Shedding the Old Self & Coming to Life

A year ago, I was sitting on a pier in Vancouver, BC and had just finished reading Richard Rohr's From Wild Man to Wise Man. While that may be a hokey title, I found the book's contents greatly inspiring and invigorating. The premise he was delivering was so antithetical to the Western idea of what has been exemplified for many of us as a "real man." Rohr was presenting the opposite of this burly, corn fed All-American, football and muscle car loving tough guy who never sheds a tear or shows weakness of any kind, cracks open cold ones with the boys after being aggressive at work to climb the corporate ladder and never fails to let his eyes linger on a passing woman's ass. There is a great deal of Christian literature and much of church culture that can perpetuate this manly-man image (perhaps without directly meaning to), thus bringing up generations of almost-misogynists who think they're "staying strong for Jesus" with such behavior. The Millennial generation has already shifted this stereotype a good deal, but by and large, this is the prominent notion of what it is to be a man in America, especially in certain parts of the country.

What Rohr was saying is men ought to be tenderhearted, vulnerable, emotionally aware, brutally honest with themselves, chivalrous, respectable but not arrogant, humble and sensitive to the needs of others, especially their loved ones. And, importantly, that none of the above ought to be seen as weak, cowardly or betraying any of the benevolent factors that come with being born with a penis attached at your middle. His argument was that these "manly men" are way over-compensating with brutishness because, beneath the surface, most or all of them are deeply hurting, deeply afraid, hugely self-conscious, were let down, abandoned or abused by their fathers, and that the male chauvinist routine is only so common because nothing healthier--and more true--was ever modeled for them.

What struck me at that moment, sitting on a wooden bench on a cloudy morning in barely-Canada-but-still-basically-the-US, was that basically, I wanted to be a help to people, perhaps primarily but not limited to men. I felt what was essentially one of those "calling" moments--yes, from God. No, not audibly, but subtly--to be bold, to be a challenger, a listener, one who encourages.

Now I'm the one that sounds hokey, which is fine, I'm kind of a hokey person. I use the word "hokey," for example. But let me explain what I mean by wanting to be a helper: I have been through some shit. I've not physically suffered the way some have, I would never refer to myself as a "victim" and I would never equate myself with those people who truly are or invalidate their experiences, but I have been through some daunting things, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I'm also a fucking sniper of emotional observance. I read people very quickly, I have a well-calibrated bullshit sensor, and I can see right through most people's posturing and facades within about 90 seconds of meeting them. I can see hurt like a tangible presence, sense deep denial or anger, I can tell when someone has never had the freedom to show real emotion or be honest for two damn seconds of their life. I am also brutally honest with myself and can be with others, but in (hopefully) the nicest way possible. In describing these things, I am not bragging or trying to impress anyone. These are abilities that have nothing to do with me and they're not always a gift. Also, I'm not always 100% correct in my assessment of others--sometimes I'm only judging people out of my own insecurity and end up being dead wrong.

My point is, I firmly believe that people are hurting everywhere, I can see and feel and sense it all around me, constantly, like an atmosphere that hangs over our interactions. It is daunting, overwhelming, painful that so many people are living in such denial, in such emotional chains, in such suppression of their true self. Our world is largely built on insecurity, anger and fear. Therefore, as much as I can and as much as opportunity allows, I want to speak into those things because I am not afraid of people's deepest, darkest, heaviest shit. The stuff they would never say out loud, the stuff they would be terrified to have anyone else find out. Give it to me, lay it out, I love that stuff because while it is hard it is also getting to people's core.

The reason I go to such length and detail in describing all that is that I had that moment on the pier--it was marvelous, it was exciting, I prayed, I cried, I couldn't wait to begin although I wasn't sure exactly how to do so--and then let pass what has been perhaps the shittiest and most addicted year of my life. I got back home from Canada and didn't do a goddamn thing. I was scared to death to step into the direction of life and healing, even though what I felt in that moment was a taste of what I believe is the truest, most realized version of who I am and want to be. Literally the reason I was put on this earth. I know I'm sounding froofy and sappy but I genuinely believe these things.

