Mercy Came Tenderly

Welcome, Dear Reader, and thank you for graciously dropping by this page to sample my latest blogpost. The subject is not recovery from addiction. This happened when I was lost, found, then began to move forward. Come back with me to 1976. I remember hearing an unforgettable Voice, which because I took seriously transformed my then drab life into one of hope and inspiration. Many mistakes, bafflements and upturnings of fate were to follow. But this was “the” turning point.

The event was a door behind which lay answers to my questions about existence, destiny and the meaning of life.

I was twenty-four, a sophomore in college. Facing being drafted during the Viet Nam War, a war my family opposed, was really the least of my problems. I had been ruefully contemplating my young life the entire evening. Edgar Allen Poe could not have been bleaker or more morose.

My life stared back at me, smirking and winking. It was 2:00 am. Lying on my back on the sofa, I looked up at a portrait of Jesus, which I had just given my mother on her birthday. She had loved it on sight and quickly found a spot for it.

My parents were in bed and there was I, quite alone, ruminating about my problems with no idea how to fix them. It had been a rough day, too.

Earlier that day I was returning from my appointment at the employment office, where I had just applied for unemployment benefits. On the way home I decided to stop by a dealership and test drive a motorcycle.  Only minutes after I rode it off the lot it was out of gas.  I pushed it back to the dealer in the California summer heat. It must have been very near eighty degrees.  I finally got the bike back to the lot and then took the bus home.

My mind kept running into roadblocks, yet I didn’t want to go to bed yet. What happened next was unusual because at that time I wasn’t really praying much. I heard inside of me a male voice, strong and compassionate.

I heard him say, “I want to help you.” My eyes now fixed intently on his image. Who’s talking to me? Should I answer?

“Why?” I asked. “Why do you want to help me?” I realize now that Jesus Christ would surely know the facts about me, that I had no one in my life, was depressed, lonely and unemployed.

He repeated, “I want to help you.” I just didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing and waited. Most certainly, I did not feel alone, not anymore.

If you were in my place what would you think? Jesus was a human being, very human indeed. If he existed in some other dimension he very likely would communicate, selectively, of course, with souls of his choosing and for different reasons. His reason here was clear. I was in trouble and he wanted to help. So this voice could be his. It might not be, but, it might be.

He wept and still weeps for others, as I understand it. He was unassuming. He was humble. He listened to others and grieved with them. He sighed with them and cried with them. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday, the day they say he rose from the dead. But let’s remember that Jesus is also a human being. If he were not, he really couldn’t relate to us or our troubles. I think Jesus becoming human had to be a key part of the plan—a radically unique part of the plan!

Yes, I believe Jesus befriended me that evening when I was twenty-four. I know it changed my life. I started going to church with my Mom. I went to all kinds of different churches. I met some very nice people, yes, but didn’t grasp the fundamental reasons for corporate worship, not for some time. One reason God calls persons to worship is to experience him, to express their love and awe, and give him glory. Perhaps our purpose is to do exactly that. On a more private, personal level worship is really a private encounter, but with others around who are having the same kind of personal and private experience with God. It’s about you and God.

It was an awkward first meeting, even though I had attended a religious grammar school and high school. Even so, I had never had a personal encounter with Christ. I know I certainly needed one, but had not even known it was possible.

So reader, let me ask you a question: how was your concept of God formed? Is that distinct from your concept of church, or of religion in general? Is God’s existence independent of churches and religion, or must they be connected? Churches might scare you, a little or a lot, or they may make you angry. You may not trust anybody who attends a church or is religious. What of religious leaders? Chances are at least even that you mistrust or dislike all of them. And if so, does that conceptualization keep you away from approaching the possibility of God’s existence?

Put aside your conceptualization for a moment and consider that Jesus works through people but those people aren’t Jesus. If you read the New Testament for yourself you will discover or have already discovered that he sought to connect with human beings rather passionately, at great expense to his well being, considering what ended his life. That’s a given whether or not you think the Resurrection happened. He said, “If you don’t believe me, believe the miracles,” which speaks to his confidence that they were credible supernatural events.

Why the miracles, anyway? Why not just succinct lectures attempting to establish his role in prophetic history? Probably because lectures, scholarship and fancy arguments would’ve left out a big aspect of his message, which is “God is love,” and more to the personal point, “God loves you.” He performed the miracles very aware he had very little time, three years, to attract the souls he purposed to call to him. So very many of us just don’t know who to believe today. Fortunately, Jesus knows how to speak to the human heart.

Why do I trust him? Because he allowed me to choose. He stepped back after that experience in 1976 and let me think about it. I’m so glad he respected my freedom of choice! Did I eventually choose to go his way? No, I really think he chose me. But I still had the option to turn my back on him. So do we all. I have not regretted answering the call. I like where he’s taking me! My relationship with him has always been safe and I trust him.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a mere symbol, but a Church-approved revelation to St. Margaret Mary in 1673 in Paral-le-Monial, France. It is one of those supernatural facts, existing at the core of who Jesus is. His heart is on fire with love for the human race and he lamented that so few respond, seem to care, and even go beyond that neglect of returning his love. Many scorn him, revile him, and perform outrages upon his being he rests in the Holy Eucharist until the end of time.

Will you entertain, for the sake of examining every possibility, however grandiose, that Jesus may be whom he said he was: an infinite, holy being who came in human form to teach us; and he, not being able to conceal his true identity, and perhaps commissioned to reveal it purposefully, designed creation and the wonders of the universe; he is responsible for creating, among other wonders, the complexities of quantum physics, which are not yet within the reach of our physics to totally explain. The Shroud of Turin is another example of this.

Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is our life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves,” wrote French mathematician and unorthodox theologian, Blaise Pascal. It’s not surprising that Pascal’s mathematical genius was in accord with his theological genius. Intuition and logic are not enemies unless we set them to oppose each other.

