wife, who was a Holy Spirit filled woman said the following words to me “Michelle, you are a natural when speaking and will be evangelizing. You will be directing Celebrate Recovery at the next place you go to.” I confidently said “I don’t think so!” or maybe it was “NO WAY!”. The thought of directing something like this again frightened me. But then again…the thought of teaching frightened me and I overcame that through the strength of God. I’m sure God was laughing at my words that night and thinking “If she only knew what I have planned for her next!”
Long story short, we moved back home to NY, began attending the Church of the Nazarene church in Watertown NY and sure enough one Sunday there was an announcement in the bulletin that they were starting up a recovery program and wanted people to help. I showed it to Ken and sent them a note that I could help. Sure enough, I was placed as Director of the program probably because I was the only one who had experience with the program. This of course frightened me and I kept saying “I’m only here to help, someone else will have to be the Director” but of course that didn’t fly. So, after weeks of stressing, I gave into it. I often have visions of me with my arms outstretched in front of me, my heels dug into the ground and my body leaning backwards, trying not to move forward but God behind me pushing me forward saying “Move, Michelle, Move! Stop being so stubborn!” I’m happy to say that Ken did come on board as a leader in this ministry and God provided several wonderful leaders to help. It was during this time that I met one of my BTC leaders, Sara, who constantly reassured me in my fears. On the outside I looked calm but on the inside was a different story! Sara and I became fast friends but I soon found there was a reason our families became close. Sara and her husband Scott were only in the program a short time, going back to their original church – Church of God, Soldiers of Jesus Christ, but were there long enough to help others. Our first meeting of Celebrate Recovery began September 14, 2006. For the next year and a half, the program went on and not only helped the members who attended but helped the leaders as well. During the Spring of 2007, I began to feel the need to check out Sara and Scott’s church. I wasn’t sure why as we were happy at the church we were at and enjoyed running the Celebrate Recovery program. Also they never really talked about their church much outside of small talk. Sara and I did believe in the same things spiritually and there were questions I had that she had answered, but not enough to warrant us going to another church. Still the pull was strong to check out her church. One Sunday we did attend and both Ken and I knew this is where we needed to be next. Well, Ken more than I. We attended both churches for a while and continued with the CR program, but we knew that the time would come when we would have to move to the Church of God, Soldiers of Jesus Christ completely. Usually people change churches because they move or they were dissatisfied with their current church in some way, but we had neither of those reasons and that is why it was so difficult for me to move. The only one putting pressure on me to go was God. I knew it was the right move because before we had even thought about checking out their church, I had a dream that to most would be scary regarding evil in which I had stood firm in prayer as it (wind) swirled around me like a hurricane. When the wind had died down, I looked out a window and saw two rows of about 20 Soldiers. The back row of Soldiers were standing and the front row of Soldiers were kneeling. I seem to focus in on one Soldier who was Hispanic. They were wearing their PT (Physical Training) uniforms. I had no clue what that dream meant, especially regarding the soldiers, but as I usually do, I wrote it down and filed it away. Now fast forward a few months to the night I tell Sara and Scott we want to check out their church. Scott gave me a business card and said the website was on it. After they left, I sat down at my computer and picked up the card to look for the website and noticed the name of their Church…Church of God, Soldiers of Jesus Christ. In that instant, my dream of the Soldiers in their PT uniforms came to mind and I knew exactly what that the dream meant. I was about to enter training into God’s Army. It just so happened that this church I was about to attend was primarily an Hispanic church (bilingual by the time I got there and remember, I focused in on the Hispanic Soldier in my dream). So, after all of this, I knew it was God putting that urge in me to attend this church. Still, I found it difficult to leave our current church but anyone who does God’s work knows that when God gives the order to move, you must move and we did completely move to Church of God around the Fall of 2007. I had a very difficult time leaving Celebrate Recovery but God was patient and kind to me and I turned over the program to the other couple who had started the program with Ken and I from the beginning, Deb and John. They are a wonderful Godly couple and do an excellent job.
