Freedom to Live Out Loud!

This is the sixth chapter of seven chapters in Part One of the book, “A Life Unplugged”.  At the bottom of this post, you can click on any previously indexed chapters.  Part Two begins next week and veers away from my personal testimony and gets into the teaching part of the book.

Part One, Chapter Six:  Freedom to Live Out Loud!

An opportunity arose to finally leave the pokey behind, but no one would have me. I could be released in a week or I could wait for a “bed” (that is what is comically referred to as an opening) at a rehab center.  I told my wife that I had reconnected to the Lord, but she had heard my “turnaround” stories in the past.  Before I continue, let me toss this in the mix: as someone who has been in addiction, one must realize that even if you think or even know that all is well, people in your life have heard this multiple times from you!  One of the difficult challenges after addiction or a life of general debauchery is the realization that it takes the element of time to heal many of the wounds inflicted on those you love.  You have, in their eyes, maliciously broken their trust, you have spent years tearing at one another’s hearts, and you cannot repair in one year what you have spent multiple years destroying.  One can never be impatient in this process; the healing and repairing of relationships is innately complex and challenging, but it is definitely worth the price paid to restore that trust.  As trust returns, it is magnificent to behold!

So I decided to stay in jail indefinitely until an opening in a rehab center was offered to me.  That waiting game was probably the most difficult time I had while incarcerated.  Each time my attorney said the opening would be soon, I would get my hopes up; each time I would wait and wait to no avail.  Crushing I tell you.  After another 6 weeks of hurry up and wait, the rehab representative showed up at 6am on a Monday morning.  The thrill was unbelievable; I was beside myself and could barely get my fingers to work as I rolled up my mattress and gathered my paltry array of toiletries.  All my inmate buddies pressed their sleepy faces to their little windows and shouted their parting shots, but most were just perturbed that the intercom blasted them out of their sleep.  Not much of a “going away” party; I’m sure they were tired of me pining away incessantly and ruining their one hour of poker.  Parting is such sweet sorrow!

When the officers escorted me down to the booking/release area, I saw my savior: an unassuming, matter-of-fact, nonchalant fellow that gave me a once over and completed the signature on the release form.  The clothes I had worn on that muggy summer’s morning of my arrest did not fit me.  I was more than slightly embarrassed to roll out of the changing room with my jeans unbuttoned two down on my 501’s.  They wouldn’t allow me to walk out in my orange jumpsuit, so I acquiesced to the “muffin top” fashion statement of the undersized jeans. As we exited the jail, the crisp late-winter wind took my breath.  “Wow, it’s chilly out here.”  My unassuming rescuer simply grunted and remotely unlocked his doors.  He nodded to the passenger side and quickly ducked into the car.  We had small talk and I soaked in the sights and sounds of freedom. After the chit-chat, the guy actually started to shoot straight with me.  He laid down the rules and also laid out the improbable odds that I would “make it”.  I thought this to be a strange tactic, but I would understand later exactly what he was trying to accomplish.

We arrived at a lovely country farm that was surrounded by woods, a walking trail, a large grassy field, and a view of the valley from the backyard.  I was trembling with anticipation.  I exited the car and stood under a naked canopy of maples and just took it all in; he knew I would be temporarily incapacitated until I adjusted to freedom, so he just left me alone.  “When you are ready, please report in and fill out the proper forms.  The check-in is to the right and Cindy will make it as painless as possible.”  He slipped away like a father not wanting to wake a sleeping child as he made his way to the adjacent farmhouse never even looking back.  I felt like a fish out of water.  Being locked up does that to a man; you forget how to even act or move or think.  So I flopped around on the bank of liberty under a ceiling of azure sky and brush-stroked clouds and tried to relearn how to breathe.

I had somehow convinced myself that now, seeing that I had re-recommitted myself to a life with God, I didn’t need rehab; I was only doing this to appease my wife and family critics.  What I discovered over the next 28 days revolutionized my paradigm. When my counselor asked me what I wanted to get out of this experience, I thought for a moment and responded as honestly as I could:  “I would like to build a support network in my life.  I need to learn how to depend on others so this doesn’t happen to me again.”  She was pleasantly surprised at my answer and jotted down some notes.  She sat back in her chair, assessed my authenticity, sat up after a moment or two like some ethereal notion had passed, and told me lunch was about to be served.  She walked me down to a small dining room packed with sojourners and introduced me to all 25 of them one by one.  Some were cordial and some were not; some gave me a hug and said, “Welcome brother”, some gave an obligatory handshake, and some only nodded as their gaze quickly lighted on the cornucopia of a home-cooked meal.  The place was jammed.  The chairs were so close together that it took a surgical procedure to get into a chair, and it was impossible not to bump into the person on both sides (if this were a game of Operation, we all would have lost simultaneously).  The leader at the table invited us to hold hands and say the Lord’s Prayer. That prayer was awesome!  The 26 voices bounced off of the table and walls and rose up to heaven like a chorus of angels.  I wasn’t sure which was more intoxicating: the smell of the freshly cooked meal or the interaction of clasped hands and communal prayer.  When the “amen” concluded the prayer, the table went into a frenzy.  The contrast between the sacred prayer and the chaotic clamor of plates and silverware pushed an ear-to-ear grin across my face.  This was a new thing, to smile I mean, and my counselor was conspicuously standing in the corner waiting for the moment my countenance would light up.  I didn’t quite understand at that moment why she stood by waiting for this moment, but I understood a week or so later.  For her, this was a Kodak moment; it was part of what brought her joy in this outpost of forgotten souls.

