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Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

In the fall of 1990, I had a vision – I wanted to write novels of hope. I had taken a 19th Century American literature course, and the teacher had said, “in 19th century American novels, you expected a happy outcome.  In 20th century novels, you typically expect a negative or unhappy outcome.”  I didn’t like that trend, and wanted to do something different.

The movie Dances With Wolves had just come out, and it really sparked something in me.  I realized that I wanted to explore a time in my Dad’s life I knew little about.

In 1967, when I was 17, we were living in Oklahoma City when my Dad’s drinking hit bottom. My aunt and uncle came and picked up my Mom, my 3 sisters and myself, taking us back to Fort Worth to live with my maternal grandmother. Dad disappeared for a while, then later returned to Fort Worth, somehow changed.  He sobered up and got into recovery, and reclaimed the world he had lost.  I never knew what had happened to him during the time he was gone, other than a vague comment my Mom made about him going and working on the wheat harvest, which he had done in high school.  I never thought I would see him again, and later wondered what his life had been like during the time while he was gone.

He died before it ever occurred to me to ask him about it.  I began working on how to tell that story, and after I wrote the first two chapters, I suddenly realized – if I explored this thread fully, I had – a novel of hope!  It was a tremendously empowering moment.

In the spring of 1991, I quit my job, went up to Oklahoma and worked on the wheat harvest, to try and imagine what my Dad’s life was like after we left, and what might have happened to him.  How I got there is a story of its own: Dances With Wolves Filmsite.

The book I wrote in 1993 was my best guess as to what happened.  It was entitled Nothing Left To Lose.  It was a novel,  written from a very loving and generative perspective.  But how did I get to that loving place in describing a man who had been violent toward me when I was a teenager?  I later realized that I needed to flesh out the back story.  I will do so in several books, beginning with my first published memoir, Freedom’s Just Another Word, about the time around his death and my healing process.  The reason I never published this novel will be the topic of the second book I will publish – Healing The Writer; writing that book freed my creativity!

I now plan to publish Nothing Left To Lose, the novel about my Dad written from a loving and healed perspective.

The novel begins like this:

Chapter 1
Eyes downcast, he trudged along, conscious of the uneven surface along the shoulder of the highway, stumbling occasionally on chunks of gravel or small pebbles. He looked up periodically at the cars speeding past, as if to keep his bearings. His face was lined and weary and his entire body ached. He was wearing a worn brown corduroy jacket, a wrinkled plaid flannel shirt, dark blue polyester pants, white socks and cordovan loafers.

It was about 5 pm and the sun had just set. Night was approaching rapidly and the chill of February in 1967 was harshened by a brisk wind which picked up in gusts as he walked. He tried to walk faster, his hands deep in his pockets, but had to step carefully so not to turn an ankle on the uneven surface beside the roadbed. His vision was limited by the flash of oncoming headlights.

He had been told there was a boarding house in town where he could get a room for the night, and he plodded on, the directions vaguely held in a corner of his consciousness.

“We’re sorry,” they’d said at the detox center, “but all we can do is provide you a place for 5 days. We just help people dry out. Then we have to give the bed to someone else.” They had directed him to the boarding house, wished him well, given him back his clothes and money, and sent him on his way.

His feet hurt, his whole body ached, he craved a drink but knew that he must make the most of this chance. There was another pain, too, an emotional void when he thought of all he had left behind, all he had lost. He wondered where they were now, but he knew he could do nothing for them. Yet he longed for their voices, for any source of warmth and comfort to relieve this coldness, and the blackness in his soul.
——————————–

Sitting and looking out the big picture window at the front of Miss White’s Boarding House, Peter Sanders watched the occasional car pass, and a few blocks away he could see the busier traffic on the main street. Busy, he thought, for our town. Cornell, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly New York, he chuckled to himself, but it was rush hour here, with cars heading home to supper.

At the corner of the main road where it intersected his street, he saw a figure hesitate, look at street signs, and uncertainly begin to walk toward him. Another drunk out of the center, he thought to himself, betting that the man was headed here. This was where they mostly came when they had nowhere else to go.

Peter got up, stepped to the door of the kitchen, cracked it open. “Miss Vera,” he called.

“Yes, Peter?” she replied.

“I think we got a visitor coming in.”

“Alright. Send him through to me.” Miss Vera stepped wearily into the living room. She had seen so many come through her doors that the novelty of it had long since worn off.

Peter sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room, extending his feet toward the large space heater in the corner. Miss Vera went back into the kitchen. The man opened the door.

Ben Hays, my Dad, in 1971.

“Step in and warm up, stranger,” Peter called. He stepped quickly and gratefully over in front of the space heater, holding his hands out over it, shivering slightly. Peter studied him. He was about six feet tall, slender yet sturdy, with dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks. He had dark brown hair, cut short, rumpled and uncombed, and his clothes weren’t heavy enough for February. The clothes looked of good quality, but were tired from overuse. His hands looked soft. There were no calluses or marks, so he was probably not a laborer. His shoulders slumped wearily, hands twitched, and he had an almost nauseous look on his face. Peter imagined him to be a businessman gone to seed – gone down far and fast, too. Peter knew the look – he’d had it himself recently enough.

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On the first day of my creative writing class, the teacher opened the discussion by asking “What is a story?”  She suggested that we begin by defining the word.  Several people responded.  I took a minute to think about the meaning, and then raised my hand and said “A story is something that happens to someone.”  The teacher smiled broadly, nodded, and said “That’s it exactly – at the very basic level, the essence of a story is action.”

So what was the best way to tell a particular story, to describe that action?  Over the next several years I read a lot about point of view – mostly looking at first person and third person, and what were the advantages and limitations of each.  First person is confined to the thoughts of the narrator.  Third person can either be omniscient – using the thoughts of all of the characters, or limited – using the thoughts of one character’s mind. After I experimented with point of view, it became apparent that it depended on the story.

