Archive for the Contemplation Category

I used to think ___ but now i think ___. #OutofSortsBook

Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, released last week. She is doing a synchroblog with a writing prompt about how and why we have evolved in our beliefs over the years. I’m all about a writing prompt, even if it takes 3 days to write. Ha!

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I think so differently about so many things now, I don’t even know where to begin.

I always felt torn between 2 extremes. I either felt so utterly broken that I was beyond hope, or I felt like I had all the answers and was in the fast lane with the saints on the stairway to heaven. I think the self-righteous arrogance was a coping mechanism to deal with the massive inferiority I felt. I would find people whom I was “better than” in order to feel better about myself. Of course that was only when I was sober.

Truly, underneath any bravado I put up, I always felt less than. Not good enough. As I wrote about not too long ago, “If I couldn’t ever measure up to my dad’s standards with my behavior, how could I ever hope to measure up to God’s standard of absolute holy perfection?”

I thought I knew who God was, but I really never saw Him for who He really is.

For many years I did not consistently have someone in my life speaking truth to me about the character and nature of God. That means I definitely did not have someone reminding me of the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I forgot that I couldn’t earn my way to God.

I had neither a dramatic falling away, nor did I have a dramatic return. I had a gradual descent into a breakdown where something had to give. Things started to change from the time I realized I was having a breakdown.

I changed when I realized I needed help.

It began with a medical doctor appointment where I walked out with an antidepressant and a couple of recommendations/referrals for therapists. Then I not only picked a therapist, but started attending Al-Anon. While I was largely silent in Al-Anon for a while, I sat in that first session with my therapist and verbally vomited on her. I told her things that I had never ever said out loud. To anyone.

I learned first in my therapist’s office to be honest about both my present and my past. To talk about what happened, what was happening, and how I felt. And nothing would ever be the same, especially once one of my close friends told me I needed to quit drinking. And that’s when I had to get really honest.

When you grow up in a fundamentalist culture with an abusive father, you learn things about God that just aren’t true. Sure, I believed Jesus saved me, but I didn’t fully believe I could be and was forgiven. I had to revisit everything I thought I knew about God, and tear down a lot of false teaching of legalism. I had to work through a lot of resentment not just with the religion of my youth, but with God himself.

I used to think that God was just waiting for people to do the wrong thing in order to enact a swift and thorough punishment for the least little infraction. Therefore, I had to be on guard all the time to not mess up, and when I did (because we all do), I lived in bondage to shame and fear. For many years, my only relief came from a bottle.

But having been delivered from the compulsion to self-medicate, I now know that God is kind and loving and merciful. I now know without a doubt that Jesus is enough, and because of Him, I don’t have to try to earn my way into the Father’s good graces. I am fully known and fully loved. The Holy Spirit wasn’t the one filling me with fear and shame. Oh, no. It’s the Holy Spirit that reminds me who I really am – a beloved daughter of the Father.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NIV)

How did you learn respect

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I’ve always bucked against authority, but not necessarily for the sake of being a rebel. I’ve been repeatedly labeled an instigator, and I do not (because I cannot) deny it. I’ve even been called a honey badger. Honey badger don’t care. She does what she wants! Of course, she often gets “stung” by the cobra and then has to take a nap.

As much as I bucked against and resent(ed) my strict, legalistic religious upbringing, it kept me out of so much trouble I could have gotten in given all the vices I flirted with. I absolutely do not recommend legalism to combat vice because if it really worked, I might not have flirted.

Because I was under such strict authority, I developed an unhealthy fear of authority figures. Compliance was almost always out of fear rather than respect, at least initially. As I got older I learned to distinguish between dictatorial authority and leader/teacher/mentor authority, but I had a big learning curve.

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I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook that state they learned respect by getting good ass whippings as a kid. I know they are just resharing a meme, and I can’t speak for anyone else’s raising. But I know for a fact that I did not learn respect of any kind from any whipping I got as a kid. I learned from those whippings to fear punishment when I do wrong from those giving me the whipping, and nothing more.

