rewiring the heart

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Photo cred: https://unsplash.com/@judebeck

the color purple.

There were about four families who weren’t white out of the entire southern West Virginia county where I was raised.  This was a sheltered and skewed microcosm of how the world coexisted.  With limited exposure to diversity and enveloped by prejudice, the world-view I developed in regards to race was narrow to say the least.   I was taught implicitly to develop mistrust and disdain for “those people.”

I made a vow at about ten years old to be everything opposite of my father, and that included racist comments.  So, when I turned eighteen, I married and moved out of the county as fast as I could to the nearest city.  In Bluefield, WV, the demographics were dramatically different. At this point in my life, I equated being tolerant with being nice to people of color, having work friends who were black, and of course never using the “N” word.

I thought myself a pretty evolved young man until 1997 when I took a job as a bank teller.  The drive-through of this particular bank was a detached glass box sitting alone in the far-end of the parking lot.   It didn’t take me long to befriend a beautiful African-American woman named Ellen.  We hit it off beautifully; constantly laughing, singing, or attempting to dance within the confined space of the structure.  This friendship was something I was to proud to cultivate.

On one busy Friday afternoon, I was conducting a transaction for an African-American woman.  As I finished up and sent the drawer out to her, she pointed over to Ellen, who had her back to me, helping customers on the other side.  I turned and tried to get Ellen’s attention so she could speak to the lady, but she was so busy with her transaction she didn’t hear me.  The lady in the car began to drive off a little, so I raised my voice.  “Ellen, this lady over here wants to say hello!”

Ellen, still looking down at her paperwork asked, “Which lady is it?”

My brain must have gone into some sort of over-analytical state.  In a split second, so many thoughts rushed through my head.  I needed to use a descriptive word for the lady. I had heard all of my life that the term African-American was an entitled and stupid way to describe black people.  I had never once used it.  And the other word I grew up with would definitely not be acceptable.  So, I landed on what I thought was the safest word.

“It’s the colored woman.”

My hands are sweaty as I type this, my body reliving the sinking feeling I had in my stomach just after those words left my mouth.  It was if the entire world took a gasp as everything in the drive-through went silent.  Ellen immediately dropped everything in her hand, whipped around, peering at me over her bifocals.  “COLORED?!  COLORED?!” She stood staring at me, hands on hips, her jaw dropped in shock.  “Well what color is she?  PURPLE?!”

I instantly turned red and wouldn’t make eye contact with her.  I was embarrassed.  I took the next customer hoping the issue would be dropped for now.  In my ignorance and naivety, I was just trying to use the right word.  In retrospect, why I couldn’t say something like the lady in the silver ford is beyond me.

I could see her staring at me through my periphery.  “Who raised you, anyway?” She went on to say some other comments that, very reasonably, lasted throughout the entirety of the shift.  Thankfully, we were able to talk it out a few days later and now she is a very dear friend of mine.

Ellen had an excellent point when she asked me about my upbringing. Some people, like Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, site that 95% of our current reality is being operated by the programs installed into our subconscious during the first seven years of life.  Installed programs refers to the beliefs and attitudes a child is surrounded by during those vulnerable early years when the brain is recording with intensity.  That situation showed me that there were subconscious programs running in the background of my brain about black people that weren’t in alignment with how I saw myself.

I refuse to place blame on anyone who influenced me as a child.  As an adult, it is my responsibility to take time for self-examination, expose my beliefs and hold myself accountable.  All I knew at twenty years old was that I didn’t want to be a racist, but I didn’t know how not to be.  As the years went by, I prided myself in using socially-accepted terminology and tried hard not to label, judge, stereotype; to treat everyone equally.  That was my definition at the time of being tolerant.

And then the Universe brought me the Target incident.

a target on my back.

Fast-forward twenty years to 2017.  Although I feel my worldview evolved through the years, I will admit that until I physically (and emotionally) experienced pure racism in person, I had doubts about its existence.  And when I would hear of racist acts, my response was to minimize the severity.  Outward expressions of tolerance do not overwrite internal beliefs.  

At one point during active Meth addiction, I decided to become a dealer. I took on a “business partner” named Zeek (not his real name), an African-American man who had been a former dealer with connections across the state.  That whole story could be a chapter in a novel.

One day as we drove toward Raleigh, NC, the car sputtered on the last drops of gas and we drifted into the parking lot of a convenience store.  I was beyond frustrated.  After stopping, a single cigarette rolled from under my seat.  I had been without smokes for a while, so I delighted at this unexpected gift.  However, all the lighters in the car were empty.  For the first time in my life, I decided to steal.  For over forty years, I had never stolen anything on purpose.  I walked into the store, straight to the counter, and scowled at the employee.  I kept my eye contact with her and reached up and grabbed a lighter.  I turned around and walked outside and lit up.  I had found a new high–the exhilaration of getting away with theft.  Zeek told me that that he would never have gotten away with that.  I scoffed.

I then became severely addicted to shoplifting.  My tactic was simple: I donned a nice suit and strolled through Target, filling my cart with whatever I wanted.  I would then simply walk out the front door.  Never once was I questioned and as far as I could tell, I was never given a second glance.  I was using white privilege to my advantage.  At the time I thought I was just a great thief.

I convinced Zeek to join me as I had concocted a two-man job.  He was very reluctant, arguing that he would profiled.  I assured him that this particular Target’s loss prevention team was very loose.   Here’s what happened: we were followed from the moment we entered the store, through every aisle, until we left.  We were trailed, practically on our heels, by two different employees.  I was so discombobulated that I couldn’t steal. I remember taking something off the shelf and seeing an employee moving closer to me, watching with intensity.

Zeek, typically an extremely secure individual, became meek, watching over his shoulder in fear, body slumped.  My mind was blown. And honestly, my heart was hurt.

After leaving, Zeek was relentless with “I told you so!”  He had every right.  I had never in my life felt so uneasy and criminal.  I was shaken by this, and my eyes were opened to an entirely different world.  (Note that I returned to that store and stole repeatedly following that day, so we weren’t being followed because I had been previously identified and somehow flagged.)

