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By Stephen

8
May

A Prologue to: A Fallen Pastor’s Story

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

A picture of the procession for King George’s funeral

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

21
Nov

Stephen & Paula: Traveling to the Baltics in January?

When Bruce Cockburn called us to “Kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight,” I didn’t think he meant literally; but, Paula and I have been invited to lead a Lithuanian Campus Crusade staff retreat in January on the frozen shores of the Baltic Sea outside of Vilnius. The darkness that far north at that time of year encompasses life.

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-46-08-amLithuania is nestled south of Latvia, between the Baltic Sea and the Ukraine. It is due east, across the Baltic Sea from Copenhagen. Ah, January in the Baltics, every traveler’s dream…

God has an amazing sense of humor. I had a bad experience with CRU when I was a student and so, as a young staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I intentionally walked onto campuses where CRU was working to set up competing ministries. The resentments I carried ran so deep that when I “vetted” Paula, her CRU background was one of my biggest concerns. And now… I think, God laughs at / and with me a lot, leading me to repentance on this issue

In addition to this CRU staff training conference, we are working to gather our own ACT Intl. missionaries together the following week in Germany for a week of retreat and refreshment. They’ve never gathered and are in desperate need of connection to one another and the Lord.

As I talk and listen to them each week, I am struck by the challenges they face as artists, evangelists, and pastors. Some common refrains echo in our conversations. Though they are also common to you and me, they are amplified in the souls of artists on the mission field:

  • “I feel like such a fraud…”
  • “I don’t know where I fit…”
  • “I feel so lonely…”
  • “I’m so depressed.”
  • “If my supporters knew…”
  • “I can‘t tell anyone…”

togetherI hear heartbreak, disillusionment, frustration, and anger. I hear about broken and lost relationships. I hear about kids who are in open rebellion and wives and husbands that aren’t sure they want to stay married.

Our artists already feel a little out of place. When you add in the above concerns (and so many more), life is often overwhelming. It is an honor and a privilege to walk with these women and men as they courageously step into the unknown and face their fears and their insecurities. I get to be their champion, coming alongside them as they face their inner demons.

I’m writing this because we need to raise and additional $3000 for this trip. Would you pray about the possibility of making a special year-end gift to help us help others build the kingdom in “post-Christian” Europe? It seems so strange to ask for special projects when we are struggling to raise our own funding, but obedience doesn’t always make sense. We only need thirty people to give $100 a piece and we will be there.

If you can’t give financially to help, will you pray and drop us a line of encouragement. Truth be told, we are discouraged right now. We could use some encouragement as we move forward. Thanks for walking with us.

Here is a link to an encrypted partnership page where you can safely give:

28
Sep

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, Part 18: Grief, Dating and Differentiating the Voice of God

A Fallen Pastor’s Story: Grief,  Dating, & Differentiating God from Our Addict

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.

internet-datingThe 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).

13
Sep

Shame is at the root of all my bad choices

symington book coverNeville 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.

soul-of-shameAs 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.

27
Jul

Struggling with addiction? “Acceptance is the Key”

Every 12-stepping, recovering addict knows the “how” of recovery. H.O.W. is an acronym: Honesty (step one), openness (step 2), and willingness (step 3). Only later did we discover that the starting point, step one — honesty — requires acceptance. Bill Wilson knew this when he wrote the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Chapter Five lays out the AA 12 step program. Wilson’s first paragraph in this chapter contains these words:

{Many have and will fail}, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.

This “honesty with self” is incredibly difficult. From birth we’ve turned inward to find the answers to life internally without the help of God or others. In so doing we’ve effectively made ourselves God. The acceptance that is required for healing to begin is acceptance of the fact that every human is “just like” every other human on the planet when it comes to being able to control our internal or external lives.

This lack of honesty regarding our limits and failings leads to dishonesty about our glory and beauty. We are so scared of the initial darkness that we create an inescapable matrix for ourselves. This “matrix,” or, for some of us — matrixes — become(s) our only reality. Our “false-self(s)”  is the only self(s) we know. We cease to know ourselves and yet honesty and addictionintuitively feel the reality that we are not known. That breaks our heart and we are pushed further into our addiction. These realities are why honesty and acceptance are the starting points for healing. When we embrace them (or they embrace us, a whole new landscape emerges. We begin to see ourselves in ways that seem unreal. But they are. Honesty and acceptance are the starting point for our journey to wholeness and life

The second half of the Big Book of Alcoholics is a collection of stories of women and men who have recovered from alcoholism. Perhaps none of the chapters are as famous as “Acceptance was the Key.” It is linked below and a large chunk of it is quoted as well. Consider what the doctor who wrote it had to say. Read it slowly. Where are you as you get ready to start or restart your journey?

