I Shouldn’t Feel Like My Spirit is Broken—Exploring a Broken Spirit & the Dark Night of the Soul with Christopher Cook

Episode Notes

Do you ever feel like your spirit is broken?

Do you feel like you can't put yourself back together despite your best efforts?

Please do not miss this episode. My guest, Christopher Cook, has such powerful words about a broken spirit and how it’s different from (but related) to depression and burnout. We also dig into a real time discussion of the dark night of the soul. This conversation connected so many dots for me, and I cannot wait for you to hear it.

Here’s what we cover:

1. The painful circumstances that nearly broke Christopher's spirit

2. Recovering from survival mode

3. What is a broken spirit?

4. Chris’s experience of a dark night of the soul

5. The true meaning of surrender

6. How to support someone going through a dark night of the soul

Thanks to our sponsors:

Additional Resources:

Related Episodes:

Episode 77: The Dark Night of the Soul—Why It Happens & What It Means

Episode 71: All About Therapy—Do I Need a Therapist, How Do I Find One, and What Type of Therapy Works Best?

Episode 97: I Shouldn't Feel This Anxious—Insights on Trauma & Healing with Monique Koven

Episode 98: I Shouldn’t Feel Alone in My Grief—Why Your Grief Matters & the #1 Most Important Support For Those Who Are Grieving

Music by Andy Luiten

Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik

While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.


Alison Cook: Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I am so glad you are here today for this episode.

It's the third episode in the “I Shouldn't Feel This Way” series. We have two more to go. So this is the middle one and it is good. The whole conversation took a left turn about halfway through and got really real. It’s real time about a topic that I know so many of you have resonated with, related to the dark night of the soul. 

We talked about it in episode 77. It makes an appearance here, and my guest talks very candidly about his very current experience in it. And because he shared so openly and so vulnerably, we went into this real time conversation where we were teasing out some terms in a really nuanced way.

I'm so grateful for this conversation. I had a huge aha moment as I connected the dots of some of the work I'm trying to do related to this idea of surrender. About halfway through, we talk about that. There's so much in this episode and I came away with so much. I can't wait for you to hear about it. 

In this whole series, we are naming hard things because I believe when we name things, it sets us on a path toward getting the help and the healing and the clarity we need. If you're resonating with any of the things we've named in this series so far, whether it be a broken spirit, a dark night of the soul, we touch on depression in this episode, we talked about grief and trauma in the last two episodes in this series, if these namings are resonating with you, if you're like, I think that's similar to what I'm experiencing, be sure to seek support in that journey. 

We talk a lot in each of these episodes about various paths to seeking support, whether it's a therapist, whether it's a spiritual director, a pastor, a small group, safe people in your life, whether you might need to consult with a psychiatrist or a medical professional, please reach out for support.

Toward that end, I want to remind you of some resources available to you. Number one, you can go back to episode 71 called “Do I need a therapist?”, where I walk you through really practical tools to figure out if you need to see a therapist and how to go about finding one.

You can also find a lot of resources on my website, DrAlisonCook.com/resources. There are links and resources there to help you get connected with therapists and support groups. So please check out those resources. 

Naming what's hard and what's going on in your life is a huge step toward getting the help that you need. And once you have a name for something, you can take this information to that other person and say, hey, this is what I think is going on. Would you come alongside me as I journey through healing? 

My guest says it several times in the episode today, and I want to highlight it up front: we heal through community. We need other people to come alongside us in our healing journey. So as you're listening, bear that in mind. I'm so grateful that you're here. And I'm so grateful for your commitment to this work of healing

My guest today is Christopher Cook. We are not related, although we are often shelved together in the bookstores. And I so enjoy the opportunities that we get to connect on our work. Chris is a leadership coach and author and the host of the Win Today podcast. He focuses on transformation and wholeness. 

His brand new book is called Healing What You Can't Erase: Transform Your Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health from the Inside Out. And there's such good stuff in this book. Chris talks really openly about his own painful experiences and the toll it took on his own body, even as he was doing everything in his own power to try to survive.

He gives such a powerful illustration about the broken spirit that can result from all the years of striving, of performing, of trying to survive really hard things and how naming that reality was the first step toward freedom.

I'm so thrilled to bring you this rich episode with my friend, Christopher Cook.


