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June 1, 2010

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August, 2000 – I am sitting with my mom in our car driving home.  We have been talking about various issues.  By now I am part of Sea Cadets and becoming more heavily invested in my dreams to become a Navy SEAL.  In the flow of our normal conversation I ask a profound thing.  “Mom, if I became a Navy SEAL would you be proud of me.”  My mother’s response was, “Well Kevin, I would be proud of you whatever you did, I just wish it wasn’t the military.”

August, 2008 – I am at home in our new house in Ripon.  My mother is lecturing me again about responsibility and getting a job.  After riding me for months to “do something” I am already employed at Costco.  When confronted with this reality she clearly knows her response is that Costco is only part time and I should be working full-time.

Parents have a powerful effect on how their children’s perception of God form, especially if the house is overtly religious such as mine.  In the movie the Crow, Brandon Lee’s character says to the only mother in the film “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children” and this, at least in my case was true.  Sadly, my mother is a fallen human being who has problems (like everyone else in this world) and merely getting married and having children did not sanctify her to the point where she could accurately represent God.

Growing up the children in our family were gifted.  We were intelligent, bright, handsome and beautiful, raised in a loving Christian home with a large extended family for support.  While problems existed these were all true.  In light of this my mother would constantly remind us that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  While true this true and in scripture (Luke 12:48) it was Jesus speaking.  My mother was overstepping her boundaries by claiming the right to “expect” from.  Furthermore this was always used in a shaming context highlighting what we were failing to do or what we were deficient in.  In her mind it was a reminder to excel and use the gifts given to us, but to me (and I suspect to my siblings) it was to motivate us with shame and a constant reminder that to our mother our performance was never enough.

While I excelled in sports, music, religion and academics throughout my life my mother was never satisfied.  At my brothers graduation in 2007 she once again started repeating her statement “to whom much is given much is expected” and that she wished we (her children) would do something in our Major’s (a new riff on an old theme).  I set a boundary comically by pointing out the major areas of success in the lives of her three children and that at least she should be satisfied that Joel and I were not wearing dresses (i.e. while not perfect, we could be a lot worse).  While this worked in the instant the damage had already been done.

My relationship with my mother instilled in me a major misunderstanding about God’s nature; because I perceived my mother as never fully satisfied with my performance I believed God was never satisfied with me or my behavior.  I knew that God was love, I just didn’t think God liked me and I kept trying to perform to his approval.  I knew that I couldn’t save myself through human effort but I felt that God still wasn’t pleased and I had to keep performing enough to stay in his good graces.

This is untrue.  The same scripture that calls us to an ethic that is counter-intuitive (we are called to love our enemies Matt 5:44), refers to ministers as co-workers with Christ (2 Cor 6:1), and suggests that to whom much is trusted much will be expected (Luke 12:48) also says that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, calls us co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), that his strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9) and Jesus himself calls us his friends (John 15:15).  God’s relationship to us is anchored in the rock of Jesus Christ, his immaculate birth, ministry and teaching, and atoning death and resurrection.  Our relationship with God is not through human effort and striving.  While we are called to live differently than we did before (Romans 12) our relationship to God is not dependent or conditional on this but on God’s grace.

I have to say no to the god-who-is-never-satisfied and yes to the God of grace that is revealed in scriptures.  It’s hard but I am learning to do this on a regular basis.

-Pacifico

“But Joash said to all who stood against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.'” – Judges 6:31

1992 – I am standing in a doctor’s office in Modesto California.  My mother is present and the doctor looks serious.  He begins to inform my mother that I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of juvenile arthritis.  I don’t even remember if I was directly addressed.  This begins my serious struggles with faith.  I had always been taught that God was good, God was loving, and God knit me together in my mother’s womb.  “Why did he knit me together with arthritis?”  I remember thinking, “I haven’t done anything that bad, I haven’t killed anyone…”

2009 – I am in the office of my pastor in the young adult ministry.  I have been struggling with some time with issues in our college group and feel the need to address them.  To this end I have presented him with a 27 page manifesto about the problems of our congregation.  I want to rail against people in my congregation from the pulpit.  While there are issues he wisely knows this is not the way to handle them.  He says something to me that has stuck with me, it was something to the effect of “If we believe in the Holy Spirit we have to trust him to act.”

After my diagnosis with arthritis I prayed for years for healing that never came.  In face of my pain the “God who answers prayer” and the “God who hears us” was distant and mute.  After a few years I began to modify my prayers, I asked only to know why I had arthritis.  If there was a reason for my pain then I could still trust in Him and see Him as good.  This too God refused to answer (until this last year).  At some point and time I just gave up on praying in regards to my arthritis.  This eventually lead to not praying regarding any healing at all and later prayer in general.  While I obviously wasn’t praying when I left the faith I never have had or regained a vibrant prayer life when I returned to faith.  The lack of healing distorted my image of God.  I saw him as non-responsive, impotent, or uncaring at best, and downright vindictive at the worst.

