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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Here’s a very interesting book I just found out about. The author candidly shares her story, to help break the cycle of abuse and the damaging effects that result from that abuse. Kindle-Wounds-of-the-Father-High-Resolution-188x300

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In the bestselling tradition of Smashed and Glass Castle, this raw, eye-opening memoir tells the powerful story of Elizabeth Garrison’s fractured childhood, descent into teenage drug addiction, and struggle to overcome nearly insurmountable odds. Elizabeth invites the reader behind the closed doors of a picture-perfect Christian family to reveal a dark, hidden world of child abuse, domestic violence, and chilling family secrets all performed in the name of God under the tyrannical rule of her father. Like countless teenage girls, Elizabeth turns to drugs and alcohol to escape. With smack-you-in-the-face honesty, Elizabeth chronicles the dark realities and real-life horrors of teenage drug abuse, living on the streets, foster homes, and treatment centers. She paints an unsparing portrait of scratching and clawing her way out of the grips of child abuse, addiction, and betrayal to find the strength within herself to save her own life.

 

Elizabeth Garrison has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and works as a researcher for the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Her research focuses on the effects of childhood abuse and developing interventions to help children recover. She also is a well-known celebrity ghost-writer. Given her talent in helping others to tell their stories, Garrison decided it was time to tell her own story. Visit her at www.elizabethgarrison.info.

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I’m getting closer to publishing my next memoir, Healing The Writer. I put it on my website today as “Coming Soon,” with the front cover I plan to use. DanLHays.com

The woman who edited my first book said she thought this would be one of the most powerful books I would ever publish. I didn’t get it at the time, but I’m beginning to understand what she meant. I’m about to read the whole manuscript for the first time. I published the first 29 chapters on Life As A Human magazine, but have been letting them get cold while I wrote the final chapters.

Book Cover Cropped

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“Dear God.  I am really angry with You!”

Just saying those words out loud made me hold my breath.  Would I bring down the fabled wrath for having said that?  But it was true – it was the most honest statement I’d ever made to God since I’d started trying to pray.  I was really angry – for a lot of reasons.  But I had been somehow conditioned that you don’t talk honestly to those you have a problem with – so the same should logically apply to God.

I knew something was really wrong in my life.  I had been plagued by problems for years, problems I couldn’t pin down as to origin.  I had even tried to talk about that as a prayer, many years before.  When I was about 21, there was a Sunday evening service at the church I attended, and at one point in the service, they would dim the lights, and people were invited to come down to the altar rail, kneel and pray.  One time my prayer had gone something like “Dear God, I don’t know if You’re really up there, and if You’re really listening, but if You are, I know there’s something terribly wrong with my life.  I seem to hurt deep down inside, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.  Please help me God.”  I didn’t seem to get an answer at the time, and for a long time afterward.

But it was just after Christmas in 1987, and my Dad had just died, at a time when the problems I had been struggling with had escalated.  It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  I was 37 years old, and my anger at God had already started to surface.  In anger I had torn up and shredded a lot of Bible study notes, frustrated at the seeming lack of answers in all that study I had done.  Then I got the phone call – come home; Dad is dying.  I had returned to my parents house, had been there when my Dad died, delivered the eulogy at his funeral.  It had been a hugely emotional time, and I was still reeling from it.

Now, a month later, the anger was back, and boiling.  I was willing to risk all sorts of possible bad things to be honest with what I was feeling, and just say – flat out – how angry I was at God, and at the situation.  Having stated my anger, and not been struck down by a bolt of lightning, I sat down and started writing what I was angry about.

I had recently started narrowing down where all the issues were coming from.  I had remembered several ugly incidents with my Dad when I was a teenager.  First my Dad had shamed poetry that I had written for a school literary magazine, told me it was worthless and I’d never amount to anything.  It was a horrible experience, and it felt like a light went out in my soul when my writing was taken away from me by being told it was worthless.   The next thing I had remembered was arguing with my Dad over being able to wear my hair like the Beatles.  He was a former Marine, and refused to allow it.  Then late at night he came into my room and beat me up, telling me not to talk back to him.  I had a feeling there may have been more – the evidence pointed that way – but I didn’t know how to root out whatever still might be underneath.