Alison Cook: Chris, I loved the book. There's so much in it. There's so much good psychology. There's so much biblical wisdom. This whole podcast is all about integration. It's my goal, as we've talked, to bring good psychology to faith-based people because I believe the two go hand in hand, and you're doing that in this book. 

I think it's so important for people to know how to differentiate from this sort of self-help gospel–my books are always in Christian self-help and I imagine yours are–what does that even mean, and how do we tease that out from true Holy Spirit-led transformation? But tell us, before we dive into that, set the stage, you do it so beautifully in the book, about your story, about what led you to going on this path so deeply. It came out of your own personal pain.

Chris Cook: It really did, Alison, and what a great place to start. I reached an inflection point in my own journey of pain where I realized, I can't do this anymore. And that was in late October 2014, again, where I reached this place of saying, life is moving forward, and I am not. I think a lot of our friends with us today might be facing the same feeling, at least subconsciously. 

I'm looking around me, and it feels like everyone's moving forward, but somehow my wheels are spinning in the mud so to speak, and we can dive into that, but let me rewind to get us to the place of October 2014. So in 1994 I was 11 and a half years old, and my mom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is a medically incurable diagnosis. It's a terminal diagnosis. And at the time in the early nineties, my mom being a 37 year old Caucasian woman, it was such an anomaly because the disease at the time typically showed up in elderly black men.

Doctors were baffled. They didn't know what to do. So they said here, you could do a stem cell transplant, or do nothing. And to fast forward through the story, she ended up finding a classically trained immunologist, a medical doctor in New York City, who had pancreatic cancer patients living 25 years past diagnosis.

He proposed a form of alternative therapy and insurance didn't cover it, so a lot of life changes were had at that point, where the family's bills tripled, the income was cut in half, and she was on that program I'd say for 11, 12 years. In 2006, after experiencing what she thought was severely strained discs in her back, it turned out myeloma was spreading throughout her body. It had metastasized. 

She was given 30 days to live, and from 2006 to 2011, she was in and out of the hospital repeatedly. It was chaos around the clock. I want to back up real fast to say, amidst all of this, Alice, my sister, and I grew up in a very safe and stable, faith-filled environment. We had incredible parents. Both of our parents were professional counselors. The environment was very safe and stable for us while the trauma was unfolding. 

So we almost lost her again in surgery in 2011. And then in 2012, in November, the day before Thanksgiving, November 21st, she took her last breath. I didn't get to say goodbye. It was really traumatic because the journey with her was 18 and a half years. Nine months after that, the state of complex post traumatic stress in my own body hit fever pitch and my body crashed. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis nine months after her death.

I'm not sure I wanted to live by Christmas of 2013, Alison, and I never thought about acting on those thoughts. I was having 20 severe panic attacks every single day. Oh goodness. By October 2014, which is where I started my story, I had reached this inflection point where I said, I can't do this. I can't do this. And it was a short time of prayer. 

I wouldn't consider it going into a time of prayer. I said, Lord, you got to help. I'm done. I'm exhausted. You gotta heal me. And he didn't respond with, “Great. I see. You're healed”. He responded with a question: “Chris, what do you want me to do for you”? And I knew at that moment, Alison, I had been set up.

That cracked open the door to transformation, which we can dive into, but I'll hit pause there and throw it back to you.

Alison Cook: Yeah, you write about the details of that leg of your journey so powerfully, bringing the complex into the complex trauma. Trying to care for your mom, trying to be present to your family, all the realities, the financial realities, and you were young. This was all the way into, I think, when you were about 30.

Chris Cook: Yeah, exactly. My mom died 18 days after my 30th birthday.

Alison Cook: You talk in the book, and I think this is so interesting, especially for people of faith, that you were in some ways. a master of healthy habits during that time. You talk about having a playbook.

Chris Cook: Yes.

Alison Cook: Tell me a little bit about that. It's not like you were completely not coping during that time, but tell me a little bit about what it looked like for you to cope in your twenties as you were leading up to this inflection point. What were you doing to cope during that time?

Chris Cook: While my mom was still alive, I'd say the reflex was survival. I created a level of stability and routine in my life because everything else was out of control. And I'd say, in part due to my temperament, because I'm a type A, very driven high achiever, I like things in order. I don't like surprises. I don't love change. Routine is my favorite word. 

