When Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22 while on the cross, he identified with every addict’s story. The same sentiment is often seen in 12 step rooms as addicts cry out,“God, why are you doing this to me?” The anguish is palpable. I know the feeling well. We are old friends. When it grabs me it is as if I’m drowning in a river of sorrow and pain.
I used to guide rafts down the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. The last rapid on one popular stretch of the river is called the “Lower Elevator.” Nearly everyone pulls over to the side to free float the “Upper Elevator” rapid just above it. Few have the nerve to free float the Lower Elevator. It is a series of six towering waves. I remember the first time I was talked into free-floating it. Off we went, feet in front as if sitting in a recliner all the way back. My friend was just ahead of me. Crashing through the last big wave, he disappeared I didn’t have time to think about it because soon the river sucked me down in its treacherous currents. What I thought was up was down. I quickly forgot everything I taught the rafters in my care.
As the river held me under, I ignored all my training and fought with all I had to escape it’s grip, swimming toward the surface, only to find the river’s bed. My lungs felt as if they were going to explode and I cursed myself for not being ready to die. I knew it was over; but then as suddenly as I the river claimed me, the raging water spit me out. As I surfaced,I >screamed for my friend and then saw him bob up a few meters away. When we reached the safety of the shore, he said, “I should have told you about that undercurrent, Every year I free float this rapid and get sucked into the undertow so I can experience the power of God.” In subsequent trips, I took up his mantle, lowering my legs to be gripped by the undercurrent, so I could physically experience the power of God and my powerlessness. During each underwater tumble, I’d panic, wondering if this time the river wouldn’t spit me back. When I eventually reached the surface, after a few-second eternity of dread, I found myself a little more awed by the omnipotence of God.
Remembering it now, while the river is certainly a metaphor for the power of God, I think the undertow is a better picture of the vice-like grip of shame and the isolation it causes. In his fantastic book, The Soul of Shame, Dr. Curt Thompson traces the impact that shame has on the mind. It is not dissimilar to my experience at the bottom of the river: When shame overwhelms us, our Prefrontal cortexes go off-line and we are not able to think clearly. We physically and spiritually “turn away” from others, isolating ourselves, causing the shame to deepen. We feel forsaken and abandoned. By family, friends and even God. We feel a little like Jesus felt on the cross. (See particularly chapters 2 & 3)
My life has been a continual struggle to ensure I would not be abandoned and left alone — that I would be good enough or desireable enough that people wouldn’t leave me.. When I reach those places of panic, I “know” that my shame is stronger than God, and I hide from Him, and everyone else.. Once isolated, I am hopelessly in the grip of the enemy and then I turn to anything which promises me freedom from the terror of not being enough and the pain of being abandoned. Isolation is no real surprise for addicts. Sexaholic’s Anonymous literature states it best:
Many of us felt inadequate, unworthy, alone and afraid. Our insides never matched what we saw on the outsides of others.… Early on, we came to feel disconnected—from parents, from peers, from ourselves…. ‘Please connect with me and make me whole!’ we cried with outstretched arms. Lusting after the “Big Fix,” we gave away our power to others…. This produced guilt, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness and pain, and we were driven ever inward, away from reality, away from love, lost inside ourselves…Our habit made true intimacy impossible. We could never know true union with another, because we were addicted to the unreal…we took from others to fill up what was lacking in ourselves…. Our habit made true intimacy impossible.We could never know real union with another because we were addicted to the unreal…. First addicts, then love cripples, we took from others to fill up what we were lacking in ourselves. Conning ourselves time and again that the next one would save us, we were really losing our lives. (pg 203, Sexaholics Anonymous)
How can I not feel lonely when once you really see me you’ll reject me? Our relationship is built on lies that I cannot stop telling if I wish you you to stay with me, Those lies create a gaping abyss in the center of my being. I am never seen. The parts of me that I need to reveal — the parts of me that in my own mind define me, must be buried ever more deeply if I want connection and yet by burying them I lose the chance for any real relationship.As a young teen I quickly memorized a lyric by the Moody Blues off their album, Long Distance Voyager, that has stayed with me for over three decades. it is from their song, ”
As a young teen I quickly memorized a lyric by the Moody Blues off their album, Long Distance Voyager, that has stayed with me for over three decades. it is from their song, “Painted/Reflective Smile:”
“Laughter is free
But it is so hard to be
A jester all the time.
And no one’s believin’
I’m the same when I’m bleedin’
And I hurt all the time deep inside”
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