Disillusioned Joker

“All right kids, it’s break time.” These were some of my favorite words in outpatient treatment. It meant that we would keep discussing life, on life’s terms.

I met her near the end of February. I had cold called from the hospital down to a place in Wichita that was connected with the hospital system, loosely, and that promised to help people deal with their addictions and vices. It seemed to be a place of hope and came highly touted by the psychiatrists that I was working with at the psych ward. I called using the monitored phone, asked if they take my specific insurance, and then made an appointment to meet with the intake counselor within the week. The woman on the other end of the line made it very clear that if I didn’t show up, I would not have another chance to book an appointment, for intake. The week before this meeting with the counselor was difficult. There was much change and a lot of heartache. I walked in on a Friday morning to the waiting room several minutes before my scheduled time and sat down in a seat after checking in. I filled out the necessary paperwork that they had handed me with the usual questions such as “within the last week, how is your mental health?” and “on a scale from 1 to 10, how well have you slept?” During this season, I had a hard time ‘passing’ these tests.

I knew that I was a mess, but as I sat in that seat, waiting for the intake person to come holler my name, I became resolute to the fact that I would most definitely get into some treatment, get some help, and find reprieve from my own demons.  I needed to do this for me, for my own sanity, for my own wellbeing, for my own life to be ‘normalized’ (whatever that means). A shorter woman with dyed red hair came to the top of the stairs and hollered out my name, and then told me we were headed down the stairs. I followed her through what seemed like a maze to a dimly lit room, that was her office. She had me sit in a seat next to her desk and she let me know that everything that she asked was to be put into my ‘intake assessment’ and that it would be used for insurance purposes as well as to determine a good treatment plan. She asked me a question, and I began to tell a long story of how I arrived at the spot that I was in. This little short lady, fire hair, and all interrupted me, and curtly said, “I have to get through all of the questions on this list, and I only have one hour to do it, so, keep things shorter and we can get through this.” I kept things as short as I possibly could, and tried to tell all of what was happening and had happened in my short time before. At one point, she looked at me, knowingly, and said, “Really? That’s the whole story?” And I knew that she was aware that I wasn’t telling her all that had happened. So I kept on going. And spilled my guts. At the end of our time, she declared that I was definitely a candidate for intensive outpatient treatment and that I could come back the next week. Whatever day I showed up, would be my first day, and from there it was an 9-12 week process. I left that day, and found hope in the fact that I was actively pursuing health in a tangible way. I wasn’t checking off the boxes for anyone else, I wasn’t having to fulfill an obligation, and I wasn’t trying to manipulate a system. I was self caring, and self working on something that I had to figure out, for me.

The next week was the first week of treatment. I jumped into the middle of a class, and tried to hold on for dear life, as I learned the ropes of the outpatient therapy. I began to get the rhythm of the class in week 2 and by week 3 was really enjoying my time. The instructor was raw, blunt, honest, and pushed each of her clients. She was aware of everyone’s story and very aware of what the room ‘felt’ like. I found out later that most of what she did in class was observe people’s response to her and to others. She was always finding ways to get under my skin, say things that would make me think, or make me smile, at the right times. In case you didn’t know, I can become a ‘class clown’ when put into a highly stressful situation. It’s my way of alleviating tension, awkwardness, and difficult circumstances. I found myself saying really funny things, or I thought that they were, early on in those classes. People seemed to enjoy it, and I felt like I was contributing, at least on a comedic relief level. Then one day, the instructor pulled out an article for us to read together. The article was about personalities and addiction. As we read through the article, one of the headings was the ‘joker.’ The paragraph that came after the heading was stunning to me. It described me in detail when circumstances became contentious. But it didn’t just describe my outward behavior, it described the things that I felt deeply in these moments. Shame, guilt, pain, and anger were behind the mask of the joker. Figuring out how to make others laugh would be the way that the joker would run from conflict, and if forced, the joker would simply vacate premises to avoid confrontation at the highest level. This was me to a ‘t’ and I found some solace in the fact that it described the common background that jokers had as it related to life experiences. I have always been fascinated with personality discernment, and even have done several different personality profile consultations with different teams, etc. This particular write up, with it’s particular nature, was rather in my face, using common language to describe the depths of my own heart and soul. It felt as if I was being read, from the page in front of me.

