Step 1: Acknowledgment of Chaos

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” –Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous

There are very few things in life more terrifying than not being in control, at least for me. Psychologists agree, generally that control is a human desire and need.  I want to always have a handle on the future, a tight control of the past, and very rarely live in the present. I am a planner, one who wants to make sure that in 3 years, in 10 years, in 20 years, I find myself and others in the place that I think we should be. Within addiction, the irony is that we want more control over our emotions, our feelings, and the parts of us that no one sees, but we give up control of the things on the external. I gave up control of my financial situation, gave up control of relationships, gave up control of my job, and that of my family. I sacrificed the external to remain ‘in control’ of the things that were internal to me. Those became near and dear to my heart, instead of the things that actually mattered. My secrets began to consume me.

I knew that my life was becoming unmanageable the first time that I couldn’t remember the night before. The first blackout that I experienced, I swore off any drinking of alcohol, because it left me feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and frankly, out of control completely. I wasn’t sure what I had just experienced and couldn’t remember certain things about the evening before. I knew that that was completely unmanageable. As the disease progressed, I couldn’t manage the issue of drinking internally any more and began to put myself in situations where I would do damage to relationships if I was ‘found out.’ I was ironically, still, all about control.

The hardest part about step one is not the recognition of the lack of manageability, instead, it is the admission of the inability to have power over the situation. At least that was for me. I had always had ‘power’ over my actions. I always had ‘power’ over my future. I always had ‘power’ when it came to a career, schooling, relationships, and, well, you name it. I never had a drinking problem, until I did. And it was at that point life became unmanageable. The indication of powerlessness is the lack of manageability, and that is what I first had to admit. That I lacked the power to do this ‘on my own.’ The more isolated I become the more desperate I became to control the situation. The more isolated I wanted to become, the more lonely the landscape of life seemed to appear.

I recently took in a Netflix special. “Six Days” is about the bombing of the embassy in the U.K. in 1980. A negotiator takes up the mantle of peace after 6 young men take over the embassy and threaten to kill the hostages, if they are not granted their wishes. The psychology of a hostage situation is something that I resonate with. The more alone that the perpetrators became, the more desperate they would become to reach the demands of those around them, thus giving up control of the hostages. Unfortunately, they didn’t give up control and ended up having to be eradicated by the Special Forces unit. During one of the scenes, a commanding officer says, “They have become desperate, and they will either kill all of those involved, or they will admit defeat.” I resonated with this. I became destined to ‘kill all of those involved’ or admit defeat. I wasn’t going to kill anyone, in fact, I’m a pacifist at heart so killing is not something I ever considered. But I would begin putting relationships to rest, one by one, so that no one could get close enough to know the truths that were underneath the surface. When this started happening, manageability was out the window.

As I sat in my bed, in a nightgown that the the hospital had provided me, and waited for the nurse to come in to welcome me to my new room in the psych ward, I’ll never forget the denial that existed within me. “If I could just get out of here, I can manage this drinking thing, and move on with my life. If I just simply drink once in a while in moderation, it will be fine.” I was in complete and utter denial of the situation that was in front of me, thus rending me out of control and lacking any sense of management. The nurse came in and began to ask me questions about my feelings. I wasn’t really in any mood to discuss my feelings, in fact, I’m sure that I was quite curt and gruff with the middle-aged woman who would become the nighttime annoyance over the next few days, waking me up to take my blood pressure and ask me if I had any thoughts of hurting myself. On Day 4 of my stay at the luxurious mental health facility, that same nurse came in and sat down. With care in her eyes and tenderness in her voice, she asked me if I was ready to admit that I was powerless over this alcohol thing. She sat patiently as I determined whether I was really powerless or whether I could manipulate this situation further. I managed to say, “Yes.” And in that moment, all control, all power, all grasp of this lie that I was living, fell away. I knew that I needed others to help me. I knew that others needed to be let into the world that I was covering, hiding, protecting. I knew that I needed to cut back the layers of pain, emotional turmoil, and the self medicating-guilt inducing- lifestyle that I was living in. I had to go deeper emotionally then just recognizing the bi-product of anxiety and depression. I had to begin to examine the root cause of my anxiety and depression. I was terrified of what I would uncover.

All of our lives are unmanageable, whether we are addicts or not. There are parts of each of our lives that we cannot control, and to do so would prove to be futile. Addicts are not special in their experience with powerlessness and unmanageability. The only difference between an addicts way of life and a non-addicts way of life is that non-addicts can cope well with life on life’s terms. Addicts cope as well, but in a way that does complete and utter destruction in the world that they live in. It’s a slow fade, for many addicts, and then one day it seems to all catch up with that addict. I know that for me, it was a slow fade over many years when I wasn’t even drinking, that led me to a point of utter chaos in my life.

