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Annual Gathering 2016
THRIVE Testimonies
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Jen Coursey's Testimony:

You may think that I can teach THRIVE brain skills because I have had them all my life but the truth is just the opposite. Until I began learning joy and relationship skills in 2002 my life revolved around finding a safe place to live or, maybe, to hide. My family had fallen apart and I was looking for a place where I would not feel out of control. I desperately wanted to trust someone, even God, but I could not shake the feeling that even God would not turn out to be who I expected. Fear and confusion started fairly early in my life and by age eleven I had been hospitalized for suicidal depression. It wasn’t like most people could look at me and know there was a problem. Sometimes I could do very well in school, at others I fell apart.

I wasn't able to be consistent. I would learn things and not be able to apply them, like learning I needed to rest when overwhelmed but not be able to apply it when needed. I could not follow a daily routine. Fears often kept me up late so there was no knowing when I would get up or if I would have energy to do anything the next day. Emotions and fears overwhelmed me to the point I quit my school internship with no notice and moved out of state. It was this point where my life crossed paths with Chris.

I wanted so badly for people to protect me from their own reactions. I struggled to make people keep promises and help me trust them. I constantly pursued people in relationships and when that did not produce my desired results I’d back off, but pursue again at the next opportunity. Without being able to recognize my triggers I would slime everyone around me with my triggered junk from the past. That ended some relationships for me.

Chris knew me in those days. He says, “Some of my first impressions were that Jen was extremely tense and difficult to relate to. Jen appeared guarded; she often seemed to distance and protect herself. From shallow breathing to her jumpy anxiety, Jen’s fearful caution seemed like her natural state. I knew there was more to this young lady but she was so shielded it was hard to detect. Jen radiated tension. I often left conversations feeling tense rather than peaceful.

“Over time and through a bit of trust, we developed a friendship. I consistently noticed Jen had low joy. I could tell Jen had the heart desire to connect with others but it seemed fear would often steal any hope she had of gaining a bit of joy. Low on joy and even lower on peace, Jen seemed to fear what she wanted the most - authentic, safe relationships. Her internal restlessness seemed endless. I believe her despair ran even deeper. She often mentioned her struggle with deep depression and how debilitating this was on her life. I remember one day Jen telling me that her getting out of bed made it a good day.

“One of the major struggles I recognized in Jen was her intense fear. Jen grappled with fear, often on the verge of terror. She focused most of her energy on trying to avoid what scared her. Jen was very good at pursuing her friends and comfortable at giving but when it came time to receive and synchronize, Jen seemed unable to do so.”

It seemed impossible that I could have safe relationships I could trust free of fear. I did not think anyone would actually care about me or what was important to me. I could not feel peaceful with people. I wished someone would be consistent, dependable and take me into account so I could feel peace.

Small things like making phone calls, going to the grocery store, checking e-mail or deciding what to eat would overwhelm me. I could find very little enjoyment in life.  I had trouble enjoying time with friends because I was worrying about when I would get to see them again. My enjoyment of going out and doing anything was taken away by my fears about spending money or not having enough. Planning all the details of time with a friend and stressing out if something went wrong stole my enjoyment of their visit. I couldn't handle it if little things went wrong, if a friend cancelled our plans, if someone got upset with me, if I couldn’t think of something to make for lunch, didn’t have the ingredients for dinner or if things didn’t go as I planned.

It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to have relationships where it was not only safe to be myself, but joyfully welcomed. It seemed so impossible that I could be myself that I lost track of what that would look like.  It never even occurred to me that I could not only be myself in relationships that were “safe” but also in relationships where that could be scary. I never imagined I could learn how to deal with my fear rather than trying to avoid situations or people that “caused” it.

Without the
THRIVE first year skill of knowing how to rest, I constantly pushed myself. Even in my “down time” I had to be doing something like knitting or grading papers while watching a movie. This resulted in unpredictable exhaustion.

Avoiding things that scared me stopped me from trying new things or enjoying them if I did try them. I was afraid of what could go wrong, afraid to leave the house, afraid of people outside of my small circle of friends, constantly thinking about the “worst case scenario” and would lay in bed at night paralyzed with fear, unable to fall asleep for hours.

By the time I attended my first
THRIVE in 2002 I was on disability for my emotional instability. I had none of the 19 brain skills needed for relationships and stability. I constantly felt the need to be in control of everything! Since I could not control my brain’s unstable control center, or myself I tried to control my surroundings by ordering and organizing every day, planning everything in advance with contingency plans, trying to predict what was going to happen in relationships and with other people, holding people to the things they said and telling them what to do (especially family members.)

Chris remembers that first
THRIVE well. “Jen’s initial change became noticeable during the first THRIVE Conference in 2002. Throughout the conference I often had to look twice to know whether I was seeing Jen accurately. At times it appeared as though Jen was literally glowing. Instead of tension, she was radiating joy and it was obvious. She looked like a light bulb that was finally plugged into an electrical source. I thought to myself, “Wow, this girl is alive!”

“I knew something was happening with Jen but I was not sure what it was. Throughout the week I watched as Jen interacted with others, laughed and built joy – right before my very eyes! Something was happening all right. Jen was plugged in. Something in me responded to what I observed in Jen throughout the week. I asked her out on our first date soon afterwards. Little did I know the future God had in store for us as we chatted nervously over oatmeal and biscuits and gravy.”