Since that experience, I developed a newfound appreciation for the plight of the black person in America.  My worldview was expanded.  I use the Target example every time the issue of racial profiling comes up to demonstrate its validity.  As if the validation from a white man makes it more true.  But, sadly, many times it does.

it’s not you, it’s me.

The death of George Floyd and subsequent events has reignited within me the fire of self-examination.  This process is raw, vulnerable, and uncomfortable.  I long to be exposed as I move from the head space to the heart space.  This journey has illuminated a broader scope than just the issue of me being a racist. I’m beginning to learn what I believe about everything external to me.

One of Neville Goddard’s most frequent topics is his assertion that everyone is “you pushed out.”  What this means to me is that my internal beliefs about people–and more importantly myself–drives the roles people play in my life.  This sounds very mystical to some, but I have personally experienced this phenomenon first-hand to such a high degree that I accept it as fact.

Everyone being you pushed out is a theory that your reality is a mirror reflection of your state of consciousness.  I began seeing Goddard’s theory in action while experiencing the energetic pendulum principle at my job.  Once I began altering the beliefs I have about people, they either changed or left my life.

To illustrate, let’s use African-Americans customers as an example.  I have been waiting tables for over 25 years now and everywhere I have ever worked there is a common belief that black people do not tip well and complain about their food.  Please note that I have only been a server in restaurants in the South, so that could have something to do with it.  But, if you don’t believe me, ask a server who will be honest.  

During the time I was learning to use the power of choice when it comes to feeding energetic pendulums, it was not limited to the snobby lady who sat in my section all night. Black people were also on the list.  At first it was difficult.  My mind had been running this same program of expectations about black people for so many years, that my reaction was instantaneous.  I was pretty appalled at how my mind had learned to function over the years, even after the Target incident. In my heart, I truly believed a story about people before I even met them!

Over time, I found a Universal principle at play: when I believe black people won’t tip well, they won’t tip well.  If I truly make a change in my heart space and believe that everyone is the best versions of themselves and that I was going to have a wonderful and profitable exchange with a black table, then that’s exactly what transpired.  Every time. Does this fix racism in America?  Maybe not.  But, for me, personal evolution is the first step in radical revolution.

Again, this goes beyond race for me.  During my daily self-discovery I have observed ingrained beliefs about groups of people based on weight, zip code, mannerisms, profession, etc.  It takes work to remain in awareness of your thought patterns throughout the day, but the more I practice the more enlightened about myself I have become.  I literally judge people all day long.  And the judgments I make about others will inevitably dictate their behavior.  That is the way it works.  Everyone is me pushed out.  

Catching on to this principle, I then realized that I had beliefs about individuals in my reality as well.  I found that the people in my life who were acting in ways I did or didn’t like were simply playing out roles that I believed about them.  For example, I had a belief that my daughter was a negative person.  I found myself thinking: “she is so negative.”  I would talk to my mom about her: “she is so negative.” I found in my journal where I had written about her negativity.  I had latched on to that role for her and the Universe continued to show me how lazy she was in countless ways.  So, when everyone is you pushed out, the first place to go is inside.

I have found that the only real change in my reality comes when I make changes in my own mind and ultimately my heart.  Instead of telling other people to change or wishing things were different external to me, I have found pure magic in shifting my own programming.  It all begins with a mantra for me: “Lili is such a positive person!” Then that evolves into meditation where I imagine her saying something positive to me or her friends.  Then, when I least expect it, I notice that she has said something uplifting or has perceived a situation in a positive light.  That’s when I latch on, lean into the gratitude, and something in my heart begins to shift. My belief about her evolves.

under construction.

The issue of racism is important, and I feel its demise is part of a world-wide awakening.  At least it feels like I am waking up.  Unconsciously, I have allowed my identity and my reality to be shaped by programming written by environmental factors (including media, friends, literature, culture) and centuries-old DNA coding.  To live in a world driven by external forces feels like mental hijacking.  Becoming awakened to this puts me in the driver’s seat.

I do not accept this programming as a reflection of who I AM.  I recognize that my heart could use some rewiring. I am remorseful about how I have perceived and behaved toward others–but I don’t feel guilt.  Guilt says that I have gone against my morals and that makes me a bad person.  Guilt drives my codependency to do things in hopes of being liked by someone else.  Remorse says I have gone against my morals but the intention of my heart is to rectify the situation.

As I have grown more in love with myself, I have grown more in love with everyone around me. I realize that the more energy I devote externally into what other people ARE or AREN’T doing is simply perpetuating whatever it is they ARE or AREN’T doing.  Everyone is me pushed out.  Revolution begins with and through me.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts.

how my inner child became my ally

 

babystarfish
My inner child needed to feel safe. Photo by marcosprado.co/presets-lakeshore-homepage

Impatiently, I glanced at my watch and groaned.   It was past 11:00 pm on a Tuesday night.  The place was packed to capacity, the air almost too dense to inhale.  Regardless, the energy was nothing short of electric; people were wailing, running, jumping, falling.  I looked over and noticed the intense bass beat of the live band reverberating the window panes.   Three vocalists stood center stage, belting out a repeated chorus that had gone on for at least forty-five minutes. 

 

Making his way back to the stage, he stood towering above it all: a larger-than-life African American man with a microphone.  He wiped the sweat from his face with a colorful hanker-chief that matched his necktie and took in a deep breath.  His hand raised to the vocalists who instantly paused, leaving only a soft instrumental background.  It was time to address the gathering.    

This was revival at The First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

I was twenty years old on this particular night, having been married to my first wife for two years.  Marriage for me, both times, was the quick-fix shield to hide my inner identity from the outside world.  Every day for me was a tug of war between trying to live as the man the church perceived and enduring brutal self-loathing for the desires that invaded my head. I existed in a gruesome loop of asking for God’s forgiveness, entertaining unclean thoughts about men, feeling like I wanted to die, then asking for God’s forgiveness.  It really was a living hell.

