403. the perfect adjective

So many folks are out there pursuing something perfect, the perfect mate, job, house, car, vacation, etc. (You know who you are.) Exhausting, isn’t it? Know why? Cuz it’s a false construct, blog swallows.  Perfect does not exist and cannot. No matter how precisely you want to cut the diamond or vacuum your living room carpet, under microscopic inspection– flaws, dust and blemishes appear. If you put the microscopic imperfections under a higher powered microscope, you’ll see even more flaws, dust and blemishes. Perfect is an airbrushed, photo-shopped illusion then. We have made the word concept into something it cannot be. Here is the word origin or etymology if you want to flaunt your vocabulary muscles:

1250-1300; < Latin perfectus, past participle of perficere to finish, bring to completion ( per- per- + -fec-, combining form of facere to do1+ -tus past participle suffix); replacing Middle English parfit < Old French < Latin.

Simply put, perfect means finished or completed.  The thing being described needs nothing further. Somehow over the centuries this low bar was raised unattainably high to mean flawless and unblemished. This is an interesting turn away from what something is, toward what it is not. And it is a trap easily wandered in to.

Anorexia nervosa, I think, is the deadly pursuit of an imaginary and perfect body image… “just another five pounds and I’ll stop…” The winner of this competition dies a perfect skeleton. How quaint. They are finished alright.

OCD folks are often perfectionists, chasing the impossible, fully throttled by anxiety. Steps are counted, objects balanced symmetrically, clothes matched, Christmas lights strung exactly and high, i.e., high strung like the stringer of the lights is. Banging away on a mental drum, inner insecurity pulses. Organizing and arranging the outer world somehow calms the OCD sufferer temporarily.

Chasing perfection is a bad dream, though, where you are pole vaulting ever higher and the bar keeps rising, even beyond Olympic levels. No matter how good the vaulter, his record reflects the last height before he failed. Every time achievement is reached, the bar is moved higher, the goal posts farther back, until a new inadequacy is birthed. Winning now is only losing later. In many ways it’s like an addiction wherein the dosage needs to keep increasing to chase the original ephemeral high.

My little ditty for clients goes like this:  Perfection is a living room you can’t live in. A car you can’t drive. It’s a coin you can’t spend and a stamp you won’t send. These things are perfect and precious. They must be kept in a museum. Untouched and uncirculated no seeums. Tragic, really. The precious thing can never be enjoyed by anyone except in some abstract glory. It is preserved under glass like the Constitution or a butterfly. Safe but very dead.

Once upon a time there was a guy who collected coins, or should I say hoarded them. He and his wife lived in an old ranch house that needed painting and new carpeting, and a bunch of other improvements. He told his wife to pick out paint, then they’d get on to the other issues. She came home with five sample cards featuring white and off white shades.   He didn’t care for any of them.  So the wife went to another paint store and came home with five new cards featuring white and off white shades. He methodically vetoed each choice.

Meanwhile Harry the hoarder had a security system installed to protect his million dollar coin collection. Each door and window was wired to an alarm that would sound whenever it was opened. The new unilateral policy became “No open windows”. At some pinpoint of squinty reasoning it sort of made sense because he had a fortune in coins in a big vault somewhere in this weathered ranch house. But how would they paint the living room if the windows couldn’t ever be opened? Ahhh, it was a logical and  passive-aggressive trap: you can paint the living room once I agree to the right shade of white and only if we never open the windows. What contingencies!

Meanwhile the wife grew sad and felt trapped in a dingy house with drab paint and worn out carpeting, and no hope of change because her husband’s coins mattered more than anything she could conceive of. He never said this overtly, but the message was spray painted on the brick wall of his actions.Harry’s perfect world became his own perfect prison. Everyone was a suspect, a potential thief who would rob him of his holy treasure. He lived in fear like Midas, surrounded by cold, unloving coins. His paranoia ran so deep that he shred any paperwork and used municipal dumpsters for his household trash. He knew that some evil geniuses could reconstruct what was in his house by reverse engineering what was in his trash. And he just could not be too careful with all that money sitting in a hidden vault. He wanted to be a good steward.So he said.

