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.

Confidential Confidence

I lacked confidence, in almost everything that I was said to be good at. I lacked confidence in my faith, lacked confidence in my abilities, and lacked confidence in my potential. Confidentially, or, maybe better said, privately, I knew that I would let everyone down.

Throughout my adult life, I have lacked the confidence that is necessary to navigate through life’s unmanageable terms. I navigated okay for many years, relying on the praise of others to get me through tough times, hard times, and good times. I reveled in the glories of being a young professional who was successful at the very beginning of his career. I reveled in success. One of the people that I have had the privilege of getting to know the past several months, an influential businessman, was telling me that ‘success can be more baffling than failure, for we think that success defines us. Not so: Failure defines us. When we fail our character shows as well as our confidence. I believe there are three types of confidence. First, there is the confidence which is born from the word of God. It is a confidence on which we can build our house and the gates of hell will not prevail. It is a confidence on which we can rely. Second, there is the confidence that we have in ourselves. It is called self confidence. Thirdly, there is the confidence that comes from others who build us up and we believe them. It is a false confidence. It is like a vapor that disappears with the slightest breeze. Like I said, I tended toward the third one. Others would be my barometer for ‘success’ for so many years. I am left to think about and wonder what might have happened had I simply been confident in the way that I was wired. Would I have had the flame of success and then the flash in the pan career? Or would I have been able to go long term?

During recovery, I think I went through some of the most difficult and stress inducing exercises that I could have encountered. I changed jobs. I was apart from my family. I changed jobs again. I made new friends and tried to patch things with old ones. I dealt with some things at my job that were stress inducing. And it was during these difficult, hard to explain times that I developed some level of confidence. I hesitate to share my confidence with you, the reader, because I know that confidence can lead to deceit of oneself. I know that if I become arrogantly confident, I am right back to the place where I was…Confidentially void of confidence. Isn’t that really arrogance at its’ finest? To believe that everything that others say about you is always true? I was arrogant in my ways and, as a human, probably will always be to some extent.

Confidence has been bred in me, the past several months. I know that it takes a track record to claim experience, but right now, in this moment, I can be confident that I have overcome some difficult things without coping in ways that are destructive to me or to others. I can go somewhere in my car and not be completely consumed with my thoughts. I can lay down at night and fear not the evening that will encapsulate me with no sleep. I have confidence.

My job is an area that I have sought identity placement from before.

I have shrugged off that idea, that my job defines me. I enjoy what I have the privilege of doing, and I enjoy the folks that I get to work with. And I’m good at it. Not because others say that I am good at it, but because I know that I am. This allows me to work gratefully and to enjoy the work that is happening around me, even when it doesn’t go ‘my way.’

Early on, separated from my family and trying to discover both who I was and what I was, one of my dear friends (whom I discuss in earlier writing) instilled in me small confidences. He would gently say things that would help me talk to myself in a way that was both gentle and forgiving. He would remind me that I needed to move forward and whatever happened in the future, stay the course. He would remind me that I was to continue to plod ahead, and let the chips fall where they may. Most of the lack of confidence that I have been plagued with in the past is simply a response to the inability to control the future and outcomes. I knew that I could not do so, and yet, I was desperate to try. I knew that my abilities were not God’s, and yet, I desperately wanted to accomplish what only God can. My motives were sometimes pure (as a human can be) and sometimes they were selfish (more often than not) but I wanted to dictate an outcome that would be one of success, accolades, and influence. What I have found is that I can only control me, within an outcome that will happen. Whatever happens to me, I get to respond to. How I respond is one of the more important thoughts that I need to process. I need to respond to those that would reject me for whatever reason with gentleness and grace.

I need to respond to those that may not have a clue what to do with me, with the same gentleness and grace. I have to develop the confidence in these responses. I am hardwired and well practiced to simply live for the glory and renown of what others think about me instead of having confidence in my own ability to make good choices, to find peace in the midst of turmoil, and to be okay with the present moment. Rewiring ones brain can be difficult, if you have practiced something for so long, so opposite of the hoped for behavior.

Are you confident? Maybe you are confident in a confidential way and that is awesome. You and I were created to work and be successful. Part of that success is failure and our response to it. Confidence is stoked when we are able to move through the valleys, celebrate the peaks, and live in the mundane of life that is in between. I know that I am growing in confidence each day and that I will never arrive. And that’s a good thing, as long as I am making progress daily. A lack of confidence was a poison to my soul, and over time, I began to wither and rot, because I wasn’t grounded in God or who I was. It’s different now. It’s still changing, still morphing, but at least it’s different.

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?”

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.

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.

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.”