She grew up the youngest of four children during the Great Depression. Born in late 1929, she could not have been welcomed by her dad the way she wanted or needed to be. He didn’t know how he was going to feed her. And though her Mom was a saint, the family left the comfort of the Georgia to go West where her Dad could work, first as a laborer on the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dam projects, and then later in the Vancouver Shipyards during the War.
She considered herself to be unwanted, ugly, and fat even though she was never bigger than a size 12. She was a perfectionist. Indeed, she demanded perfection, not only of herself but also the world around her. If things were perfect, it meant that she stayed under her Dad’s wrathful radar and life was easier to control.
An exceptional student she graduated from Fort Vancouver High School at the age of 16 and followed her older sister to Bob Jones University where she majored in Speech and Communications. A year after graduating, she left her fiancé to go as a missionary to Europe, a single 22-year-old radio producer. She was the first to produce a weekly Christian radio show that broadcast across the continent. She was excellent in all that she did, and she was lonely, convinced that it was a sign of her holiness.
She met her husband, a rising gospel star in 1951 in London. Their first date was King George’s funeral and 9 months later they married. By all
accounts, they had a storybook romance and she and her husband were love birds that couldn’t get enough of one another. They lived a poor but Christian-jet-set life — living by faith and traveling the globe together — ministering side by side.
After eleven years of globe-trotting married bliss, she had two boys and her life turned upside down. Nearly everything she liked about her life disappeared and was replaced by the lonely drudgery of raising two rambunctious boys by herself while her husband traveled for the sake of the gospel. She went from loving her life to despairing that she’d ever regain it. Publicly she retained the air of a Christian dignitary, but privately she was majorly depressed, wrathful and abusive.
Growing up the son of an itinerant evangelist has perks: travel & a certain level of status within the Church’s subculture. It also meant that my Dad was away much of the time when I was little and I grew up with an image of God that, if true, still scares the bejesus out of me. We were at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and, later when we were older, on Wednesday nights for AWANA. Our life was centered on our church rather than the community in which we lived. Though we only embraced the moniker, “inter-denominational,” we were truly conservative Baptists. This came more of my Mum’s demand than my Father’s, but she did go to BJU, right?
Conservative Baptists brought in a flurry of “Scare-you-straight-for-eternity” films in the 1970s, and my church showed them all. While Larry Norman sang, “I wish we’d all been ready,” people poured to the altar rail; scared that if they missed out on this promised glorious relationship with Jesus, they’d be condemned to her for all of eternity. I distinctly remember Mom saying, “We are commanded to use all means to save a few. And fear is one of the reasons people come to Jesus.”
When I was five, a singing group from Multnomah Bible College (now Multnomah University) visited my church on a Sunday evening. My five-year-old brain couldn’t handle it anymore. I knew if I didn’t do something I was going to go to hell. I prayed telling God I didn’t want to go to hell, asking him to forgive my sins and save me. I took out fire insurance. I did it alone because I knew my parents must think that I was a Christian already and I didn’t want to disappoint them.
As I grew older, the thought of eternal life continued to scare me. I was stuck in an existential crisis. I didn’t want to cease to exist and I didn’t want to live forever. It was all unfair! I couldn’t make any sense of it. It was far worse than the fear I got watching any horror film I could think of simply because I lived in this terror — I was a part of it, not a mere observer. Dad was away, I was alone with my fear, sweating, and couldn’t sleep terrified of life. It was worse than any nightmare, and there was no escape — one way or another I was going to live forever and I didn’t like that one bit. I didn’t want to go to heaven or hell, and I didn’t want to cease to exist. The very fact of my existence was my nightmare. It was in the middle of that crisis that I first walked into my mother’s bedroom alone, late at night so the isolation of my existence wouldn’t overcome me. It was the first of too many visits and unmistakable pleasure and guilt that I still can’t put together In my soul.
They say that victims of sexual abuse (particularly abuse by a parent) blame ourselves rather than our abusers. They say that we minimize their roles in our abuse…
I was always the one that walked to my Mom’s room late at night. I ran from the ennui of trying to sleep alone into my abuser’s bedroom, and I enjoyed being there with her. It was my salvation from an abyss I still can’t face. I chose abuse rather than loneliness. Anything is better than that dreadful feeling of complete abandonment, and isolation. Anything is better than the blackness that I still don’t know how to face.
I hate that part of me — the part that escaped to unmentionable and life sucking, forbidden pleasure. Cognitively, I know that is s silly stance. If, as an adult, with years of seminary and graduate studies under my belt, I still can’t emotionally handle the darkness; how could anyone expect that little boy to handle it any better?
As I grew up, the orgasms I learned at the hands of my mother became my solace from the darkness. Certainly, they weren’t all fueled by loneliness. Fury and hatred fueled them more and more as I got older. I disassociated from them completely. I was Jekyll and Hyde — Truth be told, the dissociation hides parts of me still. A part of my journey is to discover and integrate those parts, long hidden and still petrified of the dark in order that I can be whole; or, in the words of Pinocchio, “…learn to be a real boy.”
I wrote 18 chapters that detailed my fall into grace. They catalog my Grace-fall. As I continue my work, I realized that those chapters don’t exist apart from this prolog. They don’t exist apart from my drive to escape the spiritual abyss born of the union of an unhealthy theology, an absent Father; and a needy, depressed, and sometimes monstrous mother.