I want to note, I am not anti-corporate punishment. I can’t say it’s never necessary, and I also cannot say that it was always given to me inappropriately. It was the berating from my dad that accompanied the whippings that did the greatest damage. Therefore, any spanking/paddling from anyone else was taken in the same manner – as punishment for not being smart enough to be good enough.

Therein lies a big problem when we try to project a meme as a cure-all when we don’t know any backstory. For all the discipline and instruction to respect elders and authority, I still carried around an unhealthy and disrespectful view of authority just waiting to spew out. A1C Nemec still gave a 2Lt the stink eye and a snotty answer over the way he asked her who gave the all clear after a simulated attack. SSgt Nemec was still openly and belligerently disrespectful to a Chief Petty Officer on multiple occasions.

Respect that is borne out of fear of punishment is not respect. It is self-preservation, and doesn’t place value on other people. Healthy respect places high value on another person regardless of that person’s position of authority.

We actually learn respect by watching others model what respect looks like. A quick glance through political posts on Facebook gives a clue as to where today’s children get their lack of respect from. “Democrats/Liberals are idiots!” “Republicans/Conservatives are stupid!” We disparage those with whom we disagree politically/ideologically/religiously and wonder why our kids are disrespectful.

I listened to my dad exalt himself above everyone my whole life and picked it right up and ran with it. It was my normal. I think this is the kind of attitude that fuels the perpetual outrage that manifests itself on Facebook through self-righteous political/religious posts demonizing, devaluing, and ultimately dehumanizing whatever group/culture/ideology/class/ethnicity/religion we disagree with. After all, we believe we have figured out what’s wrong with the world. “If only people would just listen to me…”

Most events are not clear-cut with a black-and-white clear cause and effect. People who hold different beliefs or belong to a different culture than you are not beneath you with nothing to teach you. We are all struggling with junk. When we have to tear someone else down in order to show our superiority, we are actually showing the ugliness of our own attitudes and beliefs. And that in no way exalts us above others except in our own minds.

It’s that lack of respect for other human beings that is what is wrong with our society today. And as long as we continue to perpetrate, the worse our society is going to get because where there is no respect, there is certainly no love.

So think about how you really learned respect and whether or nor you really show it.

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“and he will rule over you”

I loved the TV show Maude when I was a kid. I remember my mom telling me she could not stand Maude. I either didn’t ask her why or didn’t listen to the answer. I can watch Maude now and I understand why Mom didn’t like Maude. Since I was way too young to understand any of what was happening on the show at the time, clearly I just liked Bea Arthur. Still, Mom worked really hard to keep me from becoming a “feminist.”

I remember once in my late teens being at church (I’m pretty sure it was a business meeting) when there was a discussion about a stove. While I don’t remember the details, I do remember that it was a men’s committee that decided on the stove to purchase and then it was brought before the church for vote. It irked me that the men made the decision on a stove despite the fact it was the women who would be cooking on it. (Irony isn’t always lost on me.) I bitched to Mom (and yes, it was bitching) who gently declared that the men are to make the decisions for the church. Or something to that effect. Which, really, why even bring anything up for a vote in front of the entire congregation if only the men get a say?

Clearly I’m still a bit perturbed about that.

I had a chat with a coworker where she stated that the major religions treat women poorly, to include Christianity. That is absolutely what you are going to get in Christianity when the men pick out the verses about women submitting and being quiet and ignore the ones where husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it. The women must obey, but the men don’t have to practice sacrificial love. As I was making my coffee (before I got into any more discussions of any kind), it occurred to me why this might be such an issue.

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16, NIV

Could it be that the male dominance packaged as “Biblical headship” is really just part of the curse? Because that’s what Genesis 3:16 seems to say pretty plainly. “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Note that it does not say “Your desire will be to rule over your husband,” or “Your desire will be for your husband’s role.” No, it says “Your desire will be for your husband.” The same desire that wants Cain in Chapter 4. I think that desire is the one where we want our husband to be completely and utterly devoted to us above all else. To be our god.

