03. MY STORY OF EMOTIONAL SUFFERING AND WHOLENESS
When I was in my early days of High School, I began a journey to figure me out.
What was driving my impulses?
How could I tame the parts of me that were incongruent with my godly values?
Why could I not regulate my emotional surges that ruminated deep below the surface?
Why do people I care about betray me and how can I prevent it in the future?
How can I make myself so appealing and desirable that no one would ever intentionally hurt me?
These were just a few of the questions that I churned from below. Some questions were just under the surface, and some were down in the deeper regions of the emotional subconscious.
Even from early in my childhood I can remember social anxiety storming through my soul. Today, I have learned through science that I inherited many of these anxious patterns from my family tree, and somehow those genes were turned on, probably before birth. These neuropathways were fast developed early in my life, and I projected social anxiety and my expectation of rejection and betrayal onto how I interpreted people.
It is very possible that my most intimate relationships didn’t actually wound me, but very plausibly, I may have simply interpreted them as such. However, the impact on my brain was the same.
I emotionally built on those genetic factors and predispositions with each social interaction. I have memories of those I so deeply longed to be seen by, nurtured, and celebrated by – ripping my emotions open as I felt distant, rejected and betrayed.
Keep in mind that my family of origin – parents and sibling – would do anything for me and celebrate me. I was never physically abused or overtly accosted, like people stereotypically think of in an abusive home. But my psychological template for rejection and betrayal was being built just the same.
Even as a grade school child, I had a written paper list in my desk drawer that had names of all those who recently betrayed me, and how I was never going to play with them again… even using the word “hate” to describe them. This was one of my coping mechanisms to deal with my grief. Then, knowing I had no other friends to play with, I anxiously went out to play with my betrayers, knowing it would only be a matter of time before another cycle of betrayal would happen.
THOUGH I WAS RAISED IN CHURCH AND IN A CHRISTIAN FAMILY, I WAS SADDENED BY MANY OF THE COMPROMISING SITUATIONS I HAD FOUND MYSELF IN, CHOICES I HAD MADE…
Though I was raised in church and in a Christian family I was saddened by many of the compromising situations I had found myself in, choices I had made, and violations to my sense of self. Prior to high school we had moved to a rural town where everyone was lifelong family and friends. They all had grown up together. I desperately wanted to fit in. For a few years, no matter what I did I continued to feel like an outsider. And like a recording loop, my friends would easily betray me if someone older, more influential and more popular showed up.
To gain popularity and attention I had bullied the less popular… but only the easy picks. I had dabbled with alcohol and even became drunk a few times. I experienced my first exposure to pornography and was pushing boundaries with girls. While my moral resume may not feel too bad to some, it was a heavy burden to my conscience. I felt out of control. I didn’t like who I was becoming. My dysregulation emotionally had deeper root systems than just having some undesirable behaviors.
By the end of my freshman year, my faith in Christ began to have “first-time” experiences. These profound moments were so fresh, often simple, but very satisfying. I kept wanting more. I assumed if I could just get close enough to Christ, or if I could learn enough of the “secret” truths of Scripture that I would one day conquer the drivers that I had yet to identify. My hopes were fully awakened and now alive in Christ.
Early in my sophomore year, my parents' own internal struggles created marital fights, verbal battles, strivings and finally moral failings. My spiritual mentors had betrayed my deepest expectations and landed me with the deepest of disappointments. All of the nuances that went with this broke my heart with sadness. The pain was palpable, sitting on the sensitive edges of my emotions. Today I would call it “betrayal trauma.” But back then I didn’t know what that was. I just knew it hurt… really deep… and I knew I would never be able to control it. Emotionally I felt anxious, repressed rage and often depressed.