In my twenties, it was creating systems for everyday life, and the systems created stability. But if I'm being honest, it was a very shaky foundation because I thought I could control life, but that is the biggest misnomer. We don't have control over the circumstances of life. And I thought I did. I think what caused more pain was the fact that when everything crashed, my whole paradigm about the fact that I thought I could control fell apart, in addition to the circumstances falling apart themselves.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Chris Cook: Even to what you alluded to, through my journey of grieving, I still endeavored to create systems. As you said, the playbook for becoming healthy and even after my MS diagnosis, I had this playbook of how I would become healthy again.

If I'm being honest, the motivation, Alison, for all of that was fear, not security in my identity in Christ. The motivation was, “I have to stay alive”. This is survival. It's fear. Fear was driving my maniacal drive to put the quote unquote playbook together. It wasn't wholeness. The fear was keeping my nervous system dysregulated, and I was in a state of chronic stress.

Alison Cook: This is so interesting to me, Chris, because the system, as you call it, the playbook that you were doing, my guess is from the outside, didn't look that bad. Those things that you were doing, whether it's daily prayer or exercise or whatever these things are obviously good things. That's what gets so conflated. 

The system itself you were doing great at, but you said it was the motivation under the system at the time the system was containing the fear, not creating a healing place for the fear.

Chris Cook: You nailed it, Alison. That's it. The drive to fix my body, to fix my mind, to create stability again in my life was because of the trauma and the severity of the trauma. And I said, I can't do this. I cannot continue to wake up like this. And the fear-motivation kept my body in stress.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Chris Cook: Every bit of effort that I exerted was from a fear-motivation, which immediately put me in a limited capacity.

Alison Cook: Reading your book, it almost felt like recovery from a socially acceptable form of coping. When the bottom fell out in that moment of inflection and you said, I came to the end of myself, I couldn't do this. My support structures went away. 

You think about someone that maybe has an addiction that's unhealthy, where they have to give up the thing, but the thing is actually bad. And yet in your case, that's where I want to tease this out with you, you had to give up the thing that wasn't actually a bad thing. Does that make sense?

Chris Cook: Sure does.

Alison Cook: But you first had to face something, Chris, and I love how you drilled down on this in the book, and it's a phrase we don't use enough. You call it a broken spirit.

Tell me a little bit about that. There's grief. There's all these diagnostic labels. It was like, I'm crushed in spirit. Tell me a little bit about what that meant to you to realize that.

Chris Cook: This is perhaps the linchpin, which excites me because my prayer is that we will awaken to the reality of the presence of a broken spirit. In a lot of cases, perhaps even from a self-help perspective, we approach life and recovery and therapy and trauma from a mind-body perspective only. 

Unintentionally, we negate the fact that we are spirit, soul, and body, not body-mind. And scripture, as the anchor to my life, tells me that a crushed spirit, who can bear? Here's the picture I want to paint for folks which might help bring clarity to this. Because some are saying, Chris, what do you mean by spirit? Isn't that the same thing as the soul? 

Some theologians even argue that the immaterial is one, but we won't go there. Here's the picture: if our bodies were a boat, the soul is our desire, our seat of emotions; the mind, the will; the emotions, the sail, because the sail sets the direction of the boat. The spirit is the wind and the driving force that gives life to the sail. 

So if the boat is sitting at a port, but there's no wind in the sail, it's not going anywhere. The Hebrew word for spirit is “ruach”, which means inner drive, breath, wind, force. I'm not talking about the Holy Spirit, I'm talking about the human spirit–and the life of the spirit gives life to the sail, and sets the body in motion.

The broken spirit, when it is collapsed, when our inner drive for life is collapsed, no amount of willpower, self-help, or good intentions can overcome the fact that the deepest part of our being is not soul, it's spirit, according to Scripture. So I want to address that first and recognize, oh, I've got to get that spirit healed by the power of the Holy Spirit and a bunch of other great modalities, so that my mind and my will, my emotions, my inner drive, the intentions of my life can be reset. So that my body can be in motion toward whatever I'm called to do.

Alison Cook: Chris, I love the metaphor. Prior to this inflection point, prior to this moment of reckoning, it's almost like you were working on the boat. You had this really vibrant, huge functioning boat, but it literally could not sail because, it's heartbreaking when you put it that way, because your spirit was crushed. It didn't matter how hard you worked to get yourself together.