Then there was the horrible hurt I was feeling over my Dad dying.  Our relationship had been strained for a number of years, but recently we had found a new supportiveness and peace between us.  And then he died.  It wasn’t fair!

So it came back to “Dear God, I am angry with you!”  I knew I couldn’t keep carrying that anger, so I took a risky step.  I set up a meeting with a minister at my church, to admit before a man of God about my anger.  Wow – now that felt risky!  But it also felt necessary.  I had watched as my Dad denied his anger and refused to deal with it for many years.  He had suffered numerous health problems, and had died in his late 50s.  I had been watching his behavior and expecting his early death for several years, and knew – somehow I just knew – that if I didn’t deal with my own anger, I would end up going down the same path.

I met with the minister the next day.  I shared with him what I had written, and the things I was angry about.  I held my breath, expecting some dread penance for irreverence.  Instead, the minister confirmed that many people felt things like I was feeling, and had experienced deep anger at God.  It just wasn’t supported at church to talk about that, so everyone put on what I called the “happy Christian game face” and didn’t talk about things like anger at God. He said I had opened the lines of communication with God in a whole new way, and God would honor that honesty.  He told me it took great courage for me to share what I did, and that it would only help my healing process. Then the minister said something very interesting – he said not to be surprised if other things continued to be revealed to me.  He was right!

Several weeks later, I found the deep source of the issues that had plagued me.  A very deep and violent incident with my Dad when I was seventeen, while he was drunk.  I kept getting clues that something had happened, followed them, and was led to have this incident revealed.  It was a horrible event to remember, and I knew it would take a long time to fully work through the effects.  But – there was also a tremendous sense of relief.  I now knew why my world had been so skewed, and in the big picture, things made a whole lot more sense.

So saying I was angry at God, being honest in that way, had led to a huge healing process.  Not eternal punishment, chastisement or condemnation.  I still had some of those teachings stuck in my soul, and it took a while to release those old beliefs and realize that God really did want the best for me.

Then the question.  Did God hear my plea down at the altar rail when I was 21?  Were things revealed to me at a time and in a way that I could handle knowing the truth?  It sure seemed like it!  I know I couldn’t have handled knowing about the violence when I was 21.  It came out as gently as it could given how horrific the abuse had been.

“Dear God.  Thank You for revealing this incident with my Dad at a time when I could handle it.  Thank You for being so loving toward me.”

Quite a different prayer than the earlier one.  But they felt connected – the angry prayer led to the thankful prayer.  I do believe that.

Photo Credit:

“Speak Truth Banner” Donnaphoto @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Right Reserved.

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We recorded a new Dialogues with Dignity radio show on Tuesday – “Listening Between The Lines” – that was a very thought provoking dialogue between Ellen Brown, Stash Serafin and Dan L. Hays.  Ellen led us to consider how do we listen for direction from God, and then we branched out into listening to others.  We next explored how do we listen to ourselves when our “gut” is trying to tell us something.  Very insightful and interesting conversation!

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It was 1971.  I was a newly minted Christian, and eager to share the good news of what I had found.  I had gone to what the Methodist Church called a Lay Witness Mission, sort of a revival, and given my life over to God.  It was phrased as “give as much of yourself as you can, to as much of God as you can understand.”  It wasn’t much in either case – I didn’t understand much, and I couldn’t give much, but I did what I could.  One of the things they had emphasized was the need to share the message of the faith you had found.  They didn’t say much about how to do that, but just had a few lectures on the basics of Christianity.

So there I was one night, sitting in a dorm room at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, trying to share my faith with a friend of mine.  I had gone to high school with Jerry, and we’d spent a lot of time water skiing and hanging out at the lake.  He was at Tech to get a biology degree, and wanted to eventually get a PhD in some specialized type of biology that I didn’t understand.  I had barely gotten through the dissecting the frog course, so I had no idea what he was studying, but I did know he was really smart.

I stumbled through the basic concepts of Christianity I had been given, somehow thinking that to be effective I needed to be sure of what I was saying, and convicted in the correctness of my position.  Only later did I realize that I hadn’t thought through what I had been taught, wasn’t sure if I believed it or agreed with it, and that this made for a less than effective presentation of certainty.