So what if Jesus, actually not “just human,” really is divine and alive today, being the immortal source of life itself? What if he, not a Big Bang (translated, a large noise intruding the serene nothingness of space) set the cosmos into motion? Then what kind of relationship with us, with you, with me, do you think Jesus had in mind?

Since 1976, Jesus did speak to me again, I think. It wasn’t spectacular or very unusual, because he speaks to his followers all the time: “My sheep know my voice.” I was driving home from work late at night and had a craving for sacred music. I pulled off the road and searched my device and lighted on a choral piece about Christ’s Passion, titled simply, “Her Triumph,” the her being Mary. She triumphs by courageously rising above the gloom to in faith believing he will rise as he said:

While it appears the faith is gone,

Alone in you (Mary) the faith lives on.

I will not dwell in faithless gloom

Nor hasten to an empty tomb.

He came all glorious to you.

His wounded hands outstretched anew.

And I believe, with my whole heart I believe,

His body will rise and receive the Victory!

I heard his voice, even more gentle than before, say, “Don’t forget me.” I returned home full of wonder as to what he had meant. How could I forget him? I realized he meant his suffering—don’t forget my suffering! This second quote of Pascal’s informed me why our remembering his Passion is so important to him.

“Jesus will be in agony, even until the end of the world. We must not sleep the while.”

No, we must not sleep, that is, be subdued by one of any of several hundred distractions we encounter daily in this world of endlessly repeated images worshiping our stunning uniqueness. There is a cost of sleeping through our lives. If the world, flesh and devil lull us into believing life is a fanciful dalliance which we can take selfishly for granted, rather than a fleeting opportunity to be redeemed, redemption will pass us by, forever. We are all temporal, all facing eternity with either dread or hope. If we are all “children of wrath,” then there is a solid, loving reason Jesus came down from heaven, died, rose and will return. But will he find faith on the earth when he returns?

A premise of family therapy is that any healthy relationship has to be based on love and respect. Nobody usually disagrees with that. But obedience is a different story. In this era people don’t like the requirement of obedience because we do not trust authority anymore, and it threatens to cancel personal freedom. However, if you’re on a sinking ship and the captain makes an announcement to abandon ship, if the ship is really and truly sinking you don’t plant your feet on the deck and refuse to budge. You obey the order because you it’s there to protect you and save your life.

Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In that statement a choice is implied and personal freedom is taken into account by Jesus. Love and obedience are both part of what is chosen. Obedience clearly is not compelled by Jesus, but from disciples it is expected, naturally. It’s reasonable. Forgetting about bland reason, love, once again, claims the highest dignity, before reason, before the hasty, rash, pompous assuming “Enlightenment,” so-called during the equally pompous 18th century in Europe.

So to gain our salvation he had to give up something precious, indeed his very life. That sacrifice was mysteriously required, and Christ, full of love and obedience to His Father, obeyed despite the cost. Yes, that form of old nobility probably seems silly to a 21st century mentality. Why, we ask, would God subject Himself to our base cruelties? It is an honoring of a justice beyond our sensibilities or capacity to understand or appreciate, far from being absurd as we might assume, wrongly though.

Is this love “our kind” of love or another kind of love? Our kind of love is inconstant, perishable, like our nature. However, Christ is not subject to the limitations of our nature. He can love us even when we hate him! I submit that alone as something worthy of our worship, but only if we have a taste for it. Worship requires humility. Mankind has always preferred pride, as whole. But if we walk with him, closely, he will teach us that, too, if we are willing.

We wonder why he bothers with us, so stunted and remarkably inferior to him. Perhaps he sees our potential. When he talked to my heart all those years ago, he knew I was not then interested in ever returning his love—not then. Yet he put his love on the line. That takes guts in anybody’s universe.

Today I imperfectly return His Love. I do when I can let go of myself. Jesus pleads with us to let Him lead us out of our smallness into his humble greatness. My friend Jesus forever is putting himself out there. His Love is incredibly passionate toward us. Let’s not turn our back on him, because he might be the closest and most loyal Friend of Humanity that I know, who doesn’t live in a graphic novel or a fake universe. He created the universe we live in, all the birds and the trees, the oceans and the hills, and with them, he created us. To Him I am ever addicted to mercy.

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Of Philosophy, God and Iced Cream

What connection could a love poem have to faith?  Or what possible connection does an iced cream cone have to the spiritual life?  Leaving my books one Sunday afternoon, I brought my wife an iced cream cone with a four-line poem I had composed just for her.  Presenting the frosty cone, I read this aloud for the very first time:

             You are a perfect wife
                      Giving me a perfect life.
                                 This I give you which of
                                           My love is but a clue.

She likes poetry but she loves iced cream, so I always suspected that she liked the iced cream cone more, but I got over it.  Now let’s shift our gears, from poetry to philosophy.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche announced “God is dead” in the nineteenth century, which created quite a stir.  Nietzsche suffered from severe desperation, I think.  Probably listened to too much Wagner.  He threw philosophy into a general panic, forcing thinkers to search for life’s meaning without God.

They thought they found their solution in a movement called post-modernism, writings that were a kind of ointment to treat the scalding awareness of the absurdity of life.  Fortunately in 1942 the French philosopher, scholar and literary romantic, Albert Camus, published a brilliant essay titled, The Myth of Sisyphus.  In that essay he described the Absurd Man, who sought meaning in a God-less universe.  I read the essay with great interest.

Camus reminded me very poetically that life seemed worse than a cosmic joke, for it had no presumed author anymore.  Camus concluded that the only important question was “Why not commit suicide?” due to this vacuous and tedious situation.

So it became quite a difficult challenge to rise perkily in the morning, with those depressing variables halting the spring in your steps.  Philosophers didn’t shake up America as badly as they had in Europe.  Over here we were still able to whistle a happy tune, as Europe grew more grumpy and dour.

