Just before Christmas 1992, I found a book that discussed the spiritual benefits of a difficult childhood. The author suggested building an altar before performing the work. So, I created this ritual sacred space in my one room garage flat and began to read further. In the first chapter, it was suggested that perhaps I was not irreparably broken after all, and that if I chose to I might stop asking: "Why me? ... Why did 'I' have to go through this incredible pain and suffering?" He pointed out that childbirth is extremely painful, but that once the baby was born, only pure joy remained. In other words, what if pain just is? What if the question:" Why me?" is irrelevant to the solution, which is simply to somehow allow the reality of this pain to be felt; to find a way to look into the open wound and let the hurt wash through me? The forgiveness of those that injured me was offered as the key to releasing the pain. This entire perspective was wholly new to me. Prior to this, what I considered to be 'feeling my pain,' in reality was only living in misery, rather than legitimate suffering. I have heard it said in recovery meetings that "pain is inevitable, but misery is optional."
I had unconsciously avoided feeling the tremendous pain within myself for many years. Indeed, I now know that I had many unhealthy thoughts and behaviors specifically designed to avoid my emotional pain. These collectively formed the psychological 'character armoring' that protected my fragile ego from touching the awful reality of what had happened to me as a child. Deep down I was sure I would die, if I had to really face all my pain. I talked about what had occurred to me all the time and I thought this was the right thing to do. But I was really just verbally complaining and reinforcing or reliving the abuse. I was mostly just hurting myself again and again without knowing it. I also did not understand what people in recovery meant by saying they had to both feel their feelings and learn to safely express them. Nobody expressed feelings in my house growing up, and it was much too scary and painful to allow myself to dwell on the horrible reality of my abusive home life. At some point early on, I had completely accepted that it just was the way it was, and their was nothing that I could ever do about it. It had become second nature for me to stuff all my feelings. Later on, when I began to study psychology, I would resonate very strongly with Stanley Milgram's concept of learned helplessness.
However, that night I let go for the very first time. I began the long process of grieving the tremendous pain of my entire life, through my first real attempt to forgive my alcoholic stepfather for all the abuse that I had encountered. As I cried and shook in intense grief, my inner consciousness rapidly flickered in and out, as if flipping a light switch on and off as fast as possible. For a split second, I saw something like a woodcut image of the full face of Christ with his crown of thorns. But due to my unresolved guilt and shame, I pushed this image far back into the depths of my consciousness and would think of it only several times over the next ten years. Christianity was the path of my fathers, yet I no longer in any way believed that I could be forgiven for my sins. Only years later, (May 2011), would I come to understand, through this event, the seemingly incomprehensible mystery that: somehow Jesus Christ was God undergoing human suffering, so that He could meet me in the humanity of my extreme brokenness and pain. (However, before coming back to Christ, I would intuitively experience God in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jungian dreamwork, and twelve-step recovery).
After grieving and going to bed, I awoke the following morning to a whole new world. As my feet hit the floor, it felt as if I weighed only a few ounces. The only adequate song in my head was 'Amazing Grace,' and I literally felt as if I could fly. I was filled with an inexpressible joy and I knew that I was reborn. I went to a recovery (ACA) meeting where I experienced an incredible, invisible power emanating from my eyes similar to the high beams of an automobile! For the first time in my life, I was actually both intensely concerned about what others were sharing and feeling their pain. Several people came up to me after the meeting with baffled expressions. They told me that I looked and sounded very different, and asked me what had happened.
For the next several days, I remained filled with a profound clear bliss, unlike anything I had ever known; I could have felt a pin drop in my soul. I honestly thought that God had simply zapped me whole with his magic wand, in reward of course, for my having endured my extremely painful life, and especially for having finally found the courage to face the pain I had carried for as long as I could remember. Little did I know that, I had only just begun to do the real psychological and spiritual work that would increasingly allow me to be slowly healed by His grace alone. I had no framework whatsoever in my personal experience of life, through which to otherwise interpret what had occurred. For over a week, I was walking around in the stratosphere, and I was convinced that I was a completely changed person once and for all. I simply did not know that God wasn't in the habit of instantaneously healing people that had endured horrible lives.
Slowly over the next two weeks, the fear began to creep in, that I might return to being the incomprehensively miserable 's.o.b.' that I had been for years prior to this episode. As the mystical energy drained from my head, I experienced the most excruciatingly painful awakening to the earthly reality of my personal life situation, in my five years since beginning recovery. It was an almost unfathomable deflation and I would remain baffled for several years as to what exactly went wrong and how my life so quickly snapped back into a bottomless lake of quicksand and mud. It felt as if I was being forced, back into a life I absolutely hated and could find no way out of. I told the wonder-story of this lost miracle over and over, until finally in 1994, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous showed me page 84 in the AA 'Big Book' and suggested that I had lost that heavenly consciousness because I had returned to living in patterns of fear, resentment, dishonesty and selfishness. The actual truth was that I had never made any headway toward removing any of these chronically negative states of mind. Indeed, these were second nature to me and had been necessary to my survival for as long as I could remember. I was in no way able to fault myself for these 'character defects,' or even to recognize them as such. At the core of my being, I knew that I was so especially hurt and damaged that I was just constitutionally much more fearful and screwed up than others. To top it all off, there was almost no one that I felt that I could trust, least of all myself.
I did however, eventually come to understand this spiritual experience. By God's grace alone, I had received a tremendous first glimpse of what was possible for me: the supreme peace my life had never consciously known. What had actually occurred was that God had lifted the veils of my daily depression, fear, shame, guilt, loneliness and anger. I did not remotely recognize the resulting peaceful state, because I could not consciously remember ever having experienced it before. All my life, I had been a mudfish swimming in the water of all this gunk; I only knew the world of mud, until God reached down in his mercy, grabbed me by the tail, and pulled me into the clean cool air of heaven on earth.
The fulfillment of the promise embedded in these fleeting blissful weeks of Christmas 1992, arrived some thirteen years later, on Halloween 2005. It occurred in the wake of yet another mind-blowing spiritual experience. Several years after my first spiritual experience, in the mid-1990's, my body began to signal me several times daily with a strange stirring in my gut. I gradually came to understand that it was telling me to do the inner breath and body work, that I had experientially taught myself, in order to clear the repressed feelings arising from my past abuse. On Halloween night 2005, I suddenly realized that this daily stirring was more than a signal to stop and clear my emotions. In a flash, I somehow intuitively knew that this vibrant activity in my belly, actually was the Spirit of the living God! This realization hit me so hard, that my legs literally buckled beneath me!
Just prior to this experience, I had been in incredible fear, having recently resigned from a doctoral program in counseling psychology; ending my third major attempt to have a successful career. However, I now suddenly knew at the very center of my being that no matter what happened or where I wound up, God would never leave me or forsake me. I felt especially blessed, because all my life, in the heat of my pervasive anxiety, I was never able to let go and find God. But now, I was being blessed with tangible evidence within my own body of his continued presence. I marvelled, "How many people are actually this blessed; to be given the awareness of the certainty of God and God's love for them, within their very own body? How unbelievably cool is this?"
Within a few days I noticed that my ability to comprehend complex intellectual material--- in particular, the writings of Carl Jung--- had increased by a five or tenfold quantum leap. Before long, I inwardly recognized, that the promise of peace, which I had glimpsed in my first major spiritual experience of December 1992, had been partially delivered on the doorstep of my soul, after trudging uphill for another thirteen long and difficult years. And it is my testimony that all the material accomplishment in the world, is only a faint echo, compared to this level of spiritual grace!