I do admit that I am powerless over alcohol. Just like I cannot ‘control’ people’s response to the things I do or am, I cannot control the alcoholic consumption that I choose to have. This is not an excuse, in fact, it allows me to give myself permission and control to rather make choices before I ever have a sip of alcohol to never start in the first place. I know that once I drink, I won’t stop. I admit that alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and is most certainly better at those things than I am. Alcohol consumption is ‘amoral’ but when it becomes a way of life, and something that captures the heart and soul of the individual, it’s time to admit defeat. Admit power loss, and come to terms with life, on life’s terms.

My life was unmanageable before I started drinking. My life was unmanageable during my time drinking. My life will be unmanageable for the foreseeable future until I am dead. But I will retain the power of choice of alcohol. Whether to start drinking or not, is a choice, and it is something I choose. Once I start, I am powerless over my enemy. Loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, and destruction follow when I choose to drink to deal.

I admit that I am powerless over alcohol and I choose to admit that my life is unmanageable. At some level, that brings a sense of relief. I don’t have to control everything. I don’t have to get the ‘right’ reactions from others. I don’t have to find fulfillment in things that don’t matter. And I can work through my own pain, peeling back layer upon layer, to make sure that I am dealing with core issues, rather than trying to medicate for pain. Step one is for all people at some level. For me, it was the key to moving forward. It took me a year and a half to get to the point where I could admit. Once I did, there was a newness of life that I found. A freedom, if you will, in the present.

So I keep living a day at a time. One day at a time. Powerless, Unmanageable, but at peace.

 

Time to Resume.

I took some time away from writing. To reflect, to seek clarity, to make sure my head was on straight, and to make sure that I was writing for the right reasons.

I have always enjoyed writing, even from an early age. I have enjoyed using words to help others understand concepts, theology, structures and systems, and seeing the benefit of a product. Being a writer is something I’ve always aspired to. It’s something that I have and probably always will dream about. It’s something that helps me find solace in the midst of adversity and chaos as it is a ‘centering’ activity. As I type, or write using a pen, I am able to reflect the thoughts in my head in a clear, black and white way. I am able to see what is happening in the jumbled mess that is my brain, and I am able to sort through the things that are being processed. Writing causes a person to slow down, to think about what they are saying, to reflect on what they have said, and be contemplative about what they are going to say in the future. Writing forces me to understand the concepts that I am writing about with great clarity and precision because as I write, I know that I will eventually have to read my own writing again.

The fear of what others think and say has caused me to stop writing more times than I care to admit. Probably a far greater issue that I struggle with is the fear of others opinions in general and this bleeds over into the arena of writing. The reader is always evaluating, always searching for the heart and soul of the author, and trying to connect with the content that they are absorbing. When I read, I tend to be evaluative in the content, because I am spending valuable time reading the material that is in front of me. I know the types of books, articles, and blogs that I enjoy consuming, and when a reading doesn’t match my consumer grading, then I tend to leave that book or blog or article. I tend to read things that I disagree with because that is how I often learn, but then evaluate the actual communication within the words. I would wager that there are others that read articles, blogs, and books that are in agreement with their theological position or political affiliation, and I have met many of them. Those that only read their prerogative are generally those that are fearful of what an opposing view might do for them. I have lived a portion of my life in this world as well. Currently, whether I agree or not with the article, there is still an evaluation of communication, almost subconsciously.

So, since I don’t care to admit it, I admit it. The fear of others opinions caused me to stop writing for the past season. I quit typing, quit penning, and quit thinking about the dream that is inside of me of being able to communicate through the writing of a blog or a book. I gave up on helping others through reading and writing regarding the things that I have or am learning. I gave up on others because I couldn’t please everyone. I quit.

I was reminded this last week during a meeting that I attended that quitting is not a great way to cope with anything, and to quit something admits defeat. I have chosen to be defeated by others’ opinion. I have chosen to be frozen in fear, not knowing how to navigate the waters of turmoil and criticism. I have chosen to let others’ have control in my heart and spirit, instead of living a life of freedom and focus. This is not a character flaw that is contained within writing. It is a character flaw that inhabits most of my life and has for a very long time. It’s a character flaw that allows me to place blame on others, for actions that I take, instead of claiming for my own response to those around me and their opinions. It’s a flaw. And it’s hard to overcome. There are people that have developed a tough ‘shell’ as it relates to others opinions about them. They have figured out how to let things ‘roll of their back.’ They have understood how to make the choice to not let people control their emotions or actions. I have long envied this type of person because I desire to live a life that allows others to say and do whatever they want and it not affect my own life or emotion. There is a phrase that we say often to our kids.

“You worry about You.”