“and he will rule over you.” Guess what. He will be a god. Just not a good one. Because there is a side-effect to being taught that the man the head over his household without being taught what that really entails. He will anoint himself supreme ruler. He will start (or just continue) to believe that it’s his way or the highway. He will not take any direction because he is the man and he is in charge and therefore he knows what’s best. Without good counsel teaching him how to lead through service, he will become effectually a slave master who believes his wife exists to serve him.

I believe that is why abuse perpetuates and thrives in the more fundamentalist circles.

Paul speaks of marriage metaphorically as symbolizing the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Hence wives submit to their husbands as the Church to Jesus, and husbands love their wives even as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for it. But I think we are missing a piece when we just leave it at that.

if we endure,
we will also reign with him. – 2 Timothy 2:12a

If we believe that Jesus is coming back for his bride, the Church, as he says, and that we will reign with him, then why wouldn’t husbands and wives not jointly rule their household? After all, in marriage, two become one, not two become master and servant. And Jesus doesn’t force his rule over his bride.

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“It takes some effort to look like this!”

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I had an appointment with my feelings doctor a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those where I tried really hard to direct the conversation where she wouldn’t ask me any probing questions. I failed. I should have known that I would have to leave out a significant even from the previous 3 weeks to get past that question. Heck, Petra had already asked me that question so I really didn’t want to have to answer it twice in one week. Thankfully we didn’t stay on that topic, so there was no meltdown. But she got a little more probing in another area.

She always asks me about playing with the church band, exercise, meetings, and any social time outside of those. She knows my history of anxiety and depression, and I had already disclosed a panic attack I’d had the week before. I know I am doing all the things I need to be doing to keep myself busy and not isolated. Nothing good ever comes from when I isolate. But then she asked me if I enjoy the activities I’m doing, and I said, “Yes, I really do. But it often takes a lot of effort to make myself do it.”

Someone told me once, okay multiple times, that the dread of doing something is almost always worse than actually doing it. As I told my therapist, I don’t think I should have to work so hard to make myself do something I know I will enjoy.

I think part of it is because I let myself get overwhelmed unnecessarily. Like what happened with that panic attack. Something unplanned came up that had to be taken care of right away, and was something I shouldn’t have had to take care of as it was supposed to have been taken care of 2 months ago. I was angry over a resentment that got picked at. Well, that was the evening the kids decided to both barrage me with “When are you going to teach me to _______?” That was when I walked outside, grabbed the shovel, and called my sponsor because self-talk wasn’t working and I needed someone else to tell me the same thing I was telling myself but not believing: “Stay in today.”

And, no, I didn’t bury anybody with the shovel.

But I got some probing questions which I didn’t answer. Later, though, I had a completely unrelated conversation (initially) in which I verbally vomited all over Petra, and said, “Huh. That’s what my sponsor was trying to get at earlier.” Funny how that happens.

Sometimes I forget that I am going through a very difficult season. That’s when I wonder why it is so difficult to get out of bed in the morning and get ready. Many times I sit on the edge of my bed trying to work up the motivation to get dressed for work. It’s not that I don’t want to go to work. At least not really, because I normally enjoy being at work once I’m there. I work with really great people who made me laugh and laugh hard.

There is something to be said for the effort of putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing when I don’t want to. It is, after all, what grown ups do. When I enjoy the activity that I have to put so much effort into making myself do, it is worth the effort.

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When we share our junk

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I have a page sitting in draft. It’s my story – the condensed version. I’m in a big debate with myself whether or not to publish it. Because it would make me really vulnerable which is why I haven’t shared it with very many people.

I read a post by Sarah Bessey the other day titled The Sanitized Stories We Tell which got me thinking about my story again. Early in the year I told my story at a speaker meeting. In front of a room full of people and into a microphone.

And I told a sanitized version.

See there were things that happened that affected me in a massive way, but I was just, shall we say, collateral damage. It is much easier to tell what happened to me personally than to tell that other junk and how it affected me.

I remember having a conversation once about people giving their testimonies and why that had stopped. It was said that they stopped doing them so as not to “glorify sin.” I have never heard anyone glorifying sin while giving their testimony. I wondered how anyone could even make that leap, but I think I know how. That is the kind of attitude that comes from growing up in a rigid fundamentalist legalistic religious culture that confuses behavior modification with heart change.

