Knowing the Need for Recovery By Ray Chung
My Name is Ray and I Am in Recovery
Yes, my name is Ray, and I am in recovery. But not from an addiction to drugs or alcohol but from my own need to do and be more, to seek and gain approval, and to help others, even at great cost to myself and my family.
This is my story of burnout.
Looking back, I think my journey to burnout began subtly several years ago, when, working with an international development nonprofit, I was able to help solve a late-night work emergency half a world away. I remember the rush of feeling needed and knowing my efforts had truly helped. A few months later, a staff member I supported was involved in a severe automobile accident and needed to be airlifted back to the U.S. For months I subconsciously wrestled with nagging questions.
Was this my fault? Could I have prevented this? Did I do enough?
Several months later, work assignments sent me overseas and into direct contact with the clients my employer served. While it was a deeply enriching time of reconnecting with devoted staff members and seeing firsthand the organization’s impact on families in poverty, the trip brought the brokenness and disparities of our world into sharp focus and magnified my sense of guilt and despair that I wasn’t doing enough.
The Social Distraction
Gradually, over the course of many months, I adopted a habit of constantly checking emails, responding to instant messages as quickly as I received them and awarding myself a mental gold-star with each question answered, issue resolved, or person helped. Often, I would wake up as early as 4 a.m., skip breakfast, work all day, return home, grab a quick bite and then work from evening into the middle of the night. I experienced loss of appetite and regular stomach cramps. The few hours of sleep I granted my body were restless, interrupted by bouts of wakefulness and feelings of worthlessness, defeat, and failure.
Lying in bed, my mind raced, and I could feel my heart pounding. Knowing I needed rest but finding it difficult to sleep, I exacerbated the problem by turning to my phone, plunging into work emails, videos, or the black hole of social media updates. The distraction was never enough to silence the unrelenting questions:
Am I doing enough? Is everyone okay? Am I letting anyone down?
The Need to Change
This change in me was unwelcome and out-of-character. I willed myself to snap out of it to no avail. At home I was distant and distracted, unable to truly be present with my wife and children even when I was with them physically. At work, close colleagues noticed I wasn’t myself, and my performance began to slip, even as my efforts intensified. This was my rock bottom, but it was also when I realized things needed to change. The cost of the life I was living — in physical, psychological, and relational health — was too high.
The New Way
I didn’t know what to do, but I began with the things I did know and was strengthened by the support of my gracious mentors, friends, and wife. I knew my body needed sustenance and rest. I started with small steps: eating breakfast, trading coffee for water, and practicing centering prayer. As I opened up about my struggles, I was blessed to find a community willing and able to support me in moving from my vulnerable state toward healing.
In order to take strides toward improving my physical fitness, I set a goal — in my case to run a marathon — and began working to accomplish it. I turned off data on my phone to limit the influence of ever-present technology, which had a destructive pull toward distraction and away from wholeness and healing in my own life. I began scheduling balance and restoration the same way I might schedule meetings. Now I dedicate one day a week to sabbath rest, one day each quarter to silence, and one week each year to disconnect from technology, remembering what it means to be a human being, not a human doing. Al of this was essential to recovery!
Giving Myself the Gift of Grace
I’ve given myself permission to be about more than work, no matter how compelling the mission I am working toward. I strive to remember and accept — even embrace — my own limitations. I know I will sometimes make a mess of things, let people down, or be unable to help, despite my best intentions. I am learning to accept this, though it remains a struggle. I used to believe the lie that I am what I perform. But I’m learning to believe the truth that I am loved by the Creator — and that alone is enough.
My name is Ray, and I am in recovery.
Ray Chung is dedicated to helping people be the best versions of themselves. Enneagram “Helper” 2 who loves trail running & Malaysian curry laksa.
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