Before learning the second year skills of returning to joy I couldn’t handle interactions where I felt I did something wrong or someone else felt I did something wrong. (Shame) I made all decisions based on fear and what would help me avoid what I was afraid of. I could not stay in relationships with most people. (Fear) I felt as though the world was going to end if I couldn’t finish something on time. (Hopeless) I couldn’t let go of things if something made me angry. (Return to joy from anger)

All my life I had focused on having others pay attention to me and meet my needs. They had to do things just a certain special way or it did not count. They needed to please me in the way I had been looking for since childhood. I had lost track of others and was doing to them the same thing that had caused me so much pain – not seeing them and making things all about me.

As I began to learn the second year
THRIVE brain skills, I started to be able to recover from things that used to ruin my day-week-month. I used to be undone by an argument with family members, a disagreement with Chris, failing at something or being reprimanded. Now I could keep the relationship going and learn to act like myself. Instead of terror at losing friendships, making the wrong decision or not being able to complete something on time I began to experience Jesus in the present. I also learned to let Him help me with the things in the past. I started to be able to recognize my triggers and own my part rather than slime everyone around me. These wonderful skills led to a growing relationship with Chris and eventually to our marriage.

Chris says, “With each conference Jen grew and blossomed. In between conferences she practiced exercises, became purposeful about living the Life Model and applied the 19 Skills. I began to experience a different Jen, one who synchronized with me in the midst of my emotions. She began to rest. Jen gained within herself an unshakable peace. Fear and depression no longer controlled her. She initiated, synchronized and dropped what seemed like a cloak of anxiety and tension. I stood in awe at the changes I observed and, more importantly, the changes I experienced in our friendship and marriage. I now had a partner!

“I noticed a change in myself, too. I discovered a newfound freedom to discuss my pain and inner struggles with Jen. She not only listened, but she synchronized with me. When I used to share intimate details of my struggles, I soon regretted what I said. I often walked away thinking “I shared too much and it overwhelmed her.” Jen’s inability to regulate her own emotions tipped her over the edge whenever I expressed my struggles. I often walked away from those conversations feeling alone and saddened. I would say to myself, ‘I’m not doing that again!’

“The smothering tension I once felt from Jen was also disappearing. Where I used to “filter” and even minimize topics to avoid having Jen go into immediate overwhelm I could now talk about a bad day at work. Jen stayed connected and engaged. I could react in anger or hopelessness to something and Jen kept the focus of attention on me rather than demanding a solution for her. With each new change I experienced with Jen I felt more hopeful and happy. “Hot” triggering topics, such as money and trust soon became subjects we could discuss. I enjoyed feeling the difference in myself after talking with Jen about issues that had once been very touchy. I watched as our intimacy grew and the freedom to be ourselves spread rapidly. Jen and I now processed our day together and the result was peace, joy and satisfaction. Sometimes I would tell her, “Jen, you handled my overwhelm today like a pro – way to go!” We rejoiced and celebrated the refreshing transformation in our relationship.”

I started paying attention to my capacity and learned from there to regulate my feelings. Joy built up inside me. I started to find joy in the little things. I felt more stable, steady and able to be consistent. I could pay attention to my limits and take care of myself when I was approaching them. I felt like I learned the skills to help myself with a bit of help from Jesus. I also learned when I needed to ask for additional help from people. My relationships improved. I did not feel as dependant on those around me. I started to feel that some relationships could actually be safe. I started to be able to recover from things that used to ruin my day – week – month. It was slow progress and not always obvious to me but is clear in retrospect. I started to feel safe with my own feelings. I no longer feared my feelings would swallow me.

I began working once again, improved relationships with family members, started and ran a department for Shepherd’s House and began to run the
THRIVE training program itself. Soon I was able to begin passing on the skills that have so profoundly changed my life and my generation to people taking the first year of THRIVE training. It seems almost unbelievable to think back on where my life had been just 5 years before.

All that energy that previously went into keeping me from going out-of-control found a helpful use in giving structure to the
THRIVE program. I worked together with Chris and Jim Wilder to identify and number the skills we teach. We arranged to have specific exercise for each skill and optimize the number of minutes of training for each. We put them in careful order over the three-year training period. As we systematically re-did the training exercises for every conference and named all the skills, it answered the question of what was making such a difference in my life. I realized clearly that when I was first introduced to these skills I had none of them. I was most deficient in all of the returning to joy and acting like myself (especially fear, hopeless despair and shame), quieting myself, knowing when to disengage and recognizing the sark skills.

The next logical step was to organize the skill practice that was needed between one
THRIVE training and the next. It has given me huge peace and satisfaction to prepare this training program. I know what this training has done for me and I want it to work well for others. In fact, there are a number of improvements over what I did personally because there was no plan and no organized set of exercises for me to follow when I was learning the 19 skills.

Chris and Jen are each amazed with their changes and agree that no one would want to be married to them the way they were. Together they lead the
THRIVE training program and teach the brain skills for Thriving Recovery. They know what is possible on the other side of addiction and trauma. Now they are equipping others with the skills to thrive.

Read Chris' Testimony