That attitude is uncomfortable when people talk about how bad they were. That attitude produces people who say when a brother or sister has a public moral failure that they must not have ever been saved. They become uncomfortable because they have never broken any of the no-no sins like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, cussing, or having sex outside of marriage. They weren’t rebellious or troublemakers, always doing what they were told, and always putting up a nice looking facade.

Are they uncomfortable because it defies thier legalistic rigid religion? Because God shows grace where we don’t/can’t/won’t? Where we weren’t given grace?

We play a seriously flawed and deadly game when we wear a facade of righteousness. If we are able to keep all the right rules, what do we need Jesus for? Why did he have to die? When we put forth this appearance that we have God now and everything is always okay and we have our life together, we set other people up for failure. The truth is that we are all epic failures. But we don’t have to be defined by our failure.

We absolutely do not have to feel like we are alone in our failure nor in the failures of our loved ones.

And that is why I want to share my story. So someone out there with a similar story will know that they are not alone, and that there is hope.

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The effect of focus

I’m afraid of heights. I’m not sure when I developed it because I did not have it when I was a kid. I first realized it one year when my mom and I went out to the old house at Birdtown to winter prep it. We had to cover the attic vents which required carrying the covers up a ladder and hammering them in. I got up the ladder and freaked. I couldn’t do it. Mom had to manhandle the vent on the ladder.

I didn’t get any better with ladders though I did get to a point where I could climb a ladder and do stuff, but barely, and I was terrified and hyperventilating the whole time. I had to face my ladder fear this weekend.

Half of the living room had been repainted, but didn’t get finished. Like most of the projects around the house. I finally tired of being pissed off about it and decided there was nothing stopping me from just finishing it. I had gotten more paint, and kudos to the lady at the Pittsboro Lowes who did an outstanding job of matching that paint. Labor day, I intended just to paint the one wall so I could move the TV, but it went so quickly that I did all of the room except for that small bit on one wall that is technically on the 2nd floor.

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That was going to involve getting on a ladder and painting at the same time.

Some of it I was able to cut in from the 2nd floor landing, and thankfully that was the highest part. But still, I was going to have to get really high up on that 8 foot ladder with a paint bucket and brush…and actually paint.

There I stood, 2 rungs from the top, paint in one hand, brush in the other. I dipped the brush, wiped off some of the excess paint, and put the brush to the top edge of the wall underneath the molding. No tape. “Just hold the brush steady and cut the line.” I took a deep breath, and that’s what I did. I focused on cutting a straight line, and kept the fact that I was on a ladder secondary.

And it worked.

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I think in life we have a tendency to get so caught up in secondary issues that we are unable to do what we need to be doing. We get overwhelmed by things that are largely outside of our control so that we can’t focus on what is within our sphere of influence. It wasn’t that I ignored the fact that I was on a ladder. My safety depended on my awareness of standing on a very small surface 6ft off the floor. But my primary task was to paint a straight line, and as long as I focused on that task, I was able to do it without fear of falling.

I also had to have faith that the ladder would work as designed.

I made sure the ladder was solidly level and steady before I ever climbed it. I did not climb above the recommended highest safe rung, and stayed a rung below it. I made sure to lean my shins and knees against the 2 top rungs to steady myself. I am prone to vertigo so ensuring I had my body supported as much as I could helped to stave off that feeling of pitching. I did what was in my control, and left the rest to the ladder to not collapse.

I took the appropriate safety measures with the ladder because they were within my sphere of influence. Then I let that go and focused on the task itself not allowing myself to stew on what-ifs or if-onlys.

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Focus on the task at hand. Just do the next right thing. Be aware, but do what is yours to do and do it well without grumbling and without fear.

And don’t live in fear over things that you have no control over.

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Freedom

You would think that growing up in the United States this concept wouldn’t be such an issue for me to grasp. Of course, growing up as a kid in the U.S., and in the Bible Belt South no less, I took a certain aspect of freedom for granted. Serving in the Air Force took care of most of that entitlement mentality. Actually, serving one short deployment in the Middle East took care of that though not at the time. But even still, I did not understand freedom because I didn’t know what it was like to not be free.