Years later I wrote about a time my Dad’s life when he disappeared for a year, worked the wheat harvest, had a spiritual experience in the process.  He returned a changed man.  After his death I realized I’d never asked him what happened.  I started with the part I knew, leading into what might have taken place later.  I decided to make it a novel, and chose the third person omniscient viewpoint.  I wrote in a more detached style, which allowed me the distance to step back and imagine the events objectively.  I could speak from the perspective of various characters as needed.

When the story was about me, “something that happens to someone” still held true.  Something had happened that I wanted to share, and decided to write about it in depth.  Not an original concept.  Many people have written a memoir for that very reason.  The first person viewpoint had an immediacy that helped me capture the emotions and experience of the moment.  I wrote about the events surrounding the time of my father’s death 17 years ago.

I knew what happened, and had journalled extensively about it at the time.  There was plenty of fodder to refresh my memory of the events.  As I wrote I fell into the mode of  “I did this, that happened, I felt this about it, I experienced, and then next I …”  I was in the middle of the events, with no psychic distance.  To tell that particular story, I needed to be that close.  Yet as I wrote, I could feel the events at a physical level.  My heart raced as I felt unsafe when that strange person entered the room.  I smelled the coffee I drank in a restaurant as I chronicled my feelings in a notebook. I felt the heat of Houston on a muggy afternoon in October; heard leaves blowing in the breeze that only stirred up the heat without relief.

Even more happened.  I had never written down everything that took place the week my Dad died.  I heard the jangle as the phone rang; heard my sister say “better come home, Dad is dying.”  I sat in a darkened airplane and wrote brief notes in a small notebook “it’s too soon, I’m not ready for this.”  I walked up to a hospital at night in Tulsa, wondering if it was just my imagination because of the lights, or was this huge building really pink?” (I saw it the next day, and sure enough – it was pink.)

I looked down at my father lying in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat, barely heard the nurse saying he was already functionally gone, and the machines were keeping him alive.  I returned to the room after the machines had been turned off, and his breathing had stopped.  I stroked my father’s forehead, something I never would have dared if he were alive.  I walked into to the “Grief Room” at the hospital, where no one was attending to the needs of my family, sitting and crying all alone.  I pushed down my feelings because someone had to make funeral arrangements, and the task fell on me.

Later in the week, I visited his office at the hospital, heard his boss describe how he had spent his last several years helping others.  I drove just outside Tulsa and walked across his 5 acre pecan orchard, then used his chain saw to cut down a couple of dead trees, a project he and I had shared.  I sat at the dinner table at my parent’s house and went through my parent’s financial papers to reassure my Mom.  I stepped out in front of a packed church to deliver his eulogy.

Of course it was cathartic to write down those experiences – isn’t that one of the biggest benefits of memoir?  I felt the events, experienced them in a deeper way than before, and could release some of the emotional charge they contained.

As the memoir continued I wrote about the events after my Dad died.  I met with a minister to discuss an reservoir of old anger I had discovered – anger at my Dad, anger at God.  I dreamed a man was chasing me with a gun.  I did an inner child exercise, and remembered a violent incident with my Dad when I was a teenager.  Then came some intense healing work.

I did an exercise to cut cords to the feelings I was carrying from generations of my family – an ancestral burden that had weighed me down greatly.  Many nights I released terror from the violent incident.  I relived the violent incident on a feeling level several times.   I wrote down ways I had changed, and burned the papers, to let go of who I used to be.  I dreamed that there was a tiger living in my house.  I knew it was my rage, and had to be dealt with.  I made a commitment to release that rage in safe ways.  There were a number of other healing experiences, and by the end of the memoir, it all led to a new sense of forgiveness for my father.  I wrote down my tremendous gratitude for the whole experience.

Then something happened which I hadn’t envisioned.  After I published the memoir, which I called Freedom’s Just Another Word, I had numerous people say they benefitted greatly from my experience, from reading about my journey and the steps I had taken to heal.  I was genuinely surprised.  I hadn’t seen that coming, but was delighted that it happened.  That was not the reason for the memoir – it just was something I needed to do.  For me it was an enormously healing process.   But if writing a memoir could yield additional rewards like that – helping other people heal and grow – then it was a huge success.

 Originally Published in Laura Schultz Now

Photo Credits:

“Good Question” e-magic @Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

leaves in the wind: jans canon @flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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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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“Insomnia: A Writer’s Night Journey.” Accessing old memories leads a writer into nights of insomnia and fear, and brings him closer to publication.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“Eminem at 3 a.m.”

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How My Writing Got Locked Up.” An author writes an inner child exercise, and discovers a horrible incident with his grandmother when he was eight years old that locked up his writing for many years.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“Locked Up” Derekskey @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“The Fearful Writer – Monsters in the Closet.”  As he purges intense fear, a writer comes closer to facing some deep abuse issues, and he prepares to face the “monsters in the closet.”

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“Scary_04″ Aliwest44 @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“The Fear And The Light.” A writer struggles to uncover and release deep childhood fears that are hampering his ability to write and publish.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“Deprivation” Jeremy @ Flickr.com Creative Commons.  Some Rights Reserved.

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“I Can Have You Committed!” An author writes an inner child exercise, and discovers a threat by his grandmother when he was eight years old that locked up his writing for many years.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo Credit:

“Henry Hobson Richardson 1870 Buffalo State Asylum Buffalo NY 1332″ Bobistraveling @ Flickr.com Creative Commons.  Some Rights Reserved.

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“I Capture The Writing Vision.” An author realizes that there are several books that need to be written to fully explain the healing novel he wrote about his father.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“God is a farmer” h.koppdelaney @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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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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