And that is what I must actively choose to do each and every day. Certainly, I worry about my family, finances, faith, and others. But I must actively choose to not worry about the opinions of those that surround me and instead be careful to listen to the truth about me, from me and God. I cannot rely on others to ‘hold me up’ or carry my weight because that often leads to let-down and disappointment. I also know myself well enough that I will let myself down. As noted in previous blogs and chapters, this is an area that I must actively work hard to allow for. I’m not perfect. You might be. But I’m not.

Recently, I’ve started to meditate on a couple of lines from the bible.

The first verse troubles me. And the second verse troubles me because of the first verse.

Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

It’s troubling because I know I won’t attain the first, and I really don’t want to admit the second.

I don’t know that I want to ‘boast’ in my weakness, but certainly, admission needs to be a regular part of my everyday life, or I become overly critical of myself and take myself far too seriously. It’s hard to be imperfect, as a perfectionist, or at least hard to be perfect when you want everyone else to think you are. I’m not perfect. In fact, I am pretty hard pressed to find a day when I don’t make a mistake or multiple mistakes in a row. Admitting those mistakes allows me the freedom to drown out the opinions and ever nagging judgment of others. It allows me the space to be at peace with who I am, and regard the opinions of others as just. Opinions. Everyone has them, and there are no opinions that should debilitate a person.

I’m actively choosing to move forward carefully and with consideration for honesty, consistency, and imperfection. Each day is a battle to not succumb to humanities opinion of something I did or didn’t do. Each day is a battle to admit imperfection and then own it. As I have grown up, just a bit more than I was yesterday, I have a growing sense of freedom and peace, navigating the difficult waters of life, that we all face. I’ll keep writing. And keep pursuing the things that are between my ears, and acknowledge the ostentatious missteps that I am sure to makealong the way.

My Affair.

I’m married and have been for 13 years. I love my wife, care deeply about her, and want to spend the rest of my life with her.

I made myself a promise early in marriage that I would never cheat on my wife with any other person. This was for many good reasons, and those reasons still remain true today. What I didn’t anticipate in our marriage were the affairs that could be had that were outside of relationships with other people. Here is an excerpt from a letter to my recently ended affair that I wrote just a few short months go.

This is not a love letter. This is a letter letting you know how I am redefining our relationship. I can remember the day that we had our “defining the relationship” discussion together. You didn’t say much, and I remember thinking to myself that I could take advantage of you for my own self gain. If you weren’t going to respond to my advances, then I would keep advancing. It was a night in the winter, and my stress level was high. You were at the store, and I knew exactly where I would find you. I had determined that you would be mine tonight, preplanned and prepared. I drove to the store, got the milk and eggs that I needed to pick up for the next day’s festivities, and on my way home, try as I might, I could not help but go visit you in the store. I walked in and found your brown body, with red lipstick and immediately knew that I had to have you. I took advantage of the fact that you were ‘cheap’ and that I would only have you a little bit, and then stop, knowing that this advancement in our relationship could do damage to the relationship with my wife, who was unaware at the time that I was pursuing you. I opened the door for you and you sat on the seat next to me, begging me to touch you. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had never touched you before, at least not with this intention in mind. It was too scary, I could lose too much, I would be thrown out of the community of faith that I was apart of for having this love affair, I could lose the only means of livelihood I had in that community of faith. And yet, I reached across the glovebox in between you and I and grabbed your neck. I pulled you close to me. Our lips met. Euphoria swept over me and you gave me a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach. You beckoned me to drink deeply from your lips and I kept going, forgetting the stress and anxiety from the life that I was living. You seemed to momentarily take the pain from me and replaced my level of anxiety and doubt with hopefulness, passion, and a sense of a potential new reality.

In the midst of the affair, it seemed amazing. But she always let me down, time after time. Here’s another excerpt from ‘the aftermath.’

And so I went looking for you. All of you. And I found you. Right where you always were. I paid my dues, cheap, and left caressing your neck. I left thinking about the fake life that you and I were living, about all the ways that you destroyed my family, work, friends, and material possessions. The way that you stole the character traits that I and others treasured and invited me into a life of darkness and despair, away from anxiety, away from pain…But what you brought me to was so much more. I was angry with you. I pulled off to the side of the road and I opened the window. I gazed at you, and you had a dull look back at me. I couldn’t seem to find your life, your energy that you provided, the euphoria that you had once caused within me. And because I had earlier tried to kill myself, I looked at you, and gave you the one thing that you had not yet taken from me…my life. I didn’t intend that you take my life. I didn’t intend that you could have all of me. But there I was taking all of you, drinking you deeply, and fully. It was a vengeful moment. I wanted to take from you all that you had taken from me. And I did. And you left me right where you left me each and every time that you seduced me. Asleep. Alone. Anxious. And in trouble.

For me, the affair wasn’t a human relationship. But it was more powerful, more cunning, and left me breathless, empty and drained. I am reminded of these things daily as I continue to take one day at a time.

What Do YOU want?

I have had to grow up, and will continue that growth process until I can’t any longer. I still want the same two things.