No Message in the Galaxy Worth Reading

Where did this leave the human species as a whole, as we rolled anxiously into the twentieth century?  It led to the Lost Generation, with Gertrude Stein and friends.  And later on it led to popular fiction, like A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and films like Dr. Strangelove, which are satirical treatments of the absurdity of human existence.  Songs were also written such as “Message in a Bottle” by Sting and The Police.  I connected with the song’s lament of private desperation and societal alienation, because that was my own existence: it was desperation and despair in the form of a catchy Pop tune!

Life can be really traumatic inside of us, that’s no secret, for sure, when we can admit it.   In this century it’s by now our ideological inheritance.  At birth we’re tossed into the exceedingly unbalanced, violent and unpredictable twenty-first century, where we have global media daily pounding out a dizzying and unending chain of catastrophes, to which we tend to become numb.  We are then forced to reach out for the curatives solicited and pandered by the channels of our Addictive Society.  But let’s move on, lest we despair!

What the World Needs Now

As we all know, love is a very powerful because we need it, a great deal of it, especially if you believe the cosmos is a soundless, meaningless void.  I’m not much for the Big Bang Theory explaining things, because I disagree with Stephen Hawking that the universe doesn’t need God.  Theories about the origin of the universe abound, and at the top of that list are Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution, which  touts the miserable notion that we all arose out of some primordial soup.

Instead, please consider “God’s Unfathomable Mercy and Love.”  Okay, that notion might smack against your hard-nosed realism rather violently.  Prove it to me!  It’s a part of living in these spiritually impoverished times.  Or maybe it’s not so hard for you to conceive of such a Being who IS love.  This blog has for its’ logo the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a symbol of Christ’s love for all of us.  The thorns around his heart symbolize his suffering for us and the flames bursting forth symbolize the intensity of that love, so great that it called for the ultimate sacrifice.

Consider, why should God, omnipotent and entirely self-sufficient, the living source of life itself, the totality of all that is pure and holy, create human beings, animals, nature, the earth and other worlds among untold galaxies and quasars, unless he loved them first?  He got absolutely nothing for his efforts, other than the joy that every giver receives, which is the joy of expressing his love to his beloved.

Conclusion

So then perhaps it is vital, dear reader, that you really look for the Mercy of God, to remove the anguish from your life, as I had to.  Consider that suffering, or pathos, is less painful than anguish, because our suffering eases when we accept it, if we choose to.  Anguish is far worse because it’s a state of non-acceptance.  Anguish festers with “deep disappointment, fruitless longing, unavailing remorse.”  Pretty tough.  God’s Mercy is the antidote for anguish.  An antidote is “a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison.”  Believing in nothing is slow poison leading to despair.

Discovering the one, true God, on the other hand, was and is my antidote for the dry philosophical treatises I tortured myself with for so long (Sisyphus was the exception).  That is why I am yours truly, Ron Houssaye, addicted to mercy.

Thank you for stopping by.

The Family Drama of Addiction

The family is truly a gift from God.  Now families are under siege by global addiction.  I honor and respect parents because the good ones are heroes, called to sacrifice themselves for their children.  Parents need hope and direction.  Their children, whatever their ages, are the main targets of the spiritual darkness at the root of addiction, which aims to deceive, exploit and destroy.  I want to teach the family how to defend itself, to lay out a spiritual, therapeutic counter-attack.

Drugs and addictions assault a family by attacking love and connection.  Persons with addiction are robbed of their good judgment and self-determination.  Their whole life is about getting high, and it’s “Me first.”  Their loved ones soon feel they don’t matter anymore.  Family members do the best they can, waiting for things to change, hoping and praying for a miracle that their loved one will stop and see the light.

Without intervention and treatment, they don’t see because they can’t see, unless grace and mercy enter the drama unfolding in the home.  Addiction is a disease that attacks the person physically, emotionally and spiritually.  A family is both material and spiritual, with a body and a soul, and the members are living parts of a living system.  Addiction’s poison spreads throughout the entire family system.

New players, like me and the doctors, nurses and others I work with, can be called in to stand with the person and their family.  Extended family members and friends should also enter the drama to support the family under siege as a whole.  Having the courage to come out of hiding, to admit there is a problem you can’t solve on your own and seek outside help is crucial and necessary to stop the destructive cycle.

Addiction and mental professionals are trained to fight the disease, and we are generally good at it, but we must have the family’s involvement.

Surgical Family Therapy

An addiction family therapist working with a treatment team can perform “systemic surgery” by locating the shame, guilt and internal conflicts present and bring them out, delicately.  It requires a certain amount of compassion, skill and gaining the trust of the people affected.

A family system runs well or poorly depending on how it copes with the stresses impacting it over time.  When the oppressive stress of addiction is the enemy, it conceals itself and starts to do damage undercover, which in the earliest stages can be countered and put in stasis.  Following this containment, the success of pushing back this family illness will be short-lived unless a course of recovery for the entire family is articulated and begun.

A family can avoid being dismantled when there are protective factors present, including a faith tradition to sustain it when the enemy tries to rip away mutuality and traditional elements of love and caring, or when suspicion, fear, anger and deceit threaten to shred the family’s delicate emotional wiring called cohesion.

A skilled therapist will remind the family members of its’ strengths and seek their revival.  Destruction threatens to bring a family down if the weight of despair and hopelessness have too long infected it, so that addictive patterns create highly reinforced symptoms, as in a family in which most of the members are either addicted or codependent.  Any existing spiritual traditions and religious practices the family possesses can and should be utilized to fight for the family’s survival.

Community resources are very valuable, such as the National Alliance of Mental Illness, medical, addiction, mental health agencies, churches, service organizations, non-profit media outlets dedicated to supplying assistance, government programs, clinics and hospitals.  Important spiritual forces are prayer, grace, mercy, faith, hope and courage.