Instead, I spent the next year, almost up to this very day, in unbelievable paralysis. I couldn't write, fiction or otherwise. It wasn't that I didn't have ideas; I would have some free time sit down to write in the middle of a project and absolutely nothing would come. I could not bring myself to type a single word. My porn use and alcohol abuse went through the ceiling (side note--I recognize some people think porn is harmless, but to me, it is fucking toxic and affects many other facets of life. In general, I believe it to be poisonous for anyone). I was even overeating shitty food for comfort--that was a new one, even for me. I don't know if I ever went full-fledged glutton, but I could tell that I was grabbing and snatching for comfort, pleasure and satisfaction, even if it was momentary and false, anywhere I could find it. I hated myself for all of this. I knew it wasn't me, it wasn't what or who I wanted to be, I knew these habits perpetuated one another and that it was killing my ability to be creative or even emotionally present. They were symptoms of my own frustration and inability to change myself. I found myself extremely unmotivated at work and pulling away from my family, not engaging with them and keeping things very surface level. I was drowning myself in overindulgence. I seriously woke up some days and could not even fathom how I had gotten to the point that I had, I didn't recognize myself anymore. I had crossed so many lines I thought I never would, let things slide, turned off the part of my brain that convicted or warned me of foolish behavior and dove in.

Along with this, my insecurity and neurotic tendencies greatly increased. I over-analyzed the things friends would say to me, nitpicking text messages or emails and reading into them obscure condescending or dismissive tones, thinking that they were somehow against me or that I was no longer of value to them as a person. I watched my friends continue to grow in their creative careers and felt like a fucking loser for having been pursuing similar things for a decade and having gotten absolutely nowhere. I compared myself endlessly and was convinced for a while that nobody gave a damn about me or what I had to say. I thought I ought to just stop embarrassing myself by continuing to work on creative things that friends and others must internally scoff at, "Aw, little Josh who thinks he's going somewhere with all these cute little art projects that he thinks are good. Isn't that sad?" I mean, I have 200 followers on Twitter, for goodness sakes--fucking pathetic. Isn't a person's amount of followers and post engagement the equivalent of their value as a human being? (side note--maybe I should stop being dramatic and deleting my accounts across the internet every six months, that might help). Additionally, the podcast that I loved doing, the one thing I've ever been a part of that I stupidly dreamed could actually go somewhere and be my ticket out of a day job, also imploded during this time and came to an end, partly because of me, partly because of things out of my control. So much for that one. The final straw is that a year went by and my stupid movie still wasn't out (still isn't, as of today), and surely no one could possibly care or give a shit about it anymore, it was a pipe-dream to think it would ever be good or that anything would come of it, and that it was just going to be another one for the YouTube graveyard while my Kickstarter backers had probably long ago mourned the loss of the money they gave me.

I was a wreck, man. I still am. Probably always will be to some degree. This isn't some redemptive post about how now I'm all better. Also, I don't list all of the above to throw a pity party or because I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm just laying out where I've been and acknowledging how unhealthy it was. Most of the behavioral things above have taken a turn for the better and are getting under control because I sought help from a counselor and my work with him has been remarkably fruitful--it is bringing me back to life in a very real way.

I write all of this because part of me needed to say it out loud. To proclaim, if only for myself, that I am done being suppressed by my poor choices, addiction and depression. This doesn't mean I'm pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but that Jesus is doing some very exciting work in my heart and mind. This also doesn't mean I won't mess up--a lot, and badly--but I am not chasing righteousness points or some false merit but a fundamental shift and sanctification in my heart. I am tired of stifling myself because I'm afraid to step into my gifts and speak into other people's lives, because I've got the mental equipment to do so. I think having been through all this goes to show that while I am not some wise sage or great counselor, I do understand what it is to be incredibly broken and still be forgiven, to get to my version of rock bottom and realize there's grace down there. It is unbelievably freeing to be a despicable wretch in one's own eyes, only to discover that they are still, somehow, fully accepted just as they are by God.

In the near future I'll be starting another podcast on my own simply called Texture, because life is full of texture, taste, intrigue, mystery and wonder. I want to explore that out loud with others, with all different kinds of people. I want to get brutally honest, just like all of the above, not for the sake of shock value or drawing attention to myself but to not let the darkness in us be king. I want to say the shit that others might be afraid to say in order to set something free in them. I hope with all humility that God can and will use me in this way. As I've mulled over my desire to be the sort of helper I talked about, I believe that a podcast is the most fruitful way to do so at this point in life. As soon as things are fully wrapped up with Cordial Kill and that obligation is off my plate, I'll begin.

While this whole gargantuan post has been very Me-centric, my hope in expressing all of this is that I am beginning to actually let go of myself and set my attention on others. Some will read this and think I am nuts, or very strange, or self-absorbed. That's all right, I kind of agree. But too many people are dying inside for me to keep quiet about what I see in them. I do not think I'm special, but I do think I can speak into a few particular things. So let's get messy, let's be bold, let's wrestle some shit out. Maybe we'll learn something along the way.