As the instructor finished the reading, I looked up and immediately blurted that I was a ‘joker.’ There was probably nothing further from the truth in that moment. I had not been truthful with my family, I had not been truthful with myself, and I found myself in a place that the only means of current escape was comedy. The instructor looked back at me with direct confrontation in her eyes and she said, “What are the strengths about the joker?” I had not heard the strengths, I was too busy focused on all of the areas of my weakness and failure. I had totally missed that section as she was reading. I looked back down at my paper and read through the ‘strengths’ bullet point list. There was much to absorb. The strengths that were there had and were present in my life. Hard working, caring and compassionate, able to work with others, finding and helping others that need it, and always willing to lend a hand, when necessary. This was definitely me. For years, I had been helping others as a Pastor, as an employee, and as a friend. I desperately wanted to help people succeed, to help organizations succeed, to help my friends succeed. The write up pointed out that when the joker experiences a lack of success, they become disillusioned with life and the issue at hand. I had. Years before this, I struggled with significant disillusionment with the local church. We were working so hard to lead a group of people toward something that seemed so tangible, and yet, there was very little followership. It felt as though we were grinding forward, only to see people sit in the peanut gallery to watch the show. I remember telling my then supervisor, that at some point, if this was going to be how ministry was, I would probably take my pink slip and ‘get out.’ Little did I know the future. Really does anyone know their future?

Disillusionment with a job, family, life, or relationship leads people down strange paths. As I became more and more blinded by what I was seeing in the churches that I was serving at, I became more and more self focused. It was ironic because I was always asking people to think outside of themselves, for those that didn’t yet know Jesus, and yet I was becoming more and more focused on self preservation and protection. For sure I wasn’t going to let people into my world of dark clouds. I needed to lead, be faithful to the message that I was carrying, and be bold like any ‘preacher’ is supposed to be. But you can only do that for so long before it wears a person out. And it wore me out. I had seen things in the local church that were painful, mind boggling, and scary. I had seen the backside of what it means to lead in the church and it wasn’t a pretty backside. I had seen what church politics, broken relationships, and mission driven prodding was doing to me and others and I hated it. There were times where I desperately searched for a job online that I could apply for that would ‘get me out.’ I never found it, or it never found me. My resume certainly doesn’t scream business. It screams church and clergy.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved each and every church that I served. I love the church as detailed other places. I told people as we hired them at churches that if they could find any other place to work other than working for a church they should do that. It was always tongue in cheek and it was always in my joking, comedic tone, but I began to believe that and still do today. Church work isn’t for wimps and I respect the hell out of the men and women that toil day in and day out for the sake of their faith and the cause of their savior and take a paycheck for it. It’s so much easier to ‘toil’ when you are simply attending. It is so much easier to be removed from the muck and the mire of knowledge when you simply show up and drop your kids off, attend church, and then leave. It’s so much easier to simply pray every night, and then go to sleep rather than stay up all night wondering if there is going to be another dollar in the offering plate to be able to pay bills, or wondering whether your job is secure because the church is taking a dive in attendance, or wondering if you are really doing what “God” called you to do. For the last couple of weeks of my life, I have simply prayed, thanked God for the things I am grateful for, kissed my wife on the forehead, and fallen into the deep sleep that I have lacked for years. Maybe it’s my body making up for the lost time, or maybe it’s just what is normal, for people that don’t have to deal with church demons. Disillusionment almost got me. It almost killed me. I almost killed me. I chose to live in the disillusionment far too long. And I chose to stay and battle when the fight became impossible. And, I chose my response to that fight, which was damaging at times, and caused a lot of heartache that has yet to be addressed.