Discovering a Road Map

The family therapist, once blended into the system, can inquire how each person has been affected, expressing empathy for everyone involved.  Getting the family member with addiction (FMA) to recognize and face their problem is often difficult, but when the person is tired of suffering and hiding in the shadows, an intervention is possible.  The therapist recommends treatment for the FMA, or the family seeks it on their own.

The FMA usually disengages from the family, followed by lapses in functioning and personality changes.  Sometimes they can hide their compulsive using, always in denial about it, until at some point the wheels of the system begin to fall off: a DUI, job loss, marital conflict or another serious disruption of normal behaviors.

There is the possibility that the family under siege may continue to put up with the stress by adapting to it, pretending nothing is wrong.  When the FMA can no longer conceal their problem, and the family can come out of denial, interventions become possible and assistance is invited and called into service.  The chances of change then are greatly enhanced.

The Road to Recovery

If the FMA is willing to seek treatment with the support of the family, real change can and often does happen.  There will, of course, be pitfalls to watch for along the way, such as, which can be prepared for and avoided:

Over-confidence

Desire to be normal

A short-term slip

Emotional problems

Missing getting high

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (irritability, poor concentration, sleep problems)

The Wall Stage

With any one of these or paired or multiple occurrences of them, treatment may be re-entered without shame or guilt.  Addiction is generally considered to be a “relapse-prone” ailment, although relapse is not inevitable.  The family system, itself re-strengthened, needs to remain a player, with each member finding their own personal recovery.  Al-Anon Family Groups, Families Anonymous and similar family recovery fellowships exist in great numbers.  The family is strongly encouraged to hold their FMA accountable to stay in recovery.  “One for all and all for one” does apply here.  Another slogan might be coined: “The family that recovers together fights to interdependently live one day at a time.”

Fellowship

To be humble is to have both feet firmly on the ground and you are done playing God.  Since you can lapse into a wishful La-La Land and forget this, you take supportive clean and sober friends along with you on the Journey, who will lovingly remind you in times of weakness.  Trying to go backward into an imagined original state of independent functioning invites a recovery collapse and the need to start all over again.

It is said that you may have many relapses ahead of you but only a fixed number of recoveries, in which case your personal gains could be forfeited.  Then you find yourself unable to bounce back.  Because of that dark possibility, the recovering family must support, hope and pray their vulnerable FMA keeps moving forward on a Road to a Happy Destiny, with an honest approach to the problem, a willingness to “go to any lengths” to recover, being nurtured daily with a spirit of gratitude.  That combination usually wins the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Addicts are Portrayed on TV

Television and movies are full of addicted characters.  “House” was about an opiate addict, played wonderfully by Hugh Laurie.   The new “Kevin Can Wait,” stars the very talented Kevin James as a lovable junk food junkie.  The character is seen to have just a “weight problem” that dieting should take care of, but not if you have a real addiction to food.  In real life he’d have a high risk of heart disease and depression.  The reality is, addicts are usually full of shame and act out to cover it.  Family members usually have no idea what’s really bothering the person, so they sometimes seek out an addiction professional who specializes in family work.

TV sitcoms really should create more therapist characters to treat their addicted characters.  Of course therapy would have to fail in the end, to keep the characters interesting.  That would be TV Logic, not Real Life Logic.

I am an addiction family therapist.  You have to love theater to do it, due to the extraordinary amount of drama.  The seeds of my career began when I was a boy, watching my battling parents argue all the time.  There would be a few days of peace, then something would set off an explosion and create a conflict that would last for several days.  I always took a ring-side seat.  I wanted to understand what was going on.  It was also a great way to begin learning about alcoholism, which my father had.

My favorite cartoon strip about the hazards of childhood is “Peanuts.” The luckless but loveable Charlie Brown is a brilliantly devised character and relatable to most of us because we all can feel like a victim.  Lucy is his supercilious, irritating gal-pal.  I had a Charlie Brown part and a Lucy part of me.  Seeing the world from my Charlie Brown part, I was sad about my parents’ conflicted marriage; they could never seem to get along.

Fortunately my Lucy persona would rise inside of me and I would become their secret psychologist:  my grand plan was to help them find happiness together.  I had to figure them out first, of course.

Quietly, never attracting their attention, I studied them for hours on end, trying to find the key that would save them from the living hell of their tortured relationship.   It was a childish, absurd proposal to suppose I could untangle their marital problems.  I’m sure that early desire was my impetus to become a marriage and family therapist.

A trained, experienced relationship therapist can work wonders, but I had no chance then to confer happiness on my parents.  Even a therapist can’t create happiness, but can often find a door or bridge so others can find it, with the assistance of grace.

Psychology attracted me because it was the new young science that might finally solve the puzzles of our human condition.  I believed we did need something to unravel our myriad of maladies, so I ventured into the world of Freud and Jung.  Two more different doctors of the mind there could not be.  Freud embraced atheism and Jung slid away from Papa Sigmund into mysticism and the “alchemic view of the soul.”  I came to prefer Freud, though I’m a theist, probably preferring him because of the strong father figure he represented.

Beyond explaining the problems of human beings, I searched for meaning and truth in a wide range of literary forms, including poetry, plays, novels, philosophy and spirituality.  Most recently I found Confessions by  St. Augustine.  Augustine rigorously analyzed himself and the human condition in that great work, concluding the human race was badly flawed but redeemable.  He put himself at the very top of the Absurd Humans List.

“O Lord God, grant us peace, for Thou hast granted us all things,” he pleaded for all of us.  He saw that we get into absurd situations rather routinely, which takes away our peace of mind.

I was on a treatment team helping a female heroin addict, a young lady in residential treatment.  She had not used drugs for eight days, had detoxed and was just starting to get her appetite back.  She was very anxious about the family session with her parents in a few days.  She made me promise I wouldn’t tell them about her last drug binge.  I made her promise that she would be honest about everything else.  I felt I had made a good bargain because usually honesty is the hardest lesson to learn in pre-recovery.