  1. I want to be healthy.
  2. I want to know the God of my understanding.

It was the end of the “winter of hell.” The hell that had become my life, and current reality. Questions had been posed to me and I needed to answer them. For me. Not for others or how others would want me to answer them, for that would be how I arrived in this situation to begin with.

“What is it that YOU want?” Two of my closest friends asked me the question, within days of each other. It’s as if they had been talking. “It’s not enough for me to want something for you. It’s not enough for me to desire for you to be someone that you don’t want to be. It’s not enough for you to try and be someone for someone else anymore.” Both of my friends were honestly asking me, neither of them wanting something fake or manufactured. They honestly wanted me to figure it out for me instead of trying to figure it out for everyone else.

I heard these words.

I understood that I needed to determine who I wanted to be.

I needed to make a determination on desires, on abilities, on futures, and on the situation that I found myself in. What did I want? I wasn’t sure.

I knew that I didn’t want what I had found myself to be. I knew that I didn’t like me and I knew that the way I was living, a life of least resistance,  would end in a catastrophic moment.

I leaned into the question, and began asking questions of myself.

Did I want to be alone (This is an honest question that I believe most introverts wrestle with)? Did I want to be alive (This is probably a question that more people have then I ever realized)? Did I want the life of an addict, always going back to the same things that drove me insane in the first place? Did I want to be a person that focused on the things that inhibited me from being me? Or did I want to be me and be okay with that? What did that even mean?

So many questions posed and most them were posed within my own head. Some of them came out in conversation with a dear friend of mine, who had many years of experience ahead of me. Some of them came out in writing. Some of them came out in my own emotion, and inability to control the emotion.

So many questions have yet to be answered. And yet, in a stunning beautiful array of current and ongoing reality, I began and continue a journey of discovery.

I can remember in college people telling me that I was going to ‘find myself’ or that I would ‘own my own faith’ or that I would have a ‘spiritual awakening.’ Unfortunately mine didn’t come until well after college. I’m grateful. I’m thankful that it finally did come and is still coming. I am finding joy in the little things. Finding joy in the present moments is something that I have never really known. I have always focused on the future, trying to manipulate situations around me to achieve the success that I somehow craved. There were times when I didn’t really know who I was, in fact, there were very few times that I knew who I was. I understand that now to some degree. And each day is another day to understand that more and more. To understand who I am and to understand who I want to become are two very important things in my current reality. I am very focused. But not focused on the future realities that could exist, rather, I am trying to focus on the current reality that does exist. For if I am to focus on the future reality that could exist, I will rob myself of being me, in the present moment. I will never find comfort in my own skin, and I will lack the joy needed in life to sustain life, love, and relationships.

I went fishing with my son recently. We haven’t fished much the past couple of years, mostly because I have been too focused on myself to really find joy in the idea and act of sitting by a dirty midwest pond and catching smelly catfish. But that is me. It’s one of the things that I have loved doing since I was a young child. I can remember being excited about the next time that I got to go to the pond. There was freedom at the pond. The water was mysterious, and unpredictable, and yet, it was always there. It was always present. It was always waiting for me to step up beside it and find peace hearing the waves lap against the shore. I love catching fish. But even more than that, I love the focus that fishing brings. I have a singular focus when I cast my lure into the weeds, hoping that a ‘lunker’ as my son and I call them, will snatch the lure and run. Each cast provides a new hope. And then a new reality. Either there is a fish on the end of my line at the end of the cast, or there isn’t. Either way, I get to be at the pond. And I get to be at the pond with my son, alive, joyful, and in conversation with one of the brightest kids I know.

There are many past conversations that I remember vividly, that I can recount with complete accuracy, as I have the ability to recall conversations with clarity (Which is also a curse because I often play them back, assign motives to what people say, and concoct a reality in my own head that may not actually exist). There are so many meetings, discussions, dialogues, monologues, and emotive statements that I dare say I would not care to forget. Pain is something that I choose to entertain, but some of these discussions happened to me, not because of me, and for those I am now grateful because they have made me into the person that I am becoming. All of the experiences, whether good, bad, ugly or otherwise, mold us and shape us into who we are, what we believe, and why we exist. The discussions, conversations, pain, sorrow, victories, and accomplishments, all play into the current moment. This is one of the reasons I choose joy, in my current moment, rather than find all of the reasons that I should be angry, confused, mad, or otherwise blaming.

I discuss many of these conversations elsewhere, but for the purposes of this particular journal, I remember a conversation with a friend of mine in early March. I was still angry, broken, confused, and trying to figure out which way was up. I knew which way was down because I had been to the edge and back of the bottom of the barrel. I had experienced a depth of life that I never, ever want to go back to. I asked this friend of mine what I needed to be doing to figure out how to climb out of the darkness that had surrounded me.