After years of this dreadful dance, I had become adept at pretending.  No one at my church would ever guess that I was facing internal turmoil.  But, the game changed when traveling Evangelists would come to town.  I realize some people doubt the validity of Christian Evangelists, but I am here to tell you that they could walk into a crowd and ascertain–and announce–the innermost sins of random people.  I had been on the receiving end of this one night, but thank God I was attending another church alone; no one I knew was present.  

So, back to the late Tuesday night.  I was crouching low in my seat hoping to blend into the crowd. The last thing I wanted was attention of any kind.  The Evangelist had signaled to the vocalists and then he raised the microphone to his face.  I stared squarely at the floor.  Please let this be his dismissal.  I was already giving the side-eye to my wife and nodding at our belongings.  There would be no congregating tonight.

The voice from the microphone roared with authority.  There’s one more here that needs a healing and I am not leaving this pulpit until he comes forward.

My stomach knotted up and I stopped breathing.  Instinctively, my shoulders slumped and I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t accidentally make eye contact with the Evangelist.  I was beginning to shake violently.  The Evangelist stepped off the stage and made his way through the crowd and I could feel him standing close to me.  I opened my eyes and was staring at a set of long black leather tassel loafers. I will never forget those shoes.

My brother! Look up!

I raised my head to find that the entire crowd had turned in anticipation toward me.  I was at the point of quivering now.  The thought of him announcing to everyone that I was attracted to men made me want to run as fast I could.  It was one of those “flight, fight, or freeze” moments.  I glanced at the back door of the sanctuary, pondering an image of me plowing over my brothers and sisters in Christ to flee the scene.  But, I was frozen.  The Evangelist slowly bent down, placed his huge hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear: You’re safe. 

I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but something in his voice allowed me to finally exhale.  He then stepped back and held the microphone to his mouth again.  God has something planned for this young man!  Looking directly into me eyes, he exclaimed DEMON SLAYER!  

With that, he waved to the vocalists, the music began to boom again and–for lack of better words–the crowd went wild.  In the midst of the controlled chaos, my dear friend, an older lady who had taken my wife and I under her wing as her own, ran to me and we embraced.  The kind of surrendered hold when nothing is said audibly but volumes are exchanged telepathically.  I never talked to her about my secret, but in that moment I knew she knew.  We were both sobbing, I buried my face into her shoulder and felt a release that had been built up over years.

This was one of many nights at church when I left feeling hopeful that my misery was over.

It wasn’t.

***

For the next twenty years, I fought relentlessly to slay my demons.  There were several problems: 1) I was misguided in regards to the true source of my demons, 2) I believed myself too weak to fend for myself, and 3) all the energy I invested in resisting them only adding to my demons’ power.  And if you’ve read any of this blog, you know that those demons morphed into a substance abuse addiction.  A vicious monster that I unconsciously perpetuated because my approach was to wield a sword as the slayer prophesied by the Evangelist.

Along the way through recovery, I was able to unpack this concept of “perpetuating by resisting” and learned to surrender to the healing.  But, there was a milestone moment for me along this journey that I would like to share here.  My hope is that my experience will help others who find themselves feeling helpless and hopeless, ready to allow the demons to take over.

Through a synchronicity brought on by my desire to heal, I discovered the work of Tsultrim Allione, specifically her book called Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict.  This led me to her corresponding meditation on YouTube and through it I was able to have an experience that transcended decades of struggling and agonizing over the war inside me.

This meditation came to me at the exact moment in time because through self-discovery I had uncovered the true identity of the demons.  For all those years, I had been slinging my sword at shadows.  The demon wasn’t my sexual preference, Meth, sex, or the “disease of addiction.”  Those elements in my life were manifestations, or shadows, of the real scary demon: codependency.  And, more specifically abandonment trauma that activated as codependent behaviors.  The transcending freedom came when I grasped the concept of Tsultrim’s teachings; instead of fighting your demons, feed them, and make them your ally.

Here’s my personal experience with the meditation.  I encourage you to go to the YouTube link above and try the meditation along with Tsultrim.  If you want to skip through the introduction (I suggest you watch the entire video), the meditation begins at about the 21:00 mark.  An important note going into this meditation is to trust what arises.  In other words, don’t second guess the images, words and feelings you experience.  Go with the first thing that comes to you.  You’ll inhibit the experience if you tell yourself, “It is only my imagination.  This isn’t real.”  This is real.

Step 1: Find the Demon

The first step was to decide which demon I wanted to work with, and of course I chose codependency.  Then, to discover where in my physical body I felt the demon.  I thought back to the last time I felt symptoms of codependency; needed validation from someone, fighting for positive attention, needing a reminder that I belong, etc.  Once I recalled the last time I felt that way, the feeling returned; a pain in the pit of my stomach.  I intensified the feeling, it was a combination of anxiety and extreme nervousness.  Then, I imagined how this feeling would look in terms of color, texture, and temperature–the image of a black, gooey hot blob in the pit of my stomach appeared.

Step 2: Personify the Demon and Ask It What It Needs

I personified the feeling by giving it arms, legs and eyes.  It became a star-fish shaped black blog with distant, blank eyes.  When I took time to notice all of its features, it became a larger version of the star-fish shape, but now the skin was a thick red rubber-like substance, it didn’t have a gender, its eyes were still lifeless.

I asked:

What do you want from me?

What do you need from me?

How will you feel when you get what you need from me?

I then stood up from my bed where I had been lying down for the meditation and faced myself.  (Keeping my eyes closed as much as possible.)

Step 3: Becoming the Demon

I took some time to become the demon, to feel what it must be like in this gooey black substance covered by thick red skin.  I looked at myself on the bed from the demon’s perspective.  What I saw was a man who desperately desired freedom.  And honestly, he looked a little weak.