Harry had layers of protection for his treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mt. 6:21. The problem was not with his treasure, however. His unguarded heart grew layer upon layer of cholesterol and plaque– atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. His heart literally grew hard as a stone.

Ezekiel 36:26 goes like this, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Harry, on the other hand, wanted a heart of gold where no messy blood flowed through.

One day Harry died in the living room no one ever lived in. The coins no one ever spent paid for his funeral expenses. A funeral no one attended.

Joy finally got to paint her living room, got new beige carpet, and opened the windows. It would have been perfect if Harry hadn’t died prematurely. On the sunlit wall she put a picture of Jesus crucified. The caption read, “It is finished not perfect.”

 

 

 

 

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368. Porn Eyes

A provocative title, yes. Sadly it’s a common reality for many men of all races and demographics that they are porn addicts. Can’t live through a day without a mind numbing hit of deadly eye candy. Like any narcotic or other compulsive behavior, the pleasure thrill leaves early on in the unholy hajj toward the heights of heavenly bliss. The addict’s creeping eyesight is corrupted by a toxic mind that constantly hungers for another shot of porn. In psychic sand storms, beautiful naked images are mindlessly devoured like so many potato chips, peanuts, or any other junk food binge vehicle. The thrill is gone, man, so taboo themes creep in to super charge plain old sex, similar to how one spices up plain chips and dip as the taste buds retreat. You know, you can’t taste salt after your taste buds are over salinated. This is not news. It goes back beyond Sodom and Gomorrah, cuz those dudes were already good at perversion by then. That was not their first rodeo.

“You are the salt of the earth”, said Jesus. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Overconsumption does not lead anyone to appreciation. Rather it creates the gross state of numb boredom and waste.

It’s a shame, a Great Dismal Swamp of Shame, that men who have gorgeous, sexy wives will self gratify and slowly alienate their legitimate, available, and willing love partners. Instead of growing a garden of intimate bliss and planting vines of deep sensuality, these dead-eyed men strip down vibrant sexual subjectivity into its inanimate objective parts. Their fantasized playmates have no names or personality; they only have parts… like car parts– cams, pistons, fenders, carburetors– that do not connect into one, God-made love partner. They become cyborg robots in emotional junkyards, replacing parts. All day long they replace parts. Or act like reductionist chemists who reduce a tomato into 32 lifeless components.

See, it’s easier, so much easier to exchange parts than to engage the breathing, thinking, feeling whole person in an atmosphere of patient love. Such fullness requires more work than any poker game; whereas porn is simply a broken down man hypnotically slamming a broken down slot machine expecting something different, as he pulls the handle and watches the images spin. Uh oh, you lose again… because you cannot win this or any other addiction game. Every time you use, the goal posts move farther away as your spirit deflates further.

I remember a gang of boys in high school who stole cars; parked them in nearby woods; and then stripped the wheels, tires, stereo systems and any easily removed accessory from the raped automotive carcass. Eventually they were caught and prosecuted. Turns out one of the cars they had stolen belonged to a government employee whose national security-linked computer was locked in the trunk. The Big Boys of law enforcement helped local cops bust the gang of thieves. Just like porn addicts, these gangsters did not know how valuable the whole was. They just saw replaceable parts and greedily pulled them off stolen cars like hyenas rip apart a fallen zebra.

Are you sad yet? This plague is tragic because it does not have to be. Are there more porn addicts or alcoholics? Porn by a long shot. Google Porn Addiction Statistics  and then Alcoholics Statistics and prepare to be blown away by hurricanes of disgust. God made human sexuality in all its glorious complexity; simply disgraceful men made pornography, which is the corruption of beauty and love. The root word of pornography is Greek, porne, which meant prostitute. Graphy still means writing, but nowadays it means documenting with video. Likewise, Porn still conjures up the viral spirit of prostitution.