Then Jerry said something that baffled me.  “I think we come to faith through doubting.”  I was perplexed, because they hadn’t given us an answer for that thought in the lectures.  In some vague way, it felt like not being faithful to even question the validity of Christianity.  I ran my stock answers past him one more time, trying to speak them clearly enough that he would understand what I was saying.  I could see he remained unconvinced, and somewhere deep inside me, I felt unconvinced myself.

It took me many years to understand what he had said.  Only after I had gone through doubting phases did I realize the strength of the concept he was trying to share with me.  And the irony of that didn’t escape me.

I reached a point where I had tried all the Bible Studies I could sign up for – to try to better understand God.  I had been very active at our church, involved in singles ministry, working as a counselor with the high school kids.  I had even gone on weekend prison ministries – where we would spend the majority of the weekend inside a Texas prison unit, only returning to our motel rooms late at night – witnessing to the prisoners about our faith.

I later realized that what I was trying to do, particularly with the Bible Study – was to understand God well enough that I could quantify Him, put Him in a box, and essentially, not have to trust in God.  I began to wonder if I agreed with all I had learned, and felt that all the effort wasn’t allowing me to feel more convinced when it came to my faith.  Did I really believe the things I had learned and thought I knew about God?

Somewhere during that time, I also attended a Great Books study group, and heard a wonderful quote by Socrates.  Paraphrased – “the beginning of wisdom is to know we don’t have wisdom.”  I translated that to be free to give up trying to understand and quantify God – because it couldn’t be done.  I relaxed a lot after that.

But I was still left questioning my faith, my direction, and my relationship with God.  As I realized that there were unresolved issues from my childhood that had broken my trust in God, I began to see why I was not giving myself more freely.  The essential question was: “If you’re an omniscient, omnipotent God like I’ve been taught – where were You when the bad things were happening, and why didn’t You stop it?”  I didn’t find a simplistic answer to that question – I’m not sure if one exists – but I made peace with the fact that there had been abuse and violence that had caused me to doubt.  Wait – caused me to doubt?  So did I come to trust more and have more faith, through doubting?  Sure seemed like it.

So now Jerry’s statement took on a whole new meaning.  “We come to faith through doubting.”  I didn’t understand until I had gone through it myself.  But it gave me a whole new appreciation for the faith process.  By questioning what I had been taught, by doubting God because of my past, I had come to that certainty that had been missing earlier about my faith.  By giving up the need to know everything – more accurately, by admitting the futility of trying to know everything – I came to a greater peace about accepting life as it was, and taking faith as “the evidence of things unseen,” and relying on them as I went about my life.  It freed me to a more pure spirituality – not religiosity – that allowed me to connect with God in a way I had never done before.  And if I doubted occasionally – I was fine with that now, and knew it would eventually strengthen my faith.

Photo Credits

“sensitive noise / obvious 2”  milos milosevic @flickr.com Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

“Question mark.”  Marco Bellucci @flickr.com Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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One time I heard someone talk about having Balcony People in your life – people who were in the balcony cheering you on, and pulling you up by their positive encouragement.  I later realized that I had allowed into my life a number of Basement People – people who were trying to pull me down into the muck of their unhappiness as I was trying to climb out and away from that dynamic.  So I had to write the following poem.

(Written October 16, 1986)

To The Basement People

You choose to stay in prison,
Behind the wall that you create.
You say that you are happy,
But your eye is filled with hate.

I choose to seek my freedom,
You do not understand.
I follow inner guidance,
Not every move is planned.

I need less your approval,
You feel me pull away.
Expending every effort,
You try to make me stay.

My freedom is convicting,
It says so much to you.
If I am free to come and go,
Then so, perhaps, are you.

But also with the freedom,
You’re aware there is a cost.
To take a risk, have less control,
It’s what you fear the most.

So not to leave your prison,
You try to limit me.
You undermine me all the time,
My efforts to be free.

By sowing little seeds of doubt,
Among my growth and gains.
You take away the awful sting,
Of your own prison chains.

I took it for so many years,
Allowed you to control.
But farewell, you prisoner,
For God has freed my soul.

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I received this question from someone who had just read my book, ” Freedom’s Just Another Word,” where I confront some pretty bad demons from my past:

How did you overcome your fear of dealing with all the pain coming to the surface? I have not been able to conquer this fear I have of experiencing all that pain. I can talk to myself, try to reason it all out. I know this stuff is poison. If I let it all stay buried in there it is going to continue to rot my soul. I can know this in my head, but the fear is greater than my reasoning.