I’m going to go into eternity wondering why I chose to walk into abuse and into addiction. For those choices are on me. I carry the shame of them and am still not sure what to do with them. None of the words here or that I wrote earlier in those 18 chapters take any of the blame of my actions away. They may help me understand those actions better, but they don’t excuse them.
I write for myself. But I also write for the thousands of others who have and do walk in my shoes, finding escape and reprieve from their own pain in the pain of others.
There is no other way to say it: I, and maybe you, are offenders. At best we’ve objectified other people made in the image of God. At worst we’ve done untold damage to their bodies, their souls, and their psyches. Like leeches, we sucked the life from others to escape the death in our own lives. Some of us will choose to make amends for those choices for the rest of our lives.
We are guilty. But we don’t have to be shameful. As Brené Brown says so eloquently, “Shame can’t live in the light.” Here before you is my shame. May it die a grizzly death in the light as it comes out of the shadows. Maybe together we can shed some light, “Kicking at the darkness til it bleeds daylight.” I pray so.
~~Stephen G., May 2017
Grief isn’t merely about death. We grieve, or need to grieve so many things that we lose, and because grief is connected to death, we aren’t always aware that we are grieving. I needed to grieve the loss of my marriage and the opportunity to be an everyday Dad. I also needed to grieve my loss of any sense of personal identity. I only knew myself as a minister and an evangelist. I wasn’t that anymore.
There are stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the well-known stages with which most therapists work. Some, however, are choosing to work with the terms: “Shock, suffering, and recovery.”
What sometimes happens, at least what happened with me is that I mistook “depression” with “acceptance.” It is easy to do. Because the stages aren’t linear, or even cyclical but organic, we feel as if we are passing in and out of them, while they pass in and out of us. If I use the secondary grief language: I moved from “shock” to “suffering,” and then mistook, “suffering” for, “recovery.” And because neither suffering or depression are fun; I looked for ways to escape them.
About three years after I got clean, I started dating again. I tried to implement a method of dating taught by a leading sex addiction therapist in Portland. He taught us to sort and sift, wanting his clients to date 100 different people to discover what we liked and what we disliked.
While his advice on the “how” to date wasn’t bad, it was too soon for me to date. I wasn’t in a place of either “acceptance” or “recovery.” Rather, I was dating in an attempt to find acceptance and recovery, leaving the sorrow and depression behind. If I connected, I wouldn’t hurt so badly I wanted to stop hurting and using my addiction as a salve was no longer an option. Dating seemed like a fun alternative.
The internet has changed the dating playing field. I hadn’t dated in a long time — over a decade and the mechanisms for dating had changed. EHarmony seemed like a good way to “sort and sift.” I thought I’d try it. I wish I knew then what I knew now. I can’t say that I wish I made different choices, but the choices I made allowed me to be who I am today, so such a wish is pointless. I dated some pretty amazing people. And, I was not ready to date them, and so made mistakes and sabotaged the opportunity for relationship along the way.
I dated some others who were not so great. At least one of those I latched onto. Later when I discovered that she hated my kids and was advertising on Craigslist for a lesbian lover I left the dating scene altogether for awhile.
My attempts to find a relationship were not attempts at love as much as they were attempts at escape. By failing to acknowledge grief or enter into it, I ended up hurting myself and others.
However, my addict was too crafty and manipulative and fooled me, my therapist, my sponsor, my men’s group, and the women I went out with.
I had enough knowledge to answer all the questions. I articulated such things as, “I know I’m ready to date because I don’t have to,” and “Until I got to a place that I didn’t need someone to complete me, I knew I wasn’t ready to date.” I believed… and those around me believed that I was ready to date.
I believed my addict’s propaganda. And in so doing, I hurt more people. My addict fooled us all. That is the thing about our addicts. even we believe their lies, we lose the capability to differentiate between the voice of the Spirit and the voice of our addict. In the end, we have to learn to listen to whispers we don’t want to hear. We have to practice paying attention.
We have to silence the noise of the world around us or we will never be able to hear over the hubbub of technology, consumerism, technology, and the inability to listen to the stillness. Many times the volume of the silence is overwhelming, and we have to drown it out.
I wish I had an answer to how to do it differently. “Sorting and Sifting” wasn’t the problem. My addiction was still the problem. It merely shape-shifted so I wouldn’t recognize him.
If you’ve been listening, my addict is an instrument of Evil. Recovery is about learning to not only differentiate the Voice of God from the voice of our addict but hear and trust Him. The trouble is that he is nearly always unsafe, while our abuser holds the promise of comfort. We will never find that same comfort in God. For it is a false comfort. He nearly always asks us to let go and surrender, and that never feels safe. (But that is another post).
Neville Symington (1993), an incredibly influential psychoanalyst suggests that Narcissism is at the root of all pathology. Loosely, he defines narcissism as a choice to turn away from the “Life force,” and any other outside force to meet my deepest needs.
John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, and Allan Schore, the father of Modern American Attachment Theory (the 21st century’s version of attachment theory) point out that our early experiences with our primary caregiver shapes how we view the world. We all have “attachment styles:” Secure, avoidant, anxious, or disorganized. In oversimplistic terms, our attachment styles demonstrate our narcissism.
“Wait a minute,” many argue, “attachment styles aren’t chosen. They are foisted upon us by imperfect parents who are incapable of being perfectly in tune with our needs, and therefore, fall short of meeting all of our needs.” We absorb their anxiety or evasiveness. Controlling and anxious mothers produce controlling and anxious children; avoidant parents produce avoidant children. If you need to be convinced of this, look at your friends’ Facebook pages and observe the pictures of their’ infants and toddlers. You will see the expressions of the parents carved into their children’s features.
