I had to fall down. I had to fall down hard to be drawn to look up. Sometimes falling down can be the most spirituality inviting experience of all. In pain and humility, in brokenness and uncertainty, often we are no longer capable of the certitudes–religious or secular–and that feeling that we’ve got life covered all on our own slips away like the illusion it is.
I spent my childhood searching for a magical God, one that would come to me in a burst of lightening, a floating figure in my bedroom, or some other very literal way. I became disengaged when the magic God didn’t appear and the human religion seemed to illicit less and less God and more and more human imperfection. I have always been hard on myself and hard on others–for a long time it was perfection or nothing. And so, for a long time it was a lot of nothing.
And then I fell, and I fell hard. After the fog of falling lifted, 3+ years later with early adulthood swiftly passing me like an express train, I came out of brokenness to find a truer “me” and an openness to God which has given me eyes to see the real “magic” of God. Not a wand-shaking, earth-quaking, robed-figure God that I had been looking for as a child, but a relational God that I realized, in retrospect, I had all along.
I often say, now, that all the time I thought I spent disillusioned I never lost God by my side or the God-inflected voice in my head–in hardship I often heard him loudest, but we spent so much time arguing I didn’t see the beauty in it.
These days, feeling open like a chasm, I tend to have what I call “God-Urgings” more often than ever. I realize that all I had to do was open, and when I did that, the rest was all God. Simple. I know. Elementary. Of course. But we usually spend most of our lives pushing against the concept that the 12 Step adage says so well: “Let go and let God.”
How much of our lives do we spend thinking we are saying “yes” to this request and act on behalf of a big, loud “no”? Then we shake our heads wondering where the spiritual presence is in our human experience and why we feel so alone.
I always think of CS Lewis’s depiction of purgatory as this metaphoric space where Napoleon spends eternity pacing his room, stuck in his own mind, trying to sort out where it all went wrong and who to blame for it all. I think we could spend much of our lives pacing, stuck inside the trap of our self-filled minds. But if we learn to learn from the falls, and begin to listen for the “God urgings” we might find ourselves headed to somewhere we never expected, and freed from the prison of our thoughts in the process (at least for brief moments).
I am trying to continue this process, even/especially on the days when it is hard to do, and even if I still end up in a few internal arguments–inserting a little too many “Me-isms” into the relational process.
TRAUMA & SOUL WOUNDS
The book of essays (memoir of sorts) I am currently finishing started 3 years ago as a psychologically-based analysis of my recovery from trauma from an entirely “head place”. I kept getting stuck about a third of the way into the project, wondering why it wasn’t flowing, and trying to figure out where it was falling flat. I finally came to the conclusion that I had sucked all of the spiritual root out of my story which was, on the surface, meant to be an exploration of mind, body, and SPIRIT recovery from trauma.
My fear, in truth, was if I put the word God into it, or talked about contemplative moments of prayer, that I would become off-putting to people, lumped in a category of cringe-worthy storytelling. I was worried that if I made it about the spiritual path, and a relationship with God, that it would not be a readable journey for many people.
In the process of writing I realized it was not going to be a writeable journey without the spiritual, without God, without the prayer part of it. I realized the truth that I had found years before, in the first book I read on trauma, written by Ed Tick called War and the Soul. This title defined, precisely, the journey of PTSD. When I stripped it down to it’s raw center, it was about war and the soul.
More precisely it was about war in the soul.
Now that I am finishing the real story in a book-length writing project, I realize that (as a spiritual journey) the story’s roots lay before trauma began. But that the soul healing was was rebuilding my internal foundation in relationship–with God, with myself, with others in my world sphere. God helped repair my soul, but it was not a one dimensional journey. God helped me through, in dialogue, in prayer, and also in life itself and the gifts set in my path that helped build me back up from brokenness–mind, body, and soul.
STRANDED IN A STORM…
I remember the story of the man in the storm. You might have heard it. The man was stranded on the roof of his house, surrounded by torrential downpour and flooding. He prays and prays for God to save him. Before long a neighbor in a row boat comes by and asks the man to jump in so they can take him to safety. The man says, “Don’t bother me. I’m praying. God will come and save me. I don’t need your row boat.”
The waters continued to rise and a hefty motor boat comes by with rescue teams inside, going from house to house to help anyone left in the storm. They urge the man to jump off his roof and into the boat before the waters get to rough or the water rises any further. By now the man has moved to the chimney as the rest of his home is covered in water. The man says again, “Don’t bother me. I’m praying. God will come and save me. I don’t need your motor boat.”
Finally the man is nearly covered in water, the raging wind and rain about to carry him away and a helicopter comes. A man throws down a ladder and shouts to the man to grab a hold so they can carry him out of the storm. Again, the man says, “Don’t bother me. I’m praying. God will come and save me. I don’t need your helicopter.”
