Psalm 143:7-8 (ESV)
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
So there I am sitting in my therapist’s office and we are chatting. It is how every session starts.
I’ve told her many times before, “don’t let me just ramble on for an hour”.
Why would I tell her that?! That’s like giving the enemy your best battle strategy and then being surprised when they cut you off at the pass.
The reality is, being in my head is my defense mechanism, it is what helps me avoid the bad feelings, sadly, most all feelings really.
When I’m playing the intellectual, I get to look smart, maybe even impress occasionally by how cognitively aware I am of how the shadows from my childhood abuse manifest in semi-translucent beings and beckon to go a few rounds with my amygdala.
So imagine my distress and annoyance when she pulls her proverbial handbrake from the passenger seat of my story as I’m skimming the surface while describing “how my week was going so far.”
What I saw at that moment was my brambling through the baren and featureless landscape of Highway 15 east of the Mojave Desert, but somehow she just caught a glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
Crap, here we go, “uhh, what… uhhh… where did you say you wanted to stop at and explore more closely?” I ask.
It, of course, was something I said, a self-betrayal to the “it’s a good week so far” that I opened with.
“You mentioned something about how you are becoming more aware of your negative self-talk, that even when you try and do fun stuff it doesn’t seem like much fun. Can you give me an example?”
“Well”, I reply, “it’s just that it seems like I’m doing all the right stuff, that I’m doing what I should be doing in trying to be good to myself and find relief from the chronic fatigue symptoms by doing fun stuff, but somehow I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something else all the time”.
“That’s interesting” she replies.
Of course she said that; that’s what they all say, isn’t it?
“So, can you tell me what it feels like when you are doing something fun or relaxing?”
“As I said, I just feel distracted, like I’m supposed to be doing something else.”
“What else are you supposed to be doing,” she asks.
“That’s the thing, I don’t know. I’m unemployed because I’m sick and although I’m living off my 401K 20 years too early in life, I’ve got a few years of sustainability in the worst-case scenario.”
“I’ve started writing more which is rewarding and productive toward my new coaching/mentorship business that I’m trying to start up”.
“I’m eating healthier, exercise when my symptoms allow it, connect with friends from the church and recovery ministries daily”.
“I’m doing all the right stuff, so when I decide to take a break and just do something recreational I figure it’s fine, but it’s not for some reason”.
As I finish up my response, I realize I’m starting to feel something, something I didn’t give permission to come up. It’s just a mumble in a giant warehouse with the sound faintly echoing off the metal walls of my soul, but it’s there.
She pauses… dammit… that means it’s still my turn to talk.
But I don’t give in, I make her work for it.
I rarely volunteer to “go there” on my own, she’s gonna have to earn the privilege of having me put her kid through college on my 401K one week at a time.
She finally breaks the silence with the other weapon we are all defenseless against, “why do you think that is?”
“Well, I’m not sure.” I reply.
And then it hits me. This isn’t just another casual conversation where we are going to squish a cockroach that just ran across the kitchen counter after turning the light on before the first cup of coffee.
I’ve already come to know that if I don’t cognitively recognize the link to my past traumas right away, then this is a different kind of animal.
This is a damn elephant in the room.
Shit, I wasn’t ready for this. This is why I don’t like coming here.
Not that this isn’t good and necessary. It’s just that I can never properly prepare for Pandoras Box, nor can I control when “it” decides to give me (us!) a peek inside.
The reality is, I’m beginning to reluctantly accept that these elephants are the things driving my chronic fatigue syndrome and keeping me unable to live life abundantly anymore.
Of course, doesn’t that beg the question, have I ever really lived life abundantly? Or is it more likely that it has all just been a survival act?
When I was a young warrior crushing my IT Career of 30 years, I was strong enough to live WITH the elephants on my chest.
I became a master at keeping a 1/2 dozen beach balls under the surface at the same time.
I look really good on the outside, but inside I’ve always known there is a bubbling cauldron with a constant flame keeping the ugly mass above room temperature.
And apparently, now, at the age of 54, when I should be at my “no, thanks, I got this” stage of life because I’m now wise, I instead find myself losing grip on the damn beach balls.
This feels like Jonah being asked to go to Ninevah. It’s not that I think I will fail, it’s that I know God will succeed.
This therapy stuff and peeking inside the cesspool will bear fruit, but it isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it likely will be the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on.
And it’s apparently something I have been avoiding my whole life.
And I hear God’s reply to my silent plea, “why now?… because it’s time”. “Because I love you.” “Because you are ready.”
I must pause here a moment. As I just typed the words “because you are ready”, I literally got a rush of emotion and started to cry.
The reality is, I don’t feel ready, I’ve never felt ready. I’ve got over 40 years of not being ready… but I will trust you, Lord.
I had planned to go on further from this place, to share the insights I gained from that session. But honestly, with that wave of emotion that just washed over me, I’m not ready.
This is what my ministry, blog, and coaching endeavors are all about.
Helping others clear away the wreckage of their own past. And I’m sure that the insights from that therapy session will surface somewhere in the days to come.
But right now… I guess, I still just need time to sit in this.
The fear, the sadness, the loneliness, the darkness.
I think the bigger picture right now, is for me to acknowledge my lack of acceptance.
You’d think after 8 years of sobriety and being a self-professed all-in Christian and even leading Men’s Recovery Groups for many years, it shouldn’t still be this hard.
In many ways, I’m just now realizing, I’ve still been in denial.
I thought when I became a Christian that I instinctively put down all the masks and this was the real me.
But in reality, in many ways, I have just supplemented my workaholism and addictive behaviors with a religious mask.
Playing church makes me look good, makes me feel good.
But how much of it is really just more mental masturbation to help me avoid the pain that Jesus wants so desperately to heal.
I swear I’m not the one hanging on to the childhood hurts, fears, and negative beliefs. But they are there, and they are real.
These aren’t simply ghosts of a time long past that I can just quote scripture at and make disappear… “the old is gone the new has come”.
No, these are demons, and they are present and thriving in the darkness and stealing the life that God set me apart for.
I need help, I need love, I need compassion. I need acceptance. I need Jesus.
And I need others.
Those aren’t things I ever admit.
And maybe, just maybe, this is where my deeper healing will begin.
Father God, you know my heart better than me. So when I tell you I don’t feel ready, you know my honesty in that place. I sense you did it again, that even with today’s blog my desire was to teach some profound truth that I discovered which might help set other captives free, but instead, you lead me to FEEL my own prison walls, and not just describe them to others. They are cold, rough, forboding. And the bars are thick, and black and made of the same steal that surrounds my heart. I now realize it was I that erected those bars many decades ago as a little boy. They are not something that keeps me locked in as I always believed, but I’m now seeing they are in place to keep others out. I’m afraid Father of what will happen if I let people know I’m not the strong Christian guy who has it all figured out. I may say I’m the “here to help” guy, but instead, I’m the sad, fearful lonely guy whose still trying to hold up the walls of Jerico all by myself. I know the walls are meant to crumble Lord, that they must come down, and I want to trust you, so please, please God, help me trust you first, then show what it means to trust others with my heart.
Mental illness is real, Christian or not.
It doesn’t discriminate, and it’s not shameful to have it
But it can be deadly to not admit it
The first step is acceptance. And the second is honesty.
If you’ve been trying to “hold it all together” on your own, and pretending everything is better than it really is, know that you’re not alone
And if you have the courage, I’d love to know that I’m not alone either
I’m a Christian, and I battle depression, anxiety, self-acceptance and I live with a lot of fear, sadness, loneliness, and shame
And that’s OK
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.