information@gracefall.org
503.464.6004

False self

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

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).

22
Aug

What is the Opposite of Holding Space — A Guest Post by Heather Plett

Heather Plett is a gifted writer and thinker. If you don’t subscribe to her blog, I heather pletthope 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)

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 
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.