Regardless of the issues in my home congregation and the necessity to deal with them my pastor was definitely right about one thing.  I needed to trust God to be big enough to act for himself but I didn’t.  My distorted view of God had continued after my return to faith.  The God who didn’t act to heal my arthritis would also not act to resolve the issues in his Bride.  God needed my help to resolve the situation because he was either impotent or asleep at the wheel.  I mean couldn’t he see the problems in the congregation of people gathered in his name?  It was up to me to set things aright with a scathing sermon calling a spade a spade.

In numerous times the lack of power of idols is mocked by God and his prophets.  In the book of Judges, Gideon destroys the altars of Baal in secret (a dramatic sign of disrespect towards that ‘god’) and the men of his town are about to lynch him.  His father intervenes and suggests that if Baal is a god, he can defend himself.  This logic satisfies the men and they begin to refer to Gideon as Jeru-Baal “or let Baal contend [with him]”.  Later in the Elisha narrative, he challenges 400 prophets of Baal to call upon Baal to act in a situation.  When Baal fails to answer prayers Elisha mocks them, suggesting they need to call on him louder because Baal might be alseep or relieving himself.

In my story however, I have called upon God to act and he hasn’t.  I have taken this as a sign of God’s lack of desire to act, responsiveness to prayer, or lack of power.  These were the only options I considered.  This side of recovery I have been taught to pray a different way.  Many Christians pray a laundry lists of wants and wants confused as needs and this is essentially what I grew up with.  When God doesn’t give us what we want the normal conclusion is that “It wasn’t in his will.”  This seemed to me like a catch 22 and an excuse for God not answering prayer. If God answer’s some, but not all prayers, why pray?  If He’s going to act in line with His will regardless of what we pray for, why pray for things?  The other options I considered made more sense to me and formed my concept of God much more.

In recovery we are taught to pray for knowledge of God’s will and the courage to carry it out. It’s not so much about getting what we want from God, as if He’s a genie with infinite wishes, but aligning our lives and wills with His. This is much more in-line with the Scriptures.  Also, this side of recovery I have finally received an answer as to why I have arthritis.  In part I was given arthritis and denied healing for it so that I could be a better recovery minister.  My arthritis aside I’ve lived a very privileged life, I’ve come from a imperfect but stable home, school has come easy to me, finances have never been a problem and I am a singular case of health for someone with my disease.  Other children with my disease are permanently confined to wheel chairs because of chronic pain…I run 3ks at the Rose Bowl.  Without my arthritis and my struggle with God over it life would be very clean and nice.  With it in my life I’ve been given a recovery story, a story of pain and struggle, that has enabled me to connect with the people I’ve been called to minister to.

Finally, it is an old gypsy curse that people get what they want.  This is true for me, had I been given everything I’ve prayed for I would probably be miserable, married to the wrong person, and questioning my purpose in life.  Sometimes God doesn’t answer my prayers because He knows whats best for me better than I do, because He doesn’t have my limited vantage point.

So now one of the things God is building in me is a new trust in Him where I trust that He can and will speak for himself, to me and to other people.

-Pacifico

“…and the truth will set you free.’” – Jesus in John 8:32

November 2008 – I am sitting in a circle of chairs with other men at my home church. It is the third time I’ve attended this group and after listening to their stories and remaining silent for the first two weeks I for the first time introduce myself honestly. “Hi, my name is Pacifico and I’m a sex addict”. They respond with a “Hi Pacifico” in affirmation. I share only half of what I had planned, as if God wants to make sure I come back to share the other half. Instead of condemnation, shock, or disgust I receive nods of understanding, soft smiles and affirmation. I have crossed over from feeling “terminally unique” to joining a community of Christians who support one another in their recovery from the very same thing. This is the first time I’ve confessed this sin to anyone since I was thirteen. I am twenty-four.

March 2009 – I am parked at the ministry house I have been living in for several months. I have already spent many minutes trying my best to craft a set of lies to avoid expressing my true feelings about a situation (lest I offend someone) and make the situation appear so that I hadn’t failed but things just hadn’t worked out (lest I let someone down). In the midst of my attempts to devise a good lie the words of Jesus come to me from the Holy Spirit like a thunder bolt. “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I realize that this is not an isolated incident by any means. I have often spent hours crafting lies to avoid offending anyone or letting anyone down. I pick up my phone, call the people I was planning on lying to, and tell them the truth. In this situation everything actually works out for me. There are no negative repercussions, only positive consequences from my truth-telling. I realize this won’t always be the case, but I know I have to continue to be honest to deal with reality.

In my previous post I explained how my surroundings had encouraged me to stay in denial.  This however did not excuse why I choose to stay in denial.  There are two reasons why I stayed in denial despite many opportunities to step out of denial.

First, I had no hope.  Beneath my duplicity I had a nagging belief that this was all a show, that I was being dishonest and in reality I was truly hurting.  I could have at any time chosen to deal with those feelings and beliefs alone or after finding a safe person.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t because I knew if I was honest about my life I would have to acknowledge that I was broken and hurting and at the time I had no hope that anything could fix me.  In my mind honesty would not be the first steps towards healing but the first and only step to despair.  It was simply a risk not worth taking.   The Devil that I knew (denial – and its familiar consequences) was less dreaded to me than the Devil that I didn’t know (honesty – and its unfamiliar consequences), so I chose the Devil that I knew.  In recovery lingo, the pain of change was greater than the pain of staying the same, so I chose to stay the same.