Or so I thought.

I was never a slave so I couldn’t understand what it’s like to be a slave. I was never in jail so I couldn’t understand what it’s like to be a prisoner. I am predominantly European Caucasian so I couldn’t relate to ethnic oppression. And I grew up as a Christian in the U.S. in the Bible Belt in the 70’s and 80’s where being a church-going Christian was just normative and therefore, couldn’t relate to religious oppression.

What I finally came to realize (thanks to some outside intervention) was that I was a slave to alcohol and a prisoner of my past. I was oppressed by a domineering father and a rigid religion as a child. I became so weighted down with guilt and shame as a child, and the only thing that was alleviating that pain was alcohol. I didn’t feel the pain of not being good enough while I was drunk. I felt confident. I felt free.

The freedom I thought I had while drunk was a lie.

You are never free when you are spending all of your time and energy on trying to be “good enough” particularly when deep down you know you can never be perfect. Perfection as the standard will always leave you feeling inadequate. Eventually, you will realize the futility of trying and will throw your hands up in surrender because your life is unmanageable.

There are 2 ways you can surrender. You can throw your hands up and say “Screw this!” or some variation of that thought, and proceed to do whatever you think is going to make you feel good. This is the path I took initially. Outwardly, it worked. I appeared to have everything together, but I was not working through my problems. I was just numbing and escaping. Therefore, life just kept becoming more unmanageable until it got to a point I couldn’t cover it with a facade.

The other way to surrender is to throw your hands up and say, “I can’t do this anymore and I need help!” This is the point I eventually came to. My life had gotten so unmanageable that I was coming apart at the seams. It is taken a lot of therapy and a couple of 12 Step groups to sort through and work through my issues. But they couldn’t really resolve my religion issues.

I had God issues because of my Daddy issues.

If I couldn’t ever measure up to my dad’s standards with my behavior, how could I ever hope to measure up to God’s standard of absolute holy perfection? Plus since my dad had so many issues that he never addressed, I had contradictory information on what good behavior was. Because of his abuse, he abused, and I projected onto God’s character that abuse was normal. And you know what abuse does to the abused? It makes them feel less than. Shamed. Not good enough. And it was rigid religion that allowed that abuse, because wives submit absolutely to their husbands, children cannot ever question their parents’ behavior, and daddy’s are the absolute boss and never wrong. This was God’s way and so God must be like my daddy.

Except He isn’t.

There wasn’t really one event that opened my eyes. It was several things. Sessions with my therapist. Chats with my sponsor. Chats with friends. Blog posts. Books. Sermons. But one thing that stood out from a sermon, and I think it was one Pastor Jared preached, where he said, “Don’t forget who you are, and don’t forget whose you are.” And it really started sinking in who I am in Jesus. What that really means. That God the Father’s love for me is not contingent on my behavior. It never was. It’s dependent on what Jesus did.

I can quit trying to earn God’s love because grace is given out of love.

That’s when I realized I was free. That’s when I understood what freedom really is. Because that’s when I finally understood what it means to rest in Christ; to “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus did all the work for me. I’m not ever going to be Mary Poppins, “perfect in every way.” Freedom comes from knowing I don’t have to be perfect because Jesus was perfect. As Pastor Benji said last Sunday in his sermon,

We’re cleansed from the Stains of Sin & freed from the Chains of Sin!”

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Fake it ’til you make it

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I hated that phrase. Because some people never seem to get to the “make it” point and just fake it. And they just fake it when it will benefit them in some way. They can talk the talk around the right people, but just don’t seem to ever be able to personally apply it to their relationships with other people.

You know, hypocrites.

The other night, I was in a situation where I had to give a really brief version of my alcoholic story – what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. I didn’t really put any time into preparing for it even though I knew I would have to give it. I just let it largely flow spontaneously. As I listened to myself speaking (which one can do when one dissociates), I heard myself saying something that I had said before, but hadn’t really heard.

“I knew how to pretend to live, but I didn’t know how to live.”