The most chilling, bone-shaking video of this reality can be seen in the still face experiment revealed on Youtube. Watching this seemingly innocuous, short video still rattles my core. Symington’s argues that attachment’s cause and effect features are, in reality, choices for self-preservation and Narcissism on the part of the preverbal infant.
While Symington is correct, he is missing a step. When there is a breakdown in attunement, the child most certainly is confused, not understanding why this all-powerful force in his life, who provides sustenance, care, and love to her, fails her. She naturally asks, “Is the problem with them or with me? ”
It is much easier to assume that the problem is in me: “I’m not good enough… I’m not beautiful enough… I’m not strong enough… I’m missing something important…I’m repulsive… I’m misunderstood… etc…” Or, “I’m too much for them… they can’t handle me… I’m too needy… I’m too scared… I’m too loud… I’m too hungry… etc…” The two refrains of “I’m not enough” and “I’m too much” come from a dark foreboding chasm of a sense of unworthiness. This sense of unworthy inadequacy is “shame.”
Shame leads to our narcissism. Our narcissism leads to all of our other pathologies and psychological issues.
In Genesis 2 God tells Adam that if he eats from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he will surely die. Sunday school taught me that the death he and Eve experienced in the Garden after they ate was a spiritual death — and it surely was that. And it was far more than that. The first thing that happened after they ate was that they discovered their nakedness. They had to hide, and so they fashioned leaves as clothes to cover and hide. This is the first record of shame. This is also the first hint we are given that from God’s perspective, shame is death.
The God of the Bible is Trinity and in a perfect relationship. Ontologically (in his being) he exists in triune relationship. Shame destroys relationships. Therefore, shame is the death that was foretold in the Garden. If it grew large enough, it would threaten the existence of God Himself. It is at the root of all sin. It is at the root of all pathology. It is Death. It is Evil.
As Curt Thompson, in his book, The Soul of Shame (2015) alludes, shame is not stagnant, but mimics life itself. It continually besets and torments us. It will destroy us if given the opportunity. It is the defiant and Satanic urge to replace God with ourselves; freeing ourselves to finally feel as if we are “perfectly enough.”
If we want to address our ongoing relational and internal issues. We must face and address our shame. It is seen most easily in our relational styles, and in our stories of hurt and betrayal. It always manifests “between,” or, in our relationships. If we don’t address it, we will never realize the fullness that God has for us. Addressing it is not as easy as you might think, however. It requires courage, perseverance, and the company of friends along the way.
Heather Plett is a gifted writer and thinker. If you don’t subscribe to her blog, I hope this guest post by her will inspire you to do so. I wrote to her asking to republish this particular piece because, her description of emotional colonization, is a description of what the church often calls discipleship. It isn’t. It is far more insipid. It is spiritual abuse.
I hope you will read her timely, and horrifically beautiful description of emotional colonization below.
During an interview for a podcast recently, I was asked, “what’s the opposite of holding space?” Though I’ve done many interviews on the subject of holding space since the original post went viral, that’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. As is typically the case for me, the right question can crack open months worth of thought, and this one did just that.
As I contemplated, I searched for a term or word that might describe the opposite of holding space, but I didn’t find one that fully satisfied me. Finally, I came up with this:
The opposite of holding space is emotional colonization.
Wikipedia describes colonization as “an ongoing process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components (people).” Colonization involves overpowering, dominating, and taking away the autonomy and sovereignty of other people. Normally we think of colonization… (for more click here)
In the last post in this series, we discussed three general areas of the brain: the Prefrontal cortex, the Amygdala, and the Limbic Brain. Explaining how the prefrontal cortex is the power plant of empathy and relational connection. Trauma and emotional memory are stored alongside our creativity and imagination in the limbic brain. We also stated that our conscious, recollective memory is merely a memory of the last time we remembered an event, rather than being a memory of the event itself. Finally, we wrote about the amygdala being our reptilian brain. It is our built-in early warning and security system. The amygdala responds to threats and danger with one of three generalized ways: fight, flight, or freeze. It is the quickest reacting portion of our brain. Its sensitivity to threats is determined by the thickness of the cortisol in which it swims. If the layer of cortisol is thick, the amygdala is more hyper-vigilant. Thick cortisol also allows more “lethal” responses to danger, simply because of practice.
The amount of cortisol surrounding the amygdala is determined by the amount of trauma or danger one has faced during life and the amount of long-term security that they feel. Finally, we noted that the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex cannot each operate optimally at the same time. If the prefrontal cortex is online and functioning at a high level, the amygdala is resting and at ease. If the amygdala is hyper vigilant, the mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the ability to feel empathy are turned down or completely off. This is the biological explanation for John’s statement that “perfect love casts our fear” (1 Jn 4).
Finally, we noted that the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex cannot each operate optimally at the same time. If the prefrontal cortex is online and functioning at a high level, the amygdala is resting and at ease. If the amygdala is hyper vigilant, the mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which determine one’s ability to feel empathy connect emotionally to another, are turned down or completely off. This is a biological explanation for John’s statement that “perfect love casts our fear” (1 Jn 4).
Conflict always hides or reveals fear. The closer you are to another the more room there is for fear, for there is much more to lose. This is why people choose not to let people get close or push people away. The walls people build or the exertion to drive others away from them and keep them at a distance are defense mechanisms. What would happen in your relationships if you were mindful of these tendencies and what laid behind them?