Porn is easy to find but hard to lose. Graphic carnal knowledge and ecstatic imagery is a mouse click away today, my friends. In my youth it was magazines in the woods that had been smuggled out of some kid’s father’s stash. You had to work hard to see the forbidden fruit in those patinated days. Expropriated magazines radiated more than plutonium in trash bags hidden in a hole covered by leaves. If a porno Geiger counter were available, one could find the stash by listening to the beep-beep-beep rising in pitch and frequency. The magnetic display needle would slam against the highest setting as the sex detective scanned the woods where young boys played with plastic guns and sticks and Playboys. Invisible energy leeched out, seeped out, wafted out of the trash bag container poisoning young male minds. Rotting carnality just an arm’s length away, the shiny nude photographs eroded innocence as surely as cancer erodes whatever it touches. Objects outside of any relationship, culture, or code jump out at the viewer– an oyster nailed to a tree; an owl flying through a hospital ward; a baby in prison. Impossible to unlook or forget these images once tattooed on a revolted conscience.

We knew some dads even had 16mm porn movies, but that was way too complicated to attempt rigging up.  We knew about the drive-in on Palmer Highway. Triple X movies were all they showed. I blogged about that adolescent, rooftop experience in an earlier post. The triple X porn movie on the drive-in screen was not memorable, however. The wild police chase and narrow escape with my buddies was etched into my grey memory matter. I smile and savor old memories like that one. On the other hand, the porn addict is haunted by his old violations and perversities, unshared and utterly alone. And that is another aspect of porn use that is not immediately understood– it isolates the addict from real intimacy and isolates him from himself. Instead of connecting to others deeply, the addict uses airbrushed images of perfect others to remain perfectly disconnected. The shame cycle is simply ramped up by repeated failure to escape the addiction. Self disgust mounts and more porn is used to escape the negative emotions caused by the addiction to begin with. Pornography strip mines the soul’s majestic mountains.

And just in case you think that church doors filter out streaming porn from genuflecting male minds, the stats are just as bleak for Christian men. Viruses don’t care if you go to church, and Porn is a billion dollar virus industry.

 

296. Eric’s Fountain

Image result for forrest gump picturesAs I was getting ready to take a late Saturday afternoon shower, I decided to jog. Actually I’d just stepped on the scale and saw I was still fat. Maybe a jog on a hot day would melt some of my doughboy belly. “Chasing the fat man” is my line when someone asks where I’m going with my running shoes on or why. Away I went, feeling too heavy for my feet, like I’d been in a holding cell for months.The rhythm came back, plodding on. The breathing came too fast and sweat began at my thin hairline.

Through the familiar neighborhood streets and down toward Norland Park. Not too many folks out today, which was fine with me. I could hear  the far off cheers of a girls softball game. Meanwhile I was listening to my body. Would my knee loosen up? Would my back seize up as it has from my unfortunate heel striker stride? Would my minor arthritis flare? Everything felt fine as I ran by the old train cars thinking about water at 1 mile. Image result for train caboose pictures

When I was younger I’d cruise through this circuit with no water and keep on going for several miles. Not today. I just wanted to do two miles without injury.

I started up the mild rise to the high point of the park. I’d heard that Eric’s family intended to erect a water fountain in his name. As I came around the turn I saw the blue and silver cylinder. Awesome! I had to stop and read the sign and just  pause to reflect on one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known. There are three spigots– one for humans, one for dogs, and one for bottle refills. I bent down for a drink. There was a pause and then the cool water came out.

Nearby was a bench facing east. Altogether a nice spot to pause and drink in nature as well as water. I thought of Eric and his gappy smile, his bird swoop, his funny voice that always seemed to have a laugh coming up. His belt buckle and boots, his hat, cowboy shirts, and a big sigh when he’d sit down like he’d just  plowed the back 40. “Yeah, Buddy.” He loved dogs and they returned the favor. Dogs know who loves them and who just says they do.