He said to me, “You are going to grow up in the next few months and years. And you are going to discover life that you have never known. Life that will find you, that you don’t have to manufacture, and a life that will bring immense joy.” At the time, I scoffed. I didn’t let on that I was somewhat irritated with his implication that I somehow was a child. I should have probably at least let on that I was mildly irritated but at the time, I wasn’t sharing emotion with anyone, except to show anger to the world.

Who was he to say I was a child? I was grown up. I was an adult. I made my own decisions and I would continue to do so. As I journeyed along over the next few months, I did find myself growing up. In my core, I have been a small child for so long. I made the choice to live life a certain way, always reliant on others for direction, as a child is reliant on their parents for food, clothing, and shelter. I have always relied on the accolades of those around me to continue to motivate me. I have always relied upon my personality to get me out of difficult situations. But I found myself growing up. I began to limit my ‘approval rating’ from others, and began to see myself as autonomous. I began to understand what it meant to take care of myself, not just in the feeding and clothing of myself, although those things are very important, but in the area of self care and management. I began to sort through the things in my head and could make determinations on whether they were based in reality, facts, or emotion. I began to become level headed enough that I could make rational decisions without fear of reprisal, anger, irritation, disappointment, or approval of those that were around me. I began to see myself as independent from others, where I had always been dependent.


Growing up has downsides as Peter Pan pointed out years ago in the book, movie, and retelling of the fable. Growing up means that you have responsibility. Growing up means that you have obligations. Growing up means that you get to work for the things that you want. Growing up means that you have to determine what you actually want. And I have been in that mode of operation for a few months now. I know these things to be true, and have begun to experience the benefits of growing up as well as the downsides.

The benefits outweigh the downsides easily. There is an ease to my mind that I have not known before. I am able to sleep well at night, and wake up refreshed in the morning, and at a normal hour.. I’m able to be both physically and emotionally present with my kids, family, and people around me. I am able to find joy in the small things and look at each day, with a newness and gratefulness. Growing up is a challenge, but as it is happening, is a joy to behold and experience. I see life through my kids eyes again, but with the lens of an adult. I am one that has determined who he is, and who he will become.  

So, what do I want? There are just a couple things that I decided upon, way back at the end of the ‘winter of hell.’ I determined that I wanted just two things.

  1. I wanted to get healthy.
  2. I wanted to know the God of my understanding.

These two statement are packed full of all sorts of growing pains–pains that I have only begun to experience, but necessary, nonetheless. They are packed full of joy, excitement, and impatience. I want these things to be true today. Right now. It’s probably human nature, but certainly my nature to want things quickly. I wanted things well before I was ready to have them, and the same is true in the ‘growing up’ sense. It takes time for maturity to become a reality. It takes time for a child to become a man. It takes time for those that are around that man to understand who he is and what makes him tick, especially when that person has been unsure of himself for so long. “Patience is a virtue” they say. My impatience with life has led me to a place where I have had to develop virtue. I had to develop patience at some level (and that will be an ongoing thing until I die!). I had to experience an independence from those vices that kept me from experiencing who I needed to be, who I wanted to be, and really who I had always been. I have had to find me and be ‘okay in my own skin.’

I have had to grow up, and will continue that growth process until I can’t any longer. I still want the same two things.

  1. I want to be healthy.
  2. I want to know the God of my understanding.

Neither is completed, and I know that these things take a lifetime to experience. But I know that I have clear direction and clear marks of who I am, who I want to become, and how I want to get to these places. People are always going to be part of the equation, but people don’t dictate my growing up. They don’t dictate me being a child. The “approval rating” of others means less to me today than it did yesterday, because I know that I am loved by God. And I know that I am loved by my family, friends, and others. Love is alot of things (and I write about that elsewhere) but one of the things that I have learned as I journey through adolescence, is that ‘love is something that cannot be earned, kept, or lost. When one loves another, that continues, regardless of the circumstances.

As C.S. Lewis says To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.”

Thanks to my friends, who asked me the same question…Just a few days apart.

The Day I Bought Meth

I could see desperation in her eyes. She needed something, anything to give her life again.

I’m an alcoholic, not a drug addict, and so the title is confusing to some of you. It’s true. I’ve bought meth before. I even intentionally did it. It may have been one of the more defining moments of the past several months for me as it relates to the recovery journey. There are many ways in which one can encounter God, and this was just one of them, in a strange and yet profound way.

