Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Perfect Life (Part 2 of 2)

The speaker referred to “strategies for protection from painful memories.” He talked about unconsciously rewriting childhood history into perfect family memoirs.

Yes, I thought, I was one of them. In seminary we had to take a course in pastoral counseling. The lead professor asked me about my childhood.

“My mother was warm and accepting; my dad was quiet. I had a conventional, happy childhood.” I said more than that—and thought I was telling the truth.

Years later, I was showering and realized I had not seen my family the way they truly were. “My mother was hard-hearted and unloving!” I yelled at my wife. “My dad was mean and brutal!”

Shirley hugged me and said, “Yes. Several times I heard you talk to others about your warm, loving family. I thought your mother was one of the coldest individuals I’ve ever met.”

That opened me up. I had deceived myself (or I could call it lived in denial) and used words like conventional or happy to express my childhood. From that day onward I began to unwrite my family history. A year later, I was able to admit I had been physically, verbally, and sexually assaulted as a child and neither of my parents expressed affection.

When we no longer need the perfect life,
we accept the real one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Fantasy Life (Part 1 of 2)

I wonder how many of us had a rich fantasy life. I never thought much about that until recently. I had a vivid imagination and put myself in every kind of troubled, problematic situation and always, always came out victorious.

As a child that fantasizing probably “saved” my life. I learned to pretend, to imagine a happy life where everything was fine. During intense periods of pain, I discovered solace in my fantasy world. In school, I was skinny. Short. Not athletic. One of the two or three kids the captains argued over. “You take him this time. I got stuck with him for the last game.”

My late friend Steve Grubman told me that he invented an imaginary friend who was there for him in those painful times. That was how he coped.

Many of us received temporary peace through our imagination or pretense. And we can look back and be thankful that we could face some of our problems, even if they were only in our imagination.

As I thought about fantasy, I remembered the verses from the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul said that when he was a child he thought and behaved as a child, but after he became an adult, he pushed those things out of his mind.

I still have fantasies, but I’ve noticed in the last 10 years they’re far more benign and rather fun. I focus on events or experiences when I relive a situation and think of what I might have said to make me smug. But I don’t need them any more to escape an impoverished, stolen childhood.

Do you?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Distorted Relationships (Part 5 of 5)

Ron* called it the blame game.

“In our family, we had to find out who was wrong and then we moved on,”

Ron said and pointed out that the blame game had been ingrained in him and his siblings.

He began to date Darlene* (who became his wife), and “during her first visit to my family, she saw that in action. All of it over who left an empty glass on a wooden table.”

“I was stunned because I hadn’t realized what we did to each other.”

“It was like a criminal investigation you might see on TV,” Darlene commented. “Does it make any difference who did it? The effect is the same.”

Those words forced Ron to think about his life and particularly the molestation he went through. “It hit me: I blamed my uncle who abused me.” Finally, Ron stopped focusing on blaming and turned his attention to the effect. The problems were the same, no matter who perpetrated them.

“It sounds like a small thing to many,” he said, “but as long as I played the blame game, I focused my anger on who did it instead of what he did. And it wasn’t just abuse—it was anything that went wrong.”

The blame game diverts our attention so that we don’t try to cope with the results. And it’s the consequences that need examining. That doesn’t absolve the culprit, and forgiving him is another issue to face.

But Ron, like others, spent so much effort on pointing to the guilty, he had no insight into what had happened to him.

Isn’t that the way it sometimes works in our lives? We charge the wrongdoer and don’t move on to ask, “But what has this done to me?”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Distorted Relationships (Part 4 of 5)

“It was all a lie,” Max, a 23-year-old, said to me. He told me of the leader in his church who befriended him when he was 10 years old.

“I was the only boy who didn’t like sports, and my classmates called me ‘faggot,’ even though I didn’t know what the word meant until later.

“The youth leader encouraged me. ‘You’re a nice, sweet kid. Don’t pay attention to what they’re saying.’ He spent time with me and he was the first adult who ever listened to me. After I cried, he hugged me and whispered, ‘It’s all right to cry. Let it go.’

“After that, we started with hugs and I felt so grateful to have a friend. I didn’t like it when he taught me to masturbate him and the other things, but I loved the man so much I would have done anything for him. ‘It’s our secret,’ he said. ‘Just you and me.’

“I thought he really loved me. The church fired him, and he refused to talk with me. So it was all lies. He hurt me, and I thought he truly loved me.”

Max and I met at the 2016 annual conference of “Hope for Wholeness.” He said that occurred during his teens. “For a couple of years I became that faggot my classmates labeled me.”

When Max was 20 years old, he was a miserable drug addict, a college dropout, and isolated from his parents. He attempted to take his own life and obviously didn’t succeed. A wise therapist suggested that he attend the “Hope for Wholeness” conference.

That was three years before we met, and he said that group saved his life and he’s finding others who strengthened him.

“My classmates were wrong about me,” he said. “And for the first time in my life, I’m happy and like who I am.

“I can define myself,” Max said, “And I don’t give anyone else that privilege.”