I then answered the questions as the demon (note that I simply let the answers flow from me without any predetermination):

What I want from you is strength.

What I need from you is security.

When my need is met I will feel safe.

Step 4: Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally

Lying back on the bed, I imagined looking at the demon once again.  I then imagined myself dissolving into nectar that had the quality of the feeling of the need being met (that may seem difficult to conceptualize, but at the time of this meditation it made perfect sense to me).  When I imagined a nectar having the quality of safety, I became a thick golden substance similar to honey.  I fed the demon this honey until it was completely satisfied.  Once satisfied, I looked at the demon to see what remained.  What I saw was the image of myself as a baby.  I was crying and reaching up to me.  The epiphany then came:

My inner child needed to feel safe.  There must have been trauma to that baby early in my life that caused him to feel insecure.  This was no demon after all.  I then realized that each time I sought approval from a lover, teacher, friend, boss, or anything outside of me, I was attempting to soothe my inner child’s need for safety.  There was security in being accepted, in being reminded that I was loved, in belonging to someone, being needed by someone.  I wasn’t giving him the safety he needed–I didn’t have it–so we were together endlessly seeking it externally.  

Time to meet my ally.  I asked;

How will you help me?

How will you protect me?

How will I gain access to you? 

I rose from the bed and now became my ally, the pre-verbal version of myself, and answered the questions;

I will help you find self-confidence.

I will protect you by providing the internal security you need.

You can gain access to me through your heart.

I returned to the bed and imagined my ally dissolving into me.  We became one.  I rested in this awareness for a long while considering what had just occurred.  I discovered that at the core of my pain was a little baby who didn’t feel secure and that insecurity had permeated into every aspect of my life.  I instantly felt a peace flow through my body, a comfort in knowing that I didn’t have to fight any longer.  I had an ally now, and I knew exactly what he needed and what I could gain from him.  I had mistaken the frightened cry of a baby for the ferocious roar of a monster.

There has been some work since then to acclimate and integrate this healing.  The work is on-going.  I would love to talk more about that process in future blogs.  What I have found so far is an uncanny sense of self-confidence, self-trust, and a letting go of the need for external validation.  I feel safe and secure and that has replaced my need to fill that gap with drugs, sex, love, or any other temporary substitute.

And now, twenty years later, it has dawned on me what the Evangelist meant when he whispered You’re safe. He wasn’t alleviating my fears of being exposed, he was trying to feed my demon.

 

 

where wisdom is born

torchI’ve often heard that wisdom is found at the intersection of knowledge and experience.  I tend to agree with this statement and can attest that my direct life experience has illuminated the textual meaning of many words.  For instance, I spent years misusing and interchanging sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  This is the story of how my life journey taught me the meaning of these words and birthed invaluable wisdom.  

I turned the engine off after parking in dad’s driveway and stared at his half-opened front door.  This was one of many daily stops to clean up and make sure he had everything he needed.  This was also a daily ritual of bracing myself emotionally for whatever scene awaited me behind that door.  He had just arrived home in an ambulance a few days before due to angrily signing himself out of yet another hospital.  After many years of alcohol abuse, his esophagus was eaten away by cancer, but he refused any treatment.  He had been rotting away for weeks right before my eyes.  The man who I despised for most of my waking life was now dependent almost solely on my care.    

As soon as I stepped from the car, I could hear the television blaring.  He had lost most of his hearing in his 20’s while being treated for a brain tumor, and now at 41 he was practically deaf.  Walking into the living room, the scene was heart-breaking.  There was my dad, for years such a dominant and aggressive figure, now a skeleton in white briefs.  His little body almost disappeared into the recliner seated directly in front of the TV.  His eyes were wide and darting back and forth as he watched the old Western gun fight, the skin flaps from the open wound left by the emergency trach he ripped out flapped back-and-forth as he struggled to breathe.  There was a tube protruding from his stomach, resting on his thigh, leaking Ensure onto the chair.  

My stomach churned at the thought of breaking the news to him that there would be a nurse coming by in the next few days because all of this care was far beyond my capabilities.  He would not be happy about this, and even without words he had been able to express his feelings quite clearly.  I stood beside him for a while watching his chest struggle to expand and contract corresponding to the gurgling sounds coming from the hole in his throat.   He had no idea I was standing there.  I finally put my hand on his shoulder.  His head slowly turned from the TV and his eyes locked with mine in a way I had never experienced in my life.  My  body shook; I was taken off-guard.  

It was as if I was looking into a stranger’s eyes.  They were so expressive and deep and captivating and clearly trying to send a message.  He lifted his hand slowly to take mine.  As I held it, I thought how could this be the strong hand that had built our house from the ground up?  How could this be the hand I saw hit my mom, me, his brothers? This tiny, soft, frail hand that belonged to those mysterious eyes.  I held on to it with both of my own hands as if I were meeting my dad for the very first time.  I leaned in close to his face as if maybe he were going to speak.  We both had tears trailing down our faces.        

I’m not sure how long I stood there staring into his eyes.  I was trying so hard to decipher his message, almost telepathically.  There seemed to be desperation, sadness, apology, maybe some exhaustion…they expressed something beyond emotion.  Or was this me projecting into his eyes what I wanted him to say?  Was this me trying to reach closure? Was I simply dramatizing this?  Or was he asking me to put him out of his misery?  That look in his eyes will forever be vividly etched into my memory.  

I instinctively knew that there was no need to mention the nurse or to clean up. He would die that night.  The next morning my grandma and uncle traveled to check on him and found him dead in his bead; he had asphyxiated in his sleep.  

Throughout the years since that day, I stopped trying to interpret the mysterious message from his eyes.  What I decided I felt that day was sympathy–the feeling of sorrow for another’s misfortune.  To me, that emotion was something I had never felt for him before and was enough to break the walls of anger I had allowed to build up over my lifetime.  Sympathy opened a pathway to forgive him for everything that had transpired in my childhood and beyond.  It was relieving to me that I could feel pity for a man I had hated, and there was a sense of freedom in forgiveness.  In my mind, I had moved on and had the closure I needed.  