I had a couple of friends and some family help me buy a moped when I first got out of the hospital. I had been served a document stating that I would most likely lose my license and that I would have a suspended license that would become invalid. So, I thought, I need some sort of motorized vehicle to get myself to and from work, recovery, and anything else that I chose to do. Keeping in mind that this was February, in the midwest, I found a moped that was amazing. It was new, but it was cheap. It didn’t run fast, but it was street legal, and very orange. I affectionately to this day call it the ‘orange stallion‘. I drove it everywhere in those early days. There were rainy days, cold days, windy days, and my favorite, icy days. When you are going 25 miles per hour with a headwind of gusts of 50, sometimes a moped is not the right mode of transportation. But I was determined to make this work. I was determined to figure out how to get back on my feet and try again. I rode across town to treatment, then to work at night, then to AA after that. I did that, day in and day out, seeking the help that I needed and the income that I knew my family would need soon. One morning, after an early morning AA meeting, I was driving in the downtown area. I came up on an intersection to see a beleaguered older woman standing at the crosswalk. She was clearly in need of money, or something. I had to stop as the light was red, and because I didn’t have glass between her and me, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with her. “How are you?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer, because I knew she would ask me for something.

“I’m not doing well. I need to get a hit, and if I don’t, I think I may die. I only need $4.” With bewilderment, I stumbled over my words and my thoughts. I pulled the orange stallion over to the side of the road and began to reach for my wallet. Really? I’m going to help a woman get a hit? I would never do this in the past. In the past, I would simply offer to take her to get some food at McDonalds, or pray with her. As I looked into her eyes, I could tell she was desperate. I could tell that she wasn’t kidding when she said she might die. So I pulled out my wallet and handed her four, rumpled dollar bills. As I placed them in her hand, she had a look of gratefulness come over her face, and she said thank you profusely. I told her that I was part of a group that helped people get off of drugs and alcohol and asked if she would want to be a part of it. She told me that she would love to be free of this but she had tried everything. I told her I would give her a ride to the group, and she said, “Give me just a couple minutes and I’ll go.” She walked down the sidewalk, up a couple of steps, and found her drug. She took the hit, came back and jumped on the back of the orange stallion (which has a weight capacity that I almost hit alone). We rode to group together. I had to go back to treatment, but she stayed and the good folks at the group helped her get into a detox facility. I saw her many times at meeting since that day.

The defining moment came for me, when I looked into her eyes and I could see desperation. She wanted out, and she wanted help, but she was literally desperate for an outside influence to help her. I had become that, in that moment, and found life in serving and helping. I wasn’t repaid for it, or compensated at all, but it was something that I did outside of myself.

And now, I can start a story with, “Have I ever told you about the time I bought meth?”

Emotions. Insanity. Fight.

Insanity took over. Mind racing, heart pumping, fists swinging, and rage looming, I gave up. My mind won that day, but each day is a new battle.

Each and every day, I fight. I’m not abnormal or special in this fight, all of us, to some degree have a battle. Mine happens to be my mind; if left to its’ own vice, goes insane. Things rattle around in my head, thoughts creep up that are scattered and unfounded, and things seem to get all jumbled as I try to make sense of the present moment, past circumstance, and a future reality. I have to fight these moments. I have to fight insanity.

If I were to tell you some of my insane thoughts, you would look at me and wonder where the calm, collected gentlemen in front of you went. You would wonder whether I was a psychopath or unstable. You might wonder whether you were in any of my ‘crazy thinking.’ I have been in a psych ward after all.

One of my children is fearful. Fearful of the dark, fearful of the closet being opened, fearful of what others will say about them or think about them, or fearful of loss and pain. She regularly expresses her fear I at bedtime, and asks how she can not be scared anymore. Regularly, I have had the conversation with her regarding fear that invites her to give her fears and her worries over to God, who ultimately is in charge of all things. While I have said these words, dozens, maybe hundreds of times, I am not a great role model of giving my life and will over to the care of God. In the daily fight, my natural inclination is to give ground. To let up and allow the thoughts to consume me, beat me, and ravage my brain. It’s easier. And frankly, I can be lazy about this issue, if I am not completely aware of myself around it. Awareness is something that I have lacked for most of my adult life. Instead of being aware of the present moment and what is happening on the inside of me, I have tried to suppress pain, guilt, shame, and instead fill it with things that repress the emotion that is inside of me. I have lived in the future, and not enjoyed the present.

Emotions suck. And especially when your mind is going insane.

To feel the present moment is to feel the complete pain of the moment, with all of the judgement, with all of the darkness, with all of the hopelessness, with all of the past behind me and the future before me. To feel is to recognize that pain and hurt is iminent and constant. To feel is scary. This is why I struggle so much to ‘make a decision to give my will and life over to the care of God’ and allow whatever happens to happen. I have always wanted to control outcomes. I have always wanted things to be within my grasp. And what I found, especially in the last few months, is that I am unable to manage life in the way that I would prefer, where I am in control of everything around me. Life is unmanageable, and becomes especially unmanageable when one is using chemicals to suppress the present emotional reality. I dare say that life may be unmanageable for most people, it’s whether we recognize that or not that influences us. 

Here’s what I had to learn.