Jesus became my hope for freedom. It was that relationship, filled with both concepts and spiritual experiences that gave me reprieve that filled my heart with joy. This was the kind of joy that scripture speaks of: “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” I would invest intense times throughout the days, both at school and at home, worshipping, praying, declaring God’s Word, and digesting as many teaching resources as I could find. It turns out that these times became the bedrock of what has become my calling, assignments and ministry. It was the only refuge I had access to, and it was like refreshing cold water in a dry and thirsty land.
Yet, my heart still struggled with different parts of me in conflict. By far and away I was planted in desires to please God. However, there were these other impulses, hormones, compulsive hyper-reactions and more that would pop up when I least expected. Trying to make sense of these “parts” was confusing and very difficult. Without having the words to describe it, I was learning to compartmentalize these “parts,” which required that God was one part and the struggle was another part… my part. This is what I would recognize today as a disintegrated heart, a disintegrated life.
FROM MY CHARISMATIC BACKGROUND, MYSTICAL THINGS WERE PRESENTED AS 'THE WAY' TO BIBLICAL FREEDOM.
From my Charismatic background, there were all kinds of mystical things that others hyper-focused on. They were presented as “THE WAY” to Biblical freedom. And without doubt they each have a measure of truth and have impacted my spiritual experiences with gratefulness. Yet, I still struggled. Some of “THE WAY” examples to absolute freedom were:
Accurate activations of faith in water baptism
Experiencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit with His gifts
Deeper encounters with God-experiences
Read the Bible more, pray more, worship more
Have demons cast out – go through a deliverance
Have an inner healing protocol
Participate in anointed running, laughing and dancing services
A greater revelation of “in Christ,” living by true faith, the grace message, or righteousness
While some variations of these were energizing topics and filled my heart with fresh hope, they didn’t access my deeper wounds and root systems that inflamed me.
So I suffered on. As all these God-topics were being gripped onto for the hope of regulating my pain, anxieties, and depression of my inner world. At the same time in my external world, I felt my talents and gifts as a communicator awakening. Even back as a sophomore in High School I was leading Bible Studies – where I actually preached from a lectern. I shared my faith with others and felt the social power of each exchange. It felt natural. It felt like a high. It felt like I touched something deep inside. I felt seen. I felt validated.
As my gifts and talents were growing, I was still struggling in the opposing surges of “ungodly” desires and hyper-reactions in my life. I would ruminate with thoughts of pride, that would swing to deep anxiety in fear of being undesired by people… not just random people, but the people I cared about. While trying to “take thoughts captive”, I would be tormented with inner narratives of these friends, or desired, mentors not being interested in me, losing interest in me, rejecting me, or betraying me.
These emotional scripts were unknown to the people around me. I would armor up and control how I presented myself, trying to provide such high value that it would exceed anyone’s potential to reject me. I hoped I could increase my performances so that I would succeed in my dreams and finally be at rest – calm, happy and fulfilled.
As a young man my emerging sexual hormones were very alive. I had no one to talk with. All the resources that I would read, or people that I randomly would risk talking to, reverted my attention back to the issues mentioned above (water baptism, intimacy with the Holy Spirit, the Word, prayer and worship, demons, grace doctrines and/or perseverance). However, that wasn’t working yet. I kept thinking once I learned enough, and grew spiritually strong enough, I would finally live in the power of a New Testament believer.
As I aged, gained career successes and expanded experiences, I had so many ungodly emotional energy pockets that I was never able to tame. I would swing from anxiety, to rage, to depression.
Professionally, I was privileged to lead a growing ministry as a guest speaker at churches and conferences around the world. While success was happening on one hand, on the other I felt hyper-rejected by the many churches that didn’t invite me to guest speak. For the churches I did preach at and was never invited back, I felt the pain of hyper-rejection all over again. Clearly this could only mean that I wasn’t enough. It was a confirmation that I was flawed, or had a blind spot that others knew but I was never able to figure out.
Ruminating thoughts continued to control my every move. My energies were focused on escaping, outrunning, and outperforming these thoughts. So, I struggled. In time, the anxieties grew more intense.
