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.

Death and Life.

Sitting on a railroad track, waiting for a train to fly by at 55 miles per hour, I called 1.800.273.8255. And then…life happened.

It wasn’t that I was mad at anyone in particular. In fact, I had no one to be angry with. Regardless, I was furious on the inside. Furious that I had let things go this far. Furious that I was going to lose it all. Furious that someone would find out about me. I was just irate. I drove, and drove, and drove. Until I decided that I couldn’t drive any longer.

On February 13th, 2018, my life would change forever. For the first time, ever, I was going to make an attempt on my own life. Selfish, stupid, but I believed that it was necessary. I needed to be relieved of pain, guilt, shame, doubt, and find some rest in what I believed would be best for all. To die. I drove around in the morning, contemplating life, family, and future. I knew that taking my life would have huge ramifications for my family. I knew that it would have future ramifications for the churches that I had served. My friends would be disappointed in me, but weren’t they already? My extended family would have no idea how to process this, except with disappointment and anger. But that is what I felt from most of the people that I considered ‘close.’ Anger, disappointment, irritation. There was nothing else left to live for if I couldn’t gain the approval of those around me. There was nothing more that I could do, to try and gain that approval, as I had done the best I could, with what I had to work with, and still failed, time and time again. The rage and anger inside of me could be felt in my face, my neck, my ears, my back and my brain. I thought and thought and thought about how I was going to navigate this season of my life that was turning into a supercell storm. I went back and forth between self effacing and self hating. “God, if you are there, save me from these things.”

These were the words that I remembered uttering before driving another half mile to the nearest set of train tracks. As I pulled up onto the two sets of tracks, on a dusty gravel road just a mile from where I lived, I knew that this would end the pain. I knew that this would be the last time that I would have to feel. And it would be the last time that I had to fail myself or someone else. Somehow, I had come to the place where I truly believed that it was better and best for me to simply not be on this earth.

My iphone was next to me in the seat, and I took it out, trying to preoccupy my mind with something other than the fearful and raging thoughts inside my head. I texted a couple people, letting them know that I loved them and that taking care of my family was a primary concern that they could have. I don’t know that I told anyone outright, “I’m going to kill myself.” but several of my friends got the hint. I then did something that I cannot explain. I called the suicide hotline. A nice lady on the other end of the line answered and asked me how I was doing. I decided, “What the hell do I have to lose?” so I told her everything that was going on. I told her about the fights, about the alcohol, about the lying, the covering up, the suicidal thoughts, and the fact that I was sitting on a train track, waiting for the next train to whisk by, going 55 miles per hour. She assured me that it was not worth it, to die. She started asking me about my family, friends, job, and home. She eventually got me to move off the tracks and toward the hospital to get some help. I started driving, eventually arriving there. When I hung up, I was walking into a place of refuge, a place that I would later attribute to saving my life.

I’ll never be able to quite put into words the things that I was thinking that day. It may be because I had been driving myself insane for about a year. It may have been that I was just so incredibly exhausted with life that it seemed as though this were the only option. It may have been the guilt, shame, and immorality doing the talking. Later, I learned, these were all ‘stinkin’ thinking’ techniques. I sat down to write what my thoughts were that day, over and over again. The only thing that makes any sense at all is that I didn’t die. I know that it makes more sense that I should have, but I didn’t. Days later, in the behavioral health unit, the nurse kept asking me if I wanted to hurt myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself, I wanted to stop hurting. Pain was the last thing that I wanted more of. Dying seemed like the ultimate way of escape. I had sat long hours with people that were suicidal and never before had understood the way of their thinking and the reality that they found themselves in. I never understood how death might be better than life, until those moments when reality seemed as though life would stop regardless.

After my experience at the hospital (which I talk about in the book), I went to the store, found my affair, which was whiskey if I remember right, and found a not so secluded area on the side of the road. I drank the bottle, and fell asleep. A deep sleep apparently.

Alcohol damn near killed me. But that day, it saved my life. Had I been left to my own vices, to my own thoughts, to my own hopelessness and despair, and had I continued on, day after day, I would not have had the opportunity to live the last several months. I would not have had the opportunity to experience life on life’s terms outside of the jail that I found myself in. I would not have been able to feel (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as it related to my marriage, my family, my job, and my friends. I would not have experienced recovery or found solace in the ‘God of my own understanding.’ I would not have been able to experience the joy of serving someone for ‘serving’ sake’ and I would not have experienced what it meant to walk through high levels of stress not relying on my own selfish vices to help navigate the tumultuous waters. I wouldn’t have celebrated my 9 year old daughter’s birthday nor would I have got to wake up next to my wife again. I wouldn’t have got to spend time with Kermit, a dear friend before and now a brother for eternity. I wouldn’t have learned how to use 76 calories (this is part of living with Kermit and Velda.)

Life won that day, because I chose it. 

It is said often in recovery. “Life didn’t get easier when I stopped coping with alcohol. It got harder.” And it has. And at the same time, I am freer than ever before. I am living life and experiencing the new reality of God, my family, my career, friendships, good food, and conversation. I am free to live, and not bound to die. Certainly I will die someday (hopefully it’s the day before taxes are due so I can avoid that, at least once) and when I do, I will meet my creator, and thank him for that day, February 13. There is so much to say about the grateful place that I find myself in, but maybe another time. If you are in a place where life seems bleaker than life, give the suicide hotline a try. They care. Or they wouldn’t be there. 1-800-273-8255. When you call, tell the good folks there, “thank you, for the opportunity to live.”

Do the “Next Right Thing.”