To feel the present moment is to feel all of the things above AND it’s to feel the goodness of life, the relationships in life, the little things in life. Being grateful for even the smallest of life’s pleasures is something I have never done well. Toilet paper is something I am thankful for today, in moments when I am alone in a public restroom. Air is something that I am grateful for, as I have experienced the suffocation of my own insanity. My children being loud and obnoxious is something that I am grateful for, because I know the deep silence that I have plunged into. Feeling the present, experiencing the present, is a fight, but it’s worth it. The amazing part of the present moment is that there is always something to be grateful for. There is always a sliver of hope. The reason that we watch movies is that we love an impossible situation being solved. We love when the  main character overcomes. And I love when God overcomes my will, and in turn, my insanity.

As I have navigated the past few months, fighting each day, maybe even moment by moment to give my will and life to the care of God, I wrote down several items on a piece of paper at different times. If I were to simply take a picture, you wouldn’t be able to read it, because I have terrible handwriting. But I remember them and I review them daily. . I want to remember these, for the rest of my life, so that I might live in each moment, allowing emotion to be felt, allowing light in the darkness, and allowing God’s will to trump my insane mind.

I can’t control other people. Their thoughts or opinions of me, their actions against me or others, their response to my action, or their own acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I can only manage those things, in me.

When I am tempted to live insanity, I have to remember that no one else is living the insanity with me. Clearing my mind, heart, and experiencing grateful life is what I choose to do.

Finding solace in others, finding identity in others, is worthless and leads to a place of deep darkness. Finding my identity in who I really am, and who I am created to be, is necessary. Finding my identity in the hands of my God is ‘home.’

No one else can control me as much as they think they might be able to. I make my own decisions, am responsible for my own actions, and experience the consequences of all of the above. There is no one to blame, but me, and blame is not meant to continue on forever.

Insanity, in addiction, is often the reason we started the activity in the first place. To allow ourselves to go back to insanity is to relapse, without experiencing relief.

I am not my own. I was bought with a price. And that’s a good thing, because left to myself, I am not worthy or worth a whole lot. Even so, the price that was paid for me, was extraordinary.

Self esteem is not some mumbo jumbo that is talked about to make kids feel good. Self esteem is looking in the mirror and being able to say what Jesus said. “Love others as you love yourself.” It’s being able to look yourself in the eye and be proud of who you are, what you have done, and what you will do!

Getting out of bed each day is not special. It’s not unique. But getting out of bed requires strength, will, energy, and hope. And today, I choose to get out of bed.

Suck it up, buttercup.

The last one is something that I heard a very influential person in my life say recently. It was during a time that I was bemoaning something happening in my life that wasn’t to my liking. I had to fight through that experience. I had to feel each moment. And I’m glad that I did because what I experienced was a new lease on life. Each and every day, that I put my feet on the floor, I have new hope.

Identity and Argument

The latin phrase “Know Thyself” is a catchy phrase. But how many of us identify with other human beings in a way that builds relationship? How many of us wrap our identity in one sole area of our lives, instead of recognizing we are multifaceted? I know I am one of them.

Being separated from the people that you care most about sucks. I know, I have been separated from my wife and kids for the past several months. After February 13th, I left the behavioral health unit and headed to a different city, away from the church that I was at, to begin to pick up the pieces of life. Looking for friends, I began to contact some of the people from my past church experience to see if I could find a place to stay. I ended up staying with a dear friend and now brother, who is a 22 year old stuck in an 84 year old man’s body. The story of how I got there is written elsewhere, but what happened at his and his wife’s house was nothing short of a miracle. I wish that I could capture the moments in his living room, learning and being challenged by a man that was learning humility right along with me. I was challenged, irritated, held accountable, and ribbed. I was a wreckup and down like a kite. My emotional barometer was all over the place and the folks that I was staying with never knew what to expect emotionally as I walked through their front door. They were so gracious to me in those early weeks. After the first night living in their home, they should have kicked me out, but they believed in me, believed for me, at some level.

My friend and brother likes to argue. It’s how he learns. Honestly, he drives me nuts when he argues because I am a people pleaser and don’t want to engage in conflict. Conflict, at any level, causes deep anxiety and pain to spring up within me. So the first time that he challenged something I said by muttering, “I don’t know about that….” I was taken back. I didn’t want to argue with the man that I was living with. I didn’t want to have to ‘know things’ to win an argument like I have done all my life. I just wanted to focus on the things that I knew would help me recover and not have to deal with the pain of argumentation or irritation. I didn’t want to have to draw on my understanding of scripture or experience to argue my point. But I couldn’t help myself. I decided I was going to ‘win’ the argument. I later learned that winning an argument with him was simply to say that we had one, and he would call it a ‘good discussion.’

He asked me a question“Why do you identify yourself as an alcoholic at the meeting? Why do you call yourself that, when you are a child of God?” The question itself was irritating to me. So, I decided to engage it. Listen you….