Secondly, over the years I have lied countless times to cover up my failures.  This was done to avoid letting others down and keep my performances for affection as pristine as possible.  Not only have I wasted hours spending time crafting white lies but this produced an image impossible to maintain without more lies.  The image that I created was that of a golden child who excels at everyone, is loved by all, and never lets anyone down. Striving to maintain this image was exhausting to say the least; it was impossible to do and always required more lying. I doubt many really saw me this way or had these expectations for me but this is how I wanted others to see me desperately. This image became my slave master, one that never relented, never let up, and was never satisfied.

When I actually started being honest about myself, owed entirely to the work of the Holy Spirit and safety of the recovery community of my home church, I was relieved to find that the sky didn’t fall, the universe didn’t collapse, and I was okay.  As I continued to hear stories from the recovery community I slowly began to believe that God might be both powerful enough to heal me and gracious enough to restore and redeem me.  When I introduced myself in front of 150 of my peers at our young adults service the way I do in a recovery setting. “Hi, my name is Pacifico and I am celebrating my recovery from sexual addiction, co-dependency, and unbelief” I broke down the image I had so carefully crafted over the years. It was truly one of the most freeing experiences of my life.  Once again, the word of God did not return void, and as I started to step into honesty I started to step out of the captivity of denial.

-Pacifico

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth…'” – Jesus in John 8:32

April, 2005 – I am relaxing on the beautiful grass in the open area of my college under the shade of cherry trees. It’s not like I need the shade.  The Spring sun is pleasant and a welcome warmth after a long Winter. The yearbook has come out and everyone is milling about in the festive atmosphere looking over the new collection of memories. Its cover design looks like a layer of name tags with various names written in. One comically is a crude joke that somehow slipped the censors.  Another one of my friends wrote one that says “Hello my name is…Athentic” and intentional misspelling of authentic.

September 2006 – I am sitting on the same lawn at the kick off BBQ at the start of my senior year at college. Two of my female friends are loudly recounting a hilarious story from the year before. One of them had borrowed a laptop from a male classmate for a group project. On it she had found a video that was titled with a girl’s name. Thinking, rather naively, that it was a movie from home she started to play it. It was a hardcore pornography video. They retell the story of their shock, disgust, and how another girls had to be brought in to finally figure out how to turn it. They are laughing. While the man is not named the sin is treated irreverently and shamefully at the same time. While smiling I swear to myself never tell any of them about my own struggle with pornography.

Authenticity is a buzzword for my generation; it is highly valued and highly praised. Everyone is authentic and everyone is real about life. In college I believed I was authentic. I cussed when I was angry to show how real with my emotions I was. I wasn’t as clean-cut in appearance or manners as I used to be, as if to say, “Take me as I am, not as I should be.”  I was real about this life. I wanted the truth and I gave the truth, warts and all, because I was authentic.

In reality, during this time and through most of my life I was inauthentic and duplicitous.  I routinely lied, denied my feelings, and ignored major problems.  I was shallow in my relationships and feared any real intimacy.  Yet I was fully convinced I was actually authentic. I really believed my own lies; I bought what I was selling everyone else.  This side of recovery, I see my attitudes back then were insane and would almost laughable if they weren’t so hurtful to myself and others. (Cussing as a sign of being in touch and expressive of one’s emotions?)  How could I be a friend, a leader, or a boyfriend when I was “categorically incapable of honesty” to use a line from the Big Book.  You can’t have a relationship with smoke and mirrors.  How could I change when I was so deep in denial I was convinced, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that I was fine?

Thinking about my time in college and in the young adult group at my home church I think we have a long way to go in becoming an authentic generation.  Like my friend’s intentional misspelling we play at the word but never quite hit the mark.  In fact, in a bitter way my generation has encouraged authenticity and honesty while remaining as unsafe as any previous generation. While calling for our peers to be honest and highly prizing authenticity, we lack the grace necessary to actually be helpful to those who answer the call.  When someone around is is actually authentic and honest about their specific problems do we actually surround them in a loving helpful way or do we use the same broken tools a generation before us had?  A quotation from C.S. Lewis comes to mind, “We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”

Accountability groups are a prime example of this.  My first encounter with a Christian response to my problems with sexuality was an accountability group called “No Compromise”, which, living up to its name was designed to move people towards perfection in the realm of sexual sin.  How the group functioned was that if you sinned sexually in the last week you had to share it with the group.  The functioning principle here was that the shame that you felt by being honest with the group would prevent you from sinning in the future.  Honestly, what kind of screwed up logic is that.  This experience in high school was par for the course, along with that of my two friends making light of another man’s struggle, that added to my shame, self-loathing and disgust at myself and my sexuality.