Chris Cook: That's it, Alison.

Alison Cook: And that's heartbreaking. Because how many people, with the self-help, and I hear that in your book, you're pretty blunt about the self-help movement not addressing the spirit. It's so demoralizing. How did you realize, oh my gosh, I have to take a different approach here/?

Chris Cook: It was honestly the investment of time in the Scriptures and getting the clear blueprint for how we were created. So I'll set it up this way: we are the creation of a Creator; in order to understand how I function best, I gotta go to the Creator and study my design. For instance, I have an iPhone sitting right here and let's imagine for folks joined us, here's the metaphor. 

If I didn't understand the full function of how this was designed and how it was made to function at an optimal state, I could say oh, this is a doorstop. It's heavy enough. It'll stop my door from closing automatically–and it will. But am I using this according to design?

No, so therefore I go to the Scriptures and I say, okay Scripture is clear about the fact that we are created with spirit, soul, and body. We are spirit, we have a soul, we live in a body. And scripture is very clear also about the state of a broken spirit and what it will do to a human being when that experience is present in their lives. 

For instance, Solomon said it in Proverbs 18:14, a paraphrase of it, basically that the strong spirit of a person, the strong inner drive, wind, breath, life force can sustain him or her in bodily pain and sickness. But then he asks this question: who can withstand a broken spirit, a broken mind, inner drive, a broken life force, courage, animation, vigor? Those are all words used to describe the ruach. 

So what that tells me is that my best efforts, on my best day, in my best ideas, will never overcome the subconscious broken state of my human spirit, whose drive for life is gone. Let's put a, I don't know, perhaps a modern term on it. I think it's close to burnout, but it's way more extreme than burnout. I think it's like languishing, but it's more extreme. 

This is not a difficult season. This is an utter state of defeat and hopelessness and lifelessness. I think I read a stat from Gallup the other day which was collected in 2023 and the state of depression amongst Americans is at fever pitch levels right now. So it could be part of that too, but it is the chronic unrelenting state of lifelessness. And it is so insidious that after we live with it for so long, we don't even recognize it for what it is. We think, ah, it's me.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Chris Cook: It's me. And we learn to cope around that. And because we cope around it, we don't address it. And because we don't address it, we don't get healed from it.

Alison Cook: It's a powerful naming. That's all we try to do on this podcast–name. My next book that we'll talk about next week is about the power of naming, and I hear that it was very important to you. It wasn't depression. It wasn't grief. There were components of those things. It was a broken spirit. How do you distinguish it from depression? I would assume there's overlap.

Chris Cook: Sure. Because I'm not a medical professional nor a professional therapist, I don't want to put a ton of weight on my answer to your question. At the same time, I'm going to give it my best. I think it has notes of depression, notes of burnout, notes of hopelessness, notes of defeat, but it is all encompassing.

I wake up and it's there. It's not, I wake up and then something happens and it shows up. No. I wake up and it's there. I go to sleep, it's there. My passion and drive for things that I once enjoyed is gone. I think that's synonymous with the experience of burnout. But as I said, I think it's more systemic than that because the broken spirit affects our body too.

Alison Cook: The other term that's floating through my mind that we talk about on the podcast is dark night of the soul. Are you familiar with that? It's from St. John of Cross.

Chris Cook: Alison, I'm walking through that right now. I have been since May of 2023. This is wild that you mentioned this, and you and I are going to talk about this at length, maybe on my show, because I am fascinated by this. I had Father Ronald Rollheiser on my show a few months ago, and Rollheiser and I talked about the dark night of the soul.

So I'm reading right now, St. John of the Cross's book on the dark night. I am reading Janet Hagberg and Robert Gulick's book, The Critical Journey, synonymous with the dark night of the soul. Pete Scazzaro also talks about that. But, oh gosh, what's interesting is Father Rollheiser told me that in his experience, the dark night of the soul is not like psychological depression. He said, when a person is going through a dark night of the soul, it's not like psychological depression. When they walk into a room, they bring life to a room.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Chris Cook: I'm not yet there. All I am saying, though, is that it is a very present experience for me, and it's really painful.