You may have a partner, parent, child or some other relative whom you think has a problem with a substance or behavior, but they don’t think so.  What you want to know is, “How can I help them?”  You may be the only person in your family who thinks there’s a problem.  You may feel very alone.  But don’t lose hope!  Because Grace and Mercy abound in the world, if you keep looking and asking questions you’ll eventually figure out what you should do.

When I’m in session with an addict or an addict’s family, if the Gift of Grace is with us it will be a successful experience for them, because Grace is a God-given nsystem leading to human connectivity.   Only good can flow out of what happens.  As the therapist, all I really have to do is follow my prayerful intuition, or, if you will, the Holy Spirit.

The most painful thing about our self-destructive nature as human beings is, we tend to do the same things over and over again expecting different results.  If you’re in Twelve-Step Recovery you have probably heard that before.

Grace is a much-traveled spiritual force.  I invite you to look it up and research it.  Briefly, its’ history began roughly 5,500 years ago, from a mysterious language out of which all languages are thought to have come, the Proto-Indo-European.  The phrase from which we get “grace” is a verb form, “to favor.” It’s a special force or spirit that “sings, praises or announces.”

Fortunately for us the universe abounds with two marvelous forces, Grace and Mercy.  The universe also contains large galaxies of The Absurd, upon which occur massive tidal waves of absurdities flowing from human behavior since The Creation.

This spirit of Grace enters the stage of our lives unexpectedly, unscripted, as it wills, and it rewrites the plot of our lives in our favor.  I’ve seen it happen many times and I want to share how that can happen.  The pages ahead are sprinkled with stories of lives that have been either touched lightly by Grace or pinched by The Absurd.

Our lives can feel like both a tragedy and a comedy.   A few therapy sessions can reduce the pain of a harsh pinch in the rump from The Absurd.  More therapy can even build a bridge to Grace, helping the client find renewed hope and meaning.

Grace soothes our wounds, while The Absurd causes us to laugh at life and ourselves.  Both can be medicinal and help us to keep trudging The Road of Happy Destiny.

 

A Special Invitation to You

 

A therapist’s number one job is to relieve or reduce the pain of a person, couple or family, normally though a proper assessment, a diagnosis, followed by a course of treatment.  Often, especially in the cases of abuse and trauma, those suffering carry the burden of shame.  Therapy is a form of mercy, as is forgiveness.  God is a Father first, but I also think of Him as a Divine Therapist, whose primary intervention is mercy, which the psalmist tells us “endures forever.”

What is mercy?  Mercy is the goodness of God, His free act of choosing persons to receive His grace, leading those persons to Him.

When one bestows mercy upon another, they spare them a consequence of misfortunes that otherwise would have come upon them.  These may be consequences they had coming, such as embarrassments, humiliations or the baggage of emotional pain owing to shaming they did not deserve, even errors they brought upon themselves.  These are forgiven and forgotten.

The guilt which ordinarily would have befallen them is removed when mercy is given.  Such healing can be delivered by just listening compassionately with all of your attention, focused only on that person.

The truly merciful act signifies a virtual nullification of that which has shamed someone.  “Forget about it, it’s okay,” is heard someplace in the wounded heart of that individual.

This is what they hear:  Don’t worry about it.  You’re fine.  You’re okay.

God sends mercy and grace directly or indirectly, through anyone, you or me.  Consider, then, why should God, omnipotent and entirely self-sufficient, invite someone into the heartbeat of his being, literally the center of his heart?  After all, God is the living source of life itself, the totality of all that is pure and holy, who needs nothing outside of Himself, yet chooses to create beings in His image.

There can be only one explanation.  Love.  He gets absolutely nothing for His efforts except the joy that every giver gets, which is the joy of expressing their love.

God’s Mercy imbues a special kind of meaning to anything.  In fact, in ordinary human experience, when we choose to inject the name “God” into a story or event, it elevates it to the extraordinary.  “God, I can’t believe that actually happened to you!” is exclaimed without consciously thinking about God, but nonetheless God belongs in it somehow because there’s something mysteriously wonderful or amazing about it.

You may have tossed God out of your life, either recently or a long time past.  Though you’ve been disappointed by something you feel He’s done or has failed to do for you,  give Him another chance.  He gave me many, many chances to rise above my shame, and He will do that for you, too, if you ask Him.

Super Heroes, Mercy and Recovery, Take on a Super Villain, Addiction

Fighting with Addiction Science

Addictive disease both fascinates and horrifies me, as an addiction professional and as a human being.  Poetry and philosophy I need for my soul because they uplift me.  There was no satisfaction for me to teach high school English, so I found a new career, which by the grace of God I do enjoy.  Over the years I have learned to wield the powerful teaching tool of addiction science to combat addiction, which I think of as an evil super villain.

I will speak to any group, anyone who will listen or needs to hear the message.  People need to understand how addiction mercilessly hi-jacks human brains, especially those of teenagers.  Without treatment it causes brain owners to die painful, lonely deaths–most of us are very aware of that.   So I preach and teach compassion for persons with the disease.  I admire the discoveries of brain science, which have been advanced by the study of addictive processes.

I highly recommend, When Society Becomes an Addict, by Anne Wilson Schaef.  She exposes just how deeply addiction permeates American Society.  Creating addictions which people initially enjoy, but sooner or later suffer from, appears to be very good for business.  Far too many of our best and brightest have fallen prey.

Expertly marketed addiction traps are all around us now.  These traps, in whatever form they arrive, have fooled us, but we shouldn’t be fooled any longer!  The developers of the new, legal addictions don’t care who their products hurt, even kill.  So it seems the best way to escape their oppressive clutches is for people to bring recovery into their lives, as a defense against the commercial onslaughts that launch out at us day and night.