I am a failed pastor. I had a moral failure. To most of you, that is shocking, and yet, to most of you there is always a part of you that knew that I was a failure. And I am owning up to it, finding myself again, and am working through the wreckage that this moral failure caused. I walked in, for the very first time, on February 18th, Alcoholics Anonymous (maybe I’m not so anonymous?) and sat down, unsure exactly of what the format would be or how I would introduce myself when the ‘famous in movies’ introductions were made.

I walked into the room, unsure, unsteady, unstable. I need help and this is a last ditch effort.

There were clearly two leaders seated in the front of the room. One of them rang a bell and started the meeting with a moment of silence for the still struggling alcoholic. Then the serenity prayer was prayed. The liturgy of an AA meeting had begun. For the next several months, I would grow to enjoy this cantor of reading that was predictable, reminding, and unsettling, all at the same time. At the end of the reading of the 12 steps and a reminder that we cannot and will not recover, if God doesn’t help us, one of the leaders asked if there was anyone at the meeting for the very first time with 24 hours of sobriety. I raised my hand tentatively, knowing that this would be the very first time, in any group that I would share with others the depth that I had fallen. The leaders asked for my name. I answered with a shaky and unsteady voice…

“I’m Chris….” My voice trailed off…”And I’m an alcoholic.” There, I said it. Out loud, for all to hear. The leader invited me up to the front of the room, and I received my 24 hour ‘desire’ chip and the meeting continued. The group clapped for me as I sat down. For the next several months, these words would be a staple in my language. My identity began to change and morph into something that was clearer than anything I could have ever imagined. My life was changing before my very eyes, because of this simple phrase uttered in a roomful of strangers.

Anywhere that I have ever been, I have been a stranger. Sure, I knew people’s name, occupation, family members, and even sometimes remembered a little bit about what they had told me the week before. But to say that we were anything but acquainted strangers would be disingenuous . I knew that very few, if any people, really knew me, and I was sure, if they did get to know me, they would not like me. I didn’t like me, so why would others. If I remained perfect for others, at least on the outside, then maybe I could navigate my way through the rushing current of that which is pastoring people. If I could be strong for others, maybe I could teach myself how to do the same. If I could counsel others with ‘wisdom’ surely that was found deeply embedded in me that I could tap in for ‘me’ at some point? I was a stranger to others. They were strangers to me. But even darker, deeper, and by far more scary than any of that was that I was a stranger to me. I didn’t know me. I didn’t know who I was. Who I wanted to be when I grew up, where I wanted to live, how I wanted to live. This led me to continue to just do the next thing that was available in front of me. And as a young man in their early 20’s who is ambitious, I felt as though the world were mine for the taking. There were more than enough hours in the day to do the work of two people, there were more people around me who needed ‘me’ to save them, and there were always ways to impress those that called me their employee. I just had to make sure that I navigated with great precision, because to be found out as a fraud would mean that it would go away. All of it. My wife, my kids, my job, my house, my friends, my car, my everything would go away. I had to make sure that I didn’t fail, that I was perfect for others, and then, at some point to deal with the pain that all of that mask caused me on the inside.

How many days have I gone jetskiing in a row? How many days have I tried to kill that pheasant? How much or how little have I eaten? When is the next euphoric high going to be with the next event or promotion, the next big achievement? I know that I lost count of these things at times. I know that I felt guilty at certain points for the time and energy wasted…But, I always…I always needed more. Always more of whatever it was that made things ‘feel’ better at the time. I needed approval for those things, so even the things that I did in excess were things that were celebrated as ‘family’ things or ‘personal care’ things. I even tricked myself and others into believing that somehow I ‘deserved’ what I was indulging in.

Alcohol. It was the one thing that I could not have. It was one thing that I never really liked or indulged too much in. I mean, I drank a bit in college, but I think most of my friends did as well, and they didn’t end up a drunk. When I first drank, I experienced a different sensation and much quicker than anything that I had tried before. Jet skiing, hunting, relationships. All of these paled in comparison to the depth that alcohol would relieve my inside pain. And I began my affair with the drug. Cunning, baffling, and powerful, it overtook me. I began to day dream about next time I would binge instead of dreaming about the future that I was to live. I began to ponder whether I was an alcoholic. And kept drinking. It drowned pain, caused me to feel like myself, and allowed me to develop an identity that I thought was, at the very least, somewhat developed within me instead of others telling me how and who to be.

And it got me. There is a lot to my story, which is why I am writing away on a book, and there is a lot to the story of God. But I don’t walk away from this particular experience with any sense of pride or arrogance. If I could have experienced what I am experiencing these days, before I ever picked up a bottle of whiskey, I would take whatever that potion would be. But there is no potion. I’m still a failed pastor. But that’s not my complete identity. My identity is in Christ. He is also cunning, baffling, and powerful, but those were just words that I used in idealogy to wow people with what I knew about God. Now I know them to be true. I identify, truly identify, with those that recognize their humanity deeply. I identify with those that have addictions to all sorts of things. I identify with brokenness, loss, pain, and guilt. I identify as an alcoholic, failed pastor. But aren’t we all, at some level, failed humans? Most of the writing I have ever done has ended or concluded with ‘an answer’ to the problem that was posed. The reality is that I don’t know the answers anymore. I only know that I have to take things one day at a time. I have to find solace in the fact that I don’t want to and cannot control the next person, place, or thing that I will encounter. And one day at a time, I’ll make it.

I heard a deep, non theologically ‘accurate’ discussion of sorts in a meeting recently. We were discussing the will of God. There are several atheists present in groups that I attend and I have learned so much from them. It’s generally not that they are so much atheists as they are brilliant. You see, most of the atheists I know are very articulate.

One of them, in this discussion said, “If there is a will of God, I contend that it would simply be to ‘do the next right thing.’”

And with that, I think I’ll pass to one of you. And I’ll take another 24. Because that is the “next right thing.”