It helped me a great deal to become convinced that alcoholism was a disease, not a moral issue; that I had been drinking as a result of a compulsion, even though I had not been aware of the compulsion at the time; and that sobriety was not a matter of willpower. The people of A.A. had something that looked much better than what I had, but I was afraid to let go of what I had in order to try something new; there was a certain sense of security in the familiar.

At last, acceptance proved to be the key to my drinking problem. After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my per- mission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am com- plaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.

For years I was sure the worst thing that could  happen to a nice guy like me would be that I would turn out to be an alcoholic. Today I find it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. This proves I don’t know what’s good for me. And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today—especially my own life, as it actually is. Before A.A. I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions.

Acceptance has been the answer to my marital problems. It’s as though A.A. had given me a new pair of glasses. Max and I have been married now for thirty- five years. Prior to our marriage, when she was a shy, scrawny adolescent, I was able to see things in her that others couldn’t necessarily see—things like beauty, charm, gaiety, a gift for being easy to talk to, a sense of humor, and many other fine qualities. It was as if I had, rather than a Midas touch which turned everything to gold, a magnifying mind that magnified whatever it focused on. Over the years as I thought about Max, her good qualities grew and grew, and we married, and all these qualities became more and more apparent to me, and we were happier and happier.

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, pps.  416-418 
13
Jul

Loving with their and your brain in mind, part 3: Does any of this matter

A very quick review:

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).

How Can this knowledge help me practically?

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 First thing

Vagus NerveThe 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.

hand is on the diaphragm and you can feel the breath filling it as your body expands

hand is on the diaphragm and you can feel the breath filling it as your body expands

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.

Other things get in the way and harm the process. Actions such as picking up a book, turning on the TV, opening the fridge, or grabbing a drink are things that people do to escape conflict that work against love. They are escapist rather than engaging actions.

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.

It’s not all about me.

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.

How we have the conversation matters

Posture matters

Posture matters

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.

Know the person you are trying to love

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.

Conclusions

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.

 

 

27
Jun

Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 17: I needed to Forgive.

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.

France

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.

Shadow preacherThe 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.prayer-on-my-knees4

Previous Posts

27
May

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 16: The Rat Pack

My Need for Real Community

In those early days of recovery, I went to a lot of meetings. I wanted to get better. I went to AA, NA, as well as my S meetings. When I started going to NA and AA, my sponsor told me, “When you go to an AA meeting if you wad up a piece of paper and throw it, you have a one in four chance of hitting someone that belongs in our fellowship. If you go to an NA meeting, don’t even bother wadding up the paper because no matter where you throw it, you will hit one of us.”

We addicts have a habit of finding escape in new places when we stop using our drug of choice. For many of us in sex recovery, food becomes our new drug of choice. Most of us were already co-morbid work addicts and food provided a modicum of relief. If you are addicted to a substance, sex and food are your next logical stops on the addiction train. That is why in AA you hear about thirteen stepping, and in NA, despite old-timers best efforts, newbies can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Sex, done properly, releases pleasure hormones that rival the high of drugs and allow recovering addicts moments of escape from the pain they can’t face.

I liked NA better, because, at that time, I could quite easily introduce myself as an addict at an NA meeting, but didn’t know how to present myself at an AA meeting. I wasn’t an alcoholic. This may seem like a small detail, but it isn’t. Many old timers at AA meetings will call addicts on the carpet as AA solely exists for people who struggle with alcohol. I did not want to offend, and I did not want to lie. I didn’t know what to say. We go to meetings to find acceptance and support and when I went to a meeting and didn’t feel wanted or like I belonged it felt counterproductive.

I ended up going to NA’s Late Night recovery because I worked swing shift and it fit into that life. Also, it met every day and was within walking distance of my house. Going to a new fellowship meant that I needed to navigate a whole new set of relationships. Given the sexually predatory nature of an NA meeting, they were not the safest place for me and did cause me to slip in my recovery later on. Now they are the last resort that I only attend if absolutely necessary.

With those relational realities. I needed relational stability. My S fellowship provided that for me. A small group of us began a friendship unlike any other. Those relationships started at the lunchtime meetings that we all frequented. After the meeting, we’d grab coffee or lunch together, talk and laugh. Though we don’t see each other nearly as often, those guys are my best friends. They know me in ways that no one else does. They know my horror. They know my fear. They know my worst secrets. During those formative years, they knew absolutely everything. They were my “Shame-busters.” If I was ashamed of anything, I talked to them about it, making sure that I looked as bad as possible. Typically, they’d laugh at me unless they knew it would hurt. When they laughed, their purpose was for me to join in the laughter. The laughter and the light murdered the shame.