Typically, when a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a friend responds defensively, our first reaction is to become defensive ourselves. The amygdala creates this response. We’ve been, “triggered.” To love, we must move beyond our amygdalin response and jump start our mirror neurons. This requires something I call “psychic space.”
Let me explain that concept. I ride a motorcycle because when I ride, I feel free. I have space around me. The world seems bigger than when I am in a car. I feel nimble, quick and even fast. When I am in a small dark place, I tend to shut down. I may or may not be scared, but I am aware of the constraints surrounding me, and I do not like them, so typically I try to sleep and escape to the wide open spaces in my mind. For some, the feeling of freedom occurs when they hike, or when they look at the ocean, or the mountains, or the plains or forests. Some find it while sailing or skiing; others backpacking; still, others when they swim or run or lift weights. But that feeling of space that we create when we are in those places rather than feeling constrained and hemmed in matters and affects the way we can respond to those we want to love.
The question arises, how do people create space. Our bodies play a role in that. First, we need to activate the Vagus nerve. That is most easily done by deep breathing while focusing on our breath. Our minds need to “re-enter our bodies,” and leave the fantasies that our loved one’s defensive posture triggered. We have to return to the present moment in our physical bodies to realize that the danger is a creation of our minds. We do this by breathing in deeply through our noses, filling our diaphrams that are housed below the lungs. Only then can we begin to move away from an amygdalin response.
Once we’ve started to breathe and focused our attention on it, we may need to create more space to respond well. Because sometimes the physical space we occupy is not a safe space because of the angry, defensive presence of the one we want to love. At that point, we need to create physical space to find psychic space. There are other tools you can use when you are alone to create space. Exercise can help, stretching, and yoga are other tools that bring us into our bodies and the present moment. EFT tapping is another useful and easy tool. The purpose of creating “psychic space” is to allow a more loving entrance into conflict. If this can be done a stronger relationship will form. Arguments and conflicts are not bad, nor are they to be avoided. Avoiding the person and / or the situation is a the amygdalin response: flee. Instead, enter into those conflicts cognizant of the effect of the engagement has on both your and the other’s brain having created space so that your mirror neurons are engaged as much as possible.
When people involved in the conflict can see the conflict through the other’s eyes, it changes the nature of the conflict and allows for creative and synergetic solutions and partnerships to emerge.
One other important outcome of understanding how the brain works is that suddenly everything doesn’t have to be about me. Sometimes, something occurs that triggers a loved one sending their brain to crazy places and causing them to act in ways they typically would never choose to act. If we can understand this while not excusing their behavior, we will avoid creating new unnecessary conflict. After a traumatic event: a car crash, accident, break-in, embarrassment, or shaming; people are not able to respond well to life. We have to allow them to find space to change gears. When we choose to challenge them because we don’t like how they are engaging with us, or we only want them to feel better because their emotional state worries us, we create unnecessary conflict that needn’t have occurred.
From all of this, it is easy to see that even our physical posture in these conversations matters. When I turn away from you, your amygdala informs you that I must not like you. It can’t help it. It is part of the reptilian brain and simply reacts in set fashions. That message is sent based on the fact that I am not fully facing you. We need to physically turn toward one another. We need to be able to meet but not demand the other’s gaze. Tone affects our amygdala more than the words that are said. It hears inflection, reading the emotion and the threat behind it. Since it is nonverbal, it only evaluates visual cues, energy levels, nasal, and tonal issues when assessing the risk.
Please be aware that memory can also trigger amygdalin responses. A nasal memory can trigger memories of trauma and set off a powerful, visceral, emotional, mental, verbal, and physical reaction.
I can say things differently to my wife than I can to my daughter or my son. When engaging with my ex-wife I need to be cognizant that I am communicating on a completely different plane. People are different with varying experiences in the world. That reality means that their amygdala may act differently than you think it should. And I will say to you that you cannot judge another’s amygdalin response. Because you have no way of knowing why it developed the way that it did. To engage another cautiously does not necessitate that I am fearful and not loving. Sometimes caution is a function of love rather than fear. In those instances, caution is wisdom.
Knowing how our minds are wired does not solve all the problems. It can lead to manipulation in the wrong hands. It can also help us love more wisely and avoid creating needless conflict while walking into necessary conflict with a posture that allows synergy rather than destruction. In the end, we simply need to pay attention and be present. When we do so, we imitate Christ, who became incarnate to be present with us here.
Authors: Note: This is not what I planned on writing at this point. I had no peace in my soul and that stopped me from posting what I planned. I sat on what I wrote for over two weeks and only just now deleted it all. And for reason that is beyond me, this takes its place. This is a continuation of my story, as best asI can remember it. However, it is not a linear and chronological history. I pray that the posts I write become “our story.” By that, I mean that you recognize parts of your story as you read mine. My story is not wholly unique. Others share it — or, at least, parts of it. And countless others deny sharing it, but do anyway. Maybe we’ll meet in the middle of the narrative.
If CPR is a picture of renewed life, then coughing up water to breathe is a picture of the act of forgiveness. That sounds backward. It feels backward. I need forgiveness. I don’t need to forgive. I am the guilty party. I betrayed my Ex, my kids, my supporters, friends, family, staff, and parishioners. Yes, I did. And still I need to forgive.
Alcoholics Anonymous gets this right. Alcoholics make amends in steps eight and nine:
Step 8: Made a list of all we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made amends to those we had harmed, except when to do so would harm them or others.
