Archive for April, 2017

Another voice, crying in the wilderness. Not a prophet,  but telling the truth. 

The Passion of Southern Christians https://nyti.ms/2nWpqzx

In the world of management theory, there is an axiom known as the Peter Principle, which essentially states, “Within any organization, an individual will rise to his or her level of incompetence, and then fail.”  This is usually interpreted to mean that once a person begins receiving recognition and promotions based upon their abilities, they will continue doing the same thing until it stops being effective, with “fail” here meaning an end to advancement.  At this point three options exist: become satisfied at their current plateau; develop new abilities in order to advance again; or leave and start over in a new organization, in hopes of a better result. (One could remain in that place and pursue a different career path, but that is still starting over.) Each of these options has merit, and it is up to the individual to decide which is in his overall best interest. Making that decision wisely, however, requires an accurate and honest assessment of the reason for the “failure”, and this is often a very difficult thing to do. An incorrect assessment will often place the blame for failure on others instead of ourselves, and lead to a cycle of new beginnings and poor endings…wash, rinse and repeat.

According to the doctrines of Alcoholics Anonymous (among others), the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result each time; by that definition I was insane for much of my adult life. By 2005, I had changed jobs six times, looking for the company that would appreciate my abilities while ignoring the fact that I didn’t follow rules very well (pro tip – no such company exists). My personal life traveled a similar arc, as I consistently dishonored my commitment to the woman who had stood by me for more than ten years, waiting for me to tie up the loose ends of my previous relationship and finally marry her. I had also (behind her back, two years previously) resumed using cocaine, coming up with a variety of excuses to “explain” my irritability, poor sleeping and eating, and disappearing money. She cannot be blamed for not catching on, because 1) addicts are astoundingly good liars; and 2) the easiest person to lie to is the one who wants to believe you.  Eventually, things spiraled completely beyond my control, and I came home one night to her waiting to confront me. She said she had two questions, the first one being, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me the truth?” I already knew the second question, so I answered both with one sentence – “Yes, I am using coke again; in fact I’m high right now.”  Of course, she was expecting that, and informed me that she was taking the kids and going to her mother’s house; she would expect an answer as to what I planned to do by the next day…and then she left.

That may have been the longest night of my life.  I sat in a chair for hours, trying to figure out how I had gotten to this point, and what I was going to do next, but nothing made any sense…in my worldview I could blame no one but myself, and therefore I would have to be the one to fix it; but if I knew the solution, wouldn’t that have prevented me from being broken in the first place? What was I supposed to do?

I can only describe what happened next as a vision. You may or may not believe that, but for me no other description will suffice. There, in my living room, appeared a simple wooden door, with a plain brass knob. From beneath the door shone a warm, peaceful, inviting light – a stark contrast to the lonely darkness that surrounded me. I intuitively understood that I was being given a choice – stay where I was, and keep everything I had: an empty home, a shattered marriage, children who no longer respected the man I had become; or open that door and step into the light of love and forgiveness, of new possibilities. Only one condition needed to be met: I had to relinquish control of my life, and allow someone better qualified than myself to take the reins.  So, I did the only thing I could do – I surrendered. I dropped to my knees on the floor, and spoke directly to God as I understood him for perhaps the first time in my life; I told Him, “I give up. I do not know what You want me to do, but nothing I have done is working, and I’m out of options, so whatever it is, I’m all in.”  There was more, but that one sentence was the essence of what my heart cried out – and afterwards, I found the strength to pick up the phone and call the number for Cocaine Anonymous, and to say the words aloud: “Hello, my name is Nick, and I think I am an addict…I want to quit, but I don’t know how…can you help me?”  The man I talked to located a group in my area that was holding a meeting the next day, and then stayed on the phone with me, sharing his experiences with the program during the years he had been sober. He encouraged me to invite my wife to attend the meeting with me, and to make my family a part of my process, but I should wait until she called me…he said I needed to sleep on this decision and be sure that I really meant it before I told someone else, because my credibility had been severely damaged already, and one more broken promise was the last thing I needed on my scorecard at that moment. I hung up the phone, prayed again to God thanking Him for helping me make the call and asking for the strength to actually go to the meeting. Then I laid down and slept the best night’s rest I had had in years, looking forward to the morning.

In my next post I will share how that first prayer of surrender led to a fundamental shift in how I viewed life, the universe, and everything…and how I viewed myself, as well.  I hope you will continue with me, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them…it means a lot to know that what I write makes an impact in another’s life. See you then!