First of all, I call myself an alcoholic at the meeting because I am an alcoholic and I’m introducing myself as one, just like the other 24 people in the room. I also call myself an alcoholic because I am reminding myself of who I am and why I am here, living with you! My crisis statement was one that I need to remember, and I remember it every time that I identify myself as an alcoholic. And finally, it’s the first time in my recent memory that I can be honest with a room and not experience judgement for not being perfect (more from myself than others, if I am honest). The second part of his question, about being a child of God, in the moment seemed like a needle below the skin. I was in the middle of a faith crisis and he was calling me a child of God. It was all that I could do to not show irritated (although he would later tell me that I was very emotive and he could tell when something was wrong). In my best pastoral voice, I said, “Because I am not sure what to think of God quite yet. I don’t know that I am his child.” I thought that would quiet my dear friend and brother and we could continue our car ride in silence. But he kept pushing. “So, why don’t you say you are both?” Inside, I was furious. Not at my beloved friend. Not at God. But with me. At who I had become. At what choices I had made. Inside, I became indignant. Why do I need to tell people that I am an alcoholic? Why do I need to do this recovery thing? Why do I need to not drink? It all became overwhelming in that moment.

Looking back, identity is something that we talked regularly about. When it comes down to it, I am both an alcoholic and a child of God. I’m a lot of other things as well. For instance, I’m a dad and a husband. I’m a blogger and an artist. I’m a musician and friend. I’m lazy and hardworking, all at the same time. I’m messed up, screwed up, and insane at times. You see, identity really becomes identity when I am able to look eyeball to eyeball with someone and we have something in common. We identify a shared experience. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have sat with another father and we have discussed the woes of parenting young children. Or the times that I have chatted with other people that have a distinct taste in music. Or maybe those that enjoy coffee who identify as ‘coffee drinkers.’ You see, we all have identities and sharing those identities in the right context makes us human. It allows us to be an integral part of each others’ story. It allows us to build relationships and a narrative between a group of people that can become like minded.

When Paul talks about the identity we have in Christ (for my bible teaching and scholarly friends, some of the references would be Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 5, Ephesians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 5) he really is discussing what the reality of salvation means. We are brought into the sight of God no longer as guilty, but as free. It’s a change in both perspective and reality that God has. Paul identifies himself as the ‘chief amongst sinners’ as well, in 1 Timothy 1. What are we to make of the dual reality? Obviously, we are still human and are NOT perfect even in our state of salvation. But maybe Paul was talking more about the fact that we can now identify with both Jesus’ humanity AND his deity? Before Jesus made us new, and transformed us in God’s sight, we only identified with Jesus’ humanity. We identified with the temptations that he faced, the physical pain that he suffered, and the relationship nightmares that he found himself in. We identified with his anger, with his justice, and with his ability to win arguments with people. After we have experienced the changed reality and perspective of God, we are able to identify with his deity as well. We are not God at this point, we never will be. But we have access to know God in a new way. As my friends in recovery say, “Those who give their will over to God will recover, may you find him now.” Christians often celebrate the fact that God was both man and deity, but the reality is, maybe we should celebrate the fact that we can now identify with both. Our identity is found in both our humanity and our deity. Paul said it over 160 times. We are to be ‘in Christ.’

Enough of my pondering, borderline preaching. I enjoy pondering the nature of identity, for mine is reforming from what it was. I no longer have to be something for someone else, care about how people will respond to what I say or feel, or find solace in others’ feelings about me. I identify with many of you as human. I identify with many of you as ‘in Christ’ (and jacked up as well!) And my identity is multifaceted. I’m a lot of things with alot of people, and that changes as I build within the narrative of relationships.

Early on in recovery, everyone knew that I was an alcoholic. The poor check out lady at Walmart asked how my day was going. I said, “It would be better if I weren’t an alcoholic and could have a drink.” As she stood there mortified, not sure what to think, I realized that I had broken the rule of narrative within relationship. This was not a time or place to put that bedrock of who I identify with at the forefront. This was the time and the place to give the pat answer of “I’m doing okay, how are you?” I try not to put people in awkward situations like this anymore, but sometimes cannot help myself. I will be honest with people but am relearning what it means to identify with people, instead of telling them my identity in one word. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a failed pastor. I’m a child of God. I’m a dad, husband, size 34×34 pant wearer, and a coffee drinker. And so you and I identify with each other on some level, and continue to build the narrative within the relationship that we have.

I desire to know myself. All facets of myself. And get to know you as well, with shared experiences. Identity is to know someone, and our identity is brushed stroked quite broadly.

I’ll keep going to meetings and identifying as an alcoholic, reminding myself of who I am and clearly letting others into my world. It’s good for me, and good for you to remember who we are, so we don’t lose ourselves.