Perhaps we loved each other because our shame was so deep, so inescapable, we knew that only this small group of men understood — no, it was more than that. They experienced shame with us they tasted it with us and carried it with us. And shame shared stops being shame.

Others in the larger fellowship began to refer to us as the Rat Pack. That pack of men is one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me. It wasn’t an exclusive group. Perhaps there were four of us at the center of it all, but others came and went. All were loved. And no shame was too great. Eventually, we formed a formal accountability group facilitated by my sponsor. We’d gather for 90 minutes late every Tuesday night. We’d check in and then see where God led our conversation. Sometimes we’d create a Gestalt exercise. Other times we participated in narrative therapeutic work. There was always honest, hard, and kind accountability. It was this group that changed me more than any other single entity. Members came and left. But all who came were changed as we met in that little room on Tuesday nights.

falling 2These friends taught me to fall into grace — God’s grace and their grace. It was in this community that I discovered my current ecclesiology. It was in this context that I learned what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus rather than a religious Pharisee. It was with and because of these amazing men that God outgrew the Bible, my theology, or the church. It was these guys that helped save me. I love them. They don’t need to read those words to know they are true. When we are together, we are at home and we rest. In many ways, those years were some of the best of my life.

I long for the pastors and missionaries to know that kind of communion — to have the kind of “I-Thou” moments that our rat pack shared daily. The current ecclesiological system makes that nearly impossible. May I be a part of changing that.


16
May

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, Part 15: Do meds play a role in recovery?

I finished my 2nd step about the same time that my psychologist referred me to a psychiatrist to do a medication check. After the separation and divorce, Doctors prescribed Wellbutrin for me which changes patient’s moods by affecting our dopamine and norepinephrine. Wellbutrin is a unique medication as it does not fit nicely into other anti-depressant categories. While it is a second generation antidepressant, it does not address serotonin levels and so is unique in its field. There were several good reasons my psychiatric nurse practitioner prescribed it. I was obviously overweight, and Wellbutrin is an appetite suppressant as well as an anti-depressant, and it would help alleviate some of my ADHD symptoms as well.

The issue for me, however, was Wellbutrin is a sexual stimulant. As a sex addict trying to get clean, taking a sexual stimulant is probably not a good idea. It certainly wasn’t for me. When my counselor did extra reading on my case and discovered that Wellbutrin was a sexual stimulant, he was astounded that my nurse practitioner prescribed it for me and wanted to see if a psychiatrist would approach my case differently. As a lay person in the field of medications, he thought that eliminating the extra sexual stimulation, and perhaps even adding a sexual depressant could help me.

Though it is hard to find a psychiatrist who could fit me into their schedule; once I did, he agreed with my therapist and began to search for the right medication for me. It was a long process. As nearly all psychiatric providers explain. Prescribing psychiatric meds is as much art, as it is science.

My psychiatrist wanted to find a drug in the SSRI anti-depressant category. SSRi stands for “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRi’s are “Second wave” antidepressants and are generally more effective with fewer side effects than first wave anti-depressants. They work by inhibiting serotonin levels in the brain. There is an extensive list of SSRI’s to try. They all work slightly differently to achieve the same ends, and effect different people in different ways.

First, we tried Prozac. I do not remember if it didn’t work, why I didn’t like it, or why we decided to try something else, but we did. We tried Paxil which I took for nearly 2 years. it had the desired effect of creating space and slowing my mind but slowly, its effects waned. So we pivoted to Zoloft. I hated Zoloft. It made everything fuzzy. It was as if my mind was running through knee-deep, wet cement. This surprised me because most of my recovery friends were on Zoloft. Indeed, it could have been that fact that led me to urge my psychiatrist to take me off Paxil to try it. My friends referred to Zoloft as “Vitamin Z;” and it worked for them. So, I wanted to try it too. It didn’t work for me like it did for them, though.

Celexa ended up being my long-term solution. I stayed on it for over eight years. It took a few weeks to find the right dosage, but once we found it, I noticed, just like with the Paxil before it, that I had immediate freedom from compulsions of any kind.

My shrink told me that his goal was to give me a split-second gap between my thoughts and my actions. The speed on which I moved was one of my biggest strengths. It helped me get ahead. I was afraid to lose it and gave voice to those fears to both my Psychiatrist and therapist. But they convinced me that what I relied upon on as a strength and viewed as integral to my being was also killing me. My ADHD mind didn’t provide me the psychic space I needed to overcome my compulsivity. That needed to change and I needed to surrender my quick thinking if I was going to survive.

If my wife reads this, she will be surprised because she still sees me as an extremely quick thinker. Indeed, what I feared I was going to lose wasn’t lost at all. I merely gained a measure of sanity.