These experiences, of my generations lack of grace towards sin, and the Christian treatment of sexual sin and sexuality in general, along with my family rules pushed me towards and help keep me in denial.  While at the end of the day there were many choices on my part to stay in denial, despite a number of “off-ramps” that came up through life, it would take another kind of Christian community to help me leave denial for good.

-Pacifico

The Siren’s Song

April 23, 2010

“Square in your ship’s path are Sirens, crying beauty to bewitch men coasting by; woe to the innocent who hears that sound! He will not see his lady nor his children in joy, crowding about him home from sea; the Sirens will sing his mind away on their sweet meadow lolling. There are bones of dead men rotting in a pile beside them and flayed skins shrivel around the spot. ” Homer, The Odyssey, Book 12

1992 – I am in 2nd grade and in front of the whole class.  My friends and I are putting on an elementary school play.  For my assignment I choose to do one from the Odyssey, the scene where Odysseus and his friends have to blind the cyclops to escape from him.

1997 – I am in my brother’s room at our old house, the one I grew up in most of my life.  My brother, two of our friends and I am huddled around a hand-held camcorder my parents have used to videotape our events.  Playing on it without sound is the first hardcore pornography movie I have ever seen.  It won’t be the last.  Before this I had found a Playboy pin-up in my brother’s room, and a friend had brought a playboy magazine to school but this is something else entirely.  I am thirteen.

The Odyssey might not be standard literature for children but then again I’m not a standard child.  I had to switch schools going into the second grade because I tested into the GATE program.  One of my fondest memories from elementary school is immersing myself in our library’s collection of adventurous and heroic literature.  The story of the Odyssey was one of my favorites.  I think it instilled in my the desire for a hard penitential quest or journey, full of trials and troubles such as the cyclops, the Scylla, the Charybdis, and Calypso.  It just seemed that a life devoid of challenges to overcome at great peril and cost wasn’t heroic or worth living.

In part of the book Odysseus is about to pass by the sirens, the dangerous bird women who lured sailors to their doom with their song.  He asks to be tied to the mast while his men covered their ears with the beeswax to avoid their tempting call.  In this way he could enjoy and be entertained by their song, but was safe from leaping into the ocean or crashing his boat into the shore.  Odysseus’ desire to know and experience is unhindered by the normal dangers.  He actually finds a way to have his cake and eat it too.

At the Celebrate Recovery conference a fellow addict referred to the draw of pornography to the Siren’s song and in many ways my struggle with pornography resembles Odysseus trial.  When I was introduced to pornography it was at an inopportune time.  My use of performance to get love was producing diminishing returns, I was slowly on my way out of the church, I had not yet oriented my life around the military, things at home were of course not perfect and I was obviously trying to sort out my sexuality and masculinity at this formative time.  The Siren’s song of pornography was really the fantasy that you were a man, you were everything our culture says a man should be.  You are in control, able to sexually please women, are desirable to women and have large genitals.  You have no responsibilities, no realities to deal with, and are never rejected or judged; there is just free pleasure.  This was a rather intoxicating mix to me.  Pornography over the years acted as affirmation on demand when I was insecure, a way to self-medicate when I felt bad (and felt bad for feeling bad because good Christians never feel bad), and the fantasy that my identity as a man was secure.

Like Odysseus I desire to hear the Siren’s song was overwhelming despite the danger, but for me there were no shipmates bees-wax to cover my ears and nothing to be tied down to.  I leapt into the ocean and happily drowned.

The use of pornography in this manner was rather counter productive.  When I felt bad, and performance didn’t work, I would use pornography it that “worked”.  I did feel good…for about 15 seconds…then the shame and guilt would set in and I would feel worse than when I started.  Furthermore this sin was so shamed because of its connection to sexuality that I never talked about it.  And even if I had wanted to, who would I have talked to about it?  The list of safe people I had growing up was effectively zilch.  This self-defeating pattern repeated in various ways over the next eleven years.  After ten years it got worse, and during the “Bad Old Days” I was no longer just a man who struggled with pornography but a full-blown pornography addict.  It was only after this season that I finally sought help and entered recovery for sexual addiction. The Twelve Steps being practiced in a safe Christ centered environment has been the only effective way to regain self-control and victory over this issue.

I am still sorting out the damage my secretive struggle with pornography has done to me, but I have hope that I can continue to change as I continue in my recovery and allow the grace of Jesus Christ to transform my life.

-Pacifico

I know…

April 20, 2010

August, 2001 – I am drenched in salt water and sweat.  I’m standing on the shore of SEAL beach along the Pacific Ocean near San Diego as part of Amphibious Warfare Training. I begin to shake from my adrenaline coming down.  My friend Mike and I are looking out over the ocean that we just returned from.  Moments before our RIB (Rigged-hulled Inflatable Boat) had been flipped by the heavy surf on our way into shore.  Crushed and trapped under the RIB, knocking my head around on the boat and other people, and hearing only the deafening roar of the breaking waves  for the first time in my life I thought I was going to die.  I’ve never felt more alive.  I was in the first group of people to volunteer to go out in the heavy surf and part of the only boat crew to complete the task of breaching the surf, flipping our boat, and returning.  I had never felt more approved by my peers and I had proven something to myself.  I would later go on to be awarded Male Honor Cadet for this year’s Amphibious Warfare Training.