Here’s how I responded:
OK – that really is the essential question. The fear of dealing with all the pain coming to the surface. A very real, very pertinent question. It sort of gets back to simple concepts – “The way out is through!” “The only pain you can avoid is the pain of avoidance.” In my case, I had watched my Dad for 20 years be sober in a 12 step program, but not be willing to deal with the feelings underneath his drinking, which I strongly suspect were from his childhood. He had his first heart attack at age 44, open heart surgery at 47, a colostomy at 52, and died of a stroke at 59. OK – for me, I knew I was destined to go down that same road if I didn’t change the dynamic in some way. Intuitively and spiritually, I knew that meant I had to face the demon of the old, buried feelings – it would continue to “rot my soul” and I would end up dying early as well. So at that point – at the time of ” Freedom’s Just Another Word” – dealing with the pain was for me a life and death struggle. Once I acknowledged that, I became more like they talk about in recovery literature, “willing to go to any lengths.” Hence the title, and the associated second part of the song line I had “Nothing Left to Lose.” I didn’t choose that path, I was watching all my friends have normal lives and I was having to go through this shit, and resenting it – but that was the path I needed to go down.

So I had realized I needed to do this work – but how to actually get to it. Several ways. Fortunately I had the wonderful sponsor in one of the 12 step programs who gave me this huge gift. He told me that if we start doing feeling work and it gets to be too much, there is a natural defense mechanism in the body that will shut it down. I found that to be true! I would start crying a box of Kleenex cry, deep and intense for several minutes, and then almost magically I would pull out, it would ease off, and I would be fine for a couple of days until we needed to release some more feelings. It happened many times with the sadness. Where I didn’t trust it was with the anger. That’s a couple of books down the sequence, but I will soon write a book about how it was for me in dealing with an anger so pure and white hot it scared me. And eventually it went away. It was that way with the feelings. They felt like they would never stop, and as I kept unloading and unloading, they subsided and finally went away, and I was left with a new awareness, attitude and sense of peace. It really happened! I was pretty surprised, because I sort of never thought I could get there.

Another thing that really sustained me in continuing down the path of dumping all that old stuff was a book I mentioned in Freedom – “Hind’s Feet on High Places.” It is a Christian allegory about a woman named Much Afraid who lived in the Valley of the Fearings with her cousins, Bitterness, Envy, Fear and I believe Resentment. She left to go on a journey to be with the Shepherd in the High Places. That book spoke so much to me about a journey of faith, knowing what you should do and doing it – even if others don’t understand, coming to a deeper faith in trusting that God is with you when you go on that journey. It is a powerful book, it soothed my heart, and kept my feet moving forward when I wasn’t sure I could keep going.

The third thing that I think was hugely beneficial was a strong set of friends who did support me and encourage me to keep going. I had to let some people go who were negative influences, but I still had some solid people who could be there for me – even if they didn’t really understand what I was struggling with. Yes, it is an isolating journey, and I think friends like you have will be an invaluable asset for you in countering that isolation as you let those feelings out. I mean, the essence of what I learned in a 12 step program for those who grew up with alcoholism was “Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel” and those were the family rules I was trying to overcome.

I hope this helps, and I know with your great therapist, you are setting a platform from which you can confront those old feelings and bleed them from your system! They do eventually go away – I’m living proof. I just turned 59 (yes, the age my Dad was when he died) and I plan to be a 90 year old guy, writing books and doing Tai Chi. When I went for my physical last year, the doc said “so other than a few allergies, you have nothing wrong with you.” It took a while for the power of that statement to sink in – all the old ailments I was accumulating while stuffing those feelings have gone away, and I am in a whole new space!
Regards,
Dan Hays

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Footnote: I just went back and looked, and I received the email with this question on April 21, 2009.  I have stayed in regular contact with this person, and since overcoming the fear of the pain, this person has made huge strides in getting past some substantial abuse issues from the past.  It is a real life example where confronting the fear is easier than the continuous effort needed to try to avoid it!  Avoiding the buildup of “the poison … that will rot my soul” – great way to put it!

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