I grew up in a firm (some might say abusive) household, one where I learned to be seen and not heard. I had an alcoholic stepmother who did not like me, but whom I eventually learned how to effect with my success and subtle manipulation while trying to be perfect to avoid her attacks. I, at a young age, chose this life over that of being with my mother whom I perceived as weak in her lovingness and gentleness. I believed a tougher environment would make me stronger and it became normal to exist in the constant dysfunction of yelling, fighting and anxiety. I simply chose not to be at home often, while learning to wear other masks to fit in elsewhere…friends, school, etc.
I became extremely self-sufficient from a very young age and this was where I found safety. As a child, I prayed to God for others, hoping my requests for everyone else might leave me in His Grace. I purposely thought having no needs or requests of my own was the way to protection, and that I might be spared more permanent suffering. I was sent to live with my uncle’s family around the age of 13. This was an effort to let my father and stepmother work on their relationship without me being a painful distraction and cause of their fighting. I became even more focused on perfection in others’ eyes, and my early symptoms of my OCD began to surface. This was similar to what I had tried earlier with prayer, a way to control my perceptions of reality and my fears. It became a mantra that ‘I did not need anything, from anybody’, nor could I trust anyone with my true feelings or anything else that made me feel insecure. I still prayed regularly but sincerely believed I was excluded from God’s protection, however I thought that if I continued to ‘negotiate’ with God and stayed perfect, then perhaps others that I loved (my Grandmother) would be sheltered. I became a martyr believing I was being selfless but also became resentful of normal kids in normal families. Luckily, I found refuge in friends and their ‘healthier’ families, where my perfection was acknowledged and reinforced.
Shame became a major experience in my life, from the double life of perfection and hatred at home, and from feeling unlovable. This anger fueled survival and further success and motivation to thrive. Sport became an outlet for me with its violence, competition and victory, all which contributed to an “edge” in me. University got me away from home and was an escape. Teammates became family. I was less in touch with God, and then outlets like bars, alcohol and excess all became tools to escape from pain, isolation and the insecure parts of myself. In this environment I learned in an immature, testosterone laden environment what it meant to be a man, how to view women and sex and how to hide sensitivity and other perceived weaknesses.
At this stage, I had my first significant relationship with a woman who would become my wife. I became better at disguising my needs and a better chameleon. My attitude was that what mattered was my deeds and what I gave in effort, not who I truly felt I was on the inside (this I hid at all costs). I was married, became a professional teacher, and just when things could have been settling down in my life, I was getting more restless, irritable and discontented. Where was the drama, hostility and chaos? This I now know was the Lie, working to convince me that I didn’t deserve these stable, good things in my life. I convinced myself that I was not happy and when my wife lost a baby, these were great reasons for me to return to shame and remorse…and eventual divorce. I should note that my turning to ‘friends’ and emotionally unavailable women to share my fears did little to calm any of these shaming feelings and made the collapse of the marriage even quicker in my guilt.
As I coped with these ‘expected’ failures, my alcoholic tendencies really surfaced and I escaped regularly, but in doing so returned to those fearful places of isolation, loneliness, unhappiness and now depression too. Visits to Psych units, treatments, and counselling all had some effect, but inevitably I returned to sadness and emptiness. I continued looking for external solutions to my feelings like a Masters degree, professional success, hiding behind my mask as a teacher, rescuing needy kids, giving more to others, all in the hope of being rescued from my despair. I found some longer periods of sobriety, worked through most of the 12 Steps, probably had some spiritual awakenings, got closer to my mother whom I had abandoned as a child, but still a sense of emptiness or hollowness were pervasive.
After hitting numerous bottoms because of unmanageability and powerlessness, I tried to rework the Steps with a little more ‘realness’, and I did find some periods of contentment but not for long. My Achilles heel was personal loss, most commonly in the form of loss of relationships with females. When another significant relationship ended and my former partner moved on with someone else, I ended up feeling like the pain of living was more than I could take. I made plans for my animals to be taken care of, went back out drinking, and scheduled a trip on which I had planned to end my life.
When I started drinking again everything began to unravel quickly. In 5 days I couldn’t attend my job and put my career at risk, totaled my vehicle by crashing into someone’s garage and was in a dark depression where I could barely leave my house except to go to the liquor store. Everything I felt I had worked toward was gone and the darkness and pain that I felt was more than I could have imagined — much worse than the pain I was experiencing in sobriety. Again, the Lie had me convinced that the alcohol would help ease my suffering, but it only made things a lot worse.
