pexels-photo-226616.jpegIt’s been about eight years now since my therapy sessions ended. During my time in therapy, which spanned the better part of seven years, off and on, I learned much about myself and what drives me to make the choices I make. I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), something I previously only associated with people who had served in wars, like Vietnam. Prior to meeting Marlene, my therapist, I never saw myself as a survivor of anything. Actually I had no idea how I got to where I was. Somehow I just landed in a mess of a life, unable to make the connections between the person I’d become and the child I once was. After spending a year unraveling my life story to a relative stranger, my therapist remarked that although she had worked with many individuals before me with tough stories, she found it amazing that I’d met with any kind of success in life at all, at one point telling me that someone with my past could have just as easily found themselves living in a broken down shack somewhere, collecting Social Security Disability payments. Was it will and determination alone with a little help from the hand of God? Did my grandmother, who was always my rock and strength my whole life, serve as that bright beacon in the darkness of the sea, showing me a life unlike mine, where things were calm, organized and constant?

I will be 50 years old on Friday. I have lived at 46 different addresses. In my whole life, my grandmother lived in just four. No matter where she lived, everything was always just the same. I don’t mean just the same staid furniture in the same preordained places, I mean every lamp, every doily, the bowl of wax fruit, I mean everything, set out in exactly the same place and the same way no matter where she lived. This was nothing like the life I knew. Going back and forth between my mother and father so many times, each of them moving with unwavering regularity, never living in one place long enough to form any meaningful relationships, I learned to move from one thing to the next at a breathtaking pace. It is no wonder then, wherever I arrived at my grandmother’s place, I would fall fast asleep on her couch moments after arriving. Her home was the port in a sea of discontent, the relief and respite from a life of constant turmoil and change.

I have immense gratitude for what my grandmother was able to give me. She passed away 16 years ago today, so naturally I can’t tell her to her face how much she meant to me. Sometimes, as I’m driving to or from work, I contemplate our relationship and how she may have been the one person in my life who knowingly or not gave me the hope and the strength to continue, to push forward, to create meaning in a life where every headwind blew full force onto to my efforts to succeed. I dare think about how my life might’ve turned out had I not known her presence. I do believe in a universe that will conspire in our favor. I do believe in a higher power, a being who is not a manipulator of outcomes, but a force much greater than ourselves that will use people and events to show us the way through whatever we may be going through. Certainly my grandmother was that light in my own life, a beautiful soul who had her own demons to deal with but still somehow found her way to love me, to comfort me and guide me when I had no other significant role models in my life. Thank you grandma, thank you. Know you are missed so much and know I’m forever grateful for who you were and what you’ve done for me.

Father’s Day

fried-eggs-breakfast-toast-food-50600.jpegI had a wonderful morning today. My wife and children prepared a healthy, scrumptious breakfast of french toast, fruit and coffee. I’m grateful. My own father and I have not spoken with each other for over three years. He isn’t allowed to talk to me if he wanted to. He shouldn’t answer the phone if I call. He shouldn’t acknowledge my presence. This man, who had a hand in bringing me to life, must now act as if I’m unborn, not alive, nonexistent. Most people I share this with say this is his choice. In his world, it’s not a choice, it’s a command. An order from the literature published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, where content is devised and directed by a small group of mostly older men known as the Governing Body. They say there is biblical guidance to be followed. I’ve seen the infamous “shunning” video making the rounds on the Internet over the past month, where parents are shown refusing to even answer their cell phone when their disfellowshipped daughter calls. There is no freedom of choice for a loyal member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One must think and act like the rest of the flock at all times, with blind and unquestioning obedience to the shepherd. Those sheep separated from the flock cannot be associated with for they have made their bed. The harder it is for the separated, or lost sheep, the more they will desire to return, or so the thinking goes.

If you, like me, find yourself among the great crowd of sheep separated from the flock, know we are not alone, and quite possibly our collective flock may be greater than the one that continues to mindlessly follow the shepherd. You may, as I have at times, looked upon that flock, longing for the ease of following the shepherd without critical thinking, without individuality and without free will. The desire to belong, to feel loved and accepted is strong. I understand.

Separated From The Flock

sunset-sheep-dike-nordfriesland-69466.jpegI’ve been quiet for a long time. Not because I wasn’t allowed to speak or because I was afraid to or even because I didn’t know how. I just haven’t been able to fully understand what has happened until now. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to connect the dots and come to terms with my addiction. Was I addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling? No. I’ve been addicted to a need for security, to a desire to belong, to a need to feel loved and accepted. At times I’ve felt like a lost sheep, separated and cut off from the rest of the human race, lost and trying to find my way. I’ve lived in fear of being alone in this world. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for guidance and direction. I’m not alone. For the questions that life presents us, there is great comfort to be had in finding some one or some thing with all the answers.

For many years I believed I had all the answers. I was part of a large, global organization that spoon fed its constituents all the answers to any questions they could possibly have. I willingly confessed to others my affirmation of my beliefs, letting them in on the secret that wasn’t so secret, that they too could know what I know. Nothing in life left to chance, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of friends, a dream of life eternal. How could anyone say no to this? The truth is most people did. I had far more doors slammed in my face than were ever opened. What a shame, I would say, they really don’t want to live forever. I just didn’t get why they didn’t get it.

Not all is as it seems. Beneath the smiles, happy faces and “brotherly love” lies a trail of tears, broken families, broken dreams, and broken people. Sometimes the weight of wanting to be perfect can crush the spirit. Like the parent we were never good enough for, we turn away, to other things to help us feel loved and accepted. The story doesn’t have to end there. When we realize we’re writing the script with every moment of our experience, we understand we are in control.

I separated from the Jehovah’s Witness nearly thirty years ago. In all that time I’ve struggled to find the truth. The siren call of my past tells me I had the truth, I just need to return. She sounds sweet. She means to coddle me in her arms and soothe my fears. I can easily return to a world where I no longer have to work toward any purpose of my own making and choosing. I can reunite with my family. But I wouldn’t be at peace.

If you are no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, struggling each day to find your way out in “the world,” know you’re not alone. We have this. Let’s talk about it. This space knows no judgement, no criticism and is blind to one’s religious convictions. I have faith and that’s my choice. What you believe is yours. Welcome to life separated from the flock.