Looking back, I understand now that my early traumas led to some neural disruption and/or disconnections in my prefrontal cortex where my behavioural inhibitors and filters reside. In prescribing the SSRi’s my psychiatrist attempted to help stimulate those neural connections enabling them to give me clarity about my actions and their consequences. And while medications were not the whole answer for me, they were a major piece of my sobriety pie.

My parents and church raised me to be suspicious of medications being a reasonable response to mental and emotional issues. In their world view, the need for medication somehow diminished humanity’s moral responsibility. We blamed original sin for peoples’ poor choices and felt that people needed to take full responsibility for their actions. While we were not completely anti-psychiatry; seeing the need for people struggling with psychosis, schizophrenic disorders and the like; we frowned upon antidepressants as medications that displaced the Holy Spirit’s role in discipleship, etc…

I needed to repent of that belief. And I hope that cultural reality is shifting given all that we know about the mind/ body connection. It is surprising to me how much the suspicion of psychiatry exists in AA & NA 12-step recovery rooms. Anyone that was addicted to a mood altering substance has every right to be suspicious, and yet they also need to heed what research is revealing. While neurobiology is still in its infancy; I, for one, can hardly wait to see what advances we make as we unlock more of our mind’s secrets.

Please note that I do not want to suggest in any of this that I was not and am not entirely responsible for the choices I made before seeking medical intervention. And without medical intervention, I would not have been able to enjoy long-lasting sobriety.


Previous Posts (linked)

3
May

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, Part 14: Who Do You Think God Is?

I couldn’t get sober and I couldn’t take the third step.They say, if you are having a rough time working a step, it means you didn’t take the previous one. I discovered at the International Convention for my fellowship that I was primarily struggling because though I thought I had taken the second step, I’d missed it entirely. The second step simply states,

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Sitting in meetings, you’d hear an old timer explain the second step like this: The first step states, “We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  ”

“The first step states, ‘We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.’  So, first, we came. Then, we came to. Then we came to believe.”

For many addicts, God (or a higher power) is a brand new concept and so the old timers cliche says it all: We started coming to meetings, woke up, and realized that we couldn’t recover by ourselves. When an addict gets to this point, they are ready for the second step. “If I can’t fix myself, I choose to believe that something more powerful than me can fix me.” However, for many of us religious types — especially those of us in sexual recovery — there is necessary deconstruction that needs to occur.

At my fellowship’s International Conference, as I sat in the conference room at the PDX Sheraton, the 12 step seminar leader asked us to open our spiral notebooks (that we’d all been invited to bring) so that there were two blank pages open. He asked us to reinforce the pink line that ran down the left page to create two columns on the left page. At the top of the narrow one on the left he said, “In this column, I want you to create a list of all the people that were higher powers in your life as you grew up. It will probably include your parents. It might include a brother, sister, aunt or uncle. There might be coaches, pastors, babysitters or teachers on the list. Think about all the people that had power over you and impacted you growing up. They are the higher powers in your life. Don’t be afraid to add to the list as others come to mind as you write. ” My list wasn’t very long: Mom, Dad, some pastors, some coaches, and a couple of teachers.

“The second column is harder,” he said. “At this point, you may find it easier to work across the page. For each higher power, write about times that events occurred that taught you something about what your higher power was like. Were there specific things that come to mind that they did? List both what they did and what that action taught you about what a higher power must be like.”

This column was harder for me. As you’ve already read, my Mom was an angry depressive who directed her anger at my brother and me. Meanwhile, my Dad was on the road more than he was home when I was little. I knew that there were things much more important than me to him. And so my list went on and on. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much God often resembled the people who had been my higher powers growing up.

The third column lined up with the second. Where my God always abandoned me to rescue someone else who needed saving more than me, I chose to believe something different, and I wrote it down. Where I thought God was moody, angry, and disappointed with me, I opted to believe something else, and I wrote it in the third column opposite the corresponding action from the higher powers from my youth.

In the final column, our “old timer” directed us to create either a pithy phrase (affirmation) or prayer that we could look at every day to remember who our God was. I taped one copy of my right column list to my bathroom mirror and carried the other with me in my wallet. Throughout the day, I began catching myself believing in the God of my childhood. Looking back with twenty/twenty vision, He resembled an alcoholic.

A template for working the 2nd step

A template for working the 2nd step

Without working this step, I’d never have come to understand how wonky my view of God was. If someone argued that I thought my God was an alcoholic, I’d have laughed in their face. Nothing was further from the truth. Or was it? Working the second step is the first example I cite where it’s obvious I needed to work the steps to find faith, Jesus, and life.  Following the steps led me to Him. It was after working this step that God granted me sobriety.

There is still more to come.

For more of the story try these previous posts:

Part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 /12 /13