August, 2002 – I am drenched in salt water and sweat.  I’m laying down, arms locked with other cadets, in the shallow frigid waters of the Atlantic ocean near Little Creek Virgina as part of Jr. Navy SEAL training.  Only a few days in I am already aware that I am physically unfit for this training. I am struggling to keep up with the other young men, some of whom were at my Amphib training.  I am the weakest link in my boat team’s chain and am routinely singled out for my poor performance.  Eventually after yet again slowing my team down at a training I pass out and hit my head on a car window.  I ask to sea a doctor. One of the instructors pulls me aside and lays it out for me clearly.  If I go to the hospital and they find something wrong with me, they will be sending me home.  If I go to the hospital and they don’t find anything wrong with me, it will be widely recognized that I don’t have what it takes by my peers and instructors.  I fear both options but decide to go to the hospital. As soon as the nurse sees my heart rate I am laid down and an IV is started.  I am diagnosed with mono, this has compounded with dehydration and pushing my body to the limits to result in my fatigue.  I might have had what it takes, but I have to leave.

During my high school years I found myself and my identity in my goals for the future.  My plan was to attend the Naval Academy and go into the U.S. Navy SEALs, though it was clear from the outset that this was a fantasy.  My long history of medical problems precluded me from any military service, much less an elite branch of the military.  However, I strove forward, aligning my whole life towards this goal, because of what it mean to me.  Induction into the military, and the mental and physical tests involved, were to be my initiation into manhood.

Our culture in general lacks rites of passage, a time of testing that marks one as a leaving childhood and entering adult hood.  I was recently told adolescence is now described as the time between 13-28.  For our grandparents generation it was 13-15 and for our parents it was 13-18.  Even if our parents and grandparents lacked rites of passages just as we do not it would seem wider issues forced them to “grow up” fast.  The Great Depression and World War II were not small things to live through and affected my grandparents until the day they died.  The current extended age of adolescence I believe is in part due to the lack of any rite of passage or initiation nor any wider cultural challenge to shape us.  This lack has been felt and substitutes have been developed.  Many considered having sex to be one’s rite of passage into adulthood; many movies and locker-room stories perpetuate this myth.  For my peers from upper-middle class households the closest thing we had was our attempts to beat out others to get into the “right” colleges (UC or above) to get the best jobs to die with the most toys.  This wasn’t enough for me and in my mind, my identity as a man would be settled when I completed my military goals.

This however, was denied me.  My medical history did keep me from enlisting and even before I went on my last training in 2002 I had already decided to give up that path for my life after wrestling with God about it for three years. Even at the trainings I did go on, they were short and shallow in comparison to the real thing.  My performance was not unblemished.  I won Male Honor Cadet at Amphib not because I was the best but due to some political maneuvering and special considerations.  At my Jr. Navy SEAL training I wonder if I actually had mono or if this was a gracious act on the part of the instructors to send me home while not shaming me (it cleared up less than a week later).  Furthermore deep down I knew I hadn’t trained hard enough for it; I had spent most of the summers playing video games, not physically training.  The fact that what I had so associated with my rite of passage was denied to me has left me feeling untested and unproven. It was if I was raised Jewish and taught the importance and significance of a bar mitzvah and then was never given one.

I know…how to flip an inflatable boat to get blood and urine out of it in a survival situation, how to blade my paddle to avoid a reflection from moonlight giving away my location, how to clear a jam in an M-4A1 assault rifle, what percentage of the barrel of an M4A1 is manganese and what the secret ingredient is in its composition to avoid rust from salt water, where to hit a man to stun him momentarily allowing you to more permanently disable him, what to do if an attacker grabs you from behind, what percentage of hand to hand fights end up on the ground and what to do if yours does, how to judge wind direction and speed from environmental factors to anticipate its effect on bullet trajectory, how to put your scope lens out of focus to see and follow the vapor trail of a bullet…

…but I don’t know if I’m a man.

Command Performance

April 17, 2010

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21

April, 1999 – I am standing in a room at a university in Hayward California.  My parents, some friends, some strangers and a judge are in the room.  I have just finished my performance of song on the Eb Alto Saxophone for a California Music Educator’s Association competition.  I can no longer remember the name of the song. In his evaluation the judge informs me that it was originally a piece written for cello that was transcribed to saxophone, an increasingly common occurrence apparently.  I am one the last performances of the day and everyone is eager to start heading home.  As we all shuffle out Mr. Dufour, my late band teacher, asks the assistant carrying the review to the grade board what I had earned.  I received a “Command Performance”, the highest grade next to “Superior Command Performance” which is only attainable by memorizing your piece.  My mom and dad are elated, everyone is clapping for me and cheering me on.  I wish I could say that I was just numb and didn’t feel anything, but to be honest I felt incredibly sad.  I am naturally uncomfortable receiving large outpourings of affection and love, but this is something deeper.  The reason I’m sad is something worse.

