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Psychopathology

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

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
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)

6
May

“The opposite of rape culture is nurturance culture:” A guest post by Nora Samaron

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.

you can read more from Nora at: https://norasamaran.com/ Go check it out.

 

21
Apr

Loving people: What do we all want and how does the brain factor into it? Part 1

Is there anything that all healthy humans want in life? In other words, is there anything that crosses social, economic, and cultural divides that is a desire or longing for all humanity? I ask because if we don’t understand for that which we all long, we will never grasp how people respond, develop, and break.

Human brainBefore answering, however, let’s quickly sketch the human brain using very broad strokes (like creating a picture using google maps from 30,000 feet). For the sake of perspective in our overview the brain will have three primary regions: the amygdala — also known as the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the pre-frontal cortex. The Amygdala is the part of our brain that keeps us safe. Typically it employs three responses: Fight, flight, or freeze. Additionally, it has the power to override the other areas of the brain to keep us safe. If it is fully turned on, the pre-frontal cortex is either turned off completely or barely activated. In those moments, we describe people as “acting on instinct.”

The limbic brain is a catch-all region of the brain that includes: most of our emotions, our long-term memories, and our motivational and pleasure centers. It also guides our intentional muscle movements and is involved in how we learn. It comprises most of our brain mass.

The prefrontal cortex is central to our personality, our social choices, and sophisticated planning and thinking. This is the area of the brain that helps us filter our behavior while simultaneously guiding our thoughts and actions so that the are consistent with our internal goals or drives.

While the above paragraphs contain the most general of outlines and are not comprehensive or complete, they set the scene. The main characters in the story, however, are our “right and left brains.” For they process life differently. Their interaction about how to get that which everyone wants becomes the human script.

right brain left brainThe right brain is the originator of our dreams. It is intuitive, visual, seeing the forest before seeing a singular tree. It is artistic .and non-verbal, the place of imagination, creativity, emotions, and rhythms. The right brain allows you to sing in tune or stops you from carrying a melody. The right brain is where fetuses and infants start to think learning life. It is also the place that stores trauma for not just children but also adults. It does not require words to feel or see. In many instances, words only get in the way of creative expression. It is important to note that the right brain also contains what Freud called, “the unconscious.” And finally, to recognize that it is the birthplace of shame. Shame is a critical player in this drama because, at its root, it is the feeling or sense that one is undeserving of their longings and desires; that either, they are not enough or are too much. It has devasting consequences for us physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Physically, both the right and left brain encompass the prefrontal cortex that connects them, allowing them to communicate and the limbic brain. So as you think about our left and right brains, please simultaneously remember the limbic and prefrontal cortex functions.

The left brain is analytical, logical, and verbal. It is linear, likes math, facts, and learning languages and always uses words or numerals to think. While the right brain gives birth to shame, the left brain is the uterus for our guilt. This is a primary difference between guilt and shame: Guilt always begins with words, while shame always starts with emotions to which we later give language.

The above aids us as we consider humanity’s desire(s). As a Trinitarian, I believe God created people both corporately and individually In his loving, relational image; Therefore, every human’s deepest desire is for a relationship with another. However, this desire is not innate, but rather developmental. For early on, infants have no sense of “inside/outside” or “otherness.” Those concepts are learned. There is no way infants’ minds can grasp that everything “isn’t me.” They learn that there is me and you and that we are separate and other. That is only one of the billions and trillions of things that infants learn as they grow. How they learn to be other and relate to the other will make a huge difference in how their minds develop and grow.

The child’s prefrontal cortex isn’t online at birth. It is still under construction. The connection between the right and left brain is not operational. Dr. Alan Schore argues that the development of the prefrontal cortex and children’s ability to utilize it to regulate right-brain emotions is of utmost importance developmentally. In other words, our ability to integrate our right brain with our left brain is crucial. When it does not happen early in life, feelings overwhelm the child and trauma ensues.

20th-century theorists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed attachment theory based on these observations. Subsequent discoveries in the 21st-century of mirror neurons have made this theory almost as accepted as gravity. Alan Schore, mentioned above, used attachment theory as a foundation to create the 21st century’s version of it, calling it, Affect Regulation Theory.

Schore theorizes that mothers lend their brains to their children, using their mirror neurons to do so, allowing their infants to cope with overwhelming emotions swirling in their right brains. When parents succeed in doing so, the infant learns over time how to “contain” their feelings, creating neural pathways between the right and left brains that regulate emotions. When parents fail, they must work to repair the rupture addressing the failure with the child, thus allowing the child to continue to process their feelings and grow. Clearly, all parents fail, in this task and children are left picking up the pieces, needing to find other ways to live safely with emotions that threaten to consume them. (To be continued)

18
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 12: Rehab

If you are only just now joining the story, I’ve just checked into rehab…

Keystone felt like a cloud of cotton, protecting and engulfing me. The old house became my safe place. I don’t think I’d ever felt that secure before. The hardest part about rehab was getting over myself so that I could go. Once I was there, it became the only place I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that sex addicts are at the bottom of the addiction barrel. 