As my kids grew older and my parental skills tested, I began to see glimpses of my dad showing up in my screaming tantrums, knee-jerk physical reactions, stinging sarcasm, and manipulation.  Once I threw the TV remote and broke it against the wall which triggered memories of never having a working remote in our house growing up because dad broke them all in anger.  As I would go to my kids’ rooms to hold them and apologize after I had overreacted, flashes of my dad doing the same thing to me would flood my mind.  That’s when I experienced a newfound feeling toward my dad–empathy.  I was able to see from his perspective how he may have felt, and how easy it is to make some bad decisions and lose emotional control.  This was before I used any mind-altering substances, so as I thought about my actions I imagined how alcohol probably aided in this temporary mental hijacking.  This line of reasoning helped me embody and understand where he might have been coming from.  Empathy brought a new level of forgiveness for me.    

And I believed that was my ultimate closure.  Until last year when I had a reading from an intuitive medium.  

The medium told me that my father was “stuck” in an unknown realm (which I have come to believe is the spiritual middle world) where essentially “ghosts” exist.  He was suspended there because of the acts he had committed while alive.  I said to her that I had already forgiven him and come to peace with the past so it must be acts he committed to others.  She advised that I try to contact him, maybe sit down and have dinner with my dad in order to find what deeper meanings lie there.  He was a soul, she said, that had a generation of burden.  

Every other part of her reading was precisely correct, so I decided to follow her advice.  I had dinner with my dad.  I remembered how much he loved ribs, so for the first time in my life I bought two racks of baby backs and grilled them.  I sat down at the table with the ribs and I began carrying on a conversation with him, who I imagined in the empty chair across from me.  I went through the litany of reasons why I had forgiven him, letting him know that I was in recovery from my Meth addiction, that the family was thriving.  I forgave him again.  I left the conversation asking how I could help him and I sat in silence for a long time waiting for some sort of sign.  What came next will probably seem hard to believe.

After the dinner, I went to bed and was quickly swept into an altered state of consciousness where I had a vision.  I was standing on the banks of a river made of crystal clear water.  I received a message that this river was all the thoughts that had ever been thought and would ever be thought.  If I wanted answers, dive in.  So I did.  I swam underneath the water, the bottom of the river was made of the most beautiful and glittery crystals I had ever seen.  I noticed a door among the crystals which I opened to reveal a warm, dry room. Inside the room was a fire burning in a small fireplace and an iron kettle suspended above it, the contents bubbling.  

I approached the fire and noticed that instead of logs the flames were coming from a pile of what I perceived to be human bones.  The kettle above the fire was hot, thick blood.  (In research after the vision I found out that there is an ancient Shamanic tradition of releasing souls from a purgatory state by exhuming their bones and burning them.) Then an image appeared above the mantle of the fireplace and it was the image of my father’s eyes from the last time I had seen him.  The familiar and mysterious expression that seemed to penetrate my soul.  This time, though, I could hear words. You didn’t know my soul.  I didn’t know the damage I caused.  You didn’t know my soul.  I didn’t know.  That wasn’t me. Over and over.    

The eeriness of the words and the sight of those eyes caused chills down my spine and I rose up from my bed screaming and sobbing.  As I fell to the floor crying uncontrollably, I had some profound realizations.  

Dad was in active addiction all of my life.  I used to wonder how and why a man would ever treat his kids and family the way he treated us.  Now I know.  I had committed the same egregious acts to my own kids and family while in active Meth addiction.  My loved ones were just as abused and mistreated as I ever was, even more.  And just like that version of me didn’t reflect my soul, neither did the version of my dad that I knew reflect his soul.  I had to go through Meth addiction to finally feel the emotion I needed for complete and total reconciliation with my dad–compassion. To feel compassion, I had to suffer alongside him in the deepest way.  And I understood in that moment this healing was meant not only for me and my dad, but for the generations of men before and after us.  

My face was planted in a pool of tears as I continued to scream from joy, sadness, resolution, epiphany, victory and purging…I’m really not sure of the word to describe it.  I suffered alongside my dad and understood the final look on his face was the raw bearing of his essence transitioning out of his tired, sick body.  Those eyes were truly windows to his soul.  

I then saw a vision of me standing in a vast darkness holding a torch.  Suddenly my dad was there, but this time smiling.  I handed him the torch.  He turned and passed the torch to his dad, after which he vanished. Then my grandfather passed the torch to his dad, disappeared, and I watched the torch being passed down an infinite line of figures.  I knew from this vision that one of the reasons I experienced addiction in this lifetime was to break the generational curse of my ancestors and pave a new path of health for my own son and his descendants.  I laid face-down on the floor all night.  The whole experience was overwhelming and draining, to say the least.  I felt the weight of hundreds of years lifted from me.  I could feel the healing in my cells and a newfound confidence that my life had meaning, purpose, that my experience as a drug addict was not in vain. 

When I found myself addicted to Meth, I was asleep.  I didn’t realize my subconscious was lining this up for my benefit.  Freeing dad and healing across time and space wasn’t the only benefit I have found from that dark time.  Being awake simply means that I remain open to understanding the reason for my reality and always look for the advantage.  This practice eliminates regret, which is an emotion that stifles, hinders, and causes stalemates in my development.  The belief I now consent to is that nothing and no one in my life is left to chance, but part of an appointed journey.  I choose to stand firm within the intersection between knowledge and experience because therein lies the wisdom to move forward with intention.  

controlling the narrative.

img_1023The descent my life took after first trying Meth was as fast as it was devastating.  In two years I had lost my job, car, home, and kids.  At rock bottom, after receiving an ultimatum from my daughter, it was as if I was shaken out of a dream.  I looked around at what had become of my life as if someone else has destroyed the landscape.  I wasn’t sure how I got to that point or why I chose to turn to drugs.  I proceeded to spend hours in drug treatment combing through the remote coffers of my brain in an effort to fill in the blanks.  The answers that unfolded would become the most powerful sobriety tool I could have received.  When I began to understand my own story, healing was released and my life altered multidemensionally.

