Shame, Fear, and Starting over
It’s been a long time since I’ve done much blogging of a personal nature. There are a variety of reasons for that, but the overriding one is that I’ve had major changes and transitions in my life in the last months and years.
The last two years have featured moves, career changes, divorce, going back to college, and falling in love. They’ve also featured a profound journey of discovery for me. A journey that began, oddly enough, in a church in Jerusalem 25 years ago.
You see, the thing I’ve never written about publicly before, the thing I never acknowledged in myself, is that I let my life be ruled by addiction–addiction rooted in a profound lack of self-worth, which was complicated by posttraumatic stress and the experience of having killed during wartime. My addiction was fueled by terror of loneliness, and by fear that if I ever showed anyone who I really was, then they would walk away from me.
So here I am at 43 years old, and I’m starting over from scratch. And the reason I mark the beginning of this journey at that church in Jerusalem, is because part of my years of shame and denial and addiction were rooted in a spiritual disaster. They were rooted in me wanting to run my own life, when my own life was clearly unmanageable.
I’ve always had a lot of spiritual questions. Who is God? What does the story of Jesus really mean? Is any of it even true? The idea of two people, Adam and Eve, giving birth to an entire world, seems laughable at best. In our country it seems that literal interpretation of every word in the Bible is central to being Christian. So I run into all of these questions: do I take the words of Jesus, to love my enemy, and wave them equally with words in the Old Testament, where it says to crush your enemy? Or is there more to the story than that? Is there something I just don’t understand? Twenty-five years ago I went to Jerusalem and wandered the city for months, searching for answers. Answers that I couldn’t find.
I’ve written in this blog before that I’m not on speaking terms with God. But in the last year and a half something has changed.
You see, I never really stopped believing. I stopped trusting.
I didn’t disbelieve God’s existence, but I did believe he was heartless and cruel.
How could I have faith in a God who allowed children to be slaughtered? How can I love God when God seem to demonstrate every single day His indifference to the suffering of his creations?
So sometime around 1989–25 years ago, while I was still in Jerusalem—I announced in my journal that I was parting ways with God. I believed that my participation in the framework of religion and faith somehow limited me. I believed I needed to step out on my own, make my own decisions, and manage my own life. It wasn’t going to be about what God wanted—it was about what I wanted.
Not much more than a year after I wrote that journal entry I found myself on a battlefield in the Middle East. I killed people. And as I’ve written before, that act finally tipped me so far away from God that I believed I was beyond forgiveness.
So why am I writing about this now? That question leads back to July 30, 2010, the day my father passed away. I had some issues in my life. I’m not going to get into the reasons why my marriage was broken, except to say that in many ways I crippled any chances of it succeeding. I was incapable of sharing myself. And I had no reason to trust emotionally. I was so armored and locked away inside my own brain, that I couldn’t even feel anything when my father died, except for shock.
Not just shock. Shame.
I expect in the coming months I’m going to write quite a bit about shame, and what it all means. Because shame and fear dominate some of the worst actions of our world. Shame and fear dominated a lot of my own behavior, my own addictions, my own failures. I did things I was ashamed of, then I lied about them to cover them up, then I lied more to cover up those lies. I couldn’t be trusted. Because I had so many secrets I isolated myself from my friends, my family, and from God.
About a year ago I was caught by surprise. Astonished. Because someone I barely knew demonstrated to me that the love God has for me is just like the love a father has for his child. And I know about the love I have for my children—it’s overriding, powerful, and passionate. It’s devastating to see them struggle, and my children have struggled. It made me think of my own father, and how much I know that he loved me. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye–he died too suddenly for that. And because I was so isolated, I shared very little of my inner life with either of my parents. Because I was ashamed. You see, shame kept me away from everything and everybody I love.
When I saw it that way—I thought if my father could see how I lived, if he knew the truth about me, then he would turn his back.
I couldn’t tolerate that feeling. For the first time in my adult life I broke down in tears. Not once. Not twice. But night after night for weeks. I fell apart.
I’m grateful Andrea was there to pick me back up. For the longest time I felt like I didn’t deserve her. Deep in my heart I still feel that way. But here’s what I know:
- I know the excruciating pain of being a father and seeing my children struggle
- I know that no matter what my children did I would always welcome them back. I would do anything for them.
- What I’m coming to realize is that relationship between a parent and child is what it’s all about. It’s what life is about.
So over the next few months, maybe years, who knows? I’m going to be taking you on a tour along with my journey. I don’t know where it is going to go, but we’ll find out.