I pictured the Sexy Cowboy sitting on his bench approving of the site. I thanked him for the drink and plodded on, downhill now. Off to the right was that girls softball game in progress. Neon yellow shirts in the field while redshirts batted. After a single to right there were runners on first and third. The next batter laid down a great bunt, scoring the run and moving the girl on first to second. Everyone was safe. It looked like the neon yellows were defeated and just hoping to get it over with. At least that is what I imagined. Winners and losers, that’s life.Image result for girls softball pictures

I jogged down and out of the park. It struck me that in Eric’s world there were no losers. He was just a happy and giving guy. Even in death he gives strangers drinks of water.  Winner, winner. I thought of Jesus’ words…

New International Version
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

And Eric will do God’s will in perpetuity. Simple but profound. I jogged on through the old farm on the hill and around the sharp turn toward the small shaded woods. I inhaled the incomparable scent of honeysuckle blooms. Lovely. Still thinking about Eric and simple gifts of nature. Red raspberries are almost ready to eat, and mulberries are littering the edge of the road. Pure and simple and good. And Eric could easily fit right in among these gifts of God.Image result for honeysuckle pictures

Up, up over the big hill behind my house. I’ve found many odd things along the side of this road –deer carcasses, ATM machines, clothes, beer, porn magazines, a bowling ball– so nothing surprises me. Any litter bothers me, but some is so ridiculous. As I hit the final hill I noticed a hypodermic needle on the side of the road. Not the first I’ve seen, but I got the instant belief that this was a heroin needle. I’ve known a couple of IV users and thought this hypo could very well have been used by one of them. What a contrast to the good of Eric’s life. Here we have folks killing themselves a few milligrams at a time. Their lives are no fountains of goodness. Instead they impatiently jam a needle in their veins in the vain attempt to catch a dragon they once rode long ago and can never catch again. Loser, loser.Image result for hypodermic needle pictures

Further on I came across the splayed open carcass of an opossum, its guts spread out around it in a deathly halo. I couldn’t help associating this scar of death with the needle twenty yards away. Shooting up is like a possum running across the road at night. Most nights it makes it but when it doesn’t, well, it’s a spot on the road, a crow’s banquet or a happy meal for the coyotes. IV addicts live highly complicated and unhappy lives as they withdraw, crave, make the run to Baltimore, cut the deal with a some shady guy, tie off, shoot up, and wait for the high that does not come again. Such a waste. Heroin takes and takes until the user’s last breath fails. All meaning dissolves in the flame of false promises.

So far from the life of Eric. His life mattered and still does. He simply loved and gave from that place. His living water still flows on hot days. God bless you, Buddy.

 

 

 

239. Happiness or Joy?

After.

This morning the Stones “Happy” is rocking out of my computer. “I need love to keep me happy, baby, keep me happy. Happy, baby won’t you keep me happy?” Keith Richards wrote and recorded the song in four hours and sings the lead. No surprise. I read his autobiography a few years ago. If you cut out the drugs and sex and craziness, a 600 page book shrinks to 60. Richards is probably as well known for his drug use as for his music. I’m not here to bust Keith again. I think he’s had enough of that. (I mean, at his heroin peak even his dry cleaner could have been busted for possession.) Rather, I want to look at his lyric of continuous need as being another way of expressing addiction.

Addicts don’t choose. After a while they are “chosen” by their drug to ingest more or to withdraw or to itch, vomit or die. Addiction seems like one of the best tools Satan ever helped construct. The foretaste and promise of ecstatic freedom that results from astral levels of dopamine leads to a barren prison cell in the desert when that psychedelic elevator crashes. At first blush the drug struts down the high fashion catwalk looking like a fallen angel of pleasure. Some intense desire is fostered in the user that feels like falling in love with infinity. A physical, emotional, and spiritual high lifts the user up out of his mundane world. On later inspection this elevation is seen to be the hoisting of a carcass to make butchering easier for the Butcher. Happy at that point in the game is merely the appearance of functioning in civil society. That runway high fashion model turns out to be a drag queen hooker sweating it out to get by for another hour. It doesn’t matter where you begin with addiction; the terminal points are the same for all– devastati0n and death.

Another song that comes up in my cue is Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”. It’s pretty clear that bad things are going on. Frankie Lee/Everyman needs money and then winds up in some sort of brothel dying of thirst. Meanwhile, Judas Priest/Satan, is more than happy to oblige his needs. Are these two separate persons or two personas battling for the soul of one man? I don’t know. It has the feel of a condensed morality play, though. Some souls are stolen and others  sold daily at yard sale prices by their former owners. Some are rent-to -own deals. I think that’s how it is with addiction– a pay as you go reverse mortgage. At the end of the term you are evicted from your own life.