Long before they get to those steps, they spend time figuring out who they need to forgive. They do that in steps four and five:
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory.
Step 5: Admitted to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Recovering alcoholics discover that the exact nature of their wrongs is holding grudges and withholding forgiveness. They correctly believe that God forgives us the way we forgive others. So, we need to learn to forgive to experience being forgiven. This is consistent with how Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of those who sin against us.”
I am amazed that the evangelical church that birthed and grew me never spent much time teaching this principle. To know forgiveness, I need to forgive.
When I did my fourth step, I wrote pages and pages of resentments. For instance, I acknowledged resenting the country of France and the French. It is almost funny that France is part of my fourth step. But France isn’t alone on the list. There are many other deep and dark resentments that I didn’t / I don’t want to admit: I have Polaroid images of my mother fingering my pre-pubescent genitalia in inappropriate ways… And, I remember my Dad leaving me with her for weeks on end while he traveled to serve God, who evidently needed him more than I did. I remember my angry, depressed mother who seemed to hate my brother and me for stopping her from enjoying the life she loved — traveling and ministering beside Dad — beating me with a belt. I remember my brother brutally beating me up every day, throwing me into walls and never getting caught. I remember the betrayal of a first love and then having to listen to her friend’s cutting explanation, “She broke up with you because you were afraid to kiss her.” I remember that same girl writing me a letter whilst I was in exile in England to get away from her, asking me if I heard Journey’s new song, “Separate Ways.” I remember the betrayal of my college fiancee and my brother, as we drove away from her house for the last time, stopping the car so I could throw up because I couldn’t handle the pain …
There are so many more vivid resentments I could name. Alongside them, I have 70 mm Dolby surround sound, 3-D film of every shameful thing I’ve ever done. I remember with too much clarity the things I did that made me want to crawl into a hole and die; the times there was no place to escape. I can remember all the times I let people down, disappointing them. I remember telling lies to appear bigger, smarter, faster, stronger, more, and more lovable than I knew myself to be. I remember getting caught in those lies and shrinking down smaller than I wa before they left my mouth. I remember shrinking as small as I could get and realizing that it wasn’t small enough.
I need to forgive the Country of France, and a bunch of others. But most of all, I needed to forgive myself. There are a few reasons for that:
1. I convinced myself that I was so bad I deserved the bad things that others did to me.
2. The feelings that accompany my shame are more powerful than feelings surrounding wrongs done to me. Though I feel both. Historically, I feel shame more viscerally.
3, As hard as I try, I can’t forgive myself. There is a spiritual power that needs to be broken down for me to forgive myself.
4. Until I forgive myself, I don’t know what it looks like to forgive others.
Forgiveness is a process. It is not a linear event that I pass through and then complete. It keeps circling back like Bill Murray’s character in GroundHog Day. As I go through life, I uncover more that I need to forgive. Like taking up my cross daily, true freedom requires daily forgiving myself and my world.
There is a downside to forgiving yourself, at least there was for me. As I began to forgive myself, I started to get pissed off. When I thought I was a P.O.S. I could excuse people for treating me badly. I didn’t deserve any better than I got. After being forgiven, I started getting angry.
Now, you have to understand, my parents didn’t allow me to feel anger. The only person who could be angry in our house was Mom. The only exception was that Dad would occasionally get mad at her to hold her in line. Mom and Dad proudly boasted that they had “beaten the anger right out of me.” I don’t remember that. I don’t remember anger. I still don’t do it well. My friends told stories about throwing things or having a tantrum, and I’d get jealous because I didn’t know how to do it. My anger came out as passive aggression. While I smiled sweetly at you, I’d stab you in the back and watch you bleed out without you ever knowing it was me who got you. Or, I’d escape into my double life because it was the safest place I could find.
But, now, after learning I could forgive myself, I was feeling it. In the furrow of my sin, people felt free to wrong me. My Bishop lied to cover his butt with his wife after my Ex retold the story to them. He said he hadn’t realized in ’97 that I’d had intercourse with prostitutes, even though I went specifically to him and others to confess that sin. He knew his lie wasn’t important. My sin superceded it. So he got away with telling it.
The leadership of the church in which I grew up decided it was wholly appropriate to not only read a list of my sins from the pulpit to shame me but to demand I write an explicit letter to my prayer and financial supporters outlining those same sins to them as well. Conveniently forgetting the rest of the New Testament, they intentionally shamed me because of their interpretation of the pastoral epistles. Later, they performed an exorcism on my brother and sister-in-law’s home because I stayed there a month. When it became clear that if there were demons in the home, they undoubtedly came from my brother, no apology was ever offered or considered. The pastor discovered he could get away with saying pretty much whatever he wanted to say to and about me, and so he did. It was reported to me that he made sure a local seminary refused me admission to their counseling program. I no longer had any grounds to disagree with or stand up to him. People in the church started and repeated fantastic rumors. A missionary friend saw me in Costco and asked if I really made my Dad move out of his house so that I could live there.
The leadership of my house church community thought they knew what they were doing, and in their arrogance demanded that everything be done their way. They chose my counselor and then didn’t like things he said and so demanded that I stop seeing him and find a Christian counselor (assuming he’d agree with them). Finally, when they disagreed with both my sponsor and new Christian therapist and discovered that I would not obey them, they asked me to leave the church altogether. So I did. I became an Episcopalian.
