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.

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.

Psych Ward

Terrified, I found myself being wheeled to the psych ward. What was I doing? Did they think I was crazy? Maybe I was crazy! Maybe I should be admitted here. Maybe I should remain here. So many thoughts and a thousand question rattled around inside of me, driving me more and more insane, on the edge.

I sat there, in a wheelchair, looking at the sign in front of me, waiting for the security clearance to pass from the outside, to the inside. I wasn’t going to jail, yet, but was about to experience something that was radically different in nature than anything I had ever encountered. All because I was going to the “psych ward.”

I quickly realized once I was inside the psych ward that this is not the correct term for the place that I would call residence for 5 days. I quickly realized that there were more politically correct terms than this, and so using the term ‘behavioral health center’ seemed to be the more acceptable way to describe what was happening inside these four walls. The place was bustling with activity and what I later found out, was always that way. I walked through the front door and had to strip down to nothing so that the security folks could take everything that I had on me at the time, put it into a bag, and lock it away, for safekeeping. I was given a hospital gown, which is a sorry excuse for the front part of a shirt, and then ushered to my abode that I would be inhabiting for the next few days. The nurse met me at the room and let me know that they were doing what she called ‘intake’ and that it would be a few minutes until they came in to let me have access to some clothes, and some of my showering possessions. I had been in the hospital for a full day at this point, and thought maybe a shower would be in order. The nurse left and I was left to sit on the bed, pondering how I made it to this point in my life. As I studied the room, I realized that I was here for a very specific reason. The hospital staff had good reason to believe that I was a threat to myself and so they admitted me on the basis of ‘suicidal tendency’ and then ushered me to the “Behavioral Health Center” for safekeeping. I knew this because all of the vents were covered with a small wire mesh. The outlets were glued shut, and there were no metal sharp edges anywhere. I don’t think I was looking for any, but these things caught my attention, and for the first time in a few days, I really did want to die. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in this situation. I didn’t want to be locked in the hospital for any longer than I had to be. And now I was stuck. The night before, when I was recovering from my experience with the Emergency Room I had asked the nurse if I could leave. I’m not sure what I was thinking (I wasn’t) and thought that if I could leave, things would simply be all better. They knew better than to let a guy who had just showed up in the position that I was in go back out into the streets. I don’t remember what they told me, but I remember thinking that it was a good reason as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Now, in the Behavioral Health Unit, all I wanted was to get home to my wife and kids, for things to return to normal, and for me to figure out how to cope with life again.

The nurse interrupted my thought process as she wheeled in the large machine that would take my blood pressure. For the next few weeks and months, I would battle significant heart issues, such as high blood pressure and an enlargement of the heart. When one doesn’t care for themselves well, the body tends to respond poorly. She pumped up my arm and then exclaimed how high my blood pressure was. She asked if I was nervous. I told her that I was a little nervous and asked what was going to happen to me. She told me that the unit would figure out the best move forward, to keep me safe and sound, in the next 24 hours. 24 hours!! I let that sink in. I wanted to be gone in the next 24 minutes. She walked me through the ‘rules’ and the schedule and let me know that I could walk around the unit and be anywhere except other patients’ bedrooms. There were books, a television, and some coloring books out in the lobby outside of my room. I sat on my bed as she brought in my clothes so that I could get into something a little more ‘comfortable.’ All I had with me were the same clothes I had arrived at the hospital with, so I put them on. They didn’t smell great, but they were a heck of a lot more comfortable than the half shirt I was wearing, moments earlier. I laid back on the bed, for the first time in several hours, disconnected from any sort of medical device or monitoring system. I did what any manipulative individual would do in this situation. I schemed on how to fool people to think that I was fine, that I would move forward with little to no consequence. And I fell asleep. Not deeply asleep but enough that an hour passed and then I heard the nurse come around and ask if I was ready for dinner. I got up out of my bed, and went out to the lobby to meet ‘the other crazy people.’ I sat at a table by myself (even in a mental health facility I was a loner) and ate my dry, chewy chicken and drank my carton of milk. I wasn’t hungry and hadn’t been for quite some time. My appetite and everything that had been enjoyable was now gone. The only thing that I wanted in this moment, was to be away from this place. I met several folks that evening as we gathered around the 6 pm scheduled TV watching. We sat in the chairs in the lobby and talked and discussed amongst ourselves why we were there. For the first time, in a very, very long time, I told someone how I felt. I told a cocaine addict and alcoholic why I was in there with them. They couldn’t get past the fact that I was an alcoholic and a Pastor. I told them that it shouldn’t be that weird, I was still human. We had many discussions the next few days about my occupation and my drug of choice. We had many discussions about their escapades of doing drugs, overdosing, and the kinds of things that they were going to do, when they ‘got out.’ You see, all of us were in the center because we really were crazy. We thought that death would be a better alternative than life itself. And because we believed that, others believed the opposite for us and thought that this was the best place we could be. There were two more intakes that evening. One was a young gentlemen that I recognized and he recognized me. He had gone to the church that I had been pastoring at and knew that I was from there. He had tried to commit suicide and was unsuccessful. The other was a man who was about six foot seven and weighed 120 pounds. He was clearly not doing well, when he came in, and was babbling nonsense and yelling obscenities. The nurses were doing their best to get him to his room and give him a tranquilizer. The little band of alcoholics and drug addicts sat in the lobby, and looked upon this sight with wide eyes. This is what we all expected, when we came into the Psych Ward, I mean, the Mental Health Center…We expected to be placed with other folks who were insane. We all knew we were insane and our minds weren’t working correctly and that was the only difference between us and the gentlemen that put up a fight. We found out later that he really didn’t function well mentally and that he had a several mental illness that cost him memory, personality, and function.