Understanding my story wasn’t simply plotting milestones across a timeline, but pinpointing pivotal moments that had written the narrative in my mind in regards to what I believed about myself. The power of this exercise lied in the realization that I had allowed other people and circumstances to write this narrative.  I came to believe what was told to me instead of developing a secure sense of my own identity.  What I believed about myself was shaped early in my life; something is wrong with me, I don’t belong, and I am not enough.  

Something is wrong with me. 

The first time I remember feeling out of place was in Kindergarten.  When we had free time to roam about the classroom, I gravitated toward the corner where the kids pretended to be a family.  There was a mini house set-up complete with plastic kitchen, small couch and a doll cradle.  When the group of kids assembled it was time to decide who was going to be mommy, daddy, and children.  One of the kids automatically assigned me as daddy and told me I had to leave for work.  The other kids couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be the daddy, but instead stay home to cook and clean.  I remember with vivid clarity a brown-haired girl saying what are you, a sissy?  This was the first time I had heard the word ‘sissy’ but certainly not the last.  Something must be wrong with me.

I don’t belong.

I was about ten years old when my dad sat me and my brother down to tell us he had planned a camping trip for the three of us.  I was excited by this because he had made it a habit to invite his brother (who happened to be my age) along to all of our outings. When I expressed my desire to make plans that included only immediate family, my dad replied that his brother was like the son he never had but he would plan something to shut me up.  The day of the camping trip came and the three of us loaded into the truck, my brother and I in the back, and took off for the river.  A few miles into the trip, my dad made an unplanned stop and picked up his brother who got into the front of the truck with him.  I stared at my dad through the back window as he turned and shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes at me.  I recall looking out of the truck as we pulled off onto the road, the wind blowing the tears out of my eyes and feeling a hurt that burned my stomach. I don’t belong.

I am not enough.

I thought that I had found my tribe when I began attending church on a regular basis with my mom.  I was beginning to receive much-needed accolades from her family and church members because I didn’t cuss or drink and took an interest in learning about the Bible.  That was until age 11 when my hormones surged and I found myself attracted to the boys in my class.  I remember one night sitting in church beside my mom listening to my Uncle, who was also the Pastor, giving a sermon on the topic of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The message?  How the sin of homosexuality would send me directly to hell and how God hated it so much that he burned cities that allowed it to the ground.  I went home after church, opened the window to my room and prayed and cried as I stared at the moon asking God to help me, to take me away.  This was a prayer I would pray many times over for years.  I am not enough. 

I could write for hours about the ways in which the narrative that I allowed to be written for me caused a relentless pursuit of acceptance and approval. From my marriages to the college degrees to continuously finding new jobs where I would be praised for my performance.  I was always trying to get others to rewrite my narrative, to validate it, to measure my worth.  And so when I discovered the escape drugs could give to me, a temporary departure from the battle of my mind, I jumped in wholeheartedly.  And the bonus was that the Meth population welcomed me as one of their own.  I became a part of a group who had similar narratives, who could relate.  This felt comfortable to me for a short period of time until my life spun out of control.

But then, as I transitioned from active addiction to building a sober life the feelings of being out of place and not being enough compounded.  I had lived for so many years believing the lies of an externally-built narrative that I didn’t know any other way of life.  Taking charge of my own narrative was scary and uncomfortable.  But through drug treatment and my support system, I found the courage to take responsibility for my story.  I have vowed to never allow no one or no thing power over what I believe about myself.  The results have been revolutionary beyond my wildest dreams.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, that confused little boy, I would wrap my arm around him and tell him that he isn’t weird, or wrong, or misplaced.  I would assure him that deep within he has all of the love and light he will ever need to be happy.  I would promise him that he has big work to do, people to touch, and love to spread all over the Universe.  I can’t go back in time, but I am eternally grateful that I can tell myself those things today and fully comprehend the implications.

Nothing is wrong with me, I do belong, and most of all, I AM ENOUGH!

      

junk drawer.

drawer
My junk drawer.

Do you have a junk drawer?  A designated space for things that maybe don’t fit anywhere else, need some work that you aren’t ready to give energy to, or just don’t need very often; out of sight, out of mind.  How about a figurative junk drawer in your mind where you store emotions or events?  Those parts of your life history that don’t quite fit into your narrative, that require hard work to process; out of sight, out of mind.  At a very young age I taught myself how to use my mental junk drawer, what I call the art of emotional compartmentalization.  I’m not sure if this is an actual term in the mental health field, but for me personally it is how I avoid processing complicated emotions or trauma.  I learned that if I suppress uncomfortable or hurtful emotions, storing them somewhere deep inside my mind to deal with later, I could put on my happy face in the present.  No one would know that I was hurting, and life would continue on as if nothing ever happened.

My earliest memory of this behavior is at about five years old.  Without the skills needed to adequately voice my concerns, I would crawl under the dining room table and bite the face of my Mickey Mouse watch until I heard it crack.  There was something about the act of damaging the watch that gave me the instant release I needed.  I  secluded myself, transferring those uncomfortable emotions to an inanimate object, then emerged from underneath the table ready to return to regularly-schedule programming.  If I hid what I truly felt, I would be viewed as a happy, well-adjusted kid.  Fast-forward two decades.  The Mickey watch had been replaced by my emotional junk drawer, the reward being the same: I hid what I truly felt to be viewed as the happy, well-adjusted man.

