What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

In the wake of the tragic wildfires, I am a bundle of mixed emotions. Me and my family were spared from major loss, but thousands of others were not. At last count over 7,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. Over 43 are dead. Many families lost everything.

In many respects, we are all hurting from this.  How do we process our feelings? How do we cope?

I’m not a psychologist nor a counselor and therefore I am not qualified to give any specific advice.

I do however, know that I have to process my own emotions and do what I can to help those who need it.

Here’s what I can offer:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Listening

Offering food, clothing, shelter and financial support are also helpful.

Yet even then, I am left with a sense of grief. How would I handle it if I lost everything? I don’t know.

A couple things that have always helped me in past personal crises are writing— journaling about my thoughts, and emotions, talking with others, counseling, and trying to offer help to others.

I was given two opportunities to talk with people in the midst of these devastating fires.

Last Saturday I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble. In some ways, it felt selfish to promote my book, but I quickly realized that I was there for another purpose—to offer encouragement and guidance to those who had family members suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and also to offer encouragement about the fires. I was able to listen to their stories and offer suggestions. Many of them also bought my book. Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.

B&N

Two days later on Monday, I was scheduled to do my first live radio interview by phone on KZSB – 1290 AM in Santa Barbara. It was largely unscripted and conversational. Granted, I had a framework for the program including talking about the fires, ways people can help, and, of course, my recovery journey as it related to my book.

The interviewers, Ed Giron and Maria Long were both gracious and kind and asked some really good questions. Ed at one point asked me what advice I would have for those that don’t think they are ready to stop drinking or using drugs and a follow up question about what I would suggest for those who really don’t think they have a problem. I paused before answering.

You see, my experience has been that sometimes we may think we are ready to stop drinking, using, overeating,etc… and may  even go to a meeting or seek counsel, only to return to our old addictive behavior(s). Other times, we feel we still have control and therefore have no need for any solution. If you want to learn more, you can listen to the whole interview here:

In summary, I suggested that for those who don’t think they have a problem with food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc., —they may not. However, if they are causing an individual pain and affecting their relationships they may want to seek help. In response to Ed’s question about those who think they may have a problem but are not yet ready to change or seek help, I expanded a bit more but, in a nut shell said that the first step is admitting that one has a problem. Then an individual can follow the 12 steps or work with a counselor or another program to find a solution.

The bottom line though, for me and millions of others, is that the solution must come from a power greater than ourselves. We are not God. And no matter how much we think we are in control, ultimately, we are not.

That brings me back to the current state of my emotional and spiritual development. I rely on prayer and meditation to help me stay centered. I have a sense of faith. I call my higher power God. I have witnessed hundreds of miracles in my short lifetime and trust that even in the wake of these horrific fires that most of us will survive. In some respects, we have become closer as a larger community and stronger because of them. That is not to placate, minimize, or sweep away the pain they inflicted.

My heart goes out to all who lost it all. I too have lost so much in my life—jobs, health, brother, family, broken relationships. In the midst of it all, I always found hope.

My prayer for all is that we find the courage to process our emotions and continue to grow in love and kindness for each other. May we become more unified as families, community, country, and world. May we realize that we are truly never alone. That at the end of the tunnel there is always light.

Shell Beach - Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA

Shell Beach – Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA

Love,

Shawn

Find our more at

www.shawnlangwell.com

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” – Lao Tzu

The first step in any endeavor is always the most difficult.

For some the fear of failure keeps us stuck where we are and trying to find the courage to begin often becomes paralyzing. We think of all the things that could go wrong and may worry that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, brave enough, educated enough or whatever.

For others, the converse is true. It may seem silly, but there are many people who are actually afraid of success.

It doesn’t matter what it is that we seek,the reality is that it takes courage to start.

When it comes to addiction this can’t be more true. Millions have vowed to never drink again or ____ (fill in the blank). Yet, for those, like me who have addictive tendencies, the day comes again when temptation and desire overpowers any modicum of self will and, once again, we’re off and running.

For me this was a vicious cycle that, though it only lasted a short time, brought me to my knees, begging for help.

When I was nearing the end of my drinking career I vividly recall the utter insanity in my head-

It was a summer day in 1986. Stoned, coked out, and drunk, my heart pounded inside my chest.  I laid on my back in my 8′ x 8′ room staring at the 7′ wainscot ceiling above gasping for each breath, afraid that if I fell asleep I would not wake up.

My mind raced. Voices entered into my head as if they were speaking to me. I heard my mom telling me to get help. Others- my grandmother, my brother, and close friends and relatives, all implored me to get help. They were all talking over each other. I got scared. The room started to spin and I couldn’t shut the voices off. I put one foot on the floor hoping it would stop the room from spinning. It helped for a bit but the voices clamored on- “You need help.” “We love you!”  “Hang on.” Each one seeming to call out to me like angels from on high.

I heard them but wanted them to go away. I thought I was either going insane, dying, or that I may have a problem with drugs and alcohol.

“God help me!” I cried out. “Make it stop!”

That incident was the catalyst that brought me one step closer to seeking help.

As many before me, I wasn’t done yet. I thought I could control it. I would stop for two or four days then be right back at it for another week or more.

Near the end, I recall actually going to a bar one night with the intention of getting wasted. I ordered a double-nothing. I ordered two more. Still nothing. Alcohol had stopped working.

Why? Because I was an alcoholic; I had lost the ability to control my drinking.

But I had not yet been beaten down to the point of admitting it. That would take a few more crazy episodes, one in which I literally hallucinated that my mom had called an insane asylum. They were going to put me in a straight jacket and take me away.

Eventually I gave in. I admitted lost the ability to control my drinking and checked into a 28 day rehab. That was on October 10, 1986.

After three days of detox, I was introduced to the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Step One:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives were unmanageable.”

I was beaten and fully surrendered to taking the first step toward a journey that would change the course of my life forever. For that, I am eternally grateful.

This is the first of  twelve posts, in which I will outline a portion of my experience with the twelve steps for one sole purpose- to carry the message of hope for those who still suffer.

If you or someone you know has struggled or you are currently in recovery, I encourage you to follow this series. Share it if you want. I am just another alcoholic who has not found it necessary to drink or use drugs, one day at a time, since October, 10, 1986.

Step One
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—
that our lives had become unmanageable.”