Think about why this is true. If you are standing in a checkout line at your grocery and you hear, “I just celebrated ten years clean from alcohol (or any drug), you might hear people congratulate them. If you heard the same thing: “I just celebrated ten years being clean and sober as a sex addict…”  I bet you can almost see people grabbing their children to make sure they are safe There is a stigma that accompanies sexual addiction that other addictions don’t carry.
Keystone ECU's old Victorian Home

Keystone ECU’s old Victorian Home

While we did most of our work in groups, we each had an individual therapist with whom we also worked. Susan was mine. She gave me three gifts that I hang onto fifteen years after leaving.

On Saturdays, we had a household outing. We’d vote for what activity we wanted to do that week. Staff rotated working the weekends and on Susan’s weekend, I rode in the front seat with her as we drove to a theater to watch Ice Age. I prattled on, proud of the recovery work I’d done before getting to Keystone. For some reason, I recited the 3rd and 7th step prayers. She interrupted me, asking me to slow down and pay attention to what I was praying; urging me to view prayer as something more than an item I checked off my list to stay sober.

A little while later she asked me to read pgs 416-418 in the Big Book of AA each day. I ended up reading them every day for three weeks. Old timers in AA know those pages deal with “acceptance being the key” to recovery. Susan was ahead of her time.  These days, ACT or “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” is a hot commodity in the therapy world and is at the forefront of addiction work. This was 2002, and she was already working to help me accept who I was and what I did while not allowing my super ego to tread on hope and empathy.

Prodigal book coverRight next to my bed, so that I see it when I get up every morning, is a framed print of Rembrandt’s, The Return of the Prodigal Son. It hangs there because Susan asked me to buy and read a book by the same title by a man named Henri Nouwen. It became my favorite book. If you remember, from an earlier post, it was while reading this particular book that I got a letter from one of my former staff. I will never forget one of his statements he wanted me to understand, “I will not go down to the pig trough to eat with you.” The spiritual abuse that sent me reeling into rehab was boomeranging back at me; as pastors I trained, responded to me and my sin the only way they knew how — abusively.

My new friends knew the importance of this book to me. During our last session before I left, they have me back my book on which they had each written messages to me on the inside covers; everyone that is except “C.” C wrote on the cover. He circled the Father, drew a line to him and then wrote “You.” Then he circled the kneeling son, drew another line to point at him and wrote, “the church.”

As I recall this part of the story, chills are running up and down my back. I didn’t know it at the time, and I know that C didn’t, but he was a prophet when he vandalized my book. I don’t do my work solely to work with pastors, missionaries, their families, and congregations…  While that is incredibly important, I do this because the church desperately needs to see these women and men find resurrection and then experience their post-resurrection embrace.
The stairs inside the Keystone Home

The stairs inside the Keystone Home

There are two other vibrant memories from my time at Keystone. First, it took me three weeks to realize and stop engaging rehab like a chess game. I always scanned the horizon, trying to figure out the staff’s next move so I could be ready for it. Writing this makes me really sad. I was so messed up! And though sorrow never feels great, in a strange but very real way, it gives me hope. That same sadness grows when I realize lots of people see life as a game. Playing exhausted me. And it scared me. I didn’t know how scared I always was. I don’t want others to live that way. That is why I became a counselor as well as a pastor.

I had at least one other, “Aha” moment while there. During a group session, I realized I had no integrous core. I was a holograph. Until that moment, I was proud of that fact that I could be “all things to all people.” I’d learned from childhood how to be a chameleon in order to successfully navigate life in other peoples’ homes. Later the commitment to “being whatever I needed to be,” was theologically solidified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.

Chronic Shame book coverI didn’t realize that I became a holograph partly to dodge my shame. Patricia DeYoung, in her remarkable book, Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational and Neurobiological Approach (2015), talks about splitting off parts of ourselves that we find shameful. Later, she creates three ways we label those parts: The “Ideal me,” the “bad” me, and the “not me.” The “ideal me” is who we think we need to be and know we are not. The “bad me” is the “me” we believe stops us from being the  “ideal me.” The “not me” is the “me” we can’t bear to acknowledge. It is humanly impossible to be aware of “not me.” Something inside us recognizes that if we even recognized “not me’s,” existence we’d die. While growing up, nearly the only thing I knew was

While growing up, shame ruled my family and me. So it is not surprising that I “stuffed” more of myself than I held onto. This is the reason I work as a Kintsugi artist of the soul. I want to work to help join my clients’ fragmented and forgotten parts with gold so that they become beautiful to them and their world.