And that would be why “fake it ’til you make it” pissed me off so bad. I spent most of my life “faking it,” but not ever “making it.” From the outside it appeared I had it all together. And to an extent I did. But I was motivated by perfectionism; always striving for an unknown and/or unrealistic expectation of what success (professional, personal, and religious) really was.

Then my facade – my carefully constructed bubble of control – shattered.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 59

At this point in working the steps, I was told that God might not remove all of them, and that He wouldn’t necessarily do it right away. One of my character defects is impatience, so it was a given it wouldn’t happen immediately. That doesn’t mean He isn’t capable of removing my defects. He is. But He isn’t a genie that grants wishes the way we want it. He is a loving Father who knows and provides our NEEDS instead of our WANTS. I always want the easier, softer way.

I have found that my greatest growth comes through “suffering” rather than being handed to me.

And so, with the knowledge that that my request to have my shortcomings removed could be delayed or answered with “No,” I was told to believe they would be removed regardless and until they are, “act as if they have been.”

Fake it ’til you make it.

Finally, I realized the spirit behind it wasn’t one of hypocrisy, it was one of faith and good will. Take, for instance, my insecurity. It has not been taken away yet. Left alone and allowed to “rule,” my insecurity paralyzes me from making good decisions, or even any decision at all. Nothing gets done, status quo remains, and life becomes even more unmanageable.

But, I can “act as if” I am not insecure, and make a decision that is at best uncomfortable or at worst downright scary. As long as I don’t make a rash decision without looking at the consequences (good and bad) or take way too long to look at every thing I think might go wrong, something amazing is going to happen whether or not the decision is the correct one.

I become less afraid to make a decision.

I become less insecure.

Sometimes the worst part of a decision is the fear of making the wrong decision. Not because you can always make the right decision, but because making a wrong decision reinforces how you think about yourself.

“I’m stupid.”

“I can’t do anything right.”

Those are products of false humility which is actually just an aspect of self-centered pride.

And they are lies.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:5-9 ESV)

Motives matter. Motive is why “fake it ’til you make it” can actually work. Motive is where you have to be totally honest when you ask yourself why you are acting on a “good” behavior. Are you trying to fool other people into thinking you have it all together, or are you simply just trying to do the next right thing because it is the right thing regardless of your feelings?

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Normal can be subjective

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

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I’ve been having a recurring dream. It isn’t exactly the same dream, but it is the same theme. I am sometimes in a prison camp, sometimes in a cult, and sometimes in some type of camp like a reservation. No matter which it is, I am trying to escape.

These dreams have been going on for at least a couple of months. Granted, I am grateful that I am no longer having the gray-mud-vomiting zombie dreams, but those were only 3 or 4 dreams total. My escape dreams have been 3 or 4 a week for several weeks.

Enough to wonder what the heck is going on in my subconscious.

I wonder if maybe my brain is trying to work out how I am trying to escape the lies I have believed about myself since I was a child. Maybe that sense I had that I didn’t belong or fit in was my way of coping with so much contradictory reality as such a young age.

I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of days ago, and couldn’t go back to sleep. I didn’t have a deluge of racing thoughts like I used to have, but I couldn’t seem to settle my brain back down enough to get back to sleep for 2 or 3 hours.

I had another thing that I hadn’t ever told anyone. Funny how things like that pop up when you get repeatedly triggered over something related. In the process of revisiting, praying, unpacking, praying, peeling that freaking onion, and praying some more, the thought came to me:

Nothing was normal. Everything was distorted. I don’t think I have a clear objective memory because there was so much contradictory information.

I didn’t want to let that thought be lost once I went back to sleep, so I wrote it down.

There is usually running involved in the dreams. Running away from somebody, some group, some zombie, some trap. The running never ends, except for that one time I was trapped in an empty cargo bay about to die from irradiation or poison. But at least the zombies weren’t in there with me.

Every race I’ve run has always had a clear end. There have been times I was sure I would never make it to the end, but I’ve always managed to keep going – even if I could just barely put one foot in front of the other. Because I knew there was a clearly defined end. And a couple of times because my friend Karyn either came back to get me or stayed with me vowing to drag me across the finish line if necessary.

