Emotional Ambush

Emotional Ambush                                                                           April 28, 2014

A life recovery student and I had a delightful lunch together today while we worked on case management.  The chapter we were studying was on discipline…….personal discipline and spiritual discipline.  We had an engaging conversation as we discussed the many ways in which her life had become more disciplined through the last few months.  She was able to recognize how the women’s discipleship and mentoring program she has been following has brought order structure, purposefulness, contentment, and more into her life. 

We talked about a number of spiritual disciplines and how she has been experiencing them in the program and within the church and other community environments in which she has been growing closer to Christ.

We were both feeling very good about how thoroughly well she has taken her lessons to heart.  Then we set out on some afternoon errands.  We were in a variety of environments together during the early afternoon.  At one point, as we finished our tasks she confided to me that she had felt uncomfortable in a setting where we had gone. 

As we talked about it, she said it had suddenly reminded her of a season in her life when she had no discipline. She had not encountered much in the way of  disorder in the last six months and to find herself observing it, she said she had feelings she couldn’t immediately identify or express.  As we talked, she became better able to express the feelings. 

Earlier in the day, I had gone to pick up an item at a local store that I had found that was perfectly suited for our new home for recovery students.  While there, I saw a message on a small wall hanging.  It said simply:  “It’s the little things….”    Remembering how often I have shared that very thought with our students, I purchased it to hang in the dining room.  If we will not be faithful (and disciplined) in the small activities of our lives daily, we will not be able to establish a habit of faithfulness in the larger, more demanding aspects of life. 

About that time we heard on the Christian radio station a conversation in which one person said, “If you let something in as a tiny dot, it will become a spreading stain.”  The student and I talked about her own sudden experience of seeing others’ choices and feeling ambushed by her uncomfortable response to those choices.  She said it was a confirmation, through a disturbing realization,  that it is indeed the small everyday choices about how one lives – the choice to have simplicity and orderliness in her environment, her choice to maintain a schedule and have daily goals and tasks, her choice of friends, and other daily choices that are important to her sobriety, her reconciliation with her children, her life and her future   The way one chooses to spend her time, how well or poorly she applies herself to doing the little things each day that are right and necessary to stay on track……these were the things that were suddenly brought home to her in a graphic and unsettling way barely an hour after our in-depth conversation about the blessings of discipline- in all areas of one’s life.

Seeing others’ choices made her question what choices she would make in the future and to realize that she is not ready yet to move out onto her own.  She knows that there are still things she needs to anticipate and prepare to meet head on, boundaries that need to be established, and honest, healthy response models (instead of old habitual reaction default modes) that she needs to continue to learn and practice.

She was grateful that this ambush of her emotions,  this “triggering event” that took her back to an old emotional reservoir in her brain, was accomplished surrounded by lessons on how to avoid them, challenge them, and choose more wisely out of mindfulness instead of emotional impulsiveness when confronted with them. 

I was privileged to watch this “life laboratory” event follow closely on the heels of the textbook instruction after such a brief a time.  She was grateful, too, to have someone close at hand to walk with her through the experience.  This is discipleship.  This is mentoring.  This is Christian life recovery.   


Rev. Cathy Byrd, MS CRSS

Christian Recovery Counselor and Educator