You get right down to business in rehab.  The first week, you are subject to what is referred to as “black out”, meaning, you cannot leave the grounds on any occasion.  At first I didn’t care, but every time the group returned from an AA meeting or a NA meeting they were all abuzz and full of laughter.  I soon realized that I was missing something.  The first week, while the others were going from meeting to meeting, you had assignments.  Being a lifelong student, I really enjoyed the exercises. I was now in the business of assessing myself, my past, my childhood, my experiences, and most importantly what brought me to this place in my life.  I was also required to read the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”.  To be honest with you, I never thought of myself as an alcoholic, I didn’t know what an alcoholic was, and my only impression of an alcoholic was a homeless person tucked under a bridge with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 firmly gripped in a trembling hand. I knew of “the shakes” but rarely experienced said shakes because I rarely went without.  When I was finally delivered into an adult “time-out” in the county jail, I assumed my shaking hands were a cumulative manifestation of the absence of cigarettes, pain pills, and alcohol.  I was in denial for a very long time!  I am not ashamed to admit this fact now, but even at that point in my long road back to recovery, I was still in denial.  When I started to read “Alcoholics Anonymous” I had the same reaction that reading the Bible had on me.  It felt like someone had spied on me my whole life, and released an unauthorized biography!  It seared into my soul like a laser and it shed light on places I didn’t even know existed.  It is hard to explain the momentous clarity one gets when they realize they are not so unique, not so alone, and not so crazy after all.  In that week of blackout, I had as much revelation about myself as any other time in my life.  That book was an inspired work to say the least; it was rife with Biblical principles and spiritual enlightenment.  This was another example of me not being prepared for the dropping of the hammer of truth on the anvil of my heart.  The curtain had been yanked open and there I was exposed and surprised like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding truck.

The combination of group sessions (we had what was called “large group” which included everyone in the house and “small group” that was a half-dozen or so people whom we would confide in) and AA meetings and NA meetings proved to be equally as eye-opening.  I learned to share my pain with others as they shared theirs with me; it became “holy ground” when we opened up our lives in a brutally honest way to one another. Here is another example of experiencing a Bible verse.  James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”  Dangerously few people in the world today understand the divine freedom that comes from losing all of your masks and completely surrendering to the openness of wholesale honesty.  I will touch on this later, but I have to fire this shot over the bow of shallow “churchianity”: one cannot approach honesty when judgment is in the air, and the church today with all of its assorted masks of holiness and piety could use a real dose of unadulterated “confessing of one’s sins” to one another!  The effects are outrageously beautiful.

When I heard my story in another person’s story, a thread was sewn into our souls that joined us in a way that, if not experienced, absolutely cannot be defiled by the confines of words!  I had joined the human race:  the messy, awkward, painful, sloppy, sublime, imperfect, lovely human race.  To cry together, to laugh together, to decompress together, to heal together was an experience that changed me in a special way; and I confess that to this day, it is the price of admission I gracefully force upon everyone who wants to grow close to me.  I learned how to “live out loud” and enjoyed the freedom to be imperfect. I began to fully comprehend that life was a group sport, and above all, that Christianity was designed in this manner for a reason.  Let’s be honest; you can’t really love someone that you don’t know.  You can’t really help someone heal and grow spiritually until you know them fairly intimately.  Part of humility and “loving your neighbor as yourself” is realizing that life is not about you!  Life is about you lived through the lives of others; your ability to help others is directly proportional to your ability to be helped by others.  Why are we always prancing around trying to change others or convince them that our version of truth is superior to theirs?  Why do we have this overwhelming desire to be “right” about everything?  Why are we so afraid to be open and honest with each other and prefer to judge one another like we are the club bouncers at the door to God’s kingdom? Christ was the supreme example of life lived out loud, He personified what it meant to live your life for another, and Jesus changed people’s lives by inviting them into His!  If you really think about it, Christ willfully sacrificed Himself to be changed, by taking on flesh and blood, to accommodate the Father’s love for us.  Jesus left the perfect to condescend to the imperfect so that we could share in His perfection.  Do we understand the implications of this example?  Jesus allowed Himself to be changed, so that through Him, we might be changed!  If that doesn’t make you want to hit your knees and worship, then nothing ever will. I know this is unprofessional and breaking protocol in the writing world but I can’t resist…Oh, how I love Jesus.  Oh my God, I love my King.  OK, I feel better; I had to get that out or I would explode.