Sometimes I feel like I am chasing after “normal,” when I have no idea what “normal” is. There is a conversation that takes place in Star Trek Generations between Dr. Soran and Geordi LaForge regarding Geordi’s eyes.

Dr. Soran: Have you ever considered a prosthesis that would make you look a little more… how can I say… more normal?
Geordi: What’s normal?
Dr. Soran: “What’s normal?” Well, that’s a good question. Normal is what everyone else is and you are not.

Geordi was blind from birth. There was no prosthesis that was going to give him sight in the same way seeing people had. The banana clip visor he wore gave him the ability to see things that sighted people could not. Soran was trying to force him to focus on the external appearance of normal – looking normal. In later movies, Geordi has prosthetic eyes rather than the banana clip visor. His eyes still didn’t look “normal.”

Geordi’s handicap did not handicap him. He couldn’t see things the way other people see, but he had a unique view of things that made his lack of normal sight valuable to those who had normal sight. His biggest physical weakness was also his biggest physical strength.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Maybe the reason I never escape in my dreams is because escaping the past doesn’t change it. I’m never going to have that “normal” childhood. I’m never going to have a “normal” loving relationship with my dad. And you know what? I might not ever “feel normal.”

But I am not alone.

Even in those dreams, I am not always alone. Sometimes there is a small group with me who are also trying to escape, and we are working together to escape and/or overthrow oppressors (or zombies). Here in the real world, in my real life, I am not alone. I have a tight network of friends who know most (and some all) of my junk. And they are willing to drag me across the finish line – to help rescue me from the cult/nazi/zombies.

I’m not the only person to not grow up in a “normal” environment. We generally try to appear “normal” because we want to be “normal” – to fit in. But we tend to find each other. And that’s where our “abnormal” lives intertwine and become strength. We understand each other. We can help each other in ways “normal” people can’t.

And when “normal” people find themselves embroiled in the type of “abnormal” that was our “normal,” we can be there for them in ways their “normal” friends and family can’t.

Thus, weakness becomes strength.

And “normal” means nothing.

How the dull becomes vibrant

Sometimes I can remember events from childhood as if I were there again. Not the bad things or even really good things. It’s more like ordinary things that wouldn’t be considered significant events. I can remember the brightness of the sun, or the grayness of clouds. I can almost feel the warmth or the chill. I can see the colors, and I can almost hear the sounds and smell the scents.

I didn’t realize that I had the ability at one time to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty around me. It seems like a precious gift today as I reflect on random memories.

I still have the ability.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped noticing my environment. I think it was in college. I would even go so far as to guess it happened when I began regularly numbing. I’m more convinced of that since I only started noticing and appreciating here and now moments and making mental note of them in the past year.

Could it be that appreciating the beauty in the world around me is related to my desire and/or ability to feel my emotions?

It’s ironic that in the course of self-medicating to avoid feeling pain I anesthetized myself to beauty and joy that comes from admiring dandelions blooming along the side of the road. The numbing dulled the deep and vibrant green of the spring growth in the trees and grass, the red of the clover, and the orange of those flowers that popped up “volunteer” from last year’s planting.

A photo posted by Martha Nemec (@dragonlady42) on

The numbing distorted the whole picture as well as the color, like the above picture of my mom and I. The camera and the film were cheap (and probably old), and while capturing a moment in time, it lacked the vibrancy of color. It does not accurately portray the joy I felt in that moment after finally talking Daddy into taking a picture. He even let me take my first picture that day. It is just as devoid of true color. I don’t remember that afternoon in Polaroid. I remember it bright and colorful – with cats. :)

A photo posted by Martha Nemec (@dragonlady42) on

This rose represents what I see now in sobriety. I took this with my iPhone at church in between services where I went to smoke. (I wasn’t hiding my smoking. I was just keeping the smoke away from others.) It was a gray, misty day that makes you want to just snuggle up in bed. But yet I was shown the beauty of the tiny raindrops on the petals and leaves of the flowers and plants.

God gives us emotions to enjoy the beauty even amid the pain.

I’m starting to believe that feeling and living through the pain makes the beauty even more beautiful.