Waiting by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

We’re now in the season of Advent, the time of the year when Christians across the world are awaiting the coming of the Christ child. Much of this expectancy is built around preparing the way for Jesus. We also hope. Hope for a better world.

For the many individuals, like myself, living with mental health and/or addiction disorders, the concept of waiting can take on a completely different meaning. For us, we may be waiting for the day when we can simply be relieved of the pain associated with our condition. Unfortunately, this can take time. Recovery doesn’t typically occur overnight. It is a process that requires many elements, including support, whether it be professional or social in nature, or medication and other self-help strategies. Regardless of what is needed, some people struggle with developing the tools to create a state of well-being. 

The season of Advent, and the holiday season in general, can be a very stressful time for people, whether they live with a diagnosable mental health or addiction disorder or not. For many, they are simply waiting for it to all be over due to the feelings of despair this season can bring. Not everyone has the happy festive experience that many others take for granted. 

Speaking for myself, it took about seven years before I finally was able to grasp the connection between my substance use and my mental health condition. This revelation was the catalyst for my recovery and I have managed to improve my mental health and state of well-being since then. But when I was in the grips of my active addiction and bipolar disorder I felt a sense of disconnection from others. Mind you, I did have contact with family and friends, however I was not grounded in reality and my sense of self was altered. I was lost.

I’ve learned much over the years about the concept of waiting:
  • Celebrating small victories is huge. When we give ourselves a “pat on the back” we can take some of the pressure off as far as feeling like our challenges are insurmountable.
  • It really is about one day at a time. While some days feel like they last forever, when we don’t get caught up in dwelling on the past or projecting into the future, we can keep from getting overwhelmed with life’s challenges.
  • Sometimes we need to make things happen instead of just waiting. If it were simply a matter of waiting, then recovery would much easier. Recovery is really hard work. By putting forth effort to enhance one’s mental health it is possible to change one’s perspective and mindset, thereby changing one’s life situation.
  • If I had to do it all over again, I would have stopped using alcohol and substances years before I did. This is just my belief. But like I said, that was the true starting point in my recovery. I had to stop waiting for a magical cure and utilize the resources that were available to me.
I truly believe that God wants nothing but the best for us and that while life seems to drag on dreadfully slowly, it is possible to hasten the recovery process so it doesn’t feel like we’re stuck in a holding pattern. 

Come, expected Jesus and help us to face each day with courage and strength.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.