Alison Cook: Yeah. I appreciate the honesty about that. I think again, these namings, broken spirit, dark night of the soul, they're scary. It can be hard. But also, I so appreciate you walking us through it because you can feel crazy if you go to a therapist and they give you an antidepressant.

Chris Cook: You nailed it.

Alison Cook: It doesn't mean you're losing your faith. That's the other thing people can assume. There is a spiritual despair, for lack of a better word, a spiritual hunger that we can go through with our trauma and all these other things, but it is distinctly spiritual. And I love that you're trying to tease this out. I'm with you in it. It's so important. 

Chris Cook: This is a working theory for me. I'm still working this out and unpacking it and discovering. All I know is that a broken spirit for me has been different from the experience of the dark night of the soul. However, again, here we go with overlap. What are some things that might connote a dark night of the soul experience?

The felt presence of the Lord is all of a sudden absent. My hunger for the Scriptures is absent. There could be the presence of lifelessness and purposelessness. The dark night of the soul in my experience here, I'm 10 and a half months into it right now, I'm learning how to hold both joy and grief in the same hand for stuff.

It's been very purging, very cleansing, very hard, and it's nothing that I've done to bring this on. And maybe folks listening would resonate with this. Imagine you get hit in multiple domains of your life all at once. That's what I've been walking through. Again, it feels similar to the broken spirit. This is interesting. I'm actually thinking about this in real time as we're talking. Let me tease this out. 

I think about Psalm 51:17 where David says to the Lord, the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord is a broken spirit. And this is after his confrontation with Nathan, regarding his adulterous behavior with Bathsheba and all of that. He says the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord is a broken spirit. 

How many of us, Alison, unintentionally nurture that broken spirit like a little baby because it's the last thing we're holding on to. Because we're like, I can't let go of this. This is the last piece of my soul, and we're attached to it. And the Lord says, I won't reject it. I won't reject it. And we're like, yeah, but life has told me people are untrustworthy. And if we're really being honest, Lord, you are too. Both in the dark night experience and in the experience of the broken spirit, I think the next right move is surrender. 

We could talk about that. I have a whole chapter about surrender in the book because that was the counterintuitive, anti-self-help move for me out of pain. It was not to try harder, but to give in. Which was surrender.

Alison Cook: Yeah. And that, oh gosh. Okay. So this is very real time for both of us. There's so much of this in the book, but to have kind of the current understanding of what it's still like for you. I think that the term, surrender, is really powerful, what you said, and that's one of the distinguishing factors of whether there's a biochemical and medical thing going on. 

There might be a component of surrender, but there's also a component of, I need to go get on antidepressant medication. We're delineating something pretty nuanced here in this case, where there is a spiritual root or a spiritual origin. It's that surrender, that I have to stop fighting.

Tell me a little bit about what that was like for you. That gets back to the system that you had to let go of. How did that work for you?

Chris Cook: Oh, you're such a good question asker. I love this. Okay surrender, because folks are saying, wait a minute, after all I've been through, now you're telling me to give up and surrender? That's actually not what I'm telling you to do. Surrender in my life was not giving up and saying whatever happens, happens.

It was giving in. It was giving in to a process of confrontation of my own dysfunction, my own blind spots, the narratives that were keeping me stuck, the behavior patterns, etc. It was giving in to a process of confrontation that would, over time, in community and by the power of the Holy Spirit, lead to transformation. 

I want to say that again because folks want to get a hold of this. Surrender is the next right thing to do; it is the anti-self-help thing to do, where self-help says, look down and try harder. We're saying, look up and out, and surrender. Surrender is giving in to community, because we heal in community, not alone. We heal in community. I'm going to give into a process of confrontation, looking in the mirror, so to speak, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Search me and know me, oh God, that would lead to a process of transformation. Now here's the key. Unlike self-help, transformation is not an overnight experience. Transformation happens daily and we will continue to experience transformation as long as we live. That's the big key for this. Surrender, confrontation, transformation. Surrender, confrontation, transformation. Change is hard. Transformation is painful. But, the pain of not changing is even worse.

Alison Cook: Yeah. Yeah I'm listening to you and it reminds me, I had a friend in college who had a lot of stuff and I didn't understand it at the time, but I remember she said, sometimes you have to let the ceiling fall. We work so hard to try to hold the ceiling up and sometimes, you have to let the ceiling fall.