To illustrate the real dangers that exist today for unsuspecting young people, I suggest you access an article that appeared in the Economist, “The Scientists Who Make Apps Addictive,” by Ian Leslie, published in the Oct/Nov 2016 issue.  The scientists identified here are neuroscientists.

Introduction to Mercy, an Eternal Good

Theology is compatible with addiction science in this way: both fields of study involve Mercy.  Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world.  My favorite theologian is Dr. Scott Hahn, an astute scholar, yet a grounded, “regular guy,” whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a men’s conference in Milwaukee, where he was the keynote speaker.  Dr. Hahn is a witty author who writes about heavy theological questions very light-handedly somehow.

His style belies the fact that he’s an expert in biblical and mystical theology.  I’m enjoying reading his book, Lord, Have Mercy.  God’s Mercy inspires me, but it’s not my addiction, even though this blog is called, “Addicted to Mercy.”  Through this title I want to express that I’m passionate about God’s Mercy!

What is Divine Mercy?  It is a spiritual force, which engages human beings when someone, anyone, without deserving it, is gifted with what they most need at the exact time they most need it.  It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card, along with a love letter, because Divine Love is the source of it.

I hope you will someday know the pleasure and excitement I got from reading Divine Mercy in My Soul, the diary of Maria Faustina Kowalska.  It’s all about her direct and repeated experiences with Divine Mercy, as revealed to her by God, for the sake of all of us.

St. Faustina is a very different sort of saint, because she did not feel saintly at all. In fact she struggled greatly with self-doubt.  She was often downcast because of her sense of unworthiness of the part she was given to play by divine providence.  However, she was in fact chosen to reveal Divine Mercy to the world.  Her diary is about how that happened, back in Poland in the 1930s.  You can read her diary online, by going to https://archive.org/stream/St.FaustinaKowalskaDiary/divine-mercy-in-my-soul_djvu.txt.

I believe that we as individuals and the world as a whole need a transfusion of  Divine Mercy, which the saint writes is an “Ocean of Mercy,” unlimited and unfathomable.  Why do we need a spiritual force of that magnitude?  Because no matter how hard we try, we can’t be perfect.  We fail, we sin, we get lost in the dark.  The diary proclaims factually, through real events in Faustina’s life, that God’s Heart waits eagerly to rescue us from the Darkness.  He will not force us to receive His Mercy, however.  God is not a tyrant.

I will keep writing and talking about my greatest passion, Divine Mercy, and sending out warnings and cautions about this addictive society we have.  Those mood- and mind-altering chemicals and activities that are traps set to catch us and our families, are in that group of lower or least worthy goods of life.  Mercy and Recovery bring goods of the highest worth, which in turn bring joys and delights which do not harm.

 

 

 

 

Discovering Divine Mercy in Our Postmodern Addictive Society

We don’t generally doubt what we are seeing when we look at a solid object, but we often doubt or dismiss the traditional beliefs of earlier times.  Our intellectual history has brought us into an age when everything is in doubt, including God; especially God.

I do not propose to deny the right of atheists to not believe in God or the notion of God.  I rather wish to protect it, because I believe that freedom of choice is an inalienable right.

How did the culture change from one of faith to one of doubt?  Certain philosophers introduced the world to Modernism, which is based in skepticism and anti-realism, meaning we can no longer trust in any certainties.

It began in the seventeenth century with Descartes, the “I think, therefore I am” French  philosopher and mathematician.  Modernism can lead to resignation.  After doubting everything you can think of, which people used to take for granted, you are left with the scalding sense that life is hollow and quite absurd, completely.

In the nineteenth century, when Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche announced “God is dead,” explaining the universe without God became exceedingly more difficult.  It threw the stable world of accepted truths into a general panic, prompting many to search for meaning without God.  I wonder if this erosion of the general certainty that God is real deprived future generations of a spiritually sustaining truth, which we need now more that ever before.

Welcome to Postmodernism, which is a continuation of Modernism.  In Postmodernism, you actually can find yourself doubting you’re perceiving something real when all of your senses insist you are, but you simply can’t trust your senses anymore.  However, there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical in general and withholding your belief until you have some evidence.

In the twentieth century, in 1942, another French philosopher, scholar and literary romantic, Albert Camus, penned his famous philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus.  In that essay he described the Absurd Man, representing modern man, who seeks a meaning to a God-less human existence.  The Absurd Man is painfully aware of absolute futility because life is worse than a cosmic joke, in that his life has no apparent purpose.

So it became quite a challenge for people at that time to rise in the morning with those depressing assumptions hanging over them.  However, Modernism didn’t shake up America too badly.  Over here we were still able to whistle a happy tune, as Europe grew more grumpy and dour.  That was due, in part, to writers on spiritual subjects, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James.

Message in a Bottle

So where did that leave the questioning, postmodern person, as we rolled anxiously through the twentieth century?  It led to the writing of dozens of popular books, like A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and films like Dr. Strangelove, treatments of existence very grounded in a postmodern worldview.  When they came out, they spoke to me, because they fit the world I lived in.  To this day I still admire both the novel and the film.

In the 1980’s Sting and The Police called out an S.O.S. with the release of “Message in a Bottle.”  Who didn’t relate to that lament of private desperation and societal alienation?  Therefore, inviting God back to fill the enormous vacuity Nietzsche announced to the world was and is still certainly worth our consideration.  Others may hold a different view, and I respect that.  I have atheist friends and our differing views do not disturb our friendships because we choose not to allow them to.

What the World Needs Now: Divine Mercy

At birth we come into an exceedingly unbalanced, violent and unpredictable world, where we have an exploitative global media waiting for us, media which feed upon a steady, dizzying and unending chain of crimes and catastrophes, to which we tend to become numb and reach out for the supposed curatives for our malaise, solicited and pandered by the grinning hosts of our Addictive Society.

