Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Chaplain, take care ... of yourself!
The dreaded topic of self-care will take some time and space for reading and reflection. In CPE we heard: ‘Love yourself as much as those you spend your time and energy and health on. All things in moderation or you will pay the price.’ Self-care is a matter that is taken seriously in the APC Pastoral Competencies for Board Certification. This competency reads as follows: ‘Attend to one’s own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.’ If you have high blood pressure, what are you doing about it? If you have Type II Diabetes, how are you managing it? Are you eating a healthy diet? exercising? If not, why not? You are a key person. Emotionally/spiritually... is there resentment, unforgiveness, anger, passive-aggressive behaviors? All of these are huge barriers to patient and family spiritual care. To put it as clearly as I can, your family needs you and your career needs you, not perfect, but healthy. It was a good read when I came across the story/testimonial of Chaplain Rev. R. Michael Stuart, HR, M.Div., M.A., BCC, Spiritual Care Manager of Home Care and Hospice of Western New York, Inc. I found his journey compelling. You might, as well. A few months ago a lawyer friend of mine posed the question, “What’s the difference between self care and self abuse? He likes to play the devil’s advocate and tease but as I thought about it, he asked a very good question. I say that because I have personally experienced both in my attempts to take care of myself in my work as a chaplain. I believe there is a fine line between self care and self abuse. For example, in my own case I have used alcohol, tobacco, and comfort foods in excess. I have worked too much in unhealthy stressful environments and didn’t pay enough attention to achieving a healthy balance. I didn’t stop to listen to myself and spend time in prayer and meditation. My psychiatrist at the VA says that I have always been busy doing. A few years ago I began to address self abuse and work towards healthy self care. I began to explore my leaning towards a commitment to the contemplative life and contemplative prayer which works for me. It took a painful second flare up of pancreatitis and a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes to help me move towards a healthy self care. When chaplains contemplate self care it needs to be defined. In the competencies of the Association of Professional Chaplains; Section II: Identity and Conduct, it states, “Attend to one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.” In the critical juncture for candidates being considered for board certification, a Certification Committee makes the decision if the candidate is ready. One of the questions which the candidate must answer to the satisfaction of the committee is this one addressing self care. Now it is one thing to be able to articulate how one will take care of oneself in professional chaplaincy but another to actually practice a healthy self care. Stated succinctly in Chaplaincy Today, “Self care is about health and wholeness, being well spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally—for the purpose of renewal and personal and professional growth.” I will use myself as an example of a professional chaplain who has practiced both self abuse and self care in my ministry. When I was asked to be your speaker on the subject of self care, I accepted knowing that maybe I could be helpful to some of you who are still early in your chaplaincy work. The first thing I did was to e-mail a good friend, mentor, and former chaplain colleague I worked with at St. Charles Medical Center. He is the senior chaplain with over 25 years of experience. He is a year younger than myself and board certified through National Association of Catholic Chaplains. I asked him to reflect on how we struggled to stay healthy in a very stressful work environment. Since my departure, I asked if our department had developed any policies or practices regarding self care of chaplains. He said no which is not unusual for spiritual care departments. But that doesn’t mean that self care shouldn’t be intentionally encouraged by institutions employing chaplains. What he did write came out of his CPE experience. He responded to my question saying, “Sounds like an enneagram 2! Timing for this talk should be good for you though with the tending to self your docs have demanded. CPE gave us ‘Love yourself as much as those you spend your time and energy and health on. All things in moderation or you will pay the price. The five rules of homework for chaplains are: (1) Don’t drink more than you should; (2)Don’t eat more (or types of food) than you should, (3) Keep your prayer life up; (4)Make sure you get all the sleep you need; (5) Always have someone you can really talk to. Someone who will let you yell, cuss, and/or cry and forget all about it.’ He was that person for me. He concluded, ‘As we have experienced – fall short in any one of those categories and you pay the price.” Of course, I know these rules and so does he. But I have broken them and paid the price; loss of health, inability to focus on those who I am called to serve; inability to continue my ministry, and to inability to maintain healthy relationships. I appreciate his transparency. It renews my resolve to live healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My battle with weight still wages, but I am winning at this point. My challenge to stay balanced emotionally with all of the pulls and tugs on my time and energy is something I am aware of. Going to the gym four or five times a week helps me rid myself of excess adrenalin and gives new strength for my work. Keep myself centered spiritually through my spiritual disciplines gives me focus. I have crashed and burned more than once in each of these key areas. That is why I highlight for all hospice Chaplains the need to be self-aware and resolve to take care of your body, soul, and mind. Your comments and testimonials are welcome.