Chris Cook: I agree.

Alison Cook: I love what you're saying. It's a giving-in. And it doesn't mean that you don't get up the next day and maybe take a walk and maybe do some of the things we know are healthy to do, but there's something different in your spirit. The reason why you're doing it is different. 

Chris Cook: I have to give him access. He says, the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord is a broken spirit. What does that mean? I have to give him access to the most broken vulnerable place of the core of my being, the place of woundedness. That is really risky business, especially after repeated adversity. Because adversity, Alison, is so loud. Adversity shouts louder than the still and small. Adversity shouts, where's your God now?

Alison Cook: I know. And shame. You talk a lot about how the enemy goes after us with it. I hadn't made this connection until now, but as I'm listening to you, I'm realizing that's what I'm trying to do. We talked about this with The Best of You, that you and I have so much synergy in our work.

There's so much in your book, Healing What You Can't Erase, so many valuable resources. But it's interesting that one thing that you said is what I'm trying to do with when we say, “I shouldn't feel this way. The surrender is: I do feel this way.

Chris Cook: Bingo. Bingo.

Alison Cook: That's what we're trying to do–to go, I do feel this way. I do. I can't fix it. And that is paradoxically what opens the door to what you're saying.

Chris Cook: That's confession. That's true confession. It's saying, here's the truth. Here's the unfiltered truth because He won't deal with us in the false. Behold, you desire truth in the inner being, the psalmist wrote. Alison, this is going to mess with people's paradigm, and I hope it does a little bit because too often as believers, we approach the Lord with this sugary coating of religious dressing, and it's not true.

He knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He is a perfect holy God, and I believe we are not to approach him with pride or accusation. We have to come to him in honesty and in truth. Jesus said, if you abide in my word, you'll know the truth and the truth will set you free. Now this is another anti self-help move. There is a difference between truth and true.

Alison Cook: I love that. I love that. Tell us a little bit more about that. That was good. 

Chris Cook: So all of us experience circumstances in life that are true to us. Undoubtedly true. Fill in the blank with any one of your adversities. That's true. No one's denying that, but our perceptions and our ability to read our “true” is often so close-up, we miss the forest for the trees. And therefore, in the surrender, in the giving-in, not only do we allow the hand of the Holy Spirit to redeem, to reshape, to heal, but we gain perspective when we surrender our true to His truth.

That changes narratives. That changes perspectives, because this is not about changing our minds. This is about changing our mindset. The whole default way by which we look at life and ourselves and circumstances–only he can do that. That's the change of heart. I can't change my heart. I need him to do that.

This is why, Lord, have your way. Lord, here's my broken spirit. Lord, here is the very thing that I thought I could never let go of. Here it is,, and I'm really tentative to give this to you, but here we go.

Alison Cook: Okay. So to go back to, there's so much, we're going to run out of time and I want to get into the healing, but you know what, people are gonna have to buy the book. I really want to understand this broken spirit because I think it's a profound offering. I think what you're saying, Chris, is in your twenties when you built this system, it was to keep you from having to face the broken spirit. Is that it?

Chris Cook: Oh, I love this, Alison. You're so good at this. You're a therapist. This is why. I'm getting free therapy right now. Alison, here it is: because if I could build a quote unquote bulletproof system, guess what I did not have to do? I did not have to surrender. I did not have to lean on and trust in and rely upon someone else. Because life and adversity had said, trust only yourself, Chris.

So if I crafted this little greenhouse or this echo chamber of beliefs inside myself and systems and strategies, which were all decent, like it was a good try. I didn't have to surrender my heart. Then, if I didn't have to surrender my heart, I couldn't be wounded again, and I was exhausted of being wounded, which means if I could self-protect and self-promote because of shame narratives, and could keep my heart at bay inside myself, I didn't have to get hurt again.

But guess what? I was going to be a prisoner of my own life.

Alison Cook: That reckoning of, oh my gosh, I have a broken spirit, as painful as that is, and it makes sense that it's evolved into this spiritual dark night of the soul, is actually the path to freedom.

Chris Cook: Yes, ma'am.

Alison Cook: It was what was true. It was what was true. And yes, it brings up all, By the way, all of the time you're doing the system, you're a Christian. We get trapped in even our own Christian systems.