I knew that I needed to forgive these men and women for my sake rather than theirs. I didn’t want to, though. My hatred of them felt deserved. It felt good, and it held me captive. I was unwilling to give up my right to revenge. Judging them gave me solace in my despair. Even when you are at the bottom of the barrel it helps to have people that are easy marks for contempt.
Finally, after years (and that is not an exaggeration) of prayer for willingness to take action I asked my former Bishop to meet. We had coffee, and I told him that I forgave him. He asked me what he had done, and I said it was unimportant and bringing it to light again would probably create further damage between us. I knew I needed to let it go. I needed to give up any fantasy of revenge. I had to give up the right to judge he and his wife in the same way I had given up the right to judge myself.
However, I was still unwilling to forgive the pastor who read out my sins, blocked my admission to the seminary, didn’t stop rumors, and said hateful things about and to me that were untrue. Then one day, I walked into a pastors’ prayer meeting, and he was the only one there. As I walked across the room and sat down next to him, praying as I walked. I found that I held no ill will for him. I didn’t need to harm him. He was an old man, and God had my back. I didn’t need to judge him at all.
I wish I could tell you that once I gave up the right to revenge or to judge him –or anyone else, for that matter — all my hatred went away. It didn’t. There are still moments when I want revenge on that old pastor. I have to pray them away. There are still moments that I judge the hell out of the old bishop and his wife. That fact isn’t helped by her ongoing judgment of me and continued belief that she was correct in her assessments and actions, so I continually return to my knees and ask for willingness to forgive, and then I pray a simple prayer of surrender:
“Lord, I surrender my right to be angry with ________. Save me from being angry with them. Please give them _________ (whatever I want for myself right now). May I find in you, whatever my anger is giving me. Your will not mine be done.”
I pray that prayer until I mean it, which means I repeat it a lot. Some folk aren’t easy to love! But by praying, I take the Lord seriously, seeking the welfare of my enemies. And as I obey, the Holy Spirit slowly transforms and resurrects my heart.
“Listening” to the energy in my body as I wrote these words, I am very aware that I have more work to do. Though my resentments’ power weakens the more I pray to forgive, my resentments can still keep me awake. Their power and my powerlessness require me to rely on the Holy Spirit. He has to be actively involved because my resentments are too much for me. The good news is that he is willing to get his hands dirty with me.
Just so you know, because this post brought back a lot of emotion, I will be praying the above-cited prayer a lot in the next few days. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to join me in it — for your resentments, not mine.
The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.
The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.
But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.
A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.
Violence is nurturance turned backwards.
These things are connected, they must… (to see more click here)
Thanks Nora for such a beautiful and majestic piece.
I spent a total of 35 days at Keystone. Those days created necessary space for me; they gave me gifts I needed to not only survive, but start life over again. Those 35 days may not have saved me, but they sure helped.
I returned to Portland on a Sunday and began a new job working accident claims for a major insurance company. One of my former students helped me get in the door. It was a great opportunity with an excellent company.
When I arrived home, my ex, knowing she could get away with it, changed the locks on my house and left all my clothes in one of our cars, parked in my brother’s driveway. The illegality and immorality of her choice didn’t bother anyone. Afterall, I was the bastard who cheated on her. She was able to get away with whatever she wanted, and so, she chose to exercise that freedom, seemingly, as much as possible. It is sad how my lies led to her needing to lie. Sin works like that, though. Like our forefathers, the Pharisees, our righteousness becomes the seed of our sin. My wife’s “righteousness” in our marriage allowed her to sin against the sinner — me — without remorse or a second thought.
My brother and sister-in-law let me stay in their spare bedroom for a month. That was such a gift. I had no idea what was going on beneath the surface of their seemingly happy life together. It would show itself later after the elders of our church (the one that sent me out as a missionary and then shamed me from the pulpit in their own misguided pride) embarrasesed themselves and God by attempting to exorcise the demons from my brother’s house after I left.
Much later, after my brother’s demons came to light, my “non-practicing-atheistic” sponsor pointed out that probably there were demons in my brother’s house, and that they were his not mine. At the time, however, the elders couldn’t see anything because of their anger at me. As a result, they helped destroy any hope for my brother’s marriage; much, in the same way, the elders from my house church destoyed any hope for my marriage. My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe for me, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease, and his disease combined to destroy us.
My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons in his mind to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease and his disease combined to destroy us.
Even after I left my brother’s home, Mom and Dad were incredibly gracious to me. Mom’s Alzheimer’s had already stolen much of her mind, and though at times, she was aware of parts of my story, she never felt the humiliation my choices would have visited on her only a few years earlier.
I returned to Portland from Keystone with a solid recovery plan: See Dr. Shaw each week, get to 90 meetings in 90 days, call my sponsor every day, make a lot of program phone calls, keep doing step work, join a recovery small group, spend a bunch of time with my kids, and get more involved with St Matthew’s Church. I also found an apartment near my children and made overtures to my Ex about putting our marriage back together, but thankfully, she wanted nothing to do with me.