I’m not much for the Big Bang Theory, I will admit.  And I must disagree with Stephen Hawking that the universe doesn’t need God.  Theories about the origin of the universe abound, and at the top of that list are Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution, which touts the unsettling notion that we all arose out of some primordial soup.  Well, nobody, including me, was there to verify what actually happened.  Today, because of what I have experienced in my life, I believe that God is love.

Consider another explanation for our existence:  God’s Unfathomable Mercy and Love.  That particular origin theory may conflict with postmodern doubt, or it may not.  Each person is free to decide.

This blog has for its’ logo the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a symbol of Christ’s love for all of us.  The thorns around his heart symbolize his suffering for us and the flames bursting forth symbolize the intensity of that love, so great that it called for the ultimate sacrifice.

Consider, why should God, omnipotent and entirely self-sufficient, Who claims to be the source of life and all that is, whom billions believe to contain all that is good, pure and holy, create humans, animals, nature, the earth and other worlds among untold galaxies and quasars, unless He loved them?  After all, He receives absolutely nothing for his efforts except the joy that every giver receives–the joy of expressing of their love.

I know many people in our day avoid thinking about God, because God reminds them of organized religion.  The grateful founders of Alcoholics Anonymous faced the same problem, which they solved with the freedom to choose your own higher power, and that might be God, or might not.  It’s up to the individual.  And then again, like me, you might be led to find the real God, the God Who made heaven and earth, Who is the source of Divine Mercy.

Becoming Addicted to Mercy

The essays I write in this blog called Addicted to Mercy in large part come out of my work with addicts and their families.  Addiction is a progressive, life-threatening and incurable illness, which without treatment is fatal.  One of its’ key symptoms is for the sufferer to continue doing what brings misfortune on themselves and others.   Addiction may adhere somehow to our inborn self-will, giving it further power to destroy lives.

All addictions were disarmed and profoundly out-gunned by what became known as “The Spiritual Solution.”  In 1934 Mr. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith were guided to that Solution, for them and all addicts after them.  They were inspired to create Alcoholics Anonymous, which grew out of the revelation that God loves alcoholics.  My Dad, an alcoholic, got into recovery and later so did I.  My life has never been the same.  But why bring up in this context something called Divine Mercy?

I discovered the reality of Divine Mercy through the diary of a humble, Polish nun, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, who lived around the same time that Bill and Bob did.  That diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul, is the story of God’s free gift to the human race, His Divine Mercy.  She tells about it graphically, powerfully and personally–it’s worth reading, I guarantee.  She’s known as the Secretary of Divine Mercy, because although she wrote the diary she is not the author of this “ocean of mercy.”

You will find that her supernatural experiences equal the most wonderful and amazing narratives in literature.  Divine Mercy is persistently reaching out to restore hope to broken hearts and scarred souls, which may have been damaged by organized religion in the first place.  Divine Mercy is not essentially about religion.   It’s about the enormity of love from above that’s waiting humbly and patiently to be received by anyone at all, no matter how “bad” the world thinks they are.

So in closing I want my reader to know that God’s Mercy is there for you when you need it, as you walk onward, hopefully not alone.  Thanks for stopping by this blog and take care.

Grace and Mercy Extended to All

At twenty-four I had a spiritual experience that changed my life.  I had no direction, no belief in myself, nor a whit of hope that I would ever find my path.  Then an other-worldly Hand with the distinct feeling of being real touched me, actually grabbed me, not forcibly, but gently, lovingly.  I had been taught to believe there was a God of Mercy by the nuns and priests who taught me.  Yet, their fine lessons and examples from the lives of others made little impression on me.  They tried, but had failed to accomplish the main goal of a parochial education, which was to mold a young person into a decent, moral human being.  It never occurred to me that’s what they were trying to do.  In fact, I felt excluded to begin with.

I would have remained isolated forever if a Divine Hand had not breached my personal exile.  I respect every person’s right to believe or not believe.  I do believe in forces that are real but not obvious, that require seeking and contemplation and, to some extent, faith.  It’s a risk, yes, but one I believe worth taking.  “To go where no one has gone before.”

My only goal is to share my experience and carry a message forward to anyone who will listen.  That message is, nothing is hopeless, and no one is beyond redemption, whomever you may be.  I created this Addicted to Mercy Blog to put that message into cyberspace.

How Addicts are Portrayed on TV

Television and movies are full of addicted characters.  “House” was about an opiate addict, played wonderfully by Hugh Laurie.   The new “Kevin Can Wait,” stars the very talented Kevin James as a lovable junk food junkie.  The character is seen to have just a “weight problem” that dieting should take care of, but not if you have a real addiction to food.  In real life he’d have a high risk of heart disease and depression.  The reality is, addicts are usually full of shame and act out to cover it.  Family members usually have no idea what’s really bothering the person, so they sometimes seek out an addiction professional who specializes in family work.

TV sitcoms really should create more therapist characters to treat their addicted characters.  Of course therapy would have to fail in the end, to keep the characters interesting.  That would be TV Logic, not Real Life Logic.

I am an addiction family therapist.  You have to love theater to do it, due to the extraordinary amount of drama.  The seeds of my career began when I was a boy, watching my battling parents argue all the time.  There would be a few days of peace, then something would set off an explosion and create a conflict that would last for several days.  I always took a ring-side seat.  I wanted to understand what was going on.  It was also a great way to begin learning about alcoholism, which my father had.

My favorite cartoon strip about the hazards of childhood is “Peanuts.” The luckless but loveable Charlie Brown is a brilliantly devised character and relatable to most of us because we all can feel like a victim.  Lucy is his supercilious, irritating gal-pal.  I had a Charlie Brown part and a Lucy part of me.  Seeing the world from my Charlie Brown part, I was sad about my parents’ conflicted marriage; they could never seem to get along.