Before.
Despite what our Declaration of Independence claims, the pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand. Happy is an emotion, a mere snowflake on your fingertip that melts before you can put it on your tongue. Nothing more than a pleasant sneeze. And yet, if you ask educated adult Americans what they most desire, the most common answer given is “I want to be happy.” And then what? “Happy” comes from the old word “hap” which means “luck”. “Hap” or “happy” is what happens, and is merely a derivative of luck. Who would hook his wagon to a lucky meteorite?  A gambling addict.
“I can quit whenever I want to.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, but that’s a hedge to hide behind. It’s circular logic and dishonest.”
“Hey, I’ll quit when I run out of money or drugs or smokes or liquor, or when I die. Okay?  Like I said, whenever I want to.”
“I’m afraid you’re confusing “want to” with “have to”.
“Whatever. I don’t want to. Okay? I want the complete annihilation of needs and wants. There, how’s that answer?”
“It resonates as truth to me. Thank you. Oh, look!  Three cherries. You win another fix. Powder or crystal?”
 At the other end of the pool is joy. Joy can be a mood state as opposed to an emotion. Joy can be maintained without a steady stream of hits or fixes. In some way it’s a transcendence of need or want. To choose joy is to rise above the mundane and stay there despite one’s circumstances. It’s a courageous choice not a cowardly default. Joy has a longer shelf life than mere happiness. It does not simply happen. It is chosen like a partner for life. Many times throughout a marriage one partner can legitimately claim to be miserable but still faithfully love the other partner. Happiness may not be present but joy is.

My buddy Quasimoto, Sr. got a bum deal in his recent hip surgery.  The anesthesiologist nicked his sciatic nerve during the epidural procedure. Good news: the hip is healing just fine. Bad news: his foot is on fire with nerve pain as if his foot is being dragged behind an eighteen wheeler across Death Valley in August at noon. Merciless. And yet his foot is numb, immovable. Is he happy?  Heck no. Does he have joy?  Actually he has Pat, and she is the definition of joy. Her loving cup is bottomless. Despite all the unnecessary pain that could lead one to fetch a ball bat and swing it through a doctor’s office or just call a sharky lawyer, Quasi continues pushing the rock uphill. He has no guarantee  that he will recover, ever. It’s been five weeks and not much has changed yet. Their travel plans have been shelved for now because of a two millimeter mistake. But their rusty days are overlaid with gold leaf joy, thanks to Pat.
Despite the pain, helplessness and anger, they hang together and, I believe, grow their marriage even stronger in its tenth year not because of bliss or comfort but due to pain and suffering.  Huh? Yeah, that’s not a typo. Because of pain and suffering grinding the surfaces between them, Pat and Quasi can bond even better than before. Being a woodworker, Quasi knows that if you want to unlock the beauty of a fine piece of wood, you have to punish it by sanding it over and over again. And that is where they are right now, in the deep sanding that reveals the deepest beauty. It’s counterintuitive that joy overflows throughout the punishing process, but happiness can’t stand the sawdust where joy stands alone.

227. Four leaf clovers

She said in her e-mail, “I asked God for a sign today, a simple four leaf clover would do, to show me that I am cared for. Then I reached down in the rich May grass and found one within my first glance and plucked it. That was an awesome little moment of reassurance which I will cherish because I realized that I am… well, cherished. I am known, noticed, heard, and loved. It feels so good to know the God of the universe knows one of his sparrows has fallen. I tend to forget this when I get off my knees and walk too proudly like a peacock. I go to jail tomorrow.”

In early Christian Ireland St. Patrick used the shamrock as a demonstration of the Holy Trinity, to show how three beings could coexist in one form… Father, Son, Holy Spirit… separate but united at the stem. What struck me about Shelly’s simple request was the extra symbolism. Who is represented by the fourth leaf? Immediately I surmised that she is the fourth leaf, connected at the stem by her faith in God. She was grafted into the Trinity long ago as a little girl, before her fears and addictions led her to rehab, psyche wards, and jail. This realization of connection and provision brought joy to her on her way to jail. It must have been odd for the county deputies to see a lovely, refined young woman smiling approvingly about her incarceration–so gracious, so polite. In an even odder way it was like A Tale of Two Shellys as the enlightened one sacrificially served time for the fallen one. However closely the jailers looked, only one young woman stood before them, yet she was two, no, four in one.