Thankfully a friend that I had made in AA reached out. When they realized I was drinking, they reached out. They offered to come by and talk, to drive me to meetings, and support me however they could. I couldn’t make it through a night sober no matter how hard I tried, so they stayed with me, sitting on the floor, while I layed on the couch, praying for me when I was restless and desperate for a drink, to get me through until the morning. I went into the treatment waiting room, hoping to be accepted. They took me into detox and I was able to get sober, by the Grace of God, one more time.
My AA friend also happened to be a member of a church called Q. I had first heard about it in my sobriety and had thought it sounded strange so I had quickly declined an offer to attend. But now in my desperation I felt willing to try anything.
I went to my first Q meeting and the one thing that really struck me was the honesty in the room. People didn’t know me, but they were sharing quite deeply, and I respected that. And I felt better after I went, so I decided to keep going back.
Shortly after they asked me to join the leadership team. I definitely didn’t feel qualified but I said I was willing to help however they needed me, so they took me in. It was good to be helping, and I think the additional time invested in the community helped deepen my friendships and the will to keep moving forward in my life. I no longer had plans to end my life and I was getting a lot out of many of the new spiritual disciplines in my life. Particularly reading the Bible, which my AA friend gave me going into detox. When I was feeling anxious I would read it and even though I wouldn’t always get it, it brought me peace. Practicing the program was different. And I joined an LTG, a life transformation group, which had really helpful questions. These helped me to grow in my faith, and honesty, and again helped me to connect in the community.
I was eventually baptized, which I understood to the best of my ability at the time, but appreciate even more today, 3 years later, as I recently heard a sermon about it. I was reminded what it isn’t about – being good enough, getting ‘saved’ etc, but that it is about coming into the Father’s Love and receiving His Grace, and a beautiful symbol of dying to MY way, and trying, one day at a time, to follow The Way. A story of the prodigal son was read and it showed that the Father didn’t even want the son to share his prepared apology, he was just so happy the son was with him again. Hearing about God’s Love like this challenges the Lie, and reminds me of the Truth.
Today in my life I am still fearful and prone to the effects of the Lie, but more willing to resist the temptation of conceding to my instincts of isolation and withdrawal. I am working on communicating boundaries to achieve safety when I feel threatened. I am trying to share more truth with others in community and have a few trusted spiritual advisors to run things by when I am confused or frustrated with decisions. I continue to be present for my spiritual community and family, and work hard to find my role in this Body, with Jesus as the head, where I can practice receiving love more openly. I recognize now, just for today, how trying to seek spiritual guidance can help me through the Lie which truly is cunning, baffling and powerful. I recognize more often now that when others set boundaries, that this does not mean I am not worthy in their eyes. I try to give and receive empathy in relationships and to recognize that practice is more important than perfection. I really work hard to not get stuck in a hole, where I am all alone trying to use my ego to protect me. Instead, I seek counsel, pray for guidance, and try to own my feelings while navigating this blip in my life. I remind myself to celebrate with others, both for their growth and for my successes too. When I find myself self-punishing and choosing to stay in pain, I recognize that this is part of the Lie at work in me, and that God can and will guide me out of this IF I seek him humbly. I try to let God’s light into more areas of my life such as relationships, work, finances, sex, death, loss and security. When others offer support I try to ‘take the rope’ and now see it as one way God can help guide me in my times of distress. I have been fortunate enough to have been guided to Love again, and truly seek more peace in this relationship, to be authentic in how I feel, and to resist the urge to try to fix things with effort and self sacrifice. It is absolutely unbelievable to me to witness this experience first hand and to able to share it with family, not only when things are great, but especially when things get hard. My main mantra now is “It’s not personal” and as much as possible to get out of myself when I am triggered and scared, and to check in to avoid that feeling of stuckness.
I have learned that maternal love is not weak. That anger, chaos and resentment do not serve as healthy motivation. That my deeds and my behaviours do not define whether I am loveable or not. God’s Grace is definitely not a negotiation requiring any reciprocity from me. Self sufficiency does not ensure safety and certainly doesn’t make me happy. Rather, community and acceptance are better paths to happiness. Today, I concentrate more on Spiritual development, seeking God’s will in my life, recognizing the Lie in its disguises in my life, Prayer and its Power, allowing God to heal my wounds from the past, staying patient around Love, learning to put words to my desires and seeking Joy and allowing myself to experience it.
I have also learned that the Lie is everywhere….
But, so is Love.