Fortunately my Lucy persona would rise inside of me and I would become their secret psychologist:  my grand plan was to help them find happiness together.  I had to figure them out first, of course.

Quietly, never attracting their attention, I studied them for hours on end, trying to find the key that would save them from the living hell of their tortured relationship.   It was a childish, absurd proposal to suppose I could untangle their marital problems.  I’m sure that early desire was my impetus to become a marriage and family therapist.

A trained, experienced relationship therapist can work wonders, but I had no chance then to confer happiness on my parents.  Even a therapist can’t create happiness, but can often find a door or bridge so others can find it, with the assistance of grace.

Psychology attracted me because it was the new young science that might finally solve the puzzles of our human condition.  I believed we did need something to unravel our myriad of maladies, so I ventured into the world of Freud and Jung.  Two more different doctors of the mind there could not be.  Freud embraced atheism and Jung slid away from Papa Sigmund into mysticism and the “alchemic view of the soul.”  I came to prefer Freud, though I’m a theist, probably preferring him because of the strong father figure he represented.

Beyond explaining the problems of human beings, I searched for meaning and truth in a wide range of literary forms, including poetry, plays, novels, philosophy and spirituality.  Most recently I found Confessions by  St. Augustine.  Augustine rigorously analyzed himself and the human condition in that great work, concluding the human race was badly flawed but redeemable.  He put himself at the very top of the Absurd Humans List.

“O Lord God, grant us peace, for Thou hast granted us all things,” he pleaded for all of us.  He saw that we get into absurd situations rather routinely, which takes away our peace of mind.

I was on a treatment team helping a female heroin addict, a young lady in residential treatment.  She had not used drugs for eight days, had detoxed and was just starting to get her appetite back.  She was very anxious about the family session with her parents in a few days.  She made me promise I wouldn’t tell them about her last drug binge.  I made her promise that she would be honest about everything else.  I felt I had made a good bargain because usually honesty is the hardest lesson to learn in pre-recovery.

You may have a partner, parent, child or some other relative whom you think has a problem with a substance or behavior, but they don’t think so.  What you want to know is, “How can I help them?”  You may be the only person in your family who thinks there’s a problem.  You may feel very alone.  But don’t lose hope!  Because Grace and Mercy abound in the world, if you keep looking and asking questions you’ll eventually figure out what you should do.

When I’m in session with an addict or an addict’s family, if the Gift of Grace is with us it will be a successful experience for them, because Grace is a God-given nsystem leading to human connectivity.   Only good can flow out of what happens.  As the therapist, all I really have to do is follow my prayerful intuition, or, if you will, the Holy Spirit.

The most painful thing about our self-destructive nature as human beings is, we tend to do the same things over and over again expecting different results.  If you’re in Twelve-Step Recovery you have probably heard that before.

Grace is a much-traveled spiritual force.  I invite you to look it up and research it.  Briefly, its’ history began roughly 5,500 years ago, from a mysterious language out of which all languages are thought to have come, the Proto-Indo-European.  The phrase from which we get “grace” is a verb form, “to favor.” It’s a special force or spirit that “sings, praises or announces.”

Fortunately for us the universe abounds with two marvelous forces, Grace and Mercy.  The universe also contains large galaxies of The Absurd, upon which occur massive tidal waves of absurdities flowing from human behavior since The Creation.

This spirit of Grace enters the stage of our lives unexpectedly, unscripted, as it wills, and it rewrites the plot of our lives in our favor.  I’ve seen it happen many times and I want to share how that can happen.  The pages ahead are sprinkled with stories of lives that have been either touched lightly by Grace or pinched by The Absurd.

Our lives can feel like both a tragedy and a comedy.   A few therapy sessions can reduce the pain of a harsh pinch in the rump from The Absurd.  More therapy can even build a bridge to Grace, helping the client find renewed hope and meaning.

Grace soothes our wounds, while The Absurd causes us to laugh at life and ourselves.  Both can be medicinal and help us to keep trudging The Road of Happy Destiny.

 

Real Love comes Through the Door

I knew I had a “broken picker,” meaning I had no talent for picking a healthy partner.  So when Mercy brings real love into your life it takes you by surprise.  That’s how it was for me in 2004.  My licensing exam was about a year off.  I was a lowly intern and had been gathering training hours in Stockton, CA.  I left a fairly menial social worker position for a “real therapist job” in Sacramento–an upgrade in title with the salary about the same.  I was hauling boxes out of my office to the car and it was getting dark.

I thought everybody had gone home.  I was almost done; just a few more boxes.  I had turned in my keys to the office manager, so all I had to do was lock the door behind me and be on my way.

I walked back to the building to get another box, but was shocked to find the door had swung shut!  Now I’d have to call the office manager to let me back in.  However, just then a bright and shining face appeared through the glass.  It was Arleen from Marketing and she was still in the office! 

When she opened that door my life was changed.

“Hi,” she said warmly, “would you like some help?”  I wondered for a second if she meant help with my life.  No, she must mean with the boxes, I thought, but as a matter of fact my life did need lots of help.  Arleen, I would come to learn, is someone who’s always at the right place at the right time.

“Yes, I would like some help,” I said.  We got some dinner and after that we started dating.  I had recently surrendered my addiction, was attending recovery meetings, had a sponsor, and now my first ever healthy relationship found me!  To think, if that had not happened, I would have collected my things and left her behind.  I didn’t because of Mercy.  The first Promise (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83) of the Twelve Promises states, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”  It’s true!

We eventually fell in love and got engaged, married and moved to Wisconsin.  If that sounds weird, moving from California to Wisconsin, that’s okay, because it did to everyone else we met.  But for us it was the greatest good fortune and still is.  What followed was an amazing spirit of hope and a sudden shift toward healthy change, reconciliation, surrender, acceptance and forgiveness.  In short, a new life.