Two weeks after starting my new job, my employer sent me to Phoenix for two weeks of training. Then two weeks after returning to Portland they sent me to Tampa for another two weeks of training. They gave me a more-than-generous stipend, room, a shared rental car, and said, “Pass your training. Have fun. Drink a lot. Don’t go to jail” Though I had created a recovery plan with my sponsor, those weeks away sent me spinning back into my addiction; more wildly, making more insane and deadly choices. Though I was still calling my sponsor every day and telling him the truth of what was happening; though I was getting to meetings when able while travelling, I could not stop my sexual behaviors. I didn’t know how to act out efficiently; and was unaware of how the sex marketplace in unfamiliar cities worked and so I blew all my money on gorgeous, wanton women who were only there to take my money and came home to Portland broke from both trips,
The first two weeks in Phoenix broke something loose in me. I became intent on obtaining sex to feed my addiction thinking that “the next one could save me.” 1In meetings I’d hear, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Since I didn’t want to be insane, I kept trying new and kinkier stuff — more gorgeous women; more, more beautiful women; found different ways to meet, discover and seduce women.
In the In the months between April 2002 and August 2002, I acted out more than I had in the previous 36 years of life. I was in active rebellion against God, my family, the Church and women in general.
Though I am not proud, nor grateful for those months, I needed them. I needed to know the emptiness of the promise I sought. I needed to discover how vapid it was. Don’t let me fool you; I found hedonistic pleasure. It was glorious. It was mindblowing, and, it was vacuous. I found all of the pleasures I desired and cashed in on promises of mind-blowing sex with stunningly beautiful women and still didn’t find what I was looking for. 2
My sponsor didn’t know what to do with me. I went to a meeting or two every day. I called him every day. I was not proud of what I was doing. He watched the life drain from me as I lost hope. Finally, in August, my city hosted my 12-step fellowship’s international convention and he asked me to attend the 12-step seminar to work the steps rather than going to the breakout sessions that sounded interesting to me. It was there that I learned how to work the second step and it was learning to work that step that eventually set me free.
Johnson & VanVonderen defines spiritual abuse as, “Using God as a carrot or a stick to get people to behave the way you’d like them to.”* Spiritual Abuse came naturally to me. As a junior in college, Campus Crusade for Christ tried to ask me to come on staff with them, and I did not allow them to get very far. At the “Senior Panic” I attended, I did not even know it was a recruitment event, and after I discovered what it was, it was too late. I went to my interview time in shorts and a ripped tee shirt and informed the three people who were there to interview me that they were wasting everyone’s time and that I was not going to go on staff with them. When they asked, “Why not?” I said, “Because it
I said, “Because it isn’t God’s will…” knowing that the answer would leave them nowhere to go. I was right. My college staff worker came to me soon after that, and we agreed that my ongoing involvement with Crusade would be a distraction rather than a help to them or me. So I joined InterVarsity.
In those days, IV held “Bible & Life” weekend conferences. I attended my first event as a senior. Costs were kept down by meeting at a local church, and attendees stayed with families in the community. I was placed in the Bible Studies method course — and I discovered that this old guy named Tom (he must have been in his mid-40s) was at my table. I was blown away when, on Sunday, he was the speaker for the event and man, could he preach! I discovered that he was the Area Director for Central Michigan, and he was there to “vet” me. As we left the conference, he asked for a moment of my time, “Steve, I’d like to ask you to pray about the possibility of considering joining InterVarsity staff.” I tried to formulate the word, “No,” but couldn’t. How could I possibly say no to praying about the possibility of anything.
In my unknown woundedness, I latched onto Tom as a surrogate father to me. He was more of a mentor to me. I wanted to be him. Later in my career with IV, I realized I demanded way too much of him, and though we remained close; he was the preacher at my first wedding, and I named my son after him, he felt betrayed by my move back to Oregon and we drifted apart. Though I don’t know entirely why, since I fell, he became unreachable. Sadly, and to my detriment our relationship, which I valued above nearly every other was a casualty of my sin.
I began using the phrase, “I’d like you to pray about the possibility of considering…” I discovered when I “twinned” his expression with the story of how he used it with me; students could not say no to me. If I really wanted to twist the knife, I would add, “If as you pray, God says no to you. I will not argue with him. Arguing with God is not smart.” I was developing into a great salesman for Jesus. I do not know how many people I manipulated this way. To my shame, the number is too high for me to count.
It was the fall after the Church publicly vomited my sin for the world to see; as I read Johnson & VanVonderen’s book that I saw more of the fulness of my abusiveness and recognized more fully the abusive nature of the Church system I had been raised. What killed me was that I realized that so much of what I thought was good was really evil and had driven people away from Jesus.
I use Johnson and VanVonderen’s definition of Spiritual abuse. And, I am convinced that we spiritually abuse people whenever we use God, or his written word as instruments of shame. There is no shame in the Kingdom of God.
Since nothing the church tried was working, and since I couldn’t get clean and because my wife had filed papers for divorce and asked me to move out of our house, the pastors agreed I needed more than they could offer. Perhaps, the therapists and my sponsor were right. Maybe I needed rehab. I still remember my friend Tom saying to me, “Even David had to learn through the rods of the Philistines. Perhaps that is what needs to happen with you. I don’t know, Steve. I don’t know.” Finally, the Church was acknowledging that it was in over its head.As I flew back to Philadelphia for rehab at Keystone, I listened to Mozart’s Requiem on my walkman. I put it on repeat. I checked into the facility — a giant house in Chester. Across the street, all the people in drug and alcohol rehab looked down their noses at us. Sex addicts are the scum of the earth. That house in Chester was a cocoon for me, though. It was the safest place on the planet.
When I arrived, I was shown around the three-story house, given a room, and introduced to my housemates. There was a giant white board in the kitchen with all of the resident’s names. They wrote my name at the bottom. I moved up the board as people left and others arrived. Once at the top, a decision was made about when it was best to graduate. I stayed 35 days.