1995 – I am at my cousins house.  The cousins I’m visiting are brothers that are slightly younger than me.  They too play piano and other instruments.  I am standing in the hallway of their house watching one of them practice.  Their mother, my aunt, is standing over one of them with a ruler.  Whenever he hits a wrong not she slaps his hand with the ruler.  She is yelling at him and scolding him.  He is crying.  I myself am required to practice piano in hour blocks as well as to attend weekly lessons.  We use the kitchen oven timer to track this hour and I routinely sneak in when my mother isn’t paying attention to lower my time.  At family gatherings my cousins and siblings are commonly asked to play something on the piano in front of all of our aunts and uncles.  The adults claim there is no ulterior motive or competition. “We just love to hear you play”.  Even at young age I know they are lying. They never ask us to “just play” anytime other than family gatherings.  I know then but am only able to articulate later what is happening.  Those performances are really competitions between parents. They are proving their upper-middle class status and comparing their abilities to be good parents by our musical talent.

April, 2010 – I was sitting in my Pastoral Care and Abuse class.  We bring up the topic of child abuse and run through some not so clear examples of child abuse and discuss them.  The “overworked child”, where a youth has a jam-packed schedule at a young, age invites a lot of conversation.  While quick to condemn other forms of abuse we are slow to condemn this as abuse because our cultural values of performance, hard work, and productivity cloud the violation of childhood, family and sabbath rest.  One Asian man in the class brings up the issue of cultural relevance.  He suggests that in Asian cultures, where parents are hard on their children to succeed, the children excel and this wouldn’t be called child abuse.  It seems many in our class would agree with these even though they weren’t Asian.  One man who worked with college students at UCLA noted that most of his students lived this childhood so it’s hard for him to condemn it.

It is not hard for me to condemn it.  Few things in this world have been as life-killing to me as the drive to perform, produce and excel that my parents built into me and the wider culture has approved of.  Outwardly it all looks nice.  I did receive a command performance and even before that had beaten out seniors to be second chair in my freshman year.  I was set to become the lead alto-saxophone player for all of my high school’s bands for the next three years.  My cousins are incredible musicians to this day. We all got into various UC’s and have done well in life.  One might argue that our parents in commanding us to perform, pushing us to excel, to be all we could be was a good thing. We did excel and got far ahead of many of our peers out of the gate in high school.

This, like all great lies, is only half the truth.  Both of my cousins are severely overweight, my immediate family has incredibly strained relationships, and my internal desire to perform and produce makes it almost impossible to ever be satisfied with any of my work, much less rest regardless of how much I need it.  Sitting, being human, reading for personal edification, relaxing and other healthy life-giving disciplines involved in Sabbath rest are revolting to me because of my childhood.  If I were a car I would have all my gauges and warning lights removed and then run on all cylinders until there is no gas in my tank, the oil in my engine is shot, and I’ve blown three gaskets.  Then I’d drive some more.

More telling of the damage this caused to me was the story of the aftermath of my CMEA performance.  Shortly after this performance I quit all of my instruments and dropped out of band entirely.  This became one of the last times I would ever perform publicly.  To this day I still have issues performing musically in front of people (a rather troubling issue to have if you lead worship, which at times I’ve been asked to do).  I realized much later what had happened at that CMEA competition.  Throughout my childhood I was commanded to perform (in music, education, religion, etc.) and I was celebrated when I did; the net result of this was that I learned that to feel loved or affirmed I could perform.  If love came from a well, it was as if performance was a pump.  However, the more I used performance to get love I got increasingly diminished returns.  If, early on I could perform and be okay with myself for a month or two, by the time middle school rolled around I would only be okay with myself for a week.  By the time of the CMEA competition I couldn’t even enjoy the affirmation I had earned by my Command Performance because I was already thinking about the next performance.  I knew this system didn’t work because I would have to do it again, and was already anticipating it. In light of this, why would I continue performing?  I wasn’t a musician, I was a person in need of love who had used music to earn it.  That no longer worked, so there was no longer any reason to play music.

Towards the end of class Dr. Ryan had suggested the case study was a type of child abuse because it represented a loss of childhood.  Children are naturally inclined to be okay just being and playing; they are taught that they should be productive. When this happens far sooner than it should people loose their childhood because they can’t be a child, they are too busy producing.

Less than a week later I find out my cousin’s kid brother just had his first piano recital.  He’s six and he’s performing at the local junior college.

-Pacifico

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14

1990 – We’re sitting in the family living room in our pajamas.  My mom, my sister and my brother are all there, but my father is conspicuously absent.  My mother is crying and through the sobs she begins to tell us what she called us all in for.  She begins to tell us that she and my father might be getting a divorce.  She swears us to secrecy saying, “Don’t tell anyone about this…”.