Chris Cook: 100%. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Because I could compartmentalize the fact that again, I didn't have to lean on and trust in and rely upon Him with my whole heart, with my whole mind, with all of my strength. I'm going to put myself on the block here in a way, because of my temperament, my wiring, the strength of my wiring overextended and under stress became a liability.

When I was provoked and adversity was so loud in my life, when I heard about leaning upon the Lord, trusting in Him with all my heart, with all my mind, I was really keeping the weight of one foot on the ground myself, so that if for some reason the rug got pulled, I could still maintain footing.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Chris Cook: It's trusting in and relying upon my own strength, and Alison, I found out so quickly, while I might be able to change my behavior, I could never, ever change my heart, which is what I needed more than anything. The healing of a broken spirit and the healing of a broken heart.

Alison Cook: I want to ask you before we close, because I did a podcast episode on the spiritual dark night of the soul last fall, and I think I got more questions. I'm really intrigued by this naming of the broken spirit. Chris, what is helpful to you as you're going through it, from other people who love you and what doesn't help? And I'm putting you on the spot.

How can we support each other through this, so that we don't feel alone, so that we don't feel like there's something wrong with us? Because I think that's also where the enemy gets a foothold and where we don't want to face it or name it or feel like I have a broken spirit, because then how other people aren't going to know what to do with that.

So how do we support each other? What have you found helpful? What have you found not helpful in your journey?

Chris Cook: Yeah, what's not helpful are platitudes and pat answers. Let's go at this from the grief side of things, because any time we experience change in life, there's loss, and that loss has to be acknowledged, named, space has to be held, we have to give time to grieve it, whatever that is. I think about Jesus when Lazarus died; Jesus was the only one who could change that circumstance in an instant.

And he didn't preach a sermon about how all things work together for the good. He showed up, he wept. And I think we need to take his cue. We need to show up, we need to shut up. It's presence over platitude. So that's what we can offer others.

From our own end of things, we have to recognize that healing requires community. The enemy thrives in deception and in isolation. They go hand in hand together. When we're isolated, we're baited to believe lies. And when we believe a lie, we empower the lie, even if it's a lie, even if it's untruth. We got to heal in community. I'm a huge believer in mentor, spiritual director, pastor, counselor.

In fact, I got a hoodie last week from Jackie Hill Perry and her husband, Preston Perry. And the hoodie says: Jesus and therapy. I'm like, yep, that's it. I'm a big believer in that. We need community to heal. That's where the ability to name our pain is given life, and in naming our pain, we almost offload it from our soul.

Its strength is diminished in a way, when I can say to a mentor, to a counselor, to a pastor, I'm really struggling to believe this, whatever this is right now. This is how I'm feeling and we don't have to qualify it like, oh, forgive me for what I'm about to say. Or oh, I know this isn't going to sound rational. 

I need to be able to have spaces where we can name our pain. We'll sort through it later, but that's what therapists and counselors and pastors and good mentors are for, because we heal in community. That, in a way, is similar to second Corinthians 10 where we're tearing down strongholds that are built in the mind.

We're bringing again, true to truth. Community helps us see the truth for our true. Community is not there to invalidate what's true, but it is to say that truth is greater than true. 

Alison Cook: Yes. It's true, and also I can help you see a bigger perspective.

Chris Cook: I love that you said “and also” because I like to say “and also” more than but. Both fit. 

Alison Cook: Also, it's so powerful. We need both. We need both. This is so good. It's so rich. I have two questions I want to ask you, Chris, what I ask all my guests, or at least most of them. I always say “all”, and then I realize that I sometimes forget, but I really want to ask you this one.

What would you say to the younger you, that 20 something you, what would you want to say to him with all that you know now? If you could go back and spend time with him as who you are now, what would you want him to know?

Chris Cook: You're so on point right now. I talked to Curt Thompson about this for an hour and in a puddle of tears, I apologized to that 20-year-old version of me because, back to where we started, because of fear and the reflex to avoid pain and get out of trauma, I made him rush through grief too quickly. I made the eight and 11-year-old me rush through grief too quickly. 

I would say to him, please forgive me. I'm so sorry. I didn't know any better. I was hurting so badly and I had a gaping hole in my soul and I just, it was traumatic, and I wanted that thing healed. I moved too quickly, Alison. I would go back to the 20 year old, 22 year old, 30 year old and say, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I rushed those versions of me through the process of trying to get through pain, but I think that's reflexive to many of us because we hate pain. 