It was a summer day in 2006, and I had finally made it to the exit ramp.  Eyeing the interstate, I slammed my foot on the accelerator.  I could feel my eye balls pulsate with every intense beat of my heart.  Tears began streaming down my face as I screamed as loud and long as I could.  I was now going over 100 mph, barely breathing from the smothering anxiety, desperately gripping the steering wheel.  I reached over to the stereo knob, finding it hard to grasp it from the violent shaking.  I managed to turn the volume up as far as it would go, unbuckle my seat belt and scream again.  I shut my eyes knowing there was a sharp turn at the bottom of the decline, a spot I had scoped out for weeks.  Beyond the arch in the road were several large trees.  This was to be the chosen location of my death .  I had already arranged the scene in my mind of a lonely wooden cross driven into the ground to memorialize the tragic accident that took my life.

And, just like I had done many times before, I opened my eyes, let off the pedal, and lost at my own game of chicken.  By the time I would arrive at work my face would be dry, blood pressure stabilized, smile attached, and my sadness shoved back into the drawer.  Maybe one day I’ll have the balls to go through with it.

Arriving at work, I noticed an email from the HR Department: the company I worked for collaborated with a local counseling agency to provide one free therapy assessment for all employees.  I immediately picked up the phone.  At 29, I was married with two small children, recently attained a professional position and was serving in various roles in the church.  From the outside looking in, my life was a picture of the American Dream, but inside I lived a daily wretched nightmare of an existence.  Living with depression and masking it to the world is nothing short of a living hell.  This hollow emptiness and hopelessness began in the pit of my stomach and slowly spread throughout my body like a smothering black cancer. As the days grew closer to my 30th birthday, I was consumed with suicidal ideations.   My daily life felt like I was standing on the edge of a steep cliff, looking over into the vast emptiness trying to gather up enough nerve to jump; do I want to live another day? 

How do you fit thirty years of repressed hurt and shame into a one-hour session?  As soon I sat down in front of the therapist, I ripped open that junk drawer that by now was so packed it was ready to explode.  By the end of the hour, the therapist had made a call to a local mental health facility and I checked myself in that evening.  The therapist called my wife at the time to tell her what was happening.  She didn’t even know I was going to the counseling center, much less that I was depressed or dealing with hurt, shame, anger and pain of that magnitude.  I managed to compartmentalize so well that no one in the world had the slightest clue that I wanted to end my life for the betterment of my family and friends.

After two days of staying in the facility, I refused to talk to anyone or participate in group sessions.  One cannot learn how to unpack that much junk overnight.  On the third morning, I was wrapped up in my blanket when the nurse came to my room.  I will never forget this lady.  A tall, large African American woman with the sweetest and softest of voices, she took her hand on my shoulder and forced me to turn toward her.  Baby, they never gonna let you out of here if you don’t get up out of this bed and try to get better.  You’re a grown man, now act grown.  Needless to say, I rose out of bed and took the first step in a long journey toward learning how to unpack my junk drawer in a healthy way.

I am writing this today for anyone who relates to suffering in silence.  You have reached the point where your emotional junk drawer won’t even budge.  There is no where else to store trauma and you feel the gripping anxiety that stems from the fear of exploding.  You don’t have to live this way; there is freedom and a higher version of yourself waiting to be found.  I often still feel the urge to compartmentalize, but I remind myself that the life I live now having gained a sense of true identity and personal awareness pales in comparison to the living hell that almost took my life.

 

the witching hour.

File_001Recently I have found myself wide-awake at 4:00 a.m.  Many mornings I will enjoy the solitude by sitting on the couch and staring out into the dark stillness of the night.  While looking at the shadows cascading into the living room from the street light, I noticed how they danced from the headlights of a slowly passing car.  I was reminded of my life as an active Meth addict.  This is the time of the night we used to call the “Witching Hour” as all the tweakers would be at their climax of deviancy. 

One particular witching hour came to mind, a time when I had been awake for four consecutive days, and the first time I can recall feeling out of control while actively using.  Turning off my bedroom lights, I got into bed and moving figures on my walls and ceiling immediately caught my attention.  Of course, being a part of the Meth social circles, I had heard all about the “Shadow People” from other addicts which were movements and figures that one would think they saw but were the result of sleep deprivation.  I had previously experienced swift movements caught in my peripheral or what looked like small animals diving into the street while I drove at night.  These were no big deal to me and I typically laughed at myself.

This time it was different.

These shadows took on three-dimensional shapes; an elephant, oddly shaped men, a large bird, and a gigantic flower.  I was frozen on my back, sinking into my mattress as I witnessed the animation before me.  I remember wiping my eyes and closing them tightly as I attempted to make what I knew to be illusions disappear. Eventually, I succumbed to the entertainment.  I was giggling like a child as the flower bent over and touched my nose, I was talking out loud to the elephant who had sat down beside one of the human figures.  I’m not sure how long this went on; Meth can cause a minute to feel like hours. 

When I try to reflect on the rest of the night, it comes to me in pieces and not necessarily chronologically.  I recall hearing loud rustling and voices outside in the back yard, and the night took a dark turn.  As if a villain had entered the scene in a child’s movie, the friendly shadows ran in fear after hearing the sounds outside.  Suddenly they were gone, replaced by the long stoic obscurities cast from my windows.  I sat up in bed, heart racing, and stricken by fear I had never felt and have never felt since.  The sounds were coming from a group of policemen who were positioned outside my bedroom (or so I believed).

My bedroom had sliding-glass doors that led onto the patio and back yard of my condo.  Beyond the curtains over the doors, I could see the stealthy movements of men flipping, running, sneaking…they were planning an assault on me.  I was frozen except for the erratic darting of my face toward every tiny sound outside, each time gasping.  And then, I could hear them in the house.  I began to sob.  I was so overcome with fear that I was having difficulty breathing and shaking so violently I couldn’t even grip my phone.  I inched my way to the very top center of my bed and curled into a fetal position.  I cried profusely and remember screaming out each time I would hear a twig break under the pressure of their boots or the crackle of their radio or their faint conniving whispers. 

Hopeless.  Fragile. Confused.  And completely out of control.      