Shelly had been a light to others in her previous rehab stays and psyche ward commitments. She loves easily and deeply, recklessly it turns out sometimes; the same way she drinks. Always in her wreckage she finds her Bible and hits her calloused knees, toddling back to God. Her soft catlike persona charms tough tattooed girls into tender conversations they never intended to  have again. They open up to this quiet clover leaf fairy of a girl.  The staff also notice her special spirituality and engage her there. She is much loved in rehabs, which you can’t put on your resume.  Shelly has that effect on others. She’s a fallen angel who loves too much and guards too little; who listens much and wordlessly speaks volumes. The alcohol serves to moderate stress and pushes back against a feeling of being overwhelmed. Long ago she associated this warm relief with alcohol, her lucky potion.

 It was 2008, maybe. Shelly came to me with a former boyfriend, as if  she was on a skydiving date. After her boyfriend turned the spotlight focus on to her, I joked that he’d pushed her out of the plane at 22,000 feet and said, “You’ll get used to this. It’s easy.” on the way down. She laughed nervously without a parachute. He got better and moved on without her. She evaporated into unanswered questions in my mind. Five years later she contacted me. “Do you remember  me? Can we start again?”  On the phone later she said, “Well, I’m an alcoholic now. I guess that’s what’s new.” I was stunned. How does a beautiful, intelligent, talented, educated, artistic young woman become an alcoholic by age 27?  One drink at a time. Those attributes had only hastened her descent. She had not learned to fly but knew too well how to crash.

Blogginis, if you don’t process today’s pain and fear and trauma today, you begin to slip and lose traction in your life. Plus, if you are abandoned and neglected by those who are supposed to care for you, you become lost in your tractionless state… like a car on ice in a night blizzard. Accelerating just makes the vehicle spin wildly and the driver gets crazy dizzy without a horizontal line for reference. Vertigo sets in. It doesn’t matter what gear you are in or if your brakes work. You simply spin counterproductively. Dizzy, spinning, lost, drunken, fallen angel. Tragic beauty. It broke my heart to hear of her crashings, and made me wonder if she was pushed or fell into the abyss. Was she still falling?

Luck and faith have nothing to do with one another. Luck comes and goes; it just happens and cannot be pursued or preserved. Faith, on the other hand, is cultivated. It can be planted and harvested like strawberries. It does not  just happen like a scratch off lottery ticket. Instead it is built systematically from how one interprets experience and develops moral structures. Luck ties in to superstition. Rabbits feet, horseshoes, crystals, and charms are vain attempts at controlling or altering one’s destiny. Faith is more about accepting one’s destiny by understanding spiritually how the universe works. Faith involves some accountability but provides a map for doing life; there is no accounting and no map for luck.

Shelly has a deep faith like a fountain that does not run dry. Unfortunately she has another fountain that pumps out wine until blackout time. Guzzling like a camel at the wine fountain helps her escape the consequences of  her life, but blinds her to the causes of her  problems. She comes to, alone in the desert with a fevered cotton mouth and a migraine. Life just happens to her as it does to all addicts who have urgently surrendered their responsibility. Especially when young, a good thought doesn’t stand a chance against a good feeling, don’t you know? Far away from the wine splash zone there is hope, beyond the good feeling and past the nausea, the cravings, and the illusions lies her broken sobbing self looking for four leaf clovers.

 

192. Forgiveness and perfection

The guy across from me was telling of his false starts in life, his addictions, and his desperation to make it all right. I listened attentively, validating as he went along. Then I shared a thought, “Forgiveness is key to the redemption process, you know. Otherwise you are assuming that perfection is not only possible, but that it is the normal order of life.”

He paused. “That’s the most profound thought I’ve heard in years, Man. I’m gonna sit with that for a while. Cuz I don’t ever forgive myself; I loathe myself. Which makes me want to get morphine and numb out, but then I hate myself even more for being a deadbeat addict. I want to be a good man, a good husband and a good father.”