This isn’t the end of this story. Leaving Keystone, I had no clue that the darkest days of my life were still ahead of me. And, while acknowledging that truth, it is important to add that I am not certain I’d still be alive if it weren’t for the time I spent there. I still carry Keystone with me. And I am incredibly grateful for the gifts I was given while there.


Previous sections of the story: 1 /2/ 3 /4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11
12
Apr

A prolegomenon to my understanding of loving people 

Larry Crabb wrote,  Understanding People, that helped me create categories and lenses through which I viewed people early in my ministry life. This post is not a rejection of Crabb’s ideas. Rather, it is an addition to them.

I want to get a tattoo of a “&” somewhere yet to be determined. During one of my first “reading groups” at seminary, I realized that “and” needed to achieve a place of prominence in my thinking as I pondered life. I knew I served the God of “the and,” but didn’t know why it mattered. My philosophy crush, Dr.Esther Meek helped me understand why it’s important to posit that God is “the God of the &,” Nothing has been more life-giving, and door opening for my mind than Dr Meek’s thinking about thought. It shifted, not only my relationship with the written Word of God but the entirety of my relationship with the God who gave the Word to us. Additionally, her epistemology helps me explore souls. Dr. Meek created and then flung doors open so I could explore worlds previously unknown, in ways I never considered; enjoying a growing relational knowledge that morphs when love requires it.

epershandWhile I realize why Crabb’s publishers came up with the title for his book, the idea of “understanding people” is a hindrance to love. If I am merely trying to understand you, I am not free to love you or enter into a relationship with you. Borrowing from Martin Buber, attempting to understand you means that I am objectifying you. Though it may seem like I am straining at gnats. And, I might be doing exactly that, I need to do it because, as a pastor, I objectified people for much too long. This does not mean that I don’t want to have ways to think about people. I need categories and lenses to help me make sense of things and love people, but I will never “master” people, as the term “understanding” suggests.

I am a synthesizer of information and I’ve never synthesized more than during the past three years of study. I told my Psychopathology professor and mentor, Dr. O’Donnell Day — who holds a more detailed blueprint for the human mind in her heart than I could hope to learn in the 25 years of the ministry work life I have left —  that I didn’t understand much of what she taught from September until February in “Psychopathology.” Suddenly, though, the dime dropped, and it started to make sense. My process of “Making sense of it,” is very Meekian and it is still happening.

Dr. O'Donnell Day

Dr. O’Donnell Day

In a phone call with O’Donnell, I stumbled badly while talking about the mind’s structure and how I want to work with it. Shame rose quickly in my breast. What does my mentor think about my inability to think about this after three years of hard work? And so, I sat down with my Evernote and began jotting down thoughts about people, their minds, their brokenness, and healing. Since Evernote is with me on my laptop, and my cell phone, as I have thoughts, I keep adding them. My ideas address not only how a human mind is constructed but also where and how it shifts to embrace unhealthy and damaging patterns, and how I want to work with souls seeking care. That “Evernote” is still in process. As I take in new information, I work to synthesize it, seeing where it fits in the overall picture I am creating. I hope I never quit adding to that sketch. May I never think it complete.

One of the last classes I took at The Seattle School was entitled, “The Battle for Shame.” Dr. Steve Call assigned two books for the class: The Soul of Shame (easily digestible by anyone, whether a psychologist, a student or an interested party) and Understanding and treating chronic shame: A relational/neurobiological approach (a much headier book for practitioners and students of relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy). As I absorbed the latter book, the last two years of training started to fit. Professors who approached counseling from different perspectives, beginning from different positions all of a sudden could peacefully co-exist. Theories began to build on one another rather than competing for neural bandwidth. Though I do not think it was his intent, Dr. Call’s assigned reading was a fitting capstone to three years of grad school.

Reading through the Gospels, I am struck by Jesus use of metaphor to create pictures that people could hold as they considered such issues as The Kingdom of God, grace, faith, money, position in society, and love. As any biblical scholar worth her salt will explain, Jesus’ parables were never meant to be complete theological treatises. Because of this, it ‘s hard to build doctrine around them. We can attempt to stack his pictures, but systematizing the parables is like trying to stack Jenga blocks — eventually they all fall, and they are never stable. The parables are windows that allow Jesus’ listener or reader to catch particular views or perspectives of truth.

I want to communicate like Jesus, creating windows or parables that help people glance behind the curtain of the mind; helping us think and love God, ourselves, and our fellows in new and freeing ways. Because “What we are seeking isn’t insight, but freedom to be different than we were.” (DeYoung, 2015,159).

So in the coming weeks, I’m going to create pictures that point at ideas about how humans might be seen, loved, and changed. I’m intrigued and curious about how we might be different if we allow the Spirit to work through whatever means He chooses. Who knows, it might include a Trinitarian therapist.


For a glimpse of my theoretical orientation click here