This conversation happened sometime in elementary school for me.  The only reason I know this is because we were in our second house, a move that happened before I entered grade school.  I don’t remember if i cried or was afraid, but I remember those words…”Don’t tell anyone about this”.  And I didn’t.  For years this, and my parents troubled marriage in general, remained a buried secret within my family. It wasn’t until college that I was able to talk to my siblings about this and my mom talked to me about the reason that caused them to consider divorce.

As a young child this made an incredible impact on me.  My mother’s command to “not talk about this” became internalized more generally as “don’t talk about any problems”. And I didn’t.  The vast majority of my problems in this life I have not talked about (at least not until recently).  They were either a sign of weakness on my part, a bother to someone else, or just not anyone’s business.  By middle school what started out as simply not talking about problems also eventually became lying to cover them up.  By high school my mentality was that I had “to sort this s–t out on my own”.  This was reinforced at the church my mother began taking my sister and I to for their youth programs.  No one there seemed to have any problems, everyone there lived in victory, and it was not a safe place.  Prayer there was essentially a code word for gossip.  When I started struggling with faith during my middle school years that church made me feel like I was the only one.  I had a problem, no one else did because good Christians don’t have problems, so I didn’t talk about it.  It’s not surprising that as a 14 year old struggling with faith I couldn’t find all the answers by myself and left the faith for most of high school.

Recently, in a class on Grief, Loss, Death and Dying, we were encouraged to share about how certain factors affected how we processed grief.  For whatever reason this memory came to mind and while I had thought I had gotten to the root of my silence and denial there was another aspect to it.  Shortly after my mom telling us that she might divorce my dad we helped pack up my aunt’s things as she did leave her husband while he was gone to work.  I was scolded for not helping pack up. My parents never said, “We were considering a divorce but we’ve worked it out”, we were just told they were thinking of getting a divorce and then they didn’t (they are married to this day).  This left the future of their marriage open-ended and uncertain.  Coupled with my aunt’s leaving of her husband in mid-day I guess I just felt deep down somewhere that one day we’d come home pack up our stuff and help mom leave dad.  I never knew if or when that day might come.  Can any home be considered “stable” when this is going on in the mind of a child regardless of how much love, money, or security there is coming in?

I don’t know for sure, but I think I might have taken some responsibility for my parents relationship at a very young age.  If I could just perform enough, be good enough, my parents would stay together.  Regardless of this was a subconscious or conscious motive for me I did perform (in school, music, sports, church, etc.) and my parents did stay together, so it appeared to work.  In a very human and understandable way I wanted to have some control over a situation that was way beyond my control, but greatly effected me.

2004 – I get a phone call from my mom.  I’m standing in my dorm room in college.  It’s towards the end of a long and hard year in which I for the first time begin examining my relationship with my father.  My mom begins to give me some very bad news regarding my dad, she begins…”Don’t tell anyone about this…”

My family hasn’t changed. Fifteen years after swearing us to secrecy concerning the rocky state of their marriage my mother again swears me to secrecy on another private matter.  I do not wish to vilify my mother, my dad didn’t even talk about these things, but our family system is what our family system was.  By this time in my life I had come back to faith but was still in an incredible level of denial and hurt, in part due to the first conversation where I was sworn to secrecy at a young age. And here again, my family was reinforcing the beliefs that problems were private and not to be shared.

They have a truism in recovery that says, “You are only as sick as your sickest secrets.”  I was pretty sick, but not terminal.  Years of burying, denying and not dealing with the crap in my life meant that there was an increasingly toxic amount of junk in my life that i was choosing not to look at.  It was greatly effecting my life but I just didn’t think about it. Denial was still working for me.

April, 2010 – Denial doesn’t work for me anymore but to be totally honest, parts of me wishes it did.  To be honest with oneself is is hard work.  Now I have to deal with traumatic experiences, like this one, from the past and to reconcile with those I’ve hurt.  My life was simpler and it was working when I was in denial.  But then I am reminded of what “working” looked like.  By the time of my mother’s phone call in college I was entering my second battle with depression, I had stomach ulcers when I was 16 because of all the stress, I had left the church and come back to it, I was an acquaintance to everyone, a friend to no one, I had seriously contemplated suicide, I had one failed relationship, I was ruled by fear and the pain of letting anyone down was a crushing bow to my weak self esteem… and this was all before the Bad Old Days.  Denial “working” for me simply meant I was keeping my grades high, my appearances up and I hadn’t committed suicide yet.

Of all the things I could have written about I’ve chosen this one to be the first to solidify my resolve to be honest and to let that honesty take me where it takes me. Denial is not an option for me anymore.  It hurts too much and its price is too high.  To hijack a phrase from a fellow addict, “I need to find a way to be honest, just so that I can live”.

-Pacifico

P.S. Sorry mom, but I will tell people about this.

“Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?”

Jeremiah 8:22

November, 2008 – I have just opened the door to the main sanctuary of Big Valley Grace Church.  It’s a Tuesday, we always meet on Tuesdays.  My hand is still on the door and before I cross the threshold I’m surveying the people inside.  Many inside are poor, dirty and unkempt. “These people?” This is the thought that entered my head.  God responds with a question, as He often does, “Do you honestly think you’re better than anyone in this room?”  His tone is not accusatory, and it doesn’t need to be.  After very briefly thinking about my dirt and junk in the past year alone I had my answer.  “No”.  I walked forward and in the coming months became one of “Those people”.