Yeah, that's what I would say: “I'm so sorry. Forgive me for that”.

Alison Cook: Wow. That's a powerful illustration of how we forgive. And also it's a younger part of you that stepped in to help you survive that didn't know better. So there's that self-forgiveness, that self-compassion. I did the best I could. And also it was too soon, too fast, too rushed.

Chris Cook: Alison, it left me battle weary. I reached this place last summer, 2023, and I realized–I'm exhausted. Oh my, I'm exhausted. And I did a bunch of inner healing and therapy and we're unpacking all of that right now. I did some bilateral stimulation to help get stuff unstuck from my nervous system and, oh gosh.

I have compassion for myself. So here's the thing, and maybe folks would want to hear this too. Let's say someone, one of our friends, is resonating with what I said about forgiving that earlier version of you. You don't heap on condemnation to the present version of you for that.

And I'm figuring that out in real time because my type A personality, my Enneagram One inner critic says, you piece of crap, Chris. You suck. Why did you do that? And, ha, and then it heaps on shame all the more and I'm saying no. Holy Spirit, I need you to drive this ship. Because I need truth for my true. 

Alison Cook: Man it's real. It's, I just, man, I honor you.

Chris Cook: Thanks, my friend.

Alison Cook: I honor you in this journey. I honor what you've been through. I honor what you're trying to heal. I want to say that I appreciate that you're giving others some language who are going through this too,

Chris Cook: Yeah, I hope so.

Alison Cook: This is the last question I usually ask and it feels apropos, Chris, as we're talking about the both-and–what is bringing out the best of you right now?

Chris Cook: What a question. Realizing that I don't have to perform anymore. That's as real as I'll get. I don't have to perform anymore for belonging. I am okay to show up. I have mentors that I meet with every single Wednesday night locally here. And I tell them every week, his name is Dave, I talk about him in the book, I say to him nearly every week, your home is the safest place in my life because I can drive up and be. 

And it's local, and it feels like home, and I don't have to perform, I don't have to write well, I don't have to host a podcast well, and it is in that same spirit. What's bringing out the best of me is recognizing that the best of me is found where I am honest with myself, honest with others, honest with the Lord, and I can enjoy it.

The simple things of life, like grocery shopping, and going to get my car washed, and enjoying a good cup of tea and a book, and the best of me is creative. I'm a strategist at my core, but it is not from the motivation of fear and performance. It's from the motivation of, I'm resting as a son of God, beloved Abba's child, and I'm going to work not for identity but from it.

The best of me shows up when I'm just me and I serve others best in that place too. I'm learning it. Oh goodness, Alison. That's such a fresh work in my life, a renewed work, but I'm committed to it.

Alison Cook: That's beautiful. I thank you for giving us the best of you today. And again, in the book, there's so much; I see the talent and the giftedness and also in showing up so honestly, as you talk about the reality of the journey. It's going to help a lot of people, Chris. Tell people where they can find you and find your work and find the book.

Chris Cook: Thank you so much. Healing What You Can't Erase: Transform Your Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health from the Inside Out is my new book. You can get it anywhere books are sold. It's available right now. I'm on social media, all platforms, @wintodayChris. My podcast, my weekly podcast, you're about to be a guest for the second time, is all about mental health, emotional health, and spiritual growth. 

It's called Win Today with Christopher Cook. It's a weekly show and the website is wintoday.tv. For the book, go to healingwhatyoucanterase.com.

Alison Cook: It's great. It's great work. You're putting good stuff into the world. And I love that you're learning how to put wind in your sails a little bit. Isn't that what matters the most? Thank you so much for sharing so honestly and openly and for all your hard work.

Chris Cook: Thank you, my friend. You're a gift and so good at what you do. And I wanted to say to folks who joined us today, that if you have found yourself on this podcast, Dr. Alison Cook is a legend. Keep listening. Alison, you're so good at what you do. I am not only a guest, but I'm a subscriber and listener and I'm very thankful for your work.

I can't wait to read your new book and you and I are hanging out later this week and we're gonna talk all about your books. So thanks again for the opportunity and blessings to everyone.

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