Sex addiction is not limited to pastors though there were two of us there during my stay. There was also a mobster (I kid you not), a nineteen-year-old kid who also struggled with heroin, a banker, and an artist. Most of us were educated and at some level had a level of success. There was a jew, a Wiccan, and assorted Christians, as well as an atheist and agnostic. There were gays and straights and even a couple of “tri-sexuals” (“We’ll try anything”). There were people in trouble with the law, with their partners, and with their workplaces. And though, while I was there everyone was male; that is not always true.
We had group and individual therapy sessions in Art therapy, psycho-dramas, family therapy (for those whose partners participated — mine did not), and talk therapy. We faced our predatory selves. It didn’t matter what we had done. Even my friend who never “acted out” with another human being, acknowledged that he was a predator — though most the world would not understand how. In the evenings, we attended 12-step 12-tradition meetings, and eventually we were all allowed to use and talk on the payphone when it was available.
Next week we’ll go further into the details…
*D. Johnson & J. VanVonderen (1991) The subtle power of spiritual abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Whenever I showed anger growing up, my parents reminded me that they had beat the tantrums out of me when I was still a toddler; effectively bringing to an end to my “emotional terrorism.” Toddlers can be emotional terrorists; holding their parents hostage through angry outbursts, crying, screaming, and demanding their way. Apparently, I was no different, and according to my parents — worse. And so, after returning to our house on Peppercomb Rd in Eastbourne, Sussex, England; after weeks of staying in other peoples’ homes where Mom and Dad felt humiliated because of the ruckus my brother, and I made; they used a belt and “beat the tantrums out of me.”
My brother and I quickly learned that it wasn’t OK to feel or demonstrate anger in our family unless you were a woman. They taught us by beating us until we didn’t feel anymore. And so I learned to stuff my anger. Later, through hard work with a counselor, I relearned how to feel it, To this day, it doesn’t come easily; my anger is constipated.
Many of my friends in recovery told stories of losing their tempers, throwing things, breaking things, yelling and screaming. I was so jealous and simultaneously felt so superior. I stuffed my anger down, denying its existence, not realizing that it always came out sideways in horrific and costly ways that didn’t resemble violence but did so much more damage.
My wife found Steven Delugach, Portland’s leading sex addiction therapist, and told me that I was going to see him. So I went. I saw him every week and joined one of his men’s small groups. He is damn good at what he does, and he knows what he is doing. His practical, no-nonsense approach rubs some people the wrong way, but his care for his clients is evident, and he gets results. His track record speaks for itself.
I was also going to at least one (and often two) sex addiction meetings each day. In these early days of recovery, I had fantasies of beating my addiction, writing a book, and hitting the national speaking circuit. I poured my heart into recovery for all the wrong reasons — but I poured it, nevertheless.
It didn’t take very long for the things that my sponsor and my therapist suggested or asked me to directly contradict things that the leadership in the church demanded of me. At one point, my Bishop’s wife and my wife demanded to see my therapist, because they thought I was lying to them about things he was teaching me. Since I wasn’t lying, they said I needed to find a new “Christian therapist” who would agree with them. (OK, the last bit was never stated. It was, however, made more than clear.)
A counselor who attended the pastors’ prayer group with me suggested that I find a therapist who trained other therapists. If I didn’t, he feared that I would walk on whoever tried to work with me. So I started seeing Dr. Richard Shaw, the head of the Marriage & Family Program at George Fox University. Ultimately, I credit him with saving my life.
It was bound to happen; I didn’t do my recovery work perfectly. Sometimes I screwed it up pretty badly, and in one instance — knowing that my actions could be considered flirtatious (and enjoying the accompanying fantasy) — I chose to be honest with one of my former students, letting her know that she had been one of the very few triggers for me at work. On one level, the conversation was wholly appropriate, and on another sinisterly manipulative. The conversation freaked out the young lady. She ended up expressing her discomfort to either my Bishop or his wife, and they, in turn, came to me and told me that I needed to talk to my wife and confess my actions.
Recovery taught me that it wasn’t safe for me to make any significant decisions. After all, my best thinking made me an addict. So, I talked to both my sponsor and my therapist. Both stated that I should not follow the church’s demands. Knowledge of my foolish conversation would unnecessarily rip scabs off my wife’s already significant wounds. When I repeatedly refused their demands to submit, my Bishop asked me to leave. I never went back.
About this time, I started cruising again. Dr. Shaw asked me to read Jeff Vanvonderen’s book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up. I devoured it, and I saw on the fly leaf that Van Vonderen, also wrote, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I was stuffing rapidly rising anger toward the church that was unaware of how unaware they were, and my wife, who was almost grateful for my sexual infidelity because it gave her the long wanted excuse she needed to divorce me.
As I read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, I was looking for weapons and ordinance to aim at church leadership for its blatant spiritual abuse of me. God had other plans because the more I read, the more I realized, “I was the abuser.” Every time I raised my gaze, the fingers I wanted to point at the church pointed at me instead. The realization that I drove people away from Jesus, and his Kingdom, just about killed me. It came close because it sent me scuttling back to my addiction — to cruising and prostitutes. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I wouldn’t find any lasting freedom for nearly another year. The day America woke up to planes flying into the Twin Towers, I was too hung over and haunted from having acted out with two prostitutes the day before to care. For the next six months, I would act out once a month, every month. Those actions led me to decide that I had to get further help.