As my instructor pulled me out of my own thoughts, I knew that she had asked me a question. But I had no idea what the question was. So, trying to provide comic relief, I simply said, “Yes.” She looked at me with a smile cracking through and said, “you don’t even know what the ….I’m asking do you?” I told her I didn’t and she smiled. In that moment, I knew that I was in the right spot. I was allowed, and expected to process through some of these experiences. I was allowed and expected to come to some sort of conclusion. I was allowed and expected to dive into the material in front of me. Not to accomplish it, but to absorb it, grapple with it, find life again, and fight the temptation of disillusionment. It wasn’t five steps to being a better leader/pastor or the five temptations of those in charge, but it was life training. It was skills training, and it was raw.

The instructor has been an incredible influence on my life. For a lot of reasons. She has overcome her own addiction to substances and has been sober for many years. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t struggle. And it certainly doesn’t mean that she keeps quiet about the ‘crap on the plate.’ Instead, she is honest with people about where she is from day to day, from week to week, and knows the right people to tell, when she is really struggling. She has overcome so much in her life, overcome some of her own tendencies that cause pain, and has leaned into her strengths to be the best mom, grandma, and instructor that she can be. She’s the only instructor that I have ever had, in this area of study, but I believe she may be one of the best.

Intensive outpatient treatment has since ended and I received a certificate. But the certificate is fairly meaningless without the experiences, the conversations, the learning and growing that was done, the memories that were jogged, the laughter that was had, and the break times where the class would just get to ‘be’ together. Many of the folks that started treatment with me, sadly, didn’t end treatment with me. But then there was a new group, and I saw an instructor full of grace, hope, and forcefulness deal with each and every one of the clients that walked through her door. I also experienced and heard about what it meant to simply leave the work at work, a concept I knew nothing about.

My instructor cared deeply for her clients. But each and every night, she had to say to herself, “I don’t make their choices for them. They do.” And when someone messed up, she moved on from it. She hated that they didn’t succeed, but also knew that trying to hold on to the pain and the anger that came out of the situation wasn’t worth the heartache and bitterness that could develop.

She would often tell a story of the first person that relapsed and died in her program during Intensive Outpatient Treatment. My instructor would tell her co-worker, “If this is what it is like in this job, I don’t think I can make it.” But my instructor did. She did it with self care, self esteem, and by working with the strengths that she had. When I grow up, maybe I will have some of these same traits.

-Joker

Introvert

I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved

I have a confession to make. I don’t trust people. I don’t know that I ever really trusted anyone. Before the last few months, I’m not even sure I knew what trust was.

I’ve spent most of my adult life (and even most of my adolescent and early adult years) mingling with people. I have always enjoyed people and getting to know them. They fascinate me, provide me with friendship, companionship, and fun. Groups of people are fun to be with, especially when they are doing things that I really enjoy doing. As a small child, I can remember organizing football games in the front yard of our house, each game further destroying the green grass that my father had worked so hard to cultivate. I was ecstatic when I could gather a crowd and orchestrate us ‘accomplishing’ something together. This translated into my adult life. I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved there. I could ‘help’ people, do God’s work, and orchestrate groups of people that would fulfill a mission. I started where most green pastors right out of bible college start. In Youth Ministry.

It was the summer of 2009 when I decided that our youth ministry needed to grow. I was going to single handedly arm this group with the ‘weapons’ and ‘tools’ to simply go out and ‘win people to Jesus.’ I thought about this activity as one might think about winning a basketball game or overtaking the enemy in a war. It worked. We gathered teenager after teenager and our little group grew. It grew a little at first, and then, to my dismay, we outgrew the room we were in. In those moments, my pride and ego was so far through the roof that every decision that I made was about growth. It was about my own self worth, my own worth to the church, and about making some name for myself. No one told me at that point that Youth Pastors have a hard time making a name for themselves. I did it all under the guise of spirituality and evangelism. Not all of it was ‘fake’ however. I truly did believe that what I was organizing impacted families and teenagers. I believed that I would somehow create a new way to do youth ministry and that all would be solved in the suburbs of Wichita, KS. To this day, I have great relationships with the kids and families that were a part of those early youth ministry days. The best thing that has happened is that those students became adults, and figured out faith for themselves. There was a ‘crisis of faith moment’ that some of them describe and they found God (or didn’t depending on the student). I’m sure some of them look back and see youth group as a great time to get together, hear some funny stories, open the bible, eat and play games. But as I look back on those times, I don’t know that I was focused on truly helping as much as I was focused on orchestrating some sort of action that the group could take. In the end, I could somehow tell myself that I deserved the destructive pattern of selfishness that I would participate in.