“Yeah, well those are  possible in our imperfect, broken world, but you can’t be a perfect anything. However, you can pursue excellence. ”

“Okay, wow. This means something strong for me.”

“I can see that. Sometimes there are light bulb moments in counseling. They are fun, cool, even holy.”

“Tell me some more on perfection cuz I’m messed up about it.”

“Let’s see, I used to say that perfection is a living room you can’t live in, a car you can’t drive, a coin you can’t spend or a stamp you can’t send.  It’s a museum not a life. On the other hand real life is  meticulously messy and thoroughly incomplete and wonderfully disappointing.”

“Man, this is news to me. I never thought these thoughts before. Where did you learn this stuff?”

“From life, you know, experience and interacting with suffering persons. From my faith. and my own failures. There’s a lot of overlap between Christian beliefs and what is good in psychology. Like forgiveness, it’s a fundamental piece of the New Covenant that is Christianity. It’s essential to resetting the brokenness and separation from God that results from our sin. But even secular forgiveness produces a similar outcome of relief and a resetting of relationship. Think about this:  if your wife forgives you, then the waters of your relationship can begin flowing again. You are not dammed up any longer. Your relationship can move and dance again. In Christianity it’s an even bigger thing… you are not damned any longer when you accept your sinfulness and repent of it, then accept Jesus as your savior. Your soul can dance forever, not because you are perfect but because you are forgiven by a perfect God.”

“Man! I went to church as a kid, but I never got that concept. How is that possible?”

“Hey, I sat through Algebra I and II in high school and Business Calculus in college, but I can’t tell you a thing about them. I passed them all, but I have not a single lasting memory.”

“Yeah, yeah, you weren’t invested in it; you didn’t apply it so it wasted away. I get that.”

“Pretty much. I couldn’t be a NASA engineer…not that I ever wanted to be one.”

“Hmmmm. I don’t have to be perfect, so I don’t have to be angry at my brokenness? I like that, it’s a relief already. How did I get to these beliefs, I wonder?”

“Well, I imagine your family modeled some of this to you… you know, all or nothing behavior where all equals perfect and nothing equals obliteration by shame.”

“My mom was like that, always doing and doing, and then she’d drink alone every night. Not drunk so much as  just unavailable. I think I’m a lot like her, sort of going through the motions but not really living in the moment or enjoying what I do. I’m always looking for the approval and endorsement of others. When it doesn’t come immediately, I get pissed. But I won’t show it to anyone. I put up my mask of ‘everything is fine’.”

“I guess it gets lonely behind such a mask.”

“Oh yeah, only my wife gets in behind it, and then I want her to fix my life, make it all better. But that’s my job. I get so twisted up  and confused that I want to use again to reduce the anxiety and self loathing. So I cycle around and around. See, in my family it was not the work you did that mattered; it was how much money you made. I got into my field cuz people said I could make a lot of money without much schooling, and I did.”

“Okay, but your soul dried up, right?”

“Something like that. It wasn’t rewarding to me even though I was good at it. I was impatient for more, something bigger.”

“And that’s what the morphine gave you?”

“Absolutely. It erased my daily anxieties and self loathing till the next day. But the next day I’d start lower, you know, like standing on the beach as the waves hit you and undermine the sand beneath you.”

“Yeah, you get shorter with each receding wave.”

“So I don’t have to feel this way any more? ”

“Yeah.”

“But what about when the anxiety hits the roof and I start coming unglued?”

“You get with a sponsor or mentor and sweat your way through it. The anxiety will subside when other trusted folks show up.”

“That’s something I’ve never done, ya know, shared my fear and self  hatred.”

“Well, that’s the way through it, Man, not around it or under it. THROUGH IT. You can do it. ”

“Whooooowwww. I hope so. I can’t wait any longer to start my life.”

“Hey, make no mistake:  you have started your life. These lessons are gonna be burned into your brain, tattooed on for the rest of  your days. This is not sleepy Algebra class. You will make use of this agony one day. Take that to the bank.”

“You make it sound simple but not easy.”

“Simple as sawing your leg off rather than dying of gangrene. Simple? Yeah. Easy? No way.”

“Okay, where’s the saw?”

“That’s next week, tough guy. Power or manual?”

“Definitely manual.”