As I laid down that night to go to bed, I was given ambien to sleep. It knocked me out cold, and I woke up to some visitors. I was groggy and don’t remember much of anything of this encounter but know that all I wanted to do was sleep. About an hour after my visitors, the nurses came back in, turned on the lights, hooked me up to the blood pressure machine and again remarked how high my blood pressure was. One of them started down a list of questions, one of which was, “Do you want to hurt anyone right now?” I thought to myself, and wish I had only thought to myself, but ended up saying out loud, “I want to hurt all of you, you keep waking me up!” I was joking, or trying to, but in the center, you don’t joke about these things. The room came alive and the next thing I knew I was talking to a therapist who was also the psychiatrist, in the middle of the night, and talking about anger and emotion. He finally left and I was able to sleep just a bit. I fell asleep convincing myself that this was all just a bad dream and that things would come to a close soon.

When I awoke the next morning, I had no idea what time it was. I didn’t have a watch, phone, clock or any way of knowing what the hour hand said. I sat up and realized that it was sunny outside. I got up, walked out the door, and found the clock to say 5:40 am. I went back in and laid down for awhile, then got up and found a book in the lobby. It was a bible, but it was the recovery bible. I opened it and read just a few of the entries that were focused on the 12 steps to recovery. I began to resonate with what the authors had written and found myself writing furiously on my notepad. As I wrote faster, my mind raced. I was here because…and my mind went all kinds of places. I played the ‘blame game’ for awhile. I went down the path of self effacing and self beating. Then I decided I would be emotionally dulled to the point of not feeling anything. I would stuff this, and I would move on. The last entry I read in the bible was regarding step 3. The writing became blurry as my eyes filled with tears.

“Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

I had tried this. In fact, my entire life, I had tried to turn my will over to the care of God, and look where it got me? It put me in the mental institution and cast away by most of the community that I had tried to serve for the majority of my adult life. I was done with God and decided in that moment that I would not read this jargon anymore. I’m out, I declared internally. My will didn’t get me here, God did. And in that moment, I had blamed the creator God, the God of the universe for my own perverse nature, sin, and demise. And he took it. I’m glad he did, and I’m glad he gave me a second, no, a millionth chance. Later, I would learn that this step was crucial to recover, but that is written about extensively in the book. God was there with me, and yet I felt further from him than ever.

The next several days were filled with classes about drug use, suicide and anxiety, and seeing psychiatrists to determine the readiness of the patients to get out of the center. I tried my hardest the first day to convince all that I was doing fine, that I was strong enough to leave and be in control of my emotions, etc. I wasn’t but I sure tried to show that way. At the end of my second day in the center, my wife and I had a conversation that would change the course of my recovery. It was simple and it was icy. She told me that she didn’t think it to be a good idea, or even option, to come home. For the sake of our kids, for my sake, for her sake, it would be best if I got the help that I needed. I got off the phone a much more broken man than when I started the conversation. I went into my room, sat on the bed and cried. I cried like a baby, more than I ever had in my adult life. The people that I loved so deeply, the people that I had hurt the most, were now not accessible for the time being, in my life. And I was breaking apart in these moments. A nurse walked in and sat down in the chair next to my bed. She was my favorite nurse as she had a sense of humor and was a bit motherlike. She was a tough cookie, and allowed for people to be honest, even demanded it. She looked at me, and I looked at her through blurry eyes and she asked me, “What happened on the phone?” I recounted the conversation through whimpers, tears, and sobbing and at the end of it, when I was done talking, she asked me a question. She said, “Do you love your wife and kids?” What was she asking me? Of course I did, wasn’t that obvious? I answered swiftly, absolutely. She then said something that I remember as vividly as if it were five minutes ago. She said, “If you want any part of their lives moving forward, you have to be brutally honest with yourself, with your wife, and with your alcohol problem.” Up until that point, alcohol had only been addressed by doctors and psychiatrists as a question. “How much do you drink?” or “How frequent do you drink?” She had made a statement and told me that I had a problem. But the part that I remember most vividly is that I needed to be honest with myself and with others. I assured her that I would try and she walked out. She and I would have a few more discussions related to this same statement, but they are recounted other places. She saved my life. Had I not declared myself to need honesty in all areas, I think I would probably be dead. I don’t think I would have made it to today, let alone through that day.

As I drove to my new home for the next few months, riding silently in the cab of the truck of a good friend, being released from the Behavioral Health Center and leaving my drug friends behind, I pondered what was next for me. How would I live out the honesty that I had been so quick to agree to? How was I going to rebuild my life, with or without my family involved? How was I going to engage my problem with alcohol. How would I live life, when life seemed so chaotic? The answer for me was complex and to a degree, difficult to explain, which is why I am writing. There was no answer that I could come up with, and that proved to be the answer. I needed others. I needed God. I needed honesty and a belief in myself again. I needed to dream again, to be excited about life again, and to find joy in the present moment. And through these things, I lived to see another day, another week, and another month. And by God’s grace, I’ll make it through today.

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.