 

 

A brief summary of what has gone before: I grew up in a family that neither attended church nor saw any reason to do so, and they passed that on to me. My first interaction with organized religion was being taken to a revival meeting (maybe I should say, being snuck into one) at the age of ten to be baptized, because my dad felt he needed to insure I would be on the right side when Jesus came back for His people – a fairly common concern in America in the late 70’s, I must admit. Under those circumstances, I made what I felt to be a sincere profession of faith and was thereby “saved” for all eternity. Secure in that knowledge, and with no one even trying to tell me any differently, I proceeded living any way I wanted to, guided by a vague sense of “morality” that only required me to be a generally nice person and not intentionally hurt anybody. I had adopted a rigid sense of personal responsibility for the outcomes of my life, with no one to blame but myself if things went badly, and no one to credit but me if they went well.

As you may imagine, things went badly. I lied to people and manipulated them with no remorse when it appeared to serve my own interests; I drank, used drugs, was sexually active at an early age. I married very young, was unfaithful to my wife, neglected my children when those responsibilities interfered with my “freedom”, and later divorced that wife. I got into trouble with the law and spent some time in time in jail; this of course derailed a promising career in engineering. (People generally won’t hire felons for positions of responsibility, who knew?) Through all of this, I never once considered turning to God for help, or thought that I needed Him; after all, He had already done His part: He had made me to be successful, with talents and abilities that only needed to be applied, and He had sent Jesus to be my “get-out-of-hell-for-free card”; if I was a failure, then it was obviously my own fault, and therefore up to me to fix myself and live up to my potential. Once I had learned to act right, God would begin to bless me again – I expected that He would keep me alive so I would have an opportunity to improve, but otherwise I was on my own. It would take both a national tragedy and a personal one to teach me how untrue that was.

By 2001 I had settled into a fairly stable relationship with the woman who would become my current wife (we were not married yet, though we presented ourselves as such; while I had separated from my first wife several years before, I had never “gotten around to” filing the divorce) and was beginning to prosper in my career in commercial construction.  One morning in September, I had just gotten back to the hotel room (the project required us to work at night so the store could remain open for business during the day) and flipped on the TV to CNN while I did paperwork and called the office before heading to bed. I glanced up briefly to listen to reporters talking about an accident involving an airplane which had struck one of the buildings at the World Trade Center, and then sat in stunned disbelief as a commercial airliner flew directly into the South Tower. I knew instantly that this was no accident, and that everything was about to change. I had no idea how true that would turn out to be, or on how many levels.

The first change was a decision to walk away from a growing habit of cocaine abuse which Karen and I had shared for about five years; like most people, we started off with small amounts used only infrequently, and like most people it grew into a regular part of our lives – a line item on the weekly budget alongside the groceries and utility bills. (We would never admit it, of course, but by then we were high-functioning addicts – far from bottoming out, but addicts nonetheless.)  In spite of this, we were able to make a clean break, and walk away; the biggest difference was the manner in which we did so. My wife has always been a woman of strong faith, and in her time of need she turned to the Lord, in prayer and repentance, and leaned upon Him to see her out of the darkness. I, on the other hand, maintained steadfast confidence in my own abilities and willpower – all it required to quit, was to decide to quit, and then follow through on that choice. The idea that I could not change on my own never occurred to me, and certainly I didn’t need God to help me – once again, I was still alive and rational, so His part was done and the rest was on me.

One cost of that decision, however, was that I needed to change jobs, as one of my main suppliers worked in the office there and had developed a scheme to embezzle funds from the company, funneling them to workers who would trade the cash for drugs. (Karen never knew about this separate pipeline I had developed, I was much farther into my addiction than she was.)  As long as I was getting high, this didn’t bother me; once I stopped I had to get away or risk being ensnared when the truth finally came out – it always does, eventually.  So I moved on, found another job, and I didn’t get caught – you will see those words again, many times before we are through.

I’m going to break here; the next chapter of my tale is a story I have shared in other places and other times, but it always takes a toll on me to relate.  In effect, it’s the story of how I died and was born again, in the most Biblical sense of those words. I know it seems like I’m dragging this out; maybe I am, just a little, but I promise in the next installment I will push through to the end and get us up to current times. Thank you for your patient endurance, O Constant Reader…I believe you will be rewarded.