I came to discover my emotional thoughts were actual panic attacks. I had moments where my brain was so inflamed at bedtime, that it felt jellied, or curdled. I would lay for hours in bed with racing imaginations and strong emotions, so congealed that I wondered if I would ever awake in my right mind. I would even wonder if, when I awoke, I would be able to function any longer. But when I would awake, my emotional brain would be calmed back down, and I was relieved to have cognitive functions again.
In my thirties I finally went to my first of four psycho-therapists. My first therapist had walked with one of the most famous Christian pastors of our generation through his own dysfunctional processing. Then, over time, I went to three other capable, kind and good therapists. In each occasion with each therapist I was incrementally helped with one more simple step towards understanding.
These therapists would assign me books to read. And those books helped in my journey forward, but mostly only in ancillary ways. I never knew “why” I was reading the books. I felt like we were using tweezers to dismantle a massive tree. I didn’t know how things systematically worked in my neurobiology, psychology… or even an accurate view from theology.
I spent large amounts of money for hourly sessions. Yet it felt like I was throwing things at a wall and hoping something would stick, that something would be my breakthrough-insight of what was driving me. So, I simply dabbled, and never fully committed to any one of the therapists or their processes.
In time, through a series of crazy relationship connections, I was invited into a certification program that trains psychologists and therapists in deeper work with addictions and trauma. As a pastor, I felt a wild curiosity and desire. I thought maybe this would give me the template to understand me. And I’m happy to report that that is exactly what happened.
Through 140 hours of training I was blown away as I overlaid Scripture on the latest understandings of human behavior from neuroscience and psychology. Rather than feeling like I was in an academic process, I felt like a little kid exploring a toy store for the first time. The possibilities blew my heart wide open.
Today I understand the systemic processes that cause unmanageable emotion, and ultimately, the unmanageable and unwanted behavior. Just like all process laws in the universe, human emotion and behavior is organizable, observable, and repeatable. It’s also able to be changed. The brain and heart are adaptive and have plasticity.
What I learned in the addiction and trauma community sparked new modeling for me that has added so much to my personal toolbox. I haven’t had a panic attack in years. While I am still in a process of sanctification, I know what is happening below the surface.
My heart is whole. I am way less easily agitated. Depression has lost its strength. I am much more easily contented. It galvanizes my heart knowing that all of these tools and systemic processes are Scriptural.
I suffered for so many years having sustained relationship ruptures from childhood on.
I have experienced the moral failures of spiritual leaders since I was a teenager.
I have experienced the chaos, betrayal and profound disillusionment of my parents divorcing.
I have became the enmeshed emotional support to one of my parents while feeling the avoidance of the other.
I developed an unhealthy attraction and attachment to powerful and dangerous narcissistic leaders over me.
I struggled for so long chasing answers, but feeling they were beyond my access.
… and because all of these contributed to my personality disintegration, this is why I am passionate to help people learn what I have learned.
MY HEART LONGS FOR PEOPLE TO ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE WHAT IS POSSIBLE FOR THEM.
My heart longs for people to actually experience what is possible for them. I dream of a space for people to not only cognitively learn, but to experientially explore and reprocess.
I am convinced now more than ever, the reason people struggle through life is this: It is impossible to solve a problem when you don’t know what the problem is to begin with.
Maybe you are like me. You have spent a lot of money to figure you out. Your spouse has sent you places to solve you. You may have even lost relationships, spouses, children, jobs, sleep, time, self-esteem, reputation and more. All because you don’t know what the real problem actually is.
In our Driven People/Driven Leaders Webinars I share a four-part human behavior system that answers the problem. Here is a simple overview of the four stages:
STAGE ONE: THE HEART
Everything begins in the heart. The heart is where the divine nature of God, the imprint of His divine image, is stamped. The heart is where ruptures, griefs, losses and traumas are filed away.