While I was doing youth ministry, I somehow got connected with a publishing agency in Kansas City who were writing a curriculum that would go out to Youth Pastors far and wide. And I was invited to do some writing and then some speaking and filming. This was probably at the height of my ‘youth ministry arrogance.’ I remember getting done with the video shoot, the writing, and the publishing part of the curriculum and thinking to myself that I had arrived as a youth pastor and that I would be doing this for the rest of my life. So, I did what any normal 20 something idiot youth pastor does. I started writing a book. I thought, “I know so much and have so much to offer the youth ministry world. I have the right philosophy, theology, education, and experience. And now, others will be able to somehow learn from me.” I got about 4 chapters into the book and was stopped in my tracks. I encountered significant pain, probably the most pain in ministry up to that point that I had absorbed, and it cut my ‘brilliant’ book writing short. Why was I even doing what I did, as a vocation? Did it even matter?

It was one of the most discouraging events that has happened in my life. I won’t go into detail, here in the blog, but have written extensively about the situation in the book I am currently working through (By the way, any brilliance in the book that I am writing has NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with the pain that my own poor selfishly immorale choices caused). It rocked me. For months, I didn’t move forward. I went through the motions. I collected a church paycheck. I wasn’t sure how I could do youth ministry, if this is how things ended when I invested my life into someone. And it was through that experience that I recognized my inclination to introversion, and then, isolation.

People far smarter than me have done extensive writing about the introvert phenomena. They have determined that it is not that introverts ‘hate everyone’ or ‘cannot be around people.’ It’s simply that introverts become drained when with people for periods of time and are re energized when alone. The opposite is true of extroverts. For those of you who are either (which is all of us, exactly), you know exactly what I am describing to be true. I had not really focused on refueling up to the point of my major disappointment. I took a trip to counseling and the gentlemen that I met with told me that I should probably take some time to really focus on me. I had no idea what that even meant. He told me that I needed a hobby. What? What was a hobby? Work was a hobby. Family was a hobby. I had no hobby. So, I delved into my introversion, and instead of simply refueling by myself for periods of time, I began the destructive pattern of isolation. I didn’t let people in, didn’t invite people to be a part of my life, and rarely offered much of any substance when discussing life on life’s terms with folks from church. I have recently learned that the behavioral mechanism that I was exhibiting is actually a protective vice that people who have been wounded at war often exhibit physically. If someone has their leg mangled in a battle, they will favor that leg and protect it, even when simply playing with their kids at home. Emotionally, I protected my heart, my mind, my behavior, and my patterns. I attempted to be perfect for people, and not give too much that they would know about me, or find out that I wasn’t a perfect pastor.

Isolation is a terrible place. The depths of being alone only grow and become far worse than the day before, and before long, isolation takes over the heart. Introverted and isolated, I began to ‘self care’ which was actually selfish obsession. I wanted me to be happy and that is what mattered. The destructive pattern of Isolation overtook me, and I forgot to dream. I forgot how. I forgot about the future, and even the present and instead, lived solely in the past, in the mistakes I had made, but more importantly all that I had accomplished. It was my way of somehow ‘deserving’ something.

I’m still an introvert today. I’ll never stop being an introvert. But I’ve learned, in a severe and profound way, that I need to let folks in on the emotion I feel. I need to speak out when someone is doing something that bothers me, and I need to be honest and forthright with every answer I give. There is no plan to go back to isolation. There is no plan to return to the hell that is despair and loneliness. Sure, I have lonely moments, as anyone does. But the overwhelming nature of isolation will not, should not, overtake me again. I will share what is happening in my head and heart, with others that I am learning to trust, maybe for the first time ever.