During our time at Church of God, Soldiers of Jesus Christ, God began to do a major healing in the lives of myself, my husband and our daughter. God had a lot of work to do. Although we had a good marriage, we also had a painful one…my husband struggled for over 20 years with strongholds many of them things men have problems with…lust being one and it affected me. Although he was faithful to me physically, he wasn’t mentally and it came out in different ways. I never knew the depths of his struggles until we were going through our healing, but I was aware of them as it fueled my own strongholds causing fear, anger, jealousy, insecurities within myself and a lack of trust. To say I felt unworthy is putting it mildly. Although he was a very loving man to me, a wonderful father, and a good provider, he struggled and our strongholds worked against each other. The more angry, controlling and argumentative I became when I was hurt, the more he continued with his own strongholds. I must add that even if I hadn’t been that way, he still would have struggled. It was a vicious cycle. I learned that his strongholds were ways he dealt with his own issues that stemmed from a physically and verbally abusive background. We have since been through even more difficult battles to get to that healing. This means we had to face things within us, learning how to deal with each other and other people. It’s not been an easy journey in healing but when you are trying to become free from an enemy that has kept you bound for many years, you better believe you are going to have a fight on your hands for that freedom. God is good and gives us the strength to fight the battle but the battle must be fought in unity with the Lord and not on our own. On our own we have no power against this fierce enemy but in unity with God we can overcome anything. I learned how to forgive other people but forgiving my husband was a difficult process. It’s not easy to forgive someone who has hurt you for so long, but that’s why God is in control and we aren’t. Only He can heal us in ways we could never imagine. The Lord has had to put me through some tough tests to get me not only to trust Himself and friends, but to trust my husband. I never thought I’d see the day where we weren’t hurting as we had but it is happening. We have learned how to talk to each other, work together, see each other as Christ sees us. We have learned how to pray with and for one another and to minister to each other. Where my husband once didn’t care how I felt, he now is concerned and attentive to my feelings. Where I once was controlling and uncaring of what my husband thought or felt due to my own pain, I now think before I speak, am biblically submissive as a wife should be and truly respect and care about his views and concerns. We work together, not apart. God removed a covering over his eyes that the enemy had placed there long ago prohibiting him from seeing me as the woman I am.. God has since re-shifted his focus back to the woman he married and has been healing him in ways I never thought could happen, breaking strongholds in both of us. Do we still battle? At times, yes, but more with the enemy and not so much with each other. Thankfully we have God as our support and refuge and we are each others battle buddies, supporting each other when the other one is down.
So now I come to the end of my testimony thus far. God placed it on my heart to start a recovery program at Church of God, Soldiers of Jesus Christ. I thought I would be doing the same program but God had something different in mind. It was suggested that maybe I could write a program. Now, God has pushed me to do many things that has kicked me so far out of my comfort zone at times that I couldn’t find my way back, but this would be way out of my comfort zone! First, I admit I have no formal education but the verse in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 came to mind:
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Second, I didn’t even know where to begin! So one day in the Fall of 2007, I sat down and prayed for guidance, then simply wrote out a table of contents and thought about all I had been through and what I needed to be helped. I thought about what the Bible informs us to do as well. So, the table of contents were written. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2008 did I really begin working on the program. I did much research and even more Bible reading and tons of praying for guidance. We may not all deal with problems the same way nor do we all have the same problems, but there is one thing we do have in common…we have all suffered pain, we just deal with it in different ways and the Bible is full of information of how to handle our problems, we just have to take the time to learn it and apply it. That is what I did. I went directly to the one who could help me…God…and he led me to the Bible for the answers. We learn from experience and I had enough experience to know what works…God. I also know that our problems are strongholds the enemy, Satan, lays upon us to keep us chained and bound so we can’t move forward. Although he doesn’t force us to do things, he does tempt us and it is our choice from there what we do. We have to learn to identify the tactics of the enemy, go to God when we see them and pray for strength to make the right choice. God is good and faithful and He will give us the strength to continue on…but we have to trust in Him.
So, out of all this came the name of this ministry…Breaking The Chains Biblical Recovery Ministry. I take absolutely no credit for writing this ministry. It was through the guidance of God that this Ministry was written. If I had to do it on my own, I’d still be stuck at the table of contents! When God wants you to do something, He gives you the means to do it. Information came from all directions to me when I began writing this ministry and again I owe that to God. This is the Lord’s ministry and the Leaders of this ministry are only the facilitators providing the information and help. I have found that several of us on the Leadership team had made a commitment to God, in one way or another, long ago that if He helped us out of our problem, we would help others. Now God is calling us to help others and we are being obedient to that call because God was faithful in helping us.