The grip of fright felt as if I was being slowly smothered by a python.  I lay curled up, tensed, crying uncontrollably, with my face buried between my legs hoping I could drown out the noises.  There were several instances during the night when I desperately tried to seek help.  For some reason, maybe exhaustion or dehydration, when I was finally able to control the convulsions enough to hold my phone, I couldn’t remember how to make calls or send texts. Out of sheer habit from being high and scrolling apps on my phone, I managed to log into a dating app and sought out help from other people.  But who was going to rescue someone who was currently surrounded by the police?  At some point, I recorded a message using the “Voice Memos” function on my phone.  It was a plea for help referring to how the police were connected to my friends and family, I had been followed for days, and other irrational paranoia.  In my mind, I had sent that memo out like a S.O.S. to the Universe, but in reality it went nowhere.  Some time after day break, my body finally gave in to the pull of rest my body needed and I passed out.  I frantically woke up later that day, my muscles sore to the touch from the intensity of the night.  It took my sober mind several hours to piece it all together.  I had lost my shit.    

Up until this point of my drug use, I prided myself in being one of the few users who had control over their mind.  I wasn’t like most others: face-picking, schizophrenic, or violently paranoid.  I saw myself as an educated, level-headed man who understood reality versus drug-induced mind tricks.  What I have come to understand now is that Meth has a clever way of manipulating emotionally mature people like me into the false notion that they are making the decisions.  With those who aren’t as mentally advanced, it is easy to make them hear voices, see bugs crawling on their body, or think that the neighbor is recording their every move for the FBI.  The real challenge for Meth is to intricately deceive someone like me by utilizing their confidence, will, and intelligence against themselves.

Please understand that this drug is highly clever in the way it slithers into the synapses of the brain and quickly learns where and how to attack.  This strategy is individualized for each person as it studies patterns and writes new ones.  And, now that I am reflecting on my life history, I understand that my first addiction was to control.  Control is the high that enables me to feel good, safe, and powerful. This is why Meth and I had such a natural connection. It allowed me to feel as if I had complete control. All the while, as if a gifted marionettist, it knew exactly which strings to pull inside my brain to make me dance.

After I completely lost control that night, I began to analyze my thoughts and behaviors from an outside perspective and sought to understand what was slowly happening.  My mind was being hijacked; I was a puppet.  With that understanding, then began the labored and deliberate work of leaning in and taking back my mind from a chemical (and I believe spiritual) perpetrator.  The healing from the profound cerebral damage Meth has caused is the battle of a lifetime.  It still tries to attack me, even sitting alone on my couch in the middle of the night.  The memories flood, good or bad, which can lead to triggering the craving, and then my brain easily gives in to those marionette strings, those drug-forged synapse patterns.  But each time I deny those cravings, I am forging my own path, cutting the puppet strings, and authoring my life.

Even during the witching hour, sobriety has given me a new kind of control, one that is positive and produces a light that rids my world of the shadows that seek to destroy me.

 

the moment.

Accompanying Video on YouTube

Balloons and confetti covered the stage as millions of people cheered.  With tears streaming down her face, Kelly Clarkson stepped forward to accept her place as the first American Idol.  Her original song summed up the scene best: “Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this!”  That one single moment, hearing her name called as the winner, has forever transformed her life.

Have you experienced those single snapshots in time that become vividly scribed into your memory?  That solitary experience that, no matter how many years pass, recalling it transports you there in an instant when time seemed to pause, sensed heightened, and the brain etching every finite detail.  How can one moment in time be so impactful that it changes the course of your life or alters your world view?

I experienced one of these moments as a child.  I was in the back of my dad’s pickup truck, wind blowing in my face as I stared into the passing pastures.  I had just learned our “father/son weekend” was now going to include his brother and several cases of beer.  He had turned to look back from the driver’s seat after unexpectedly stopping to pick up his brother and through the window shot a familiar nasty glance at me.   That was the moment I made the decision to keep my promises to my children and committed to make myself as opposite of him as possible.  That one moment altered the way I viewed the world, him, and how I chose to behave for years.

I could go on,  throughout my life’s timeline, pinpointing these epiphany moments.  I’ve learned that doing so helps me better understand the driving force behind my thought patterns and ultimately the resulting behaviors.  But the latest “moment” has been the most influential so far: when I made the decision to be sober.   `

It was an August day, the humidity was a thick, smothering blanket. The three of us, my kids and myself, were sweating as soon as we left my daughter’s car and began walking toward the greenway.  I had been released from jail earlier that day, and my daughter had been the only voice to answer my “collect call from a Mecklenburg County inmate”.  This had been the fourth time I found myself there in two years.  We were silent as we walked through the grass, I recall the distant sounds of a brook, birds singing, and children playing.

This was the first time I can remember feeling awkward around my own children; I hadn’t seen them in months after we were evicted from our home and I went out of state to “get my shit together.”  I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what I felt.  There was an overwhelming surge of emotion that I can only describe as a newfound release of the past and resolve for the future.  I clumsily stumbled over my words as I attempted to apologize and explain how I ended up in jail again. I hesitantly vowed to stay away from drugs because I had made that promise to them before and the words seemed hollow.

My daughter, not sure if it was the frustration of the heat or impatience with me, or a combination of all those things, abruptly stopped the awkward walk-and-talk.  I turned to see her standing in her best scolding stance: hands on her hips and head tilted, lips quivering.

“Dad.  It’s either Meth or us.  You decide.”

We all stood in silence.  My son’s eyes met mine with a dull sadness that I had not seen or maybe never noticed before that day.  He then looked down at the ground.  My daughter’s chest was heaving; surely it took a certain boldness for her to confront me in this way.

That’s the moment.  I let it go.

Mentally I finally made the choice, seeing the dire situation in a new way.  As my psyche experienced the epiphany, it manifested physically as I felt every muscle in my body seemed to melt.  That is the moment I take myself back to every time I have a craving or feel weak or faced with a temptation.  Imagery has played a major role in enabled me to stay sober for, as of this writing, over 160 days.

Was there a moment in time that made you decide to be sober?  If not, what are some factors that led you to break the hold of addiction?  I would really love to hear about it.