A few more moments pass and the winds, rain, and tide of the water becomes to fierce and the man is pulled under, drowning as the current pulls him under. The man dies and comes before God.
He asks, angrily and with a hint of sadness, “God I believed in you and prayed for you to save me. Why did you abandon me?!”
To which God replies, “I sent you a row boat, a motor boat, and a helicopter–what else did you want?”
In telling this story I mean to say that while I feel that God helped me through the toughest journey of my life so far, pulled me out of the heartache and the soul wounds and battle scars of trauma, I do not think this happened by prayer alone or some simplistic definition of healing.
I think God sent me healing in people, in places, and elements in my healing journey. In the practice and educational knowledge of psychcology and psycho-education (about PTSD) I was given the tools to understand my dis-ordered way of being, in a cognitive way–for my brain which needed to wrap itself around something to “fix” it.
I was led to a path of yoga and reconnection to my body, so that I could deal with the feelings of body loathing, fear of touch and the somatic and to help me begin to quiet my internal noise and find calming and grounding in breath. In this I was able to open a bit to tolerate silence and in tolerating silence I could hear, first a whisper, then louder, a guiding and gentle voice to aid me.
I was given the path of contemplation, first through Buddhist meditation, then in Hindu Sanskrit, and finally in my faith of origin in centering and contemplative prayer from the ancient mystics of the Christian tradition.
I have been given many lifeboats (and when I really needed it, rescue choppers at the last second before drowning) and I continue to try to listen and hear when the voice of God calls me this way or that, in the cloak of life and people and all the elements of the world around me.
THE EXISTENTIAL ACHE OF TRAUMA
Trauma makes us question everything–our beliefs, our values, our feeling of security that things will go right in the world. It breaks down ourselves and our souls and strips us raw of all that comforts us. It leaves us without armor and stuck in the place of pain and fear where our survival mode kicks in above all else and our primative and animal nature inside protects us from danger with a mechanism of fight, flight, freeze, or submit.
While we are stuck in trauma this survival mode stays stuck, and we are trapped, as if a dvd with deep scratch in the center, replaying the experience that haunts us–mind, body, and soul. When this “stuckness”, or the dvd stuck in the moment of trauma, is not un-paused then it becomes a condition known commonly as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
FINDING YOUR LIFEBOATS…
To bring ourselves and our lives back into motion, out of the stuckness, and to hit play on the DVD, we must repair what has been broken from the core, out. From the soul, out, we have to repair this existential ache that makes it hard to believe anything good is possible.
Everyone has slightly different lifeboats to healing but we all need to grab on to something, first to survive and then, later, to thrive. My hope is that everyone finds their something to begin to un-pause their lives, un-freeze their survival mode, and begin to live and love in life again. I am so grateful to all the lifeboats and God-sends that got me to where I am today. I hope to be a lifeboat in any way I can for others on a similar journey.
12 STEP SPIRITUALITY
The 12 Steps and the premise of a recovery program from addiction are a set of principles for better living that could guide anyone to a higher standard for themselves as humans individually and in community. I often say that people working with effort a program of recovery have often had to grapple with issues, face their own worst self, and struggle with faith and belief in such a powerful and difficult way. Someone on this journey of recovery, whether 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 decades in sobriety, has often attempted to do some of the hardest spiritual work a person do–and work that many every day people (or “normies” as they are sometimes affectionately called) have never attempted.
There is something about being pushed to the brink of life and death (literally, spiritually, morally, and every way possible) that gives a person a capacity to reflect on themselves in a profound and deep way–if they choose to. Often, I have found, people in a solid recovery path are pushing themselves in their faith (whatever faith tradition that might be) harder than most of the “normies” in their midst.
Just the act of having to abolish substances from their life, and the self-restraint that takes in a society where drinking marks every landmark experience in many people’s lives–celebration and grief, marriage and death, social and professional experiences–is something immensely difficult. There is a willpower and a strength of soul that can be built on such a journey and should not be ignored by those going through it and the “normies” in their midst.
We all could learn a lot from the premise set forth in these contained 12 steps for more dimensional living. I believe there is much to be explored on the frontier of 12 steps as they relate to spiritual experience, soul’s evolution, and the growing of a generation of people (many of whom who have struggled through addiction or known someone who has) who have been able to accomplish great and trying things with this tools in their hand.
There is also much to be learned from how this process often leads to a spiritual hunger for faith in something that will enhance and empower this 12 step process.
12 steps and spirituality is something that could benefit everyone. There is not a person in this time and space in history who is not touched in some way by some form of addiction whether in themselves or someone in their community.
There is overt addiction that becomes self-evident quickly like drugs and alcohol, but many of us are compulsive about many things.
In a society that teaches us to want more, makes us hungry for shiny hollow things, how many of us go seeking in the wrong places for “stuff” to fill us up: food, sex, work, shopping, gambling, and other