So I learned a valuable lesson in those first weeks of rehab; I learned that God not only spoke through the Bible and the Spirit, but that He also used other people to speak to us and into us.  Communication and fellowship began to make sense to me.  The advice in the Bible to “be quick to listen and slow to speak” and to be an engaging person was put into a very clear light.  My life had been one of isolation, and this lack of interaction had proven to be a major ingredient in my path to destruction.  I thought I had it all figured out, that God and I could work it out together, or that I didn’t need anyone to help me along the way.  When I was a young man and became scared of evil, if I would have had opportunity to share this with another, I would have been spared the awful path I chose.  When the hurricane swept through my life with death and destruction in tow, if I would have shared my pain with others who had experienced the same death and destruction, I might have been spared the carnage.  Part of the mission of this book is to let some of you out there know that you are not alone, to spare some of you the path that I had to trudge through, and to bring hope to the ones that think that there is no hope.  Regret is something I have tossed out the window because I now see that what Mother Teresa said was true, that “out of your greatest pain, comes your greatest ministry.”  I am uniquely qualified to help those who are burned-out or trapped in addiction or eat up with depression. I have a message of hope for those locked up either behind bars of steel or bars of selfishness.  Without my journey, I could not help you with yours. So now more than ever, we need each other.  We need more honesty.  We need more Christians willing to admit and confess to one another that we are all very imperfect.  We need more churches that require you to leave pride and judgment at the door, and embrace diversity with open arms.  I am preaching now…I apologize…

At the end of my stay in this haven for the broken and as I prepared to re-enter my life, some very important revelations were given to me. The first revelation was that few would actually survive life on the outside.  That is the reason for the strange comment from the man who transported me from jail to the rehab center.  He stated that very few actually survive.  Also, the parting shot from my counselor was of the same tone as she addressed the group moving back into the world of working, living, repairing, and continued healing. It was almost like a challenge. I promised myself, promised God, and tried to assure my counselor that I would be one of the “success stories”. I had made many friends, and we all agreed to stay in touch.  Over time however, they began to drop off the map. Of all the friends I made over those 28 days, only one that I know of was able to stay sober.

I’ve wondered sometimes just what type of person decides to minister to addicts; I mean, the success rate is so low, you would think that they would lose heart! I assume it is the hope that keeps them going, the hope in the occasional success, and the constant reminder of how blessed they really are. For instance, my counselor was a Christian woman who at one point really did live under a bridge as a homeless woman; I’m sure every day she is reminded of how far God has taken her.  She has a special burden for those who have traveled the dangerous road of dependency, because she herself is only one drink away from that condition!  That is the reality of being an addict or an alcoholic: it only takes one drink or hit or slip to send you spiraling right back down into the abyss. The mantra of recovery is “One day at a time”.  This is a profound way to live; it is very Biblical. Jesus tells us to “take up your cross daily”, which in essence is the same thing as crucify your flesh daily. An individual who suffers from the spiritual disease of addiction knows his/her life depends on this decision every single day!  For to not pray, to not ask for God’s help, to not remind oneself of the enemy eagerly waiting for them, and to not be reminded that life today is all we are promised, is suicide. Our very lives depend on our dependence on God and how He expresses Himself in support groups.

Most “normal” people forget the implications of a daily walk with God because their addiction is not visible, their poison does not imminently threaten their lives, and their handicap goes mostly undetected by the rest of the world and even themselves. Each of us is handicapped. Some handicaps are more noticeable than others. For example, dependency on drugs can be seen and scorned and judged by others; dependency on self-image is almost acceptable in our society but it is nevertheless a deadly addiction! An active alcoholic reeks of booze and is pitied; an active workaholic is applauded. A man with a needle in his arm is considered weak and helpless; a man with pride in his heart is considered superior.  You see, it makes no difference what your handicap is in God’s eyes, for He wants to heal all of us. The shame is that few recognize their handicap, and that is what being unplugged is all about. It is about depending completely on God and ridding ourselves of all the illusions the world has to offer.  Why do you think Christ stated that it was “hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”? The reason is simple: the man is deceived into thinking that he is O.K., that because of the comfort of life that he is doing just fine; he can’t see that what he thinks is a reward in life is simply a trap that lures him into false security. To be unplugged from the world’s false hopes and empty promises means you can then plug into the kingdom of God where “hope does not disappoint”. I have shown you my handicap; what’s yours? Do you depend on the love of others, do you depend on your religion, do you find your worth in how much money you have, do you depend on your reputation, do you depend on what you see in the mirror, or do you find your worth in being needed by others (codependency)? I have opened the door to honest dialog with yourself and with a God that loves you too much to let you live in the illusion. Let yourself dive deep into what you perceive to be the meaning of life; give yourself permission to finally ask the hard questions. If you never ask the hard questions, then the answers will never come. Many will live their entire lives never asking the tough questions; too distracted by the world to take the time to get to the bottom of existence, they find themselves at death’s door realizing they were on the wrong path the whole time…what a shame.

Thank you for reading chapter six of “A Life Unplugged”.  If this is your first chapter of “A Life Unplugged” and you want to catch up in the story, you can click on any chapter as follows:

IntroductionChapter One:  Holy Hippies, Chapter Two:  Southern Exposure, Chapter Three: The Holy Spirit and The Demon, Chapter Four: Grappling with Gravity, Chapter Five: The Miracle of Nothingness.

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