The ministry that I joined that night, the Celebrate Recovery of my home church, quickly became much more than a ministry.  It became a family to me.  They supported (and still support) me as I work on my recovery from sexual addiction, co-dependency, fear, anger and unbelief.  I had a child-like love for the community that I couldn’t explain until many months later.  I loved them because they were a safe place for me to be broken.  After years of struggling alone and churches that had no grace I had finally found a place where it was okay to be perfect.  The price of admission was not perfection but admitting you weren’t perfect.  The greatest gift that my recovery family has given me is the ability to tell the truth about myself and about my past.  Before recovery I would lie so much I even started to believe my own lies.  I would lie to cover up my failures, I would lie to keep everyone happy with me, I would lie to evade responsibility for my actions.  Admitting that I wasn’t perfect was the first step towards my honesty about myself and my life in general.  However, this great gift is also the source of great pain.  Memories of painful times that were never resolved, only buried and denied, have resurfaced.  Quite frankly, I wish they hadn’t.  While my past was dictating my present my denial at least afforded the ability to ignore the pain.  While my past has less hold over my present the cost is at times, very high.  Time doesn’t heal all wounds.

It is also a truism in recovery that when people start their recovery it usually gets a lot worse before it gets better.  The reasoning is for years people have used various addictions or faulty coping mechanisms to make problems go away.  When they stop using those addictions and coping mechanisms the problems are still there…only this time they have given up their one “tried and true” method of dealing with them. Relationships destroyed due to addictions are still broken; you can be sober and still have the hard work of reconciliation to do.  I am finding out exactly what this means for my own story.   Pain I just to drown in addiction now is just pain (or some half-measure of my addiction). I have lived an incredibly isolated life and though I am incredibly outgoing and widely regarded as a people person I probably have less than six and no more than ten significant friendships.  A little over a year ago I was promising to become estranged from my parents and never to speak to them again.  Years of functioning as a social chameleon and being whatever everyone else wanted me to be has left me, at 25, trying to still figure out who I am.  And for the first time in my life I’m recognizing these problems.  To those not in recovery the best analogy would be a hurricane.  When a hurricane hits you’re focused completely on it and terrified, but when it’s gone you can’t focus on it, instead you see all the carnage and wreckage it has left behind.

To further complicate matters, it seems my recovery has in many ways stalled out.  While I am no long watching hours of hardcore pornography a day as I was during the Bad Old Days, why have I still acted out  on pictures and images of women?  While I have not punched a hole in a wall since 2007 (hoping to hit a stud so I would break my hand), how much of my unhealthy sabbath violating “work ethic” in 2009 was fueled by rage?  While I learned my codependency will affect my relationships for some time to come, why am I shocked when I am unconsciously putting my needs last (as if I don’t matter) in my most important relationships?

The painful memories of my past, the wrecked state of my life, and my continued struggles with lust, co-dependency, fear and anger  point to one clear conclusion:  my healing has been incomplete. For me there has been no balm in Gilead, no physician, no healing for my wounds, and I don’t know why.

Is it possible that after 18 months in recovery I have not yet worked through the low point of my journey yet?  Have the Twelve Steps failed me or have I failed to work the Twelve Steps?  While I resigned myself to a lack of physical healing long ago, is my lack of emotional healing likewise something I must resign myself to?  Will I have to keep running from these ghosts in my past?  Is there nothing that can cure me?  Is there no-one that can fix me?  Why is there no healing for my wounds?

April, 2010 – I have started writing this blog for one purpose: to try to find an answer to these questions.  In the recovery testimony I gave to my church I was clear to make two things clear: I was (and am) not instantly perfect, but that I had hope.  Recently I’ve come to doubt that, and in writing here I am longing to be reminded of the hope I have, and in Who I have it in.  To do that here I will attempt to deal with painful memories from the past by writing about them. Here I will describe the wreckage of my life and my attempts to rebuild.  Here I will keep track of my progress and understandings of the Twelve Steps. Here I will log significant struggles with lust, anger, fear or unbelief.  Here I will find hope that Jesus can transform me.

I am posting this online and not writing in a private journal for two main reasons.  First, for myself and my recovery I have found that absolute transparency is required of me.  I don’t think it’s required of me by God, I think it’s required of me by the nature and level of my past duplicity.  Only absolute truth-telling is an antidote for my past inability to tell the truth about myself.  Secondly, for others I hope to chart my journey so that should they need it, they can follow a similar path.  My hope is that just as in meetings where one hears their own story coming out of the mouth of another, others can read their own stories in my writings and identify with them.  I hope that my writings, while being a catharsis for me, might just be the balm others are looking for.

-Pacifico

P.S.  To balance my desire for absolute honesty with the concern for anonymity for those in my stories the names of individuals in this blog will be changed, including mine.